I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night. W.H. Auden, September 1, 1939
How true, Wystan, how true. Apart from the ‘dives' bit, obviously. No, we prefer our coffee houses on Royal Avenue to brood on the state of humanity. And ‘the unmentionable odour of death'? Poor old W.H. lived in an era before Glade.
I'll be glad to see the back of the noughties. Even the term ‘the noughties', with its cringe-inducing waft at the word ‘naughty' makes me queasy. Seriously, have you heard anyone use the term without irony? Nope, it was a lame media invention, forever to be used with metaphorical quotation marks. Our forefathers had the Edwardian Age, La Belle Epoque, even the plain but dignified ‘Turn of the Century'. We have ‘the noughties' — infantile, bland and, at base, meaningless.
Which is why, paradoxically, it's just a perfect description of our decade. Think of our politics: parties largely indistinguishable from each other, micro-squabbling over the remains of an economy that was built upon the mirage of ever-expanding house prices.
In the good times, it was NuLabour vs Cameroonian Conservatism. Now, the bills are due for payment, both parties are schizo: swingeing cuts one day, tree hugging loveliness the next. Both micro-tackling the national mood and just praying to be on the winning side of the argument come election day. And nary a real idea between them.
And look at our own small pond. What’s the real difference between our parties? Bogus pantomime posturing — decommissioning, policing, you name it — followed by a compromise ‘keeping the show on the road'.
You can vote whatever way you like now, our ‘government' will still be returned — largely unopposed.
Even the two supposedly defining issues of the decade — the War on Terror and Global Warming — now give off a strange hollow note. We don't — after years of yelling at each — even know if they (like ‘God', another hot button of the decade) exist.
Everywhere you see the same uncertain bland mulch. Pop Music? Here's your choice: what Simon says; various young women pretending to be Dusty Springfield; ColdPlayOrsonSnowPatrolKeane; countless young men from ‘the hood' telling us that the main aim in life is to be driven in a limo, drink Cristal and have young women shake their booty for ya; sensitive young men with compellingly drab names — James Blunt, James Morrison and David Gray). That's about it.
TV? Naturally reflecting the world around it, it's been houses (How Much is Your Relocation in the Sun); Self Help (You are so hideous ITV have decided you need plastic surgery and a crash course in social etiquette NOW); Reality TV (Watch 12 people you don't know sleeping on live feed!); cheap voyeurism; sexumentaries; the Comedy of Embarrassment (aka how to make six jokes last half an hour) and ersatz nostalgia (Life on Mars, Doctor Who).
Even the ads have been cheap and nasty: sell your gold; sell your old mobile; consolidate your debts — only in the noughties could monstrosities like Churchill the Dog and Alexander the Meerkat become household faves. And all to endless repeats of Only Fools and Horses ...
The fifties had Elvis and James Dean; the 1960s, the Beatles, psychedelia and the Summer of Love; the 1970s, the three-day week, glam rock and the advent of punk; the 1980s, Thatcher, Spandau Ballet and the end of the Cold War. Even the useless 1990s (where the rot really started) had grunge, Gen X and Britpop.
The noughties have no such iconic resonances. This really has been the decade when ‘stuff happens' — some of it good, some of it just ok but most of it soul-draining cack. To the wastepaper bin of history with it.
Phew, that's better. Happy New Year everybody.