Friday, October 1, 2010

Everything you've always wanted to know about the previous decade but forgot to ask.

Has anyone noticed how many people are still writing 2009 instead of 2010? It seems excessive considering it's October. My theory is that we just can't believe that the decade is over, but it is, oh children, it is.

If the trajectory of my freelance career continues as is (and I sincerely hope it does not), I will one day be hired to write The Entire History of The Whole Fucking Universe for less than 10 bucks an hour. In honor of finally realizing that another decade has come and gone, here is what I will say about the Oughts!

On the decade called the Oughts, or The Naughty Oughts (to be truthful, no one called them the Oughts or the Naughty Oughts, but they didn’t really call them much of anything, so I’ll just call them the nasty, dirty, filthy naughty Oughts, or just The Oughts for short.)

In actuality, The Oughts (specifically the late Oughts) weren’t as much naughty as haughty! (Well, I guess that’s not really true, they weren’t so much haughty as narcissistically self-aware and self-promoting, but that doesn’t rhyme with anything.) At the beginning of the decade, America was the all about spending and showing. The most popular items or services were those that not only cost a lot of money, but also had the appearance of costing a lot of money. Early-oughters loved to shop, which wasn’t much different from previous (or future, for that matter) decades, but instead of trying to get the most from their money, buying the best bargain, early-oughters tried for the worst deal, the least for the most. They never bought anything on sale, if they did, it was purely by accident, and they hoped none of their friends would ever catch them doing that. Who cared if you spent 10,000 bucks on a toe ring, if no one saw you do it. It was like that whole tree in the forest thingie. Only in the oughts, it was more like: if you spend money and no one knows about it, is it really gone?

For example, nanny’s salaries were pretty consistent. There was pretty much a standard pay scale that most of them got, but the savvy Oughty parent would choose the nanny that looked the most expensive, the one that said, “I like to spend money.” So when given the choice between two nannies with the exact same experience and pay scale: one is Mexican, speaks fluent Spanish, English and a fair amount French, but is ten pounds overweight and often wears an old Madonna Truth or Dare Tour t-shirt to work while the other is French, speaks fluent French and a bit of English, is ten pounds underweight and willing to wear a uniform, the early to mid Ought parent would choose the French nanny because back then,  in order of ostentation, France beat Mexico. (France, in this case, beat Spain as well because if you had a Spanish-speaking nanny, your neighbors would assume she was from Mexico, even if she had just gotten off a plane from Barcelona.)
The early Oughter wanted the other nannies at the playground to think, " Uniformed nannies? How retro! And French? Ooh la la! Tres cher!"  The other nannies never thought this, of course, but were more likely to wonder where the foxy Latina got her genuine Truth or Dare tour t-shirt: those things were worth a fortune!

In 2007 two things happened that made everyone stop spending so much money: one, a democrat was elected president, and no one liked spending a lot of money in front of democrats, it just didn’t seem polite. And two, we ran out of money. It was bound to happen sooner or later. A lot of the people spending money during the oughts money weren’t spending actual money, they were spending credit. Credit has a weird habit of appearing smaller as it gets bigger. When you get your first credit card bill and it’s say, 45 dollars, you think, oh I should pay that forty-five bucks, I’ll pay it in the middle of the month when the rent isn’t due. Then, a few years and a few thousand dollar toe rings later, that number becomes more like forty-five thousand dollars. And you happen to make 13 dollars an hour as a receptionist at a company that exclusively makes expensive boxer shorts, and your rent is fourteen hundred dollars a month, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that no matter how long you lived, you would not be paying back that forty-five thousand bucks, so why even worry about it? Why not just throw another ten thousand dollar toe ring on the pile and while your at it, a thousand dollar cheeseburger? Eventually the credit card companies realized that they were ones footing the bill for all that stuff and no one had offered them so much as a French fry.

It was around that time that we saw the advent of the hipster (see also: Hipster, history and eradication of). Where the early oughter (also called The Spendster) liked to ostentatiously spend money, the hipster would ostentatiously not spend money.

Hipster exchanges often went like this:

“I found a bar last night that served 5 dollar pitchers of PBR.”

“Big deal. I found one that sold PBR on tap for 25cents.”

“Epic! After a couple of pitchers, the Taco Lady came in, and it was the end of the night, so all her tacos were cold and congealed, and she was selling them half off.”

“So? I stopped at the bacon-wrapped hot dog salesman at the corner of Mission and 22nd, and the dude dropped my hot dog on the sidewalk.”

“Gross. I puke on that sidewalk.”

“Yeah, but he gave me the hot dog for free as long as I promised not to tell anyone.”

“But you’re telling me.”

“I’m telling everyone, dude. I got drunk and fed for a buck seventy-five!”


FTW is internet speak for “For the win” and someone who spoke it out loud in initial-form, with or without irony, was either a hipster or a douchebag or both. (People who were either a hipster or a douchebag did not know which one they were. It was kind of  like how no one knows if they pronounce the first vowel sound of either and neither with a long I sound or a long E sound, and you can’t just listen to yourself speak because then you will be self-conscious and you might start talking with a British accent or something.) Internet Speak (made popular by websites that featured lol catz: pictures of cats so funny, they cause anyone who sees them to laugh out loud.) was very popular. So popular, it seemed like everyone was using it, and therefore that made it okay.

The late Oughts made it okay to not spend money, more impressively, it made it okay to not have money (even rich people didn’t have money). Just as importantly, they also made it okay to laugh out loud at cats, especially funny cats. It was as if we’d finally clued in to this whole Free to be You and Me thing 30 odd years later. This might have just been a passing I’m okay, you’re okay fad, if it were not for a Harvard drop-out by the name of Mark Zukerberg, a scrawny sandy-haired young man whose only interesting feature was a strange penchant for wearing shower shoes to the office (which does not seem strange at all when you realize that among other things, wearing shower shoes to places other than the shower was also deemed okay in the late-oughts).

 In 2004 (when it was still not quite okay to wear shower shoes in public) Zuckerberg decided that it was also okay to tell everyone what you were doing at the exact time you were doing it. We’d been trying to do that for years, take the example of the ostentatious nanny or ostentatious sidewalk hot dog. But we couldn’t really tell EVERYONE about it. Until Facebook came along and suddenly, a generation that was in need of more warm fuzzies and fewer cold pricklies could suddenly brag about the fact that their Nanny needed the day off for Bastille Day or they've contracted tetanus from free street meat to everyone they knew at the same time. It left a lot of free time for doing things like eating food off the sidewalk, and fucking around on Facebook.

Soon after, Twitter came along and we could tell everyone, absolutely everyone everything. And because everything we did or thought was okay, we felt no qualms about revealing ourselves in 140 characters or less. We twittered EVERYTHING. Diarrhea? We tweeted it. Yelled at an old woman on the bus? Twatted. Found a funny picture of a cat? Spread it around so everyone can laugh out loud at it. Of course by now we are all painfully aware that all this tweeting and ostentatious meat-eating eventually led to the downfall of civilization, but at the time it was hilarious.

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