Remembering the Oughts

I began this millennium ten years ago today, in St. Louis, on a youth group trip to some Y2K extravaganza inside the stadium where the Rams play. In the middle of Third Day’s set (Third Day!), some friends and I ran outside so we could see the fireworks and Y2K blackouts over the St. Louis skyline at midnight. I think we got in trouble for leaving, but we didn’t care. If the world was going to end that night, we were going to witness it first hand.

Nothing happened. And that’s all I can really remember from the year 2000—aside from the general chaos of the Bush/Gore presidential campaign, U.S. History AP with Mrs. Ashley, Britney Spears on TRL, and the Sydney Olympics (vaguely). The decade didn’t really get started until 2001. That’s the year I graduated from high school, moved from home, and started college. And of course, there was that day in the second week of September.

September 11 happened during my 3rd week as a freshman at Wheaton College. The out-of-nowhere unexpectedness of it typified a decade that would largely be defined by a sort of “what will happen next?” cynicism and dread. What would the Oughts have been like had that day never happened? I don’t think any of us could estimate.

From there, the decade flew by like a blur—the world changing faster than ever and full of war, terror, technology and Lord of the Rings. Reality blurred ever more with Hollywood melodrama and we all became hooked to horrifying “breaking news”: The D.C. Sniper! Anthrax! Tsunamis! Katrina! Worldwide economic meltdown! Michael Jackson dead! Cable news tickers, text alerts and Twitter gradually replaced ritualistic newspaper-reading with something altogether more instant.

It was a decade of moments. Small pieces loosely joined. Like the network of nodes through which the world has become almost entirely accessible, the Oughts killed our lingering suspicions of coherence and instead offered us a never-dull ala carte parade of vaudeville amusements: Youtube clips of the week, endless streams of “friend” updates, TMZ reports of Lindsay Lohan DUIs, iPhone apps for just about any other diversionary interest… Everyone seemed more “connected,” but the world at large… not so much. In September 2004, Martha Stewart went to jail, Oceanic Flight 815 crashed, and I spent my first month living in Los Angeles. A lot of bombs exploded in Iraq.

It was a decade of firsts. First black president. First black secretary of state. First time U.S. homes with cell phones outnumbered homes with landlines. I went abroad for the first time. I ate curry off of a banana leaf in Malaysia and grew fond of macarons in Paris. I published my first magazine article, wrote my first book, started my first blog. The Dow Jones Industrial passed 14,000 for the first time. A lot of people voted for their first Democrat.

In the 2000s, the Octomom became a celebrity, Carson Daly ceased being relevant, and Lady Gaga summed up pretty much everything that had happened between “Bye Bye Bye” and “Boom Boom Pow.” George W. Bush became a caricature, swine flu and trucker hats had their moment, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was somehow a hit, and I grew up a lot. I started the decade as a teenager living with my parents and ended it older by 59%.

I don’t remember a lot of the specifics of the decade, aside from a CD or movie here, a world-changing terrorist act there, and all the usual comings and goings of relationships, births (my niece and nephew), deaths (my grandfather and aunt), and jobs (making lattes, editing magazines). Most of it is a blur, stored up in that “oh yeah… that did happen didn’t it?” part of the memory that seems to curate more and more of our quickly forgotten life experiences on a week-to-week basis.

What I do know about the 2000s is this: The world didn’t end; I wrote a 20-page paper about Saved by the Bell in grad school; Kansas won the NCAA basketball championship; Arrested Development should have lasted longer; I accomplished a lot of things I’m proud of; And there are many things I wish I would have done differently.

The end of a decade is really just a somewhat arbitrary excuse to look back, reflect, and take stock of time’s decennial endurance. And in that, it’s a blessing and a curse. Who among us doesn’t have regrets about something they might not have done or said? Who among us doesn’t sometimes want to turn back the clock? The “Oughts,” as with any period of time past, are full of “oughts” of the regret variety: I should have done this; I wanted to do that; I ought to have done so much more.

But enough looking back. It’s a new year and a new decade. It’s time to move on in faith and fresh hope, with lessons and bruises and battle scars only making us more durable for whatever unfolds in the decade to come.

9 responses to “Remembering the Oughts

  1. Good stuff here, but I think it’s the “aughts.”

  2. Thanks Eric- I think “aughts” is preferable indeed, though “oughts” seems to also be an accepted use. Just yesterday the LA Times used that spelling. In any case, for my purposes in this blog post, “oughts” worked better.

  3. Boring fact: According to something I just read in The New Yorker (which is probably pretty precriptivist ordinarily), ‘aught’ is a corruption of ‘naught,’ and so actually neither ‘ought’ nor ‘aught’ is correct to mean ‘zeroes.’

    I still use ‘aught’ though.

  4. One of my favorites to read on your blog, Brett. Possibly because I can relate in many ways. But a very enjoyable read. :)

  5. Holy crap! I was at that thing in St. Louis with my youth group, too! Wasn’t it good times?

  6. Not to nitpick, but the decade doesn’t end until December 31, 2010. The reason, there wasn’t a Year Zero.

    Great post otherwise. Interesting perspective from someone about a decade youunger than me. Another great read.

  7. That depends. the 200th decade CE doesn’t end until the end of this year, but the decade in the sense that the 30s, the 60s, and the 80s are decades did end half a month ago. Different definitions.

  8. Spare me the Common Era designation Tim Coe. Also, I understand your definition, but the decade is not over.

  9. All right.

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