Things I liked in the ’00s: Non-sports

At the dawn of the century, I was in high school. By the end of its first decade, I was on my second full-time job and, in a fashion, on a second career. So, it was a significant 10 years for me.
Obviously, mine were the most important events of the “Decade Without A Name.”

First off, I wish I had been a columnist making heady predictions with little evidence, sometimes no more than my impulsive brain. I could have noted that I’d read about the possibility of planes-as-terror-weapons for years (and moreover, that a large-scale attack was inevitable), or that I had a conversation on 9/13/01 about the upcoming war with Iraq (if not elsewhere, too), and the predictable political and free-speech results that would play out there. Also, I wish I had bookmarked the stories I read, off and on, for years about the absurdity of America using homes as credit cards, and the disaster that was waiting there.
Granted, I didn’t have any answers. But at least I was aware. I know, I hear the world’s smallest violin, too.

And sadly, I wish I had been wrong at least once — after the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, I said to a fellow dorm resident, “I think Rivera is going to blow this.”

But ultimately, as it did for most people, the 2000s have centered on the Internet. It’s become the place for everything, and all that’s different is the scale. Human foibles, tendencies and foolhardiness are just given a wider audience and a faster turnover, but without much moderation in tone or bombast. And while privacy has been declared dead, all these revelations seem to indicate we’ve still got plenty we’d like to hide.
Anyways, here’s some of what I enjoyed (limiting my word count is clearly not a like):

  • Prescient viewpoints in writing, especially those from people who may not have had such an audience in earlier centuries. Notably: The bloggers are coming; the tech-obsessed, expectant young generation (in 2001) of David Brooks’ “The Organization Kid” minus 2008’s blip of political participation; the close-to-my-heart “leave journalism” meme; the “Twitter is journalists’ obsession” right before it happened; the indignant (though not necessarily wrong) “Pay me, Internet bastards“) phenomenon; and many others in the journalistic vein.
    Oddly enough, for a crazy shell of a man, Hunter S. Thompson was on in 2001 with at least two ESPN Page 2 columns (back in the good ol’ days): The growing (recurring?) tide of “Violence as Entertainment” in sports, and possibly his last nonbizarre ramblings, in reaction to 9/11. Here’s the key sentence:

    “It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”

    Of course, I also liked him being an addled gun-toting lunatic on Conan O’Brien’s show.

  • The not-so-prescient writings. There should be an honorable mention for all the Y2K panic. I was never sadder than when the entire U.S. electrical grid wasn’t brought down by the clock changing to 2000. And, while he’s bashed too much for being relatively harmless, it’s a good thing Jay Leno doesn’t appear to be the future of TV.
    Other than that, there was: Don’t go crazy about them blogs, by the well-meaning and usually better Jack Shafer; the inevitable “Is the iPod overrated?” in April 2005!; the idea that small lenders — the George Baileys — caused the housing mess (as if community banks were the ones who bundled and short-sold); panic that children can’t handle red-ink corrections (actually, who uses any pencil anymore); and the various “$4 gas? That’ll be thought of as cheap!” short-term guarantees, though the sub-$2 days do appear over.
  • Science telling us the obvious. I know, I’m telling a joke from every observational comedy standup’s routine. Still, it was slightly helpful to confirm that “the runner’s high” is not just people hallucinating, handwashing is good, and that animals and sick people are a good match. And, well, this headline speaks for itself: “Slow balls take the swing out of young ball players.” As if to pile on, notice that the writer/editor split “ballplayers” into two words.
    The most important research of the decade is a tie between the schizophrenic astronomy debate over Pluto as a planet (in, out, maybe back in), and the dedicated amateur scientists who demonstrated the capabilities of Peeps.
  • The last U.S. World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, getting his due. Wikipedia should be just a starting point.
  • People saying crazy shit that people are afraid to say they agree or sympathize with. Of course, much of the time, it’s tragic: racist, genocidal, etc. Sometimes, though, while unpleasant, it’s so tone-deaf as to be amusing. Enter the professor who thinks hot co-eds are a perk of the job.
  • The best decade in television history. I know, reality TV is ridiculous. But we’ve all watched some of it, so don’t complain too much. But look at the positive in Joel McHale’s 90/10 theory of crap/unprecedented brilliance.
     This is the decade that brought up most of “The West Wing” and all of “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “24,” “Lost,” “Deadwood,” “Arrested Development,” “The Office (U.K. and U.S.)” “30 Rock,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and many others. Even the “CSI” franchise, for all its stodgy formula, raised the production bar. Plus, the idea that cable TV could offer programming of its own and that it could surpass network TV — FX and USA, most notably, have posted original, provoking and watchable, if not always outstanding, shows for close to a decade.
    When you’re watching TV in the 21st century, you’re often watching film production quality, better entertainment and smarter writing and acting, and you don’t have to leave your house. Those flat screens don’t seem much smaller than the big screen, either.
  • The age of free music: I’m not really talking about illegally downloading stuff, though that enters every conversation. I’m talking about the lifetimes’ worth of free music made available on artists’ websites, through iTunes and MySpace, concerts at NPR and many other sites, and endless promotions everywhere. A few years back, Apple and Facebook gave away 25 songs a week for 10 or so weeks — I’m still finding new and interesting stuff through the artists included and those I’ve encountered through their music.
    • iTunes: If, like me, you already had tons of music through CDs, file-swapping, etc., you need a place to organize it. iTunes does that. Need a place to buy music? iTunes does it. Need a place to connect your portable player? Burn a CD? Watch TV? Get and listen to podcasts — including single podcasts with hundreds of songs from numerous genres? Connect wirelessly with a nearby friend’s music collection? iTunes does it.
      All those things sound obvious now, but they weren’t so simple just a few years ago.
      As great as the computers and the iPhone and iPod families are, this is the most effective product Apple’s ever come up with.
    • Hulu: Another sea change. I feel like I’m wasting my cable subscription. The downside? The network that shares the most (NBC) is falling apart. The major network shunning online video (CBS) isn’t.
    • Jay-Z spending 10 years rapping about how great he is and nobody seeming to mind.
    • The over-the-top rock opera that is Muse.
  • Daniel Craig as James Bond, particularly in “Casino Royale.” It’s not the most “Bond” movie, as far as gadgets and girls, but it’s the best display of filmmaking the series has had since Connery, if not the best. Even The New Yorker took it seriously.
    • “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Astoundingly smart and funny movie. Disagree? Watch “I Love You, Man.” It’s a throwback movie in that it doesn’t forget to tell a story or give you something to care about and root for in each of the characters. Best of all, it doesn’t have a sequel.
    • “Lost in Translation.” People are split — either a grand movie or the most boring thing ever. And it likely has caused Scarlett Johansson to be grossly overrated. But it’s the key film in Bill Murray’s second career as the man battered to the edge of despair by life itself. The film itself may lack in weight and depth; his performance does not.
  • “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” You’ll get no argument from me about the greatness of “The Daily Show.” But it’s a half-hour, four days a week. Conan did more than twice as much show each week within a more traditional confine. Beyond that, for all the staples (the talking lips, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog), every year you’d find new bits, characters and subtle changes in the show, keeping it as fresh as late night can be. It’s just too bad he got caught in the sinkhole that is NBC’s thought process.
  • The four-year college system. There are arguments against the current American college system, many with some merit, as well as some dreams of its abolition. For me, though, I saw a four-year time where I could get away from home, reach my athletic potential, learn — and learn to learn — and pretend to forget that life is increasingly and inevitably an ordered path. The bonus? My time at college gave me the key push toward the career paths I have set upon.

One thought on “Things I liked in the ’00s: Non-sports

  1. Nice blog, James!
    Love Joel McHale on “Community” 🙂
    The “aughts” were lousy in a lot of ways, but you and I both came of age during them, so they obviously had their good moments, too.
    – Cathy

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