Monday, December 28, 2009

Decade reviewed (6): Culture A-Z

Ali G. He may be a bit passe' already, but in the years 99-01 words like booyakasha were everywhere, based on the genius pisstake of faux American hip hop dialect and wannabe middle class 'ghetto' (glottal stop included) types. From "voice of da yoof" on The 11 O'Clock Show to watered down Hollywood blockbusters, Sasha Baron Cohen later found new fame with spin-off characters Borat and Bruno.

Big Brother. Since its triumphant debut in 2000, Big Brother was followed by ten successive editions of the same. On the trail of its success, dozens of other hybrid 'reality' TV shows followed. A whole industry of magazines feeding off z-list celebrities' antics multiplied and gained prominence as it took the notion of 'gossip' to new bulimic levels - all clumsily justified by the pretence that "it reflects society". We also learnt that all those who're not keen on BB and spin-offs are 'snobs', of course.

Credit cards. Clueless kids aged 18, people on the dole, casuals or part-timers earning £200 a month or less, people with a hair-raising credit history, desperate people with zero chances of paying back, and in the case of RBS, even dogs. The noughties saw a destructive, stupid, irresponsible, exponential increase in binge-lending. The Blairites saw it as the epitome of a dynamic Anglo-Saxon model. We know what happened after.

Daily Mail. If they carry on at this rate, soon the Mail's own pseudo-journos won't have anyone else left to snipe at. They may even start insulting each other or their own readers. In a couple of years' time you may as well expect a piece that goes "You! Yes, you, reading this piece right now. You're a useless bag of shit. A study from University of Colorado just recently confirmed it. Fuck off. Now".

Ebay. With internet domination came also online auction. A place to bypass Cash Converters, it is said to help the sale of millions of items everyday. When I did try a few years ago though, luck wasn't on my side. I tried to flog my entire Smiths 7" collection and all I got in return was a rickety email requiring extra info. With hindsight I'm glad I didn't part with them.

Facebook. Launched by a US student in 2004, it hit worldwide fame around 2006, quickly outdoing MySpace as the 'social network' that everyone, from your nan to the uncoolest politician, had to be a member of. For most of us, Facebook has become as routine-like as having breakfast, watching telly or taking a dump. Kickstarting everything from weddings to court cases to instant dismissals, it's undoubtedly one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the decade.

Girls Aloud. Someone in the Guardian called it an "intelligent and postmodern" phenomenon- the fact that pop of the "Smash Hits variety [is] no longer something to be ashamed of, if you're old enough to cut up your food unaided ". Sacred cows Girls Aloud have done wonders to sharpen the tabloids' investigative inclination. From Sarah Harding's capability to eat scotch eggs to Nadine checking into a hotel, this decade we've probably learnt how much arse paper the 'fab girls' use each time they wipe their petal-lined arse.

Harry Potter. JK Rowling's series about an orphan who discovers he's a wizard has beaten all records. With the fastest-selling books in history also spawning successful film adaptations, Pottermania turned the author into a millionaire and claimed one of the cultural icons of the decade.

Influenza. Hypochondria has been a constant feature of the decade of fear. From Sars, to anthrax contaminations and from Avian Flu to the latest H1N1 hysteria and its mutants (and let's not forget the 'millennium bug'), the noughties have been a rollercoaster of panic, anxiety and scepticism. From the swine flu alone, pharmaceutical giants generated $30bn.

Jan Moir. Right when the noughties were about to go down in history as the most sexually tolerant decade ever, homophobia struck with its (one can hope) swansong. Her appalling Daily Mail piece in the wake of Stephen Gately's death prompted a record 22000 complaints to PCC. It was in line, however, with the growing bullying culture that, hidden between cheeky chappies a-la Chris Moyles and finger-pointing crap a-la Heat magazine, tabloids and Z-rate "blogs", is at risk of becoming the normal backdrop to our lives.

Kate Moss. Another example of the neurotic ways of British media, the model has gone from hero to villain and back about twenty-four times this decade. Her short-lived romance with Pete Doherty in 2006 got more media coverage than the Iraq war.

Low Fare Airlines. Whether the start of new travelling opportunities for the non-wealthy or the McDonaldisation of air-travel, it's a fact that low-fare companies brought an end to the days of saving up a whole year for a flight and having to book it through an agency. However, the rise in hidden fares, luggage charges and payment ones (not to mention that recently Ryanair's CEO Michael O'Leary suggested a £1 toll to use the loo on board), is making some wonder whether passengers are being squeezed til the last drop of piss, quite literally.

MySpace. Facebook may now be the ultimate 'social network', but mid-decade clunky MySpace was widely considered the dogs' bollocks, as it also spawned a major music act or two (i.e. Lily Allen). And you may even remember Faceparty, Friendster and others. Until Facebook "did a Tesco" and wiped out the competition.

Nine Eleven. The biggest, vilest, terrorist attack in history became the focus of each and every one of our fears in the modern world. With a domino effect at all levels, from international relations to community cohesion and from TV series to travel, 9/11 was the most tragic where-were-you moment of the decade.

the Office. First aired in 2001, this Slough-based mockumentary propelled Ricky Gervais to worldwide stardom. Cringeworthy, embarrassing and shockingly realistic, the Office offered empathy to the tens of millions who are forced to work under delusional and/or egotistical bosses. Gervais' second cringe-based gem, Extras, followed in 2005.

Posh'n'Becks. Bridging the gap between Princess Diana and the arrival of Cheryl Cole, Paris Hilton & C, there was a time David and Victoria Beckham enjoyed the tabloid attention of ten royal families put together. Times five. Square. From their mega-wedding in 1999 until the News of the World scandal in 2004, it was literally impossible to find a Becks-free page in any daily or mag in the country.

Queen Mother. The reactions to the old bat's death in 2002 epitomised the dichotomy between 'real world' and 'ivory tower'. The collective shrug of indifference that took place was nowhere to be seen on the BBC, reporting (non) events as if the whole country was grief-stricken.

Red tops. The tabloids had never been particularly good at socially responsible behaviour. This decade, however, they have reached unprecedented poisonous levels. While kicking and screaming against nanny states and all-round surveillance, they actively promoted the most paranoid society known to man- one example is the 'paedo' obsession that now reigns supreme. With the rise of celebrity-mania also came new levels of bullying, and with multiethnicity came the biggest anti-immigration bombardment to be found on any mainstream press in the Western world. A toxic joke.

Smoking ban. If you ever worked as a barman you may be familiar with that stolid stench of fags that sticks to both hair and clothes. That went, in one single swoop, in 2007. Truth is not many expected a total smoking ban to be ever implemented, not even when the Irish and other EU countries did it. The days former Health Secretary John Read would publicly call it "one of the very few pleasures in life" feel like a million years ago.

TV series. The Sopranos, House, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Invasion, Jericho, 24, Flash Forward, Ugly Betty, Alias, you name them. From pure entertainment to reflections of the decade's end-of-the-world obsession, the noughties reacquainted the wider public with never-ending US TV series, often with mixed results (see here and here).

Ugg boots. Fashion has always existed and so have people following trends without shame. But never, ever before, have I seen such a ridiculous number of people wearing exactly the same item at the same time. If alien landed on UK soil expecting to find a massive recession they'd be puzzled at the sight of half the female population wearing Uggs- prices ranging between £100 and £150 a pop.

Venues named after a sponsor. 'Carling Academy', 'LG Arena', 'HMV Hammersmith Apollo'. Following the football template of 'Coca-Cola Leagues' and 'Worthington Cups', music venues too are now named after corporate words. If the trend continues, expect to have a drink at the 'Nokia Fox & Goose' or the 'Barclaycard Prince of Wales' in the near future .

Weatherspoons. The jury is still out. The last bastion of real ale, big screen-free, sort-of traditional pub where you can sip your drink without your ear-drums throbbing, or a corporate symbol of clonetown that stifles choice and lines the pockets of the big brewers? While you make your mind up, take a look at the amount of Weatherspoons that have been mushrooming up in your town.

X-Factor. Starting off as Pop Idol in 2001, Simon Cowell's circus is the epitome of noughties popular culture. Based on the usual recipe of humiliation, celeb culture, mass marketing and populism, the whole thing is about having a load of desperate young people begging the Emperor of Trash Music for a chance in the spotlight. By being steamrolled into every living room in the country, the X Factor brainwashed a whole new generation into thinking that Cowellism is the be all and end all of music.

Zara. Alphabetical constraints prevented us from picking H&M, Primark or TopShop instead, but the point is that for, the first time ever, you can travel from the UK to Sweden, France, or Germany and spot people wearing exactly the same clothes as you. From clonetown to cloneworld, perhaps fastfashion clothing is making us look better but it's also posing a whole range of questions.

[Apology for the lack of "Y" entries. Couldn't think of anything or anyone except Paula Yates. Any suggestions are welcome. UPDATE- Excellent suggestion from James D: YouTube!].


James D said...


claude said...

Shit! Of course! Cheers, James :-)

Charlie said...

For your comments on Girls Aloud (and your original post on them), I salute you!