Why did decades stop having personalities?

decades

I saw this quote today and it made me think.

The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s seem to have all separate, unique personalities, but these last 18 years seem to just be one big chunk of time that has no significant meaning.

Personally, I think decade “personalities” reach back all the way to at least the 1920s.  Although I have no real point of reference for chunks of time earlier than that,  I suspect the growth of mass popular culture (movies, radio, mass produced clothing, magazines, etc.) due to the advance of technology during the early to mid-20th century had a lot to do with the decades developing their own unique “feel.”

It wasn’t just music, entertainment and fashion that defined decades from each other; decades even had their own unique fonts.  You can pretty much tell the vintage of a magazine or paperback book heading or a movie poster by its font.  Colors (and color combinations) and patterns are also telling:  1940s: dark jewel colors; 1950s: aqua and pastels, gingham and boomerang patterns; 1960s: DayGlo colors, paisley, and psychedelic patterns; 1970s: earth colors (specifically, all shades of brown, harvest gold, avocado, and rust); 1980s: mismatched DayGlo colors and clashing abstract patterns, and of course, mauve and hunter green (for home decor); 1990s: the “distressed” look for furniture,  plain white walls, black clothing, tiny floral prints on black backgrounds, heather gray, brown, and lots of plaid flannel.  The 2010s do seem to be defined by the popular “lattice” and oversize houndstooth patterns you find on everything from throw pillows to blankets,  but I can’t think of much else that defines it, other than political statements like MAGA caps or pink pussy hats.

The decades as we think of them don’t generally (or ever) start on January 1 of a new decade.  They could start early, or it could take several years for the next decade to really get underway.  It also isn’t until some years after it began that we actually notice that things changed (that’s why the decade you’re currently in doesn’t seem to have its own personality).

For example, the “sixties” didn’t start until about 1964, with the rise of the Beatles (or possibly, in late 1963, with the assassination of JFK); the “seventies” didn’t begin until sometime in 1974, when early Disco/Philly sound emerged out of earlier funk and R&B; and bell bottoms, Earth shoes and sandals, long straight center parted hair, and long peasant dresses (all more associated with the sixties) suddenly gave way to platform shoes, polyester leisure suits, and sexy Lycra  “disco dresses” in jewel colors.    But it wasn’t until the end of the ’70s, or even the early ’80s, that we realized exactly when the “seventies” started and the “sixties” ended.

The “eighties” started more or less on time (or even early), because disco and its culture had a short run and was replaced with New Wave and power pop music as early as 1978 or 1979.  The eighties ran until the fall of 1991.  The rise of Nirvana and other grunge bands from Seattle commenced the nineties.  Overnight, Generation X was cool and Boomers were just old.  I remember the switch to the nineties well, since I gave birth to my son the very same month “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released, and I remember telling my husband on first seeing the video on MTV, “That song is going to change everything.”  I have no idea how I knew that.

But what happened since the new millennium began?  Why, almost two decades after the year 2000 began, does that decade still seem to have no personality of its own? Why does there seem to be no clear cut off between the late ’90s, the 2000s and 2010s?

Obviously, we are far enough into the 21st century that at least its first decade’s personality would have emerged some time ago.  So it’s not because we haven’t waited long enough.  Now, that could be the case for the 2010s (which we are still in but not for much longer) but not for the 00’s.  But I suspect the reason is something else entirely.

Since 9/11, there’s been a change in the national zeitgeist, a darkening of the overall mood.   People are more suspicious of each other and of the government, and the overall mood is one of distrust and dread.   That distrust and dread, sparked by 9/11, is what led to Trump and the rise of hatred and nationalism, and the disintegration of American democracy.   Pop culture — music, fashion, movies, art, and youth movements — all the things that have traditionally defined the decades take a secondary role to survival itself.   A society that is not thriving doesn’t really care about frivolities, pop culture, and being entertained.  During dark times, people tend not to create a new culture; instead they draw from the past and become nostalgic for happier, more stable and prosperous times.

There’s another reason for the lack of definition of recent decades, one which may be even more important than the darker national zeitgeist.   Technology has continued to advance, to the point that every person can customize their own entertainment.   Up until the 1990s, people tended to listen to the same songs on the radio, watch the same music videos, and shop at almost identical malls scattered across the country.  A mall in Miami was pretty much the same as a mall in Minnesota.  There weren’t 1000 different cable channels.  People bought physical records or CDs because of what they heard on the radio.  In general, there was less choice in entertainment (though many believe the quality was much better).   There was no internet or social media to influence individual opinion or create tiny niche cultures, the way we have today.   Now anyone can start a Youtube channel, anyone can create their own music video or short film and get their own small group of fans or followers.  Anyone can start a blog and sometimes gain a modicum of internet fame from doing so.   Your friend may listen to a band, watch a movie, or be a fan of a comedy series you have never heard of because they have only a tiny niche following on Youtube or Vimeo.   There’s also the isolating nature of today’s entertainment.   People watch videos and listen to music on their phones or iPods instead of turning on the radio for all their friends to enjoy.

And of course, many of us, overwhelmed by too many choices and not enough quality, escape into the past for our entertainment, indulging our need for nostalgia.   The unifying sense of solidarity people once experienced through enjoying a common zeitgeist is almost completely gone.  Now it’s everyone for themselves.   The disintegration of that kind of solidarity may actually have something to do with why Americans stopped caring about each other.

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How did narcissism get so “popular”? (part two of two)

narcissist_nation

Here is the second installment, as I promised–I apologize for the delay. In part one, I covered the way narcissism has increasingly infiltrated our society and become a near-virtue to be emulated, starting in the late 1940s and 1950s in a postwar America now regarded to be a world superpower. The babies born in this mood of can-do optimism, the Baby Boomers, were indulged by their parents, who believed anything was possible and showered their children with all the new toys, space-age technology, and new permissive child-rearing techniques that were suddenly popular.

In Part One of this article, I discussed how the indulged Boomer generation influenced western society at every stage of life, and (as a generation) grew into grandiose, entitled adults who demanded (and got) special treatment every step of the way. I covered the decades from the 1950s through the 1980s, and described how narcissism became increasingly regarded as a desireable quality. By the 1980s, narcissism came out of the closet, with the election of a president (Reagan) who encouraged greed, materialism, and entitlements for the wealthy with his “trickle down economics.” At the same time, empathy, neighborliness, and general goodwill toward others seemed to become almost quaint, a naive relic of the past. The juggernaut was the new “greed is good” philosophy, made popular by a 1987 hit movie, “Wall Street,” (which was of course the place to be). Narcissism was no longer something to be hidden; now it was something to aspire to.

In this next installment, I’ll be focusing less on the Boomers and more on the continued growth of narcissism in society, as well as the backlash against it–the narcissistic abuse and ACON community–which began as an Internet phenomenon during the mid 1990s due to one self-professed narcissist named Sam Vaknin. But actually, the seeds of the backlash had been planted as far back as 1983, with M. Scott Peck’s bestselling book, “People of the Lie.”

1990s.

cast_friends

The greed worshipping culture begun in the 1980s continued during the 1990s, as Boomers rose to power and we elected our first Boomer president, Bill Clinton, in 1992. Under Clinton, the economy boomed, and a new breed of Yuppies, the Dot Com entrepreneurs (who were mostly Generation X), rode on the coattails of the newly born Internet, and they made money hand over fist until they went bust several years later. But people still went shopping and the culture at large was becoming increasingly exhibitionistic, obnoxious, and in-your-face (reality shows were born during this time), while corporations grew bigger and more unwieldy (unlimited growth, like a cancer, was encouraged, and smaller companies merged into megacorporations the size of small governments). Meanwhile, government institutions built in the more sedate and community-oriented 1950s and 1960s began to splinter and crumble. The government, especially the part of the government that tried to help its less fortunate citizens and attempted to even the playing field through fair taxation, became The Enemy.

But a backlash was beginning to silently bubble under all the glitz and bling of the ’90s. Back in 1983, a psychiatrist turned born-again Christian named M. Scott Peck published his groundbreaking book, “People of the Lie.” Here, for the first time, was a self help psychology book that focused on “evil”–specifically, people who were evil. The traits described in the book are exactly those of malignant narcissism. The book resonated with many, particularly with Gen-Xers and later born Boomers (Generation Jones), who had been raised by narcissistic parents. In some cases, especially for younger Boomers and early Gen-Xers, these kids had been betrayed by initially doting Silent generation parents who suddenly, during the 1960s or 1970s, seemed to suddenly care only about their own self-development at the expense of their confused and hurt adolescent and preteen children who they no longer seemed to even like much (this is exactly what my experience had been growing up in the 60s and 70s: my parents changed and no longer seemed to care).

But in the early 1980s, Peck’s “evil people” were not automatically equated with narcissists or people with other Cluster B disorders. Until the mid-90s, narcissism–or NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder)–was simply a psychiatric label given to certain patients with a certain set of traits, who may or may not have been evil. NPD wasn’t demonized yet.

Then along came Sam Vaknin in 1995. Vaknin, a former white collar criminal and self-confessed narcissist, had written a tome about narcissism called “Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited.” Written initially to obtain supply and a guru-like status for himself, Vaknin’s book actually helped many of the narcissistic abuse victims who read it and recognized their abusers in its 600+ pages. Vaknin’s idea of NPD didn’t fit that described in the DSM: he mixed in with NPD several traits of psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), and Borderline personality disorder (BPD), to describe a particularly dangerous type of malignant narcissist that made the toxic people described in M. Scott Peck’s book seem almost tame in comparison.

The book was successful, and soon Vaknin started his own website, and discussion groups, and abuse victims all over the world jumped on the bandwagon. Vaknin, exactly the sort of person they sought to avoid, had become their savior and guiding light out of darkness.

Until the 2000s, Vaknin’s was pretty much the only voice on the Internet about narcissistic abuse. But in the very late 90s, a few books were beginning to be published about this “new” type of abuse that didn’t necessary include physical violence (but could). Parents, particularly mothers, were the focus, and a subset of the narcissistic abuse community–one that focused on narcissistic mothers and the damage they had done to their now-adult children–formed the template for the explosive ACON (Adult Children of Narcissists) movement.

2000s.

bling

For a brief time, after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it looked like Americans just might start to care about each other again. There was an outpouring of support for the victims of the 9/11 disasters, and solidarity shown among all Americans. For the first time, regional differences and even racial differences didn’t seem to matter, and Americans were united by their flying of the flag. No one seemed all that concerned by the curtailment of certain freedoms and and increase in xenophobia–after all, it was for the protection of the country, right?

But as a result, the economy was suffering, so George W. Bush Jr. (“Dubya”) gave us all permission to “go shopping.” And so we did. It was back to the bread and circuses and the shallow, materialistic culture of the 1980s through pre-2001.

Reality shows rose in popularity and the badder the behavior, the more popular they got. New celebrities were famous only for “being famous,” having a famous parent, or just for acting badly. People aspired to be just like Snooki and The Situation from The Jersey Shore, or Tiffany “New York” Pollard from Flavor of Love. All of these characters were narcissists, or at least acted that way for the benefit of the camera. And people loved them for it.

During the 2000s, Millennials, the rising young adult generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, started being being accused of being narcissistic, but if they are, you can blame their parents for having taught them these values. In addition, a lot of gaslighting is going on by older generations, who blame the Millennials for their inability to find jobs that pay a living wage and provide benefits, forcing them to live at home and be dependent for longer than earlier generations–and accuse them of being “lazy,” “spoiled,” and “entitled.” But what about their mostly Boomer and Gen-X parents, who modeled this sort of behavior?

Politicians became more blatantly narcissistic and their lack of empathy sank to new lows. One politician said if you weren’t rich, you should blame yourself. Blaming the victim became increasingly popular, and was even seen by some conservative politicians as a “Christian” way to behave–for if you were favored by God, He would bless you with wealth and material comforts. Religion itself became a way for narcissists to rise to positions of great power, and use their “favored status” in God’s eyes as a way to abuse their flock of followers.

Meanwhile, the narcissistic abuse commmunity continued to grow, and blogs written by abuse survivors were beginning to pop up all over the Internet. The abuse community developed their own lingo, some of it borrowed from earlier movements such as 12-step programs (codependent, enabling, people-pleaser are examples), some from pioneers such as Sam Vaknin (narcissistic supply, confabulation), and some from mental health experts going all the way back to Freud. Some terms were taken from popular movies, such as “flying monkeys” (The Wizard of Oz), and “gaslighting” (Gaslight).

2010s.

tea-party

Being only 5 years into the 2010s, it’s hard to see any patterns yet, but it does seem that the problem of narcissism is finally being noticed by the general public. One of the Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump, is well known for his “NPD” and called out for his grandiose antics constantly, even by people outside the narcissistic abuse community. Narcissism is a fashionable topic now–the fascination by it may only be a fad, but it’s making people pay attention. Lately I’ve noticed a number of Christians who are abandoning the fiscally conservative values held by groups such as the Tea Party, who are about as collectively entitled as you can get (they had better get their social security, but to hell with that child who needs special medical treatment but can’t get it because his parents are too poor). It’s probably too soon to tell whether the “social gospel” is making a return, but there does seem to be a greater call for an increase in empathy and caring for each other and building communities instead of just building up the Almighty Self.

It will be interesting to see what the rest of this decade holds.

“Simpler times.”

record_player

I remember growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s, I always heard grown-ups talk about the 1950s, which I don’t remember because I was born at the tail-end of that decade. People of my parents’ generation talked about how much simpler things had been in the decade of poodle skirts, The Honeymooners, Chuck Berry, and suburban conformity.

I remember my record player that I got when I was about 6. It was one of those boxy plastic affairs inside an aqua faux-leather box and had a pearlized plastic and chrome handle. It had a dial that said 16-33-45-78. Even back then, 16 rpm and 78 rpm records were pretty much obsolete, but one of my favorite things to do was obsessively play my children’s records on the various settings. My favorite was 78 rpm because it made everything sound like the Chipmunks. It made me laugh. The 16 rpm setting was scary because it made voices sound demonic–like the death metal which was still far off into the future. I used to wonder if there was even a such thing as a 16 rpm record? If so, I never saw one. I do remember a babysitter gave me a molded plastic album filled with her old records from her childhood, which included 78s. They were very small and came in colors other than black. I should have kept them; they would probably be worth something today.

My first album was The Monkees. I was obsessed with the TV show and in love with Mickey Dolenz. I used to play “I’m a Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville” over and over, and kept scraping the needle back over the record to hear those songs again. All the other little girls I knew were in love with Davey Jones, but he just never did it for me. I look at old pictures of Mickey today and wonder what my 8 year old self saw in him. He really wasn’t that cute. One time a babysitter and her boyfriend played a joke on me. She had her boyfriend call and pretend he was Mickey. She handed me the phone and with a twinkle in her eye, said “it’s for you.” I half-believed it was true. I wanted to believe it was true. But when she told me it was a joke, I just said, “oh, okay, I knew it was a joke anyway.” I’m not sure if I did or not. I was so gullible back then. I went back to my room to play my Monkees album again.

the_monkees

I remember the orange and white plastic AM transistor radio I got for Christmas that same year. I was so proud of being able to keep up with all the hit songs. It made me feel so grown up, almost like a teenager. It seemed in those days new songs stayed on the radio for a shorter period of time than they do now–the maximum was about 3 months. “American Pie” was one of the few that remained in rotation for 4 or more months. I lost my radio about a year later when I failed to rake the leaves. When my father found out, he took me out to the garage, told me to bring the radio with me, and as I stood there, he smashed it to bits with a shovel. I was inconsolable. I would have rather been beaten.

I was in my teens during the 1970s and graduated to a real stereo. It was a one-piece console but still a stereo and I could get FM radio, which was considered much cooler than AM. Stereos were a big deal in the 1970s. Outside of fancy stereophonic equipment and color television, we didn’t have a whole lot in the way of entertainment technology. That wouldn’t happen until the 1980s with its VCR and personal computer revolution.

The advances made since the 1980s have been staggering. In the 1990s the Internet was introduced to the public and at first people dismissed it as a fad that would soon pass. Ha! Little did I know that in two decades, it would completely change my life. The Internet was like manna from heaven for socially awkward introverts like myself.

There were also the first cell phones (which almost no one had due to the expense and they didn’t work too well). The turn of the century ushered in the communications revolution, with cellphones beginning to supplement or even replace the old landline phone. The Internet is barely recognizable from what it was in the 1990s. When I look at videos now of the early Internet, it looks so primitive, like something from 100 years ago. It’s hard to believe it was only 20 years ago it looked like that. Things are changing with dizzying speed and time itself seems compressed.

netscape

When I look back on the 1960s and 1970s now, they seem so innocent. Kids didn’t have computers and TV was still pretty limited because so few people had cable TV yet. But what we did get was free. Watching TV became a something families did together after dinner, instead of each family member going off to watch their own show or play a game on their own TV or computer. Kids played outside, because, well, there was nothing else to do. In a technological sense, the 1970s weren’t a whole lot different than the 1950s, even though attitudes had changed pretty drastically.

The 1970s to me seem like another lifetime, not merely 40 or so years ago. Now I hear people talk about “those innocent 1970s” and I laugh because when we were in them, no one thought they were that innocent at all.

With all that said, I’ll leave you with this: