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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A reflective trip into our common past.

My son said he’s spent today feeling reflective and wanted to revisit some of the places he knew as a child, including the home he and his sister were raised in by us.   Compared to the last two days, which were fun and active, today was quieter and more reflective  for both of us. It was also very healing and put a lot of perspective onto things.

So we took the 20 minute drive to where he grew up, parked the car and just walked around looking (without trying to look too suspicious!)   Our old house has fallen into disrepair (I don’t know if anyone lives there) but back in 1993, just after we purchased the house, we planted some trees.

We had this nutty idea of importing 30 tiny Canadian redwood seedlings from a company in British Columbia, Canada.   I remember we had to wait a while for them even after they shipped, because first they had to pass some kind of inspection in Florida to make sure they were free of aphids and other microbes that they might have been carrying from outside the US.   I remember when we finally got the seedlings, I had to keep them in a tub for a few days to moisten and soften their roots before planting them.

Redwoods are not indigenous to North Carolina, but we did some researchh and found out the moderate humid climate here is actually conducive to their growth, which is why we took a chance on them.   Over the years most of the seedlings died, and when the house was finally sold (well, actually foreclosed on) in 2003, the next owners chopped most of the surviving redwoods (about 5 or 6 left) down.  I remember being so enraged by that.   At the time the doomed young redwoods were about 8-10 feet tall.

But there is one last survivor, a beautiful, majestic redwood that is now 30-40 feet tall and looks very much at home among the small grove of other large trees that were either non-existent or very small when we bought the house in 1993. Here is that redwood as it is today.   It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that twenty-three years ago it sat in my tub upon arrival encased in a root ball with a plastic bag tied around it.

redwood2

redwood1

redwood_bark

Closeup of the bark–beautiful, red and burled.

I got photos of the rest of the trees (the ones I was able to–I didn’t want to be caught trespassing), all so much bigger than they were in 1993 or even ten years ago.     Here’s a cherry tree that was very tiny, barely more than a sapling,  but is now a huge shady tree big and sturdy enough to support a tire swing.   When my kids were little, the tree was too small to climb, but they used to pick caterpillars from its bark and collect them in a bucket (to be released outside later, as per my instructions.)

cherry_tree cherry_tree2

View of the property as it is today.  It was quite bare and almost treeless when we moved in.  You can see part of the house on the right.  The pink magnolia directly to the left of the house I planted there as a tiny seedling in 1996.

Here is a closeup of the magnolia:

magnoliatree

One of the many pine trees showing off its huge sturdy trunk:

pine_tree

The tree pictured below was the only one that was already big when we purchased the property in 1993, but it’s at least twice the size now and wide enough at the bottom to make a perfect fort for kids to play under.  Hell, I used to go sit under that tree to escape from my then husband!  Sometimes I even read books under there.

pine_tree2

2 views of the remains of our old outbuilding.  The roof has collapsed.  My son and I are both attracted to the eerie beauty of abandoned buildings.  Seeing the shed we used to store our gardening equipment and other things in was a little bittersweet.  I didn’t dare go inside.

abandoned_shed1  abandoned_shed2

A nearby “bamboo forest” growing behind the elementary school my kids attended.  It wasn’t there then.  Bamboo may be an invasive weed in this country because of its lack of natural enemies to keep its growth in check, but I find it beautiful.   I find the same to be true of Kudzu, which also grows here.

bamboo_grove1 bamboo_grove2

Finally, a view of our old neighborhood from the top of a nearby hill:

hightop_view

My son is flying back to Florida in the wee hours this morning.  I’m going to miss him, but I feel so happy we had such an amazing time together.

Tomorrow I’ll be able to return to blogging as usual.   I’ve been so busy the past few days that keeping up has been difficult.  I didn’t even have time to post a Monday Melody, but I promise there will be a new one this coming Monday.

Thoughts that you can’t believe someone else thought about too.

time (1)

Sometimes I have weird thoughts. Sometimes I like to type them into Google to see if anyone else was thinking the same thing. Here’s something I think about a lot. Someone on Reddit had the exact same thought and posted it. It’s always incredibly cool when that happens.

Here is the thing I think about a lot but at least one other person does too.

The mid-90s are as far away as the mid-70s were in the mid-90s. But mid-70s seems like another world to me, mid-90s seem like yesterday.

It’s kind of hard to wrap my brain around that. Even more bizarre is this:

1990 is as far away from 2015 as 1990 was from 1965!
😮

Or even:
1985 is as far away from 2015 as 1955 was from 1985! (but the 1980s are starting to seem kind of ancient to me actually).

The 90s just don’t seem that far away to me, but they are! I wonder if it’s just because I’m growing older and time is speeding up (at a rather frightening rate, too) or if people of all ages feel this way too. And if so, why? Did people who were the age I am now in 1990 think 1965 or the 1970s weren’t that far away? Do I just perceive a much larger gap of time from the 70s to the 90s or from 1965 to 1990 because I was much younger then? I think the culture has changed just as much in the past 25 years as it did in the 25 years before that. But the ’70s seem ancient (and sort of did in the 90s too if I remember correctly) and the ’90s don’t.
Why?

I thought I was the only one who had this thought…

…but apparently a lot of people do since it’s now a Facebook meme.

2016

2008 was almost Eight. Years. Ago. WTF. Facebook was new and MySpace was still popular. Hardly anyone knew what a meme was. Bush was still president, for heavens sake.
2009 seems like a year ago. 2010 seems like 6 months ago. 2014 seems like…a couple of weeks ago? Seriously, what’s up with this? Does anyone know? Is it like fluoride in the water? Is someone messing with our minds? What gives?

I know, random post. I had no other ideas tonight.

2015 is already half over!

time

Time really does seem to fly by faster the older you get. It seems like this year just started but according to my WordPress clock (it’s 4 hours off and I don’t know how to fix it) it’s already July 1, which means we are six months into 2015. In six more months it will be 2016. Where did a whole half a year go?

Wow. I really am old.

Have you ever been hit by an intense blast of nostalgia that almost knocks the wind out of you?

On the radio today I heard this Europop song for the first time since late 1983/early 1984 and was overcome by that sweet sadness that comes from realizing just how many years have elapsed. I was very young then; now I’m bordering on old. Wiser and more stable but more cautious and world-weary. I had no children; now I have adult children. I worried less, acted out more. I’m happier today than I was then, or at least more content. But I can’t help wishing I could go back sometimes, if only to do everything over the way it should have been done.

This song haunts me. I remembered it immediately but never knew who did it. I typed the lyrics in my browser and was able to find out who the artist was. We have the miracle of the Internet now; in 1983 doing such a thing would have seemed like science fiction.

Anyway, it’s a very cool tune. Enjoy!

“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: