The Noughties: 10 years of nostalgia

The most striking thing about this decade is how much of it we spent looking back at past decades.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Culture

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What do you reckon will be the legacy of the Noughties? This question seems to be exercising the minds of many newspaper features editors. In recent days, for example, the Guardian has asked us ‘Who’s the biggest eco-villain of the Noughties’ (1) and pondered over the ‘Environmental milestones of the Noughties’ (2). The Times (London) has given us a ‘Noughties: year by year’ (3), while the Daily Telegraph has been musing over the ‘Top 100 defining cultural moments of the Noughties’ (4). And then we had ‘the Noughties… was that it?’ on BBC 3 (5).

Naughty, naughty, very very naughty, as the Shamen might say (6). Or as Danny Dyer would put it: this is all proper naughty (7).

The BBC iPlayer preview to the Noughties… was that it? did not bode well: ‘People became text addicts; metrosexual men donned make-up; smoking behind the bikesheds returned; Twitter arrived; there was a fight with “terror”; WAGS, ASBOs and chavs made an appearance.’ This intro made me fear it was going to be one of those programmes with talking heads who are complete arseholes – with Lauren Lavern or Steve Merchant or whatshisface from Two Pints of Lager regurgitating the same old lame rubbish. Yes, you love Westlife and Katherine Jenkins and Barack Obama and programmes about your adolescence. But so what?

However, I thought the Noughties… was that it? was rather good. I’m a sucker for any nostalgic kind of programme that deals with the past, and contextualises modern, cultural history. But I do think it rather missed the point, just like every other retrospective of this decade has. The Noughties have been characterised by a general sense of introspection and nostalgia, which makes reflective articles and programmes about the Noughties somewhat ironic. A true portrait of the Noughties would be about the gloomy mood of the Noughties itself.

The Noughties will be mainly remembered as an era in which we all re-remembered, in which we all logged on to Facebook and Twitter and Friends Reunited, to get in touch with long-lost friends or ex-girlfriends. We’re all becoming avatars. I Love 1996 – yes I remember that programme. I’ve watched it again and again throughout the Noughties. ‘I Love Watching I Love 1996 in 2004′ would be a more accurate description. We watched Frasier, Friends, Scrubs, Seinfeld and all the other shows that made us think of the past, and of what was, and what should have been.

No wonder Philip K Dick’s stories have become so popularised in cinematic form – in the guise of Minority Report (2002) and A Scanner Darkly (2008), which are both paranoid paeans to the past, and to the future. And no wonder Danny Dyer’s fake cockneyism has become popularised in a time when we all long for the ‘good old days’ when West Ham, Millwall and Chelsea fans could kick the shit out of each other. No wonder the backward-looking Life On Mars was a success. Even Dr Who has a decidedly retro feel about it. Yesterday and Dave and various Discovery and History channels have become successful avenues, and with good reason. The Noughties has been an epoch of endless re-remembering.

Perhaps our era of eternally re-remembering reflects a postmodern malaise. Certainly we do live in an age in which reality has become a reflection of itself. Journalists get their information from Twitter; journalists criticise Twitter; Twitter twats criticise journalists. It’s all a simulacrum. I do wish Jean Baudrillard was still around to have seen the Nick Griffin vs Question Time affair, in which the pre-emptive reaction to his appearance became the substance of the programme itself. ‘Did Question Time take place?’ Discuss… The Noughties have been all about introspection.

Retrospectives about the Noughties also beg the obvious question: how do we know what’s going to happen in the next two months? Perhaps our neurosis about the past is equally matched by our neurosis about the future? 9/11, 7/7 and all other dates that have a slash in them will probably be assumed as the defining episodes of the Noughties – but worry and a longing for the past will be this decade’s legacy.

Nostalgia will be the defining mood of the Noughties. This is why retrospectives on this decade are very fitting. Even ‘ironic’. Perhaps in the Twenty-Tens there will be a retrospective about the Twenty-Noughts. Time will tell. In the meantime, I think the Noughties will be thought of as a bit naughty.

Patrick West is spiked’s TV and radio reviewer. Read his blog here.

Read on:

spiked-issue TV and radio

(1) Who’s the biggest eco-villain of the noughties?, Guardian, 29 October 2009

(2) Review of the decade: Environmental milestones of the noughties, Guardian

(3) The Noughties: year by year, The Times (London), 20 October 2009

(4) Top 100 defining cultural moments of the noughties, Telegraph, 30 October 2009

(5) Watch episode 1 of the noughties… was that it? on BBC iPlayer here.

(6) Watch the music video of The Shamen’s ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ on YouTube here.

(7) Watch Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men 2: Living Dangerously on YouTube here.

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Topics Culture


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