Ten Years of Dark Humor: A Retrospective of the First Decade of the New Century

We are approaching the half-way point of the last year of the decade.  Sort of.  Officially the last year of this decade is 2010.  That’s if you’re following the rules.  If you’re going by the book then the first year of this decade/century/millennium was not 2000, but 2001.  After all the Julian calendar didn’t start off with the year zero even though maybe it should have.

But who cares about what the officials say?  It was New Year’s Eve 1999 that was the closing of the 20th Century.  Limp Bizkit was at the top of their game.  The World Wrestling Federation had not yet been sued by the World Wildlife Foundation for the legal use of “WWF”.  The XFL was all up in your face.  Everything from snowboards to Cheetos was X-TREME!!!  Cellphones were annoying.  And everyone, or at least the media anyway, was terrified that all the computers in the world would think it was 1900 and the water would stop flowing through the pipes.

Now, nearly ten years later, we can look back on this bleak and confusing decade and still not have any idea what the hell just happened.

It seems, with the benefit of hindsight, that every decade takes on a personality of sorts.  The 1970s conjure up images of afros, puke green and mustard orange, shag carpeting, hideous pants, wood paneling, and Richard Nixon despite the fact that he was cast out like a leper before the decade was even half over.  When you think about the 1980s, even if you aren’t old enough to have been there, you think about bright bold primary colors, big shoulders and hair, clean vibrant art, and mullets.  The 1990s had a more khaki and earthy feel.  Tie-dyed shirts, dreadlocks, and hemp necklaces were everywhere.  For that matter so were Doc Martins and black nail polish.  There seemed to be a 4-way split in the subculture between nouveau skater punks, vampirish goths, hardcore trippers, and thuggish baggy-panted gangstas.  And while all of these subgroups talked behind the backs of the others, they all could find common ground over a few joints and a simple game of hacky sack.

This decade, the Oughts as it is known, may be just as easy to pin down after we’re out of the ever-shifting madness and are able to see the forest from the trees.  But now, while we’re all still wrapped up in the schizophrenic insanity of it all, it’s difficult to put your finger on just what it will mean to history and to all of us a few years down the road.

But that don’t mean we can’t try now, do it?  Yee Haw!  Let’s give it a go!

Technology

Cellphones.  I-pods.  Touch-screens.  GPS.  High-speed internet.  Digital audio and video recording.  Wireless everything.  Robots.  Holograms.  Commercial space flights.  And everything else that is brand-spanking new and gets us closer and closer to a Star Trek like reality with every passing day.  The year 2000 hit, and while we might not have flying cars or silver jumpsuits, we are definitely in the future.  Welcome.

Drugs

The legal type, or at least the semi-legal.  If the 80s was cocaine and the 90s was acid, then the oughts have been undoubtedly pharmaceuticals.  And why not?  They’re purer than any powders you can get off the street and they’ll fuck you up just as well.  Why hassle with heroin when you can pop a handful of Vicodin or a few tabs of Percocet?  Why consort with a coke dealer when you can walk into a pharmacy and be handed a sackful of Adderall with a smile and a guarantee from someone in a white lab coat?  Uppers your bag?  No worries!  Just pop right into your corner gas station and grab yourself an assortment of ephedrine pills, a few Red Bulls, and some 5-hour energy spray.  They’re easier to buy than cigarettes and more available than alcohol or coffee.

Indie Rock

Or at least what passes for it these days.  The word “indie” once had meaning.  It was an abbreviation for “independent” as in, “not signed to a major label like Disney, Sony, Capital, or Warner Bros.”  The Grateful Dead were an indie rock band.  So were Phish, Devo, and even Johnny Cash for a while.  But in the midst of this foul decade the term got co-opted and corrupted in the same way that “alternative” did in the 90s.  Now “indie rock” is a genre; a style; a sound.  Fallout Boy and the Jonas Brothers are considered Indie even though they are as far away from the actual meaning of the word as possible.  The word has become an empty and meaningless tool of ad men like the words “guarantee” and “gourmet”.  Which brings us to

Mainstream Pop Culture

And the complete bankruptcy of it.  Somewhere in the mid to late 1990s the big media corporations figured out a successful method for the packaging and selling of “art” to a complacent and philistine populace.  By the year 2000 it was no longer necessary for record labels or movie production companies to take risks on fickle and unpredictable artists.  With a presubscribed and proven formula huge conglomerates like Pepsi and Sprint were able to forge an unholy union of commercialism and music.  They created bands like the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys in a lab somewhere and successfully passed it off as the real deal.  Never before in the history of mankind has pop culture been so grossly commercialized and watered down as it has been in the last ten years.  All of a sudden it was not only okay to completely sell out, but it was actually accepted as cool.  Rock stars were dead.  The only genre of entertainment that survived was

Comedy

For all the bleakness, gloom, fear, and foreboding that permeated every American’s mood in this waning decade there was always comedy.  If there is one thing that can be said about the oughts it is that it has been hands down the funniest decade ever.  From stand-up, to improv, to sketch comedy, to sitcoms, even to politics there has been an overwhelming sense of hilarious absurdity that borders on a new Dadaism.  Wherever your political alignment may lie there can be no denying that George W. Bush was the funniest president this nation has ever seen.  Remember the press conference he held shortly after we “won” the Iraq war?  Remember when ol’ Georgie gathered all the national press in a room and showed them a slide show of him looking for “weapons of mass destruction” beneath the cushions of his couch?

If the 90s were politically correct, then the oughts have dismantled that ethos with the precision of a wrecking ball.  Nothing is safe.  There is humor to be found in AIDS, cancer, torture, murder, and racism.  Even the notion of the extinction of the human race can be downright hilarious when looked at in the right way.  With television shows like South Park and the Office satire’s edge has been honed razor-sharp.  Adult Swim has provided a forum of new psychedelia with shows like Tim and Eric and Xavier Renegade Angel to get stoned and laugh at.  Even MTV has given us Wonder Showzen and Human Giant while stand up comedians like David Cross, Chris Rock, and Louis C. K. tell it like it is with a raw and vivid truth.

People everywhere have embraced the ridiculous.  It is considered good sport among the hip to plug in and adhere to flagrant and obnoxiously obvious stereotypes.  It is funny to dress like a cowboy, but it is even funnier to wear snakeskin boots, a button-up shirt covered with flowing American flags, and a foam 10-gallon hat all the while sporting a huge mustache and constantly blaring an air horn.  It is funny to walk through the airport wearing deck shoes, white slacks, a Hawaiian shirt, and a white straw fedora while carrying a suitcase covered in touristy decals.

It has been said that laughter is the best medicine, and with a culture as sick and perverse as ours has been in the last ten years we need all the medicine we can get.  Make no mistake, when we collectively look back on this troubled decade we will all be rolling on the ground with splitting sides if for no other reason than the alternative is simply horrifying.

3 thoughts on “Ten Years of Dark Humor: A Retrospective of the First Decade of the New Century”

  1. Okay !I am splitting at the sides . I totally relate to this !But please Jonas bros Indie ! What’s up with that? More like pop teen culture. The Jonas bros just gives me the creeps kinda like a group of boys who wanna be Brittney Spears .

  2. You’re absolutely right to be disturbed and offended by the Jonas Brothers. In fact, I am so offended by them that I regularly report their myspace page as “offensive”. I suggest you and all the other right-thinking people do the same. Let’s cast them out like the devil!

    Sadly it is not I who consider the Jonas Brothers “indie rock”. It is the industry itself which has stolen the word from us. Go to any mainstream record outlet and look under “indie” and “J”. You’ll find the Jonas Bros. For that matter type “jonas bros” into itunes, or amazon and look at how they’re categorized. Sadly, they are “indie”.

    Sorry bro, the word is toast. It’s as meaningless and empty as one of Celine Dion’s love songs.

    Wylie VanWenger

  3. I did not comment On Jonas Bros because they offend me .They do not offend me. I appreciate there artistry . I just do not care for them and in my opinion they are poppy.They are a cute bunch of boys that to me are no different than Hannah Montana(Miley Cyrus) or Brittney Spears for that matter. Call them Indie if you want to maybe when they grow up they could follow Incubus or Beck . But right now they do not hold a candle. So take it easy it’s not that big of a deal .

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