July 24, 2008

Century's Ebb

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while...the way culture, whether pop culture or political paradigms, change when they feel like it and not according to calendar.

Some examples, and then I'll get to the punchline.

Consider the Victorian Age in England. It ended when Queen Victoria died, not when 1899 changed to 1900. In a way, the 19th century didn't ultimately end culturally and politically and socially for the Western world until World War I's end. The 19th was a long century.

Now a more trite example, 80s pop culture in America. In CD stores and on film, did the 80s really end at the New Year's celebration welcoming 1990? I would argue no--not at all. It ended when grunge outsold every hair metal CD on the market, and that didn't happen till 1993 or 1994, after Nirvana and company hit it big. Early 90s movies, whether Pretty Woman, The Distinguished Gentleman, or sequels like Beverly Hills Cop 3 and Back to the Future Part III, had their feet firmly planted in previous decade's humor. Maybe it was post Cold War euphoria, the inauguration of a young "hip" president like Bill Clinton, or just love of Eddie Murphy's laugh, but people just couldn't get enough of 80s cheesiness in ten years. So they demanded more.

Which brings us to politics. Now, in rhetorical terms, you might say that the 21st century began with Bill Clinton, since he "build a bridge to the 21st century." But how did it play out in Florida? I'd argue that Lawton Chiles did the same on a local level, in terms of agency reform and reorganization, introduction of high-tech refinements to government, and coming to terms with Florida's "megastate" status. But it's up for debate nationally and Florida-wise, did the Bushes kick of the new century politically or did Chiles and Clinton? Did the 21st century begin politically and culturally with 9/11. I think a lot historians will say yes.