Friday, December 18, 2009

I ♥ THE AUGHTIES: I will inevitably contribute to, and get overenthusiastic about, the "Best [something] of the Aughts" discussions we're likely to have here in the next few weeks. This isn't that post. I deservedly take some flak for being hypercritical, partly because I don't find it all that fun to write posts that say no more than "gosh, I liked this." In fact, though, I think that within the four corners of the ALOTT5MA Mission Statement, it's been a pretty great ten years. I wanted to write not about the things I thought were the best, or things that fit neatly into a category that can be ranked by favorites, but just some things that I loved about the decade. These are their stories:
  1. TV eclipsing movies as the most rewarding filmed medium. For Hollywood people, movies have a cachet that TV can't match. I still read stories about Alec Baldwin or Glenn Close or Holly Hunter reaching the point in their careers where they have to settle for the small screen. But you can do so much on TV that you can't do in a movie. You can tell more intricate, nuanced stories. You can build characters slowly. You can jettison things that don't work. Wonderful shows like The Wire and Mad Men, with so much slow build or seeming inactivity, couldn't be done in two hours. In the Aughts, TV exploded creatively. You may not think that The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Friday Night Lights, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica are the best TV dramas of all time, but you wouldn't think a person who took that position is crazy. And on the comedy side, there were shows that melded The Simpsons' gag rate with Seinfeld's "no-hugging-no-learning" mantra (Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Better Off Ted), as well as more traditional comedies (The Office, for example) that eschewed the three-beat formula for more nuanced, even loving, writing. Part of the reason why I don't miss movies is that there's just so much great TV that I don't need them any more.
  2. The iPod and iTunes. I know I just criticized iTunes this week, but that's a blip. I don't know if I agree with Spacewoman that the iPod has changed the way we listen to music, but it's true that I now listen to orders of magnitude more music than I did before I had one. iTunes, though -- the tail that now wags iPod's dog -- was revolutionary. The biggest cost of finding new music used to be the search cost. I remember plunking down $12.99 for Exile in Guyville without having heard a single track, virtually praying that it would be good. With iTunes, you can browse endlessly, trying on 30-second samples, and generally getting comfortable before spending the first $0.99 (or $1.29). You're not stuck with the Kiss-album dilemma (is it worth the cost of a full album for two good songs?), which may actually be forcing artists to be more consistently good. You can see what others bought or what Genius thinks you might like (Genius doesn't insult me like Pandora does). Or, like I did with states and months, you can just do a random word search and find completely unheard-of music. I owe iTunes for completely resurrecting my love of indie pop, of which there is an endless supply.
  3. Digital photos and videos. Digital photography was still in the "huh, that's kind of cool" stage when the Aughts began, and there was no consumer digital video. Remember when you were afraid of developing bad pictures? When you couldn't post a video of yourself falling off a roof on YouTube? The world is so much better now.
  4. The HBO Death March. Adriana, Christopher, Big Pussy, Richie Aprile, Bobby Bacala, Ralphie Cifareto, Wild Bill, William Bullock, Francis Wolcott, Mr. Ellsworth, Wallace, Stringer, Omar, Bodie, Snoop … uh, spoiler alert.
  5. The Body, the Blood, the Machine, the Thermals. Unlike the other things on this list, this is pretty specific. But it is definitely my favorite album of the decade. Sparse, messy, aggressive post-apocalyptic post-punk with great hooks and a sci-fi theme that I cannot sever from how I remember Battlestar Galactica. It's not perfect, but it's perfectly imperfect. I probably will be the only person on the entire Internets who ranks this #1, though.
  6. DVR. As Spacewoman says, the decade started with her chiding me for spending money on a gadget we didn't need and ended up with her wondering whether four tuners is enough. Some months after we got TiVo, I started noticing situations -- on the telephone, listening to the radio -- where I had to consciously remind myself that I couldn't just rewind to catch something I missed. Last month, Spaceboy 1.0, overtired and cranky, burst into tears, crying because "we can't pause time -- it just continues!" I wrote a heartfelt breakup letter to TiVo on this blog. DVR made it possible to watch only good TV (or at least only enjoyable TV) and made us all more efficient consumers of it.
  7. The ending of The Sopranos. A perfect meta commentary at the end of a season that stole moments of meta commentary. I continue to maintain that anybody who argues that Tony did or didn't die, or that the ending was unsatisfying or anything short of perfect, has missed the point. And because there was so much focus on the last moment, sometimes we forget how ridiculously, sublimely, expertly tense the preceding moments were. Truly virtuoso filmmaking.
  8. Moneyball and the rise of populist baseball statistical analysis. Aside from Medicare, I don't think there is anything for which the gap between my knowledge at the beginning of the decade and my knowledge at the end is greater than baseball. Moneyball, the book, didn't invent the objective analysis of baseball (really, all it did was identify a notion that independently was taking hold among baseball executives), but it brought it to an exponentially larger group of people, many of whom were extremely smart and willing to dedicate long hours to advancing a new understanding of an old-fashioned sport. The ideas underlying Moneyball the book are now so pervasive that the use of "Moneyball" to describe a way of thinking is obsolete. Only a few dinosaurs in baseball reject what Moneyball described, and that, more than "small-market," explains why the Kansas City Royals are (and the Seattle Mariners were) terrible.
  9. The Decemberists. Every decade, more or less, has a defining band or two that is popular enough that most everybody heard of them but just shy of the kind of popularity that would qualify them as superstars. In the 1980s it was the Clash and maybe U2. In the 1990s it was Wilco. In the Aughts, it was the Decemberists. By turns obtuse and magnificent, playful and dour, I can't think of a better band to carry the standard for music in the Aughts (without being at all representative, of course).
  10. The 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 2008-09 Mariners GM, Jack Zduriencik. The 2001 Mariners won 116 games after losing, in the three prior years, a Hall-of-Fame center fielder, pitcher, and shortstop in each's prime. They did not lose a three- or four-game series until late September, I believe. They had a RF who beat balls into the ground and ran to first before the end of the first hop, a 1.000+ OPS DH with a degenerative eye disease, a CF who was as fast, as quick off the bat, and as canny with routes as any in the game, a roided-up 2B who flipped his bat, a hundred-year-old junkballer, a hotheaded Venezuelan who bragged about his dancing, and a manager known for throwing bases into the outfield. It was too bad when they cancelled the playoffs that year. As for 2009, the Mariners have a manager that turned three middling prospects and most unproductive contract in Mariners history into Cliff Lee and Milton Bradley. There is no GM in sports as beloved right now as Zduriencik is in Seattle.

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