Monthly Archives: December 2019


2008: Movie studio Merry Christmas Pictures, having sold the film rights to their major intellectual properties Santa Claus and the Grinch, releases “Blitzen,” centering on a third-tier character. Former child star Danny Bonaduce, desperate to restart his career and willing to work for scale, stars. The film is an unexpected critical and commercial success, collecting $400 million at the box office.

2009: Buoyed by the success, Merry Christmas tries again, releasing “Hermey the Elf” with Peter Dinklage in his first lead role. Again, the film wows audiences and critics alike, taking home $450 million. Enthused by the response so far, MC screenwriters promise to give their next villain a name.

2009: In response to the burgeoning popularity of the Merry Christmas films, rival studio Delightful Christmas Pictures revives their Grinch franchise, which was allowed to lapse after the infamous Who-nipple failures of the late 90s. In a dramatic reimagining, “Grinch: In The Cave” is a dark window into obsession, hedonism, and cardiovascular giganticism. The movie performs well at the box office, but not quite as as well as the MC pictures.

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Recently a self-driving truck made a cross-country delivery. That’s pretty neat! And has many wide-ranging economic and social implications.

But: the technologies that got the truck there were not particularly new. The truck was powered by an internal combustion engine, which dates to the 19th century. Its sensors were based on cameras, radar and lasers, the most recent of which was born in 1960. The information was processed by a computer, the parameters of which were set by the Sixties.

Where are the new technologies?

Now when I say that, I am keenly aware that whenever a person says “Why isn’t anyone doing ,” it practically always means that is in fact being done, but the person making the statement doesn’t know it. I am well aware that I am leaving myself wide open for this.

But to me–perhaps in my ignorance–it seems like we’re not seeing the dramatic new technologies that transformed the world in the past two centuries. That’s a little scary. It’s the new technologies that powered the Unprecedented Era and its great benefits for humankind.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that there are just such technologies in play right now, and I just don’t know about them. I hope we are on the brink of such transformative change once more. I hope that the Age of Wonders in which we live will continue.

But I have to admit it doesn’t quite look that way to me right now.

Please, disillusion me.

GAME OVER, the Stargate machine told Bobby.

Bobby didn’t mind. His initials ROB (easier to input than RWW) were already in the top three spots of the high score list. He eased off the controls and looked around the arcade, wondering what game to play next.

He could have his pick. Two years ago, when he had first started coming here, Video Worlds was jumping every night of the week. Lines were three deep at the machines. Now only a few were occupied. The sound of the handful of games operating seemed far away, lonely.

The Pac-Man machine stood open. You could walk up and start playing. There had been a song, a big hit, “Pac-Man Fever.” In 1982, everybody had Pac-Man Fever. Well, science musta found a cure, because in December of 1984 nobody was playing Pac-Man.

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In three weeks, the decade of the Teens shall end. Then comes the Twenties! Bring on the flappers, hot jazz, and bathtub gin!

Now of course, that’s the 1920s, not the 2020s. But you all knew exactly what I meant when I said that. Those images invoke the identity of “The 20s.”

The 1920s were the first decade to have so strong an identity. The mythologizing started almost immediately after the decade’s close, with such books as Fredrick Lewis Allen’s “Only Yesterday.” It helped that the shift from Gatsbyean partying to Depression sorrow was so abrupt and so cleanly associated with the calendar year.

So the decades continued, each with their own unique tone. The 30s, the 40s,

(The 40s were actually something of two decades: First the War and then “the Crucial Decade,” as Eric Goldman put it, that period of uncertain rebuilding and constant crisis that lasted through the end of the Korean War. The 50s, as we think of them, with rock ‘n roll and sock hops, were really just the second half of the decade)

the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s–

And then something changed. 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, marked a crux point. In the 90s were settled the current parameters of American life: quiet, constant, social change, an economy centered around tech investment and the stock market, and constant wrestling between the Left and the Right. Not that the decades that made up the last 30 years didn’t have their own distinct identities, but those identities were not as distinct as the seven decades that went before them.

Which is why, as we approach the end of the 2010s,

(There are those who insist that decades, like centuries, start with the “1” year, inasmuch as there was no year 0. The problem with this idea is that the concept of the decade is so recent that it need have no connection that happened two millennia ago. It is worth noting, though, that the “0” year of any decade is often a cusp year, an odd mix of the preceding and incoming decades. The identity is not there yet, but the seeds are.)

we have not seen much nostalgia over the past ten years or anticipation of the next ten. It just doesn’t seem like a big deal. We feel like we are in the midst of a historical flow, not at either end.

If I was going to point out any specific attribute of the 2010s, it would be the dramatic widening of the Overton Window on both Left and Right. Many ideas that were confined to fringes circa 2009 or so are common parlance now.

Which brings us to the prospects for the New 20s. Since that 1990 crux point, it seems that American politics have been in a more-or-less constant state of gridlock. One side takes a temporary lead; the other gets it back in the next election. As the contest becomes closer, it becomes more heated.

Where is this going? Will there be a victory for one side or the other, a true breakthrough of national direction, or will it continue in friction lock?

This is even more of a concern for me than it might be because my children are going to come to adulthood in the next ten years. Where you enter society’s stream contributes a great deal to the arc of your life, to your economic and spiritual fate. When I think of the direction of history we’re living, I think of them.

So now the Twenties are returned, the first decade to repeat since decades became decades. How will the 2020s compare to the 1920s? I suspect they will have very little in common indeed.