Of the far-too-many books I own, one of my favorite collections is a group of “Year” books that generally have a single numerical year as their title, followed by a rather bold and ambitious subtitle. Here is a partial list of these books: 1966: THE YEAR THE DECADE EXPLODED, 1995: THE YEAR THE FUTURE BEGAN, 1920: THE YEAR THAT MADE THE DECADE ROAR, 1959: THE YEAR EVERYTHING CHANGED, and 1968: THE YEAR THAT ROCKED THE WORLD. Sometimes it’s not enough to focus tightly on year, as witnessed by another title on my straining shelf: JANUARY 1973: THE MONTH THAT CHANGED AMERICA FOREVER. I am waiting for the publication of an even more micro-focused book: MAY 5, 1978, 8:15 A.M. THROUGH 11:10 A.M.: THE THREE HOURS THAT TRANSFORMED REALITY.
Last week my history classes took a look at 1968 and the current fiftieth anniversary hoopla surrounding that tumultuous year. After taking a very brief interactive tour of that year’s politics, pop culture, and people, we concluded that choosing one year as the most important one in history is basically a fallacious way of thinking. Can’t we say that every year is one that changed things? Yes, we can, but we like to create mileposts, however flawed, that help us bookmark our place in the timestream. I was happy to regale my class with my (probably boring) memories of 1968, unstable as they are. For instance, I pointed out that although “Night Of The Living Dead” was one of the signature events of that year, I was not aware of it back in the day and didn’t watch it until the 1980s. The same can be said of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a landmark movie I didn’t see until the 1970s. I do, however, wax nostalgic when I remember the zany evenings I spent watching “Rowan And Martin’s Laugh-In.” And, yes, I was sitting in front of the tiny screen when candidate Richard Nixon made his very awkward appearance saying “Sock it to me!”
Needless to say, I became intrigued by an article in last week’s theoutline.com announcing that “This Year’s Hottest Cultural Trend Is 1998.” As I write this I am listening to a playlist of music from twenty years ago, which brings back fond memories of my daughter when she was nine. I had forgotten how good most of the music was (and still is) from that mystical land that didn’t have texting, an iPhone, video and audio streaming, or wi-fi. Welcome to the age of dial-up. We got our first home computer that year and I sent my first emailed edition of “Kelly’s Place” to our fearless editor. I just finished listening to one of my favorite songs of that year–Jennifer Paige’s bouncy “Crush.” This was also the year I was introduced to Matchbox 20 and Smashmouth; the group’s shameless rip-off of ? Mark And The Mysterion’s 1966 hit “96 Tears” (“Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby) is still a kick after all these years, and I still find Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” particularly annoying. But I never get tired of Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” or Jimmy Ray’s “Are You Jimmy Ray?’, a throwback to the rockabilly era.
1998 was a good year for movies, including “Run, Lola, Run,” “The Faculty,” “Gods And Monsters,” Gus Van Sant’s inexplicable shot-for-shot refilming (in color, no less) of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” and a delightful neo-noir schlock-fest, “Wild Things” (my candidate for the best movie of the year, followed very closely by “Spice World,” a neat little reimagining of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”). And that year was one in which we said our farewells, among many others, to Sonny Bono, Frank Sinatra, director Alan J. Pakula, and Monica Lewensky’s infamous blue dress.
According to Ann-Derrick Gaillot, the author of the aforementioned theoutline.com piece, “It seems like as soon as the ball dropped and marked the arrival of 2018, media outlets and public figures themselves have been encouraging us to spend as much time as possible reflecting on 1998.” Lest you get too caught up in your time-traveling to the world of twenty years ago, Gaillot advises us to “Savor your time celebrating 1998 while you can; soon it’ll be time to revisit 1999” (need I say “Baby One More Time”?)
Ann-Derrick concludes her observations by noting that “1998 is different–long enough ago that there is perspective to be gained from the couple decades of distance, but not so long ago that most people don’t remember it.” With that in mind, I guess we should scrap our celebrations of 1798 and 1898.
This week I encourage you to think about whether or not we do a disservice to history by chopping it up into tidy little yearly segments. All I know is that I am happy to be alive today, and harbor no illusions that 1998 was “the good old days.” Nostalgia, after all, is the enemy of history.
See you next week with more blasts from the past, reflections on the present, and prognostications about the future, all neatly packed into a one thousand word package.