The times, they aren’t a-changin’

When the dust finally settles, 1998 will go largely unnoticed in the history books. The turn of the new millennium and its inflated significance will be what matters. Where were you when we hit the year 2000? It will be the question that arises at parties when everyone gets nostalgic after knocking back a few bottles of Le Piat D’or.

Does the turn of the millennium really mean something? Does a date suddenly become more important in history because it has extra zeros on the end of it? Given a bit of time to think about this, hardly anyone would suggest we’re suddenly going to lurch forward into a new and exciting cultural zeitgeist two New Years’ Eves from now. Or would they?

Our common consciousness (if there really is such a thing) has grown accustomed to poorly-defined ideas and concepts. The 20th century mind (uh-oh, I’m starting it myself) likes to add labels, terms and other qualifiers to things that may actually resist simple description. Circle the following quotes you’ve heard or uttered: “He’s got some kind of grunge style going.” “That’s so ’80s.” “Sounds kinda like folk music to me.” “She’s being a Phoebe.”

Tracing the origins of our catch phrases and pop culture referents is an amusing pursuit. But what happens to people when a culture’s stock and trade is a kitschy grab-bag of hand-me-down expressions, viewpoints and understandings of the world that aren’t really informed by first-hand knowledge or learning? Unless you’re particularly well-read or truly individualistic, take a look in the mirror. Then fast-forward to your kids in high school, chatting outside the smoke doors and saying something like “…like, c’mon, this is the ’20s!” What could that mean? What kind of blanket terms and referents will they use to sum up the decade we’re in now?

But enough of me giving the kids a hard time for not knowing their relation to history. It’s not entirely our fault. TV advertising and everything else we know to be bad (but live with anyway) made everyone turn out this way a few generations before we came along (I think it began as a ’50s thing), so why not go with the flow? Pick up a bag of m&m candies (they’re the official candy of the millennium, y’know), enjoy the future and forget the past. Besides, there may be some substance to this pre-millennium tension and anticipation.

Take the predictions about the supposed havoc the y2k bug will bring upon our heads. Increasingly I’m savoring available happy outcomes of some of these morbid predictions. Suppose computer chips in all the technology we use really do go on the fritz and turn our lives upside down? In far-away Hollywood, Fran Drescher (The Nanny) gets her throat cut by a rogue electric can-opener. Calgary’s automated sewer system malfunctions and floods Victoria Park, improving the look of this already wayward urban cesspool. Somewhere in Colorado, the Backstreet Boys’ tour bus gets stuck in cruise-control mode and gaily jettisons the young cherubs into a mountain ravine. Oh, the possibilities!

Truthfully though, I’m not expecting the millennium to be a great turning point in my life. Who is? Ask someone older than you about the memorable times in their lives, and they’ll probably tell you about the day they got married, or graduated from school, or landed a great job, or moved to a new city, or had a baby, or traveled to a foreign country.

One more thing: The last place I want to be is in some bar when the clock strikes midnight, warbling a shitty-sounding version of “Auld Lang Syne” with a big crowd of intoxicated idiots I don’t even know. Hey, there may be real concern that the y2k bug is in all those strobe-light systems you see in bars, right? When the clock strikes 12, everyone could be driven into various states of epileptic mania, rampaging through the city and razing everything to the ground. Stranger things have happened.

That’s why on the afternoon of Dec. 31, 1999 I’m going to get in a car and drive out to the mountains, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t care if it’s freezing out. Feel free to join me if you like.

We’ll find a place for my tent, make a fire, and wait for the sun to come up. If there’s time and the mood is right, I’m going to think about how I ended up where I am, where I might be going, and if the year 2000 really does signify some sort of big change for everyone. The next morning we’ll point the car toward Calgary, then drive into the 21st century and see what’s left.

Gareth Morgan can be reached at gdlmorga@ucalgary.ca

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