THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES

This is not a drill. There is no es­cape bar death. The fi­nal year of the cur­rent decade is upon us. Let the count­down to the count­down be­gin . . .

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - DONALD CLARKE - DON­ALD CLARKE

Time to look for­ward to 2019. In the com­ing year we will con­tinue to won­der why any­body would want to be host of the Os­cars or man­age Manch­ester United. We’ll sug­gest that a film re­vival of the TV se­ries Dead­wood is a mi­rage. We’ll whine about the dura­bil­ity of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion. Well, prob­a­bly. If the UK’s exit from the Euro­pean Union goes as badly as sus­pected we may be too busy squab­bling over the last boiled rat to con­cern our­selves with such triv­i­al­i­ties.

Here’s one thing we will be do­ing. Even if we’re liv­ing in caves and wor­ship­ping the owl de­ity, we’ll still be com­pil­ing lists of the best stuff from the 2010s. Bey­oncé’s Le­mon­ade. Get

Out. The first sea­son of Crazy Ex-Girl­friend. That time ear­lier in the year when the Mog tribe of the Lower Bann mas­sa­cred the WakaWaka and cap­tured their en­tire sup­ply of baked beans. Those sorts of things.

This is not a drill. There is no es­cape bar death. The last year of the cur­rent decade starts here. Ev­ery day brings us a step closer to the fi­nal reck­on­ing on the best and worst stuff from that pe­riod. If you found your­self dizzied by the re­cent 2018 ret­ro­spec­tives then you may wish to spend De­cem­ber of 2019 on the near­est iso­lated is­land (as­sum­ing your head isn’t dashed to gran­ules dur­ing the great sugar ri­ots of mid-sum­mer).

It was not ever thus. The pas­sion for lists did not prop­erly get go­ing un­til the end of the last cen­tury. Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is a key text here. When the novel was pub­lished in 1995, a mil­lion men dis­cov­ered the need to ar­range the “best synth-pop al­bums re­leased in odd-num­bered years” into a ranked chart was not theirs alone. To that point, the list-minded fel­low had to wait to the end of the year for sat­is­fac­tion. John Peel’s Fes­tive 50 was a treat. Or­gans such as The Ir­ish Times would print a po­lite “10 best films” in some cor­ner of a De­cem­ber num­ber. That was about it.

News­pa­pers and mag­a­zines cot­toned on to the Hornby mar­ket and started cov­er­ing ev­ery spare gap with “best of this” and “great­est ever that”. The ar­rival of the in­ter­net and the turn­ing of the mil­len­nium helped ce­ment such lists in pub­lish­ing cul­ture.

No­body was com­pil­ing top plain­chants of the first mil­len­nium in 999. They were too busy hur­ry­ing to the high­est spot in an­tic­i­pa­tion of apoca­lyp­tic lava. There’s no sug­ges­tion that the Vic­to­rian equiv­a­lent of Mojo – Mas­ter Humphrey’s Al­manac of Vin­tage Har­mony? –

ranked the finest comic songs of the 19th cen­tury. In­deed, no­body both­ered writ­ing cul­tural his­to­ries of decades un­til the last cen­tury came along. We got the roar­ing 1920s. The 1930s were char­ac­terised by slump. Then the bleed­ing 1960s hap­pened. The no­tion that those sup­pos­edly rev­o­lu­tion­ary years formed their own ex­cit­ing is­land in a tem­po­ral ocean of hum­drum re­al­ity helped press home the the­ory that a decade re­ally meant some­thing. Now each one was sup­posed to have its own char­ac­ter. Com­bine that with post-in­ter­net, Horn­byesque list ma­nia and you have a so­lu­tion to ev­ery ed­i­tor’s needs dur­ing years end­ing in “9”.

When will it-end

It’s a te­dious busi­ness, but it has gen­er­ated some cre­ative think­ing. Apart from any­thing else, we now have fun work­ing out when a decade re­ally be­gins. Don’t worry, we’re not en­ter­tain­ing the “21st cen­tury started in 2001” mob. (They have ev­ery broad­sheet let­ters page to them­selves, af­ter all.) The ques­tion ad­dresses the point at which those cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal forces we as­so­ciate with a decade kicked off and when they went away again.

Philip Larkin helped us out with that bloody decade. “Sex­ual in­ter­course be­gan. In nine­teen sixty-three (which was rather late for me)/ Be­tween the end of the Chat­ter­ley ban/ And the Bea­tles’ first LP,” he wrote. For “sex­ual in­ter­course”, read the 1960s. The first few se­ries of Mad Men – all thin lapels and cool jazz – were tensely wait­ing for hair to creep over col­lars. The Amer­i­can 1960s may have ended neatly with deaths at the Al­ta­mont fes­ti­val in De­cem­ber 1969. Per­haps it kicked on un­til the Man­son mur­ders in 1971.

In global po­lit­i­cal terms the 1990s prob­a­bly lasted for 12 years, be­gin­ning with the fall of the Ber­lin Wall in 1989 and end­ing with the fall of the World Trade Cen­ter in 2001. You could make a case for the first decade of this cen­tury last­ing from that date un­til the near-si­mul­ta­ne­ous 2008 crash and elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Obama.

The bad news here is that there’s a very real chance the 2010s could end in 2019. There are all kinds of brood­ing apoc­a­lypses on the hori­zon. We may be smear­ing our decade high­lights on the walls of the warm­est bunker. Oh well. At least we’ve got Game of Thrones.

‘‘ The last year of the cur­rent decade starts here. Ev­ery day brings us a step closer to the fi­nal reck­on­ing on the best and worst stuff from that pe­riod. If you found your­self dizzied by the re­cent 2018 ret­ro­spec­tives then you may wish to spend De­cem­ber of 2019 on the near­est iso­lated is­land

PHO­TO­GRAPH: WARNER BROS TELE­VI­SION

Win­ter is com­ing: By next De­cem­ber, we may be watch­ing Game of Thrones from a cosy post-Brexit bunker.

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