Greed, self-interest and neglect defined 10 years
I find myself looking forward to New Year’s Eve this year, though it’s almost a month away.I’ve always resisted the forced frivolity of the occasion, but this year I’m celebrating big time. That’s because we’ve finally come to the end of the Lost Decade. For some reason it took me 10 years to realize that the Great Millennium was simply the Great Meltdown. There’s a new book out that says it all. Its title: “Starting Over: Why the Lost Decade Was So Damn Rotten and Why the Next One Will Surely Be Better.” The author is Andy Serwer, managing editor of Fortune Magazine. Sewer is good casting for this thesis, because his magazine has just been eviscerated by Time Warner, its staff chopped as well as its frequency. The initial portents of the past decade were themselves daunting: the election of a lamebrained president, followed by 9/11. The culmination was the economy’s near-death collapse. Not that anyone needs reminding, but here’s what the past 10 years have brought us: Islamic jihad, two market crashes, Hurricane Katrina, the initiation of two wars that can’t be won, the shrinkage of household income, the decay of our infrastructure, the self-destruction of Detroit and the ascendancy of a new class of financial robber barons. In the media and entertainment industry, we’ve experienced the rise of Fox News, plus reality television. The toxic blogosphere has helped poison pop culture rather than democratize it. The ascendancy of the Web has battered the old media without legitimizing the new. Even on a financial level, the vaunted new media deals have, more often than not, proven to be economic disasters. In the movie business, the tyranny of the tentpoles threatens to choke off distribution channels for art cinema or even for midbudget dramatic film. The studios aspire to become pure-play producers of franchise films, provided they can concoct enough franchises. In his book, Serwer ticks off the reasons why the Lost Decade got lost: greed, self-interest, deferral of responsibility, neglect. The paradox is that the dreaded millennial disaster we all feared at the start of the century has, to a degree, taken place at the end of its first decade. Says Serwer: “Call it whatever you want — the Decade from Hell, the Decade of Broken Dreams — just give thanks that it’s over.” OK, let’s scrounge for some good news to get us through New Year’s Eve. First, the era of the Bushies is over. Though the nation’s political mood is ominously divisive, the White House is occupied by a man who at least has the ideals, and the intellect, to cope with the future. I was at the White House this past weekend, a guest at the annual Kennedy Center Honors. Yes, I was even on the guest list. Last time I was there, George Bush was still president and he seemed confused why all these show business people were taking up his time. He even had to kiss Barbra Streisand. The Obama White House seems to be a much more hospitable place. The atmosphere surrounding the president and his guests on my visit was almost, well, optimistic — as though they were willing to put the Lost Decade behind them and learn from its lessons. I wish I could spend New Year’s Eve there.