why, i aughta


We’re just about halfway through the last year of this decade, if’n you can believe it, which means we’ll soon be bombarded with TV specials and Web articles called “The Aughts: Was it Worth It?” and “2000-2010: The More Things Changed, the More They Stayed the Same”. In these articles, you will hear/read thousands of words dedicated to empty topics like “The Web Came of Age” and “Apocalypse Believed”.

None of these pieces, however, will do what it most important for the decade, which is to embody the feel of the time. The unspoken flavor, the ambient mood, the ineffable color that will come to mind years from now when our memory cooks it to its inevitable reduction. You can see this sort of thinking all the time when someone asks how a party was, and the reply was “god, it was so eighties.”

I’ve got a few working descriptions of America in the aughts (if that’s even what we’re calling it), but it has way too many swear words, and I need to cool down a bit. But I thought I’d dash off some Rorschach-esque, top-of-my-head descriptions of the decades I’ve experienced, just so I can understand how reductive my own memory has been.


The Seventies

dirty toenails, dandruff, long straight hair

analog, record needles, apple trees, red, brown, yellow

“Seasons in the Sun”, “Right Down the Line”, “Magnet and Steel”

diving boards, humidity, brown leather, mattresses, candles

vertical hold, static, windshield wipers, Orange Push-Ups

macramé, hanging plants, Butterick sewing patterns, cinnamon.





The Eighties

dark black plastic, pink lettering, overexposed days, infrared night

sharp crisp curls, burgundy, chartreuse and Chartreuse

eyeliner, inverted triangles, OP shorts, oversized buttondowns

thighs, shoulder blades, chin, breasts

“I Can Dream About You”, “Driven to Tears”, “Tell It To My Heart”, “This Charming Man”

Coke, Millipede, Walkman, movie theater butter, distraction.





The Nineties

coats with shorts, snow, mist, flannel tied around waist

beige, metal, industry, rings, confusion, loud choruses

layers, forbidden areas, failure, bleakness, hyperventilating laughter

organic, musty, electronic, medicated, lost, digital, restless

“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, “Plush”, “Connected”, “Say No Go”, “Six Underground”

connection, frustration, redemption, modem squeal.


Anybody else want to try?

14 thoughts on “why, i aughta

  1. Amy S.

    I don’t have anything pithy to add, but here’s something to file under the Anything’s Possible label: the middle naked dude in that Orleans cover is John Hall, who today represents New York’s 19th district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

  2. Anne

    The Aughts represent, to me, the worst of times (9/11) and the best of times (Obama’s election). For Americans, this decade really is bookended by those two incredibly momentous events, each world-changing in its own way.
    As one who came of age with the Civil Rights movement (I was born in 1951), it is hard for me to put into words what the election of a black man as president of the US has meant to me as an Am Civ major, as the mother of two children of color, and as a citizen of a country that I still believe in.
    (I did, however, TRY to put my feelings into words!)–

  3. Lee

    granted i was a kid, but i can’t think of the seventies without penguin shirts, big wheels, kc and the sunshine band, vietnam, the mosquito truck, buying beer for my dad with a note, and afros. also, lots of talk about “the pill”.
    the eighties meant leg warmers, bucks, big bangs, michael jordan, boy george, omg, the eurythmics, hostages in iran, the space shuttle blowing up.
    the nineties- coming out, clinton, nirvana, brandi chastain. and sunblock.
    the aughts? all depressing: 9/11, global warming, george w., iraq, britney spears, jon & kate plus 8.
    ok, surely something good… let’s see.
    buddhism coming to the US, gluten free cookies, ellen degeneres, OBAMA.
    that’s all i got.

  4. Joanna

    How about shoulder pads for the ’80s? I had a slight frame, but wore giant shoulder pads that affixed to my bra strap with velcro. Bilevel haircuts, perms, breakdancing . . .

  5. julie

    Trying not to repeat (shows my age progression too)…
    70s: play-doh, feathered hair, grranimals mix-n-match clothes, mustard and olive appliances, shag rugs, station wagons, roller skating rinks, Star Wars (the original trilogy before it was the original trilogy), “We Are Family,” Brady Bunch, Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days
    80s: mini-skirts, “Like totally,” chinese baby doll slippers, pixie boots, prairie skirts, Michael Jackson, Libya bombing, sticker collections, Hall and Oates, college bands, Brat Pack and their movies, new wave/alternative music, ice hocky in the 1980 Olympics, women’s gymnastics in 1984 Olympics, Greg Louganis in 1988 Olympics (can you tell I’m a big fan??)
    90s: UNC vs Duke basketball rivalry, Balanced Budget Act, HMOs and Medicare HMOs, Sex and the City, 90210, Party of Five, death of Princess Diana, Dave Matthews, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Duckhead shorts, “Business Casual,” Saturn (the car), outdoor concert pavilions, “Friends,” “ER,” the Rachel
    00s: 9/11, Harry Potter, reality TV, toy recalls, social netowrking sites, XBOX 360, Wii, Star Wars prequels, paparazzi, baseball’s homerun record, financial market meltdown, Technology Bubble (and burst), real estate price wars, Michael Phelps, obsession with aging, plastic surgery before and afters, Posh and Beck, Hollywood entertainment gossip sites, No Child Left Behind and SOLs, skyrocketing heels, skyrocketing gas prices, hybrids

  6. Sean

    70s – Midnight Blue, Carol Bayer Sager, Melissa Manchester
    80s – Girls On Film, Duran Duran
    90s – Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
    00s – Hey Ya – Outkast

  7. ken

    On a purely superficial level for me (and my long-suffering brethren) it was the decade in which my beloved Chicago Cubs came the closest to the World Series before the inevitable choke: 5 outs (in 2003). That means in the Teens (is that what we’ll call THAT decade?) we’ll have to come within a pitch or a reeeeally close play at the plate before NOT advancing to the World Series.
    Progress crawls on.


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