In November 2000, the United States held a presidential election, and nobody knew who won, so we just kind of made up an outcome and tried to act like that was normal. Less than a year later, airplanes flew into office buildings, and everybody cried for two months. And then Enron went bankrupt, and the U.S. started acting like a rogue state, and ‘The Simple Life’ premiered, and gasoline became unaffordable, and our Olympic basketball team lost to Puerto Rico, and we reelected the same president we never really elected in the first place. Later, there would be some especially devastating hurricanes and three Oscars for an especially bad movie called ‘Crash.’
Things, as they say, have been better.
I’m only 33 years old, so I’ll concede that my life experience is limited. But the past five years have been an especially depressing stretch to be an American, and I don’t think many people of any age would disagree with that sentiment (except for maybe Kelly Clarkson… things seem to be working out OK for her). If it’s the era of anything, it’s the Era of Predictable Disillusionment: a half-decade in which many long-standing fears about how America works (and what America has come to represent) were gradually—and then suddenly—hammered into the collective consciousness of just about everyone, including all the people who hadn’t been paying attention to begin with.
This will not be lost on future historians. In 50 or 100 years, they will search for events within the popular culture that supposedly embodied the zeitgeist of the time. Some of these people will use sports, not unlike the way contemporary historians might use Muhammad Ali as a means to define the 1960s. As these future historians try to explain what was wrong with the world in the early 21st century, I suspect they will use Barry Bonds. Here was a man accomplishing unbelievable things—things so unbelievable that they literally should not have been believed, even as they were happening. But we did not really believe or disbelieve. We just sort of watched it happen, and then we watched it get out of control, and then we expressed shock without feeling a grain of surprise, and then we tried to figure out how we were supposed to reconcile an alien reality we unconsciously understood all along.”
Chuck Klosterman, all the way back on April 10, 2006, in an article for ESPN: Page 2 on Barry Bonds approaching Babe Ruth’s home run record.
This was all I could think about while watching Charlie Sheen’s absolutely calamitous interview today. Couldn’t stop wondering if those future historians who will go looking for cultural artifacts to represent our contemporary zeitgeist won’t just seize on the day that I and untold thousands of others sat at our desks one dreary Monday and spent our lunch hours watching an internet live stream of this train wreck going over a cliff.