The September/October 2002 issue of Shift is a keeper. It is the 10th Anniversary issue and it does an exceptional job of encapsulating the past decade of technology, culture and society within its pages. It’s not online yet but no matter – you’ll want to pick up the hard copy just for the cool photos of clay Simpsons sculpture. Those pics accompany a brilliant article by Chris Turner that starts by analyzing the Simpsons generation, then takes a sharp turn to explore dot-com hysteria, before meandering through seminal moments in music and film, and concluding with some sharp commentary on politics in general and post-911 in particular. Here’s a sample:
Re: The Simpsons: Western culture has in recent years become an irredeemably fragmented thing, counted in webpage hits and record sales, endlessly quantified and analyzed and synthesized and then co-opted and corrupted by advertisers, focus groups, test audiences, pollsters, pundits, and on down the line, all the while changing so quickly and in so many directions that it has never really been nailed down. (Maybe no cultural moment ever really is.) But watching The Simpsons, all those scattered slivered Is became wes, if only for thirty minutes each week (more often after the show went into syndication). We were being defined by the show. Shaped by it. Even united by it, or as close to that state as we came, anyway. If there was a single cultural signpost broadcasting the emergence of a generation/era/movement/whatever, a monolith to a widespread yearning for progress, truth, honesty, integrity, joy, a final goddamn period at the end of the vaucous corporate press release and cloying commercial script and prevaricating political soundbite – it was The Simpsons.
Re: irony: There were few unified responses to the hollow prosperity of the 1990s, no tightly woven web of icons and events and symbols that could be condensed into the kind of tidy montage that tends to pop up, for example, in films about the sixties counter-culture. Many – perhaps most – merely bought in on some level. They got jobs at dot-coms (or in “bricks-and-mortar” businesses), collected stock options, bought houses inthe suburbs, shopped in gargantuan “big box” stores, drank Starbucks coffee religiously. There were also widespread tendencies to either: a) disappear entirely into a cozy, sequestered corner of the culture, attempting to build a whole society out of whatever happened to be lying around there (viz. conspiracy theorists, Trekkies and other Trekkie-like subcultures, hackers, Phish-heads, attendees of drum-and-bass and only drum-and-bass parties, proprietors of internet fansites, etc.); or b) watch the whole parade from a comfortable ironic distance.
Re: 911: We will never know just how great an opportunity was lost, how much passionate momentum squandered. Here were the people of virtually the entire world – and certainly the entire First World – rising as one, ready to sacrifice, wanting to help. Who knows how many oversights could have been corrected, inequalities eliminated, hypocrisies inverted? Who knows what glorious civilization could have emerged from the ashes of those towers? One thing is for certain: Our leaders didn’t, and don’t. They have failed us completely in this regard – particularly those of the United States of America, that self-proclaimed last best hope for humanity. America’s primacy of place and supremacy of power in world affairs, be they economic, political, military or cultural, has never been more apparent than in the wake of September 11, when, as if in some half-witted Hollywood movie, the whole world looked to America for direction. And was told to go shopping.