Does anyone know what we're supposed to call this decade? Is it the 2000s? The twenty-ohs? We're coming up on the last year of it and I still have no idea. Personally, I always liked the "oughts," as in, "Back in ought-six, I ate a brick of cheddar cheese in one sitting."
But perhaps the best reason to call it the oughts is that one is left with the sense that this decade ought to have been about something, and yet it really doesn't feel that way.
As flawed as the American habit of dividing our history into decades may be (the '60s didn't get started until the '50s ended around 1964), it's always made at least some intuitive sense. For instance, the popular conception of the '70s -- self-indulgent, tacky, kind of gross -- closely jibes with my memory of it, even thought it didn't begin until the end of the Vietnam War and died soon thereafter. The fatal blow was probably the "Disco Demolition Night" riot in Chicago's Comiskey Park in the summer of 1979 (even staunch law-and-order types have to admire anti-disco riots), and it ultimately staggered to its death about the time of Ronald Reagan's election.
Likewise, the 1980s and 1990s felt like real decades, whether you hated them or not. Reagan and Bill Clinton, through force of personality alone, helped give the '80s and '90s a coherence.
But it doesn't feel like we can say the same thing about George W. Bush's oughts, in no small part because Bush showed neither the interest nor the ability to dominate the culture.
Neither the pro-Bush nor anti-Bush segments of society seemed to control the commanding heights of the popular culture. After 9/11, the Bushian forces seemed to dominate -- freedom fries, "24," the Dixie Chicks' implosion -- but that didn't last long. And, with the exception of a brief counter-Bush surge led by the lefty blogosphere, Jon Stewart and the re-imagined coffeehouse rock version of the Dixie Chicks, the battle for decade dominance has been between a fizzle and a deadlock.
The war on terrorism doesn't define young peoples' lives, but neither does Bush-hatred. Virtually all of the antiwar or anti-Bush screeds put out by Hollywood over the last year, including Oliver Stone's latest doggerel, have bombed.