Friday, 30 October 2009

Tommy trouble

Thank you to Russell Clarke, who has written a very full review of The Noughties on Amazon, in the course of which he refers to me as ‘Tom’. Which is as good an excuse as any to replay this moment of mistaken identity:

Rewriting the script

Not so much a Noughties story, more one for the teens and onwards: Icann’s decision to allow non-Latin web addresses will at a stroke shift the global balance of power to what we still call the developing world. The next question is: at what point will English cease to be the default global language? See Chapter Nine.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Euphemism corner

Some more words and phrases, taken from Shoot the Puppy, by Tony Thorne. Also see pp 167-174 of The Noughties.
aggressive records management: destroying incriminating documents
alumnized: dismissed, made redundant
assisted departure: see ‘alumnized’
change of reporting relationship: demotion
contingent commission: bribe
human sacrifice: see ‘assisted departure’
live ambient point-of-sale: confrontation between seller and customer
percussive maintenance: hitting a device to make it work

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Getting it wrong

Dominic Sandbrook in the Telegraph reminds us that any attempt to define a decade from the inside (whether this Noughties or the last one) may seem hilariously wrong-headed in retrospect:
A hundred years ago, our Edwardian predecessors were obsessed less by the danger of a world war than by the threat of political terrorism. And while the anarchist bomber cast a long shadow, other issues monopolised public attention in a way that now seems almost ludicrous. To the Edwardians, the great questions of the day were Home Rule for Ireland, the People’s Budget and the composition of the House of Lords. But when we look back, all we can see is the looming hulk of the First World War.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Bovver from a hover

Yesterday, I was in west London, being interviewed for a forthcoming TV programme about the Noughties. Every few minutes, we had to stop filming because of the noise caused by a police helicopter. Chapter Six (‘Are you looking at me?’) came to life as we waited.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Plane speaking

Yet another line that I wish I’d included in The Noughties. This is by Washington Post journalist Robert Kagan:
America did not change on September 11. It only became more itself.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The best film of the Noughties, so there

Empire offers its films of the Noughties, and while there’s plenty in there that might appear on my list, I think they’ve missed the best movie of the decade. I don’t blame them, because I only saw it myself yesterday. Micmacs signals the return to cinemas of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Amélie), and it combines the moral zeal of the latter with the grubby weirdness of the former. Utterly glorious.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Was that it?

How was The Noughties for you? asks The Guardian. So tell them. But tell us as well.

Depression drama

In Chapter 10 of The Noughties I discuss the global economic meltdown that formed one bookend to the decade – the other, of course, being 9/11. Edmund Conway of the Telegraph ponders how long we’ll have to wait until the crisis is successfully presented on stage or screen:
Part of the role of literature is to express the general through the particular. This was George Eliot’s dictum – to express the drama of the human condition by describing the lives of ordinary people. And there are so many personal experiences throughout this crisis which could have helped illustrate the bigger picture: the greed of investors, the delusion of the bankers, the drama people felt when they realised the ideas they had pinned their future on had simply been wrong.

Monday, 19 October 2009


Stephen Fry identifies the pitfalls of Twitter becoming the Noughties answer to the press and Parliament rolled into one:
Journalists who don’t understand what Twitter really is (the overwhelming majority) will use my name as a kind of shorthand for the service. The fact that I have been on it for a whole year (ie a decade, see second paragraph above) and have in that time accumulated a fairly large number of followers allows them lazily to go straight to my “Twitter feed” (as they insist on calling it) and either crediting me with being a kind of a Citizen Smith of the Twitting Popular Front, or blaming me for hypocritically claiming to strike blows for press freedom with one hand while trying to censor journalism with the other.

Fatal fame

Raymond Tallis in The Times, tearing into the cult of celebrity (see Chapter Four of The Noughties):
The centuries of prattle, of air time and screen time, the miles of column inches are a sickening misuse of the gift of life, of health and adequate nutrition, of freedom from oppression, of the access we now have to the world of knowledge and the arts.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Old media fail

And after the #trafigura excitement, the Twitterati flex their muscles once again, this time against luckless hack Jan Moir. What I find intriguing is the suggestion in the last paragraph of her hastily concocted apology that she was the victim of “a heavily orchestrated internet campaign”. Yet another journalist who doesn’t understand the massive shift in media power that’s occurred in the Noughties. No single entity was orchestrating it. There was no conspiracy. It was hundreds of ordinary people who took objection to the snide, prurient tone of her article; and, more importantly, who had the means to communicate that objection.

2009 is surely the Year of Twitter.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Instant nostalgia

Tomorrow: The Guardian reviews the highs and lows of the Noughties.


One of the most though- and argument-provoking books of the Noughties has been Chris Anderson’s Free, in which he argues that giving stuff (in particular intellectual property) away is the future of business. Libby Purves of The Times begs to differ:
Content is not cost free. Writing is work. Musicianship involves cost and labour, art is not innately free, nor the infrastructure of news reporting. Until food, clothes, housing and transport are doled out free, content-makers need to be paid. The theory that advertising revenues will cover that, in any medium, is tosh.
That said, those nice people at Amazon seem to be edging over to Anderson’s side of the bed. Amazon Vine is offering the chance to get a free copy of The Noughties: go here for details.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Making it up as you go along

Not quite a list of the best books of the Noughties, but a snapshot of the decade in fiction: Borders promotes the highlights. I’d plump for Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, and Frédéric Beigbeder's Windows on the World. What about you?

(See Chapter Four for more about the books of the past 10 years.)

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Quids in (or out)

The economic shift that has led to great swathes of the media spending the Noughties in a sort of panicky inertia: online advertising spend in the UK finally outstrips TV.


In Chapter 5 of The Noughties, I discuss the extent to which blogs, Twitter and other phenomena complemented old media during the past decade and in many cases left it behind in the dust. The Mumbai attacks of 2008, and this year the Iranian upheavals and the G20 clashes in London are examples of this.

The efforts of bloggers and Tweeters to stand up against the oil company Trafigura (which was attempting to prevent the Guardian newspaper from reporting that an MP had asked a question in Parliament about illegal dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast) may not have been so dramatic, but with any luck they’ll have reminded a few corporate interests that the rules have changed for good.

Full story here.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Projecting the decade

OK, it’s not just music. Films of the Noughties are being considered at the Counting Down The Zeroes blog (although they seem a wee bit stuck at 2001 - a pretty significant year in cinematic terms, of course). And I loved Mulholland Dr. as well. But would it have been my film of the decade? Persepolis? The Wrestler? What’s yours?

Monday, 12 October 2009


More deaths that occurred too late to be included in The Noughties:
Felix Bowness, actor
Sadie Corré, actor
Marek Edelman, survivor of the Warsaw ghetto
Michael English, artist, musician
Stephen Gately, singer
Gladys ‘Killem’ Gillem, wrestler
Bobby Graham, musician
Barry Letts, TV producer
Irving Penn, photographer
Mercedes Sosa, singer
Harry Alan Towers, film producer
Lucy Vodden, in the Sky, with Diamonds

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Pop goes the Noughties

Yet more chin-stroking about the best tunes of the Noughties, this time from PopJustice. Are music fans suffering from a more virulent strain of decaditis (see page ix) than those who love books, films and so on? Or have I just missed the other lists?

(And was ‘Groovejet’ released less than 10 years ago? Crikey.)

Saturday, 10 October 2009

I am, I said

The quintessential Noughties art project, with its connotations of permanent surveillance and fleeting celebrity, has to be Antony Gormley’s One & Other, in which he encouraged members of the public to occupy the empty plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. As it comes to its end, critic Jonathan Jones is unimpressed:
If One & Other is an image of British democratic life in our time, it is a pessimistic one. It is a portrait of a society in which people will try anything to get their voices heard, even stand on a plinth, but where no one can hear what they’re saying.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Premature adjudication

I wish I’d been able to include the news of President Obama’s Nobel Prize in The Noughties. On the other hand, I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. Even the normally loquacious and articulate president seems to be a little befuddled.


A friend just described The Noughties as “academically conversational”. Then he admitted he’d only read the introduction. I quite like it, though. What phrase would you choose to sum up the book or the decade?

A view to a kill

Chapter Four of The Noughties deals with the extent to which the definition of ‘reality’ became utterly confused during the decade. The story that a Brazilian TV presenter and politician stands accused of ordering murders to boost ratings of his crime show is extreme even by the standards of reality TV; unless of course, the accusation is just another stunt. Wallace Souza has disappeared, and is apparently on the run in the forests around Manaus, a scenario that has the potential to be a real ratings winner...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Brain gain

Further proof (see Chapter Nine of The Noughties) of the inexorable rise of Asia. The latest international university rankings show that, although American and British institutions still dominate, the Asian complement increases: the universities of Tokyo and Hong Kong are at 22 and 24; US representation in the top 100 falls from 42 universities to 36. The phrase “snapping at the heels” appears, as it seems to do in any discussion of Asia’s status in the world.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Who’s afraid of microblogging?

Twitter is one of the big technology stories of the Noughties, and part of its success has been down to its celebrity adopters, such as Stephen Fry and Ashton Kutcher. But now the news that Elizabeth Taylor has announced her imminent heart surgery in 140 characters or fewer adds a special kind of stardust to the microblogging site.

Here’s looking at you

Chapter Six of The Noughties deals with the surveillance culture that pervaded the decade, usually justified with the homily “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.” The weirdest development was the extent to which the distinction between private and public space became confused; and people seemed delighted to offer themselves up for intimate scrutiny in the name of fortune and fame.

Now, entertainment and money meet invasion of privacy once again in the form of Internet Eyes, a game of sorts, that streams live CCTV footage to the home computers of players. Spot a crime being committed, and win £1,000. Michael Laurie of Crimestoppers is unimpressed: “While the motive may be sound, the concept of Internet Eyes seems to ask more questions than it answers,” he says.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Wot, no James Blunt?

More Noughties music: Pitchfork’s best albums of the decade. Inevitably noisier, younger, slightly less uniformly Caucasian than the Uncut version, although there’s still plenty of crossover (White Stripes, Arcade Fire, etc). Despite all the postmodern fragmentation, is there still such a thing as a critical canon?

Here’s the Top 10, for comparison:
  1. Radiohead, Kid A
  2. Arcade Fire, Funeral
  3. Daft Punk, Discovery
  4. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  5. Jay-Z, The Blueprint
  6. Modest Mouse, The Moon & Antarctica
  7. The Strokes, Is This It
  8. Sigur Rós, Ágaetis Byrun
  9. Panda Bear, Person Pitch
  10. The Avalanches, Since I Left You

Monday, 5 October 2009

The things people say

Review of The Noughties by Chris Fox at his La Terrasse blog, alongside titles by Lipmann Kessell and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
In fine contemporary fashion with not just a double but a triple title, this is a zip through the last ten years for anyone who was there but somehow felt that they missed it, like a Guardian Weekly for an entire decade. Taking us neatly from 9/11 to the credit crunch, by way of the War on Terror, climate change, US TV drama and social networking, The Noughties glides swan-like through something that feels a lot more coherent than the decade itself feels / felt. It is useful to have events prioritised and summarised, but the fragmentation of the media which is a theme of the book make this process itself seem a little old fashioned. Not that it should be old fashioned, necessarily. The conclusion talks about the shift in culture over the twentieth century, when popular culture took over from high culture, and describes where the democratising influence of the internet has taken this. And not just the internet. De-centralisation seems to touch everything: war is de-centralised by being waged upon a noun (what causes more terror than war, exactly?); news is de-centralised by being taken away from professional journalists; wealth is de-centralised by the shift in the global economy towards Asia (and de-stabilised by becoming an abstraction of an abstraction); music is de-centralised in one sense by being taken away from the music industry, and in another by its increasing disconnection from fame; even truth is outsourced to something identified here as ‘truthiness’, which is ‘the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than those known to be true’ (p. 160). It is right that we do this, it is right that we do that. Some of this de-centralisation is bad, but by no means all. Either way, it is here to stay. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
Also a couple of late-breaking Amazon reviews.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Millionaire and more

The Noughties was the decade in which the humble TV game show became a source of riches for the lucky and/or brilliant few. Weaver’s Week begins its review of the decade.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Yesterday’s news

There’s no doubt that the new media developments of the Noughties have presented a serious challenge to the dominance – and in many cases, the survival – of old-school newspapers, TV and so on. But at the same time, the fresh-faced upstarts, blogs, Twitter and so on, often seem to yearn from the patina of respectability that the BBC and the New York Times still possess, even if fewer people are watching/reading them.

For example, Twitter, which takes the content from your Twitter account and makes it look like a newspaper. It’s as if Henry Ford had launched the Model T, and offered a free horse with each car.

Also on the Noughties/Twitter interface, here’s Noughtiesclock, counting down to the end of the decade; by which point, will we have decided what the next one’s going to be called? I’m still pitching for ‘The Teens’. You?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

William’s windmill

Chapter 3 (‘Is it me or is it getting hot in here?’) of The Noughties turned out to be a pretty gloomy overview of the state of the environment in the decade; I wish I’d known about William Kamkwamba, who built a windmill from junk to generate electricity for his village in Malawi. William, who left school at 14, kept up his scientific education with the help of a local library. He’s now 22, and has just published a book about his project; here’s his blog.