When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, 2001 meant the future. It meant a world controlled by robots or giant computers.
It meant Stanley Kubrick or, to a young viewer of BBC TV, Tomorrow’s World.
If you want to re-acquaint yourself with such gems as “plastic grass”, the “office of the future” or “Nellie”, the computer set to revolutionise the classroom, have a look here:
Today, in 2012, 2001 means the recent past. Or not so recent past; a child born in 2001 would be starting secondary school this year. I’ve been thinking about 2001 a lot today – in fact I was so deep in thought this morning that I almost forgot to get off the bus.
I’ve been thinking about 2001 today, because I met my now husband on 18th April 2001, exactly 11 years ago today. A chance encounter that changed both our lives and created 3 new ones. We met at a party given for the terribly fashionable website (in 2001) http://www.popbitch.com – the rest, as they say, is history.
I could witter on for hours about the party or what happened next, but since this blog (and the essay I soon have to write) has looked at identity – in particular how the personal intersects with wider social and historical forces – I thought I’d focus on how I would have represented my own identity back then and how it connected to what was going on around me.
In April 2001, this was all over the radio:
You can laugh at the track for being hideously naff, but it sold by the shed load and it spoke to me loud and clear. At that point in time I was 30 years old (going on 31), owned my own home, worked as a TV producer and was in every sense the “independent woman” of the song. I was self employed, single and so I liked to tell myself, totally self sufficient.
I was my own creation; in Blair’s Britain, my success was naturally nothing to do with class or the ridiculously elitist education I had received which had given me the ability to project confidence (and mask neurosis). Au contraire! My success was nothing to do with having the good fortune to grow up in London (at a time when much of Britain was being destroyed by de-industrialisation) or to be born with good health and plenty of stamina. My identity was nothing to do with where I had come from but an ongoing project where I was writer, producer and director.
I wouldn’t have realised this at the time, but my views on identity chimed neatly with those expressed by Anthony Giddens, Tony Blair’s favourite sociologist. Giddens sees identity as a choice – just as I chose to see myself as a classless ‘independent woman’ (I explored this in a previous post called ‘Confessions of a Free Market Feminist’).
I found this passage in a book called Runaway World, where Giddens explores the idea of globalisation.
Giddens (1999:47) writes:
As the influence of tradition and custom shrink on a world-wide level, the very basis of our self identity – our sense of self changes. In more traditional situations, a sense of self is sustained largely through the stability of the social positions of individuals in the community. Where tradition lapses, and lifestyle choice prevails, the self isn’t exempt. Self-identity has to be created and recreated on a more active basis than before.
Back in 2001, I would have thought this was spot on. Who I was – personally, professionally, socially – was entirely up to me. I didn’t see myself as part of any kind of collective and remember sneering contemptuously at someone who suggested that I join a union in response to my moaning that male colleagues were paid more than me. What a ridiculous idea! How terribly 1970s
I remember being very annoyed by sexism back in the late 90s/early 00s – as were many of my female colleagues. It basically boiled down to the fact that as we reached our late 20s/early 30s, all the guys in the office seemed to get promoted much faster than we did – and got more money. This was particularly true in the production company I worked in at the time, which had taken the mid 90s, Loaded “lad culture” at face value.
I remember spending hours complaining about this with other female colleagues. But what did we do? Stand up to our oppressors? Like f**k we did. We all just worked hard and pushed (individually, of course) as hard as we could until we got a pat on the head, a promotion and a pay rise. What good girls we all were!
We all laugh at the sexual politics represented in Mad Men, but has the world really changed that much? Debatable…
Basically, we’d all swallowed the myth that it was all up to you; if you weren’t a success it was because you hadn’t tried hard enough. You have to believe this obvious falsehood because otherwise the flagrant unfairness and petty humiliations of office life would send you insane. I’m writing this from a female perspective; substitute class, race, sexuality, nationality etc etc and the story is much the same.
Even now I feel awkward writing this – like I’m speaking out of turn, being disrespectful and ungrateful. How ridiculous is that? The ideology of individual “success” is so all pervasive that to question it automatically marks you out as a freak or *whispers* a LOSER.
Bloody hell, I have gone on a bit here.
Other things from 2001.
It was the year that Big Brother came of age; the show started tentatively in 2000 as a weird social experiment, only to become the show everyone was talking about. So everyone was gagging for Big Brother to start in 2001 – it was HUGE.
The winner of Big Brother 2 was a young Irish flight attendant called Brian Dowling (now a fully paid up member of the minor celebrity classes). He came out on telly but he still won by miles, proving that the British public were NICE TO GAYS
Tony won (again) in 2001, not that anyone was that bothered. A “fact” did the rounds that more young people voted in the final of Big Brother than they did in the 2001 General Election.
This is slightly disputed – see here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4586995.stm but what it does show is how unimportant politics was to us back then. I voted (for Tony) but lots of my friends just could be bothered to vote. Politics was for squares – hey it’s not the 80s any more.
In many ways I see the first half of 2001 as the last gasp of the 1990s – we’re all equals because we all wear the same trainers, like the same dance music and watch the same crap on telly.
Then this happened:
There was a world outside our bubble of easy credit, silly music and mindless TV.
It wasn’t very nice.
Welcome to the 21st century my friends….