Thursday, December 17, 2009

The decade of...

by Jessica

Intern Kara just told me that a blog in the Baltimore Sun declared that this was the "Twilight Decade."

Clearly, Stephanie Meyer has made a mark—and whether she is symptom or cause, we are deep inside a paranormal moment in pop-culture. Austen and the undead, who would have thought? Still, as Kara (who argued that the past ten years belong to Harry Potter) demonstrated, the “Twilight decade” is subject to some debate. I’m curious to see where you all weigh in. In the name of what author, idea or impulse, do you name the past nine years? And, incidentally, what do we name this decade? The “aughts” just never caught on.

My own answer—in terms of book-publishing, public policy, and in personal life— might be that these last ten years have been the decade of the Middle East.

Starting with 9/11 and the attendant wars begun in Afghanistan (not actually the Middle East, I know), in Iraq and on terror, to concern with radical Islam, to the scramble to understand “why they hate us,” through to present anxieties over a nuclear Iran, it was a discussion that was conducted across the media, one that taught us a new vocabulary of terrible and heartbreaking phrases: Al Qaeda, Clash of Civilization, extraordinary rendition, Abu Ghraib, improvised explosive devices…and the list goes on. The books that have emerged from and informed this discussion are too numerous to list, but they include the works of Bernard Lewis, Stephen Coll, Lawrence Wright, Dexter Filkins, Jane Mayer, Stephen Kinzer, Reza Aslan, Karen Armstrong, Juan Cole, John Esposito, etc. “Middle East Studies” is category that has grown by leaps and bounds and for better and for worse.

My decade of the Middle East is, of course, a smaller story and a happier one, a brighter and more hopeful counterpoint to the grim meta-narrative of tragedy and turmoil. Granted mine was made up of words like motherhood (my son was born in Cairo), Mahfouz (plus a host of other remarkable novelists whose work I came to know), meshi (vegetables stuffed with rice and meat, and assorted other delicious staples of Egyptian cooking), and so on…. But the opportunity to live and travel in the Islamic world, to see that devout is not, in fact, a synonym for dangerous, was eye-opening. And even though I’m back in the USA as the decade closes, my sojourn in Egypt profoundly colored this period of my life.

So obviously, this is a subjective exercise, one with no single answer: I look forward to reading your nominations.


  1. This has been the decade of GREED! Please read, Matt Taibbi's article in Rolling Stone... THE GREAT AMERICAN BUBBLE MACHINE. (google it)

    GREED! Oh yeah, golly gee, by damn, duh!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  2. Afghanistan can be part of the Middle East. It depends on your definition. It's all academic anyway, because only those of us who live in "The Occident" call that part of the world the "Middle East." Maybe better to call it the Islamic World. Or, hell, maybe it's just better to call it the Decade of Islam. There was enough analysis of the Muslim communities of Europe, Asia, and the U.S. as well as the Middle East.

    Or, alternatively, the Decade of Lady Gaga. It sure was her decade.

  3. I wouldn't have thought of it in those terms, but I do think "Decade of the Middle East" (or "of Islam", as mentioned above) would be appropriate. Or even just the decade of 9/11. It happened at the very beginning of the decade and has influenced everything since.

    If we're going to name it after YA books, though, I'd say Harry Potter had a stronger grip for a larger portion of the decade than the Twilight series, even if it began in the '90s. I'd definitely argue that the books and movies were more popular and reached a larger audience, to the point where there are even academic discussions of Harry Potter. (I've seen courses and books on philosophy in Harry Potter, for example, but nothing similar for Twilight.)

  4. I could agree with the Decade of Islam or Harry Potter. Alternately, it has been the Decade of Hand-held Electronic Devices.

  5. How about the decade of extremism? The U.S. already enjoyed an era of extravagance in the Gilded Age (roughly the last 50 years of the 19th century) (and thank you, Mark Twain, for the term).

    But everything in our time has been extreme: Our use (and sometimes abuse) of technology, our politicians, the dramatic shifts in our economy, our religious performance, our healthcare ... even sometimes our art.

    Perhaps we can try that on for size?

  6. All this is true, perhaps more broadly we could say this had been a decade of anxiety: 9/11, war on terror, fears of global pandemic (bird flu then swine flu) collapsing world markets, worry over global warming, America's loss of prominence and the economic "rise of the rest."

  7. I'd go with the Age of Loss. 9/11 was a terrible wake-up call for Americans. For so many years, we've been watching the devastation that has been rained on other countries. 9/11 took us out of the spectator seat. So did Katrina.

    99% of the kids I teach are Muslim. I never cease to be amazed at how different they all are from each other, and how widely customs and lifestyle vary, depending on nationality and family background.

    I prefer the Age of Harry Potter to the Age of Twilight, which sounds so mournful. I prefer the Harry Potter books too.

  8. It's Stephenie Meyer, by the way, not Stephanie. She's (mis)named after her father.

  9. 'Stephenie'?!

    Oh well, I do at least now have the answer to the question 'could that Twilight woman be any more annoying?'

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