The 2010s changed the way Nick Triani interacted with most of his cultural touchstones. In this essay he looks back on a decade of fast progress in technical innovation that’s offered both endless pleasures/communication routes whilst creating an uncertain future
As the decade draws to a close, many are trying to fathom what just happened over the last ten years. Be it cultural, political or the climate catastrophe that most conscientious types realise they find themselves in, the past decade might be remembered as an introduction to what may be our most challenging times here on earth. In layman’s terms – we are in the midst of a climate emergency. As The Clash once warned – the ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, the planet’s heating up – and we’re not doing enough to stop it.
The diagnosis is critical, yet most of western privileged society just shrugs with an uninterested uneasiness born out of a selfless need for non-reflection, a simmering vacuousness of staring into the void and merely asking “isn’t there anything good on Netflix I could watch so I don’t have to face this reality?” The need for escape is exemplified by our own immersion into the internet and the virtual pleasure or pain that belongs to someone else.
…most of western privileged society just shrugs with an uninterested uneasiness born out of a selfless need for non-reflection, a simmering vacuousness of staring into the void and merely asking “isn’t there anything good on Netflix I could watch so I don’t have to face this reality?”
My main take-away from the last decade could be about screen addiction, at least in the sense of what I can see from my own environment. This particularly relates to me being a culture junkie and most of the culture I obsess over has moved online. Over the last ten years I simply haven’t been able to get enough of that light, those words, that browse, the fear of missing out on the latest tweet, FB update, email, news headlines and of course, the biggest attraction: my own virtual social engagement. So many of us have become the arbitrators not only of our own cultural worlds, but political opinion combined with a great capacity for trolling and nastiness. The internet is an outlaw land and creates its own web (ouch!) of intrigue, opinion, controversy or simply bat-shit craziness. It’s this wild cacophony of noise that keeps us hooked, a place where YOU can have a voice (even if no one is really listening). Yes, I’m hooked (though increasingly growing weary.)
Boomtime is over
As the decade ends social media as a time consuming phenomenon wanes for me, while at the same time I am aware that the internet has become a routine part of nearly every aspect of my life. I have a peace of mind now that I don’t stress if I haven’t posted anything on one of my many social media platforms. Social media’s decade-long sprint to offer a consumerist paradise has merely hastened my move for the shutdown button. I prefer to live in the moment now rather than documenting that moment. Ironically, the fast sprint of social connectivity has made me more remote and less willing to share and connect.
Ironically, the fast sprint of social connectivity has made me more remote and less willing to share and connect
Of course, as I get older and the looks fade and certainly as regards a platform such as Instagram, I have become less comfortable in my own skin, a development I don’t really feel like sharing with the world. Did anyone ever mention the visual vanities of older lives? They should, it’s a heartbreaker.
Me 10 years ago
More vivid pursuits inform me nowadays. Time spent with my family have become the best of times, though my family will probably attest to me being still addicted to screens. I have no particular vice or drug habit, I eat healthily and don’t really drink, I’m proud of my clear-headed sobriety. I merely spend time with the things that interest me most. This is the privileged life of a white-passing +50 male. I have become extremely selfish with my time.
Calling it out
A new development has seen a general consensus driven by public opinion becoming our barometer of what classifies as the word of the day. For me the past decade has seen standards become lowered to a simple classification of; “if enough people like something, then it must be good” (the reverse of this premise also applies). Mixing commercial revenues with quality of endeavour is something that has become heightened, at least in most MSM. It’s more escapism with an extra dose of dumbing down. Yes, an elitist view perhaps, but I won’t apologise for calling out something that is truly dreadful or politically odious, especially if that something’s only merit is being popular. We have accepted capitalism as high art or as our only aspiration. Popular opinions define critical consensus, yet if we lose the ability to take on or offer criticism, worryingly we lose our capacity to discuss or communicate. Despite our supposed hi-speed connectivity, I have finally come to the pessimistic conclusion that this past decade has been one long communication breakdown.
This sporting life
As a fan of nearly 50 years, I can revel in Tottenham Hotspur’s general improvement as a football team; it’s been a highlight of my decade – Spurs’ competitiveness. Football has become all-enveloping for me. I ignore the obvious, devious and evil commercial aspects of the beautiful game and give into my innate state of tribalism (I really never knew I had it in me.) Come match-day (which is ever frequent) my passion knows no bounds and I am lost in the increasingly intense revelry of the sport. Yes, football has become more intense, the pressure often unbearable; the increased speed of each game, the superstars, the global reach all entwine in my mind to create the perfect 90 minute exaltation of personal release. So two of my highlights of this decade have been Mauricico Pochettino and Harry Kane. Football as full throttle escape has been essential to me, an escape as much from the daily grind but also an escape from the intensity of my partner’s chronic illness.
It’s all about numbers
Music has intensified as the main line that runs through my veins both professionally and as cultural recreation. The way we consume music and interact with music has been as much a talking point this past decade as the music itself (which is a bit sad), but as a music consumer I feel it’s never been so good. A purist music culture still thrives even though an over-reliance on numbers and stats to justify success often overshadows any perceived artistic accomplishments.
For all the knowingness of pop music in 2019, music culture has mourned the passing of Prince, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Scott Walker and others because they dared to dream; artistic choices were simply de rigueur and not based on any commercial aspirations. Rare exceptions such as Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy albums cut across cultural lines to become something more meaningful, helping pop-music reclaim the critical consensus and capture the spirit of the times.
Still, for me popular music has become a slightly duller place over the last decade, with risk aversion and social media compliance an essential part of making it. In simple terms I started listening to a lot of old music and relishing the freedom of jazz as a form of expression. If anything dates me, it’s this. Sic Alps final album tapped into my own inner sadness and seemed to reflect feelings that were closer to home. An increasingly important record for me personally and one that captures a world-weary mood music of the 2010s – Sic Alps surmises my musical direction and word-view these past ten years.
I regress to my inner child
Reading books has become a chore for me. Fiction has fallen by the wayside, but this has been increased by my becoming a near full-on digital reader. The literal printed page has virtually disappeared from my grasp. Most of my physical book reading has been in the service of my child. Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings have taken the limelight, but my still alive inner child has secretly thrilled at these works. Graphic novels have been a regular staple: too many to mention but Pat Mills’ Charley’s War reigns above most.
To emphasise my move to the virtual, The Guardian online has been a constant companion. It’s my first port of call everyday and of course more than anything fuels my screen time. As an outlet for free online journalism with balanced reporting and great writing, it remains peerless.
But a certain sorrow and even guilt accompanies my abandonment of physical books (the digitisation process has impacted most cultures important to me.) Technical progress feels more impersonal and this decade’s rush to digitise has increased the sense of commercial possibilities in exploiting hi-art. My old punk heart is weary as much as wary, scrolling on my phone has replaced reading a well thumbed paperback novel on any journey I take nowadays.
Technical progress feels more impersonal and this decade’s rush to digitise has increased the sense of commercial possibilities in exploiting hi-art
The passing of the silver screen
In 2010 I was still spending as much as I could afford on DVDs and along with my Sight and Sound subscription; cinema, film history and the writings of David Thomson and others fuelled a passion for film. Hell, me and my partner even went a little crazy and started a very active movie-blog, which let’s be honest, probably helped give us an idea for you know what.
The home movie streaming revolution, pioneered by Netflix, again gives us pause for thought for the issue of more screen time. As life becomes increasingly busy and tiring, Netflix has offered even more simple escapism that has impacted further on our own social behaviour. TV streaming handily also supplied a his and hers menu which rarely crosses over into mutual gender lines and impacted negatively onto shared time with my partner. We still watch things together, but we have so much more to consider nowadays, tailored to our own individual wishes and desires. The dividing lines on streaming culture has developed a new phenomenon for couples addicted to binge watching (and no doubt more scrutiny on fragile relationships).
But Netflix and HBO (and increasing others) have also managed to deliver some genuinely startling art beamed straight into our living rooms. Twin Peaks: The Return bettered most cinema and TV over 18 slow episodes of small screen nirvana. Cut from similar cloth but equally mind-blowing was Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers, a three season series that deals with loss and stays with you and never quite leaves.
But the biggest cinematic achievement of the decade away from the small screen has been the relevance of the franchise (a TV serial for the big screen if you like) and especially the all-conquering power of the superhero movie, from Marvel’s slick, witty Avengers universe to the polarising populism of this year’s Joker. Martin Scorsese, not sounding like one of his onscreen streetwise characters, rounded off the decade by decrying the success of Superhero films and describing them as anti-cinema. The authority of Scorsese’s quotes mixed with the fawning love for his new, overrated film also displayed the privilege a director like Scorsese is afforded due to his reputation. It’s our own perceptions of quality and nostalgia for Scorsese’s CV that gives his words such authority, even if I think some of the films he’s criticised have far exceeded the quality of his own work.
I make the connection with reputation and white male privilege because cinema suffered its greatest fall this decade, with the emergence of the #metoo movement and a greater call for equality between men and women in general. #metoo chimed with an awareness for feminism in the 2010s, a development that has jump started the process of change towards women receiving overdue equal billing not only in the workplace, but at home.
The universal lurch to the right
What has defined this decade for me has been the increased and unopposed shift to a right-wing ideology throughout many nations of the world. Conservatism with a small c has given way to an array of populist theories that often result in racism with a capital R. An increase in the harbouring of natural resources often against the needs of the planet and the greater good. Keeping the establishment and their capitalist values in place, the rightwing thinking lobby have exerted greater control, often using the seemingly liberal tag of ‘freedom of expression’ to legitimise overt criticism of being racist or just talking shit about minorities or even attacking an overtly critical media. Under such guises and hammering home a continued, legitimised worldview against ‘the other’ in our societies has now become the norm rather than something that should be a source for feeling deep shame. The rhetoric of this decade has made many of our communities divided – and destroyed that essence of community itself. Trust in leadership has become an issue like never before.
the rightwing thinking lobby have exerted greater control, often using the seemingly liberal tag of ‘freedom of expression’ to legitimize overt criticism of being racist or just talking shit about minorities
From the populism of Trump to the logical conclusion of the Nigel Farage/ Boris Johnson axis, which fuels division and hatred, extreme views and opinions nowadays reflect our society and sense of humanity. Erdoğan, Orbán, Bolsonaro, Italy’s Salvini and Finland’s Finns Party; the trend in right wingers gaining political power seems irreversible. How did we get here? Does anyone really know? A heightened awareness of my own Brexit fuelled vulnerability have made these the most uncertain of times. I’ve noticed a subtle shift with a more normalised racist expression toward me and my family during this period. In Finland I feel alone in having to try and combat these situations, even amongst my most liberal associations.
In Finland I feel alone in having to try and combat these situations, even amongst my most liberal associations
As Jeremy Corbyn is crushed by electoral defeat in the UK, recriminations and humiliation end the decade with me feeling we’re in an unsafe place. As political tribalism sinks the centre ground we all search for our own visions of extremism that we can place our own ideological hat on. Compassion and solutions have to be our way forward, yet we’re still arguing with big business and corporations about being fair and creating safe climate environments for future generations. Self-interest has won the day.
Movements such as Extinction Rebellion, Momentum, Occupy Wall Street, #metoo, Black Lives Matter, Wiki-Leaks and Anonymous have offered us some hope and often questioned this era defining status quo. This last decade represents a new era of protest, a new voice, a reactivated youth movement that expresses shared values and the concerns of all ages. A new level of responsibility, a real taking back control. We need more Greta Thunberg and less Rudy Giuliani in all our lives.
Me in 2019
An uncertainty at home to add to the feeling of international insecurity has permeated much of this most immediate passing decade. My dearest and nearest have been the barometer by which I have to measure our progress. With a chronic illness in the close family not only defining our day to day routines, my partner’s illness has come to define how I am viewed by others. Increased public recognition of my partner’s condition has cemented a new public picture of who I am. That’s often hard to take, but I am now regarded by many as the partner of a cancer patient. Sympathy for my own new condition is widespread. My own ageing and the toll it’s taken, both physical and mental, has only contributed to a personal feeling of lack of relevance whilst bringing more awareness of my own sense of mortality. My only response to this decade of freewheeling doubt and extreme movements is to keep the ones I love near me and never let go. 2020 finally sounds like The Future. Let’s hope a new positive dialogue, face to face, can develop amongst all the other ideas.
Nick Triani is an editor and contributor to One Quart Magazine