Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Through the Years: The 10 Best Decades of the 20th Century

Well, the 20th Century is finally over. Wait, what? That happened when? Really? fourteen years ago, huh? Oh well, better late than...anyway, now that the 20th Century is fina...er, I mean has been over for a while now, it's about time we took a look at the decades of that century, and decide which are the ten best. Okay, okay, obviously there are only ten decades per century (even this math-deficient ne'er-do-well knows that!) so a look at the ten best decades would also be a look at some of the worst decades of said century. I'm okay with that. Howzabout you? Anyway, all ten decades have their good sides and their bad sides. So none are actually totally bad, nor are any of them totally good. For every Justin Beiber or Seals and Croft, there is a Dylan or Jack White to make up for things. For every Nixon or Bush, there's a Clinton or a JFK. For every Stanley Kubrick, there is an M. Night Shaymalan to bring 'em down. Every decade is good and every decade is not so good, but right here, right now (yeah, I just quoted Jesus Jones, what's it to ya!?) we are going to countdown those aforementioned ten decades of the 20th Century, and  take a look at both the good and the bad...and perhaps the ugly as well. So without further ado (for rather obvious reasons, there are no runners-up this time around) let's start counting down.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

10. The 1980's

Yeah, I know. This is basically my coming of age decade. I was twelve when it began, and twenty-two when it ended, so yeah, I basically grew up in this decade. I became a man in this decade. Literally, I became a man in this decade. That's a not-so-veiled attempt at saying this was the decade I lost my virginity. So there. But seriously, have you ever taken a look at how the hell we dressed back then. What the fuck were we thinking!? I had pants with more zippers than any pair of pants should ever be allowed to have. And the hair!? Wow!! Sure there were some good things. MTV began, and actually played music. Imagine that. There were great video games like Space Invaders and Frogger and Q-Bert and Joust. Do you remember fucking Joust. We rode ostriches for Christ's sake!! Ostriches!! None of the crap they have now, but real, honest-to-goodness video game fun, dammit! Thanks to Chris Claremont, we got some of the best X-Men stories ever told, and comics were still barely a dollar when the decade ended. Did I mention that I lost my virginity? But then there was the bad. Let's see, oh yeah, Ronald Fucking Reagan!! Thanks to that douchebag, the cost of living went through the roof, while the common people's salaries stayed pretty much the same. We had high-flyin' brokers and coke-fuelled investors, and me me me was all the rage. So yeah, between the terrible clothes (what were we thinkin!??) and the Gipper building up the 1% (whatever happened to the trickle down part!??) the 1980's come in at number ten - even if I did lose my virginity - and mastered the Rubik's Cube.

9. The 1910's

This is the decade that gave us the War to End All Wars. Um, okay? How'd that work out for ya? Actually, according to most historians (I was a bit youngish to remember myself) World War I, or The Great War as it was called, since naming a war part I is just asking for trouble, was the worst war we've ever had. Trench warfare was all the rage. And it was also what would eventually lead to World War II, but at least that war is romanticized, which is why the 1940's are much higher on this list, but more on that later. This decade also gave us a revolution in Mama Russia, where, according to Mick Jagger, Anastasia screamed in vein. Or was that screamed in pain. What does he say there? I guess I could Google it, but I'm kinda lazy, so let's just let the mystery be. The real point here is that Communism began on that fateful October night. Okay, it was already around and bandied about in philosophical circles, but 1917 brought the deaths of the Czarist royal family, and the onset of the future Soviet Union. Now I suppose Communism, or Socialism as it were, is not necessarily a bad thing...in theory. In practice it is a whole different thing, and we see the corruption that came out of what was meant as a noble thing at the time. Then again, we had the invention of the zipper (thank you Gideon Sundback), D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin came to prominence (and they, along with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, would form United Artists), the first crossword puzzle made it's appearance, such works of literature as Dubliners, Pygmalion, Of Human Bondage, and Death in Venice were published, Duchamp unveiled his "Fountain" to the art world, Picasso and Braque created Cubism, and Tarzan swung onto action for the first time. But then we also had the Titanic tragedy, and that is enough to sink this decade for me. And by my rather gauche term of sink, I don't necessarily mean the 1912 incident so much as the 1997 James Cameron film that came from it. Ugghhh.

8. The 1990's

Right off the bat, this decade has it's good points. First off, I met and married my lovely wife near the end of said decade. Secondly, there's the rising up of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, the two best damn filmmakers working today. Then we also have eight years of Bill Clinton, the best damn President of modern times (trying his best to erase the twelve terrible years of the Reagan/Bush era), as well as the rise of the interwebs, without which you would not be reading this. So there. Unfortunately, the 1990's also gave us Britney Spears, The Spice Girls, the rise of the boy band, and a buttload of other bad music. I mean a BUTTLOAD!! Yeah, we also got Nirvana, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins, so I guess it's a wash, musically speaking, but there really was a lot of crap on the radio during the 90's. A LOT OF CRAP!! And hey, we also got Friends and Seinfeld. But then again, we also got Full House and Family Matters. Again, a wash. But let's face it, even though there were many great things happening in the 90's (The Yankees winning four championships, The Simpsons at the beginning of the decade, Family Guy at the end, Wong Kar-Fucking-Wai, the best damn filmmaker in the world) there was a lot of political bullshit happening around the world, as well as the Republican witch hunt against Bill Clinton. Bastards! And we also had Rob Liefeld drawing the most ridiculous looking superheroes over at Marvel. But then, as I started with, I met and married my lovely wife during this decade, so that keeps it going a bit higher than it would otherwise. 'nuff said, let's move on.

7. The 1900's

Marie Curie discovered radioactivity. Einstein came up with his theory of special relativity. L. Frank Baum published the first of his Oz books. Georges Milies directed A Trip to the Moon and Edwin S. Porter made The Great Train Robbery. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. Picasso produced Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which heralded the birth of modern art. Puccini's Tosca debuts in Rome. The first World Series happened. These are some pretty stellar things to all happen in a single decade. We also had the San Francisco fire of 1906, Mount Vesuvius erupting and destroying much of Naples, and about a dozen political assassinations, including the killing of President McKinley. This decade was a remarkable time - I am told. Again, I would have bit a bit young to recall myself. But this was the decade where man first flew. That's right, man fucking flew!! We also got the Victrola, the electric typewriter, and an early prototype jukebox. This was a time that the Victorian age was ending, and a new modern age was just starting to kick off it's shackles, and beginning to enjoy itself a bit. Yeah, yeah, we still had child labour in America, and women still couldn't vote - but really, are we any better today because these things changed? I kid. I kid. Don't send angry tweets. I am really just kidding. But seriously kids, this was a groundbreaking decade, even if it was still rather stone-agish. But we were growing, baby. We were growing...and rolling out the assembly line. Ha!

6. The 1970's

Now I know many people, possibly even most people around today, would put this decade near or at the bottom of such a list as this. But not me, baby. Not me!! All those other hater's reasons for loathing the 1970's are the exact same reasons I love the damn thing. Yes, I came of age in the 1980's, but my real childhood (from two to twelve) was spent on my big wheel (later replaced by a skateboard) flying through the decade of the leisure suit and disco. Just looking at my old school pictures, makes me see just how stylin' I was in my clothes choices, or actually my mother's clothes choices. From the sweater vests to the argyle and plaid, to the brightly coloured pants...oh wait, that's still how I dress to this day. So there ya go! The 70's also gave us The Godfather (and Godfather Part II), Nashville, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now, Cries and Whispers, Taxi Driver, Jaws, Star Wars, Annie Hall, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and many many more great films. In fact one could even say the 1970's were a second golden age in cinema. In fact, I did just say that. So there again!! Okay, perhaps there was a bit too much of that itchy, stifling polyester, and we did have Nixon after all, but we also had great music (Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Yes, Sabbath, Ramones, Blondie, The Clash, Patti Smith, Sex Pistols) and television (M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Charlie's Angels, and the original Saturday Night Live), as well as the creation of the "All-New" X-Men. Yeah, baby! The 1970's rock!!

5. The 1940's

Sure, there was that pesky whole world war thing, and there was Hitler, and Stalin, and all the terrible tragedies that came along with such things, but this era is strangely romanticized in our culture. From the great classic films of the time to the equally classic music, the 1940's may be the most romantic decade of the 20th Century. The 1940's gave us such great things as the microwave oven, the frisbee, the slinky, radar, and velcro. Yeah, it also gave us a terrible war, but such a romantic war. We had the Andrew Sisters and young Sinatra. We had John Ford and Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock. We also had Powell/Pressburger and the 1948 release of The Red Shoes, my all-time favourite film. Yeah yeah, we had Hitler storming across Europe, but we also had Thor Hyerdahl crossing the Pacific on the Kon-Tiki. Yup, a great and romantic era in American history. Television was first making it's way into homes, and we had Citizen Kane and Casablanca on the big screen. We had Camus and Sartre. We had Arthur Miller and George Orwell. Okay, we had that evil bitch Ayn Rand too, but the good outweighed the literary grotesqueries. And really, how bad can a decade at war be (it was only the first half by the by) when you also have Rita Hayworth and Gene Tierney? And hey, we got Captain America and Wonder Woman too.

4. The 1950's

The 1950's were a great era of change and prosperity. Well, at least for we white males. Otherwise, not so much. This was a decade that saw the post war generation rebuild their economy, and find all new home conveniences. We got passenger jets and a space program. Yeah, that one really worked out well. But with all this so-called prosperity (the Leave it to Beaver worldview) we also had racial inequality. But this is the decade it started getting "a little" better. We had a brave woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus, and we had nine brave children making their way to a new school. It was a great time of change, indeed, even if that change came with great struggle.  But, on a lighter note, as a die hard cinephile, this was the greatest decade in cinematic history. We had Sirk and and Wilder and Nick Ray, and Hitchcock at his peak. This was also the decade that gave us a little thing called Rock & Roll. The rise of Elvis and a brand new style of music was all the rage. We had Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. We had Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. We had James Dean and  Marilyn Monroe. We had J.D. Salinger and Allen Ginsberg. We had Sputnik and I Love Lucy. We had Wilma Rudolph and Rocky Marciano. Yeah, we had that whole Cold War thing too, but hey, how bad can a cold war be. It's the hot ones ya gotta worry about. 

3. The 1930's

You'd think a decade that was pretty much one long great depression wouldn't be as high up the list. But you'd be wrong. So so wrong. Let's look at all the good things about the 1930's. In cinema, you had the great filmic works of the pre-code age. Films such as Trouble in Paradise, Safe in Hell, and the original Scarface. Later on in the decade we had The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and Stagecoach. In music we got Django Reinhardt and Robert Johnson, two of the greatest and most influential musicians ever. We also had the invention of Kodachrome, Scotch Tape, and the chocolate motherfuckin' chip cookie. The 1930's also gave us both Batman and Superman. We also had A Brave New World and As I Lay Dying. Swing and Gypsy Jazz came about, as did the Volkswagen Beetle. Let's just skip over the fact of it starting out as Nazi-mobile. We also got ourselves both the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge. Lotsa good stuff, huh? Okay, like I said we also had that whole Great Depression thing, and the start of WWII, but when you have everything from Louis Armstrong to Ub Iwerks to Judy Garland to Amelia Earhart to Babe Ruth to Jesse Owens to Greta Garbo to FDR, it turns out to be quite a fantastic decade, indeed.

2. The 1960's

So, this was the decade that gave the world me. That's gotta count for something, right? Seriously though, the 1960's have got to be the biggest decade of change since the revolutionary times of the 1910's. From the civil rights movement to the protests against the Vietnam War to the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Jack and Bobby Kennedy. In fact, pretty much everything changed. Literature was changed by the Beat Movement of the late 1950's and early 1960's. Kerouac, Ginsberg, and their kin, ruffled the waters good. In music you had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, and The Velvet Underground. And that's just scratching the surface. In cinema, you had the breaking down of the constrictive Production Code, and the birth of the New Hollywood of Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, and the rest of the Young Turks. We got Psycho and 2001. We got Bonnie and Clyde and Night of the Living Dead. We got the French New Wave and the arthouse hits of Antonioni, Fellini, and Bergman. We also had mini-skirts, bell bottoms, and all things tie-dye. We had the Summer of Love (the Summer in which I was born BTW) and such TV shows as Get Smart, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. So yeah, this is my second favourite decade. I mean, c'mon, we had Astroturf and the 8-Track, and men freakin' walking on the Moon! Yeah, baby!

1. The 1920's

And that brings us to the decade I would most want to live in. That's right kids, the Roaring Twenties. The economy was booming, Hollywood was raging, the speakeasy's were flowing, and the clubs were roaring. It was the Jazz Age! We had Hemingway and Faulkner. We had Dorothy Parker. We had the electric razor and the jukebox. We had George Gershwin and a bevvy of foxy flappers. The birth of sound cinema followed some of the greatest films in history. Films like The Gold Rush, Greed, Sunrise, and Battleship Potemkin. Did I mention the bevvy of foxy flappers. Yup, of all the women's looks of all the 20th Century, it is the bobbed hair, beaded dresses, and (let's face it) easy attitude of the flapper generation, that is the best of all the century. Just take a look at Louise Brooks for proof of that. An actress who's iconic 1920's hairstyle is similar to my own lovely wife's current hairstyle. So there! In fact I cannot think of a single bad thing from the 1920's. Okay, perhaps that is a bit of hyperbole on my part. We did have that whole stock market crash, but really, the decade was pretty much over by then, and prohibition just made drinking seem cooler and more fun. Before that we had James Joyce giving us Ulysses, Franz Kafka giving us The Trial, and even A.A. Milne giving us our first look at Winnie the Freakin' Pooh. We also saw Babe Ruth and Yankee Stadium, the house that he built, come into their own. In fact 1927 and the New York Yankees gave us what is probably the greatest single baseball team of all time. Oh, and Pez was invented too. Howzabout that!? What can I say, I'm a 1920's kinda guy. Did I mention the bevvy of foxy flappers?

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


9 comments:

  1. I think of World War II as "The War to End All Wars, the Sequel."

    The '70s is a weird decade to categorize cuz the first 3-5 years was like the '60s.

    Personally, I love the sixties -- for pop culture, and hippie stuff, and hell, just the music -- but the twenties had more class.

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  2. I think the twenty's, forties, and 60's were the best. I think, like the above poster WWII, was the war to end wars; but that didn't work either.

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  3. It's really hard to categorize any decade as they never end the way they start out. The early sixties are more like a mod version of the fifties, and the sixties everyone seems to know (the hippie stuff), really didn't begin until 1967. Musically, cinematically, and literary-wise, these are all better decades than the ones we've been "blessed with" lo these past fourteen years. I guess it's a good thing we have the past to fall back on. I know I've spent my life living in it.

    See ya 'round the web.

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    1. Exactly! I always think of the 1960s in two parts: The JFK/Peace Corps/beatnik years, and the post-Sgt. Pepper era.

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  4. Well I was born in 1964-Beatles time! "Conjunction junction, what's your function?" I hated those little cartoons when I was a kid. I hated what happened to Bill Clinton and don't get me started on Bush Jnr-major moron. I had a great time in the 80's-new wave music, fun and fashion was a bit better than the 70's although never understood the leg warmer crap. I'd put the 40's lower just because my dad fought in the war and my mom is German and lived through the horrors. I must admit that there were great films in the 40's which you mentioned. the 30's-my dad hopped the rails so fun listening to those stories and 1939 was a stellar year alone in film. You missed Nosferatu-The great F.W. Murnau. Great top 10 to read about

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  5. I loved this post. Your knowledge of pop culture history is astounding! Can't disagree with much here, but I'm partial to the 80's so I'd have them a little higher. Yeah it was the Reagan years and that was no picnic (I'm told; I was 9 when the decade ended) but the Berlin Wall finally fell, MTV played actual videos, and the Yankees didn't win one World Series! But... Buckner doe. Ugggh :/

    Well, the 80's had to be better than the depression-era 30's or the turbulent, Vietnam-and assassinations 60's, no? I guess I'll trust your well-written opinions on that. As for my decade, the 90's, you're spot-on about breaking even with music and TV. Alternative rock was king in the first half of the 90's...until boy bands and Britney took over. Godawful as it was, I'd kill to have that kind of split in this decade.

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  6. Thanx everybody!! I always appreciate the feedback. I don't know if my knowledge is astounding, but who am I to argue with such wisdom. Seriously though, thanx for the kudos. This was a fun one to write up, proven by how much I rambled on.

    B - Riding the rails in the 30's? Some of my favourite moments from 30's cinema are folks riding the rails. Wild Boys. Sullivan's Travels. Great stuff.

    Chris - The Yankees made up for it in the 1990's.

    See ya 'round the web.

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  7. Yeah, I would go for the 1920's as well. I can see myself as some sort of Dorothy Parker-esque flapper gangster. It was actually a very liberating time for women. By the time the 40's and 50's rolled around though, we ladies were back in the kitchen, doing our matronly duties. Bah to that. Bah to that.

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  8. Agree the 1920's were the coolest. But you simply cannot forget to mention the rise of organized crime and the mobs as a downside. That's the main bad thing related to the 20's and it's impossible to be overlooked.

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