've remarked before, perhaps even on this blog, that I frequently get ideas from unusual sources, and it's even better when, as is the case today, I get an idea that has virtually nothing to do with the source itself.
Over at Uniwatch ("The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics"), an interesting discussion broke out in the comments section as to how one defines a decade. I know, doesn't seem to have anything to do with sports uniforms, right? Long story short, the question arose as to whether the 1970 World Series falls within the '70s or the '60s. Not as stupid a question as you might think; since there's no Year 0, most people know that the Ist Century ran from 1 to 100, and so on. The 20th Century, therefore, began on January 1, 1901 and ended on December 31, 2000. The question is, do decades operate the same as centuries? Do the 1970s begin on January 1, 1971 or January 1, 1970?
From there, a commentator named Wiggle Man speculated that culturally, it is events rather than dates that determine a decade. He suggested the following:
1930’s – Began with the stock market crash on October 29, 1929 (“Black Thursday”)
1940’s – Began on December 7, 1941 (“A date which will live in infamy”)
1950’s – Began on January 20, 1953 (Eisenhower’s Inauguration)
1960’s – Began on November 22, 1963 (Kennedy’s assassination)
1970’s – Began on May 4, 1970 – (Kent State) (I would also accept June 17, 1972, Watergate break-in)
1980’s – Began on January 20, 1981 – Reagan’s Inauguration / Hostages released).
Other commentators had different ideas; one suggested that the '60s actually started with Kennedy's inauguration, rather than his death, and that Kent State (as well as Altamont) are more indicative of the '60s than the '70s. Others chipped in that '90s actually began in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the "aughts" (2000s) probably started on September 11, 2001.
I find this kind of discussion exceptionally interesting. (It's also proof that you should have an eclectic reading list; you never know what you're going to run into.) I've maintained over at the TV blog that the early years of the 1960s actually are more properly understood as a continuation of the 1950s, and that the last years of the '60s more properly line up with the 1970s - in fact, I'd contend that 1965 might be the prime example of what the '60s would have been like had they not dealt with the JFK assassination (at the beginning) and the Vietnam War (at the end). Many, if not most, of the mores and visuals of the early '60s (not to mention television programming, which was the point of my musing in the first place) would have been perfectly acceptable in the late '50s, and the late '60s are almost indistinguishable from the first few years of the '70s.
The point is, I suppose, every decade has its own tenor, it's own "look." I think Wiggle Man is correct in suggesting that decades, properly understood, represent events as much as they do actual dates. We can quibble with the specific events that signal the end of one decade and the beginning of another, but I think the calendar is perhaps the least important part of the equation. Anyone out there have other suggestions?
Originally published October 21, 2014