Waiting for the Millennium | Year In Review | Chicago Reader

Waiting for the Millennium 

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Why is everyone picking on America? Don't they know what time it is? It's the fin de siecle, that's what time it is, the fin de millennium for that matter. A time when life is supposed to get a little exhausted and overripe, sort of like a bowl of grapes in December when they're all small and mottled and you don't dare pop a handful into your mouth because one or two are bound to be rotting.

Nothing matters just now. The 21st century will bring in a whole new crowd with loads of energy and ideas we can't even imagine. What's this about education! they'll cry. What's this about the ozone layer! What's this about shrewd Oriental businessmen who march to a different calendar so there's no fin de siecle malaise to slow them down! It's our century now! they'll cry, and America will roll up its sleeves and take off.

It being the millennium and all, America may sit tight a few years to see what God has in mind. If God intends to step in and bring human history to a screeching halt, raising the saved to glory and dashing the damned to the pits of fire, it won't make much sense to start any long-range projects. But if God doesn't step in, watch the sap rise again in America. The old vigor will make itself felt and America will shoot back out in front!

For now, though, what should the American people do? Follow their fin de siecle instincts. Reelect the Republican Party, the symbol of national desuetude par excellence. The party that has no idea what to do next, whose prophet, Arthur Laffer, is now peddling cars on TV, whose gray eminence is rinsing his hair in California, whose young turks, David Duke and Pat Buchanan, gape at the future like a pair of gargoyles over a cathedral door, whose leader hasn't had a single idea since he took office except to go to war against old friends who let him down.

In the 21st century there will be a reaction against everything we now hold dear. Revelers will rediscover the highball, the upright piano, ashtrays, the off-color joke. The mid-20th century will be remined, not for its teen music this time but for the rowdy, safe-sex escapades of its corseted adults.

Later, when civilization has put our era a comfortable distance behind it, the fin de siecle will seem interesting to somebody. A book will be written, a movie made. Not that we'd recognize ourselves in it, given the dramatic license that will have to be taken with current levels of passion, ambition, and despair to ensure that the audience does not fall asleep.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tom Roberts & Jim Siergey.

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