REMEMBERING DECADES. History doesn’t come packaged in centuries and decades. Historians sometimes refer to the “Long Nineteenth Century” (1800 to 1914) and the “Short Twentieth Century” (1914 to 1989 or 1991). I don’t think the decade we are in has a name. I have heard “the Oughts” suggested, but it’s not in use. The references I have seen to this decade seem to be made to “this century.” In this review in the London Review of Books (of Andy Beckett’s WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT: BRITAIN IN THE SEVENTIES), Ian Jack wondered how it came about that we see history in decades. He thinks it’s a recent development. The first two decades to get names were the 1890’s and the 1920’s. He suggests this was because they were “fun-loving eras that chucked out staid manners and stale customs” and that Hollywood defined these decades for those that weren’t there. However, he points out that it took a while before the names caught on. He says the “Gay Nineties” took on that name after a 1934 Mae West movie, and the “Roaring Twenties” became a phrase after a 1939 James Cagney movie. Jack points out that it wasn’t the behavior of the majority that defined those decades: “only a tiny proportion of the world’s population in 1925 drank hard liquor out of teapots in speakeasies; or danced – danced, danced, danced! – often in a cloche hat and with a long cigarette-holder pointed riskily at their partner’s crotch.” From personal experience, he notes that the “Swinging Sixties” were not experienced by everybody. He himself had never encountered a recreational drug before 1970.

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