Here’s a roundabout journey.
We were watching holiday films, as one tends to do with kids, and we needed something short. We’d run out of things that are still available on simple streaming services (now there are a hundred of them snapping up all the classics, it’s worse than cable) so we ended up watching a recording of “You’re a Good Skate, Charlie Brown” that I happen to have on a flash drive.
That led us to O Mio Babbino Caro, an aria that my daughter mistook for Silent Night at first, so I showed her a YouTube video of Charlotte Church singing it. Of course Charlotte was 13 years old when she sang this at the royal variety show and that got my daughter talking.
Next thing you know, we’re watching Charlotte Church singing Just Wave Hello, the official “global anthem” from the millennial celebrations at the end of 1999.
And as we watched it, the whole thing got more and more to my head. Global anthem. It’s a beautiful song, really, very alluring. But even more than that, I hadn’t thought about the millennial celebration in decades.
I am absolutely floored by just how far we’ve fallen. I remember it because I was in my mid twenties then, reaching into “real adulthood” and thus able to take it all in more or less properly. What strikes me?
There was so much hope for what the next epoch would bring.
There was so much optimism. The cold war was over. Classical liberalism had won. It was all The Enlightenment and fun TV from here on out.
The world really felt united. It was an “us,” a “we,” not just in the United States, but everywhere. The whole world tuned in and sang along with Charlotte. We were partying like it was 1999 and we knew we were all in it together.
Everyone spoke in these terms, from people on the street to the world’s leaders.
If you’d told me that by 2020 we’d be rioting in the streets, seeking to reimpose segregation in the United States, in a cold war with China, beaten back by terrorism and our own follies, and busy falling into authoritarianism ourselves in the midst of a crumbling West and a crumbling global order, I’d have said:
“How the fuck did we fuck up so incredibly badly? We have it all! All we have to do is keep eating McDonald’s, keep going to work, and keep watching TV!”
It’s honestly depressing. And also somehow edifying to think back to that time. For a moment, we really did come together as a planet, for a few short years in the ’90s.
Everyone wants to think we’re so superior now, morally, to who we were then. We’re not. We took progress and turned it into priggishness and petty conflict, and we seem determined to drive these until the end of the road.
Stupid humanity. At least we got a global anthem out of it. Not that anybody remembers. It may as well have been a thousand years ago.