THE 2000s: A NEW REALITY
on National Geographic Channel
Pros: Nice selection of interview subjects and fantastic archival footage
Cons: Depressing! and doesn’t do much to explain what I would consider the bigger picture issues going on
The latest in a string of National Geographic miniseries devoted to an exploration of the past several decades (after The 80s: The Decade that Made Us and The 90s: The Last Great Decade), 2015’s two-part The 2000s: A New Reality, as its title suggests, focuses its attention on the period from 2000 until 2009. Examining both major news events and pop culture stories and covering a wide range of material, the program (narrated by actor Rob Lowe) features a ton of archival footage, with a variety of interview subjects, including many people actually involved commenting on and trying to make sense of these events. As might be expected, the 9/11 terrorist attacks are the thing which shapes virtually everything else covered, and the program does a fine job of establishing how much the world changed almost instantaneously as a result of these attacks. Since the series has to cram ten years of time into roughly four hours of television however, it doesn’t linger on this decade-defining event for long, pushing forward instead to cover as much as possible within the time constraints.
The 2000s starts out with a segment focusing on the tumultuous and incredibly controversial 2000 election in which a recount was ordered…then abandoned. From here, much of the program details the “war on terror,” from actions in Afghanistan to the (ongoing) war in Iraq, with significant attention paid to the hunt for and capture of Saddam Hussein. Along with coverage of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, the DC sniper and even the struggle to decide the fate of young Elian Gonzalez, it seems an equal amount of time is devoted to popular culture and technological innovation. Admittedly, there was a lot of crazy stuff happening during this decade, one in which such innovations as Ipods, Iphones, Youtube, and reality television (wait…is that an “innovation?”) came into being, but it struck me as a little sad and maybe even distressing that Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” made it into a documentary proposing to cover the biggest events of a ten year period. I’ve often been critical of the American media covering seemingly insignificant stories to gloss over issues that people really should be concerned about, and the whole “Nipplegate” affair is about as glaring a case of that as ever has existed.
Much as the choice of events being covered in this documentary sometimes seemed strange, I was more struck by the discrepancy in the amount of screen time devoted to one story versus another and how certain events were portrayed. The 2000s: A New Reality is presented almost exclusively from an American point of view, virtually ignoring any events happening in other sections of the globe – save those related to the war(s) in the Middle East. This is problematic in its own right (though it fits right in with how the American media works in general), but it’s also discouraging that several major events are downplayed in favor of segments dealing with celebrities and pop culture. For instance, I found that the segment dealing with the financial crisis of 2007-8 was told in a very protracted manner that didn’t really get into the meat and potatoes of the story. Despite this being a serious event with major global ramifications, the television show The Osbournes got about the same amount of screen time – if not more.
In my review of The 90s: The Last Great Decade, I was somewhat critical of the title of the program: how could National Geographic justify that label? Were they trying to say that the “good times” were over – possibly for good? Having now seen The 2000s: A New Reality, everything makes sense, since an examination of the 2000s is downright depressing. It struck me that most every item covered in this documentary either fell into the category of bad news or was an example of what I might label as human stupidity in action. The 2000s ends with a segment covering the “miracle landing on the Hudson,” which actually is pretty nifty in taking the decade full circle back to planes being used as weapons during 9/11. Still, this glimpse of hope pops up way too late in the going to change my mind about how positively dreadful the 2000s really were, especially in terms of how they’re represented in this documentary – A New Reality is almost surreal in how downbeat is plays for much of its duration.
Perhaps the most alarming thing about The 2000s: A New Reality is that there’s very little honest discussion about how humankind should have learned from the mistakes covered in not only this documentary, but also those covering the ‘80s and ‘90s. Virtually no attempt has been made to really link events together despite the fact that many of the problems that arose during the 2000s had their roots in things that occurred previously. As Albert Einstein is quoting as saying “Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – undoubtedly, the world has changed substantially since the turn of the millennium, but it seems like humans are repeating many of the same actions that have caused problems in the past. If we’re to judge by this documentary, things look gloomy, but the human race does have the power to change the way it does things…if only we look beyond the mundane to see the big picture.
Arguably one of the more important changes covered in the documentary was the way that increased global connectivity has affected not only the manner in which news is obtained by the public, but also the manner in which that news is presented. The proliferation of camera phones has prompted the rise of “citizen journalism,” ensuring that news can literally break in real time as it happens. While this is a good thing in many ways, it also has a tendency (in my opinion) to lead to knee-jerk responses from authorities and those in positions of power. Perhaps because The 2000s was fairly dark to begin with, the program doesn’t really examine the consequences of this new school of information and news gathering, and maybe it’s not the program’s responsibility to do so. I guess my point is that I would have liked if the program encouraged more discussion and thought instead of just regurgitating information and possibly inciting a nostalgic response from the viewer. My criteria for this program would most certainly be different than the average television viewer who’s just trying to be entertained.
In the end, I suppose The 2000s: A New Reality does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It does cover most of the big events of the decade and many of the far-reaching paradigm shifts, attempting to (superficially at least) explain the basic facts relating to them. The program is put together extremely well, with a soundtrack full of iconic music hits from the decade. Occasional comedic elements thrown in to contrast the more distressing elements are most welcome, and I’m not sure that anyone would want to watch this program if humor wasn’t present in some form. As a time-waster, this program would be ideal; with its moderate (if unchallenging) educational content, it certainly has much more to offer a viewer than the typical, mindless television program. I’m not going to call it outstanding, but it’s worth checking out if you get a chance.