December 31, 1999
There's no better proof that we're living in the last days
more than the endless lists every journalist produces in the
It's bad enough to have to read the "best of / worst
of" lists for the previous year, and positively painful
to review the entire decade. Especially one as lacklustre as
the 90s, which will be remembered as the decade when the level
of human achievement was measured by how many Air Miles you collected.
Some writers are looking back beyond the last decade to the
events of the last century to give us a historical perspective
on how far we have come. The problem is, these days history
is considered anything that happened before Titanic the
movie, I mean, not the ship.
So even though I am one of those people who thinks the Millennium
doesn't end for another year, I can't resist jumping on the bandwagon
- so here's my list of the greatest achievements of the last
The Printing Press: It is well known that the first book produced
was the Bible. What is less well known is the fact that the second
book ever printed was: "I'm OK, Thou ist OK, But I Suspect
Thy Mother to be a Witch in League With Satan and Must be Burned
at the Stake."
The first self-help books eventually gave way to naughty woodcuttings
of saucy tavern wenches with impossibly thin ankles and ample
bosoms, which led to five hundred years of fad diets, eating
disorders, and eventually Pamela Anderson.
Books gave way to magazines, and the first letters to the
editors followed. Like this fragment from Heidelberg dated 1523:
"Deare Editor, Always did I thinke these letters to be
fake, but last Michaelmas Eve I had a lusty romp with two comely
Come to think of it, most of the best inventions of the last
1000 years have been almost immediately used for sex.
After charting the heavens and marvelling at the wonder of
creation, I suspect the next heavenly body Galileo examined with
his telescope was Mrs. Funnetti having a shower in the window
next door. This led to two of the other great inventions of the
millennium: curtains and the restraining order.
Photography was invented to preserve the march of human history,
and was used to record the terrors of the American Civil War.
Not very long afterwards, revealing tin-types of Mary Todd Lincoln
were being passed around the Confederate trenches.
Photographs gave way to moving pictures. Audiences were inspired
by uplifting films like Ben Hur, Birth of a Nation and Sophie's
Choice. We left the theater better people.
Of course, movies also solved the problem of what to do at
a bachelor party, which led to classic stag films like "What
the Swedish Butler Saw", or more recently, "Shaving
Ryan's Privates". Thanks to that other great invention of
the millennium, the VCR, adult movies are now a multi-billion
dollar business and as close as your local video rental store.
The Internet was created two decades ago to keep open lines
of communication between scientists during a national crisis.
Who'd have thought it would now be making millionaires out of
Worst idea to be revived in the last thousand years? I think
it's a toss up between Milli Vanilli and the The Crusades. True,
fewer people died during the Milli Vanilli comeback tour, but
then again, thanks to TV a lot more people saw them.
How these things have enriched our lives. I wonder what marvels
the next millennium holds?