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Rating the C20th

Ray Johnstone (2010), "Francis Bacon - Icon of the C20th"

Recently asked friends what their favourite decade of the twentieth century is. Answers are varied and cannot fail to say things about us.

Noughties (1900-1909)

RH: The first one. Cos still optimism.

SS: Early 1900s e.g: 1900-1910!!! The wild west was still vaguely wild but on the wind down!!!

HW: 1903-1913. Few will pick 90s - we're too burned by hindsight.


CK1: Sassoon, Owen, Thomas, Rosenberg. Death of Enlightenment scientism.


RM: I had a dream once I was brass player in 1920s-type town with trams. I was in a café when I suddenly felt a strong pull to run. So I ran outside - the light fell softly and air was pleasantly cool. I saw a streetcar pull away in front of me and felt an immense melancholy as a result. I fell on my knees and cried, a trumpet in my hands. Based on this I would go 20s.

AS: 20s! What style, no? Class was not dead.

AK: Jazz Age.

JC: 20s. Why?
Me: I think it's a nice, indirect way of saying something large about ourselves.
JC: ok.


PC: Different decades connotate different cultural events, and since I wasn't there for most of them, one culture is as good as another. 1930s says I: I picture 1930s Britain as Bernard Shaw trying to finish a play, but this bloody neighbour Mr Huxley is tripping balls and playing the same record over and over again. In the street below Orwell rummages in the pockets of a grubby overcoat, certain he had money for a box of matches to light his last limp cigarette as it dangles from his lips. (or maybe it didn't happen like that)

JH: 30s. Witters in full flow, good trains, everything presumably was like the early scenes in the film Iris.

Forties (!)

MB: Most historically interesting. Most technologically important etc.


CK2: 1950s. well cool tech and rock n roll. Computers, Everest, Little Richard.


No one. (The backlash in full force!)


CW: Tough i'd say 70s i guess.
Me: Stagflation, Pol Pot and prog rock?
CW: Lax health and safety rules!


RM: 80s
Me: Controversial. Is the style epitomised in Drive really enough to compensate for the ideology epitomised in Wall Street?
RM: Yes. Plus the best and worst ever music. The distance between peak and trough is important.


AM: 90s: calm before the storm.

MM: 90s cos it was the only one I actually experienced.

LH: Everyone's gonna say 60s, but I'm not! [This thought was apparently universal] 1990s: the days of unrestricted wealth, naive optimism, when it was still okay to believe in multiculturalism, and China wasn't scary yet.

PJ: Tough call. I'd say the fight is pretty much between the 90s and the roaring 20s. (:

Most of the selections were eC20th. What does this say about us? People seem to have taken the question to be one of style or tone, and not history, politics, or even music (since we do not listen to swing or blues as a rule, and yet). We are nostalgic and a little historically conscious (since you don't passively see much of the period, or even the aesthetic, except in certain genres of films).

As for me, I think the strongest overall case (not of style) belongs to the noughties:

  • Sheer optimism:

  • they thought they were going to finish science;

  • only one big war (didn't they think the great Alliances made them impossible?);

  • thought they would create a perfect language and spread it universally;

  • technology punched society in the mind a dozen times: (the first powered flight, first film, first affordable portable camera, first united telecoms, first radio broadcasts, Ford Model-T, Einstein, Freud, washing machine, suffrage in Finland...)

  • Culture ain't so stellar; Mahler being the pop star of choice.

  • inklings of modernism tho