A Happy New Year to all our readers around the world, and thank you for an especially great twelve months of boffo houses here at SteynOnline. We have the song for the season and some New Year movies, as well as further reflections on Britain's holiday without end and the kind of big historical perspective SteynOnline readers have come to expect.
Is the new millennium already 15 years old? Apparently so. It was exactly a decade and a half ago that Y2K fever was rampaging across the time zones. Here's what I had to say in Britain's Sunday Telegraph and Canada's National Post as the world rang in a new century:
On the plus side: Bookings at the flagship hostelry in my resort chain, Motel Steyn in Buffalo, were respectable. Although we were obliged to reduce the rates of our Millennium-To-Remember package ("See the dawn of the new Millennium from the heart of America's Buffalo region") from $15,000 ("includes voucher for Millennium breakfast at Denny's and complementary magnum of vintage Lackawanna champagne") down to $28.95, three very pleasant Algerians from Montreal showed up at the last minute and spent the evening photocopying each other's passports.
On the debit side: Anybody want to buy a generator? Plus a year's supply of ammo and Cheese-In-A-Can?
As the stroke of midnight inaugurated what the official U.S. timekeeper, the Atomic Clock, momentarily called the year 19100, you couldn't help noticing how few Americans had bothered turning up for the dawn of the second American century. If it was, as its promoters insisted, "the greatest party of all time," the people chose to play the role of a churlish, agoraphobic Cinderella. "You shall go to the ball!" decreed the fairy godmother.
"Are you nuts? That's the last place I wanna be when the lights go out."
But the Y2K bug's been corrected...
"Yeah, well, I'm still not coming. What about all these crazy terrorists swarming down from Canada planning to blow the joint sky high?"
But we've completely secured the area with thousands of cops and state-of-the-art sniffer dogs that can detect traces of couscous...
"Big deal. Who wants to have your butt scanned for explosives just for the privilege of paying 8,000 bucks to hear Tony Orlando?"
"Forget it, I'm washing my hair."
Much has been written about the significance of the year 2000 -- will the electronic age render traditional economic theory irrelevant? is it the end of the nation-state? is God obsolecent in the brave new world of cloning? -- but, if the turn of the calendar prompts any question, it's this: do the citizens of the world's last superpower still know how to party? In the end, some 80% of Americans stayed home for Y2K, and many of the remaining 20% were at the office, pretending to be "essential personnel" remaining at their posts in case some Y2K computer glitch manifested itself. Indeed, by the big night, the greatest social cachet attached not to a stiff embossed invite for some grand millennial bash but to a memo demanding you stay at your desk. Gradually, it dawned on American socialites that, by definition, pretty much everyone who showed up at the party would be "non-essential personnel", and who wants to be seen at a grand confab of the non-essential? Around the country, anyone who was anyone wasn't there.
On the radio, the disc-jockeys were playing "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?", but for once there was a good answer: "Well, Donald Trump invited me to his spectacular recreation of the Lost City of Atlantis in the middle of the East River, but I have to be at our Y2K rapid-response command centre."
"What Y2K rapid-response command centre? You're a celebrity hairdresser."
"Every once in a thousand years there's a night like this," sang Latin heart-throb Jon Secada. The Las Vegas Police Department, the constabulary of a town built on partying, were less impressed: "It's one of the quietest Friday nights in years." In New York, the Hilton and other midtown hotels were slashing rates to below $140. In Britain, a month before "millennium eve," the government conceded that, in fact, January 2001 is the start of the new millennium, but there was "a huge popular desire to celebrate in 2000". Really? Where? In London, the nation's most powerful and influential figures -- including the head of the civil service and the director-general of the BBC -- spent most of New Year's Eve crammed into a pokey East End Tube station for four hours as the surly zealots of the Metropolitan Police processed them through one solitary metal detector for the short ride to the Millennium Dome. When they got there, they found that the bar had closed and also, after joining another queue, that their coupons for the "Millennium Experience Midnight Toast" were now worthless, as the Dome had run out of champagne. At midnight, the Queen was coerced by her bullying prime minister, Tony Blair, into linking arms with him for her first-ever public rendition of "Auld Lang Syne'. The British have no constitutional right to pursue happiness, but by God Mr. Blair was going to force them to pursue it, even if they died in the effort. Y2K successfully intimidated London, Paris and the rest of the world's capitals into competing with each other to prove that they still counted. Oddly enough, the more determinedly nationalistic they were, the more lamely derivative they seemed: the older the culture, the more feeble the Eurodisco entertainment.
The U.S., by contrast, couldn't be bothered. No pretence here of celebrating the best of the American century. The more the network anchors insisted we were on the brink of a exciting new era, the more it seemed like some tired oldies station. Midnight in New York: Billy Joel. Midnight in Denver: Neil Diamond. Midnight in Vegas: Paul Anka. Midnight in Washington: Tom Jones, singing "I'm gonna wait till the midnight hour/That's when my love comes tumblin' down" - as millions waited till the midnight hour in hours that the entire planetary infrastructure would come tumblin' down. The capital city of a nation whose global dominance exceeds the wildest ambitions of 19th-century empire builders -- and how were they celebrating? With a 1960s pop star. From Wales. You couldn't but reflect that suddenly, almost overnight, all these old rock stars seemed so last millennium. At least JFK would have booked a cellist. But in Washington, Tom Jones, Quincy Jones and who knows how many other celebrity Joneses were joined by Bill Clinton. It would have been too much to expect him to emulate his Russian counterpart and take early retirement, but somehow the President manages to infect even the grandest occasion with his cheesiness, especially when he's wearing his wing-collared tux, which always gives him the air of a maître d' at a 19th-century New Orleans bordello.
For the few who did turn up, one could only marvel at how far some people are prepared to go for a bad time. The supposed terrorist threat was merely the icing on the cake of an antiseptic New Year's. The fastest-growing phenomenon of the last decade has been municipally sponsored alcohol-free "First Nights": as Howard Dean, governor of Vermont, was at pains to caution, "Party responsibly." In a night of no-shows -- from the Y2K bug to towelhead bombers to big-time celebs -- the widespread absence of the American people may be the most telling: with no smoking and no drinking, much of the citizenry seems to have concluded that in the next millennium the chances of anything approaching what the Scots or Irish would consider a good time are pretty remote. So Americans stayed in their homes, watched TV, logged onto the Internet...
Still, we in the news business did our best to pretend the people were cheering. "Let it be proclaimed," proclaimed David Shribman in The Boston Globe. "This morning, this simple winter morning, represents more than the beginning of a new age. It represents an accomplishment for the ages.
"We have survived. And by doing so, we have warped the physics of time.
"For the first time ever -- this is a moment our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents never experienced, something our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren never will relive -- we awakened with a startling realization"
"Today is tomorrow...
"This is the big, fresh start. But this is also the biggest fresh start ever."
Or as my friend Donna put it, at a modest New Year gathering in New Hampshire, her words freighted with the immense burthen of a thousand years of history:
"Have a good weekend. See you Monday."
~from The National Post, January 2nd 2000. Don't forget, many of Mark's British, Canadian, American and other columns can be found in his new book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn. It's available in America from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and even Costco (at a bargain price, too). In Canada you can pick it up from Indigo-Chapters, Amazon and McNally-Robinson. And, wherever you are on the planet, you can be reading it within seconds - via Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks. But right here at SteynOnline is the only place you can get a personally autographed copy for your near and dear ones. To order, simply click here.