Cast your mind back to 1999 (difficult, I know, but bear with me just for a second) and see if you can remember that little bug that had everyone from the Christian Right to the computer geeks talking. No, not that flesh eating virus that scared everyone so much for that couple of days (although you’re very close) – what I’m talking about is that little harbinger of apocalypse we affectionately named the millennium bug.
What the hell happened there? When you think about it, it seems more than a little quaint that people were actually convinced that Y2K was going to cause some real damage to our cosy little capitalist universe, doesn’t it? And yes, in case you don’t remember, we were convinced – the word made its way into the Fourth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (thanks to MikeyK for this piece of info.)
The funny thing is that not only were we convinced – we were excited. I for one distinctly remember waking up on the morning of December 31st and actually being disappointed at the fact that absolutely nothing had happened across the international dateline. No four horsemen. No antichrists. Nothing.
The question I want to ask here is why. Why did we get so worked up over something that ended up being nothing more than an embarrassment? The fundamentalists got excited because it proved to them that they were right all along – that we we’d been living in a state of mortal sin for decades and God (as he does) was getting pissed and was finally going to unleash some fire and brimstone to teach us all a lesson. The far leftists were getting excited because this was the proof of what Marx was saying all along – that capitalism was full of "internal contradictions" and fundamentally doomed from its beginnings. The far rightists were excited because this gave them an excuse to prepare for the ‘New World Order’ that the communists had been baking up over in Russia and in those impressive looking UN buildings for all that time – to go out and stock up on guns and food and guns and water and guns and ammo to defend their homes against the Government.
But nothing happened. We were all proved wrong and the system kept on blindly shuddering forward.
Coming back to the same question: what caused this seemingly bizarre display of collective deathwish? For an answer, turn on your tv and take a look at Seinfeld, The Simpsons or any other equally cutting comedy and ask yourself why the hell the George Costanzas and Homer Simpsons are so damned funny. As I write this there’s an episode of Friends going on in the other room. One of the characters is trying desperately to come to terms with his grief at the fact that his favourite recliner has just broken. He ends up screaming in the faces of his friends (who stare back in surprise), “I don’t mind if you guys don’t care about the chair. You know why? Cause the universe cares! That's why!” This is funny stuff. Why? Because of the same reason that was behind the global hyping of Y2K. Because the only thing more terrible than apocalypse is the not having an apocalypse. Ever.