Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tween Years of the 21st Century will be a wild and crazy waiting period

As the 21st century enters its tween years, it might be useful to consider the time between now and, say, 2014, when we observe the centennial of the start of World War I, as a single unit. This will be a transitional era, demarcated at its end by the stated NATO deadline for the complete Afghanization of the war there. Its mid-point will be the 2012 presidential election in the U.S., between incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and, most likely, Republican challenger Sarah Palin.

This will be a period during which the economy will continue to improve by some measures but the number of jobless will remain more or less constant, and higher than at any time since the Great Depression. Social communication and information dissemination via the Internet, increasingly through smart phones, will continue to intensify and proliferate, creating an infrastructure capable of transmitting and amplifying cultural and political memes at astounding speed and with staggering effect.

With employment stagnant and the Internet surging, waves of change will continue to wash over American society, creating constantly-changing subcultures, divided by class, region, and age, some local, some regional, and others national and even global. Entertainment programming and its ancillary celebrity machine will be super-charged by the rise of more and more powerful platforms for its promulgation.

The celebrity-entertainment-consumption machine has emerged from the economic downturn strengthened and more critical to the economy than ever. Corporations can now spend all they want to elect candidates of their choice and defeat ones inimical to their interests. Under Citizens United, We can expect even more application of advertising and market research to the political process, blurring the distinction between political campaigns and consumer product development, launches, and marketing campaigns.

Meanwhile, the Chinese will continue to widen their lead in the development and deployment of renewable energy, while opportunities for the U.S. to become a leader in this area continue to be lost. Despite increasing numbers and severity of climate perturbations in the U.S. and around the world, belief in climate change and the need to change consumption behavior will remain principally a life-style affectation, with little impact on public policy or the course of global warming.

With Tea Party Republicans in the driver’s seat in the House of Representatives, we can expect wild and crazy debates about a new range of issues. With Democrats still barely in control of the Senate and, of course, the White House, Republicans in the House will be free to indulge themselves in whatever beliefs and pronouncements they care to, without effect, except as advertising for the 2012 campaign and as fodder for news programs.

Downward mobility and growing income disparities mean that overall demand will not be sufficient to re-employ the reserve army of the former middle class. A new television series, based on the travails of an unemployed, foreclosed, and marginally-homeless family may or may not appear on our screens, but they will be, nevertheless, the specter haunting tween America, as we wait for our teen years and even more trouble.

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