2004: The year that was

As 2005 dawns, it’s hard to believe that the first decade of the twenty-first century is already half over. Once a decade has run this long, the prevailing social climate becomes easier to define. The last century saw the Roaring ’20s, the Swinging ’60s and the Bad Acid Flashback ’70s. At this point, it looks as if the current era will go down in history as the Paranoid ’00s. A look back at 2004 reveals that, more often than not, there really was something worth being paranoid about.

The biggest story of 2004 was, of course, the presidential election and its shocking aftermath. To avoid a repeat of the 2000 voter-fraud debacle, the electoral college system was overhauled to run along the tried-and-true lines of American Idol voting. This took many people aback, but it has to be admitted that the results of Idol voting have never had to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

After each debate, voters called in to say who had put on the best performance. Needless to say, underdogs like Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich were eliminated early on, but Howard Dean’s soulful cover of “My Heart Will Go On” helped him overcome his surly, confrontational image to make the finals against George W. Bush. Bush ended up taking the big prize again. His golden photo-op moments from 2003-landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in a fighter jet, eating dinner with the troops on Thanksgiving-obviously paid off in the long run. So did personally interrogating Saddam Hussein, and totally bitch-slapping his evil-dictator ass, in a special 2004 guest appearance on the top-rated CBS crime drama CSI: Iraq.

Tragically, Bush didn’t live to serve his second term, after suddenly contracting a fatal case of mad cow disease in early December. This was unquestionably the biggest news story of the year. However, he was far from being the only famous face to expire last year. Madonna took her own life, becoming despondent when her career appeared to be entering a permanent tailspin. She had been unable to convince even one twenty-something pop starlet to make out with her at the 2004 Video Music Awards. Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered a massive heart attack after too many years of a dangerous steroids-and-Viagra cocktail that is apparently a staple diet in the aging action-hero fraternity. Martha Stewart was sentenced to the electric chair after evidence surfaced that her recent illegal activities had extended far beyond insider trading. Former employees testified that she had masterminded a program in the sweatshop that manufactures her Wal-Mart home furnishings line, in which under-performing employees were dragged into a back alley and executed. Also departing in 2004 was Jack Nicholson, who was shot by one or possibly both of the newly legal Olsen twins after he turned up at their Bel Air mansion unannounced, violating a restraining order they had recently taken out against him.

2004 was a time of major social upheaval. The first legalized gay marriages inevitably led to the first legalized gay divorces. CourtTV televised catfights of a magnitude never before captured on film. Mad cow disease spread throughout the country toward the end of the year-our former president was only one of its first victims. Mad Celebrity Disease was also prominent, as Michael Jackson demonstrated in his highly publicized molestation trial. He finally did what we always knew he would, breaking down and pleading for the aliens to take him away. After failing to garner enough attention earlier in the year with her quickie Vegas wedding, Britney Spears borrowed the Paris Hilton approach and leaked a sex tape of herself and an unidentified backup dancer to the eagerly waiting Internet. Most viewers gave the tape low marks, however, as one of her implants came loose from its moorings about two minutes in and began migrating south toward her abdomen.

It was another rough year for the economy, with billions of dollars being poured into the newly renovated space program, but one bright spot did emerge in the gloomy financial picture. Public schools are now better funded than ever after Congress approved a major rollback of child-labor laws. Children are now free to work off the cost of their education in entry-level jobs such as those available at the late Martha Stewart’s textile factories.

The turmoil of the past year has cast much doubt on what shocking developments might be in store for the next one. Who knows what the future of this country holds with President Cheney at the helm? Many people are beginning to wonder whether the apocalyptic predictions made before Y2K were merely a few years early. And many are beginning to wonder when they will wake up from this weird Matrix and find out what the world is really like. Happy New Year!