Dear Twenty-first Century,
Greetings from the 20th Century! Now, let's get one thing straight from the beginning: We did the best we could. We played the hand that was dealt to us, we made our bed then slept in it, and we loved the one we're with. What else can a century do?
Now it is your turn, to take over from where we left off. All we ask is that you not judge us too harshly.
It is true that during the 20th Century we created, for the first time ever, the means to blow up the entire planet. But, look at the bright side -- we didn't blow it up! Instead, we used the splitting of the atom -- and it's cousin, radiation -- to pop our popcorn, illuminate our wristwatches, and cleanse our food products. Although we have left you with a few thousand missiles, armed and ready to launch, we're confident you will figure out some way to either put them to good use, or dispose of them in their proper recyclable container.
I don't know any nice way to put this -- and I know it doesn't look good on paper -- but, yes, we did slaughter more of each other in the 20th Century than in any previous hundred-year period. You have to admit -- that took some initiative! I mean, to beat out the bubonic plague century was no easy feat! Even more interesting, unlike past holocausts, much of the carnage in the 20th Century was initiated not by heathens and barbarians, but by some of the most intelligent people on the planet. Danka shein!
But, hey, how 'bout TV! We came up with that! And frozen foods in a box -- we invented that, too. Don't forget jumbo jets -- and jumbo shrimp! In the 20th Century, we figured out how to make ANYTHING jumbo sized! The 20th Century also replaced the humans who used to help us on the telephone with a robotic voice that sounds just like, uh... just like anyone!
Did I mention TV? Endless hours of entertainment, complete with built-in cues so we know when to laugh, and a jiggly camera so we know when to feel "tension." We even got a whole network on TV devoted to showing us fast-cutting videos set to music so that -- get this -- we actually KNOW what the performers were thinking when they wrote their songs! This saved us a lot of time we would have otherwise wasted trying to use our imagination!
One thing we are confident of is that you will know our century as the Golden Age of Big Business. It's been an era when the businessman has come into his own -- and he's ended up owning just about everything and everyone! The early 1900s got off to a great start. If you had enough money, you could buy up whatever you wanted, obliterate the competition, fix prices, and smash unions. True, there were a few of what we call "speed bumps" along the way. Certain radicals started breaking up monopolies, got laws passed protecting workers' rights, and actually tried to hold companies liable for their actions.
Well, there's nothing like a great depression and a couple of world wars to sober the people up and set them straight. A few other distractions like a "worldwide communist conspiracy" and Prozac also helped to pacify the populace.
Did I mention television?
By century's end, the captains of industry had supplanted elected governments as the ultimate power. Competition was eliminated, monopolies reigned, unions were near-extinct, and the citizens stopped voting. They stopped voting because they figured out that the two political parties on the ballot were really the same party (though one of them did seem to have a nicer face!) The two parties were bought and paid for by the rich, the top one percent of the population which owned about 90% of the wealth.
So the other 99% of the citizenry decided they had better things to do with their time than participate in a farce. Farce, a huge hit in the 1800s, never played well in the 20th Century.
You will probably wonder why, then, we kept calling our nations "democracies." This is a legitimate question. One that I wish you would not ask. Unfortunately, we invented videotape in our century, which means we have left behind many visual images of our citizens running around all slaphappy saying ridiculously silly things like, "We are free! Free! Free! Free, I say! We live in a DEMOCRACY!" Please explain to future generations when they view these tapes that we meant well and we had to come up with something to justify paying our taxes and sending our sons off to die for what was never going to be theirs. People in your next century will ask, incredulously, "What delusional drug were these people on? Not a single one of their `representatives' represented THEM, for crying out loud! If the richest one percent had both parties and all the politicians, how in the hell did everyone else think they were living in a democracy?" Ask them, please, to go gentle on us -- we know we've made an embarrassing spectacle of ourselves -- and to resist, as best they can, laughing at us in the same way we laughed at the last century for using bloodsucking leeches to cure their sick.
The United States of the 20 Century seemed like an odd duck in many ways, even though we were the self-declared Leader of the World. With more wealth and resources than anywhere on earth, we let 40 million of our people live in poverty -- with 10 million of them suffering from some form of hunger. About 45 million of our people had no means to health care. No other industrialized country treated their people in this manner/. There was a higher literacy rate in Cuba than in the USA, more children were immunized in Jamaica and Kenya than in the USA, kids were better in math in Jordan than in the USA ... well, after a while, you'd think someone would have asked the Americans, "Just what in God's name makes you people #1?"
I'll tell you what our secret was. French fries. NOBODY made 'em like we did. You could even go into an American-owned establishment, like McDonald's in Paris or Munich, and they STILL didn't taste like they tasted here! Mmmm. Just writing about it makes me want to "Biggie Size It" right now! Personally, I think it was the lard -- we just didn't have any kerpunctions about slapping in as large a chunk as we can fit in the fryer. Sure, we may have ended up a bit "larger" than other humans around the world, but do you want the Earth's Only Remaining Superpower to look all weak and scrawny? And consider how we adapted to our new size (nearly 30% bigger than we were in 1900) -- our American ingenuity led us to build huge automobiles called "S.U.V.s," our movie theaters now have "stadium seating," and nobody shops for a small size in the men's section at Wal-Mart. No wonder foreigners and terrorists were so jealous of us!
The other thing that kept America ruling the world for the latter half of the century was our arsenal of weapons -- and I mean the ones in our bedrooms! Two hundred million adults with 240 million registered guns! And just to show everyone how proficient we became with these firearms, we killed 35,000 of EACH OTHER, every single year, with our OWN guns, proving to the world that we will shoot at anything coming our way. You have to admit, that's quite a sacrifice just to show how brave and determined we are. Or let me put it another way -- you want to kill a Beatle in America? No problem! Easy as saying, "I'll take that Magnum in the window!" You want to kill a Beatle in Britain? BIG problem -- they don't let their citizens, even the deranged ones, own a handgun! Not even for sport! So, if you want to off someone in merry ol' England, you have to use a damn kitchen knife. No wonder they lost their friggin' empire!
So as we enter the new century and the new millennium, let us give ourselves a pat on the back (even though the new century and the new millennium don't actually begin for another year -- but who gives a rat's ass! If WE say it's the new millennium, IT IS, and if WE say the water is safe to drink, IT IS, and if we say Bob Hope was funny, well, dammit, we're Number One, so we can say whatever we very well please! Sure half the world still doesn't have safe drinking water, but are you people in the 21st Century going to look at the glass as half-empty or half-full, 'cause I'm a half-full kind of guy myself, and my glass of water came right out of a plastic bottle from France and it looks pretty darn clean to me!).
Yes, you, the people of the 21st Century, can send a man, or woman, to Mars, thanks to us and a number of our missing NASA landers. You can find the cure for cancer, thanks to us giving you so many reasons to. And you can figure out how to make these damn cell phones keep a signal for more than 30 seconds. Of course, that will cut into the phone companies' profits (they've made billions off the most overheard line of the late 1900s: "Hello?... Hello?... Hello?... Can you hear me?... Hello?... Oh, there you are! Uh... Hello?... Hello?... Dammit, I lost him!").
Profit was the reason to get out of bed in the 20th Century. Success was measured by how much cash we made. By the end of our century, the biggest financial rewards went to the people who sat around all day playing with their money, moving it around in one big guessing game. If you were a good guesser, you made more money. Gone were the days when you made your money from your hard work, your ingenuity, that new invention you created. You were no longer rewarded for discovering cures or solar systems or recognized for your generosity. A person's worth was determined by how they did with their mutual funds as opposed to how they did with their kids. A candidate was guaranteed a public office if he had raised the most money, as opposed to winning that office by raising the REAL issues and gaining the public's trust. A movie was no longer judged on its artistic merit or its ability to entertain, challenge, or lift the human spirit -- all that mattered was who was #1 at the box office.
I know I keep mentioning that term "Number One." It seems to have been an obsession of ours. Maybe you can correct that in the next 100 years. Like, how about giving some credit to the SECOND and THIRD richest men in the world? Whoever hears about them? All we heard about was Bill Gates, Bill Gates, Bill Gates and how his wealth "was more than the combined assets of the poorest 100 million Americans!" Now, if we would have just paid more attention to the 2nd and 3rd richest men, their combined wealth with Mr. Gates was more than the combined gross domestic product of the bottom 146 countries! How's that for some numbers? Try to top those in the Twenty-first Century!
Hmm, maybe you will.
Here's to the next 100 Years -- may you take now what we have given you.
And forget most of it. Except the french fries and Gandhi and Dr. King.
(You may forward this to other inhabitants of the 21st Century)
November 9th, 2013
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