Farewell to 2006, the year of living reasonably

December 31, 2006|By Joel Stein

LOS ANGELES -- We spent five years acting hysterically, like a nation that was in a fight with Ricky Ricardo. We were insane people, screaming about politics, shoving tiny American flags on the corners of our news shows, convincing ourselves that flipping houses was a real job. There was a moment there when we even considered shunning French fries.

But in 2006 it all changed. This was the year of adulthood, of sobriety, of pragmatism: the year of acting reasonably. The kind of year when you calmed down, thought it through, weighed your options and realized that there is no upside in telling the media that, yes, it does kind of stink when the vice president of the United States shoots you in the face.

All of a sudden, we decided to approach events unemotionally. In fact, we were downright boring. At this point in Vietnam, college kids were destroying campuses and growing incredibly unflattering facial hair. In 2006, we asked a bunch of retirees to meet for a study group about Iraq. If they had done a better job, we'd probably be moving on to solving the Palestinian issue with a book club. And the Iraq Study Group didn't come up with the radical solution that everyone expected. Instead, it reasonably advised that - slowly, when no one is looking - we get the hell out of there.

It was such a serious, reasonable year that, in an affront to every study ever done about human psychology, millions of people willingly paid at least $7 to see Al Gore give a slide-show demonstration about carbon emissions.

Faced with the opportunity of giddily discovering a bunch more planets and getting people excited about space for the first time in 50 years, astronomers convened in the most sober of places, Prague, and had their head guy declare that if tiny, wobbly Pluto is a planet, then my astronomer backside is a planet too.

The symbol for this year was America's most rational man, Warren Buffett, deciding that the best use of $37 billion was to give it away. It turns out you can sock away a lot of money by not getting new glasses since 1896.

Even people with a long record of insanity suddenly became well-reasoned deciders. President Bush fired Donald H. Rumsfeld. Whitney Houston divorced Bobby Brown. Britney Spears, the Elizabeth Taylor of our time, left Kevin Federline. Homeland Security responded to London's liquid bomb plot by allowing us to put lotion in see-through bags. Donald Trump met with a troubled Miss USA and restrained himself from firing her. Ford got rid of the Taurus. Jack Abramoff, when arrested for corruption, had the good sense to literally wear a black hat. Alan Keyes walked out of an interview with Borat. Oprah lectured James Frey about the rigors of journalism. The Wiggles, unlike all child supergroups before them, were able to pass leadership down in a bloodless transition.

When marketing campaigns tried to fool the masses, the masses rebuffed them. As much as we loved talking about it, there was no way we were going to actually see Snakes on a Plane. We used E. coli as a brilliant excuse to stop eating spinach forever. We decided the best way to play video games isn't fiddling with a lot of buttons on a PlayStation 3 but swinging the controller wildly like it was an actual sword or a tennis racket on our Wiis. Being reasonable, it turns out, often makes us look even dorkier.

It's as if we all got together and tried to prove that James Surowiecki book, The Wisdom of Crowds, right. We voted Tucker Carlson as the first one off Dancing with the Stars. We quit pretending we were going to use Mario Batali's tips on braising pig cheeks and instead watched intently as Rachael Ray showed us the proper way to cut the plastic off of food. It only took us one week to reject Katie Couric as a news source. We heard John Kerry try to tell a joke and decided it was not funny before we even figured out what he meant. Here in California, we voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger because he made the environmental promises that President Bush wouldn't. And we otherwise voted for Democrats based solely on the fact that they were not Republicans.

Principles, we learned, are overrated in this complicated world. When crazy Muslims start killing people over harmless Muhammad cartoons, newspaper editors put aside their journalistic responsibilities, consider their own safety and stop running Muhammad cartoons. When Judith Regan decided to print a too-cleverly titled book about O.J. sort of, kind of, not really confessing, we thought long and hard and realized there's absolutely no reason there should be a publishing industry in Los Angeles.

People were so levelheaded, I wouldn't be surprised if, by this last day left in the year, everyone sells their hedge-fund shares.

If we keep this pragmatism up for a little longer, maybe we will have an ideology to export to the Middle East after all.

Joel Stein is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, where this article originally appeared.

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