I was watching the end of "Same Time, Next Year" this morning on cable. Aside from providing me with twenty-five more minutes to stay in bed, I was also struck by the way director Robert Mulligan chose to depict the years that fly by between the annual trysts between Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda. As the story takes place over three decades, we see the characters age in their style of dress and the color of their hair, but we are also pushed through time by a series of black and white photo montages that help give the viewer a sense of place: Elvis is the Fifties. Hippies in the Sixties. Dick Nixon in the Seventies. There were plenty of other images swirled around to ground one firmly in the era depicted. They only lasted a few seconds each, but it kept the actors from having to blurt out dialogue that would explain the when. They only had to express their feelings for each other against that backdrop.
And this got me to thinking: What photos would I use to help the casual viewer from the future to let them know about the decade that is drawing to a close? I thought of President Pinhead standing in front of his "Mission Accomplished" banner. I thought of the Twin Towers burning. I thought of Colin Powell shaking his vial of anthrax. I thought of Green Day. I thought of "Lord of the Rings." I thought of Election Night 2008. That brought me up to six thousand words. Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch? A Rainbow flag? Michael Phelps? Did I need any more to sum up this decade without a proper name? Maybe that's the challenge. Until we have a word to contain all those disparate images, maybe it won't matter. It was what it was. In words and pictures.