Mulder: The world didn’t end.
Scully: No, it didn’t.
Mulder: Happy New Year, Scully.
Scully: Happy New Year, Mulder.
The X-Files, “Millennium”
I mean, I guess you had to be there. Oh, I don’t mean in the dorms, fan-girling away with me over the episode, which actually aired at the end of November. (And has future Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as a nurse!) But at the time it happened, a friend’s mom was stockpiling food and clothing and Gods alone know what else. She wanted a gun, but my friend put their foot down and said that, if she got a gun, so did they. And that was the end of that discussion.
These days, the whole thing is kind of written off as a big nothingburger, and it’s true that a lot of the hysteria was overblown. The Simpsons made fun of it. Futurama is entirely based off the idea that nothing serious would happen, if you think about it. Hacky stand-up comedians made hay on the whole thing for two or three years, both before and after, as did Scott Adams. And there does appear to have been a smattering of books and movies and so forth that took it all very seriously and predicted the end of the world, and that’s even without the weird religious angle.
And, okay, I spent the evening of New Year’s Eve 1999 dozing in front of the original Star Wars trilogy with a couple of friends, because even though I was in college I was still, when you get right down to it, old. But that’s because I knew people even then who were pretty well getting paid for making sure that, when the day came, it would roll over with a minimum of fuss. People assume that all that work was misplaced and don’t, somehow, realize that all that work is why the whole thing was a big nothingburger. No, your toaster wasn’t going to come to life and kill you; no one seriously suggested it would. But there were a whole bunch of problems, and people I knew then and people I know now and a whole bunch of other people sat around in little rooms and solved the whole thing.
It’s got to be enormously frustrating to a lot of them. Indeed, I know it is, because I’ve heard one or two people complaining. They put in many boring hours sifting through code to make sure they got every single reference to the date where it was listed as two digits and shifted them to be four. It was tedious, and it needed to be done to prevent things like banking computers from blowing a gasket, not that computers have gaskets. (Not that I’m completely sure what a gasket is.) Frankly, probably the most realistic portrayal of the whole thing in media is the throwaway reference to it in Office Space, where it’s just a boring thing that the characters spend all their time at work dealing with. It’s completely tangential to the story.
Actually, what surprised me at the time was not that planes didn’t start falling from the sky, et cetera, but that there weren’t more weird attacks by religious fanatics. (Obviously, this was a pre-9/11 world!) Like, I don’t know how far gone that friend’s mother was in her conversion to not-actually-handling-snakes, but there were a lot of people expecting the Rapture. Or just Armageddon or whatever, if you’re from a sect that doesn’t believe in the Rapture. (As in, most of the world’s Christians.) Never mind that Jesus in the Bible explicitly says no one knows when it’s coming. Never mind that it hadn’t happened in 1000, either. Never mind that the calendar isn’t an accurate rendering of when the historical Jesus, if any, was born. Heck, as early as 1967, Rosemary’s baby would be the age in 2000 that the Biblical Jesus is said to have been when He died.
That, I suppose, was the problem we might have put more fear into. I wonder what we would have found if we had, wonder what world we’d be living in now if we’d taken religious extremism more seriously all those years ago. Hell, by December 1999, the 9/11 hijackers had been chosen. As usual, it seems as though the people who worked with realities solved the problems in front of them while the public at large freaked out about the wrong thing. Some things don’t change, even when the millennium does.
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