Humour by Rehana Munir: The world before Wordle

Updated on Feb 20, 2022 01:25 PM IST
A whirlwind tour of popular trends and shiny fads across four decades, from the MTV era to Netflix and chill
Wordle may have taken the world by storm, but it has a lot to make up for (Hexcode)
Wordle may have taken the world by storm, but it has a lot to make up for (Hexcode)
ByRehana Munir

I like the origin story of the Omicron-era fad, Wordle. It involves language, love, patience (releasing just one word a day is admirable, if only a bit sadistic), generosity and unexpected success—a heart-warming parable for our cold virtual age. The game itself—strategically guessing a five-letter word from scratch—leaves me cold. Starter words, like starter dough, are not unworthy pandemic obsessions. I’m glad they exist, creating ripples in a stagnant social pool. They descend, disrupt and depart, leaving the next bling thing in their wake, adding a necessary lightness to an invariably painful public discourse.

I gotta have faith, faith, faith

Being born in 1981 leaves you precariously placed as far as generational categories are concerned. Gen-X (which American pop-culture critic Chuck Klosterman gratifyingly calls today’s “least annoying” generation in his new book, The Nineties) is where I should by rights be placed. I reject those classifications that call me a millennial; it sounds like a sorting-hat failure, to use a Harry Potter reference, which promptly brands me a millennial, but we’ll move quickly on from that incriminating observation. The ‘80s were a decade memorable for their tackiness and easy cheer in between upheavals. Hair perms and fluorescent colours, the enticements of Sridevi and Madhuri, and the ubiquity of the Maruti 800; talk about a low-pressure childhood.

The 90’s brought the nation economic liberalisation and us adolescents, Channel V and MTV. Madonna’s audacity and George Michael’s sex appeal were now available on tap, but the video jockeys were the trendiest of all, whether they were playing Indipop or international hits. Young, spiffy and speaking a global language, they were the cooler cousins of movie stars and ramp models. Meanwhile, in a reflection of global trends, pool parlours (with sleazy names) sprang up everywhere even as we wannabe hipsters obsessed over the game ‘Snake’ on our black-and-white Nokia screens.

I scrapped you on Orkut

It was 2001 and Bollywood was suddenly cool, with Dil Chahta Hai capturing the urban zeitgeist and Lagaan reaching the Oscars. If mobile phones were the hot gizmo of the 90’s, they became the obsession of the noughties. And by 2007, everyone was on Facebook, as Facebook reminds us every day. (Facebook is so obsessed with memories, it qualifies for rigorous therapy.) But let’s spare a thought for Orkut, its tacky predecessor, ostensibly inspired by those slam books we kept in school judging friends on what their favourite ice-cream flavours and celeb fantasies were. Then YouTube stormed onto the scene like digital Vikings, rebranding the human race as “video content consumers”.

By the mid-2000s, every music buff who had spent more emotion than was healthy on audio cassettes, more money than was conscionable on CDs, and more time than was justifiable on Napster laid their hands on an iPod, whether their own or borrowed. The original iPod, as heavy and heady as a hip flask, transcended the realm of trend and entered the kingdom of cult. Ah, the joys of the “shuffle” function; a godsend for those of us who thrive in an environment of controlled uncertainty. The device even had an addictive quiz where you guessed the song from a snippet picked at random from your music library.

Netflix and chill

The 2010s were the era of Indian cricket. The men in blue had a World Cup win under the unflappable MS Dhoni, and IPL was growing despite the sacking of its commissioner, Lalit Modi. T20 cricket stole all the limelight from the longer formats, with shrinking attention spans and swelling wallets dictating terms. As fading movie stars bought glittering franchises, audiences plugged into the sound and fury of extravagant broadcasts that IMHO can only be endured on mute. Around this time, the 50-over format emphatically lost relevance for many—a bittersweet development for those who grew up in the Age of Tendulkar.

On the domestic front, OTT platforms changed our relationship with our couches forever. The pre-pandemic decade, which now (misleadingly) appears like a golden age, was dominated by the humans, zombies and dragons of filmed entertainment, who kept viewers comfortably numb. ‘Netflix and chill’ became a euphemism for amorous activities conducted with prestige TV playing in the background. But as 2020 raised its spiky Covid-shaped head, lust, like all other emotions, went virtual. Poor Wordle has a lot to make up for.

Follow @rehana_munir on Twitter and Instagram

From HT Brunch, February 20, 2022

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