This comic was released on the first day of the year 2020. It was the second of two New Year comics around the 2019-2020 New Year, after 2248: New Year's Eve.
The comic opens with Megan, Cueball, White Hat, and Ponytail celebrating the new year and discussing their relief that the change of decade brings with it two beneficial side-effects; firstly, they can now unambiguously name the decade "the 20s", and secondly, since the decade has a well-defined name, any cultural trends that begin in the 20s can be attributed to the decade itself, and not to the generation that happens to coincide with it.
White Hat, however, tries a couple of times to raise a pedantic objection: he believes that the new decade does not "officially" start until 2021.
Ponytail corrects him on this, but he refuses to accept the correction until Megan cites an unlikely source: the fact that the VH1 television show
I Love the '90s categorized MC Hammer's 1990 single "U Can't Touch This" as a 90s song, which supports Ponytail's definition of decade. The joke is that a pop culture documentary is not an authoritative source for definitions of time standards, yet for some reason everyone is willing to accept its authority on such matters anyway.
The disagreement over the definition of when decades start is due to the fact that there is more than one way to count decades. You could do it in one of the following two ways:
- By counting every span of ten years that has occurred since the start of year 1 in the Common Era (White Hat's definition)
- By taking the digit that is common to all years in a given ten-year span (Ponytail's definition)
Ponytail's definition is the one in common usage. For example, when we say "the 1980s", we mean "the span of ten years that all began with the digits 198". This is a "cardinal" method of counting decades, since we are only concerned with identifying a particular set of ten years.
White Hat's definition, on the other hand, is an "ordinal" method, since it implies that we are counting the number of ten-year spans since the first one, which is defined to have begun in the year 1.
While White Hat's definition is not technically wrong - it is a valid way to count decades - Ponytail notes that this is not how decades are typically determined (the show isn't called "I Love the 200th Decade"), and the fact that we count centuries in an ordinal way does not mean that we should do the same with decades.
White Hat's objection (probably deliberately) recalls an issue that was frequently discussed around the year 2000. Because we do count centuries ordinally (eg. "1st century", "20th century", etc.), and the first century began on the year 1, the 21st century did not technically start until 2001. Much of the world, not understanding this (or not caring), celebrated the dawning of the year 2000 as the start of both a new century and a new millenium, while more pedantic voices pointed out that the change wouldn't technically happen for another year.
Megan's exclamation "Stop!" is similar to the line famously used by MC Hammer in "U Can't Touch This" ("Stop! Hammer time.").
"Aughts" and "Teens" were names suggested for the 2000s and 2010s respectively; however, neither of those names managed to gain widespread acceptance.
Millennials is a name given to the generation which was born in the 80s and 90s, such that they began entering adulthood in the 2000s. The term was sometimes used pejoratively by older generations who view millennials as immature or complacent, particularly during the 2010s. The comic speculates that millennials may have been unfairly targeted due to the fact that the decade didn't have an easily-identifiable name; if it had, then people might have attributed their misgivings about modern culture to the decade itself, instead of singling out a demographic. This phenomenon was previously discussed in 1849: Decades.
Continuing the dubious "proof" offered by Megan, the title text goes on to use the Billboard Best of the 80s chart as proof that the 1980s started in 1980, as their chart includes Blondie's "Call Me", which was released in 1980. The title text ends with QED ("quod erat demonstrandum"), which literally means "what was to be shown", and is traditionally used at the end of a mathematical proof to mean "thus it has been demonstrated", as if this second landmark piece of evidence proves Megan's point as conclusively as a mathematical proof.
- [Megan walks in from the left greeting Cueball, White Hat, and Ponytail standing in a line, the last two looking in her direction.]
- Megan: Happy new decade!
- Ponytail: Welcome to the '20s!
- White Hat: Actually—
- Ponytail: I'm excited we can name decades again.
- Ponytail: "Aughts" and "teens" never caught on.
- [Megan stops next to Cueball as White Hat has his finger raised.]
- White Hat: Actually, the new decade doesn't start-
- Ponytail: Mostly, I'm just glad we can go back to attributing cultural trends to decades instead of generations.
- [All four just stand normal.]
- Cueball: Yeah.
- Cueball: Decades were silly, but making everything about "millennials" turned out to be even worse.
- Ponytail: Seriously.
- [Only White Hat and Ponytail are shown, both with their arms held out to the sides.]
- White Hat: It's technically not a new decade until 2021.
- Ponytail: OK, listen.
- Ponytail: If you're going to be pedantic, you should at least be right.
- White Hat: I am right!
- Ponytail: You're not.
- [Zoom in on White Hat and Ponytail's upper bodies as they gesture towards each other both raising their hands palm up. Megan interrupts them from off panel, as made clear in the next panel. Her voice comes out of a starburst on the left panel frame.]
- White Hat: See, the 20th century didn't start until--
- Ponytail: But decades aren't centuries. They're not cardinally numbered.
- White Hat: You don't get it. Let me draw a--
- Ponytail: No, you don't--
- Megan (off-panel): Stop!
- [All four characters are displayed again. Megan has raised a finger and all the others look at her.]
- Megan: I can resolve this.
- Megan: *Ahem*
- Megan: MC Hammer's U Can't Touch This (1990) was featured in I Love the '90s, not '80s.
- Ponytail: ...That settles that.
- White Hat: Yeah, I accept VH1's authority.
- White Hat: You win.
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in gif diehard is a Christmas movie. There is no right or wrong answer.
But is White Hat right or wrong? 18.104.22.168 19:00, 1 January 2020 (UTC)
- Both. It's the only way to settle this. 22.214.171.124 19:13, 1 January 2020 (UTC)
- I think that he is right, but it’s like asking if diehard is a Christmas movie. There is no right or wrong answer.
- Indeed, famed D.J. and space journalist Scott Manley says it's a new decade in C but not in FORTRAN. 126.96.36.199 19:37, 1 January 2020 (UTC)
- You mean it's already 21th century for FORTRAN? -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:33, 1 January 2020 (UTC)
- But what decade is it in the Delisle scale? 188.8.131.52 20:35, 1 January 2020 (UTC)
I'm fairly certain Ponytail contradicts herself in panel 5. Arguing that decades are not cardinally numbered is arguing that the decade starts in 2021 (ordinal numbering.) 184.108.40.206 21:20, 1 January 2020 (UTC)
- She doesn't: you're assuming there are only two options, but that's not the case. Decades (in the common "20s, 30s, 40s" form) are not technically numbered at all: they're named, it's just that those names are based on numbers.
- It's still a sequence, like names or dictionary entries being grouped into "As, Bs, Cs" and so on, though. (Is there a specific name for this type of sequence? If so, I don't know it.) 220.127.116.11 23:03, 1 January 2020 (UTC)
- She (more likely Randall's slip of the pen) is still wrong: what she means is that they aren't ordinally numbered, which is the reason the other guy is wrong. 18.104.22.168 08:23, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
Having had this conversation on WhatsApp, I have settled on an ingenious solution that works for me (on being told that "0" had not been invented in the year between -1 and +1") and explains why decades start with "10, 20...": As usually nowadays, the first decade was the Betaversion and so only ran from 1-9... 22.214.171.124 (talk) 07:29, 2 January 2020 (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- Nobody really recognised the possibility of having/not having 0AD until c.525AD, anyway. (Sitting betwixt the nominal start of what became in our zero in 5thC and its eventual formalising in 7thC, over in India/etc.) If you ask me (and you aren't doing, I know!) I think they probably were envisaging an early version of 1s' Compliment, but knew it would be silly to have two separate numbers for the year ±0 and so fudged it entirely the other way. ;) 126.96.36.199 11:37, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
Every year is a new decade. Just some of them overlap. The 203rd decade was from 2021 to 2030, while the '20s will run from 1920 to 1929. Both are legitimate decades. So id 1994-2003; it just doesn't have a convenient name to refer to it by. Heck, you don't even need a new year. 1981-12-03 to 1991-12-02 is the first decade of my life :) So if you want to celebrate the start of a new decade, you should celebrate every single day. Angel (talk) 10:48, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
- By that logic, the 203rd decade started 203 planck lengths (or other smaller time units) after the big bang. Or was it 202 planck lenghts after? However I agree, that decades start and end all the time. The question is just, what day does the decade "the 20s" start. I'd say it started on January 1, 2020. --Lupo (talk) 11:23, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
There is an interesting theory that CULTURALLY, a new decade doesn't really start until year 2 or year 3 of said decade. So, what we traditionally envision as "the 80s" actually was typical for ca. 1983-1992, what we think of as "the 90s" actually happened between 1993 and 2002, and so on. It makes a lot of sense if you think of it (and if you listen to music or look at pictures of the time); mullets were still a thing in 1991, just as carrot pants were in 1981 and psychedelic music was in 1971. (It also works for centuries, but with a longer timespan, about 15 years. 1910 or 1911 feels a lot more 19th century than 20th century. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna was held, which ended the European Wars of the 18th century and laid the foundation for the nation states typical of the 19th century, and for a period of relative peace that enabled the Industrial Revolution. And so on.)--188.8.131.52 12:00, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
- I'd argue that this is just randomness. There is no reason, any trends should align to the way the years are set up. Of course noone says "hey, it's first January 2020, let's start a new style of dressing and listen to new music." But neither do they in 2022. However e.g. carrot pants were MOST popular, and on their peak of popularity in the 70s, and psychadelic music in the 60s, even though trends linger and resurface long after all the time. --Lupo (talk) 12:54, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
- Well, I'd already planned to use exclusive and entirely 2020s' slang and fashion from yesterday onwards. After a few false starts because nobody knew what I was vocing about, I'm now starting it ween and only going full-barbecue as I get past the prime snick of my voc, in empthy my viewclan viz my deltas and merj my vocstyel, all charged for the dec fronting up! Ten-four, me hearties? 184.108.40.206 16:20, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
- Except the 19th century started in 1789; cf. the long nineteenth century. I had never heard of a 1815 start for the nineteenth century before. The nineteenth century is 1789-1914, and the twentieth century started in 1914 and ended in 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union. Looking at just American history, the nineteenth century obviously starts in 1776 and ends at the start or end of the Civil War, 1860ish. It's all arbitrary lines.--Prosfilaes (talk) 02:35, 7 January 2020 (UTC)
- Do you have any source or examples from actual historians, using a definition of centuries based on events instead of 100-year periods following each other? Eras or Ages might be debatable and dependent on the spirit of a given time, events, rulers, etc. but I have never heard about centuries being defined that way. The 19th Century started either in 1800 or 1801 and lasted until 1899/1900. --Lupo (talk) 07:07, 7 January 2020 (UTC)
- Cf The Long Nineteenth Century.--Prosfilaes (talk) 09:16, 7 January 2020 (UTC)
- Thanks. Interesting to read. I was not aware that this is a thing. However the wikipedia article explicitely calls "the long nineteenth century" a period, never a century (There is no sentence such as "the long nineteenth century is a century that [...]"). So I'd still say the 19th century started in 1800/1801, while the "long 19th century" started in 1750/1789. The Wikipedia article on century seems also to take centurys as literal 100 year periods: "A century is a period of 100 years. Centuries are numbered ordinally in English and many other languages."--Lupo (talk) 09:50, 7 January 2020 (UTC)
In the decades under discussion, VH1 and MTV were competing channels, not parent company - child company. (And MTV came first.) It's much more relevant to the explanation that VH1 was a music channel on cable TV than to explain who owns what now, three decades later. 220.127.116.11 15:59, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
I find it surprising that Randall didn't reference ISO-8601 by way of Wikipedia, such as in the Year Zero article, to make the argument that the first 10 years ran from 0-9 as "the standard". Though I suppose it is more entertaining/broadly targeted to reference pop. culture sources when labeling pop. culture trends. SensorSmith (talk) 16:12, 2 January 2020 (UTC)
Well I might be stepping into a minefield by saying this, but obviously both CNN and FOX had dedicated articles reporting this issue and, as expected, have slightly different stances on the answer. I wonder if Randall is aware of this.
I really get a feeling that there's an extra joke or nod somewhere in the title text that's not covered - anyone spent a little more time on that yet? or maybe have a little more? Despite the feeling, nothing is occurring to me :-( Brettpeirce (talk) 14:31, 16 January 2020 (UTC)
I did a significant rewrite which captures most of what had been said, but tidies up and clarifies some points. I also removed some information that I felt wasn't relevant (eg. the trivia about Jesus' birth - while true and interesting, it isn't actually relevant to the comic or the explanation) - feel free to add anything back that you think should still be included for completeness.
Can I just say, though, that I am not a fan of this rambling style of recapping the comic blow-by-blow while explaining it? It seems to be a common style here but it makes the explanation significantly more difficult to follow. Here is an example of what I mean:
"At this point Megan stops their heated argument claiming she can resolve this. She then states that MC Hammer's song "U Can't Touch This", released in 1990, was featured in a 1990s-themed television show (I Love the '90s) instead of its 1980s-themed counterpart. Ponytail then claims that this settles the discussion. And White Hat throws in the towel stating that he accepts VH1's authority and lets Ponytail win."
Recapitulating the comic can sometimes be useful to give context to the explanation, but it gets difficult to follow when the text starts jumping back-and-forth between explaining things and simply stating things that are happening in the comic. In my rewrite, I have attempted to give a short recap at the very start of the explanation, to provide context; then, I have added explanations of the points raised by the comic. I still don't think it's the best way to go about it, but I think it's better. Hawthorn (talk) 14:20, 3 January 2020 (UTC)
- +1 - I really like your rewrite :) --Lupo (talk) 14:25, 3 January 2020 (UTC)
I wonder that seemingly nobody noticed that Megan is doing the characteristic part of the song here: "Stop! Hammertime!" I'm not sure how to inlcude that into the explanation, though... Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 09:16, 7 January 2020 (UTC)
- Added :) Hawthorn (talk) 11:02, 7 January 2020 (UTC)
- Cool, thanks :) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 13:43, 9 January 2020 (UTC)