The Biggest Party Ever!

You’re invited to the bash for the new millennium. Its fun, its a little frightening–and its starting now.

Think of the T-shirt possibilities! An event bigger than the Statue of Liberty celebrations, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, the 20th Earth Day–even the premiere of Dick Tracy–is waiting to be serialized, analyzed, licensed and otherwise marketed into meaning and millions. It’s the coming of the year 2000.

The event has enormous psychological and spiritual ramifications. As Hillel Schwartz, author of the psychohistory Century’s End (Doubleday), describes it, the end of each century since 990 has been a period of “the best and the worst, the most desperate and the most exultant.” But expectations about 2000 will be the most intense of all, since it “bears the cumulative emotional weight of thousands of deferred hopes and unfulfilled predictions.”

New Age visionaries foresee ecological disaster and/or nuclear war-chaos that will ultimately birth a new age, characterized by a higher, nicer consciousness. In Christianity’s vision of things (as hinted at in Revelation), only the righteous will survive the Apocalypse to enjoy a thousand-year reign of peace and harmony.

The impending turn of the century is already coloring the ’90s and influencing trends. Sales of the Bible, for example, are up 25 percent over last year, and the predictions of 16th-century astrologer Nostradamus are enjoying a new popularity. And is it simply in reaction to the greedy ’80s that we’ve suddenly begun to think environmentally green? Or do we feel the urge to clean up our act before what we may imagine as a get-real deadline?

Gonna market like it’s 1999

But the ultimate question about 2000 is this: Will the year become a glitzy media and merchandising bash, or, like a New Year’s resolution to end ’em all, will it be used as an opportunity to improve the species and the planet? If what’s already in the works is any indication at all, the answer is probably both.

Although they won’t have to contend with locusts and meteorites, the populations of the Western world will be stricken with plagues of retrospectives. The millennium is a natural made-for-high-definition TV miniseries. In 1989, in fact, the BBC began work on a “major, heavily funded” end-of-century documentary series. Last fall Life magazine, apparently in a similar preemptive effort to establish a millennial beachhead, named the “100 most important Americans of the 20th century.” Not that the media are alone in their efforts to capitalize on the year 2000. Businesses, too, are off and running, with the crystal ball. Many companies are cashing in on the millennium in the simplest possible way–by naming products after it. Years ago, Elizabeth Arden introduced a line for over-40 skin called Millenium (only one n “in order to distinguish it,” says a spokeswoman, adding, “The name catches the sense of a new age”).

Farberware thought likewise when it recently dubbed its new line of “never-stick” pots and pans Millennium. “The market research showed that people wanted something that would really last,” says marketing manager Steve Alamin. With a 20-year warranty, “the name Millennium just made perfect sense.”

As Alamin’s comments suggest, the numbers game is shifting into overdrive. Packaged-goods manufacturer Lever Brothers has introduced a new soap called Lever 2000, promoting it as a cleanser for “the body’s 2000 parts.”

Good trips, bad trips

Although sales of survivalist gear and beef jerky will inevitably climb by 1998, apocalyptic millenarianism –the near-hysterical quest to achieve a state of grace before the Day of Wrath–will probably not sweep the nation. “The end of the millennium will not be accompanied by mass religious hysteria,” predicts the Future Society’s Willard. “We live in a more secular age.”

Nonetheless, the fin de siecle urge for purification is already luring even secular types to link destiny with destinations. Alan Causey, director of social analysis and forecasts at the Ammirati & Puris ad agency in New York, predicts, “You’re more than likely to see a burst of millennium theme trips and vacations.”

There will be parties at the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Acropolis and other sites in each of the world’s 24 time zones. In fact, the 6,000-member Millennium Society has already booked the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Giza. Egypt, for New Year’s Eve 1999. Founded by a group of Yalies who realized their 20th reunion would occur in 1999, the Millennium Society holds “countdown charity balls” each year. (Membership costs–what else?–$19.99.)

Also heating up as a millennial destination is the South Pole, where the well-heeled of the species already traipse about on tours, slowly eroding the fragile ecology. The symbolic as well as actual polarity of the Arctic and Antarctic stimulates the millennial nerve: Where better to meet the end than at the end of the world?

Even the hard-core

doomsayers have travel plans. A man in Texas is building a fleet of blimps that will hover above the wretched masses as they are cast about by the cataclysmic shift in the Earth’s axis 2-0-0-0 as the last four digits of corporate HQ phone numbers, and the $19.99 price tag will become quite popular, with some stores selling all products at that figure.

The millennium is bound to make technology in and of itself fashionable again,” adds Charles Perrot, vice president of corporate market studies for The Futures Group, a research and consulting firm. “I expect that the coming millennium will give any technology that is obvious and showy some free advertising.”

Toward that end, office-equipment manufacturers will all come out with a 2000 series, magazines with titles like Smart Kitchen 2000 will publish and perish-and people will likely begin describing someone–who is forward-thinking by saying, “She’s very triple-0.”

I wanna live forever

But if marketers and advertisers want to hit the real pay dirt of M-fever. they will have to dig deeper into the millennial Ur-myth to the cycle of decay, death and rebirth.

The advent of the millennium is going to hit most baby boomers-who will still be the largest and most powerful consumer group in America-right in their midlife crises. Just as we enter our 40s and 50s, along comes the next millennium, closing a massive door on ourcentury. Allowed only to squint at all the good stuff supposedly waiting on the other side, we’ll suffer a massive PMS–Pre-Millennial Syndrome.

Perhaps the only way to beat the millennium blues is to pass thetorch, and marketers will be sure to stoke the urge. “Because of all the people having children now, a big sell around 2000 will besomething like ‘this is the century you give your children,'” says Causey. “There’ll be a lot more about ‘secure this for the future’ and ‘plan that for the next century.'”

Of course, the year 2000 can be more than a promotional ploy, it can be used symbolically to help us focus and work on our goals. And yet the very overmarketing of the millennium could immunize us to its charms. Penny Hawkey, president and executive creative director of the New York-base Bloom Agency, has been thinking a lot about 2000 lately. “The turn of the century will come not with a bang but a whimper,” she says. “By 1997 we will have done it to death.”

Source: “The Biggest Party Ever!” Leslie Savan, The Village Voice, 1991. Posted with permission to the Talk 2000 Forum.

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