What Were We Thinking? NatGeo Sorts Out 'The 2000s'

It seems like it was only yesterday. And in a way, it was.

At first, it’s easy to react skeptically to the prospect that a documentary has been produced about a decade that ended so recently -- six years ago, to be exact, although it might just as well have been the week before last. Isn’t it too soon to put the first decade of the 21st century into historical perspective? 

The answer turns out to be no. This four-hour, two-part documentary on the 2000s -- airing Sunday and Monday nights (July 12 and 13) on National Geographic Channel -- makes a persuasive case that the years 2000-09 saw so much social upheaval that the decade can bear being labeled an “era” that stands on its own.

Among the social changes the documentary examines: The rise of social media, including the invention of the iPhone, the launch of YouTube, and all the other technological capabilities that made so many ordinary people into citizen journalists; the recognition and acceptance of gays in mainstream life (the doc places the TV show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” at the center of this trend, and makes a strong case for doing so); and the election of the first African-American President of the United States, who won the office in large measure because of his campaign’s mastery of social media.



One of the byproducts of these “decade” documentaries is that you become reminded of events and/or details about events that you either did not remember or never knew about in the first place.

This documentary -- titled “The 2000s: A New Reality” -- sheds new light on the Elian Gonzalez story, hurricane Katrina, the Enron mess, Abu Ghraib, the fall of Lehman Brothers and dozens of other stories.

Among other things, the documentary links the Clinton administration’s rough handling of the Gonzalez case to the close vote in Florida that hung up the 2000 presidential election results; reports a story, told by a former U.S. marine and resident of New Orleans named John Keller, about the abandonment of the city’s African-American community during Katrina that is shocking to hear; and presents concrete evidence of the stone-cold greed that led to the decade’s economic meltdown.

As a matter of fact, this decade was so tumultuous that there are few lighthearted moments in this entire documentary. In addition to the subjects and stories already mentioned here, the doc covers the 9/11 attacks, the Thailand tsunami, the Iraq War (including the fruitless search for WMDs), disgraced athletes (from Barry Bonds to Tiger Woods) and the death of Michael Jackson.

On the lighter side, however, the doc does delve into the rise of reality television (based mainly on the first phenomenal season of “Survivor” on CBS in summer 2000, and later on MTV, “The Osbournes”) and the popularity of zombie movies and other escapist fare such as the “Rings” trilogy. The doc also tries to make sense of the popularity of cat videos on YouTube. But, since explaining this phenomenon is an impossible task, this effort is not successful (although it is entertaining).

The producers of “The 2000s: A New Reality” even found a clever way to bookend the decade by ending the documentary with the story of airline pilot Sully Sullenberger’s miracle landing of a passenger jet in the Hudson River in January 2009.

Sullenberger himself notes in an interview seen in the documentary that the decade started with a devastating attack by multiple hijacked airliners and ended with an airline mishap in which a disaster was averted and no lives lost.

“The 2000s: A New Reality” airs in two parts on Sunday (June 12) and Monday (June 13) at 9 p.m. Eastern on National Geographic Channel.

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