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Moronic millennium matters

GET READY for the column of the millennium! That's right: Sparky Clarkson, longtime columnist for The Cavalier Daily, has assembled one last masterpiece to send out this dusty old millennium with a bang!

Feh.

Say hello to December, soon to be known as the "month of the millennium." Starting tomorrow, you can expect to see signs of the thousand years now coming to their close in everything you see and do. Thirty-one days of unadulterated millennial celebration are on their way, with Y2K coffee, neckties and breakfast cereal. Nothing is sacred, nobody is safe, and no marketing ploy is too crass for our commemoration of this momentous event. The "celebration of the millennium" is on the way, along with every this, that, and the other "of the millennium" that you can possibly imagine.

In the midst of this, marketers are ignoring a large contingent of people, whose numbers are growing daily. They are unaffected by the marketing, the publicity, and all the hype of a thousand years that has been cascading through the national consciousness for the last 11 months. These people, like myself, just don't give a damn. And rightly so.

Far be it from us to drench anyone's champagne and confetti with the cold rain of rationality, but just what are we celebrating anyway? The millennium is just an artifact of an arbitrary dating system used by only some of the world's people. Not to mention that the people who created that system of dates managed to miss the event on which they were basing it by at least a couple of years, making the whole thing meaningless even in the terms it uses to establish its own relevance.

The millennium is an oddity, not a milestone. Getting all hyped up about it makes no more sense than getting hyped up about the arbitrary day we say begins the new year. Then again, that's never stopped anyone either.

The inherent silliness of the millennium celebration isn't its only sin, though. It's not even the worst transgression. The worst part of the millennial madness is the almost pathological list-making and ranking people have engaged in for the past several years. We have seen cars of the millennium and the cereal of the millennium (I voted for wheat, but General Mills created Millennio's). People are busy selecting the Man of the Millennium. We have seen authors of the millennium, films of the millennium, and untold other, similar honors.

This is, of course, ridiculous. A thousand years is simply too broad a span of time for a single person, achievement, work of art, or anything else for that matter, to be considered the greatest. There's simply too much to sift through in too many different circumstances. Any choice made would be just as arbitrary as the millennium itself. While the irony involved is intriguing, too few people realize it is there, and so they actually give credence to these rankings.

Why are we waiting until the millennium ends to honor these people? Anyone worthy of consideration should be celebrated in our schools and public places every year. But we try not to think about these things. Having put the name on a list, the person and his accomplishments can be conveniently forgotten until the next list is needed. The "_______ of the millennium" is an excuse for, not a sign of, serious thought.

The same can be said for all the retrospectives available -- part of a trend that occurs every year, but is more pronounced because of the year 2000. The CNN miniseries "Millennium," for example, recites stories from each century in this thousand years. But the history it is exploring is more important than that. If we only take a good look at our history when we reach meaningless milestones, we gain nothing. It is only by a continuing effort to understand our history that we gain any benefit from the knowledge. Ignore the millennium, and all the hype that goes with it.

These lists and retrospectives, while attention-grabbing, ultimately are hollow and useless. Instead, devote your time as the year ends to developing your own appreciation of our history and the people who figure most greatly in it. Enjoy the month of the millennium. May we be wiser when the next one rolls around.

(Sparky Clarkson's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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