In the 1980s, it was easy to define the previous decade by ticking off singular '70s fads: bellbottoms! disco! Leif Garrett! Likewise, when the '90s rolled around, one had no problem summing up the '80s: New Wave! Pac-Man! Moonlighting! Yet here I am in 2015, finding the current decade indistinguishable from the last. Part of this is me getting older and thus less attuned to fads, but so many things introduced in the aughts (oughts? naughts?) – iPhones, YouTube, Kanye West – are equally ubiquitous today. That said, I've nailed down nine entities that truly say "aughts-only".
- The George W. Bush Administration. This one's a no-brainer. (Ha ha.) Most decades draw much of their cultural flavor from whoever's in the White House, and so it goes with Dubya and everything associated with his reign: 9/11, Orange Alerts, Condoleezza Rice... Unfortunately, we're still dealing with a lot of the Bush legacy, from No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act to a seemingly endless war in Iraq.
- Music-based video games. Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band: these expensive party games were everywhere in the mid-zeros, then nowhere after 2010. However, some of them threaten to rear their rockin' heads yet again.
- Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book in 1997; the final film was released in 2011. Technicalities! You can't talk about life in the 2000s without mentioning Pottermania, the single largest pop culture phenomenon of the decade.
- Hummers. The ultimate emblem of Bush-era machismo and wastefulness, these enormous SUVs have been in military use for decades, but took off with the public when General Motors began manufacturing the H2 in 2002. The brand was shut down in April 2010. You can't get more aughts-specific than this.
- The Appletini. This bright green cocktail, made from vodka and apple pucker, was supposedly invented right here in Los Angeles in 1997. Young ladies drank it everywhere over the subsequent decade. You can still order one, but I haven't seen anybody do so in the last five years.
- Paris Hilton. Sure, this dippy socialite is still around, in the same sense that dippy socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor (Hilton's great-aunt!) is still around. But Paris is so double-oh: the 2010s are all about her former supporting players the Kardashians. Another aughts tabloid staple, now forgotten: Nicole Richie.
- Velour tracksuits. Did Paris Hilton wear one while sipping an Appletini in the back of a Hummer and checking her MySpace? Almost certainly. From where I sit, fashion hasn't changed much over the last 15 years, though fads like low-rise jeans, culottes, and trucker hats have come and gone. But few things symbolize the 'oos like these sloppy pink sweats, produced by Juicy Couture, Pink, and lesser-known brands.
- Lost. Television shows, of course, easily represent their given decades. But with today's fragmented media landscape and many series overlapping the decades, it's hard to pin down the aughts' defining show. American Idol? A shadow of its former self, but still airing (this season is its last). The Wire? Too niche. So I'll go with Lost, which seduced and baffled and frustrated millions from its September 2004 premiere to its May 2010 finale. Runners-up: The Sopranos, Gilmore Girls.
- The Snuggie. The decade's Pet Rock. This dorky invention – a blanket with sleeves! – went from ironic joke to genuine guilty pleasure overnight. The Snuggie came out in 2008, was everywhere all through 2009, and was done by mid-2010. If you buy one now, nobody will think you're clever or funny. But you might be warm and cozy.