Here we are in the final third of 2021, which I think has given us enough time to gain some perspective on the previous decade. Of course our understanding of a "decade" as a distinct collection of fashions, fads, and cultural mores may have ended with the 20th century. In other words, while the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s remain very easy to distinguish from another, it's a bit harder with the 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. But there are a few things that define the 2010s. Here are nine of them.
- Game of Thrones. Fantasy author George R.R. Martin published the first installment of his seven-novel series A Song of Ice and Fire back in 1996, and who knows when – or if – he will finish the last two. But HBO's small-screen adaptation Game of Thrones was a true 2010s phenomenon: it premiered to great acclaim in 2011 and concluded to much less acclaim in 2019. In between, it won scores of Emmys, was watched by millions, and engendered a fan base so rabid that the European cities that served as production locations were overrun by tourists. Thanks to its disappointing finale, however, GOT is DOA as far as the 2020s are concerned. A prequel series is nevertheless in the works, while Martin continues to procrastinate.
- 3D movies. The gimmick itself is nothing new, but James Cameron's Avatar did much to revitalize three-dimensional filmmaking after breaking box office records in late 2009. (That same year also saw a number of 3D animated features.) Studios and exhibitors found a new way to make money while a handful of top tier directors explored the artistic possibilities of shooting in the format. But the 3D box office was already in decline by 2017 and is all but moribund now (apart from a handful of blockbusters shot in 2D and converted to 3D for limited IMAX releases). The last major live action feature to be shot in 3D was Alita: Battle Angel, cowritten and coproduced by Cameron, who is shooting his long-delayed Avatar sequels the same way.
- Grumpy Cat. Tardar Sauce, a dwarf feline with an unusually dour-looking face, was born in 2012, died in 2019, and in the intervening years became a massive celebrity as "Grumpy Cat" – on the Internet, of course, but in mainstream media as well. Books, greeting cards, and even a Lifetime TV movie (with the cat voiced by Aubrey Plaza) were all byproducts of the Grumpy Cat phenomenon.
- Fifty Shades of Grey. British Twilight fangirl Erika Mitchell, writing – if you could call it that – under the pseudonym E.L. James, self-published her trashy erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey in 2011. To everyone's surprise, it became a runaway bestseller, launching a trilogy that dominated print, film, and social media up through 2018, when the film adaptation of Fifty Shades Freed was released. Happy to beat a dead horse as long as it keeps bleeding cash, Mitchell rewrote all three of her novels from a different character's point of view, with the final variant published in June of this year. But outside of the core faithful, who is still talking about Fifty Shades at this point?
- Ronda Rousey. I did have Amy Schumer listed in this spot, but it seems she is getting a second wind in the 2020s. So instead I nominate former Mixed Martial Arts fighter Rousey, who captured the mainstream public's attention in 2012, then lost it after her MMA career ended in 2016. In the meantime, she was so big that she hosted Saturday Night Live and won supporting roles in several blockbuster films. Today she's a professional wrestler.
- Fun. By "Fun" I mean "fun.", the New York pop trio with the annoyingly ironic punctuation in their name. Formed in 2008, fun. was just an opening act at the start of the decade. Then came their Grammy-winning album Some Nights in 2012, with hits like "We Are Young" and the title track, and fun. was everywhere. The band then went on "hiatus" in 2015, and that was that. Guitarist Jack Antonoff (who used to date 2010s figurehead Lena Dunham) has since emerged as an A-list songwriter and record producer.
- Vine. This social networking app, which allowed users to record six-second-long videos, existed from 2013 until 2017, making it the perfect symbol for the... teens? tens? We never did agree on a name for the decade. Anyway, Vine was big enough to boast 200 million users, and several Vine stars saw fleeting fame (including Shawn Mendes and Jake Paul, who are no longer mere "internet personalities"), but that six-second limit frustrated advertisers, who drifted away in 2016. Now the 2020s are all about TikTok, which is basically Vine but with longer videos.
- House Speakers Boehner and Ryan. Before Donald Trump became every liberal's orange-faced nemesis, there was U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), the carrot-hued Speaker of the House from 2011 until 2015. As Boehner stepped down from politics, Paul Ryan (R-WI) assumed the speakership and held it until January 2019, when he too quit Washington. Since then, both men have made a fortune as consultants, board members, guest speakers, and all the other high-paying (legal) positions routinely offered to ex-politicians.
- The selfie stick. No decade is complete without its silly fads, and the selfie stick might be the most symbolic – and certainly the longest-lasting – of the 2010s, whereas fidget spinners, planking, dabbing, the Harlem Shake, and the Ice Bucket Challenge practically saw their popularity measured in weeks.