How does one parse a decade that has been so incredibly bad for humanity as a whole but also produced some of the worst books, movies, dance moves, and cultural phenomena of all time? Yep—the decade that brought us all three Fifty Shades of Grey books (and movies) also featured countless more serious humanitarian atrocities.
It’s been a horrendous decade, the kind of nightmarish hellscape that always feels on the edge of going full dystopia. So many terrible, hideous things happened this decade, it was extremely hard to pick just one per year, but I tried as best as I could to separate the chaff from the wheat.
On the one hand: The jailing of immigrant children. The abandonment of the Kurds in Syria. And of course the election of an actual, open racist. On the other: Lady Gaga’s meat dress. James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Carlos Danger. This decade featured an abundance of both actual humanitarian disasters and ridiculous cultural disasters.
I am not giving the cultural disasters the same weight as the actual disasters, but I thought we needed a little levity, and I hope America’s culture death can provide that. I tried to find some of the worst moments of the teens, and I collected them here so that you could feel as depressed as I do every day.
The year of Biblical weather.
Heat waves, earthquakes, blizzards, floods, volcanoes, typhoons, droughts and landslides crashed down upon the earth, killing at least a quarter of a million people. In January, 220,000 people died in an earthquake in Haiti. The only thing that was missing was locusts and cattle plague.
iPads and Lady Gaga’s meat dress.
These two things are tied for the two largest culture clusterfucks of the year 2010. Personally I found the meat dress more useful. iPads suck because they’re not as easy to use as computers and not as portable as phones. They’re basically just large, expensive, easily breakable phones. Personally, I think the meat dress is more practical, but tragically, the giant phones ultimately ended up capturing America’s heart in a way the meat dress did not.
It started with a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which led to a tsunami and then a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In the end, more than 15,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. And 2011 ended up being the most expensive year for national disasters ever.
The worst Oscars ever.
There have been a lot of bad Oscars over the years, so the competition is fierce, but definitely this one was the worst. It was so bad, the Los Angeles Times ran a poll on the question, which Hathaway and Franco overwhelmingly won. Franco turned out to be highly problematic, as five women accused him of inappropriate behavior, but he still gets work. Hathaway has the charisma of my toaster. That said, I do have a pretty charismatic toaster.
On Dec. 14, 2012, every parent’s worst nightmare came true. Twenty kindergarteners were murdered in their classroom, along with six others. It was the deadliest mass shooting at a lower or primary school and the second deadliest school shooting ever.
The tragedy was made even more unbearable by the NRA (of course) and by the insane hoaxers who popped up to claim it didn’t happen. Alex Jones jumped on the tragedy to sell conspiracy theories and nutritional supplements. He hounded the Sandy Hook families. Jones created the term “crisis actors” and pushed the horrifying notion that these children were not actually murdered and that the tragedy was in fact staged by the U.S. government with the aim of introducing stricter gun laws. One of the children’s fathers ultimately committed suicide. The one bright spot is that the Sandy Hook families are going to sue Alex Jones into the ground.
Honey Boo-Boo & Gangnam Style & Fifty Shades of Grey
2012 was a bad year for music, film, and reality television children. I don’t want to say 2012 was a cultural apocalypse, but when One Direction is the cultural brightspot, you’re in a lot of trouble. Yes, 2012 was an especially terrible year for music, books, and movies.
Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people.
The year we (well, we minus Tulsi Gabbard) learned unequivocally that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was a monster when he gassed his own people. The death toll was approximately 1,300, but this was just the first of the series of humanitarian atrocities the young dictator would perpetrate. This was a mere three years after Vogue wrote a piece about how his Harvard-educated wife was an elegantly dressed desert rose. Eventually her nickname became first lady of hell, which seems more fitting.
Anthony Weiner sexting scandal.
The existence of Anthony Weiner is proof that the Clintons don’t murder people, because if they did, this idiot (and sexual predator) would be dead. What started in 2011, with Andrew Breitbart cameoing in a nutso presser, would eventually end in the reopening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation just in time to throw the election to Donald J. Trump. Weiner’s “sexually explicit communications with a 15-year-old girl” (under the nom de prédateur Carlos Danger) managed to lead to the reopening of Hillary’s email investigation, which caused “The Comey Letter,” which, according to Nate Silver, “Probably Cost Clinton the Election.” Great job, Carlos.
In 2014, the Republican Congress decided that the then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton was responsible for the death of four Americans in an attack on a consulate in Libya in 2012. Hillary testified for eight plus hours. Thirty-three separate hearings were run at the cost of $6.8 million taxpayer dollars. In the end the Trump campaign was provided with tons of free oppo research, and Trey Gowdy got famous, so famous that he eventually quit Congress. Benghazi showed Republicans they could weaponize congressional hearings even more than than they did with the Clinton impeachment, this time without any factual basis to their charges whatsoever.
Obama tan suit debacle.
In August 28 2014, the president of the United States gave a press conference about Syria and did something that Rep Pete King declared “unpresidential”: He wore a tan suit. King said, "There’s no way any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday.” Seriously. About the tan suit.
The Paris attacks.
On Nov. 13, 130 people were murdered in coordinated attacks across Paris by gunmen and suicide bombers. Hundreds were left wounded in the largest attack in Paris since World War II. This was not the Charlie Hebdo attack, although that happened in the same year, in January, and claimed 12 lives.
The golden escalator ride.
It was all fun and games until he won the Electoral College, but it all started in midtown Manhattan when a dimwitted reality television star rode down a golden escalator and into our collective consciousnesses.
Nov. 8, 2016.
The day we elected a racist birther and not a woman. It was a grim revelation for many of us, but while she may have won the popular vote, she wasn’t able to charm the American people as much as a guy who came to political prominence on the idea that he had proof that Obama was born in Kenya.
“This is how you got Trump” think pieces.
From Salena Zito’s “Take Trump seriously not literally” pieces to everything Mollie Hemingway has ever written to more earnest efforts by far more respectable writers, the media tried very hard to make sense of Trumpism, and this begat a million profiles of the same five guys in a diner in Ohio.
The year of #MeToo.
We had known Harvey was a terrible person, but none of us had known he was a serial sexual predator. Well, in 2017 we learned all of it. The story was first broken by The New York Times (Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey) and The New Yorker (Ronan Farrow). The fall of Harvey Weinstein created a crack in the sexual assault ceiling. After it came the fall of Matt Lauer (2017) and Charlie Rose (2017) and Garrison Keillor (2017) and Louis C.K. (2017) and Les Moonves (2018) and Steve Wynn (2018), and dozens of other powerful male predators.
The solar eclipse.
It was the first solar eclipse in 99 years. We were warned to absolutely not under any circumstances look at it. One of the finest pictures from the event was of our stable genius president staring directly at it.
From September to October the right and the left went to war over Trump’s Supreme Court replacement for Anthony Kennedy. Christine Blasey Ford delivered moving devastating testimony, but it fell on largely partisan ears, with senators splitting almost entirely on partisan lines except for Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin. Ultimately Kavanaugh was confirmed, but not before there was lots of testimony, lots of tears, and the famous “I just like beer” speech.
Melania Trump makes her dimwitted stepdaughter-in-law look good by wearing a jacket emblazoned with "I Really Don't Care, Do U?” Probably not a great look for a first lady, but it was made significantly worse by the fact that she was on her way to visit incarcerated migrant children at the Texas-Mexico Border.
Jeffrey Epstein, the eroding of our government institutions, the continued jailing of immigrant children, and the slaughter of the Kurds.
I wasn’t able to pick just one atrocity for 2019, sorry. Trump continued to destroy the federal government and flaunt the Constitution. He also continued to jail immigrant children. In July, Epstein was arrested after a 2008 conviction and work release deal that proved the rich aren’t punished for their crimes the way the rest of us are. Finally, his numerous victims would get the justice that had eluded them for so many years… and then Epstein killed himself in his Metropolitan Correctional Center jail cell, robbing his victims of justice once again, and opening the door to preposterous conspiracy theories.
It’s hard to cook up a conspiracy crazy enough to make Donald Trump look like a global savior but this one, which involves child sex rings and Democrats and, oddly, JFK Jr., managed to thread that needle.
There you have it. The 1930s were worse. Worldwide Depression, Hitler, Stalin. But “Better Than the 1930s” ain’t much of a slogan.