Where our decades actually fall: ’10s to the ’80s

I don’t remember why I started thinking about this, but the other day it occurred to me that our current decade actually began a couple years before 2010. Thinking about it further, I set the beginning of the 10’s at 2008 and began setting in and out points for other decades. These are the years I’ve settled on. Let me know in the comments if you agree or have a better set of durations for these decades.

The ’10s: 2008 – Present

I thiiiiiink the ’10s began in 2008 with the following:

  • The great recession walloped a generation, showing us that much of the past decade’s prosperity had been built on lies as we’d been manipulated by our country’s financial institutions.
  • The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, the historic moment that marked the break with the tradition of electing white men to run the country but also the beginning of the tea party movement, birtherism and the rejection of facts that were antecedents to Gamergate and the mainstreaming of the misanthropic right.
  • The release of 808’s and Heartbreak, which legitimized auto-tune as a creative choice and meant a decade of hearing autotuned and otherwise altered voices in pop songs.
  • Unlimited Netflix Instant Streaming becoming available to everyone on Netflix unlimited rental plans and Hulu launching to the public, ushering in a new era of TV and movie consumption.
  • Iron Man initiating the Marvel Cinematic Universe, putting the film franchise concept on steroids.

The ’00s: 2002 – 2008

This was a tough call because you could make a very strong case for 2003 being the break, but 2000 began in 2002 with the following:

  • The administration beginning to make the case for the invasion of Iraq, which had the effect of getting the country involved in two wars, one on false pretenses, leading the public to question not just politicians but the press that seemed complicit in making the case. The war would dominate politics for the rest of the decade and, eventually, create a vacuum into which ISIS would assert itself.
  • Between Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Star Wars Episode II, Men In Black II, Die Another Day, Ice Age, and Spider-Man, most of our top grossing movies were sequels or entries in franchises, beginning a trend that would reach a creative and economic culmination in the next decade.
  • Blogging goes mainstream. Though blogging had been around for a few years, 2002 was the year that blogging became big enough for people to take notice (Google would buy Blogger in 2003). Blogging was important because it accelerated the democratization of media and the emergence of participatory culture on the internet that would come to define the decade.
  • Justin Timberlake goes solo, leaving behind the Swedish, Max Martin pop sound that defined pop music in the late 90s, embracing Timbaland and Pharrel’s hip hop beats.

The ’90s: 1993 – 2002

I tend to believe that the 90s should be split into the early and late 90s (’97 as the line of demarcation), but let’s say that the 90s began in 1993 with the following:

  • Diddy and Dr. Dre issued the blueprints for the East Coast and West Coast sounds with their work on Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411? Remix and The Chronic (technically released in December 1992), respectively. These two figures would loom large over the 90s as their respective successes, solidified their record labels, Bad Boy and Death Row, spawning a hip hop tribalism that resulted in the early death of two hip hop legends, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
  • “Alternative” rock announced the emergence of a youth culture in rock music that was finally turning over the metal and hard rock that had dominated the 80s.
  • The fourth season of Seinfeld was when Seinfeld finally reached a mainstream audience and became popular. This was the meta-season of Seinfeld in which Seinfeld and George work on pitching Seinfeld to NBC. The rest of the decade, hip, urban sitcoms would dominate network lineups.
  • The World Wide Web had actually existed since 1991, but 1993 was the year that everything would change with the release of the first popular graphical web browser, Mosaic. This moved the internet from a pure text experience to a multimedia experience and made it palatable for mainstream audiences. This set the stage for widespread adoption of the internet, the thing that set the 90s apart from every decade that preceded it.

The ’80s: 1981 – 1993

This one is a bit more difficult to suss out, but I think this decade begins in 1981 with the following:

  • The release of the IBM PC, which ushered personal computing into the mainstream and helped establish Microsoft by allowing Microsoft to retain ownership of MS-DOS, which it was free to license to every other PC manufacturer.
  • MTV launches changing the way young people will consume and engage with music. This platform will launch my generation’s biggest pop stars.
  • President Ronald Reagan is inaugurated, and, despite recessions, the emergence of crack, a stock market crash, a rise in violent crime, and the Iran-Contra scandal, his Presidency will be seen as a gold standard for conservatives for decades to come.
  • The emergence of HIV/AIDS, which catalyzes the LGBTQ political movement and radically alters our understanding of the consequences of drug use and sexual behavior.
  • Also, this was on 20/20:


I think this is where I’m going to stop. I have the experience of having lived through these decades and can kind of use my gut to help me place these markers. I would have no idea where to place markers for the other decades. So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know.



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