US

The Twenty Tens

US
By Sameen Amer
Fri, 01, 20

One step forward, two steps back! Here’s a look at the adventures of humankind in the second decade of the twenty-first century:

Politics

Tabdeeli was in the air, but change didn’t always live up to its potential. Political movements against authoritarianism and corruption resulted in the downfall of leaders but did little to fix regional or global issues. Arab Spring turned to Arab Winter. Unrest became commonplace. Elections brought surprising people to power – a reality TV personality unexpectedly became the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world; a former cricketer took the reins of our own democracy.

Longstanding regional conflicts remained unresolved. A referendum caused a curious amount of kerfuffle in the European Union. Whistleblowers and leaks unveiled the wrongdoings of governments, politicians, and businesses. North Korea expanded its nuclear capabilities. China rose in power and prominence, while its leader had a meltdown every time someone compared him to Winnie the Pooh.

The beast of terrorism affected almost all corners of the globe. The rise of ISIS opened a whole new can of worms, while Al Qaeda’s infamous leader met his end in a U.S. raid in Abbottabad.

Society

Socio-political polarization increased as people seemed more interested in building walls instead of bridges in the 2010s.

Few topics proved to be as divisive as illegal immigration. The migrant crisis raised concerns for those who were fleeing strife, but the way we chose to deal with the displaced didn’t always reflect positively on us as a species.

Time and again the world also got a reminder that we were failing those around us who were suffering from mental health issues. The deaths of people like Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Anthony Bourdain, and Robin Williams highlighted that when it comes to dealing with mental health problems, we as a society still have a long way to go. Issues related to drugs and alcohol abuse also stole the likes of Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, and Mac Miller from the world, as well as countless other people whose names we may not know but whose deaths were just as tragic and unnecessary.

But don’t despair for humankind just yet, because we did make several strides in the right direction as well. We stood up against the one percent as we faced matters like economic inequality and rising inflation. We tried to improve conditions for so many groups often considered powerless. We fought for women’s rights and helped them bring down abusers. And we were blessed to have beacons of light like Abdul Sattar Edhi guiding our way.

Technology

It was a decade defined, shaped, and reshape by technology. Tech made a huge impact on all facets of our lives. People may not have been getting smarter, but devices sure were. Smart technology – phones, tablets, watches, televisions, glasses – took over the world and changed the way we interacted with people, consumed information, and performed various everyday activities. Apple was a major player in these developments, even after the death of Steve Jobs, who was one of the main forces early on behind the popularization of smartphones and tablets.

The growing prominence of social media gave celebrities yet another way to peddle their latest products while bombarding us with selfies, and gave teenagers yet another way to develop an inferiority complex. The socials also played a role in everything from the propagation of fake news to helping socio-political movements gather momentum. Also, we always knew what everyone was having for lunch so that was super helpful.

The emergence of streaming platforms changed the way we consumed entertainment. Cord cutters said goodbye to cable and embraced streamers. Music, movies, television series … everything was available at the click of a button or touch of a screen.

Cryptocurrencies gained popularity as digital assets. Online shopping replaced many a trip to the store. Amazon became an e-commerce giant and Jeff Bezos became a bazillionaire. (Alexa, remind Bezos to treat his workers better.)

Environment

Extinctions of flora and fauna, increasing pollution, toxic smog, widespread bushfires … 2010s clearly didn’t go too well for poor old Earth. Upon realizing that we were the villains in the story of our planet, we did try to make some amends, although we could have done a lot more had we not wasted a stupid amount of time debating whether climate change was real.

Music

Who run the world? Girls, obviously. Just ask Beyoncé. Female artists ruled the decade, especially its first half, with the likes of Queen Bey (who released two universally praised albums and impressed with her historic Beychella performance) and Adele (who won acclaim with two of the decade’s best selling albums) making a sizable impact. Also, Rihanna and Katy Perry perfected the art of making chart-toppers, Taylor Swift dominated the zeitgeist with her polarizing antics, while pop newcomer Ariana Grande ended up becoming the queen of streaming.

Several lads, too, saw much success in the 2010s. Few artists could rival the popularity of the ubiquitous Drake, who became the most streamed artist of the decade. Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran built huge fanbases, One Direction turned into a phenomenon, and Kanye West stayed in the limelight, both for his music and behaviour.

It was a decade dominated by R&B and hip hop, but the proliferation of streaming made it easy for fans of everything from indie to experimental music to discover and listen to artists of their preference. The Internet also turned tunes like ‘Gangnam Style’, ‘Despacito’, and even ‘Baby Shark’ (doo doo doo doo doo doo … and good luck getting that out of your head now!) into global hits. Also, K-pop was suddenly huge for some reason.

Here at home, recycled music was in vogue via Coke Studio while newer artists got the chance to reach an audience via online platforms.

Movies

Superheroes conquered the cinematic world as Marvel created the most successful franchise in movie history. No one could compete with the might of the Avengers who reigned supreme for the entire decade. The escapades of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and co. enthralled movie enthusiasts, and Endgame, the climactic offering of the Infinity Saga, became the highest grossing film of all time, earning a mindboggling sum of over US$2.7 billion. The success of the series also helped make Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson the highest grossing actor and actress respectively. MCU also trumped DCEU, although the latter did find success with some of its offerings.

Disney dominated the decade, making a killing at the box office with franchises like the Avengers and Star Wars, as well as a slew of adaptations, remakes, and reboots.

3D gained popularity, as did streaming, with Netflix releasing some terrific – and some not-so-terrific – films.

Pakistani cinema also churned out a number of movies, but none gained global traction, although Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary work did earn her much acclaim abroad. The most prominent local movie of the decade was Nadeem Baig’s Jawani Phir Nahi Ani 2 (2018) which broke all-time earnings records.

Television

The Golden Age of Television was upon us, not only with the release of terrific series like the incomparable Breaking Bad and the immensely popular Game of Thrones, but with the expansion of streaming services which allowed for the creation of complex, terrific content while making entertainment available to a global audience. Hulu and Amazon Video had their share of successes, but Netflix was the undisputed king of streaming, thanks to its vast library as well as acclaimed original offerings like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Stranger Things.

Pakistan’s biggest international success in television was the animated Burka Avenger, which earned a Peabody Award as well as an International Emmy nomination and was also dubbed in various languages and aired in other countries. And our TV (melo)dramas continued to resonate with the local audience.

Books

The most prominent books of the 2010s were – unsettlingly – the three Fifty Shades of Grey instalments, which proved, once and for all, that humans are a truly disturbing species. E. L. James was one of the many female authors – including Suzanne Collins, Kathryn Stockett, Paula Hawkins, Gillian Flynn, and Veronica Roth – who were responsible for some of the most-read novels of the decade.

Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid continued to be one of the most prominent novelists of the country with the publication of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013) and Exit West (2017).

While fiction still accounted for the most successful books of the last ten years, nonfiction did gain more popularity. Memoirs – like Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala, written with Christina Lamb, which was lauded in the West but proved more controversial back home, and Michelle Obama’s Becoming (2018) – were widely read, as were pop science books by the likes of Yuval Noah Harari and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Sports

Several scandals hit the sporting world in the 2010s. FIFA dealt with bribery allegations. Lance Armstrong fell from grace when he was stripped of all his achievements for using performance-enhancing drugs over the course of his career. Russia was in the news an awful lot primarily for two things: election meddling and doping; so this was clearly a great decade for them.

The sporting world also saw remarkable individuals wowing us with their remarkable skills and feats. The likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic ruled men’s tennis; Serena Williams excelled in the women’s game. Football players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were assets for their respective teams. And Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps just made the rest of us wonder if we are even the same species as they are, because if so, then how depressingly useless are we in comparison?

Also, lots of different countries won lots of different Olympic medals in lots of different sports. Pakistan obviously wasn’t among them.

As we enter the next decade, here’s hoping that fidget spinners aren’t the only thing we leave behind in the 2010s, and that menaces like intolerance, violence, bigotry, and the Kardashians don’t follow us into the 2020s; we’d certainly be better off without them.