Dispatch December 2009

The Top Pop Culture Moments of the Decade

From Radiohead and James Frey to Jackass and Jersey Shore, 10 daring and sometimes inane creative acts that defined the ’00s

2000: Kid A. Still fresh after nine years, despite its ubiquity at the time, Radiohead’s drifting alienation-operetta represented the pop-cultural mainstreaming of the panic attack. “I’m not here / This isn’t happening,” crooned Thom Yorke, as wafts of anomie were dispersed through the shoe-stores and boutiques.

2001: Grand Theft Auto III. GTA III was the year’s top selling video game, piloting the player into a 3D moral disaster area wherein he could ram pedestrians, pick up prostitutes, and shoot cops—all to a top-notch soundtrack. The only non-sociopathic thing about it was that you had to sit quietly in a room to play it.

2002: Jackass: The Movie. With their 54-second video stunt, in which a man in underpants and mouse-ears rolled fakir-style across a carpet of primed and snapping mousetraps, the Jackass crew exploded two decade’s worth of tired installation art. And then there was the one where they inhaled wasabi!

2003: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. The genre of the fake memoir, which would blossom throughout the decade and achieve its efflorescence this year in Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, was firmly planted by the amiable Frey with these many fake tales of hard-man druggie-ness. Me, I can never get over his tattoo: FTBSITTTD. Or: Fuck The Bullshit, It’s Time To Throw Down. Right on, brother!

2004: The Australian Pink Floyd do Dark Side of the Moon. Tribute bands came into their own in the ’00s, as rock ’n’ roll sank into a many-splendor’d dementia, and none was smoother or more personality-free than this one. Slightly better players than the original Floyd, these guys also had the idea to re-perform the entirety of Dark Side Of The Moon several years before it occurred to the album’s makers.

2005: Grizzly Man. Werner Herzog’s tragicomic documentary about wildlife nut Timothy Treadwell, eaten in Alaska by the bears he loved, presaged in a freaky way the philosophical conflict that would erupt a couple of years later with the coming of the New Atheists. Treadwell was no punk (“If I show weakness, I’m dead!”), but he looked in the eyes of a bear and beheld a promise of cosmic fidelity. Straight-man Herzog, dourly Germanic, saw only “the cold indifference of nature.” Which side are you on?

2006: Lee Siegel is suspended by The New Republic. Busted for pseudonymously aggrandizing himself in the comments thread to one of his own blog posts, Siegel endured a symbolic fate. Derision poured in from all corners of the Web, his editors grew pious, and old-school Parnassian journo-hood ceded its ground to the Age of Antagonism. Bloggers at the gates!

2007: The death of Whitney Balliett. Many great ones passed in these years, of course—Mailer, Bellow—but the four-decade achievement of New Yorker jazz critic Balliett had been so discreetly and unsprawlingly perfect that his going seemed a measurable adjustment to the universal balance of excellence. On Billie Holiday: “a dark-brown sound, sometimes fretted by growls or hoarseness, in the lower register; a pliable oboe tone in the high register; and a pushing, little-girl alto in between.”

2008: Personal Days by Ed Park. The debut novel from the editor of The Believer captured the precise moment in U.S. office culture before everybody got fired. Cleverer than Office Space, shorter than Then We Came To The End, this excellent little book sits gloating atop the ash-heap of corporate history.

2009: The City/Jersey Shore. Two MTV reality shows, and I can’t choose between them. The erotic rampages and end-of-the-world hot tubs of Jersey Shore are something to behold, but then again—one glimpse of the faces on The City, their affectless sheen and expression of bozo entitlement, tells you so clearly that you’re in 2009. I dunno—you decide.

Presented by

James Parker is an Atlantic contributing editor.

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