NEWSWEEK 20/10 marks the first 10 years of the new century. What a remarkable show it’s been.
There is no such thing as a dull decade. The arc of history is long—to maul a line by Dr. Martin Luther King—and it bends toward stuff happening. Even the 1970s, generally regarded as the ugly stepdecade of the 20th century, played host to a White House scandal that sprawled on for months, metastasizing into the only presidential resignation in American history. Beat that, 1980s. (OK, no sweat: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the implosion of the Soviet Union …) Still, there are decades when a few earthquakes shuffle the terrain and jostle the nerves—and then there are decades when the world splits open to the boiling core and remakes itself.
Maybe after a generation or two have passed, the events of the 21st century’s first 10 years will recede in significance. With time, perhaps 9/11 will go back to being just another day in September. It sure seems unlikely from here. Indeed, the 10-year period beginning in 2000 has been marked by a string of colossal events that, in any other decade, would have been the undisputed story of their time. It has been a dazing and bedazzling era, almost biblical in its bookending events: the televised tragedy of 9/11 and the election of America’s first black president—a man whose name meant nothing to anyone outside of politics until just a few years before his ascension to the most powerful office in the world. Just think: Hurricane Katrina—a catastrophe so vast it nearly wiped off the map an entire American city—rates a distant, even debatable, third among this decade’s biggest headlines. The Boston Red Sox, trailed around by the Curse of Babe Ruth since 1919, finally won the World Series—twice!—but they, too, must get in line behind two ongoing wars, a global financial collapse, a cataclysmic tsunami, torture, Bernie Madoff, and on and on.
The one thing this decade hasn’t had, oddly, is a name. We could never seem to agree on one. Is it the Aughties? The Double-Zeroes? The Oh-Ohs? The 2K’s? The Zeds? It shouldn’t matter, except that it’s hard to wrap your arms around something when you don’t even know what to call it. “The ‘50s,” “the ‘60s”—for Americans, the terms conjure a specific, albeit oversimplified, portrait of those eras in America. But perhaps it’s fitting that this decade should remain stubbornly absent a name. It’s been too big, too vast, too cataclysmic, too transformative for just one.
And in any case, a decade is just an empty unit of time, arbitrarily walling off of events that exist both within and beyond them. They are mostly useful as a means to an end: when we get to the close of one decade, we use it as an excuse to indulge in two beloved pastimes, looking backward and making lists. As 2010 draws closer, Newsweek.com will be doing plenty of both. “NEWSWEEK 20/10” will commemorate the end of the decade by unveiling a series of top-10 lists over the next four weeks, each one surveying the past decade from a fresh perspective and featuring guest essays by some of the biggest names of the world, many of whom made the news they’ll be writing about. Additionally, thanks to a first-of-its-kind partnership with Facebook, NEWSWEEK is proud to offer readers the ability to reorder every one of the lists in “Newsweek 20/10.” It’s your chance to play along and tell us what we got wrong.
Along with our package of 20 lists, NEWSWEEK’s leading writers—a group that includes Fareed Zakaria on global affairs, Howard Fineman on U.S. politics, Daniel Gross on the economy, Sharon Begley on science, and Daniel Lyons on technology—will take turns over the coming days sharing “One Big Thought About the Decade.” We’ll also unveil a giant, decade-spanning slideshow, “120 Pictures, 120 Months,” in which our photography editors have chosen one picture to represent every month of the decade. (OK, technically, there are only 118 pictures because we haven’t gotten through the last two months of the decade yet. Once we get far enough into December, we promise to add in the 119th and 120th photographs in our series and complete the journey.) Finally, in the last week of November, we wrap things up with a game of alternative history called “The Gore Decade,” in which a series of writers imagine what the last 10 years would’ve looked like if Al Gore had won the coin-flip election of 2000—essentially, a retrospective of the decade that didn’t happen.
Every big show needs a curtain raiser, so click here to watch “The Decade in Seven Minutes,” a video mashup covering every major news event worth remembering over the last 10 years. And click here to dive into “NEWSWEEK 20/10’s” Big Lists, starting with the biggest of them all: the 10 Most Important Days of the Decade. Also, visit Living Social on Facebook to pick your top 5 most important dates of the decade.