Roasted Grouse with Salted Needles: A Curmudgeon’s New Year’s Feast

Call me the reluctant list maker, acutely offended in at least two ways by the popularity of listing as a mode of both critical thought and of literary organization:

2) Ranking is the coarsest, least illuminating form of interpretation. As soon as you commit to it (and it requires monogamous rhetorical commitment), you forfeit all other critical tools. Ranking supercedes, steamrolls every other more nuanced way of talking about shit. People only want to know who wins. They probably aren’t even skimming your rationales and justifications — they are peeking ahead to make sure it is still Hendrix on top. Sure, arts and culture are in some ways a competition for hearts and minds and for the limited bandwidth of public attention (now that there are no more limitations on the bandwidth of distribution), but rank, uncontextualized listing is way over-privileged in our critical discourse, dude. Resist.

And, finally, drumroll, the number-one reason I hate lists:

1) Listing is the cheapest, easiest, most contemptible way out of the challenge of writing, of making meaning and holding an argument together. A list is a prefab structure promising the illusion of order and coherence. Lists are dead thought. You don’t need to tend your themes or sculpt your transitions. Just move on to the next number. List-based writing brings out the bot in us all.


And speaking of cheap structures of meaning we would do better without, decades and their endings are garbage when it comes to explaining anything: pure wishful numerology and prefab vehicles for the pooling of our nostalgia. Truth does not recognize your bar lines, Mr. Decade; and if you, reader, wish to hear the actual musical phrases of history and culture playing through time, you’ll need to be able to follow the tunes across the zeroes.

There is no reset button. But decade resets, alas, are often all we have for the telling of our cultural narrative. We have the ’60s (hooray). We have the ’80s (boooo). We think we know what they mean. They are thus meaningful to the extent that we believe they are. Decades reveal the power of the frame itself to make coherent whatever falls within its borders, to make art of the damnedest random shit ever thrown up against a wall. It is the power of the frame to make us make the connections, the same way that many spiritually inclined people imagine that everything that happens to them is an encoded message and lesson from the Higher Power. And so it is, via the interpretive act itself. I am sure that we could do better than decade-based history, but we probably won’t. Decades are too much fun, with their crazy dances and sweaters.

And so without further ado, here are the five most important cultural developments of the 2010s.

  1. In Music: The democratization of recording technology and knowledge, the suddenly limitless bandwidth of distribution (in which your Spotify page looks just like Beyonce’s Spotify page) and the global demonetization of the industry (or at least the gutting of its professional middle class) has created a not-entirely-accidental set of cultural conditions in which the worst music is much, much better than it used to be (a higher floor), but the best music is arguably worse than it used to be (lower ceiling).
  2. In Television: It will take us more meaningless decades to fully understand the long-term effects of the educated class’s addiction to the streaming series. Certainly, it is not an entirely accidental development. We are seized, crippled by a surfeit of great, long-form storytelling. Somewhere, in some new world order backroom, the value of Ozark, Fleabag and Peaky Blinders is measured in the number of hours they idle and occupy the thoughtful people of the world.
  3. In Film: I thought that AfterMan really revolutionized the superhero genre and I wish had done better at the box office: Our first fully depressed hero spoke to me.
  4. In Politics:
  5. In Fashion: Regarding my public mien, my pal and bandmate Sammi Niss delicately suggested in the late 2010s that I might start tucking in my shirt and “owning the bump.” It was a victory of acquiescence, owning my age and a now fully settled position outside the circumference of cultural relevance. This, I would say, is the biggest single fashion development of the 2010s.