In some ways, The Oughts was much like The '90s — however, there were a few key differences that will be highlighted here.
Headlines & Daily Life:
On September 11th, four commercial airliners were hijacked by nineteen terrorists from the Islamist militia Al-Qaeda. Two of them were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City (one plane for each tower), the third divebombed into the Pentagon in Washington DC. On the fourth plane, bound for either the White House or Capitol, the passengers were able to deduce the motives of the hijackers after learning from relatives about the attacks on New York and DC and banded together to take back control of the plane and return it to safety. The hijackers, however, counterattacked by crashing the plane in a field just outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania; the passengers are now revered for what is considered a Heroic Sacrifice. Back in NYC, the Twin Towers collapsed as a result of fires caused by the plane crashes, causing the destruction of the rest of the World Trade Center & the surrounding area and causing widespread air pollution with serious health problems to go with it. Discounting the 19 hijackers, the attacks killed 2,978 people total (the most recent victim died in 2015 of health complications caused by the towers' collapse), making it the deadliest terrorist attack in recorded history. If you're really too young to remember, it was a HUGE deal when it happened, on par with the attack on Pearl Harbor (then-president George W. Bush even compared the two attacks in his journal the following evening). Like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 was a breeding ground for conspiracytheorists, though the aforementioned explanation is the most commonly accepted version of events.
In the same year, The Netherlands became the first nation in the world to allow same-sex marriages.
In 2002, the new decade saw a new country become a free, independent nation. East Timor broke free of Indonesia's oppressive rulenote This is part of the 1998 Reformation movement, which transformed the government into a democratic one. The Indonesians let them go, no-questions-asked-no-compensations-demanded, as they see the control of East Timor as part of the despicable military hegemony. and became the world's youngest Asian democracy.
In 2003, America lost its second Space Shuttle with the breakup of Columbia during reentry. This tragic event all but heralded the end of the US manned space program, although sporadic launches would still occur throughout the decade as it wrapped things up. However, thanks to SpaceShipOne and a desperate-for-cash Russian space program, space tourism and private space travel took their first faltering steps to being a reality... but only for the super-rich. Dennis Tito was the first tourist in space in 2000. By the end of the decade, this would fall from super-rich to merely really-rich (although the really rich would only make it to the edge of orbit and a few minutes of weightlessness.
In 2005, the Kyoto Protocol came into force (although the protocol itself was adopted earlier), and by now 191 states have signed and ratified the protocol. It is the most famous symbol of world-wide action with the stated aim of reducing climate change.
Barack Obama was elected President of the United States and sworn in the following year, making him the first black man to do so.
A long-coming, massive economic bubble burst in the US, resulting in an economic recession that almost, but not quite, rivaled the Great Depression in terms of fallout. The effects resonated throughout the world, resulting in the collapse of the Greek and Irish economies, hideously high unemployment worldwide, and other terrible consequences (such as the appearance of "ghost towns" throughout the Iberian peninsula: fully constructed, modern cities that have been abandoned). The economic crisis, in the US, resulted in a backlash against "corrupt banks" and a business-friendly Congress, culminating in such events as the Occupy Wall Street movement and a closer scrutiny of banking policies and practices.
Moral Guardians were no less frantic than they were in the previous decade; video games (particularly Grand Theft Auto) remained a popular whipping boy, but the main crux of their efforts was meant to do something about this whole LGBT rights thing.
Issues from the 90's like popular music and violence on television, however, were mostly left alone by around this time.
In spite of conservative opposition, however, the decade was a major tipping point regarding public views of homosexuality. Over the course of the Oughts, especially in more liberal areas and among young people, homophobia quickly became on par with racism in terms of social taboos, and people who opposed gay rights tended to be viewed as overly-religious and out-of-touch whackjobs. By the end of the decade, words like "fag/faggot" and similar epithets required N-Word Privileges to use, and same-sex marriage, considered unthinkable in the 20th century, was legalized in Washington, D.C. (in 2009), five US states note Massachusetts in 2004, Connecticut in 2008, and Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire in 2009 (though NH's law only came into effect at the start of 2010) , Mexico City, and seven countries on three continents note the Netherlands in 2001, Belgium in 2003, Spain and Canada in 2005, South Africa in 2006, and Norway and Sweden in 2009 . This trend has continued into the 2010s.
Of course, a certain amount of backlash against gay marriage (though, notably, not against civil unions) still did occur, most notably in California, whose attempt to legalize gay marriage proved short-lived. It's also fair to say that more traditional attitudes still tended to prevail among certain groups, most notably some ethnic minorities and religious communities, even in otherwise liberal areas.
With news media reporting fast over the web, politics took something of a center stage in the American consciousness, though the divisive tactics of the era can be traced back to 1972. The most notable change in politics in this era is both the speed of information spreadnote While the nightly TV news has been around for decades, the Internet meant that voters could stay up-to-date with little difficulty, with hourly and even minute-by-minute reporting, which resulted in far more information being available and the accessibility of the samenote Similarly, the TV news and newspapers were no longer the only sources available. Fact checking became de rigeur, exposing the common practice among politicians of making stuff up. "Gotcha" moments became increasingly common, and arguably sunk John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid..
The state of television was rocked very suddenly by the decreased cost of DVDs and Internet access. This time period has become thought of as a "Silver Age" of television.
The "Big Four" US networks were constantly in a state of flux. While NBC held on at the beginning of the decade, after the end of Friends, they started to slip towards the bottom. CBS had a couple of hits in Everybody Loves Raymond, CSI and NCIS, which propelled them back to the top, where they remained for most of the decade. ABC languished in low ratings in the first half of the decade, then the premieres of Desperate Housewives and Lost gave them the footing they needed to claw their way out of the basement. Finally, FOX stumbled upon a little show named American Idol that would go on to launch several careers and would become the decade's highest-rated show (it could be expected to pull in about 30 million on a bad night). The other two broadcast networks (UPN and The WB) merged in the middle of the decade, but that didn't really help either of them.
Cable programming truly came into its own; HBO, backed by such hits as The Sopranos and Sex and the City, developed a reputation as the best producer of episodic television for quite a few years. Those two shows could usually be counted on to sweep the Emmys anytime they were nominated. Showtime would join them in prestige towards the end of the decade with hits like Nurse Jackie and Dexter. AMC and FX would also join in the original-programming game later on, with fantastic results (Mad Men and Breaking Bad for the former, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for the latter). Additionally, the USA Network has put out a string of successful shows, most notably Monk, which gave star Tony Shalhoub eight Emmy nominations (and three wins). Added to that the success of shows such as White Collar and Burn Notice, and USA at times seems to be in better shape that its "parent" network, NBC.
Ratings were starting to become less of a be-all-end-all for deciding a show's staying power. When Family Guy was cancelled by Fox, strong DVD sales and solid ratings from re-runs on [adult swim] allowed it to return back to the airwaves with new episodes - and it's still running to this day, with more episodes post-cancellation than pre-cancellation. Firefly was also another show resurrected by DVD sales, and that got a movie in the form of Serenity.
Similarly, networks and studios began to recognize the importance of shows with a "cult audience". Low-rated but very beloved shows such as Supernatural and Mad Men seem "safer" and have higher chances of renewal than previous cult favorites such as Firefly and Veronica Mars. In short, the powers-that-be have begun to realize that a smaller but much more devoted audience can be just as good as, if not better than a larger but much more passive audience who only are watching because they can't find anything else on.
In the UK, Doctor Who finally made a comeback in 2005, and for the first time it reached American shores on schedule. It spun off twoshows featuring former companions of the Doctor as team leaders.
The fairly standard motoring show Top Gear was rebooted into its current magazine/challenge/three men goofing around format in 2002, giving us the team of James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson. The show receives many accolades and 350 million viewers worldwide.
In Australia, there was a huge surge in home-made scripted satire. The meteoric rise to fame of the controversy-courting shows of Chris Lilley and The Chaser's War on Everythingnote In the case of The Chaser's War on Everything its success went global, and it aired in countries such as the UK, Finland, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, and Poland, the run of the subversive Pizza, and Kath and Kim's premiere and ascension to national icon status, all occurred in this decade. Most of these shows originated on The ABC.
Speaking of The ABC, this was the decade the network launched Australia's first and only free-to-air kids' channel, ABC3 (which incidentally brought more cartoons and anime onto Australian airwaves).
Lostsparked a wave of new dramas. These dramas were often mysterious, Myth Arc-based serials that followed their progenitor's formula - lots and lots of questions, weird things happening, mysterious characters, and so forth. However, this fad was short-lived, as many of the Lost clones didn't make it to a second season - if they even made it to the end of their first.
The thing that really defined 2000s cinema can be summarized in three letters: CGI. Love It or Hate It, CGI completely changed the field in terms of special effects and film-making. This was further pioneered towards the end of the decade by films like Avatar and District 9.
However, it should be noted that Marvel is doing much better in this regard than its counterpart DC is. Marvel has had great success with Spider-Man and the Avengers films. DC, on the other hand, has only really struck gold with the Batman films. Superman Returns slightly underperformed and got mixed reviews, culminating in the reboot Man of Steel. DC just seems to be having trouble getting into the Comic Movie groove. Perhaps the ultimate example of DC's failures at movie adaptations is Constantine. Most didn't even know it was a comic book movie until they saw the DC logo on the screen in the opening titles. Those who knew about Hellblazer going into the theaters were beyond disappointed long before the end credits rolled. However, there were a series of films based on DC Comics publications that were successful even if the public didn't know about the source material: A History of Violence, V for Vendetta and Road to Perdition, the last of which won an Academy Award.
In terms of critical clout, The Dark Knight represented a tipping point for comic book films. Whereas in the early part of the year, they were viewed as dumb, bright, mindless fun, 2008's The Dark Knight saw an unprecedented amount of critical acclaim, even ending up on several "best movies of 2008" lists. It was also the first comic book movie to compete for an acting Oscar, which it wonnote Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger as the Joker.
The Lord of the Rings films also proved a massive draw, and made the world familiar with the mountains of New Zealand. This led to a brief revival of the epic Heroic Fantasy genre on the big screen. In 2004, history was made when The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, thus becoming both the first film sequel to win the top prize without its predecessor having already won it note Unless you count The Silence of the Lambs, which was a quasi-sequel to Manhunterand the first "fairy-tale" epic movie to beat out more "serious" or "historical" works.
The Pirates of the Caribbean series was a surprise success and had the world asking "Where has all the rum gone?" and muttering "Savvy?" at the slightest provocation.
On the darker side of things, the Noughties were also when the MPAA's monopoly over the film industry was in full swing. NC-17 movies were given a harder time than ever, and studios would pay behind the back to have their movies get a PG-13. The ratings in general were stricter and more conservative than in previous decades. Around this time, the MPAA was also responsible for the infamous "You Wouldn't Steal A Car" PSA.
Three trends dominated North American horror cinema in the 2000s. Early in the decade remakes of (and films influenced by) Japanese ghost movies, starting with The Ring making a killing at the box office. This style was known as J-Horror, or sometimes the "ghost-girl" genre.
Later in the decade saw the rise of "Torture Porn", a phrase that seems to have been coined by critic David Edelstein of New York Magazine. The success of 2004's Saw and 2006's Hostel (and their sequels) let to a glut of imitators in the second half of the 2000s, such as Turistas and Captivity, all of which were splatter movies that relied on extended sequences of torture for most of their scares. The late-decade success of Paranormal Activity started to turn the tide back toward low-key ghost stories.
It was a bit of mournful decade for literature, with the 2000s seeing the deaths of Douglas Adams, David Gemmell, L. Sprague de Camp and many others. In 2007, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's, that would ultimately result in his death halfway through the next decade.
The Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys franchises both hit their 80th anniversaries in this decade, the Hardys in 2007, Nancy in 2010. Both original series were retired, and replaced with more contemporary updates. Nancy Drew: Girl Detective and Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers were unveiled in 2004 and 2005, and have breathed new life into the characters. Nancy Drew has also been going on as a very successful PC game franchise, revealing its twenty-fourth title, The Captive Curse in 2011.
The Harry Potter series, while starting in the late '90s, reached the apex of its popularity in the early '00s. It proved so popular that in 2000, the New York Times bestseller list was split into adults' and children's sections due to how the first three Potter books were so thoroughly dominating the list. Starting in 2001, the film adaptations proved themselves to be solid bankable blockbusters for Warner Bros., becoming the highest-grossing film series in history. The books are often credited with nearly single-handedly restoring children's interest in reading at the dawn of the digital age, as well as both creating a boom in new fantasy and children's literature and renewed interest in older fantasy novels, such as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia (both of which also received successful film adaptations).
Starting in 2005, the Twilight series became, in many ways, the Distaff Counterpart to Harry Potter. It turned into a pop culture sensation, especially once the movies started coming out late in the decade. Like Potter before it, it sparked interest in various literary genres, this time Young Adult novels and books based around paranormal creatures (vampires, werewolves, etc.). In addition, it took the romanticization of vampires that began with Anne Rice and Buffy and brought it to new heights, leaving an impact on vampire lore almost as great as Dracula. For this reason (andmanyothers), the series has proven to be verypolarizing, with both an enormous fandom and an equally large hatedom.
A New Wave Music revival came out of the aforementioned movement very quickly. Vancouver band Hot Hot Heat was one of the earliest successes, followed by loads and loads of (mostly British) artists. As websites like The AV Club and Pitchfork Media became the industry tastemakers instead of magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone, New Wave Revival became synonymous with smart, versatile music.
Starting around the midpoint of the decade, people began to stop buying compact discs and started purchasing their music online. While the forerunner to this idea was undoubtedly the illegal filesharing networks of the early decade (such as Napster), by the end, there were a plethora of legal music delivery options, including iTunes, YouTube, and for part of the decade, MySpace. Online music and social media platforms meant that plenty of artists and bands who wouldn't be heard on mainstream radio (for various reasons) could find success. The aforementioned Arctic Monkeys was the first band to achieve mainstream success by giving away their songs for free.
As CD sales started to slip, sales of vinyl LPs began to sharply rise for many reasons: increased demand from music listeners who believed that LPs had superior sound than CDs, record buyers who were sick of the Loudness War and were willing to pay a premium to no longer deal with it, the increased popularity of indie rock (a genre which had always released music on vinyl, including exclusive tracks only available on vinyl releases), and the fact that record playing technology had quietly advanced (including experiments with digital playback instead of reliance on needles that wore out after time) since its phasing out as a major music platform. Major labels embraced the return of the format, as LPs are quite a sight more difficult to burn to a computer than a CD.
Speaking of digital distribution, Jonathan Coulton became the first artist to make a living solely from digital distribution, through a combination of iTunes-style "preview and pay for individual songs" model, nerd appeal, and tons of free advertising and publicity by said nerds.
A new format, FLAC, for music started to emerge for audiophiles who wanted to store their music digitally, but thought they were destroying its quality using lousy compression methods like MP3. FLAC is a lossless compression method, so it plays back exactly as the original. It started gaining popularity late into the decade when the amount of storage necessary to archive dozens of CDs was becoming cheaper.
Whilst CD sales never quite managed to fall to zero, the audio cassette did completely die during this decade. Up until maybe 2001 or so, it was still possible to find cassette versions of popular music alongside their corresponding CD releases; by the end of the decade, one would have a hard time finding even blank tapes. CD players had already become standard equipment in new cars by the start of the decade, negating one advantage cassettes had enjoyed: portability. As digital audio players became even cheaper and had increasingly higher capacities, it simply wasn't worth having the medium around as a portable music format when you could store the equivalent of dozens (if not hundreds) of tapes in a device smaller than your average tape Walkman, and without the disadvantages of background hiss or your tapes getting chewed up. Unlike vinyl, which provides much better quality and durability than cassettes, retro appeal wasn't enough to save them.
And speaking of the Loudness War, it reached its apex/nadir in this decade (after kicking off late in the preceding one), with nearly every single major label release being brickwalled to the point where even the average, non-audiophile music listener started to notice it. People began to dread the re-releases of classic albums out of fear that their dynamics would be ruined in the name of MAXIMUM LOUDNESS.
The other major controversial application of computer technology to music in the Oughts was Auto-Tune, a pitch correction software first released in 1997 that spread like wildfire through the music industry. Use of Auto-Tune was mainly reserved for its intended purpose until 2005 (with a few exceptions, namely Cher's 1999 song "Believe") when rapper T-Pain used the technology to distort his voice into a robotic, artificial sound. Countless rappers, pop stars and R&B singers followed suit, to the point where Auto-Tune distortion became the new normal in popular music — and all the while, other musicians kept using it to remove any imperfections from their singing. Needless to say, both applications are very controversial — the pitch correction for making every singer sound nearly identical, and the distortion for being unoriginal — and mere mention of Auto-Tune can start a Flame War.
Indie Rock became a very viable genre, with some of the bands in the genre leaving for major labels, although many stayed independent. Many of the bands in the genre would have Top 100 albums in the United States - where once that would have been unthinkable - due to the fact that most indie rock fans (as well as fans of other specialist genres, such as jazz and alternative hip-hop) actually still care about listening to a full album, instead of a few singles cherry-picked off of it like many fans of Top 40 radio.
Other tidbits from this busy little decade: Metallica checked into rehab and made an excruciating documentary. The once-mighty Pantera broke up, and guitarist Dimebag Darrell was subsequently murdered on-stage in late 2004. Opeth came out of the shadows and began to inspire something like religious awe among their smallish fanbase. Thanks to Evanescence, the vast symphonic compositions of Soprano and Gravel bands fronted by women (such as Within Temptation) briefly took off before crashing again when Nightwish fired Tarja.
And of course, inspired by the younger bands, many old campaigners got their acts together and hit their second wind -– Slayer got Dave Lombardo back, Iron Maiden got Bruce Dickinson back, Dave Mustaine reformed Megadeth, and even Metallica found a bass player who wasn't a fan Butt-Monkey. Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society came out of Ozzy's shadow, even though Ozzy himself was still releasing albums and touring regularly. And best of all, the Moral Guardians left them all right the hell alone. Overall, the decade felt good, man.
Rap music, particularly Glam Rap, threw off its violent stigma and became mainstream in the Oughts, led by such artists as T-Pain, Lil Jon, Jay-Z and Pitbull. White people who listened to rap were no longer stereotyped as disaffected middle-class youth clinging to an alien subculture, but rather, were viewed in much the same way as fans of any other type of pop music — possibly a bit conformist, but otherwise normal. Late in the decade, rap musicians were instrumental in the rise of the aforementioned Auto-Tune distortion technique... and also instrumental in the backlash against Auto-Tune. The rise of glam rap has caused a lot of consternation from hip-hop "purists" and older fans who feel that the genre has abandoned its roots in favor of commercialization, and that mainstream rappers are squeezing out the underground and making it harder for them to get recognition. A comparison can be made to the cycle that rock music went through in the '70s and '80s, with radio-friendly Progressive Rock and Hair Metal versus anti-commercial Punk Rock and Alternative Rock.
Electronic Music in general had a mixed time through the Oughts. While Americans (and to a lesser extent, Canadians) generally preferred the more raw styles of the aforementioned genres and pure electronic was relegated strictly to clubs and its very small niche fandom (Eminem rapping about how "nobody listens to techno" on his 2004 hit song "Without Me" sounded like a simple statement of fact rather than his trademark provocationsnote The immediately preceding line, which had a Take That! aimed at Moby, calling him a "bald-headed fag", is a helpful reminder that this era's dance music hatred came with a helping of old-fashioned homophobia, just like it did in the disco era.), the rest of the world (mainly Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia and South America) had massive scenes for the many subgenres of electronic music. Trance, techno and House Music artists found continued steady success internationally, pulling massive numbers of fans to festivals and equal amounts of listeners on their Internet radio shows while genres like dubstep, Drum And Bass and Hardcore Techno subgenres (gabber, happy hardcore, and hardstyle) were being developed through this decade. It wouldn't be until The New '10s that electronic music would take the American pop charts and music fandom by storm.
Proving that there is indeed somebody upstairs answering prayers, Led Zeppelin briefly reunited in late 2007. In fact, many bands popular in the '70s and '80s held reunions during this period.
Visual Kei began to grow in popularity. With the spread of the internet, bands new and old, ranging from Oshare pop-punk to dark Heavy Metal began to gain attention and respect among fans worldwide. (And as a result, non- Visual Kei Japanese Heavy Metal bands also began to gain fans outside of Japan — note Loudness and Galneryus getting more attention) The genre actually began to decline somewhat in Japan itself along with Heavy Metal, but as the decade ended, old bands began to reunite and reform (X Japan and Luna Sea being two of the most well known) and both declared intentions toward success outside of Japan.
Radiohead followed up their 1997 masterwork OK Computer with 2000's weird, largely electronic, often guitarless Kid A. Although initially a Love It or Hate It album that caused a Broken Base, it became embraced by the band's fanbase almost entirely by decade's end. The band's next two albums, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief continued their acclaim streak. Then 2008, the band broke from EMI and released In Rainbows on their website. The day it was announced. For whatever price you pleased, including free. Whereas a sizable chunk of the downloads were indeed listed as $0.00, many fans chose to pay and others paid for a premium option that included exclusive music. Even after all this, when the record was actually physically released by indie label XL Records a few months later, it still debuted at #1 in both the US and UK.
Country Music entered a weird time during this decade. While country has been developing a pop feel since Garth Brooks in the early 90's, this decade's country music, especially during the second half of the decade, had a pop flair that was much more organic (previous country-pop acts such as Shania Twain and Faith Hill started much more traditionally, but developed pop leanings later). The latest batch of country artists were under the age of thirty and grew up in the wake of the massive success of Madonna and Michael Jackson (as did everybody) and obviously have had this bleed over into their music. Taylor Swift (before she shifted to a full pop style by the next decade) is the most famous, but others such as Carrie Underwood, Sugarland, Thompson Square, Lady Antebellum and Gloriana are right behind her. Of course, this has also caused a massiveBroken Base in country music as well.
Latin Americans saw the decline of "Tropical" music (read salsa, merengue derivatives, and Caribbean-sounding pop) on the airwaves in favor to the rise of reggaeton. Around 2003, from seemingly nowhere note Unless you were a follower of the underground Panamanian and Puerto Rican rap/reggae scene since The '90s, a massive amount of Puerto Rican (and in some cases, Venezuelan and gringo Hispanics) singers rapping innuendo over synthesized reggae took over most Spanish-speaking stations in Latin America, the USA and Spain. Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Tito "El Bambino", Calle 13, Winsin & Yandel, Pitbull and dozens of others invaded the airwaves and their songs became insanely popular. Controversies arose because of the sexually explicit natures of many songs and of the obligatory dance, the "perreo" note a predecessor of what is now known as "twerking" in Anglo circles, drawing criticism from the local Moral Guardians.
Subverted with bachata, a genre in the tropical music from the Dominican Republic, which had gained a following at the beginning of the decade. New York-based Dominican groups such as Aventura and Xtreme popularized bachata for the urban crowd, albeit their popularity only exploded near the end of the decade.
Ballads were still popular in the Latin pop, though the bolero music that was popular in the '90s had begun to wane shortly after the turn of the millennium. By the end of the decade, Latin pop has become associated with pop/rock singers such Luis Fonsi, Juanes, and Camila.
Regional Mexican music was dominated by banda (a brass-form of Mexican music) and norteño.
Speaking of Mixed Martial Arts, it too exploded in popularity during the Oughts, emerging as a serious competitor to pro wrestling and boxing. Having spent much of The '90s being viewed as a real-life Blood Sport and banned in 36 states, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (the leading promoter of the sport) implemented new rules and safety regulations that made the sport more respectable in the eyes of its critics, leading to it growing in popularity across the country. By the end of the decade, UFC programming reached five continents, fighters like Randy Couture and Gina Carano had become celebrities in the non-sporting world, MMA clothing brands like Tapout and Affliction could be found in the wardrobes of millions of young men, and movies like Never Back Down and Warrior prominently featured the young sport.
It was also during this decade that the English Premier League really began to flex its financial muscles, bringing in the best foreign players. This brought sustained international success for the first time since the early 80's with two English teams (Liverpool and Manchester United) winning the Champions League and five straight years of there being at least one English team in the final - and in the 2008/09 season, both teams were English, and . This was led by Chelsea who, owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovic and under the stewardship of Jose 'the Special One' Mourinho, spent their way to the title and became one of the dominant forces in English and global football. In Spain, Rafael Benitez's Valencia managed to briefly break the Madrid-Barcelona stranglehold on the league title before Benitez departed to manage Liverpool. This partly sparked off the second 'Galactico' era at Real Madrid under Club President Florentino Perez, leading to the £80 million acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008, who was considered to be the one player on the planet who could match Barcelona's academy trained wunderkind, Lionel Messi.
At the start of this decade, former superpower Leeds United fell from grace after financial mismanagement by the owners, going bankrupt, having to sell its best players to regional rivals Manchester United and Liverpool and promptly being relegated from the Premier League. With their fall, the so-called 'Big Four' of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool gained a stranglehold on the top four league positions, which ensured Champions League qualification. This created something of a league within a league, with the four teams fighting it out for the title. Three of those teams won and the fourth, Liverpool, mounted two very credible title challenges in 2001/02 and 2008/09.
At the same time, England's football team, comprised of the so-called 'Golden Generation', despite famous victories such as a 5-1 thrashing of Germany in Munich, repeatedly failed to live up to the hype at tournaments. Instead, they continued in the fine English tradition of exiting in the quarter-finals, usually on penalties. Brazil and Italy won the the 2002 and 2006 World Cups respectively, while Greece pulled off a Dark Horse Victory and beat Europe's best teams to win the 2004 European Championships. Spain, previously even greater underachievers than England, won the 2008 European Championships, leading to an era of total dominance that extended into the next decade.
If you had to sum up baseball in one word for the decade, that would be "steroids". If you were a top baseball player in The Oughts, odds are you had to dodge some accusations that you were juicing. Lots and lots of future first-ballot Hall of Famers (Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Mark Mc Gwire, Manny Ramirez, and others) at least got accused of steroid usage during the decade. Some of them were even found guilty.
In American Football news, the run-first game of yesteryear was more or less abandoned for a passing-friendly league. At the start of the decade, only the top one or two quarterbacks would break 4,000 yards. By the end of the decade, every quarterback in the top ten would break 4,000 yards. This went hand-in-hand with the increasing adoption of the hurry-up offense (exemplified by Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts).
Also, in American Football the New England Patriots joined the 1934 and 1942 Chicago Bears and the 1974 Miami Dolphins as the only teams to have a perfect regular season, and the first to do so under the extended schedule. Unlike the '74 Dolphins, it wasn't a complete perfect season, the Patriots lost to the deep-underdog New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
In college football, the decade has seen "BCS Busters", high-performing teams from "mid-major" conferencesnote to clarify, at the time there were six conferences with a guaranteed automatic BCS bowl bid, reserved for conference champions and any other conference team in the top 16 by the end of the year. Teams from five other conferences had no such guarantee and must have exceptional seasons while being conference champion in order to obtain a bid. Utahnote at the time a member of the mid-major Mountain West Conference; it later on got invited into what is now the Pacific-12 conference and is playing there since 2011 went to a BCS bowl twice and won both of them ('05 Fiesta Bowl vs. #21 Pittsburgh, and '09 Sugar Bowl vs. #4 Alabama) while Boise State went to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and beat #10 Oklahoma in overtime through a trick two-point conversion.
Cirque du Soleil had a boom decade — the company had only seven shows running in 2000, but by the end of 2009 had nineteen different productions running worldwide. The expansion owed to a tourism and building boom in Las Vegas, where casino company MGM-Mirage commissioned several shows for its growing stable of resorts (allowing Cirque the freedom to cross-breed their house style with other genres), and expansion into new markets (South America for tours, Asia for resident productions, and mid-sized cities with older shows). However, by decade's end the company overstretched its resources, resulting in a run of mostly-panned efforts over 2008-10; combined with the aftereffects of the Great Recession (which were particularly hard on Vegas tourism), a purging of shows resulted in The New '10s as the company did some refocusing.
The concept of video games being child's play started to slowly change for a number of reasons. The big one was that many children who grew up playing video games were aging into teenagers and young adults, causing game developers to tailor their products accordingly. The Rated M for Money trope started proliferating as a result; most of the biggest-selling games of the decade, like Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Call of Duty, were rated M. This, combined with the success of sports games like Madden NFL, caused a lot of young adults (particularly young men) who hadn't been gamers before to get into gaming. Later in the decade, the rise of the NintendoWii and casual video games expanded the market in completely new directions, bringing in legions of parents, women, old people, and others who weren't the traditional demographic for interactive entertainment.
While the first Massively Multiplayer Online Games showed up towards the end of the Nineties, 2004 saw the launch of the World of Warcraft, which would develop into a gaming juggernaut and define the concept of the MMORPG, ultimately drawing in millions of players. Multiplayer gaming in general blossomed across most genres, with Counter-Strike becoming the definitive online First-Person Shooter in 2000. Video games finally began turning into a social phenomenon as well as a source of entertainment, creating worldwide communities of gamers and fandoms.
Even as the reality of video games being an all-ages medium set in across the gaming and geek communities, many Moral Guardians remained stuck in the belief that they were only for kids, and that mature content would corrupt their minds. Florida lawyer and media firebrand Jack Thompson, apparently having gotten bored attacking rap music, took up the anti-gaming crusade where Joe Lieberman had left off and then some, blaming video games for just about every social ill affecting young people. Various states tried to pass anti-gaming legislation, and people as distinguished as Roger Ebert claimed that video games, by their very nature as interactive media, were incapable of achieving artistic merit.note To his credit, though, he later backed off from this statement, stating that, as a film critic, he wasn't in a position to discuss a completely different medium. Even Thompson's very public humiliation and disbarment in 2009 didn't stop anti-game advocates from pressing for the censorship of games. It wouldn't be until 2011, when the Supreme Court ruled games to be protected speech under the First Amendment, that the legal teeth were taken out of the anti-gaming movement.
Thompson's Australian equivalent, South Australia Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, managed to successfully hold up the adoption of an R18+ rating for video games despite the fact that a majority of Australians supported one, causing many games that failed to meet the requirements of the MA15+ rating being Banned in Australia. Needless to say, he is probably one of the most hated figures in the country.
For the first time since The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, there is a successful Western-developed console in the form of Microsoft's Xbox, whose popularity has particularly been boosted by the Halo franchise.
Home video game consoles started coming with the ability to play online against your friends, a privilege that had previously been reserved only for PC gamers.
Much like what is demonstrated in the Music section above, Digital Distribution has also taken off in the video game industry as well. Considering the success of Steam for PC and Xbox Live Arcade for the original Xbox, the seventh generation of consoles started having their own online services while the PC experienced a growth in the digital market that total sales eventually surpassed that of retail sales on the platform.
On May 24, 2002, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi retired after a 53-year tenure, less than a year after the release of the Nintendo Gamecube. Yamauchi later became the chairman of Nintendo's board of directors, before permanently retiring from the company on June 29, 2005, citing his age. Satoru Iwata, the head of Nintendo's Corporate Planning Division, succeeded Yamauchi as president, and implemented a "blue ocean" strategy for the company where commercial success would be sought by providing innovative new products rather than directly battling competitors (this was a direct contrast from Yamauchi's attitude about Nintendo's products, particularly in regards to the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 and the minidisc-based Gamecube, both of which saw heavy criticism for their use of inferior storage media for the sake of profit). He would put this strategy into acting with the release of the Nintendo DS, which incorporated both touchscreen and dual-screen technology, in 2004 and the release of the Nintendo Wii two years later.
During the first several years of the decade, there was a deluge of World War II-themed first person shooters. It got to a point that gaming publications started making jokes like "by this point in time, the average video gamer has killed more Nazis than the entire Russian army." But in 2007, the release of Modern Warfare would herald the end of the era of the WWII shooter and usher in the era of the modern military shooter, which continues to this day.
Smartphones also became a viable gaming platform in this era. While The New '10s would really see this idea expanded, The Oughts was where we began to see games - occasionally straight ports - appear on smartphones as well as consoles.
2009 in particular saw the death of many well-known celebrities. Patrick Swayze, Farrah Fawcett, Natasha Richardson, Bea Arthur, John Hughes and Michael Jackson all passed away within several months of each other. Jackson's death crashed Twitter, caused Google to mistake the sudden surge in searches for his name as some kind of attack, and caused a global Internet-lag. Fawcett had the particular misfortune to die mere hours before Jackson did, thus getting short shrift in terms of media coverage.
The broadcast journalism world lost Walter Cronkite, the Most Trusted Man in America.
Anime continued to grow its stateside throughout this decade, helped in no small part by the evolution of English dubbing. As for popular series, Pokémon declined (though still held steady ratings and survived the entire decade) and was soon joined by the likes of Naruto, Bleach, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Fullmetal Alchemist. Anime's popularity began to decline toward the end of the decade, however, for a number of reasons, ranging from an ever-greater focus in Japan on the Otaku market to generalized over-saturation as well as the rise of Light Novel adaptations thanks to Yamakan. Meanwhile, traditional revenue continued to decline in the face of ever-more-popular internet options. The original cancellation of Toonami in 2008, one of the major Gateway Series to the medium, and the Network Decay of Cartoon Network as a whole, dealt a blow to Anime’s popularity and mainstream appeal in the US, with only a few titles such as Pokémonnote (which itself saw a Popularity Polynomial by the late 2000's) and the films of Studio Ghibli being able to win over non-otaku crowds for the remainder of the decade.
The original Dragon Ball series aired an English dub in full this decade, after two previous failed attempts. At the end of the decade, a Recut of Dragon Ball Z, titled Dragon Ball Kai, started airing in Japan for the show's 20th anniversary. The popularity of this series in both America and Japan instigated a renewed interest in the shonen genre that would come to prominence in the following decade.
For that matter, the anime market in Japan itself had shrunk drastically due to the aforementioned focus on the otaku market. The studios and production committees discovered said otaku were willing to pay ludicrous prices for series they liked, high enough that the companies could remain financially stable through them alone. The most visible case of this shift was the rise in Moe through this decade, a genre otaku would take to wholeheartedly while being largely unappealing to any other demographic. The industry would shift from this model and find real growth in the then-untapped female market, but that's a story for the following decade.
An entirely new villain was created in this decade. A lot of action-adventure and spy fiction shows and films had at least one young millionaire hacker who made his millions with dot-coms and "got out before the bubble burst" (that line is often repeated verbatim). This allowed them to hire a young, good-looking Hollywood Nerd (usually), yet still get all the visual tropes of a millionaire villain (travelling by jet to foreign locations, lots of debauchery, etc). Expect Hollywood Hacking, generally acting like an Asshole Victim (or even an Anti-Hero, depending on where their allegiances were), and living a life of wine, women and song.
In the US, Janet Jackson's "Wardrobe Malfunction" at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004 led to a period of increased Moral Guardianship of TV, radio, and film, especially with regards to sexual content. This resulted in the aforementioned MPAA backlash. Howard Stern and Opie And Anthony were forced to move to satellite radio to continue broadcasting uncensored, other shock jocks saw their careers torpedoed, and for a few years it became much more difficult to broadcast risque material. Meanwhile, the rest of the world (as well as many Americans) laughed at the US for being so prudish and worked up over what was clearly an unplanned accident.
In hindsight, this may have been the Jump the Shark moment for America's Moral Guardians, showcasing the disconnect between them and a society that was becoming increasingly accepting of sexual content. It's telling that, just five years later, they proved to be impotent at putting up much of a challenge to MTV's Jersey Shore. Perhaps the clearest sign of how the tide had turned was when, in 2011, Nicki Minaj had a very similar malfunction while performing on Good Morning America, having one of her breasts fall out of her top while she was dancing on stage.note To say nothing of the fact that a pop star as outwardly sexualized as Nicki Minaj was able to perform on Good Morning America in the first place. The usual guardians tried to drum up an outrage over it, but it seemed like the majority of people responded with a very simple "meh".
Ultra-low jeans for women were introduced in 1999 and became the norm by 2004. These were not your mother's hip-huggers; in fact, jeans that rode higher on the waist were often referred to as "mom jeans". Popularized by the full spectrum of fashions from emo teens to Britney Spears and her ilk, these low jeans were meant to create the illusion of an elongated, straight figure, but for many women, they often led to "muffin tops", where some of the belly spilled over the top of the pants. It was especially pronounced for overweight women, but unless you had abs of steel or zero body fat, some level of muffin top was inevitable. It was also very difficult to sit down without either showing your underwear or flat-out exposing your butt crack. At one point, women who didn't like the style had to resort to buying men's jeans because there simply weren't any women's jeans available that weren't cut like this. More traditional jeans resurfaced around 2008 and have been on the rise since.
And yes, before you ask, a number of women did combine low-cut jeans with thong panties in order to look sexy. In fact, the Y-shaped portion of the thong that was visible in the back got its own name, the "whale tail". How derogatory that term is varies wildly depending on who's saying it.
Just as waistlines were going down, the hemlines of many shirts started going up, creating an unavoidable gap. This could be a problem for any woman or girl living in a colder climate, and had the same problem for overweight women as the low-waistline jeans: they could make the "muffin top" effect even more obvious.
This style — the hip-huggers with the midriff or halter tops — had been popular in the late 1960s, but the cut of the pants was different, so that it was possible to have an attractive appearance even if you weren't a size 0.
The huge gap between pants and shirt produced by many women's fashions led to the rise of the lower back tattoo among young women. Much like whale tails, these tattoos were widely viewed as a sign that a woman was loose — a common nickname for them was "tramp stamp".
For the first time, a visible bra strap could be seen as something fashionable rather than a fashion faux pas or a sign of sluttiness, and bras were sometimes made with rhinestones or other decoration on the straps. They were mostly worn by teenagers and trendy young women, and as a result many high schools banned tank tops.
Combine all of the above, and you have the default image of the fashionable/"slutty" young woman in the '00s — wearing a cropped tank top that showed off her rhinestone-encrusted bra straps, along with very low-cut jeans that showed off her thong and her lower back tattoo.
In the middle part of the decade, teenaged girls started wearing 1950s formal wear and putting their hair up on special occasions.
Teenage males in the first half of the decade wore a "gangsta" look inspired by rap musicians — ridiculously baggy pants that exposed the tops of their boxer shorts, the crotch dropped to mid-thigh or even lower. In the second half of the decade, they switched to ridiculously tight pants... that also exposed the tops of their boxer shorts. Some guys took to wearing brightly colored boxer shorts and blousing them above the alleged waistline of their pants.
Men's business attire shifted back from pastel and bright to dark — gray, navy, and black were the only three accepted colors for business attire unless it was, say, a wacky tie day.
For a short period around 2004-2005, the "skater" look came into style on the heels of Bam Margera and Tony Hawk's popularity. Baggy pants and shaggy hair grew more common, but most notable was the popularity of skater-brand shoes like Etnies and Vans, including over-inflated tongues and tucked-in shoe laces (which served a functional purpose for skatersnote Namely, preventing the laces from getting undone and tangled in the skateboard's wheels or catching on something on the ground. Nasty spills can result otherwise., but was largely done for fashion if you didn't ride a skateboard). This died out pretty quickly.
Plaid flannel shirts came back in style, especially with guys.
"Tribal" tattoos running up and down one arm(s) became the domain of the "tough guy" (and those who wanted to look tough).
As mentioned above, MMA clothing brands like Tapout and Affliction also became popular among the "tough guy" crowd. The combination of a baseball/trucker cap, tribal tattoos, and an MMA shirt was a sign that the guy standing in front of you could either kick your ass, or desperately wanted to look like he could.
Sweatpants in public became briefly acceptable (and still is acceptable in high schools), as well as other would-be fauxes pas like Ugg boots and Crocs.note As well as, briefly, a combination of the two.
Skinny jeans, or jeans that are skinny on the ankles, became popular around 2008 and continue to be popular now. They are mostly popular with young women, though there are guys that wear them, usually young men. They attracted a hatedom when they first became popular, mainly due to their association with the "emo" stereotype, though that died down due to the fashionable and streamlined silhouette they created, especially when paired with loosely flowing tops.
Hoodies became acceptable casual wear for young people sometime in the middle of the decade, especially in the US and Canada. While they were also popular among emo teens, hoodies weren't associated with them the way skinny jeans were; nearly everybody, male or female, had a hoodie for spring and fall. (It was when you wore it all year, even in the summer, that it was seen as emo.) They were also popular in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, but there, they became associated with the "chav" stereotype; in those countries, "hoodie" entered the lexicon to describe young, lower-class crooks, and some stores banned people from wearing hoodies inside (at least with the hoods up).
Food and Drink:
In a word: Organic. That one word more or less defined consumption habits for the better part of the decade. We had organic everything by decade's end. To the hopeful, it meant that people were truly starting to care for the environment. For the cynical, it meant that any old schlub would pay a couple bucks extra for a cookie with a picture of a tree on it. For the chemist, it meant that the general populace didn't understand what the word "organic" meant.
We also started getting really concerned about the origins of our food. Thanks in no small part to animal activism groups, we had to make sure that our chicken was free range, our beef was humanely raised, and our fish was fairly caught.
If you were in the UK, then this concern launched the television careers of Jamie Oliver who had a veritable franchise of "healthy" food shows. Similarly, there was also Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose warts-and-all approach to food raising from scratch (including foraging) were displayed to all in the River Cottage series.
Inverted in east Asia, particularly in China: With new money pouring into some of the Asian countries, their Nouveau Riche would display Conspicuous Consumption by dining on exotic, hard-to-get or downright-illegal foods, particularly seafood, causing widespread ecological damage in the oceans around them. This would come to a head in The New '10s when Chinese fishermen, having wrecked parts of the seas around them, moved into international waters and waters under ownership of other countries, making enemies of every country around them.
In Australia, Japanese food, particularly sushi, went from almost non-existent to showing up in every food court and becoming the yuppie lunch of choice. Melbourne Coffee snobbery became an art form.
A side effect of that is now there are more Koreans/Vietnamese/Chinese people running sushi restaurants than actual Japanese people.
Particularly jarring, sushi rice is not actually used. Even in places that specialize in sushi (that or they're very light on the vinegar).
This was the age when geek culture invaded the mainstream, and society's love of technology reached levels not seen since the gee-whiz, "science!"-loving '50s. Between the proliferation of comic book movies, the rise of anime and manga in the West, the critical acclaim received by "genre" series like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, the growing mainstream acceptability of video games, and most importantly, the increasing reliance of modern society on computers and the internet, all of a sudden it was acceptable, if not even encouraged, for one to be a geek. Celebrities as diverse as sex symbol Rosario Dawson, action hero Vin Diesel, and rom-com starlet Kristen Bell won fans with their self-admitted nerdiness, video game and comics T-shirts were worn with pride, and of course, there's This Very Wiki. Even the President of the United States joined in on the action, with his geekiness, computer-savvy and ability to mobilize supporters on the internet playing a key role in his winning the 2008 election.
The Internet really started developing (if corporate assimilation and conglomeration are to be defined as progress) throughout this decade. Perhaps the biggest indicator of online growth was the consolidation of various websites. Whereas early on, you could conceivably find about 30 sites on which to shop for electronics or search for other sites, a few frontrunners started emerging from the pack. Amazon started swallowing up the e-tailers, Google was the predominant search engine, and Wikipedia slowly became the be-all end-all for information.
Friending networks took off during the decade. It would not be uncommon for people under 25 people to do most of their interaction online by the late '00s. LiveJournal and other blogging sites pioneered the idea of social networking, Friendster and later Myspace refined it, and Facebook turned into a massive cash cow. Internet Relay Chat, an older, non-corporate, and decentralized text-based chatting system, was usurped by Twitter.
Video sharing site YouTube was launched in 2005. Previously, streaming video content on the internet was sporadic and limited to sites like AtomFilms and iFilm, and each one required a different plugin (like Windows Media, Quicktime, RealPlayer, and so on). However, YouTube utilized the widely-used Flash plugin (and later added the option of using Google's open note Licensed using the same license as the BSD operating system and the Ogg formats WebM format with the also-open HTML 5 standard), was very user-friendly, and didn't require subscription fees, making it an overnight sensation and spawning a slew of similar video sharing sites.
With LCD technology ultimately surpassing Cathode Ray Tubes, monitors and television sets are typically slim instead of boxy. In addition technology typically has a slick appearance instead of a rough gloss. By the end of the decade, CRT televisions were largely phased out and even thought the size of LCD TVs would balloon, the technology was also were far easier on electricity; the upcoming LED technology was even better in that regard.
The two major commercial consumer operating systems, Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS, ditched their older, less reliable architecture for something more akin to what businesses had been using. The former replaced the old, dated DOS base with that of Windows NT starting with XP, while macOS threw out everything from the old OS and based the new OS X (or macOS X as it was known then) on the BSD-based NeXTStep operating system developed by NeXT, the company Steve Jobs ran before his return to Apple. Meanwhile, Linux-based operating systems such as the Red Hat-derived Fedora and the Debian-derived Ubuntu became dedicated to easy consumer use on par with what the big commercial two provide without having to be extensively configured as with older Linux distributions.
As for the software used to access the above, the browser wars changed from the Internet Explorer vs. Netscape days as Netscape became more and more irrelevant before the the freeing of its source code in the form of the free and open source Mozilla Application Suite. Internet Explorer, while remaining popular on Windows, had its Mac version transitioned out in favor of Apple's own Safari, which borrowed the free and open source KHTML from Konqueror (at the time exclusive to Linux and BSD) and tweaked it to have less of a dependence on Konqueror's graphical toolkit, Qt, thus the creation of WebKit, which due to KHTML's release under the GNU Lesser General Public License, ended up with considerably more liberal terms than the main software, using both that license and a permissive BSD-derived license, ended up being adopted by other browsers such as 2008's Google Chrome (which has since switched to Blink, a modified version of WebKit), and Opera. As for Mozilla, the first half of the decade saw the restructuring of the Mozilla Foundation's software development to focus on the newer Mozilla Firefox browser and Mozilla Thunderbird email client, with all of them being free and open source software under the Mozilla Public License (which is a bit more loose than the LGPL of KHTML and WebKit) and based on the Gecko rendering engine, which licensed the same as the clients. (In case you were wondering, browsers based on Gecko, WebKit, and Blink are available on Windows, OS X, and most UNIX-like operating systems, with Firefox and Chrome having been ported to these).
This is the time when light-emitting diodes became cheap enough and powerful enough to enter widespread use. Europe severely limited the sale of plasma lights and banned importation into the continent outright, causing LEDs to really take off there. In the United States, meanwhile, LED light bulbs entered common use, and while incandescent and fluorescent bulbs were still more common, this was when the LED bulb stopped being a novelty or used strictly as indicator lights on control panels and started making a real impact on home and office lighting.
As prices continued to fall, more people started using laptop computers instead of desktop computers. By the end of the decade, the only people who used desktop computers were generally office workers and serious gamers. The adoption of laptops was spurred in large part by the spread of Wi-Fi.
Cell-phones went from communication devices with increasing computational power to portable computers, with high-end models rivaling low-end laptop and desktop computers. In 2008 the HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1/Era G1) was only $180 and ran the new open source operating system Android. By comparison One Laptop per Child, a 2005 non-profit initiative to get computers for children in developing countries, had its lowest estimate around $250note As of 2017 it's now around $209.
By the end of the decade, everything that could feasibly have Internet access did. Even without Internet access in the traditional sense, a lot of things were wi-fi enabled for more simple reasons, including alarm clocks with wi-fi which automatically reset themselves in the event of a power outage.
In 1999 the USA's NSA raised concerns about the Furby, a toy with a microphone and (infrared) wireless capabilities being modified to listen in on conversations. With the spread of wi-fi, this become a greater problem: the Internet of Things. Any device with wi-fi that, like it's non-networked version is intended to be used for years, would only have software updates (if any) for less than a year, usually the length of its warranty. And any computer system without up-to-date security becomes a potential weak-point for the wireless network it is connected to. Starting in the oughties, millions of devices have been unnecessarily created with wi-fi that can still be found in use today, making for a global security issue that won't be easily resolved.
America's slipping performance in education, especially with regards to math and science, became a major source of hand-wringing as the decade progressed. It was fear of falling behind the rest of the world (particularly China) that led to such reform attempts as the No Child Left Behind Act (see below) and charter schools. The cause of this slide is hotly debated; some blame the Christian Right for smothering science education, others blame the growing focus on standardized testing for replacing critical thinking with rote memorization, others claim that it's the fault of the teachers' unions for allowing crappy teachers to keep their jobs, still others feel that bad parenting is the problem, others blame America's stubbornness to adapt to a universal year-round school system, making kids forget information during the summer and being forced to waste time to re-teach it come fall, and finally, there are those who feel that American schools are too obsessed with their sports programs at the expense of academics. Like all things political, this is a topic that you should wade into at your own risk.
Implementation of the hugely controversial No Child Left Behind Act had the ironic effect of sending dropout rates in poorer, especially urban, areas soaring. Arguments for and against it were and are quite heated, especially as a school's performance on the tests determines how much funding the school receives. You questioned a teacher about it at your own peril; saying you supported it was (and is) likely to earn a massive rant one way or the other.
Emphasis on college was just as pointed as it was in The '90s, until a massive recession hit in 2008 and many people found it much more difficult to pay for college. Although at this point, most people are saying that in the next generation, everybody on every level of the job market is going to have a college degree (the phrase "a Bachelor's Degree is the new high school diploma" became popular in the US). College is still a necessity; unfortunately, due to the rising costs, it basically means that students are having to resort to student loans to pay for it. This has had the unfortunate side effect of college no longer being "a fun learning experience where you try new things and meet new people" and turning it into a calculated career move, where students scramble to find a synergy between good grades, extracurricular activities, and work experience to give them the best possible chance to find a job in an already shaky job market before they get slammed with massive debt.
This is when the much-ballyhooed gap in scholastic achievement between boys and girls began to really make itself known. In brief, girls not only erased the lag that they had previously had in education, but they surged ahead of the boys in the process, with much higher rates of grade school achievement and college enrollment. Not helping was the fact that boys were starting to decline in those categories at almost the same rate the girls were growing. Where the boys did have a lead, it was in such dubious places as dropout rates and delinquency. It eventually got to the point where many co-ed colleges started implementing affirmative action for male students to prevent their campuses from becoming more than 75% female — something that would've been inconceivable as late as 1990. This resulted in much hand-wringing from media pundits worried that "boys were being left behind" by the new, post-industrial knowledge economy, or (more hysterically) that "radical feminists" were sabotaging boys' education.
The Christian Right reached the apex of its political power in the US under the George W. Bush administration... but its cultural power underwent a rapid collapse during that same period. As mentioned above, the "Nipplegate" incident was arguably the turning point; while it fired up religious conservatives, their reaction was also a well of mockery for many. Between that, backlash against attempts to restrict the teaching of evolution and sex education in schools, and the evangelical Christianity that permeated the Bush administration (particularly from Attorney General John Ashcroft), secularists and non-religious people, a group that had been quietly growing since the early '90s, began to develop a serious cultural identity for the first time.
This culminated in the rise of the "New Atheist" movement. Explicit, militant atheism, as opposed to being merely non-religious, began to emerge in the public consciousness thanks to best-selling books like Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. The main difference is that this "New Atheism" is much more confrontational and confident in challenging Christian and Islamic fundamentalists in the validity of their assumptions, and in asserting the separation of Church and State.
The Terri Schiavo case, in which the husband of a brain-damaged woman fought to have her taken off of life support, brought "right to die" issues to the national forefront. Many people created "living wills" outlining how they wished to be cared for in the event that they could no longer care for themselves.