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How the world changed in 10 years: 20 top culture moments of the decade

Every decade brings with it important moments –filled with intense joy or abject misery–that change the way we live and look at the world. Now that we’re poised to enter the third decade of the 21st century, there’s no better time to take stock of the life-altering moments that the previous years left us with. Here are our top culture moments of the decade.

1. In the eye of the beholder…
top culture moments of the decade
Winnie Harlow. Image: Courtesy Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Perrier-Jouët

The beauty industry made significant strides towards making women of all races and ethnicities feel welcome and celebrated. Rihanna’s Fenty launched its massively popular Pro Filt’R foundation with a whopping 40 shades in 2017, and has expanded to 50. Dior, Revlon, CoverGirl, Maybelline, and a bunch of others followed suit. Beauty brands made some much-needed changes to the way they spoke to their audience, while pushing themselves to make inclusivity a part of their DNA. Revlon signed Ashley Graham, a plus-sized model to be the face of its Live Boldly campaign. Drugstore chain CVS pledged to no longer alter the photos of its models to hide “imperfections”. Closer home, Dove launched a campaign to celebrate natural hair—grey, short, curly, long, straight… basically, all kinds, at all ages. This was the decade that saw the meteoric rise of South Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech after closing for Saint Laurent in 2017; as well as Winnie Harlow, who became one of the 2014 finalists for America’s Next Top Model, a first for a model with vitiligo, a skin condition that causes intense depigmentation of portions of the skin.

2. The red carpet called, Indian fashionistas answered
top culture moments of the decade
Priyanka Chopra. Image: Courtesy Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty

It doesn’t matter whether you loved it or hated it, what matters is you couldn’t stay indifferent to Priyanka Chopra’s Ralph Lauren trench coat with the dramatically long train at the Met Gala in 2017. Indian fashionistas have slowly, but surely been making their presence felt at major global events this decade — from Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Isha Ambani’s multiple appearances at the Met Gala, to the many Indian fashion influencers who were invited to the many Cannes parties and events this year. Not to mention models Bhumika Arora and Pooja Mor’s growing international appeal, modelling as they do for major brands and designers–Versace, Marc Jacobs, and Karl Lagerfeld, to name a few.

3. Better late than never
Lilly Singh aka Superwoman
Lilly Singh. Image: Courtesy Christopher Polk/Getty Images

NBC might call its 2019 decision to hire Youtube mega star Lilly Singh to anchor its late night talk show a “no-brainer”, but it came as a surprise victory–and not a moment too soon–for inclusivity activists, everywhere. Lilly might not be the first woman or woman of colour to host a late night show–both Wanda Sykes and Mo’Nique have done it in the past — she is the only woman of colour on the overwhelmingly white and male late night circuit currently. She’s also the first openly queer woman to have her own show. You don’t have to be a fan of Lilly’s boisterous comedy to know that a Little Late With Lilly is an important turning point in network history, as well as a watershed moment for major crossovers–from Youtube star to mainstream television.

4. Global attention for global warming
top culture moments of the decade
Greta Thunberg. Image: Courtesy Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images

No one could have imagined that a teen climate change activist could become the troubled conscience of the world, but that’s what 16-year-old Greta Thunberg managed to achieve in 2019. From her 14-day zero carbon-emissions sail from the UK to US to participate in the United Nations climate summit to the charged, emotional speech about global warming and political accountability once she arrived, Greta Thunberg’s activism has been one of the defining moments of this decade.

5. Beautiful, at every size
top culture moments of the decade
Ashley Graham. Image: Courtesy Brian Ach/Getty Images for Apple TV+

Just like beauty, body positivity had many major moments this decade. Ashley Graham became the first plus-sized woman to make the Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue’s cover in 2016. Model and body positivity activist Tess Holliday made history in 2015 when she became the first size-22 model to sign a contract with a major modelling industry as well as, land People magazine’s body issue cover the same year. In India, Lakme Fashion Week included in its 2016 lineup the country’s first plus-sized fashion show within a major fashion week, paving the way for several other such shows in the years to come.

6. Dignity for all
top culture moments of the decade
Delhi Pride Parade. Image: Courtesy Sujay Reddy / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

A protracted, 27-year-long legal struggle for justice and every person’s right to live with dignity came to a triumphant end in 2018 when the Supreme Court of India effectively decriminalised homosexuality by striking down the draconian Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised “unnatural sex” even if it was between consenting adults. The ruling may not have solved the acute homophobia that India’s LGBTQ+ community has to contend with, but it at least ensured they could no longer be blackmailed, extorted, or be subjected to unchecked violence, making it a landmark moment in Indian judicial history.

7. When an ember starts a forest fire
top culture moments of the decade
Tanushree Dutta. Image: Courtesy Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

MeToo started as a social media movement after the multiple sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public in 2017, with women all across the world sharing stories of abuse to emphasise the widespread nature of the problem. In 2018, it spawned the widely publicised Time’sUp movement and legal fund by Hollywood celebrities to help survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. MeToo reached India’s shores too in late 2018, when actress Tanushree Dutta repeated 10-year-old accusations about being harassed by co-actor Nana Patekar while filming Horn ‘Ok’ Pleassss in 2008. Indian women on Twitter took this opportunity to start their own MeToo reckoning by naming and outing their abusers. As a result, several famous men were either forced to resign or were fired from their jobs, and at least one high-profile defamation lawsuit–like the ongoing one filed against journalist Priya Ramani by former Union Minister MJ Akbar for naming him as her abuser.

8. The OTT-ness of OTT platforms
Made in Heaven
Made in Heaven by Prime Video. Image: Courtesy Amazon

Hotstar was launched in India in 2015, followed closely by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in 2016, ensuring that the subcontinent’s millennials never again get a full night of sleep! All three companies have shown aggressive growth strategies in the country, releasing a slew of original shows and even films. The interest in India is understandable, given that our video-on-demand market is expected to grow to USD 5 billion but 2023 from USD 500 million last year. Is it possible that by the end of the next decade, memories of cable TV start to become hazy in our minds? Who could’ve thought!

9. The court is now in session!

The Supreme Court of India didn’t just come through for the LGBTQ+ community, it nudged India towards being a slightly more equal society for women as well, this decade. In a 2018 judgement, the SC upheld the right of two consenting adults to live together outside of wedlock, setting aside a high court judgement that granted the (adult) woman’s custody to her father, after her marriage was annulled on the grounds that her husband was not yet 21. In several judgements between 2015 and 2018, the SC also upheld a woman’s right to claim maintenance, child support, and even inherit property from her live-in partner, effectively giving live-in relationships the same protections that marriage has. Again, in 2018, the SC also decriminalised adultery in a landmark judgement, striking down a sexist 19th century colonial law that made it criminal for a man to have sex with another man’s wife without his permission. And finally, the SC upheld women’s right to equality and worship in 2016 and 2018, by ruling that women must be allowed within the sanctum sanctorum of Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai and the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, despite great religious furore in both circumstances.

10. So many apps, so little interaction
top culture moments of the decade
Image: Courtesy Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

There was a time when catching up meant picking up the phone and calling the people whose lives we were invested in. All that changed this decade. First came Whatsapp in 2010, with its free unlimited messaging, eliminating the need for phone calls. Then came Instagram in 2010 (iOS) and 2012 (android), through which everyone and their cousin could instantly get an instant peek in our curated realities. Sandwiched in between was Snapchat in 2011, to make fleeting conversations with rank strangers easier. And finally there was TikTok’s sudden spiralling popularity since its release in 2016–so much so, that the app was briefly banned in India amid concerns of pornography, deepfakes, and cyberbullying. This decade forever changed the way we communicate with our own species!

11. Trumped!
top culture moments of the decade
U.S. President Donald Trump. Image: Courtesy Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 US Presidential elections was a source of shock and great horror for many around the world. And in the three years since, his presidency has given little opportunity to his critics to rest. In addition to endangering access to healthcare for 13 million Americans by trying to repeal Obamacare, his abhorrent policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border, and all the other assorted horrors he unleashed on the US public, he also gave his acutely unqualified-for-the-job daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner unprecedented access and influence over the White House as senior advisors. And we thought Bollywood had a nepotism problem.

12. Winter came, and then went
Game of Thrones
Image: Courtesy HBO

This was the decade we were introduced to the biggest, most widely watched and obsessed about, and most popular show in the world–Game of Thrones. Launched in 2011, GoT airs in over 170 countries, holds the record for the most Emmys ever won by a primetime series, and has a production budget of a staggering $10 million per episode  — at a minimum. And yes, fans would sooner wish they could erase the eighth and last disappointing season from their collective memories, but still, the scale and popularity of the show is breathtaking, and practically impossible to replicate. We’re hoping The Witcher will be a worthy contender in 2020.

13. The rise and rise of Priyanka Chopra Jonas

shaadisquadPriyanka Chopra’s star was on the up and up this decade. In 2015, she became the first South Asian actress to headline an American show when she bagged the ABC drama Quantico. She has already acted in three Hollywood films, is filming a fourth, will star in two upcoming Netflix films, and be seen alongside Mindy Kaling in an Indian-American comedy. All this in addition to being a global UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2016.

14. Lap of honour
top culture moments of the decade
India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara poses with cricket world cup trophy ahead of their ICC Crciket World Cup final match in Mumbai, India, Friday, April. 02, 2011. Image: Courtesy Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Not only did India finally lift the Men’s Cricket World Cup Trophy again in this decade, Team India did it in a spectacularly emotional manner. The entire squad dedicated the win to Sachin Tendulkar, or the god of cricket, as he is often called affectionately. As thrilling as it was to finally see the boys in blue bring the trophy home–after a long wait of 28 years (India’s first and only other win was in 1983), it was even more gratifying to watch Tendulkar being hoisted on the shoulders by Virender Sehwag for the victory lap around the stadium. Minus that memorable moment, Tendulkar’s subsequent retirement in 2013, ending an era in Indian cricket, would have stung a lot more.

15. The day the world changed

Two of the most sobering moments of the decade came in the form of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s death at the hands of US Special Forces in 2011, almost 10 years after the horrific 9/11 tragedy that shook the world; and Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death in 2019 after he detonated a suicide vest during a Syrian raid by the US military.  Both men were responsible for some of the deadliest global terror attacks in modern history.

16. When the chickens came home to roost
top culture moments of the decade
Elon Musk. Image: Courtesy Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images

The last decade saw the decline of several widely feted startup heroes, amid thoroughly avoidable controversies. Uber’s founder, Travis Kalanick was forced to step down as CEO in 2017, after several investors demanded for a change in leadership after disturbing revelations came to the fore about a workplace culture riddled with sexual harassment, a federal inquiry into a software used to sidestep law enforcement, and even an intellectual property lawsuit. In 2018, Tesla CEO had to resign as the company’s chairman and pay a fine of USD 20 million as part of a settlement he reached with the US Securities and Exchange Commission over fraud charges. Mark Zuckerberg has found himself testifying before Congress several times in the last few years, over data breaches, privacy concerns, election tampering, the proliferation of hate speech and fake news on Facebook…You name it, Facebook is battling it. And finally there is Adam Neuman, who is currently among the most hated men in America, exemplifying corporate greed at its evilest, seeing as how he walked away with USD 1.7 billion after bringing The We Work Company to the brink of disaster and causing thousands of employees to lose their jobs and investors to lose billions of dollars.

17. Looking at the stars for inspiration

India’s space ambitions received a major shot in the arm when the Indian Space Research Organisation successfully launched the Mars Orbiter Mission after only 18 months of starting work by sending the Mangalyaan into space in 2013, making India the first country to put a spacecraft in orbit around another planet on its first try itself. Equally impressive is the fact that ISRO could do it just USD 74 million, a fraction of the US’ budget of USD 651 million for a similar probe. Funnily, India spent less money in sending a spacecraft to Mars, than Hollywood did to make a movie about Mars (‘The Martian’ was made on a budget of USD 108 million)!

18. It’s impossible to keep up with the Kardashians!
top culture moments of the decade
(L-R) Kris Jenner, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian. Image: Courtesy Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Business of Fashion

It’s tough to remember a time when the Kardashians weren’t all over the Internet, sometimes even claiming to break it with their posterior. From 2003, when Kim was little more than Paris Hilton’s personal assistant and sidekick to 2007, when ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ made its TV premiere, followed by her shocking sex tape to 2019, when KUWK is in its 12th season and practically all members of the brood have commodified public interest to generate more public interest by way of carefully curated social media existences, product lines, websites with paywalls, video games, and whatnot. This year, the youngest Kardashian, Kylie Jenner was named the youngest self-made billionaire ever by Forbes due to her company Kylie Cosmetics’ USD 900 million valuation, raising eyebrows and drawing sharp criticism for the “self-made” assertion.

19. Sportswoman spirit
top culture moments of the decade
Mary Kom. Image: Courtesy Dijeshwar Singh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Indian sportswomen kept the country’s head high at various sporting events through the decade. It started at the 2010 Commonwealth games, with Krishna Poonia, Deepika Kumari, Geeta Phogat, Anisa Sayyed, Rahi Sarnobat, Alka Tomar, Ashwini Ponappa, Jwala Gutta, Saina Nehwal, and several others winning gold medals, in addition to so many others who brought home silvers and bronzes. In 2012, Saina Nehwal won a bronze in badminton at the London Olympics. In 2014, Mary Kom became the first Indian woman boxer to win a gold at the Asian Games. And in 2017, even though the Indian women’s cricket team didn’t win the world cup final, their spectacular performance through the series received nationwide admiration and inspired generations of future female cricketers.

20. The way we see the world
Barbie's Malibu Dreamhouse
Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse,. Image: Courtesy AirBnB

Travel trends changed drastically in this decade. AirBnB took off in most parts of the world, making it possible for even budget travellers to follow their wanderlust to far-flung corners of the globe. Slow travel became a legitimate thing, partly because losing became cheaper and more accessible with AirBnB, instead of cramming many places in one trip, many started seeing the merit of truly immersing themselves in one place for a longer time. And, of course, there were all those people who decided to take prolonged sabbaticals and travel around the world without burning though their live’s savings due to services like Workaway that make it possible for travellers to work for a few hours a day for their hosts in exchange for free food and lodging.

How the world changed in 10 years: 20 top culture moments of the decade

Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor, and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, relationships, sexuality, art, culture, and lifestyle.

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