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2010’s controversies seem quaint by 2019 standards

Lady Gaga and her meat dress at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This week’s entry: 2010 controversies

What it’s about: We’ve all heard the old curse “May you live in interesting times.” As the 2010s stagger to a close, it’s hard to deny this decade has been interesting. The year that started it all seems like a simpler time when instead of worrying about the future of our democracy, we had scandals with fun names like Boobquake and Sockgate (which, for reasons unknown, Wikipedia alphabetizes under “C”). We sweet summer children had no idea the horrors that awaited.

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Biggest controversy: It’s hard to say which controversy on this long list is the biggest, but the winner of “most controversies” definitely goes to the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The games opened among fears of an H1N1 outbreak, a flurry of lawsuits against businesses that had the word “Olympic” in their names, creditors preparing to foreclose on a site used for skiing events a month before the games, and most tragically, the death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili during practice just hours before the opening ceremonies. The pillars that held up the Olympic Flame’s cauldron also malfunctioned, Mounties arrested a man for stalking Joe Biden, and as with everything that happens in Canada, people protested there not being more Francophile representation.

Thing we were happiest to learn: Things were so relatively good in 2010 that the biggest scandal of the year involved a couple of well-paid comedians switching jobs. In 2001, NBC president Jeff Zucker promised Late Night host Conan O’Brien that in 2009, he would take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. This seemed like a prudent move, as other networks were trying to lure O’Brien away, and they wanted to avoid the mess they caused when both Leno and David Letterman appeared poised to take over Tonight from Johnny Carson in 1992. It seemed like a plan for a smooth transition (only slightly complicated by them waiting several years to tell Leno).

Jump ahead to 2009, Leno had been #1 in the ratings for a solid decade, and now NBC was worried about losing him to another network. Unable to get out of the network’s contractual obligation to turn Tonight over to O’Brien, Zucker did the only thing he could—completely destroy NBC. To keep Leno in the fold, Zucker turned the 10 p.m. slot over to The Jay Leno Show, which had the dual effect of cutting Conan’s Tonight off at the knees, as very few people had the stamina for what was now a four-hour block of talk shows interrupted only by half an hour for local news. And in order to do this, Zucker canceled 10 p.m. staples like ER, Medium, and the network’s signature show, Great-Tasting Original Recipe Law & Order. As a result, both talk shows suffered in the ratings, as fans of both hosts—Team Coco, and Your Parents—faced off on social media. So in 2010, NBC gave O’Brien and his staff $45 million to walk away from the show, while re-hiring Leno for a four-year lame duck stint on Tonight.

Everything went back to the way it was, except NBC had canceled all of its 10 p.m. dramas, and the network’s ratings were so low that it routinely finished in fifth place, as Univision joined ABC, CBS, and Fox in trouncing the network. At one point NBC finished eighth. Zucker was fired, and then rewarded with a job overseeing CNN’s transition to the “Wolf Blitzer Reads Twitter To Old People” network. But at least Zucker couldn’t do any more damage, unless CNN’s 18-month-long blanket coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails somehow had negative consequences down the line.

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Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Fake news was already making headway in 2010. The late Andrew Brietbart, founder of the right-wing conspiracy website that bears his name, posted video of Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, apparently making racist remarks. She was fired, in a bit of hasty damage control by the Obama administration, and only afterwards did it become clear that her speech had been one about overcoming personal prejudices, and Brietbart had selectively edited the video. The administration offered Sherrod a new position, which she declined, and she sued Brietbart, who settled out of court.

Also noteworthy: 2010 also had the fashion scandal of the decade. At that year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Lady Gaga appeared in a Franc Fernandez dress made of raw flank steak, with matching hat, boots, and purse. There were unsurprising protests from PETA, and claims of plagiarism (although we’re not sure how one can copyright “meat dress” as intellectual property, and the singer herself had previously worn a meat bikini on the cover of Japanese Vogue). The dress was much-discussed after the awards ceremony, and Gaga herself called it a statement about (quoting Wikipedia here) “one’s need to fight for what one believes in,” which is obviously the first thing one thinks of when one sees a dress made of steak. The dress was later turned into jerky so it could be displayed in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame without spoiling.

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Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The broader controversies by year page links to a controversy page for every year from 1976 to present, and a handful of years between 1902 and 1974, as well as a link to hoaxes by year.

Further down the Wormhole: The controversy page also links to the larger 2010 page, itself a link to more 2010-related goodness. It also links to a page of links for the 2010s decade, which covers everything from 2010s by city to 2010s disestablishments to 2010s racehorse deaths. Next week, we’ll look at words coined in the 2010s, so get ready for some woke binge-watching of virtue signaling sexposition, as the kids are saying.

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About the author

Mike Vago

Author of five books, including Selfdestructible, his first novel. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.