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Recess picks the best culture of the 2010s

As 2019 comes to a close — and the 2010s with it — the Recess staff is looking back at the culture that defined the decade. From albums that changed the landscape of music to film and television that breathed new life into old formats, here are the Recess picks for the best of the 2010s:

“On Cinema at the Cinema” (2011–present)

“On Cinema” has a simple premise: Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington, playing fictionalized versions of themselves, get together in a movie theater to discuss and review cinema’s latest. And yet “On Cinema” is perfect because it manages to convolute this structure beyond comprehension. Tim, the show’s host, is short-tempered, quasi-illiterate and hellbent on talking about anything but movies — be it his ever-present medical issues, his foray into music with his band Dekkar, his right-wing politics or his avowal of “nutritional vaping.” Gregg, the show’s permanent guest and occasional co-host, is a self-identified film expert, whose only claim to expertise is his massive VHS collection of forgotten duds from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The web series devolves from there, spanning a spin-off show (“Decker”), a film (“Mister America”) and even a court trial (indeed, Tim is tried for mass manslaughter). It is unadulterated absurdity, gleeful in its annihilation of its characters and deeply committed to maintaining the bit. “On Cinema,” at its core, is a show that could’ve only existed because of the 2010s, and we should count ourselves lucky to be along for the ride.

—Nina Wilder, Recess editor

Kendrick Lamar, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (2012)

There were too many good albums released in the 2010s to realistically pick a favorite, but my decade in music really begins with Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Lamar’s major-label debut achieved mythic status seemingly within weeks of its release in 2012, and it’s not for nothing: “good kid, m.A.A.d city” feels like the last instance of a certain strain of “classic” hip-hop album, complete with skits, star-studded cameos and immediate hooks. What sets the record apart from others like it, though, is how it doubles as a rich work of autobiography, a coming-of-age tale that’s now being taught alongside James Joyce. And in a decade where the “voicemail from Mom and Dad” became an ever-present trope in music, Kendrick did it first and did it best. 

—Will Atkinson, managing editor

“BoJack Horseman” (2014–2020)

“BoJack” consistently strikes a deft balance between eliciting empathy for its overtly-problematic lead (and his similarly-problematic friends that fill out the cast) and holding him accountable. I believe this exemplifies not only how writers should treat their characters, but also how we as humans should treat each other. Time and again, I find myself critiquing my relationships — including that with the show itself — through the show’s moral paradigm, carefully deliberating the consequences of approaching with rose-colored glasses. That said, it is also an incredibly creative show that has continually pushed the boundaries of its medium through six seasons and never forgets to be funny in its quest to be a moral arbiter. 

—Tessa Delgo, staff writer 

M.I.A., “Borders” (2016)

M.I.A.’s “Borders” was a response to the Syrian refugee crisis, but it still finds resonance today and probably will for years to come, given that it's more an artifact of the postcolonial era rather than any particular decade. Her simple quip, “Borders, what's up with that?” speaks to the displacement and diaspora of communities around the world and challenges our notions of nationhood and culture as localized to a particular space or place. Herself a product of the cultural syncretism that characterizes our globalized age, M.I.A. reminds us that as long as human beings continue to migrate, the issue of “borders” will increasingly become an antiquated and oppressive one.

—Alizeh Sheikh, campus arts editor 

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014)

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a Wes Anderson masterpiece. With his typical flare, the director nearly effortlessly turns tragic events that occurred in Czechoslovakia (Anderson invents Zubrowka as a stand-in) during World War II and the postwar era into comedy, without any disrespect for the populations most deeply impacted. He borrowed much of the material from Austrian author Stefan Zweig, who was distraught after witnessing the destruction of the two world wars.

This movie is poignant and deeply human, a perfect depiction of the lasting impacts of loss and destruction told through the eyes of those most directly affected. If I can say anything, I would highly recommend seeing this incredible film. If not just for the profound narrative, see it for the beautiful and quirky sets.

—Kerry Rork, campus arts editor 

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)

Released in a decade defined by the proliferation of superheroes into the mainstream to the point of ubiquity and, ultimately, ad nauseam, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” made the concept of heroism feel new again. From its jaw-dropping animation to its score — which blending orchestral swells and hip-hop beats — to its timely themes of sky-high expectations for minority populations, the film embodies the uncertainty of the decade without sacrificing any of the beauty or triumph of choosing goodness and optimism over the misanthropy so many have fallen victim to as a response to our current political climate. 

No other piece of media comes close to its technical perfection or storytelling dexterity — and no other piece of media features a talking pig voiced by John Mulaney. 

—Sydny Long, culture editor

“Ex Machina” (2014)

“Ex Machina” is a fantastic sci-fi thriller that takes a deep look into the rise of artificial intelligence and what an AI-dominated future would look like. Its discussion of large and complex ideas such as the meaning of morality raises important questions and invites extensive conversation around what it means to be human. Couple this with fantastic cinematography and polished acting, and it’s easily one of the best films of the decade. 

—Derek Chen, staff writer 

Lana Del Rey, “Born to Die” (2012)

Lana Del Rey’s 2012 album artfully combines the booming beats and rhythms of the 2010s with timeless fantasies of luxury, romance and rebellion, making it one of my favorite albums of the decade. The soft, somewhat dark melodies and lyrics of infatuation and mid-century greed (think "National Anthem") distinguish "Born to Die" as an album that reflects on the values of the past and will remain relevant in the future. 

—Skyler Graham, staff writer 

“13th” (2016)

Ava DuVernay made today's racial caste system and its forms of enslavement impossible to ignore in her debut Netflix documentary. By creating a direct connection between the 13th Amendment and the prison industrial complex, she establishes a new baseline for the mainstream understanding of how race operates in the United States. With interviews from historical legends like Angela Davis and Bryan Stevenson to formerly-incarcerated community organizers, “13th” humanizes the otherwise ambiguous world of “criminal justice reform,” setting fertile ground for critical conversations in abolitionist spaces and beyond.

Miranda Gershoni, managing editor

“The Good Place” (2016–present), “Parks and Recreation” (2009–2015) & “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (2013–present)

Yes, this is a cop-out, but Michael Schur’s trio of sitcoms are brilliant and should serve as a model for the genre moving forward. Heartwarming and outrageously funny, Schur’s shows feature incredibly well-realized characters and mine jokes from the audience’s intimate relationships with those individuals, a far cry from the one-note characters and jokes of laugh-track-riddled, run-of-the-mill network sitcoms. 

The shows tackle big topics from police bias to the ethics of the afterlife and what we owe to each other, and they take risks with their characters and the situations they end up in — especially “The Good Place,” which blew up its original concept after the first season. Schur proves that perfect and diverse casting, fresh comedy, unbridled optimism and realistic, strong relationships can reinvigorate the tired sitcom genre. 

Jack Rubenstein, culture editor

Taylor Swift, “Red” (2012)

When her managers asked her whether she wanted to stay country or go pop for her fourth studio album, Taylor Swift probably had a simple answer: “Yes.” The result was “Red,” a beautifully diverse album that has aged like fine wine. From the agonizing bridge of “All Too Well” to the lightning-paced opener in “Holy Ground,” the work is a tour de force, showcasing Taylor Swift’s flair for show-stopping lyricism. Doubtless, she has achieved something great with “Red,”  providing an undeniable classic for the ages.

Jonathan Pertile, staff writer 

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