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2008 Year in Review

This list appears in its entirety in issue #37 of RELEVANT.

2008 was a tumultuous year. A tragic cyclone in Burma left close to 150,000 dead, a geriatric Indiana Jones returned to the box office, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider somehow managed not to rip the universe to shreds. The year was packed with tragedies, triumphs and trivialities. While every year is eventful in retrospect, 2008 seemed to be a watershed one. Here’s a look at eight stories that defined the last 12 months:


After a seemingly interminable two-year election cycle, Americans elected Senator Barack Obama the 44th president of the United States. Winning both the electoral and popular vote handily, Obama seemed to signify the growing disaffection many Americans had with the Bush administration …

With the eventual election of Obama, the U.S. elected its first black president. While the evangelical vote was divided between McCain and Obama, even those who didn’t vote for Obama agree that this is a triumphant moment and many are hailing it as the pinnacle of the civil rights movement.

Little good news seemed to come from the financial sector in 2008. Oil prices skyrocketed, which in turn drove up food prices. At the same time, several major credit firms and mortgage companies collapsed, leading to housing foreclosures. Unemployment worldwide increased, with many economists predicting global unemployment will hit an all-time high of more than 200 million by the end of 2009. Meanwhile, the stock market plummeted, with the Dow Jones dropping below 9,000 for the first time in five years …

After the success of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s follow-up, The Dark Knight, was highly anticipated. Adding to the excitement was buzz over Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. When Ledger died in January of an overdose of prescription medication, publicity surrounding the movie kicked into overdrive. Early reviews indicated that Ledger had given his finest performance in the role. The film opened to rave reviews and garnered $18.5 million in its midnight showing, shattering the previous record set by Star Wars: Episode III. To date, The Dark Knight has grossed close to $1 billion, and Ledger’s performance sparked speculation of a posthumous Oscar nomination …

The return of the ‘80s held sway over pop culture for much of the early part of the millennium. Suddenly, New Wave was new again, jeans kept getting tighter and mullets re-invited everyone to their party in the back. However, as the first decade of the 2000s winds down, the ‘90s seem to be coming back into vogue (speaking of which, maybe that dance will come back). It started with the return of ‘90s music. New Kids on the Block, their age belying their moniker, released their first album in 14 years. The record released at number one, and went on to be certified gold …

If you turned on the television in early 2008 and noticed it was entirely reality programming with an occasional rerun of Mama’s Family thrown in for good measure, it was because of the WGA writers’ strike. The strike started in late 2007 when the WGA and studio bosses couldn’t come to a contract agreement. It ended up lasting 14 agonizing weeks, leaving Americans no choice but to go outside or talk to their loved ones. Many series’ seasons were severely truncated by the strike …

Finally, after missing half a season of Lost, the strike ended in February of 2008, and America could return to its gentle slumber.

See Also

Fidel Castro, the controversial leader of Cuba, ceded power to his brother Raul in February of 2008. The communist president led Cuba for nearly 50 years, and was often at odds with the U.S. Early in his career, Castro was a popular, if galvanizing, figure in U.S. culture, even appearing on The Tonight Show. However, as it became apparent that Cuba would not hold democratic elections and Castro would retain supreme executive power, he was quickly relegated to the role of a despot in public sentiment …

Bill Gates, America’s favorite nerd and Microsoft CEO for more than 30 years, stepped down from his full-time activities with the company to focus on his charitable work. The computer mogul still works part-time for the company (perhaps doing janitorial stuff?), but left his day-to-day duties. Gates founded the software giant in 1975, and worked his way from being a college dropout to the richest man alive for 15 consecutive years. He and his wife, Melinda, founded The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which has given more than $28 billion to charity and has done work to stop the spread of malaria in developing countries …

If the I.O.C. were looking for a trouble-free Olympics, they probably shouldn’t have picked a host country with a highly-criticized authoritarian government. Smart choice, guys. The Beijing Olympics were controversial long before they even began. With a variety of groups charging the Chinese government with human rights abuses in their preparation for the games, criticism rained on the communist country. China was accused of driving people from their homes in order to build the Olympic stadium and village …

After the games got underway though, all the previous controversy seemed forgotten, and all the talk of boycotts amounted to nothing. The story that dominated the Olympics was that of American swimmer Michael Phelps, set to break Mark Spitz’ 1972 record of seven gold medals. Phelps grabbed gold for every event in which he competed, taking home eight gold medals and breaking not only Spitz’ record but the record for all-time gold medals for a single Olympian, and possibly even developing a rudimentary set of gills …

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