10 Obsessions of 2010
10 Obsessions of 2010
2. Lindsay Lohan
5. “Jersey Shore”
8. Tea Party
9. Silly Bandz
10. Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl”
10 Obsessions of 2010
The definition of a 2010 obsession: a person, a pop-culture phenomenon, a political party, a gadget, or a pesty plague that spurred constant online monitoring and obsessive tangential searches.
Don't mistake compulsion for approval, though. An object of obsession can inspire impassioned rants (another privacy change?), exterminating impulses (get those bugs out of my bed), or unreasoning ardor (a dragon-tattooed heroine, yes; her author's lumbering prose, meh). Some preoccupations burrow deep to trigger a latent human impulse: the collecting instinct, in the case of Silly Bandz; the joy of song from "Glee." Other obsessions unleash a spirit of confused but delicious mutiny -- tea party, anyone?
So what triggered the click, click, click of searches and not only more of them, but also a positive, fervent leap in vigilance compared to last year? Go ahead, try not to read on ...
--Vera H-C Chan and Melissa O'Neil
Obsessive ... Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for four years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events and search trends to share the why behind what's hot online and in the media. Before Yahoo!, she worked as a features/A&E reporter for San Francisco and Bay Area newspapers and magazines. On Yahoo! her writing can be found all over, including in Buzz Log, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog, Fast-Talking Dame.
Compulsive ... Before joining Yahoo! as a Front Page editor, Melissa O'Neil was for 11 years a writer and editor for magazines, including Self, Allure, Glamour, and the now-defunct Cargo and YM. She now knows more than she ever expected to about superfoods, ab moves, lip-gloss, and dream dudes.
Early this year, fervor around the iPhone 3 had cooled. Tech media once again indulged in speculation about whether another smart phone might come forward as the ultimate iPhone killer, finally ending our addiction to Apple's sleek offering. Candidates such as the HTC Droid Incredible and the much-hyped Google phone played up their Android operating systems and their ability to work with service providers other than AT&T, the sole option for the iPhone and a source of great frustration for iPhone users. To some, it looked as if the mighty might finally stumble.
Then Apple did what it's famous for, developing a new, improved product to ignite our obsession all over again. The iPhone 4 arrived on the scene surrounded by enough controversy, industrial espionage, and rumormongering to make it worthy of a John le Carre spy novel (and a Top 10 Search on Yahoo!). The flames of desire were fanned early due to an iPhone 4 prototype that appeared on the tech blog Gizmodo. The blogger said he'd found the phone in a bar, and he posted photos and details. Apple responded swiftly, reporting the prototype stolen. An investigation was launched, including a search and seizure at the Gizmodo editor's home. The cat was out of the bag, and the public -- particularly the tech community -- anxiously waited to get its hands on the new model.
As anticipated, the iPhone 4 was officially announced in June. Apple fans lined up and camped out up to a week before the sale date. And the U.S. was just the beginning: Footage of lines in Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, and other spots around the globe dominated the media. The frenzy paid off big time for Apple, which announced the iPhone 4 as its most successful product launch to date, selling more than 1.7 million phones in the first three days.
Despite an almost immediate rash of reports about "Antenna Gate," an issue CEO Steve Jobs addressed by teaching consumers the right way to hold their phones (avoiding the dreaded "Death Grip"), sales of the phone continued to grow in record numbers. In October, Apple reported a 91% increase in year-over-year iPhone sales, with 14.1 million units sold. Even reports that the glass casing was prone to shattering didn't slow consumers' enthusiasm for their new toy.
Another media -- and search -- spike was created when a bug in the iPhone 4's alarm app missed the daylight saving time change, causing thousands in Europe to oversleep. Delayed Europeans took to Twitter to complain and make jokes about the error, which had previously affected users in Australia and New Zealand. Apple promised that a fix would be released soon.
Just in time for the holidays, Apple announced distribution deals with Sam's Club and Target to sell the phones, which were already available in Walmart stores. That ups the mass-market availability of the phones and will surely keep sales strong well into 2011.
In November, a Verizon memo was leaked, seeming to prove correct nearly a year's worth of rumors that a Verizon iPhone would be released. Days later, a photo was leaked, apparently showing the "iconic device" referenced in the memo. At long last, iPhone fans could have an alternative provider, but how many will make the switch? And more importantly, what will they have left to complain about?
And the elusive white iPhone? After months of delays and rumors, the latest reports have the model set for launch next spring ... around the same time as the rumored release of the iPhone 5. Whatever happens, we can't wait to read the next chapter.
The year started off hopefully enough, for those who kept an eye out for a Lindsay Lohan turnaround: Her December 2009 trip to India called attention to child trafficking for a BBC documentary. A few weeks later, she hosted a London fundraiser for Haiti earthquake victims.
But the comeback story that spectators were seeking never quite came through, although she didn't lack for offscreen drama. The effects of her goodwill mission didn't last long, with reports of a drunken spat with her ex Samantha Ronson. In February, Lohan dug into the roots of her bad behavior in a British newspaper exclusive and said all the right things: "I tried to mask my problems with alcohol, cocaine and mind-altering substances. Now I'm in a place where I don't need to use anything and I can feel emotions because I choose to." She also blamed her woes on her father, who lent credence to her point by starting his year with an arrest for criminal contempt and custody hearings for missing child-support payments.
Those winter confessions of hitting rock bottom didn't follow with a notable rise. Tough months lay ahead: She separated from French design house Ungaro, ending her "disastrous" stint as artistic director. She filed a $100 million lawsuit objecting to a Super Bowl commercial that featured the E-Trade babies -- including a "milkaholic Lindsay" -- but the suit was met with derision. However, Esquire did give the crying-over-spilt-milk controversy some heft when its reporter retrieved the original ad script, revealing baby-name choices like Gutter Hound, Jailbait, and Skanky Cake before the ad agency settled on "Lindsay."
By spring, conflicting reports emerged about erratic behavior, not helped by her divorced parents airing their differing concerns to the press -- and often. Her father Michael fretted about his daughter's survival, while her mother Dina dismissed rumors of addiction and debt. Familial issues came to a head in April, when her dad attempted a Britney Spears-style conservatorship and persuaded L.A. police to break into his daughter's apartment -- a move that sent Lohan into a Twitter fury.
On the upside, Lohan scored a good report in alcohol education classes for being unfailingly polite and receptive. But that wasn't enough to forestall a warrant for violating probation when she missed a mandatory hearing to go on a Cannes film festival jaunt. She had to get fitted for a new SCRAM bracelet, an accessory all too familiar to her followers.
Even before the electronic monitoring bracelet let out its first alert, which would ultimately result in Lohan's abbreviated jail term, everyone from Bill O'Reilly ("We should all pray for this woman. Her clock is ticking.") to Joan Rivers ("That girl is going to be dead in 10 years if somebody doesn't take care of her.") asked the grim question: Who would save the troubled actress?
Headlines became increasingly ruthless, if not histrionic: "Lindsay Lohan Careening Toward a Career Dead End" (The Wrap), "Could Lindsay Lohan's Career Possibly Be More Ruined? And Other Metaphysical Questions" (Gawker), "Lindsay Lohan's once bright future takes a detour into troubled waters" (Los Angeles Times), "Success or mess: Who is the real Lindsay Lohan?" (AP), "Lindsay Lohan's career of wrong turns" (CNN), "Lindsay Lohan's Tragic Fall" (ABC News). A New York Post article dimly compared her comeback chances with those of a Hollywood bad boy: "A woman cannot get old and cannot lose her looks. [Whereas] Robert Downey Jr. became more handsome as he got older."
Lohan may have had some "I told you so" revelations: She was ordered into rehab, where UCLA doctors disputed earlier diagnoses of ADHD and bipolar disorder. The clinic allegedly "weaned off" Lohan from several potent legal prescriptions, including Dilaudid, Ambien, and Adderall. Her first onscreen role in three years, "Machete," hit the theaters to mixed reviews, but at least it was a job. She also showed she could still poke fun at herself.
The actress even landed the October cover of Vanity Fair and a pre-jail interview, in which she denied abusing prescription drugs, disdained her father's publicity mongering, and echoed her words from February with more defiance: "I don't care what anyone says. I know that I'm a damn good actress. ... And I know that in my past I was young and irresponsible -- but that's what growing up is. You learn from your mistakes."
But a failed post-rehab drug test, which Lohan confirmed in a tweet, meant 13 hours in jail and going back to rehab for stint No. 5. The court-ordered extension to stick it out in rehab until January 3 postponed Lohan's comeback again (her biopic role as porn star Linda Lovelace had been scheduled to start filming in November) and had the actress pleading hardship in paying the Betty Ford Center's expensive treatment. (At least she settled the E-Trade lawsuit.)
Her probation report, however, lobbied for the longer stay "to save her life" and pointed to a "family of dysfunction." (And again, to prove the point, her father broke his vow to stop speaking to the press, while her mother allegedly shopped an idea for a rehab reality show.) Court-ordered or not, the time-out just might keep her from the "entourage culture," in which cohorts fill in where parents abdicate, or from those "who devour her."
--Vera H-C Chan
After years of speculation and rumors about Apple's work on a tablet device, CEO Steve Jobs finally presented the "magical and revolutionary" iPad to the world in January. Jokes about the name hit the Web, sending "iTampon" soaring as a Twitter trending topic. But the mocking faded as our fascination with Apple's newest product took hold.
Early talk swirled about what the device would mean for traditional print media, the general consensus being that it might rescue an industry struggling to survive the recession and to stay relevant in the digital age. Within a day of Jobs's announcement, bloggers were predicting that it would kill the Kindle and other e-readers. The word spread that the iPad would do for books, magazines, and newspapers what iTunes had done for the music industry. Publishers evidently agreed, as they rushed to strike content deals and heralded the device as a game-changer.
Promises of apps for major publications surfaced, including for the New York Times and select Conde Nast magazines. Then came news that the iPad would end the honeymoon between book publishers and the Kindle. The product wasn't even on shelves yet, but the race was on, with developers rushing to create full-sized apps for a device that most people had never even held.
The launch date ("iPad Day") was announced, and soon after reports of shortages. More than 300,000 devices were sold on the first day, and more than half a million had sold by mid-April, forcing Apple to delay the international launch to catch up with demand. The 3G model was released in a second phase a few weeks later, to further shortages and delays.
In June, AT&T discovered a security leak on its website that had exposed the email addresses of more than 114,000 iPad users, including those of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The news spread quickly, and an FBI investigation was launched.
But nothing slowed sales of Jobs' "magical" device. Through October 2010, an estimated 8 million iPads have sold worldwide, making its adoption rate the fastest ever for a gadget, surpassing the rates of the original iPhone and the DVD player. The numbers are nearly double those of its largest competitor, Amazon's Kindle.
So, has the iPad saved print? Not yet. Publishers have clashed with Apple about a variety of issues, including a refusal to support Adobe Flash, and disagreements about how subscriber information is collected and shared. Magazine sales on the iPad were hardly the holy grail publishers had hoped for, but publishers remain optimistic that a solution will be found. Even media magnate Rupert Murdoch, with rumored help from Apple engineers, developed a newspaper for the iPad, due out early 2011.
As Apple loosens its grip in other arenas, it seems likely that publishers will eventually win some leverage as well. In fall, the company announced that Verizon would sell iPads and offer data plans, allowing users a choice in carriers for the first time since AT&T became the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in 2007. And despite Jobs's well-publicized feelings about Flash, users now have a workaround for the iPad: SkyFire, which hit the app store in November and "sold out" within hours when demand exceeded bandwidth.
Based on the immense success of the tablet, Apple announced the launch of a Mac App Store and invited developers to submit iPad-style apps to operate on Mac computers. Experts speculate that the iPad may become a laptop killer. It looks like Apple is on track to reinvent itself once again, to keep competitive against ... itself.
Like a hyperactive, overachieving freshman, "Glee" accomplished in one season what "American Idol" took years to do: a successful tour, Emmy nominations galore (and a few wins), a holiday album, even a clothing line (slushie stains not included). Actually, forget "Idol": "Glee" album sales broke the Beatles' Billboard records. How fab is that?
The Fox musical comedy barely took a full season to register its pop culture effect. By 2010, its "Gleeks" had formed: a fan cross-breed of teenagers, adults who remember their high school years, and preteens who have much to look forward to. They adored how the show celebrated misfits and dazzled with musical numbers.
Sure, the plots could be uneven, but "Glee" took on touchy issues without too many predictable, drawn-out storylines. Character Kurt Hummel's coming-out story arc was done in a single episode -- but true to "Glee" spirit, a character's bittersweet reward of being out of the closet was knowing the inside of a Dumpster. Fans' love-love relationship with scheming cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester knew no bounds, much as the character knew no boundaries. Gleeks had their pick of characters to identify with, including the "Other Asian."
The network hustled to oblige the Gleeks, ordering an extra nine episodes (on top of 12 already aired) to add a spring semester. Artists like Britney Spears and Billy Joel queued for a "Glee" tune-up -- about the only artist not on the waiting list was Liberace.
With the show already hot on social networking, it was easy enough to fuel hysteria for the April premiere with Gleek Week, featuring everything from a hypertrailer to Facebook gimmicks before the show's April return. Not that there wasn't plenty of other hype: One Toronto FM station devoted itself to an all-"Glee" format.
Plus, during the break, "Glee" pumped up the volume off the set. The cast, rearranging its shooting schedule, sang at the White House Easter Egg hunt. Stage shows ranged all the way to London's West End. When the midseason premiere finally aired, 13.6 million people tuned in.
Then something off happened sophomore year. The underdogs seemed too popular. The Britney episode drew record ratings (13.3 million) but gave short shrift to wheelchair warbler Artie Abram's losing his virginity to charmingly dumb as a pom-pom Brittany. In Season 1, Artie's struts won fans for his achingly sweet fantasy segment, in which he daydreams about being able to dance. (The scene spurred Web searches for "Safety Dance" flash-mob choreography.) The Britney episode, though, spurred a Salon critic to scold, "Stop drinking your own Kool-Aid for long enough to realize that two nitrous-induced Britney Spears dance numbers in a row is exactly one too many."
Other tone-deaf developments: Beloved Burt Hummel, whose stock rose after his magnificent defense of his gay son last season, nearly died of a heart attack -- but was fine by the following week and was married in a month. And neither hide nor hair has been seen of Quinn Fabray's baby. "Glee" risked becoming a victim of its own preciousness, alternatively loved and lambasted. A Boston Globe critic lamented, "The creators have turned their show from a sweet, twisted teen melodrama honoring the power of music into a slick soapbox-jukebox with one eye on TV ratings and the other on record sales."
Offscreen, the show got into sooo much trouble. A conservative parent media group got whopping mad when "Glee" actresses (all above the age of consent) indulged GQ magazine's schoolgirl fetish with a scantily clad cover spread, while the sole male representative, Cory Monteith, stayed fully clothed. One actress (Dianna Agron) offered an apology of sorts, but the actresses' biggest sins were being "cliched" and against the show's "whole ethos of inclusion." (In another Gleek pop-culture moment, Mike Chang, aka the Other Asian, posed shirtless for Yellow magazine with nary a whisper.)
But for every sophomoric move, there have been juicy bits of flawed genius: praying to a grilled cheese sandwich with a burnt image of Jesus Christ? No wonder people were tracking down the "Grilled Cheesus" episode online. Delirious, serious, joyous, aggravating -- "Glee" inspires even as it frustrates.
--Vera H-C Chan
After taking the reality-show world by storm in 2009, the uber-tan, fist-pumping "Jersey Shore" housemates from Seaside Heights signed with MTV for a second season and continued their infiltration of the known universe. Snooki, J-Woww, Pauly D, the Situation, Sammi, Vinnie, and the others lurked in every corner, ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, "Dancing With the Stars" and covering the Grammys.
Not satisfied with dominating television, they branched out into other arenas. Music? Check: The cast took part in an Enrique Iglesias video for a song appearing on the "Jersey Shore Soundtrack." Fashion? Yep, both the Situation and J-Woww launched clothing lines this year. Oh, and Snooki designed a slipper. Literature? Um ... kinda. Order your copy of "Gym, Tanning, Laundry" now. An iPhone app? The requisite item for any self-respecting pop-culture trend is available in both Snooki and the Situation models. Film? Not yet, but we can always hope.
With the U.S. conquered and the cast headed south for the summer to film Season 2 in Miami, MTV set its sights overseas. In March, the show aired in more than 30 countries, bringing the tao of G.T.L. (or "gimnasio, bronceado, lavanderia" in Spanish-speaking markets) to the rest of the world. To prepare unsuspecting foreign viewers, MTV ran a series of ads called "Get Jersey Shored." And voila, another proud U.S. export joins the ranks of Jerry Lewis, David Hasselhoff, and "Walker Texas Ranger."
With exposure like that, a round of spoof videos was inevitable -- and we weren't disappointed. They came in droves: for instance, "Little Jersey Shore," with scenes from the show re-enacted by juice-box-toting toddlers. Or the actual castmates spoofing "Twilight" on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Last but not least, late-night host Craig Ferguson teased us with a trailer for "Jersey Shore: The Movie," starring Mila Kunis as Snooki.
"Jersey Shore"-themed Halloween costumes topped the most-popular costume list this year. Even celebrities got in on the act, with Joan Rivers going as Snooki and Ellen DeGeneres dressing as Snooki's pouf. The "Regis and Kelly" team performed a segment as the "Shore" cast (Art Mohr as J-Woww was really something special). And yes, the real-live cast dressed up, too.
Just when we thought they were already as ubiquitous as sand at the beach, the Garden State gang made Barbara Walters's list of Most Fascinating People of 2010. Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino is now one of the highest-paid reality stars. When his turn on "Dancing With the Stars" ended, ratings dropped quickly, especially in the 18-to-49 demographic. Snooki bounced back from her beachside arrest and is now an author -- seriously. Her first book arrives in early 2011, mere months after she announced to Twitter followers that guidette was reading her first book ever. This is all great news for fans of juiceheads, gorillas, and grenades. More good news: The bikini-clad shore dwellers will be back for a third season -- and back home in Jersey -- this summer.
Our relationship with Facebook? It's complicated.
Friendship with the social networking giant, though, can come with an awful lot of conditions. When the year started, Facebook users had been racing to adjust their privacy settings after the company made changes it said would help control your experience. The "help" included making personal information such as name, photos, and status updates public -- and searchable -- by default. Watchdog groups representing everything from privacy to consumers (even the American Library Association) filed a federal complaint.
Considering the big blowup over Facebook's ill-fated Beacon marketing snafu, some comforting words might have been expected from CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In January, the then-25-year-old Zuckerberg told TechCrunch's Michael Arrington that privacy is "no longer the norm online," and that if he were launching the site today, all information would be public by default.
Thus began a rocky year for the young mogul, fraught with lawsuits, privacy complaints, and public scrutiny, but also massive success. Which, come to think of it, was probably just like any other year for Zuckerberg. The company settled that pesky Beacon issue in spring, when a judge approved a $9.5 million settlement establishing a Digital Trust Fund. Then came further privacy backlash, including a call from several U.S. senators asking the company to change its policies, as Facebook launched its "instant personalization" feature.
The privacy battle became such a flashpoint that it made the cover of Time magazine in May. With tools like the new Friendship pages being touted as fodder for so-called Facebook stalkers, privacy battles are likely to continue into 2011.
None of that stopped the massive popularity of the site that loves getting into our business. Facebook's pervasive influence had social scientists and psychologists studying its impact on how we interact IRL (in real life). Everything from romantic relationships to how we use language to our grades has been affected by our attachment to the social network. And only when the site went away -- just for one Thursday afternoon in September (spurring plaintive searches on "Facebook down today") -- did we realize how much we needed it.
Not satisfied with finding friends or playing Farmville, some people put the site to innovative use in 2010. One Florida politician credits Facebook with his new job. A Canadian storeowner caught a thief. In England, a nurse used it to save a toddler's life. Facebook itself tried its hand at predicting midterm election results. Its new Facebook Places Deals lets partners like the Gap offer discounts and freebies to fans who check in on their phones. And its modern messaging system aims to change the nature of online conversation.
Zuckerberg, the site's billionaire founder, was as much of an obsession for us as Facebook itself: A controversial post from Gawker turned the tables on Zuckerberg by siccing a photographer on him, then publishing photos of his home, girlfriend, and family. A viral campaign tried to "block" the CEO, though ironically that triggered a safety measure that made him unblockable.
And throughout 2010 we saw the build-up of that movie. Months before David Fincher's film came out, people raised questions about the truth behind the site's creation myth and the film's portrayal of Zuckerberg as a touchy, socially awkward boy genius. Zuckerberg launched a low-key PR campaign against "The Social Network."
When the film finally debuted in October, critics and audiences gave the drama a big "like"; reactions from new media types were more mixed. But Zuckerberg, who ended up seeing it, might've benefited from the "humanizing" cinematic profile. Plus, online searches for "Facebook sign-up" ricocheted up nearly 500 percent after the movie's debut, and "The Social Network" is an Oscar frontrunner. That wouldn't be a bad status update at all.
Like any good outbreak movie, this one starts in New York City. Imagine a montage of newscasters announcing that the Empire State Building, the United Nations, and Niketown have all been affected. Then heart-tugging shots of children as reporters announce that city schools are infested. Cut to a street with mattresses marked "Bedbugs. Do not take!" Reports roll in from other cities, describing bedbugs as a nationwide epidemic.
How did we get here? For more than 50 years, bedbugs were all but eradicated in the U.S. Then they returned, and exterminators, unprepared for the onslaught, had to go back as far as WWII for data on how to stop an infestation. The unwelcome houseguests can live up to a year without feeding, can hide in the tiniest of crevices, and take several pricey rounds of professional treatments to kill.
No one knows exactly why they are back now in such a big way, but theories include a boom in international travel (with the bugs hitching rides on planes and in hotel beds); the elimination of pesticides like DDT, banned in the '70s; and bugs that have developed a resistance to the less dangerous chemicals currently approved by the EPA. Mix in a society where most of us had never seen a bedbug, and experts who are frantically relearning how to deal with the pests, and it's easy to see how the problem has spread as quickly as it has.
In August, Manhattan earned the dubious distinction of being named the most infested city in America, followed by Philadelphia and Detroit. The city's pest problem made one of David Letterman's Top 10 Lists. City officials announced a $500,000 initiative to educate and inform residents about the bugs and to better coordinate efforts by city agencies.
The EPA, which held its first bedbug summit in 2009, continued its campaign to encourage approved chemicals and treatments and stop the misuse of dangerous banned pesticides sometimes used by those desperate for relief. The state of Ohio petitioned the EPA for an emergency exemption to use a specific restricted pesticide, but it was denied.
As the hysteria grows, so does the booming bedbug business. In addition to exterminators, there's money to be made from bug-sniffing dogs and protective mattress and pillow covers. And yes, there's even an app for that.
This movie isn't over; we won't see the credits rolling as the sun rises over a bedbug-free Manhattan skyline just yet. For now, the best we can do is educate ourselves on how to prevent an infestation and be careful, especially while travelling.
When the confetti cleared from the midterm elections, political analysts hunkered down to calculate the tea party effect. For two years participants and observers had tried to define the loose coalition of discontented, anti-government voters, but now actual wins and losses might pin down who these rabble-rousers were.
The most pressing question about the tea party in 2010 was: What is it all about? Specifically, curious people searched the Internet for "What is the tea party movement?", "What is the tea party about?", and "What does the tea party stand for?"
Many headlines, however, centered on the question of who the tea party members are. Are they libertarians in disguise? Old-school GOP? Disenfranchised working class? Elitists? Religious conservatives? Bigots revolting against the president's racial heritage? All of the above? And how did former Alaska governor Sarah Palin figure into all that?
The thing about an evolving movement is, the snapshot constantly changes, and the view depends on where you're standing when you take that shot. Although the tea party's beginnings can be traced to a Seattle blogger, a CNBC reporter, and overall tax protesters against bailouts, the crusade reminded some of the 1992 populist outburst surrounding presidential candidate Ross Perot.
The "who" depended on whom you asked. A February CNN/Opinion Research survey described the activists as "male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative," although Quinnipiac University thought the group more female. A month later, a study by the Sam Adams Alliance found the majority were political newbies who opposed a third party. A New York Times/CBS poll in April found them "wealthier and more educated" people who find their taxes to date "fair," rebutting one image of ill-informed malcontents. Less surprising was the tea partiers' race (white), age (older than 45), and political perspective (very conservative). The least revelatory finding: They were an "angry" lot.
Patchwork Nation, a demographics project and a collaboration among multiple news organizations, took on the where question. Based on online membership sites, tea partiers were all across America but mostly in north Florida, central Texas, and northern parts of the mountain West.
The January 19 victory of Tea Party Express-endorsed Scott Brown for the Massachusetts Senate seat set off chatter about the nascent group's power, although many Bostonians pointed to his Democratic opponent's sloppy campaign. Tea partiers themselves credited "huge dissatisfaction ... [that] transcended the movement." Brown's victory was seen as a "turning point," although his later vote for the jobs bill proved he was, after all, representing all Yanks.
The polarizing but always folksy Palin emerged as perhaps the tea party's most familiar friend, if not as a candidate for its spiritual leader. To surprised observers, she declined the Conservative Political Action Conference but delivered the keynote for the first National Tea Party Convention. She also delivered national attention, although her ticket fees ($349) and the presence of other late-to-the-tea-party conservatives bothered grassroots groups.
The unknowns got the bright, hot strobe light of political scrutiny -- for better or for worse. Sharron Angle of Nevada, Joe Miller of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mark Rubio of Florida, and Christine O'Donnell of Delaware became known beyond their state lines. Those who became punchlines were perhaps those who strayed too far from the tea party's own Contract from America, laser-focused on fiscal policy and not social issues. But others rode into victory, in an election year that turned out mighty tough for all parties involved.
All predictions are for gridlock, as the freshmen prepare to storm Washington, D.C. But some agreement seemed to be reached days after the election: A letter addressed to Republican leaders marked a challenge to the evangelical base that dominated GOP politics for so long. The "nonpartisan" alliance of Tea Party Patriots, New American Patriots, and GOProud urged focus on "excessive spending, taxation and government intrusion," and to "resist the urge to run down any social issue rabbit holes."
What was the tea party movement in 2010? Getting to the point.
--Vera H-C Chan
A duo of Japanese designers wanted to rescue rubber bands from the trash. An American entrepreneur supersized the product and catered to kids. Now a multimillion-dollar U.S. business, Silly Bandz has become serious stuff.
In less than two years, the festive rubber bracelets made by Silly Bandz and its competitors have triggered a mania among schoolkids and penetrated celebrity fashion circles. It may well be 2010's best seller ... with nary an ad launched.
The appeal lies in the band's shape-shifting: On the wrist -- and as many tween fashionistas prefer, stacked up by the dozens up the arm -- they wear like bracelets. Once off, the silicone reverts into shapes, from sea creatures to Save the Gulf symbols -- and therein lies the collectible, addictive nature of the bands that have snared thousands of fans around the globe.
For a generation (or more) weaned on Xboxes and iPods, Silly Bandz and its imitators are a throwback to the days of pet milk caps and Beanie Babies. At $2.99 for a 12-pack, cheap ubiquity has fed the ardor. In the product's early days, gift shops and drugstores sold out hundreds, if not thousands, within hours of the school day ending. Trade is common among Bandz owners, but pint-sized middlemen can make a killing reselling them in the school hallways: 25 cents on average but as much as 50 cents for special editions. (The packaging identifies its contents, making the hunt simpler.)
Classroom crackdowns (animal-shaped bracelets sting as much as regular rubber bands) barely dented the hoarding. Instead, as the gleeful maker of Zanybandz told the New York Times, "Getting banned fuels the craze like a five-gallon can of gasoline on a campfire."
Celebrities from Sarah Jessica Parker and Shakira to Anthony Bourdain and Justin Bieber have co-opted the look. (In fact, Bieber now brands his own.) That's right, Silly Bandz obsession doesn't fall along the usual gender lines (in searches on Yahoo!, the online interest is split 50-50), nor does it depend on age. The toy has been used as a come-on in New York bars and has inspired adult-oriented knockoffs (Kama Sutra rubber bands, anyone?).
Like instant noodles and karaoke, the Silly Bandz concept was born in Japan, with good-earth intentions. Award-winning Japanese designers Yumiko Ohashi and Masanori Haneda made rubber bands into appealing animal shapes -- pet, zoo, and dinosaur -- so they'd be reused rather than trashed. A limited U.S. release caused New York magazine to gush back in 2002, "They can be worn as bracelets on very small wrists."
But it took Robert Croak, CEO of Brainchild Products Imports, to get the multimillion-dollar business snapping. He and his factory manager espied the animal-shaped rubber bands at a trade show in China. Croak cranked up the size and changed the shapes. A Learning Express store in Birmingham, Alabama, has been traced as Silly Bandz ground zero. From there, the virus spread south and east, stormed through the heartland and headed west, and hit Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. by summer.
Brainchild Products Imports went from making $10,000 last year to more than $100 million in 2010. The company bolstered the local Ohio economy (more than tripling the staff to just under 70) and hired 3,000 factory employees in China.
Incidentally, as for Silly Bandz's environmental friendliness, the bands are crafted of "100% medical-grade silicone," which is hard to recycle. According to Nitash Balsara, a chemical professor at the University of California at Berkeley, silicone tends to be cross-linked -- that is, the "entire object is one big module." That makes them impossible to melt and reform (like glass), although they can be ground up and reused, like rubber tires that find new life as artificial garden mulch.
But in the Bandz-emonium, that kind of consideration isn't top of mind. Indeed, more Silly variants -- necklaces, watches, and a video game -- have been hurried out to tap into the frenzy. Projections for a Silly Bandz future? Some predict a burnout soon, but CEO Croak sees bright, rubbery possibilities. After all, he found another use for the springy rubber band: holding his wad of cash.
--Vera H-C Chan
You submit three manuscripts to a publishing house. Within a matter of months, the first book in your trilogy becomes an international best-seller and makes you the No. 2 author across the globe in 2008. Movie deals are made, not only in your home country of Sweden, but also in Hollywood, where a top-notch director adapts your first book in the series. Tour guides base walking tours on your mysteries.
Before book No. 3 can hit American shelves in 2010, inspiring Harry Potter-like hysteria among adults, readers too impatient to wait for the release defy copyright laws to order copies overseas.
Life looks good. Except you're dead.
That's the posthumous story of Stieg Larsson, a Swedish magazine editor who died of a heart attack not long after delivering what he called the Millennium Trilogy. In 2010, American fans knew all three books: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played with Fire," and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest."
While conspiracists might disagree, Larsson's death came of natural causes, if you call smoking more than 60 cigarettes a day a natural cause. (A friend claimed to the New York Times that the journalist's last words were, "I'm 50, for Christ's sake!") His life was irresistibly noir-like: Larsson, like his book's hero, was an investigative journalist who took on far-right extremists. Dying intestate has made a mess of his success, as his long-time live-in girlfriend (an architectural historian), and his allegedly estranged family members fight over millions.
Yes, as critics point out, the books have "endless digressions," "lumbering prose," and "preposterous plots." The books' true heart lies in the odd coupling of financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and, more importantly, Lisbeth Salander, the brilliant hacker and Asperger-ish researcher in full punk regalia and, of course, tattoos. (Larsson patterned Salander after Pippi Longstocking.)
The crime novels delve into fascism and serial murders, but also Salander's horrific abuse as a child and Blomkvist's investigations into financial and political corruption.
That the "Girl" was the more compelling character wasn't lost in the translations, although only the second novel truly focused on Salander. Larsson fiercely opposed female exploitation after witnessing a gang rape as a teenager, and he insisted on the Swedish titles for his first and third, translated as "Men Who Hate Women" and "The Air Castle That Blew Up."
The series has been credited with helping establish Scandinavian noir as the current big thing. An outraged sense of justice undergirds all three books -- the kind of outrage that seems almost old-fashioned for Americans who live in a disengaged age.
Still, the books' overseas appeal was pretty clear: The Girl enacts revenge fantasies against sexual abusers, billionaire thieves, and secret-service autocrats. What better outlet for people living through the recent scandals of priest abuse, Wall Street recklessness, and big-government maneuvers? In other words, a catharsis for everyone.
The series has sold more than 45 million copies around the world. By summer, Larsson was the first to make Amazon's Kindle Million club. In 2010 alone, Larsson sold 15 million copies -- as one publishing blogger put it, "roughly the equivalent of recent works by John Grisham, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Stephen King combined."
Movies rights and a TV series were inevitable, and Larsson's home country got dibs. The first film hit European theaters in winter 2009 and pulled in $100 million before getting to British soil. The U.S., late in the game, crammed the Swedish series into three successive limited releases: March, July, and October.
Hollywood also proved game for its own take on Swedish noir. David Finch, the director behind "Seven" and "Fight Club," signed on for a big-screen treatment of all three movies; the first comes out in December 2011. Daniel Craig's Bond qualifications (especially between the sheets) made him plenty eligible for the sexually liberated Blomkvist. The question of who would play Salander became our next breathless obsession. After many contenders (with fans advocating for the original, Noomi Rapace), Rooney Mara landed what is probably the most coveted female role since Bella Swan in "Twilight."
When Larsson died, he left behind about 200 pages of unpublished writing. While that legacy has been part of the ugly legal fight, his girlfriend of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, says these pages are just a draft, and as long as she owns them, "they will never be published." But do those pages belong to his fourth book ... or even a fifth? The mystery and the obsession linger.
--Vera H-C Chan
An earlier version of this story originally appeared on Yahoo! Buzz Log