The New Classics: The Most Enduring Books, Shows, Movies, Ideas Since 2000

Stuff that will stand the test of time
Nov. 7 2011 12:04 AM

The New Classics

The most enduring books, shows, movies, and ideas since 2000.

David Foster Wallace, in his introduction to The Best American Essays 2007, coined a great phrase to describe our contemporary media environment: "Total Noise." Movies, books, television shows, the journalistic outlets formerly known as newspapers, podcasts, YouTube videos, actual museums, tweets—they all comprise the noise. It's easy to feel that the cultural world has fractionated into endless niches. Yet, just as in previous decades, there will be those ideas that emerge and endure: the new classics.

The difference now is that the classics are more personalized—there is no longer a mass culture that aids in canon formation. The classics are also more diverse, as high, low, and middlebrow culture have become inextricably twirled and tangled. The new millennium is only 11 years old, but we at Slate became curious—as a thought experiment—about which cultural artifacts since 2000 will speak to future eras. What are the timeless expressions being forged in our noisy moment? Even more important: What are we overlooking that will one day be seen as an essential document of our time? To that end, we asked Slate contributors to name the new classics in the fields they know best.

Please send your own nominations for "new classics" to slatenewclassics@gmail.com or use the #newclassics hashtag on Twitter. We'll gather all of your suggestions for a follow-up article. Now, let the wildly discursive attempt at canon formation begin!

“I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas
Nominated by: John Swansburg, Slate culture editor

Some songs become classics because they are the purest expression of the musical movement that produced them. Some songs become classics because they’re just undeniably good. “I Gotta Feeling,” by the Black Eyed Peas, has very little to say about politics or culture; as hip-hop, it can’t compete with Kanye or Lil Wayne; and its goodness is frequently and convincingly denied. Yet the song has entered the canon for the simple reason that it will be played at every wedding you will attend for decades to come.  

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I mentioned this theory to a Slate colleague recently, who countered that she had forbidden her DJ from playing the song at her nuptials. But that’s my point exactly. “I Gotta Feeling,” like “Brick House” and “Shout” before it, has become so standard that if you don’t want to hear it at your wedding you must affirmatively ban it from the proceedings. (Given the song’s unlikely fondness for Yiddish—there are the mazel tovs in the refrain, plus an easier to miss, auto-tuned l’chaim at one point—it is surely a standard on the bar mitzvah circuit as well.)

Whether you love the song or hate it, you must acknowledge its insidious play for function-hall immortality: It invites an energetic but unskilled style of dance consisting largely of jumping up and down. Its lyrics are vague enough that it can score country-club mixers and sorority house pregaming. It’s easy enough for wedding bands of all stripes to master—soul is rewarded but not required. Most important, it’s infectiously upbeat: After a couple of cocktails, even avowed rockists and penny-loafered uncles by marriage can find themselves won over by its relentless optimism. Who wants to be caught sulking with the salad at Table 4 when “I Gotta Feeling” inevitably strikes up? Are you rooting for it not to be a good night?

Clearview typeface
Nominated by: Julia Turner, Slate deputy editor

Clearview Font Signs. MPD01605 via Wikimedia Commons.

The typeface you’ve probably heard most about lately is Helvetica, the 20th-century sans serif classic that starred in a recent documentary. But Clearview is the young typeface to watch. It was approved in 2004 for use on American road signs as an alternative to the old standard, Highway Gothic, and it's destined to become a classic thanks to its utility and sheer ubiquity. Clearview was designed to solve a problem: Highway Gothic, which has been in use since the 1940s, has small, cramped lowercase letters that are hard to read on highway signs at night. The creators of Clearview, designer Don Meeker and typographer James Montalbano, sought to minimize “halation”—the glowy halos that appear on letters and make it hard to tell, say, an a from an e—and thus enhance legibility, and, by extension, road safety. (In the two signs above, you can see the crisper Clearview on the right.) The typeface got its closeup in a New York Times Magazine feature in 2007, and since then, its use has only increased. Occasionally people squall when Clearview comes to town—New Yorkers objected on nostalgic grounds when the typeface replaced our ALL CAPS street signs earlier this year—but Clearview works, and it looks nice. Odds are it will endure. And one day we’ll be nostalgic for it.

Chronicles, Volume 1
Nominated by: Ron Rosenbaum, Slate columnist

Bob Dylan Chronicles Cover.

In the age of the memoir, one stands out as illuminating and likely to last. When I initially read it, it struck me (as the title of Mary McCarthy's famous review of Nabokov's Pale Fire had it) like "a bolt from the blue." And it has retained its lightning-like luminosity in the seven years since.

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