2015, the year that was: Arts and culture

By Nick Lehr
The Conversation

With the New Year approaching, we highlight the top arts and culture stories from 2015.

Over the past year, there was no shortage of news events, artistic breakthroughs and cultural trends to write about. As always, we tried to provide an interesting twist to supplement existing coverage.

With the 2016 presidential campaign heating up, our running series The Art of the Presidency explored the nuances of running for the nation’s highest office. Our writers analyzed how a good campaign logo, song and speech – even a candidate’s facial hair (or lack thereof) – can influence voter support.

For the desk’s sports coverage, our academics added a layer of legal analysis to Deflategate and the (ongoing) daily fantasy sports saga. Meanwhile, our youth sports series covered some of the most pressing issues young athletes face, from the rising costs of participating to the ethics of signing up your kid to play football.

On the cultural front, we probed puzzling trends abroad – namely, some of the reasons that the Japanese have become so smitten with moss and why Norwegians have begun using the word “Texas” as a synonym for “crazy.”

Of course, America’s cultural quirks abound: why have Americans become increasingly paranoid and susceptible to conspiracy theories? What’s with the country’s obsession with gambling and risk? Why are our public bathroom designs so anxiety-inducing? We also had to weigh in on the dad bod phenomenon.

Waiting for Superdad: The dad bod took the nation by storm in 2015. | Author provided

Our writers took us inside criminal subcultures – into the world of suburban drug dealing and inside the nation’s prisons, where we analyzed the various ways inmates can lure prison staffers into illicit relationships that involve favors like sex, money or drugs. As the Islamic State’s (ISIS) numbers grew, we investigated some of the terrorist organization’s creative recruiting methods, like how they’ve used poetry and music to attract new members.

With terrorist attacks at home and abroad, many seem to be focused on figuring out ways to purge the world of evil. Perhaps that’s why exorcisms – long thought to be a relic of the Dark Ages – are on the rise. But seeing the devil in everyday life – even in pop culture – isn’t anything new; the same strand of thinking led many to label Dungeons and Dragons players and metalheads as satanic in the 1980s.

Over the summer, Deadheads said “fare thee well” as the Grateful Dead toured for the last time. And speaking of farewells, before we close the door on 2015, let’s take a moment to remember some arts icons who are no longer with us.

Neuroscientist and writer Oliver Sacks, Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy, poet Philip Levine and designer Michael Graves all passed away – as did Don Featherstone, the inventor of the pink plastic flamingo (may his fledglings populate lawns for eternity).

Six months after Bill Simmons unceremoniously left ESPN, his former bosses shuttered Grantland, Simmons’ acclaimed sports and pop culture website. And the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced earlier this year that JFK Airport’s iconic TWA terminal would be transformed into a luxury hotel.

They’ll all be missed. (Except perhaps Confederate statues.)

Finally, below you’ll find links to the top 10 most-read arts and culture stories from the past year:


Nick Lehr, Editor, The Conversation.

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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