Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
The median age in USA is currently about 37 years. Assuming that you must be at least five years old to remember a cultural event later, this means that anything that happened longer ago than the fifth birthday of someone who is 37 years now is remembered by a minority of people today. This applies to any event prior to 1980, so here in 2012, the majority of Americans are too young to remember the Seventies. However, according to census estimation the median will raise in the future, so instead of a 32 years gap between event and the moment when most people can't remember it, the gap becomes 35 years (implying a median of some 40 years).
2013: The Carter presidency Jimmy Carter was the President of the United States from 1977-1981. He lost all popularity after he was viewed as mishandling several crises during his presidency, including the Three Mile Island accident, the Iran Hostage crisis, and the "stagflation" of the late 1970's. According to Wikipedia, his decisions to reinstate registration for the draft and his decision to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow (over the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) helped contribute to his defeat in the 1980 Presidential campaign.
2014: The Reagan shooting References the 1981 assassination attempt on the then American president, Ronald Reagan.
2015: The Falkland Islands War This is in reference to the brief outbreak of hostilities between the UK and Argentina over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) located off the shore of Argentina claimed by both but controlled by the UK. Even to this date, tensions remain high over the ownership of these islands, and while many people alive today weren't alive to witness it, it nevertheless remains present in the collective psyche of both nations.
2017: The first Apple Macintosh The Macintosh was a line of computers created by Apple, first introduced in 1984, with the introduction of the Macintosh 128K.
2018: New Coke References a public relations blunder that the Coca Cola corporation undertook in attempting to reformulate its cola recipe, the new formula called New Coke popularly. The public backlash so shook the company that they reintroduced the original recipe as Coca-Cola Classic within 3 months. New Coke was eventually rebranded from Coca-Cola to Coke II, and then discontinued. Coca-Cola Classic has quietly been rebranded back to simply Coca-Cola, as it originally was. The "New Coke" introduction is considered one of the biggest PR blunders from a major company ever.
2019: Challenger The Challenger was a NASA space shuttle, which was launched in 1986, but exploded 72 seconds into its flight, killing everyone aboard, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher selected to be the first teacher in space.
2020: Chernobyl Refers to the 1986 meltdown of a nuclear power plant in the Ukranian SSR (then a part of the Soviet Union). The meltdown forced the nearby city of Pripyat to be abandoned, and it remains a ghost town today.
2021: Black Monday Refers to the 1987 day of the largest one-day stock market drop in history.
2022: The Reagan presidency Ronald Reagan was an American president from 1981 to 1989, and was a generally well received president known for ending the Cold War, oversaw the Iran–Contra affair, invading Grenada, and issuing forth a number of new economic policies.
2023: The Berlin Wall Refers to the barrier surrounding the western-controlled part of Berlin. It was erected by the East German Government in 1961 to stop illegal emigration to West Berlin---the western-controlled enclave after the ending of the second WW. After a friendly revolution in 1989, emigration to West Berlin (and West German in general) was granted suddenly and very surprisingly again on November 9, 1989. The following rush of people to the Wall from East (to cross the border) and from West (to welcome friends and relatives) in that night coined the figurative "Fall of the Wall", preceding the actual reunion of Germany in 1990 and (almost) complete demolition of the Wall.
2024: HammerTime Refers to a refrain in MC Hammer's 1990 hit song U Can't Touch This; Randall Munroe makes reference to this song elsewhere in his comics, too (specifically 108: M.C. Hammer Slide and 210: 90's Flowchart).
2025: The Soviet Union Refers to the cold-war adversary of the United States, emerging after the end of World War I and only collapsing in 1991.
2026: The LA Riots Refers to the massive riots occurring at the release of the verdict acquitting the officers accused of the Rodney King beatings in 1992.
2027: Lorena Bobbit Refers to the woman who emasculated her husband in 1993.
2028: The Forrest Gump release Forrest Gump was a 1994 drama starring Tom Hanks as a mentally disabled man, telling his spectacular life story. The movie had a highly successful release, and remains one of the greatest films of all time.
2029: The Rwanda Genocide Refers to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where an estimated 800,000 people were killed.
2030: OJ Simpson's Trial The O.J. Simpson trial was a famous criminal case during which O.J. Simpson, a professional football player, was acquitted of the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. He was later arrested and jailed for other crimes, including armed robbery and kidnapping.
2031: Clinton's reelection Bill Clinton was the American president from 1993 to 2001. He won his second term in the 1996 presidential election. During his second term, he faced controversity during an impeachment trial, for which he was acquitted, and a large number of pardons he made on his last day of office. Clinton was a generally favoured president, exiting his presidency with a high approval rate.
2032: Princess Diana Princess Diana was a famous Commonwealth princess who made headlines after her 1997 death in a car crash.
2033: Clinton's impeachment In 1998, the American Congress voted to impeach then-president Clinton, based on allegations that he lied about relations with a White House intern. He was later acquitted.
2034: Columbine Refers to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, where 13 people were killed by a pair of shooters.
2035: Forgot About Dre Refers to the Grammy winning 2000 song, Forgot About Dre, by the rapper Dr. Dre.
2036: 9/11 Refers to the 9/11 event, in 2001, where terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center towers, in New York. Two other planes that crashed that day: one into the The Pentagon, and one in a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania (Presumably on its way to crashing into the Capitol Building)
2037: VH1's I love the 80s I Love the '80s was a 2002 nostalgia TV series by VH1.
2038: A time before Facebook Refers to the online social media site, Facebook, launched in 2004.
2039: VH1's I love the 90s I Love the '90s was a TV series airing in 2004.
2040: Hurricane Katrina Hurricane Katrina was a devastating 2005 hurricane that hit New Orleans, killing almost 2000 people and causing 81 billion dollars in damage.
2041: The planet Pluto Pluto is a dwarf planet in our solar system. Up until 2006, Pluto was considered to be a planet.
2042: The first iPhone Apple's first iPhone was released in 2007.
2043: The Bush presidency George W. Bush was the American presidency from 2001 to 2009. He was criticized for the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, poor handling of Hurricane Katrina, and seeing the United States enter a recession. His approval peaked after the 9/11 attacks, but had fallen to historical lows by the end of his second term, making him one of the least liked US presidents.
2044: Michael Jackson Refers to the pop singer who died of drug overdose in 2009.
2045: Trying to say Eyjafjallajökull Is a reference to a volcano in Iceland that erupted in 2010. The eruption threw volcanic ash several kilometres up in the atmosphere, which led to air travel disruption in northwest Europe for six days.
2046: The Arab Spring Refers to the wave of revolutions that began in late 2010, where many Arabic nations overthrew leaders and started civil wars, with many nations converting to democracies.
2047: Anything embarrassing you do today Refers to the fact that in 35 years, the majority of Americans will not have been around on this date.
The title text is in reference to the vastly over-saturated programming on VH1 dedicated to the history of the TV universe.
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How far off the top of that list is the death of JFK? SteveB (talk) 10:55, 10 August 2012 (UTC)
- Looking at the time table, my guess would be around 2000. ~JJ (talk) 11:01, 10 August 2012 (UTC)
- Assuming that the median age growed monotonically in the past, that was around '98/'99. 220.127.116.11 13:05, 14 August 2012 (UTC)
Ah, the seventies. Bell Bottoms. The Bicentennial. The Munich Olympics. The original Star Wars movie. Except for Star Wars, I suppose much of that could be forgotten. Especially Bell Bottoms.-- IronyChef (talk) 13:50, 10 August 2012 (UTC)
Lorena Bobbitt is misspelled in the comic. It should have two "t's." Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500185_162-4207517.html [Goingtotryscience, 10 Aug 2012] --Goingtotryscience (talk) 14:59, 10 August 2012 (UTC)
Uploaded corrected version. Both still available if you click on the image and view upload history.--B. P. (talk) 15:46, 17 August 2012 (UTC)
The cold war was after World War II, not World War I. --Ralfoide (talk) 16:18, 10 August 2012 (UTC)
- He didn't say the cold war was after World War I, he said the Soviet Union began after World War I and was the advesary of the United States during the cold war. --Enginesoul (talk) 18:10, 10 August 2012 (UTC)
Let's not forget 2035 when the majority of people will not remember a world berift of XKCD! Loeb (talk) 17:17, 10 August 2012 (UTC)
When Coca-Cola change the formula to New Coke, they kept the name "Coca-Cola" for the reformulated beverage, and discontinued the old formula. Because of the backlash, they reintroduced the old formula as "Coca-Cola Classic" and kept the new formula as "Coca-Cola". After a while, with "Coca-Cola Classic" being by far the biggest seller, the new formula was rebranded "Coke II", and eventually discontinued (I believe). The can I have in front of me is marked simply "Coca-Cola", so I guess "Coca-Cola Classic" was eventually rebranded back to the original name. --Blaise Pascal (talk) 17:55, 10 August 2012 (UTC)
- Coke II was produced and distributed in some Midwestern markets as late as 2002. Supposedly it's still available in the Marshall Islands, or somewhere like that. Daniel Case (talk) 21:22, 14 August 2012 (UTC)
Am I the only one who thinks that there are some other things needing explaining here? I have no idea what "Forgot About Dre" or "Baby Got Back" are about. (Well, not without a little googling.) And Pluto still exists, even if it's not currently classified as a planet (last I heard, they were considering classifying it and Charon as a twin planet system) so people are unlikely to forget about the name.--Joe Green (talk) 07:26, 11 August 2012 (UTC)
- Actually, Pluto is still a planet. To say Pluto is not a planet is the same thing as saying little people aren't people, which is incredibly bigoted against little people. Only a true sociopath would say that Pluto isn't a planet. "Dwarf planet" has planet right in the name. Of COURSE a dwarf planet is a planet.18.104.22.168 15:07, 18 June 2013 (UTC)
- By that logic, "candy corn" is still corn because it has the word corn right in the name. Call me a sociopath if you want to, but I say Pluto is not (and never was) a planet. There was a brief time in history when we mistakenly THOUGHT it was a planet, until we corrected our mistake. The same thing happened with Ceres. It was initially announced to be a planet, until further measurements showed it to be much smaller than we thought, so we reclassified it as an "asteroid". Nowadays, we correctly recognize that Ceres and Pluto belong in the same category as each other. Both of them are rocks floating in a band of other rocks, albeit unusually large examples of such rocks. This comic refers to the fact that we look back with nostalgia on the time when lists of "the planets" included Pluto. Now, the list does not include Pluto.22.214.171.124 15:42, 21 February 2015 (UTC)
Oh and if Chernobyl is considered worthy of explanation, surely so is Challenger? Columbine too. Jeff's initial selection seems a little arbitrary, and while he justifiably never claims to provide a comprehensive explanation, we usually fill in the gaps.--Joe Green (talk) 07:34, 11 August 2012 (UTC)
- Gaps: Filled. By the way, none of the explanation was actually Jeff's. It's the collaboration of multiple users (feel free to pitch in). For example, I made the first revision of the article, with a basic explanation, Jjhuddle added information about the title text (which I skipped over, as I wasn't sure about it), Jilkscom56 added the bit about Eyjafjallajökull, IronyChef added eight more years, MrFlibble fixed an error in one of the dates, AHT expanded the Berlin Wall section, and I filled in the rest of the blanks. Omega Talk • Contribs 08:18, 11 August 2012 (UTC)
The Berlin Wall was constructed by East Germany, not the USSR and it preceded the reunification of Germany. I've sort of fixed it, but it could do with more work. Jeremyp (talk) 10:35, 13 August 2012 (UTC)
- Good. I was just writing a comment about exactly these two points. Although the role of the soviets is not entirely clear, it was the Eastern German (aka German Democratic Republic) Government that decided and (mostly) Eastern German soldiers who built the Wall. And while the "Fall of the Wall" usually refers to the day where suddenly after a very confusing press conference, people could cross the border from east to west, the November 9, 1989, the reunification was a political and formal act in 1990, almost a year later. 126.96.36.199 10:51, 13 August 2012 (UTC)
- Also, the wall was technically not torn down by anyone and especially not from both sides. After a series of weekly demonstrations in Eastern Germany (by a lot of courageous people in different cities), the Government made a decision to lift the travel restrictions, effectively allowing travelling to the West. On November 9, 1989, they made this official in a press conference which did not even receive a lot of attention at first. In this conference, someone raised the question when these new regulation would take effect, and seemingly unprepared, the speaker said "as far as I can see, it's effective immediately". Although there were so many people up that night in both East and West, and although maybe the mass of people prevented a shooting by the unprepared soldiers at the checkpoint, the revolution was not a spontaneous tearing of the wall, it was the demonstrations in the preceeding weeks by the Eastern German People. 188.8.131.52 11:30, 13 August 2012 (UTC)
It seems whoever wrote the explanation for 9/11 has already forgotten the other two planes that crashed that day: one into the Pentagon, and one in a field outside of Shanksville, PA (Presumably on its way to crashing into the Capitol Building)
- Well go change it then!
Actually I found the most crucial part, the math, was done poorly: Why do we have a 32 years gap today and a 35 years gap in the future, when the current median age is "around 35"?. I fixed it, but I'm not a native speaker, so I'd be happy if someone could go over the first paragraph (again). BKA (talk) 13:40, 13 August 2012 (UTC)
"He lost all popularity after he controversially boycotted the 1980 Olympics, in Moscow
" Well, this just proves the point of the comic. Anyone old enough to remember the Carter administration would not have written this. The Olympic boycott was actually supported by most of the American people at the time, albeit a little grudgingly. It was, in fact, one of the few things Carter did at that point that was
The explanation would be more accurate if it read "He lost popularity due to continual high inflation during his administration, failure to resolve the Iran hostage crisis, a speech that was interpreted as blaming the American people for his administration's failings, and a growing perception that he was in over his head." Daniel Case (talk) 21:19, 14 August 2012 (UTC)
- I've rewritten that section to include more information. Wikipedia does say that the Olympic boycott was controversial, and my memory concurs. The real error about the boycott was that it wasn't generally a cold-war issue, but rather a direct response to the Afghanistan invasion. Which is why it was so controversial, as such a boycott was purely political when the spirit of the games was intended to overcome such political differences. Blaisepascal (talk) 21:51, 14 August 2012 (UTC)
This comic makes me feel young. The first event I actually remember is 9/11, and I only remember it because it was my first day of kindergarten. 184.108.40.206
04:21, 14 March 2014 (UTC)
I have extremely vague memories of 9/11 which happened when I was 4, mainly through a dream I had where I built two Lego towers and had them fall on me. I have a few memories of a time before facebook, but I do remember Katrina. I feel so young. Also like. Pokemon's TV show came out when I was born, and I unashamedly still watch it now and then. Literally can't get a show I've watched for a longer period of time than Pokemon haha xD so xkcd makes me feel old and young simultaneously. International Space Station
) 15:41, 22 April 2016 (UTC)