End of an Era

An era is truly known only when it’s over. In 2011, institutions closed shop, government programs ended, and others simply moved on. While an era might be a grandiose way to describe the end of, say, Borders or “Kate Plus 8,” each of these finales symbolized, in their own fields, a way of being that wouldn’t happen again.

If this was a list of departures based on search interest, media personalities would dominate. In 2011 alone, Keith Olbermann, Meredith Vieira, Katie Couric, Glenn Beck, Vivian Schiller, and Regis Philbin parted ways with their organizations. A ranking of bricks-and-mortar business shutdowns included the Gap and Liz Claiborne.

While those were significant, there were other truly momentous shifts across the board. Visionaries, plainspoken ladies, mankind’s leaps into imagination — they stepped down after setting up.

Space: America once ruled the known universe. Now, the same year that Russia celebrated the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight, NASA flew its last space shuttle mission.

Technology: The year that Apple became the most valuable company and iPad sales set a record, Steve Jobs stepped down again, and for good. At a time when disgruntled Joes feel disconnected from their CEOs, people the world over expressed reverence for the late CEO, as they measured his legacy and vision.

Movies: The Harry Potter book series ended in 2007, but the big-screen realization had to happen before fans could say goodbye. And they bid their farewells in record-breaking droves to a bright spot in a largely dreary cinematic year.

Journalism: Just when the journalism industry seemed to be stumbling back on its feet, past sins shut down Britain’s oldest newspaper, News of the World, and ended media baron Rupert Murdoch’s dynastic ventures.

Daytime TV: The daytime queen ended her 25-year reign. Oprah Winfrey did more than redefine daytime TV; she created a movement.

Reality TV: “Kate Plus 8” signed off, ending for a moment America’s obsession with reality TV’s original tiger mom. “Jon & Kate Plus 8” started in more innocent times, when the most scandalous shows centered around bickering roommates, backstabbing survivors, and a flamboyant quintet redefining manhood. As reality TV became, well, more real, the sweet adventures of a modern Brady Bunch became the stuff of tawdry headlines about adultery, divorce, stage moms, and producer manipulation.

Technology: Saying goodbye to an old friend is always hard, and in the case of Friendster, you couldn’t help but feel a little guilty over outgrowing your pal for the cooler kids on the block. MySpace was also sold this year, but Friendster will always be the first.

Government: Like any administration, the White House had turnovers. Among the most visible was Elizabeth Warren, who was passed over to head the agency she essentially created. Coupled with the departure of the FDIC’s Sheila Bair, the buzz about the new (female) sheriffs in town died even before it began. But this ending had a twist.

Business: Borders wasn’t just the story of another big business failing. With shopping malls now bereft of a literary presence, what does the disappearance of Borders say about Americans’ reading habits? Is the book dead — or are people on the edge of a reading revival, thanks to e-books?

Iraqi withdrawal: The withdrawal date had been set under the Bush administration, and a war-weary nation was ready to leave behind this mission. Yet a homecoming wasn’t welcome by all, as Republicans feared a void would be filled by Iran.

The Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for five years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events, pop-culture idiosyncrasies, and online behavior to probe the “why” behind what’s hot online. On Yahoo!, her articles can be found in News, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame. Across the Net, there are remnants of contributions to a cultural travel guide, martial arts encyclopedia, movie criticism, business profiles, and A&E/features reporting.

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