2011 As a Series of Snapshots
- Atlantis flew the last Space Shuttle mission (in place of the intended Endeavour). Ending a thirty year program of 135 missions, which held aloft the dreams of millions like me who couldn't even pull together the grades to get into Space Camp.
- Our military's most adept soldiers and commanders found Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, did what they do under the cover of night, and then plunked him somewhere in the Indian Ocean. I'm still awestruck by the almost utter lack of triumphalism that followed that adventure.
- Kate & William done got hitched. Pippa ascended to the throne of "World's Hot Lit'l Sis" while Harry retained his title of "World's Skeeziest Bro."
- Europe got all wobbly amidst a debt crisis seemingly caused by antiquated, carefree countries like Greece and Italy not acting more like their stodgy, persnickety peers in Germany and England.
- Japan suffered through a massive earthquake and overwhelming tsunami, resulting in the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. I'd bet that somewhere out there is a screenwriter who pitched this same cataclysmic set-up to Jerry Bruckheimer and got the reply "nah, too over the top".
- Rupert Murdoch's UK tabloid - "News Of The World" - folded after a massive and repugnant phone hacking scandal. If I was an editor in charge of writing the obit for that rag, I'd have used: "Rupe Duped, James Blames, Hacks Whacked". Good riddance, to the bloody lot of them.
- Anthony Weiner wins the 2011 Brett Favre "No Good Can Possibly Come From Taking A Picture Of Your Junk, Much Less Texting It To Someone" Award. My bet is next year's winner will use Instagram.
- North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, died. We were told that our intelligence services didn't see it coming. While, yes, I realize he was a short man, is it too much to ask that we step up efforts to track the leader of the (second?) most insane country on the planet with nukes?
- Along with its "Arab Spring" predecessors, Libya came largely unhinged and morphed into a form of leaderless chaos. In so many ways, this seems like merely a placeholder for whatever description of this transition comes next.
- A series of repeated standoffs and a continued game of talking points brinksmanship cratered the U.S. Congress's approval ratings. In fact, more Americans currently favor a shift to Communism than the Congress we've empowered. Inexplicably, re-election for around 90% of them should still be a breeze.
- The Iraq War ended. I feel like the Nation should have at least baked a cake or put up a banner. Is this how people acted in 1975 after seeing those helicopters pull the last people off the Embassy roof in Hanoi? Different circumstances, to be certain. Regardless, I hope I'm not alone in asking to see plans respectfully proffered ASAP for a memorial to the fallen soldiers from this shared and shaded era.
It's been tried before, but I noticed a mass exhumation of 1980s nostalgia and revisionism in 2011. Not just at Sarah's Dance Party, although our collective pink collar was truly popped for that one. I'm also talking about the throwback sound of bands like Cut Copy and M83 who released some of the best music of the year, the neon-infused look of super-cool movies like "Drive", the wall-to-wall fun sub-referencing in a book like Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, the Steve Jobs-inspired memory lane strolling, even the early signs of a possible collapse for the current Russian system of government - it all adds up to some serious deja vu.
Lexicon Addition(s) of the Year
"Occupy" anything and/or everywhere. The Vancouver-based magazine "Adbusters" should be given origin story cred for coining the phrase. But this is one of the most striking examples I've ever seen of a new usage being taken to a truly transcendent level.
Trend of the Year
Protesting in public proved to have an actual impact on the course of governing. Sometimes. Nonetheless, the simple act of marching in the street evolved all around the world in 2011. And now that this Genie has wafted out of the bottle...
A Few Picks for the Best of 2011
- TV - No show took more chances and offered more random, hilarious rewards than "Louie" on FX. Creator/writer/director/editor and namesake comedian Louis C.K. is just getting better. Even while the creative landscape in TV fills to bursting with quality shows.
- Movies - There are always movies still on my "must see" list when the time comes to hork up the YearEnder. That cop-out excuse should not detract from my appreciation of the surprising and delightful "Crazy, Stupid, Love." If I could bottle up the essence of the entire cast, I'd drizzle them over my oatmeal and in my coffee each morning. I've been waiting for Steve Carrell to find a role like this since the last time he played Produce Pete on "The Daily Show". If you possess the capacity to love, test its vitality with a viewing of this movie.
- Sports - The ForeverSconnie side of me wants to say that the Green Bay Packers ruled supreme over All in the Land of Sportiness this year. Because they've had one helluva year, starting with a stunning run to the last Super Bowl and continuing through the entirety of this NFL Season. Yet however much it pains me to say so, the World Series Champs from St. Louis earned this particular YearEnder nod after their epic end of season and post-season run. The Cards were pure sporty goodness. Now never do that again, mm'kay?
- Music - Bon Iver's second full-length, eponymous album is a thing of richly-layered beauty. So many acts put out great stuff this year (including Seattle's Fleet Foxes and Shabazz Palaces, just to name two worthy competitors for this heralded honor). Regardless, Bon Iver always floated back up to the top of my playlist. Call me out for my obvious bias (much of what Justin Vernon creates for his band is done in a converted vet clinic in tiny Fall Creek, Wisconsin). But give it a chance if you've not yet done so.
- Books - "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach fills the roster spot of a very popular novel that then might not garner the literary plaudits it should. Here again, the Wisconsin connection played a small part in raising its position on my radar. Still the beauty and ease shown in the storytelling made me really take notice. All those hard slog years of writing for Harbach must now feel like time well spent.
- Journalism - For those who care to notice, "long form journalism" emerged as a category in 2011. It was packaged as Kindle Singles or served up by new platform players like "The Atavist" (for iPad or other devices). Not long ago, this was just called magazine journalism, by my estimation. Nonetheless, the "Vanity Fair" piece by Keith Gessen about Chad Harbach and the future of publishing was a trend setter in this category of journalism. No matter what it's called.
- Killer App - Siri. That one time when I asked my new phone for "record stores" near my location and Siri made a joke about asking HAL for help? Oh sure, I'd been hooked already. But it was then that I knew voice recognition was WAY cooler than I'd realized.
- Radio/podcast - I run way too many miles, all the while listening to podcasts and, more recently, books on tape. Of all the shows in my regular rotation, "Studio 360" is the most consistently creative and almost always proves itself worth the time. Kurt Andersen retains a lifetime pass from me for "SPY" magazine. He's still prone to some big swings and misses (his most recent "Vanity Fair" piece on how our culture has been stuck in neutral since 1992 is the most glaring example of one of those). But the dood is an interviewer with a serious twinkle in his Dadaist eye. Subscribe now, if you've not already done so.
- Celebrity flameout - Maybe an omnipotent power took a peek at the spreadsheet listing in-no-way-deserved salaries of this planet's celebrities in 2011, then decided to give Charlie Sheen a much needed karmic haircut. If that were so (and PLEASE let it be) I'd bet the house on who's due next - anyone even vaguely connected to a Kardashian.
- Person of the Year - Mohamed Bouazizi was the Tunisian fruit vendor who died last January 4th after setting himself on fire. This unthinkable act launched a movement that toppled governments. I can think of no more influential person on the planet in 2011.
- Donald Trump publicly proposes to Sarah Palin. I'll paraphrase - "If you do me this honor, it'll be huge." Never one to avoid flirtation, The Sarah joins The Donald for pizza, leads him on for months, and still rides off toward the horizon with Todd on a brand-new, solid-gold snowmobile. Cut to commercial.
- The Denver Bronco's quarterback Tim Tebow retires from football before next season after being moved to a back-up role. He's immediately drafted to run for President on the Teaparty ticket (renamed the Tebow Party). No one on his campaign bothers to read the Constitution until two weeks before the election, missing that whole age requirement part. Unbowed, Tebow vows to proved the doubters wrong at his first debate. At which he assumes his now famous "Tebowing" position on the stage for ninety minutes and refuses to answer questions. In the end, the doubters win. Again.
- China's crackdown on artists finally causes the ground the shift in unprecedented ways. Recently jailed writers (such as Chen Xi and Chen Wei) along with the genre-bending master Ai Weiwei (currently fighting trumped up tax charges) manage to spark something cloaked deep inside an ancient culture disguised as a young nation of 1.3 Billion people. No jokes here - just a ballsy prediction. With the acknowledgement that upheaval there will eventually wash up on the shores of every nation across the globe.
- Afghanistan maintains its position as the most soul-draining and intractable foreign policy entanglement in American history. An open-ended base of operations in Central Asia? No empire can sustain that for long. This coming year opens a road to bring 'em all home. Now wouldn't that be a stimulus package?
- President Obama's glide path to re-election weathers newly minted allegations of drug abuse when he's seen sporting a nicotine patch while playing a game of H-O-R-S-E with reporters. The manufactured buzz passes quickly.
- The ongoing pop culture love affair with the undead shifts again. Zombies (who had replaced vampires) make way for the embrace of these renewed, terrifying, lifeless vessels. Ventriloquist dummies. It's Howdy Doody Time, 2.0. The taglines almost write themselves. "The hand goes in. The gloves come off." Bada bing, bada boom. You're welcome, Hollywood.
- The massive success of "The Book of Mormon" inspires a slew of lesser knock-offs bound for Broadway. "Battlefield Earth: The Musical" ruins the party for religion-fueled, theatrical comedy for years to come.
As a quadrennial YearEnder bonus heading into a Presidential Election year, I feel as though I should update the line on the various candidates. This should not be seen as an endorsement or encouragement to gamble on politics. A split of all winnings, however, will not be refused.
- Mitt Romney (3 to 2) If you believe the polls, Mitt's always had the inside track. He's also always been this cycle's Dukakis. His over/under percentage for the general election is 30% (translation: we're bound to see a third party materialize).
- Jon Huntsman (8 to 1) From the family that brought us the Styrofoam hamburger clamshell (seriously - look it up), this Huntsman is as clean as an Amish laundry basket on Sunday morning. He speaks Mandarin fluently, he has an attractive & articulate trio of daughters, he's the best retail politician in the field and an endless quote goldmine. In other words, he's too modern for most. And Huntsman once mentioned lyrics by Nirvana during a GOP debate (again, seriously). Ready to peak at 11% in New Hampshire.
- Ron Paul (1000 to 1) He'll start off strong by tying for the lead in Iowa. Then his previously unclaimed son - Rand Paul's twin brother (RuPaul) - will expose the family secrets on Valentine's Day. By year's end, Ron resigns from the House and moves to a bomb shelter just outside of Waco.
- Newt Gingrich (10,000 to 1) Over the next year, Newt struggles through more peaks and valleys than a 100-year-old sherpa. Eventually, his Tiffany's credit line gets revoked - crushing his credit rating. For a short while, Newt and Calista show up periodically on QVC, hawking commemorative plates featuring history's greatest debates. One day they wake up broke, friendless and with a garage full of plates absolutely no one would buy. Then an odd little thing happens - their marriage somehow grows stronger. The happiness they find by focusing all that love they have to give upon one another would never ever have been possible in that stuffy old White House. Newt learns, at long last, that sometimes you have to lose it all in order to win at something truly important. So maybe that was the reason Newt ran the way he did, after all.
- Rick Perry (A million to 3. No, maybe 2. Wait...3.) Contrary to everything I've said about him since he became Governor when Dubya resigned to run for President, his timing isn't always great. In this cycle, he begins to peak again in late November. Which prompts him to claim, "I'll be back in 2014." Perry's next campaign never materializes.
- Michelle Bachman (14 bazillion to 1) Really? Do I need to justify this? OK - let's just say she's a longshot.
- Rick Santorum (Infinity to negative infinity) Dan Savage still gets credit from me for the single most cleverly planted political timebomb in history. This man-on-dog just won't ever hunt, no matter when he peaks.
- Herman Cain (suspended campaign) He's currently only in the running for spokesperson jobs held by ex-NFL Coach Jimmy Johnson (for ExtenZe) and that couple still sitting in (separate!) clawtooth bathtubs.
As promised, the following links will take you back to my prior YearEnder work.
For my recent stuff, you can always follow me over on my new "book in progress" blog. The work I'm doing there is quite different, but still comes only from me. Thanks for reading. Rock on.