One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: The Enemies
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 29, 2010
Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows in 2009, and certain parts of it we’ll be mostly better off forgetting. So before unveiling our top five on Monday, in no particular order, here were the top ten “Huh, maybe I should go outside today instead” things about ’09.
Manny Ramirez was basically the anti-Alex Rodriguez in 2009–true in many years this past decade, no doubt, but for the first time that it could be used as a pejorative. Just as the furor over A-Rod’s steroid admission was starting to down, up popped new evidence of Manny testing positive for some banned fertility drug, prompting a 50-game suspension and a lot of bad jokes for #99. Rather than be stirred to life by his controversy like A-Rod, all the air went out of the Manny Ramirez balloon last year, as certainly everything about his persona–from his carefree attitude to his savant-ish hitting ability to his “Mannywood” cult at Chavez Ravine–suddenly rang hollow. When he finally returned from the suspension, he proved somewhat mortal on the field as well, hitting an uninspiring 19 homers all season, and wilting somewhat in the NLCS, where he hit .263 with just two RBIs as the team’s cleanup hitter. Amazingly, he might’ve ended up being the less depressing of Boston’s old bash-brother combo, as David Ortiz endured an unbearable slump the first half of the season and suffered through similar PED allegations over on the East Coast. But Manny’s fall from grace was far more dramatic, considering that in ’09 he seemed infallible, professionally or personally (making #30 on the positive end on our list last year), and this year he looked almost like he was on his way to being just another cautionary tale.
The song was bad enough–a thoroughly mediocre auto-tuned R&B number that proved that musically, Jamie Foxx was as shameless a trend-hopper as came in the game, and which provided 2009 with its most annoying and over-quoted catchphrase of the year. But it was the video that was truly unforgivable. Imagine if Martin Scorsese had assembled that amazing cast for The Departed–Damon, DiCaprio, Wahlberg, Sheen, Baldwin, Nicholson, Chase from 24–and all they had done in the movie was sit around playing poker for two hours. Wait, no, that actually sounds kind of cool. Imagine if they had just sat around watching a different Martin Scorsese. Wait, no, that still sounds a little too awesome. Maybe there’s nothing properly analogous to this–so imagine if Marty had just filmed them all sitting in a lavender-tinted club, nodding along to a boring R&B jam and occasionally raising their glasses to the camera. That Hype Williams, the director of dozens of the most action-packed music videos of all time, was given this cast of awesome random-ass cameos–Jake Gyllenhaal, Forrest Whitaker, Samuel L. Jackson, Jalen Rose, Keshia Knight Pullman, Ron Howard–and couldn’t be bothered to do anything more than this with them was the biggest and cruelest prank pulled on pop culture fans last year. The fact that it still topped BET’s Notraized year-end countdown proves just how low our standards have dropped over the years.
You’d think that with the constant allegations of result-rigging by the league and its officials in several pro sports, that ESPN wouldn’t exactly jump at the idea of playing the shit out of a commercial campaign that seemed to suggest that the outcome of essentially every major sporting event was determined by the whims of the patrons of some obscure bar and grill chain. But jump they did, and so for a countless number of sporting events this season, we were treated to referees tripping football players, baseball managers bringing in inept relief pitchers, and basketball spotlight operators flustering athletes on breakaway plays, all just so a bunch of idiots eating at Buffalo Wild Wings don’t have to leave because the game’s over. Here’s an idea–flip to another fucking game!! It’s not like there are 100 different sporting events going on at any given point on any given day in this great country of ours or anything. Maybe the soulless animals at BWW don’t care about this sort of thing, but I consider the integrity of our most beloved professional sports to be a matter of grave significance. For you heathens to constantly be pulling in the fix on these games because you’re too goddamn lazy to reach for the clicker is just unacceptable.
Despite my better judgment, I had listened to enough people rave to me about how good Parks and Recreation had gotten in its second season that I decided to give it another shot. Actually, much to my surprise, they were right–the show’s actually pretty funny, and has maybe the best supporting cast on TV right now. One of my problems with the show was that I didn’t have room for another Office-type program in my life, until my friend pointed out that I should just stop watching The Office–a decision that, once made, I have not particularly regretted. But as much as Parks and Recreation has wormed its way into my heart and DV-R queue, there’s still one fact I can’t get around–I can not stand Amy Poehler. I never much liked her in anything she’s done (except as the “cool Mom” in Mean Girls, where she was actually supposed to be irritating), but at least she’d never been the protagonist in any of her earlier projects. It’s taken some time for me to put my finger on it, but you know what I think my beef with her is? She always seems to be laughing at her own jokes. There’s nothing more grating in the world of comedy that someone who thinks they’re funnier than they actually are, and that’s Amy Poehler to me–she just looks a little too self-satisfied all the time, and for a character that’s still by far the least interesting (and most derivative) character on the show. I know, everyone loves her, it’s probably just some insane prejudice I have that doesn’t actually make any sense, but goddamn, it’s difficult to fully wrap my arms around a show where the mere sight of its main character makes me cringe.
Not like I really feel much of a need to protect the sanctity of “You Spin Me ‘Round (Like a Record)”–I like the song well enough and all, but somehow I don’t see Pete Burns of Dead or Alive caring too much about defending his song’s reputation from such besmirchment. But c’mon, Flo / Dr. Luke–at least make it sound like you listened to the song once before ripping it. It’s not just that they removed the song’s hook-making record simile to make a cheap oral sex reference–it’s that they pointlessly changed the “you spin me right round, baby, right round” part of it to “you spin my head right round, right round.” Not only does it sound lazy–like when a commercial uses a bastardized version of a well-known song to get the point across, because they can’t afford the real thing–it just sounds worse. Would be moot if the rest of the song was any good, but time and again Flo Rida has proven himself the most talentless artist in music today, hip-hop’s aural equivalent to a sputtering ceiling fan. If you can quote even one non-chorus line from a single Flo Rida song–and he’s had five pretty sizeable hits by now, somehow–you’re a better pop listener than I. To be fair, though, the song did contain the first popular appearance of one Ke$ha, arguably making her late-year breakthrough possible–which, for the moment at least, appears to be a positive thing.
A late entry for Worst “Breakout” Movie of the Decade, the list of sins perpetuated by the staggeringly overrated The Hangover was a long and supremely detailed one, but undoubtedly its worst offense was foisting this schlub on an unsuspecting mainstream culture. Zach Galifianakis had long been a hero of the comedy underground, a subculture I rarely visit and could have kept him as their leading spokesperson for the next several decades for all I cared. But from the first shot of Galifianakis’s bare ass at the beginning of The Hangover–always a good sign for a comedy when you get some solid Fat Guy Bare Ass humor in the opening minutes–it was obvious that this guy was going to be the most obnoxious, least funny breakout star in recent cinematic memory, and someone about a 100x guiltier of thinking they’re funnier than they are than even Poehler. The potential for comedy was there with this guy–little things like him pronouncing the word “retard” with a weird emphasis on the “tard” syllable–but it was constantly overshadowed by him going for the big yuks with stupid jokes like him asking the Caesar’s Palace hotel was Caesar’s actual palace, or mentioning being sad about his grandfather’s death, when–wait for it–his grandfather died in WWII! I don’t know why I’d expect anything more out of a movie that had Mike Tyson singing along to Phil Collins because hey! Mike Tyson! Phil Collins!, but in a decade with as many great hit cult comedies as this one–I freaked out at an acquaintance of mine once for suggesting that this movie was as funny as Superbad–we should know by now that we can do so much better than this loser.
It would be somewhat naive of me to suggest that Brett Favre didn’t do us all something of a favor this year by providing pro sports its most unequivocal villain character, possibly since the Dark Days of Kobe Bryant. As has been pointed out in many corners, the NFL season was infinitely more entertaining by virtue of his being in it. But amidst all the praise that Brett has received in recent weeks for his excellent season and his inspiring on-field courage–a good deal of which was actually deserved–we also can’t forget the unforgivable media circus that Brett Favre put us, the media, Packers fans, Jets fans and Vikings fans all through last off-season, where after officially retiring (and once you hold your own press conference to announce your retirement, that should be as good as singing a lifetime ban on yourself in the NFL) for the second time in as many seasons, Brett decided “you know what, fuck everyone” and came back once more in the waning weeks of the summer. I spent the whole season waiting for a complete Favre meltdown which never really happened, but in many ways, what actually happened–Favre playing brilliantly for much of the NFC Championship, but repeating his historical achilles heel by throwing the game-losing interception in the final minute of regulation–was a far more rewarding denouement. Now I’m thinking maybe I actually should be rooting for him to go for the retirement-not-retirement hat trick this summer–not being able to watch sports TV all summer might end up being worth another harrowing choke from #4 in the winter after all.
I really don’t consider myself a hater when it comes to the Youth of America in the pop world–Miley, Jonas, Metro Station, all totally cool in my book–but from the very first time I saw this kid, I wanted to punch him in the balls. I don’t know how you get as cocky as Justin Bieber seemed before anyone had even heard of him–although with natural dreamboat looks like that, maybe the confidence just comes naturally–but there are few things as fundamentally grating as a twelve-year-old (sixteen-year-old, whatever) who thinks he’s adult-level hot-shit, especially when no one in the American public seems to have the common sense to set him straight. Most disappointing was that Bieber’s next-level push came courtesy of the guiding hand of ATL brother-in-arms Usher–who actually was All That when he was Bieber’s age, but seemed unwilling to demonstrate any knowledge of that fundamental difference with Bieber (and made the extremely irresponsible decision of asking Bieber to look after his place while he was out in the “One Time” video–don’t you know that Bieber is just going to invite all his tweener friends over to make a ruckus playing Wii and drink all the good soda, Ush?) Oh yeah, and all of his songs so far (“One Time,” “One Less Lonely Girl,” “Baby”) have been awful. At least back in my day, it took a group of five of these fucks to really get the girls wild, now apparently one is entirely sufficient. All I can say is thank God that TRL wasn’t around long enough to be a party to this.
This isn’t so much about hating on the Cable Guy himself–Mr. Matt McCarthy, commercial veteran extraordinaire, who appears to be an unwitting beneficiary of Mr. Galifianakis above making the world a safer place for paunchy, bearded, sad-looking funnymen–as the Verizon culture that makes his life such a living hell. Perhaps its my own outsider mentality, but my heart goes out to these commercial paragons that seem to care so much for the product they’re hawking, but just can’t seem to catch a break in a world where the rules are skewed so far away from their favor. Cable Guy can now count himself among the ranks of PC and the Trix Rabbit of commercial icons that I’d love to see win, just once, just to wipe the smug smiles off of Verizon Fio Guy / Mac / those evil fucking kids’ faces. This one has gotta be the saddest of all, though, where even CG’s roommate Ted willingly throws him under the bus–in front of Fios Guy, no less–for some of that hot Verizon action. I don’t know if this commercial campaign is necessarily the reason I continue to stick with Time Warner, despite their sporadic random blackouts, their subpar DV-R service, and their startlingly poor appointment response times, but if Verizon really wanted to force me into choosing sides, well then, mission accomplished, assholes. I’m sticking with Big Red.
The dream is over.