Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #5 – 1

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 31, 2010

Finished–and with ten minutes to spare on deadline. Thanks for reading, everyone, and I look forward to doing the full 100 again next year.

I’m grateful for many things about this show, but none more than this: If it wasn’t for Jersey Shore, we’d probably still be talking about Tiger Woods. As a country, we desperately, desperately needed another topic for average pop culture-related conversations to naturally gravitate towards, and once Ms. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi took a knock in the kisser from some asshole phys. ed teacher, Jersey Shore became that magnet. Now, I’ve still never even seen an episode of The Real World–still the MTV reality show that all others will be measured against for all time–so it’s hard for me to properly compare and contrast the societal impact of the two shows. All I know is that no one on The Real World ever justified cheating on their boyfriend in a club by insisting that it was “just house music” they were dancing to. No one on The Real World ever knocked out an agitator, then proceeded to do a victory lap around the boardwalk  boasting “THAT’S ONE SHOT!” And I’m pretty damn sure that no one on The Real World ever set their number one ground rule as being “Never fall in love on The Real World.” I’m sure it’ll be hard for MTV to resist returning to draw from the well with this one, but the right move is to leave the show alone after this, keeping it as a fond and distant memory for its viewers. Soon we’ll all be reminiscing about that summer like it was our own–three crazy months of fist-pumping, Ron-Ron Juice and GymTanningLaundry.

If you view American Idol as being more like a general pop feeder system than an actual contest program with only winner, then Adam Lambert was like one of those preps-to-pros draft types. He was unpolished, and you weren’t quite sure how he would translate to the next level, but his upside was undeniable, and his talent was absolutely electric. He was the first Idol contestant where the potential was there not only for stardom, but for genuine iconic status, to make a real difference in this crazy pop world. Being the first semi-openly gay finalist on the show was certainly part of it, a coup for subculture on the most mainstream, populist stage in the country, but mainly because he still felt like he belonged, a worthy successor in the lineage of Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury and Axl Rose. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise when he lost to Kris Allen–a much more conventionally appealing coffee house singer-songwriter-type, who was nonetheless fairly talented in his own right and would have been a worthy winner most years–but it was a little disappointing to see America turn their back on true greatness. His career will certainly be fairly interesting to monitor going forward–he appears to be toeing the Idol line for for the moment, but he’s gotta make his My December break in due time. When he does, we’ll see if Adam Lambert is truly one of the great ones, or just another playground legend that couldn’t quite hack it in the pros.

How good was this series? Well, let’s start with the fact that I wrote a 4000-word article about it–and that was just about the aspects of the series that I thought were going under-reported. Then, there’s the fact that there were five single games in this series that on their own might merited inclusion on this list–games challenged only by a couple contests in the Cleveland-Orlando Eastern finals for making up the top five of the whole playoffs. The storylines were incredible, the intensity was unimaginable, and the moments and images were absolutely unforgettable. Joakim Noah racing Paul Pierce all the way to the basket for a breakaway dunk. Rajon Rondo sending Kirk Hinrich flying into the sidelines. Ben Gordon hitting a game-tying OT three and grabbing his crotch to celebrate. Kevin Garnett mouthing on the bench, single-handedly bumping the NBA on ABC from All-Audiences viewing to TV-MA. Ray Allen draining a game-tying three in the final minute, getting it ruled a two, and then draining a real game-tying three the next trip down. Luol Deng, dead to the world, presumably watching the games from the comfort of his home in Great Britian. It was obvious that the rest of the playoffs was going to be underwhelming by comparison, but I wasn’t worried about that–moreso, I just hoped that so young in my basketball-watching career, I hadn’t already seen the best basketball series that I was ever going to see in my life.

We all, of course, remember Quiznos from their mid-decade “We Love the Subs!” ads, featuring freaky rodent-like creatures (apparently an internet sensation in their own right–I probably knew that once) singing poorly rhyming, non sequitur-strewn odes to the Q franchise. That was certainly something, but one viewing of Quiznos’s 2009 campaign made it clear that the Spongmonkeys were merely the opening act for the grand theatrics of Scott and The Oven. There have been plenty of dynamic duos before in advertising history–Jared and Michael Strahan, Peanut and Regular M&M, the “You’ll call now.” “I’ll call now!” couple from that iconic Sears commercial–but none have ever approached the unique relationship between these two. Scott appears to be some combination of artistic collaborator, business proxy and sex slave for The Oven, whose lust for strapping young sandwich clerks appears to be exceeded only for his lust for composing masterworks on two slices of bread. Though The Oven, portrayed by an oven, flashing a glowing light to represent its vocalizations, is clearly the star of the vehicle, the real key to the whole campaign is the performance of Scott, played by Tim Rock. The mixture of sensuality, confusion and terror in his voice as he is demanded by TO to repeat the Toasty Torpedo’s apparent catch phrase (“Only four dollars!”) with incrementally increasing amounts of sexiness (or “passion,” in the still-hilarious toned-down version)…I mean, why bother even having the CLIOs this year? I’m not sure how Quiznos’s research ascertained that the two things that most made people want to buy sandwiches were homoeroticism and HAL from 2001, but there was no treat in 2009 parallel to catching one of these commercials in between ads for Sonic and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and just having your mind utterly evaporated for half a minute.  The commercials lasted for but a brief moment in time, eventually being deemed too hot / weird / creepy for TV, but no one alive in 2009 will ever be able to fully erase memories of Scott and The Oven from their consciousness. Not with me reminding you about it all the fucking time, anyway.

Really, I’m just glad that someone besides me actually cared about the VMAs this year. Really, even once Kanye bum-rushed the show and made Taylor Swift look like a high school bully had just stepped on her eyeglasses, I still felt like “huh, that was weird, I wonder if anyone else is gonna notice that this happened.” I learned a lesson about media culture in 2009 that night, as mere minutes later, the internet was as aflame as I’d ever seen it with reaction. I’ve already offered my opinion about the incident elsewhere, so I just want to point out a couple of things about the clip (and situation) that I feel are still a little underrated.

  1. Kanye appearing out of nowhere. That was the thing that really made this clip so crazy–it wasn’t like we saw him brewing in the audience, or climbing on the stage, or even stealing the microphone from Swift–one second he wasn’t there, and the next second, he was. It was so sudden that at first it seemed like maybe he had been there all along and you just hadn’t realized, and that this all was some joke that you just didn’t get yet. Not until the boos started raining down did the gravity of the situation become clear.
  2. Beyonce in the audience, mouthing “Oh My God!” in response–horrified, no doubt, but also a little bit flattered and a good deal amused.
  3. The absolutely insane dress/outfit/thing that Kanye’s date, Amber Rose, wore to the ceremonies. Not hot, to say the least. If I was sitting next to a woman who looked like that–one who was associated with me, no less–I’d be throwing Hail Marys to try to get myself kicked out of the proceedings too.
  4. Kanye’s sudden shift in tone and volume before the “But Beyonce had one of the BEST MUSIC VIDEOS OF ALL TIME!!” line. He announces with all the drama as if he just revealed some gigantic plot twist. Maybe he thought he had.
  5. The little “shrug” motion that Kanye does after his diatribe is over. Look, I said what I said. It was true, and you know it’s true. What do you want from me?

Oh, and by the way, as crazy as all this nonsense was–I still maintain that it was only the second-most-bizarre-and-noteworthy thing to happen that night.

Happy 2010, all.

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