2011…The Year Of Meh? [On the Contrary] Dec14

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2011…The Year Of Meh? [On the Contrary]

It’s been a tough year to be a contrarian. It was just too hard to feel very strongly about anything. Sure, on a geopolitical scale the year was pretty momentous, particularly in the Middle East and in “occupied” city commons across the U.S. But for those of us who escape from the real issues of the world into the succor of Popular Culture, this seems to be one of the blandest calendar years I can remember. What happened this year after all? What movies will we be talking about? What songs from this year will one day inspire fond thoughts of Obama’s America? It’s been tough to be a contrarian because there has not been much to get excited about either pro or con, and the general consensus of the public seems to share that notion.

There is of course a slight possibility that something magic will happen in the waning weeks of the year to turn it all around, but I’m getting the feeling it’s too little, too late. I know I said before that a strong ending can make up for weaknesses leading up to it, but there has to be come kind of limit. If a movie bores you to death for two and a half hours, an exciting final minute won’t turn it around—it’ll just make you wish you hadn’t passed up the concession stand to get into the theater on time.

Let’s do a quick rundown of how American Pop Culture let us down this year:


According to boxofficemojo.com, the top ten grossing films of the year were all either sequels or spinoffs (I’m counting THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA as both, since they proceed from the Marvel Comics Universe and were really only developed to help make sure the AVENGERS movie ends up on this list next year). Myself and the movie-going public obviously do not have a problem with sequels, but we as a culture can’t live on recycled stories and images alone. We have a hunger for new ideas and new experiences, and the major Hollywood Studios did not meet that this year. Apart from the recession, this could be a major reason for the drop in attendance at movie theaters. Say what you will about AVATAR or INCEPTION, they were large tent pole movies that actually had ideas and original visions behind them, and they gave us a common thing to talk about. Nobody really cares about TRANSFORMERS, and though we enjoyed the last HARRY POTTER, it was more of an afterthought since most of us had finished the books years ago.

You can always tell a good year at the movies by the parodies that come out of them at the Academy Awards. Nothing this year has been worth parodying in any outlet, much less the Oscars. Poor Billy Crystal not only has to overcome the stigma of being the fallback host, he doesn’t exactly have much of a year of movies to work with.


Ok, GAME OF THRONES was pretty exciting. It was as rich as a fantasy version of THE WIRE with more sex and beheadings. But it only ran 10 episodes, and those were on HBO. Though it has a devoted following it still is limited by it’s fantasy setting, dense plotting, and ridiculous amount of characters. Plus, although it is brilliantly realized, the fact that it is adapting fairly faithfully a series of books makes it seem like less of a television accomplishment (much like the HARRY POTTER films).

Other than that, what new series has had any impact? The best shows were all returners, and while we can be happy to see the same high quality being pumped out by BREAKING BAD or MODERN FAMILY, there hasn’t really been any new show that felt like a cultural touchstone for the year.


There is some hope here, as the last two months have brought the improbable rise of quarterback and Saint Tim Tebow and his ridiculous habit of playing 3 unwatchable quarters of football only to make the fourth quarters the most exciting things on television (this time importance of a strong ending does trump what comes before). But for the most part, there have not been any great sports moments this year, and I suspect Tebow’s run will quickly be forgotten if he doesn’t make an impact in the playoffs.

What do we remember most about sports this year? We sat through two lockouts, in which billionaires and millionaires argued about how to distribute immense amounts of money while not doing anything to improve fan experience. We saw a college football program that we had for years been bullied to believe was the epitome of class and purity completely destroyed by a child sex abuse scandal. We saw a Canadian city finally get a shot at a Stanley Cup and then not only blow it, but devolve into riots that proved people in Vancouver can tear it up as well as any WVU student. And now it looks like we’re going to see a rerun of the most boring college football game of the year posing as the National Championship game.

2011 is not the year to buy a commemorative Sports Illustrated yearbook.

As far as books and music, I’m probably not qualified to comment, but it does bear mentioning that there does not seem to be a book that really swept the country this year, nor a musical anthem that captured the time (sorry Wiz Khalifa, but “Black and Yellow” just recalls the pain of the Steelers Super Bowl loss).

So what does all this mean? Let’s be positive! I think it’s a something to be excited about. That sounds counterintuitive, but I tend to subscribe to the idea that culture can only stand for inanity for so long. Something has got to give. Nature abhors a vacuum. Pick your cliché, it’s the truth. The blandness of the old Hollywood system lead to the filmmaker Rennaiscence of the 70s, just as the formulaic movies of the 80s lead to the 90s boom in Independent Cinema. The more television bores us, the more we tune out, and the bigger chances they’ll take to get us back. And sports—well, the best thing about sports is that all it takes is a good story (like Tebow) to turn it all around and reengage us.

So goodbye 2011, you can’t finish fast enough. Bring on 2012, where if nothing else we can look forward to the Presidential Election surge on SNL, another Christopher Nolan Batman movie, and the last gasp of the Aztec Calendar End Of The World Doomsayers (until they settle on a new date).

Happy New Year!

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Tim Tebow image: OPEN Sports