The headlines are dominated by tales of an unemployed and dissatisfied populace living under the looming threat of an energy crisis, skyrocketing food prices, a broken and corrupt banking system, terrorism and global warming. We look for help to a corrupt political system in which corporate lobbyists are literally allowed to write legislation and where corporations are able to buy favors in an entrenched system of institutionalized bribery. In light of all that, this is what gets you thrown out of Congress. Sending a photo of your underwear bulge to a girl. —David Wong
Person: Tim Tebow
In War of the Worlds, the aliens, with all their superior technology and brains, were still defeated by something as simple as a virus. They had reached the highest form of evolution but had somehow lost immunity to the simplest form of attack along the way. The success of that virus against invading aliens is an apt analogy for Tim Tebow’s success against every other NFL team.
For anyone who doesn’t follow football, Tebow is structurally designed to be one of the best fullbacks football has ever seen. The trouble is that he plays quarterback and his throwing mechanics are so bad that even someone wholly unfamiliar with the sport will look at his passes and think, “Hold on, that can’t possibly be right.” But somehow, defenses are powerless to stop him from winning games.
Not since the return of Michael Vick has there been a more divisive player in the NFL than Tim Tebow, which is odd, because Michael Vick tortured dogs, while Tebow just sucks at throwing and loves God a bunch.
2011 is his first year as a starter for the Denver Broncos, and Tebow consistently rushes for more yards than he throws. But more importantly, he’s become famous for kneeling in prayer before games. And during games. And after games. In fact, he kneels in prayer with such frequency on the field that his piousness has become an Internet meme. And while his constant mention of God can be exhausting to listen to, even for a Broncos fan, it’s shocking to see how many people outright hate him. Among commentators, fans and even people who have no interest in football but love controversy, there is no one who is on the fence about Tim Tebow – he inspires only love or loathing. Part of that may have to do with how overrated some people think he is – culturally we hate seeing terrible athletes bathed in positive attention – but more than likely it’s because somehow his combination of wobbly passes and God-loving is actually working.
Since he became the starting quarterback for Denver, their record has gone from a dismal 1-4 to 8-5. Somehow he continues to win games, usually with comeback victories all while making skeptics privately suspicious that maybe there is a God and he does watch football after all. —Soren Bowie
Video Game: “Skyrim”
“Skyrim” is not a game.
It is a fully realized virtual place, neatly situated northwest of Morrowind and due south of the ruins of what was once my productive membership in actual human society. I may be technically typing at a computer right now, but in my head, I'm just marking time, keystroke by keystroke (also we get paid by the word grapefruit Washington catfish). In my real life, my TRUE life, I’m a few feet over that way, inside the TV, sun glinting off of my Dwemer helm as I approach Dawnstar Hold, leg armor clanging loudly enough to make my own actual leg muscles twitch in dusty, atrophied protest. I mean seriously, I’m level 22 and I’ve only been to two holds ... how goddamn immersive can you get? The world of “Skyrim” is so vast and satisfying, some humorous comparison could be made between it and my penis. That’s the girth and breadth of throbbing detail that Bethesda has provided here.
Which brings us to the reason “Skyrim” is my pick for this article, and not just for concubine, jester, best friend and eventual killer. This is the first game I’ve played that I can imagine becoming dangerously absorbed by, Matrix-style. I have a friend who was heavily into “EverQuest” in a big, debilitating way, and this could very well be that for me. Heck, it could be that for all of us! I often find myself walking somewhere in “Skyrim” that I could easily teleport to, just to take time wondering at the natural beauty around me: Glacial peaks dusted with wind-blown snow, birch trees shaking lemon-yellow leaves at a starry sky, dragons gently gliding over – OH FUCK KILLITKILLIT! “CAN’T FAST TRAVEL WHEN ENEMIES ARE WHAT?!” AAAAH WHERE DID ALL THESE WOLVES COME FROM?! AIEEEEEE!
The point being, I used to have to go outside to see that shit, and if I got attacked by wolves, I couldn’t just unplug the game, call my mom crying and then plug it back in half an hour later, good as new. As climate change, American economic decline and a rise in retro kitsch push us further and further down the road toward “Fallout: New Vegas,” virtual worlds like “Skyrim”’s – which mimic the actual, natural Earth of the past – will become all the more appealing. For example, I recently blew off my weekly hike up a nearby mountain to hike up a mountain in “Skyrim.” The only difference being that in the game, when I got to the top of the mountain I learned how to run 100 mph and force-push people with the sound of my voice, whereas in the real world I’d just get imperceptibly stronger and extend my life expectancy slightly, so as to have more time to spend with loved ones ... SNORE.
“Skyrim” already allows me to smith weapons and armor, cook meat I hunted, tan hide into leather strips and talk to people about absolutely nothing for hours. It’s only a matter of time before the technology is available and someone releases the game where you can do literally anything. You’ll finally have a fully real CG world, with infinite potential and freedom of choice, indistinguishable from our own, where natural beauty provides spiritual succor and life is a never-ending wade through equal parts mundanity and divinity. So just like the real world now, but functioning properly! Until it glitches, which it tends to do whenever you tax the system too much, or fire too many arrows, or turn right. Seriously, if the Matrix were as glitchy as Bethesda games, Neo never would have been able to pull all that shit off. He’d try to leave a room, get stuck in a never-ending load screen and play with the rotating shield model until the Architect got sick of waiting and reset the system.
If you learn one thing from my entries here today, it should be that the apocalypse is coming very very soon. Human history has been defined by self-fulfilling prophecy, and our doom-obsessed culture is all but assuring the end of the world, just as me typing “I will die buried in the writhing flesh of the Swedish Olympic Women’s Nude Writhing Team” and thousands of you reading it basically ensures that it will happen. That’s how prayer works, people. So strap into “Skyrim” and start acquainting yourself, because soon enough your options are going to be uploading your consciousness into it or facing the bombed-out wasteland that was once the sandbox RPG we call life.
Now pardon me, while I go rim the sky. —Michael Swaim
Movie: Fast Five
Roger Ebert wrote a gloomy article at the start of the summer movie season, called “Pirates and 26 Other Sequels This Year: Are Hollywood Execs Ruining Movies?” And he had a right to be skeptical. This year saw a record number of sequels, and movie franchise math has always stated that your expectations should be divided by the number at the end of the title. Sequels are for people who don’t care about originality, so why bother making them good, right?
But something weird happened once the sequels actually started coming out: They weren’t terrible. Many of them were the best-reviewed movies in their franchise. While 2011 wasn't the first year that originality appeared to be dying at the movie theater, it was the first year to make the case that originality’s death might be fun to watch.
Fast Five was the best example of this radical new thinking. It wasn’t a great movie, but it was way better than every film in the franchise up to that point. It reminded you less of a fourth sequel than a good TV series finding its footing after a handful of episodes.
Fast Five didn’t make drastic changes. It was still a stupid movie, but there was a different quality to its stupidity. The first four movies didn’t make sense in the insulting way a dumb person doesn’t make sense when trying to talk their way out of a speeding ticket. Fast Five didn’t make sense in the awesome way that Wu-Tang Clan lyrics don’t even try to make sense. The first four movies failed to ask the all-important question, “What if we rubbed melted butter on the Rock and told him to pretend to be Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive?” Fast Five asked that question, and had the good sense to realize the answer was, “That would be goddamn hilarious!”
In his article about how sequels were going to ruin the year in movies, Ebert pointed out that “This year includes five fifth sequels (Fast Five; Final Destination 5; Puss in Boots; X-Men: First Class; Winnie the Pooh), two seventh sequels (The Muppets; Rise of the Apes) and the eighth Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two).” He did this to highlight just how screwed we were, but every single one of those movies is currently certified “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Over half of them are the best reviewed movies in the history of their franchises – suggesting a new, more complex sequel math where franchises don’t really get going until part five.
I’m not going to deny that Hollywood went overboard this year: Heading into December, the seven highest grossing movies of 2011 were all sequels. There are enough sequels still coming soon to a theater near you (and lots of foreign audiences who, it turns out, like mindless bullshit even more than American people) that it could be an all-sequel top 10 by the end of the year. For now, The Smurfs – the most successful non-sequel of the year – is holding strong at number eight.
But after years of TV shows becoming more cinematic, movies seemed to take a page from the best TV shows, realizing that you can still do good work while giving audiences the familiar characters they know and love. —Jack O’Brien
TV Show: “The Walking Dead”
“The Walking Dead” is the only show in America that all of my friends watch despite the fact that we all mostly hate it. I’ve seen that phenomenon with reality TV shows (the audience of “Jersey Shore” is made exclusively of people who only watch on the off chance that one of the characters might choke to death in the middle of an episode – but I’ll let Dave talk about that), but never with a serious, scripted television show on a network known mostly for its quality.
This isn’t the place for me to talk about why this show is bad (the pacing, unlikable characters, not enough zombies, a lack of fresh ideas, child actors, what’s-her-name, Rick’s terrible accent), and I know that taste is subjective. Just because all of my friends watch the show begrudgingly doesn't mean the rest of the world does. That said, we have a Forum where people can talk about movies, TV shows, music, life and whatever else they’re interested in. Everyone’s usually pretty articulate and thoughtful, it’s nice in there. Here are some quotes from various folks in the thread dedicated to “The Walking Dead”:
“Why are the writers doing their best to make us hate the main characters?”
“Man, this show is getting more and more soap opera-y every week. They really need to get back on the road because it’s starting to stagnate.”
“I was trying not to dislike Dale and Andrea, I’ve failed.”
“I think at this point, the words that come to mind when I think of Lori are ‘useless’ and ‘no redeeming qualities.’ That’s probably not good for your leading lady.”
“Yes, I do hate the shit out of most everybody.”
It’s not like we have a special section of our forums for people to hate a TV show. Those are people in a thread reserved for fans of “The Walking Dead!” And the weird thing is that they are fans. The people who don’t like the show don’t watch it, but the people who love this show hate it. Go to the comments section over at the AV Club whenever they recap a new episode, and you’ll find that most of those commenters are similarly pissed off at the show. The show that they keep watching. Every. Single. Week.
And why do they do that? One word: Hope. And now for some more words: Everyone who watches “The Walking Dead” isn’t watching it because it’s good; they’re watching it because it can be good (and because Daryl rules). When I heard about this show, I was on board because I thought, “This could be either a show about people fighting zombies OR a show about interesting, diverse strangers trying to set up a new life at the end of the world, and also there are zombies in the background.” It is, unfortunately, neither of those shows (it’s a show where 12 unlikable people get into tense whisper-fights inches from each other’s faces and between two and four zombies get killed every episode to remind people that HEY ZOMBIES). But I keep watching because, one day, it might be one of those better shows I envisioned when the show was first announced.
Some people watch because the graphic novel on which the show is based is awesome, and they’re holding out hope that, one day, the show might be as good as the comics. Some people keep watching because it has all of the ingredients of a good show (money, the creative freedom a network like AMC allows, great source material, lots of characters, a liberal amount of side-boob, zombies), and even though it hasn’t embraced those ingredients yet, it still might some day.
“The Walking Dead” is successful because people are tuning in but watching a different, better show in their imaginations, every single week. We, as a television-viewing audience, have never been this optimistic. —Dan O’Brien
Song: One of Those Adele Songs You Love
Boy, I can’t tell you how many times I was feeling a little down and cheered myself up by throwing on that great Adele song about feelings and the future and how everything’s going to be OK. Or a buddy of mine will be feeling blue because he just broke up with his girlfriend and I say, “Hey, fella, don’t worry about it, just remember what Adele said in her song,” and then I’ll recite some inspirational lyric about moving on that Adele delivered in her song, (you know the one). Or, like, at a party, someone will say “What does everyone want to hear?” and we’ll all be like “Adele, obviously.” Obviously.
Full disclosure, I have not been good at keeping up with music this year. Every day of my life, I listen to either my old band or the score of the Sonic the Hedgehog games.
The only exception? Rain. If it’s raining outside, my computer turns on by itself, switches over to YouTube and pulls out some Adele song and, before you know it, I’m standing at my window looking at the rain and nodding along to some Adele song that I don’t technically know. It’s weird, but I feel like the rest of the world is doing it, too. It doesn’t matter which one. All of Adele’s songs are perfect for standing at your window and looking at the rain. And that’s remarkable to me. There hasn’t been a single artist that I know of who somehow made music exclusively for a single activity (apart from Marvin Gaye and sex).
But Adele did. She made an entire album of “Stand at Your Window, Look at the Rain and Reflect on Past Relationships” music. It’s like she’s hypnotized me/us. I don’t care if you don’t like Adele. I’m not sure if I even like Adele. I just know that, when it rains, I need her rough, powerful voice to come belting out of my speakers and tell me ... something. Whatever it is that Adele sings about in her songs, I need her to shout that when it rains. —Dan O’Brien
Internet Clip: The Video for “Friday” by Rebecca Black
Some Internet memes are just completely meaningless. They’re self-sustaining inside jokes with no entertainment value of their own, perpetuated because they became bandwagons for teenagers who are desperate to show that they belong. Rickrolling, for instance, was probably funny that first month it appeared on 4chan (or wherever it was born), but from then on it was a secret handshake. You didn’t laugh because it was funny; you laughed because you wanted to be in the club.
You cannot say that about Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” We can disapprove of people insulting this teenager, we can hate how we kept hearing about the song for months after its expiration date. But the video is fucking amazing. It’s a slow, unintentional descent into madness.
For instance, there’s a moment at about 2:05 when the visuals spin out of control, into an unsettling waking nightmare wherein Black is suddenly transformed into a seizure-inducing flickering strobe that keeps getting darker and more ominous as it lowers us into hell. And then, just as we’ve given up all hope, at 2:30 the rap break kicks in, sung by a dude who couldn’t even bother to get out of his car.
Wait a second. Why was the world mocking Black? She was 13. This guy is a grown-ass rapping man. What has gone wrong in his life that he’s making this video at this stage of his music career?
As an aside, the out-of-nowhere rap interlude has become my favorite pop culture phenomenon. I wish it happened in real life. I’m going to use that as an excuse to once again mention my favorite song of the last 10 years, Riskay’s “Smell Yo Dick,” a song about a woman who suspects her boyfriend is cheating on her, and as such is demanding to smell his genitals to see if she can detect the odor of stripper vagina.
The rap rebuttal that explodes onto the scene at 2:13 gives me chills every time I hear it. He demolishes her case like goddamned Kevin Costner in JFK. From his opening line:
“Smell my dick? Wait a minute, hold up.
See, that’s how a bitch get her eyes swole up!”
To the conclusion that slams the door shut on any lingering doubts about his innocence:
“I might break bread with one or two strippers
But that don't mean you got to pull on my zipper
Thinkin’ I dicked down the whole town
Even though I got dick to go around!”
Wait, is it too late for me to declare that my clip of the year? —David Wong
I’m not sure if I’m mad at how annoying this word is or the phenomenon itself. No, I didn’t need to know that Brett Favre’s pubic hair looked like that. No, I don’t think Anthony Weiner should be out of Congress because he likes to sext his bulge to teenagers. No, I don’t like thinking that in the future all of our awkward flirting will be kept in a permanent electronic record that can be used against us later.
And no, you didn’t need to invent a cutesy new word just because “sex” and “text” share a two-letter combination. People used to have phone sex, and you know what we called it? Phone sex. We didn’t make respected news anchors look into the camera and say the word “Teleboning.”
There’s a term for these clever mash-up words: “portmanteau.” Every time I hear somebody use one in a conversation, I imagine some douchebag high-fiving himself for having thought of it.
“He’s a friend who I frequently clash with! He’s a frenemy!”
“I’m taking a staycation next month!”
“I just ate some turducken and now I’m afraid I’ve sharted!”
Oh, fuck you. —David Wong
For more the complete list, visit cracked.com.