Best and Worst Pop Culture Moments of 2013

BeyonceTwo weeks until 2013 is in the dust bin with all of the other expired calendars from years past. So much has happened, including a drawn-out government shutdown, the death of Nelson Mandela, and the Lady Gaga/Muppets Christmas special, among other low points. On the bright side we’ve also witnessed the breakout hit Orange is the New Black, Wendy Davis’s filibustering prowess, and a thrilling conclusion (or even a conclusion) to Breaking Bad. It’s been a year of oh…forget it, don’t let me descend into platitudes. Here’s my best and worst list for the year.

Best Stuff

New Kickass Women in Congress—Yes, Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren were elected at the end of 2012, but they took office this year. And already they’ve gotten involved in issues that have been twisting in the legislative wind for years now.  They sent a letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of Health and Human Services to end the ban on gay men donating blood. They’ve also taken on big, systemic issues, maybe most notably with Senator Baldwin co-sponsoring a bill to end to phone tapping by the NSA, and Senator Warren tackling banking regulation, the lack of which got us into the 2008 financial crisis. They’re happy to let us think that this Congress is unable to get anything done, because that’s just when they’ll squeak through urgent changes under the radar.

Transgender Representation that Doesn’t Suck—I’m not saying there’s nothing problematic about a white woman who spent a year in jail getting to write a successful memoir about her experience and helping it get turned into a flagship program for troubled Netflix, but there is also a lot about Orange is the New Black that is terrific for popular culture, none more significant than the casting of Laverne Cox as a transgender prisoner. Not only is this not a representation of a dead trans woman which we could see any week during a police procedural, but the role is played by a living, breathing trans woman, who is chock full of talent, and who gives interviews that spotlight the interesting things she has to say about the world around her. She’s as refreshing as a mountain stream. I really think there’s something particularly important about getting to see a trans woman of color anywhere in the media as a thriving, successful person. Also, she’s using her celebrity to make this documentary about CeCe McDonald.

The Rise of Wendy Davis—In the best filibuster since Senator Stackhouse refused to sit in an episode of The West Wing, Wendy Davis held off an extreme anti-abortion measure in Texas for about a month longer, and in doing so, became a literal overnight celebrity who is now on the campaign trail to be governor of the Lone Star State. Sadly, the bill was signed into law by Rick Perry and after a brief court challenge, was allowed to proceed by the US Supreme Court.

Worst Stuff

Miley Cyrus—Yes, there was the loss of innocence for teddy bears everywhere in light of Cyrus’s VMA Awards performance, otherwise known as TwerkGate. But much worse was the pop culture and social media response that included people calling her “demonic,” and death threats from affronted individuals, she received one, two, threefour, and five shaming letters from none other than Sinead O’Connor. This was not a high point in popular culture by any measure. Also troubling was the defense of masculine grossness by Robin Thicke who had one of the most sexist videos of the year in Blurred Lines, and it wasn’t exactly an empty field of contestants for that award. Although I will say this parody is almost worth the offensiveness of his version, which he actually had the gall to call a “new feminism.”

The Fake Note Deathmatch at 30,000 Feet—Elan Gale, a self-important guy you’ve never heard of before, who helped bring us The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, those stalwarts of quality television, faked a hostile note campaign during a flight to Phoenix, Arizona, this Thanksgiving. I wrote about it, myself, because I was concerned about what it meant for harassment, macho-coded violence, and what lengths people will go to for laugh, as well as how strenuously people will defend such problematic behavior. Tosh.0, anyone? Sure, turns out there is no cancer-ridden Diane. Great. It was still a rallying call for intimidating women we don’t like. And that makes it a low point for me.

The Crappiest Oscars in Memory—What do you get when you cross a self-aggrandizing celebrity, an awards show with a spotty history toward women and people of color, and live television? You get the Oscars as hosted by Seth MacFarlane, with the most sexist dance number anyone can remember. And then the cutest kid in Hollywood who turned in an amazing performance while still in the single digits of her life is called the c-word by the Onion. It was that kind of night. But don’t take it from me, here’s a list of eight other incredibly racist things that happened at the Academy Awards in 2013. At least there was this love letter to Quvenzhanzé Wallis from the Crunk Feminist Collective.

The Trayvon Martin Verdict—I watched the trial with a sense of horror because even all of the commentary around the trial was problematic, blaming Martin for his own death, dismissing the testimony of his witnesses, and pondering all too much about how hard it must have been to do what George Zimmerman, self-appointed community guard, did that night. His acquittal was followed by a faked “rescue” of a family after a car crash, an arrest of his wife on perjury charges, and his own arrest following threats he made to his girlfriend while wielding a gun, which resulted in no charges filed just a few days ago. There have also been rumblings from the medical examiner that the case against Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, filed several months after the shooting, was never intended to be won by the prosecution. Silver lining: The “stand your ground” law in Florida, which was actually not part of this case, was championed by ALEC, and has caused several corporate partners to drop out of the exchange, fearing backlash from public opinion.

2014, you are almost upon us. We’ll have midterm elections for a third of the seats in the Senate, all of the House, and 36 states have gubernatorial races. There will be a whole host of bickering over this year’s Oscar contenders, grousing about the National Book Award, loads of fodder from FoxNews for Stephen Colbert to skewer, and fussing over how Jimmy Fallon is doing as Jay Leno’s successor. We will argue about whether racism still exists in the United States, and if The Walking Dead could really happen. We’ll stay glued to Scandal even if the show doesn’t make any freaking sense, and we’ll cry our eyes out when Sandra Oh leaves the cast of Grey’s Anatomy. I just hope there aren’t too many disasters ahead of us. Like say, a government shutdown that costs the country more than $20 billion.

Let me just play that new Beyoncé album…

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Categories: ponderings, Pop Culture

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7 Comments on “Best and Worst Pop Culture Moments of 2013”

  1. December 16, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    Covering all the bases as usual; what a great read that sums up our year in review. Thanks, Everett.

  2. December 21, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

    How do people slut-shaming/yelling at Miley make the worst list without Miley’s use of black women as props, her appropriation and sexualization of twerking and general cluelessness (to put it mildly) about race in general getting on there?

    • evmaroon
      December 21, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

      Because people are responsible for their own behavior, and I have a long-standing focus on unprincipled critique, especially on the progressive Left. I do not defend Miley, and I don’t think she’s a particularly articulate defender of her position either as a privileged white woman nor as an artist. But Jezebel, Bitch Magazine, Huffington Post, Colorlines, Black Girl Dangerous, and several other feminist outlets wrote very nuanced, helpful criticisms of her performances and cultural appropriation such that I was more interested in looking at problematic criticism of her than trying to repeat (and probably poorly) what had already been said. Also, Miley is part of a culturally appropriative, exploitative music industry, and I don’t know quite enough about it to offer a useful critique without a lot more research. That’s why I wrote that bullet point that way.

  3. December 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    I’m confused by your first sentence (could just be me being tired)? But the rest makes sense. Thanks for explaining/clarifying!

    • evmaroon
      December 21, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

      Oh, sure, I can clarify that first sentence. You asked, “How?” which I read more as “Why did you” so I started off with my rationale. When Tosh.0 makes an unfunny rape joke, what I think is not helpful is some also troubling sentiment, like he’s just a frat boy, or white guys always suck, etc. I wrote a blog post once upon a time about people who were mocking Kim Kardashian’s very short marriage, and saying that this is evidence that gay marriage doesn’t hurt the institution of marriage as much as she does. It’s a path to nowhere when we use reductivist or weak tactics to critique problematic moments, statements, and systems, so I guess people’s unaccountable criticism of Ms. Cyrus was more in my memory as a low moment than her own behavior, which yes, was also off the wall [sic] poor. And like, is there any popular music out there today that isn’t influenced by or appropriative of people of color’s musical traditions and heritage?

      • December 21, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

        I mean, I hear the unproductive critiques thing, but I don’t think people slut-shaming Miley is comparable to the examples you brought up. People saying “he’s just a frat boy” about Tosh are addressing the problematic incident of the rape joke (in an unhelpful and unproductive way, but they’re addressing it.)

        People calling Miley a slut aren’t saying that because of her appropriative and racist behavior (at least not in the dozens of examples I saw, and I’d be curious if you saw anything to the contrary). They’re just responding per usual to female musicians wearing not a ton of clothing (I mean, the Christian Post is an organization which I’m going to guess writes the FCC a lot of letters about things like how female performers dress at awards shows).

        Meanwhile, there have been a ton of productive and insightful critiques of her for that behavior which aren’t gross and slut-shamey. So I think we’re talking about two sets of people with two entirely different concerns, not one issue that some people responded to in not productive ways.

        And no, there isn’t any popular music out there that isn’t influenced by stealing from people of color (mostly black people). But a) that doesn’t give her a pass for her behavior and b) I think there’s a difference in magnitude between a white artist who performs in a musical style invented by black people (say, Eminem or Adele) versus a white artist who takes a specific dance move with a long history in both black American and, to my understanding, African cultures and does it poorly and incorrectly but still manages to essentially rebrand it as her own in a way which will forever make it associated with white girls trying to be cool and sexual in shocking, deviant ways.

        tl;dr Given the ways in which white feminism is often really, really shitty about acknowledging the harm done to women (and men) of color by white women, it makes me really uncomfortable to focus on the hurtful things people have said to and about Miley instead of the ways she’s hurt other far more marginalized people.

      • evmaroon
        December 21, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

        Well, I hear what you’re saying. I think there’s enough space on the internet and the thousands of blogs out there for one post to focus on the unhelpful, unfeminist response to Miley Cyrus, given that there are so many others out there doing great work on critiquing her and her producers already. It’s not an endorsement of her behavior that I chose that focus.

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