It’s somewhat of a tradition at this blog to look back at the year that was and remember the year’s biggest pop cultural disappointments. Some were crappy albums, TV shows, or video games that we were forced to endure. Others were problematic cultural phenomena. And some were disappointing not because they were terrible, but because they had the potential to be great and fell far short. So let’s take a look at what disappointed me in 2013.
10. The Academy Awards telecast… *sigh*
The Academy Awards telecast has appeared on this list for the past two years. 2013 is no exception. Host Seth MacFarlane kept cracking gross, ugly jokes, culminating in a profoundly uncomfortable number where he sang about actresses’ breasts. But forget his smarmy sexism; he just looked plain uncomfortable on stage, sweating like the mafia were backstage and about to break his kneecaps.
I don’t even know why I’m disappointed at this stage; the awfulness of the Academy Awards is no longer a surprise. But then I remember the great show Hugh Jackman hosted back in 2009. It’s possible for the Oscars to be more than a self-fellating parade of awkward banter and unspectacular performances. They just need to hire someone better than the dude behind Family Guy for the hosting job.
9. The Americans
I actually placed this FX drama on my list of most anticipated things of 2013. But despite the show’s warm critical reception and fantastic performances from Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich, this show fell flat for me. The plot’s glacial pace and implausibility wore on me, and the awful, clunky dialogue was nearly unbearable at times. I gave up midway through the first season. Who knew that espionage could be so boring?
8. The YouTube copyright crackdown
The YouTube Content ID fiasco is relatively recent and has spilled over into this year, so it’s entirely possible that it could end up on 2014’s list as well. Short summary: YouTube recently implemented a system that matches content in uploaded videos to a database of copyrighted content. If a match is found, then the uploaded video is flagged and cannot be monetized by its uploader. The problem is that this Content ID system is automatic; it would be nearly impossible to program a “fair use” detection algorithm. As a result, a huge portion of YouTube’s videos have been flagged, including Let’s Play videos of many video games, critiques and reviews that include movie or video game footage, and even stupid cat videos with clips of music playing in the background. Worse still, the system flagged a lot of false positives.
YouTube’s response? Not even a perfunctory “we’re looking into it.” Nope, it basically amounted to “Deal with it, whiners.” It’s no secret that copyright law is a giant mess designed to advantage large corporations, but YouTube’s bending to their pressure to address the problem in such a careless, unsystematic way is cowardly. Shame on you, YouTube, for caving.
7. Watch Dogs delayed to 2014
It’s not like Watch Dogs is going to be the best video game ever or anything. But after its decidedly “next-gen” reveal at E3 2012, it seemed like the game that would herald the next generation of gaming. Its delay meant that both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 launched without a game that really sets the now-current generation apart from the last. I’m itching to see the kinds of larger, more detailed, more interactive worlds we can explore with the help of new tech.
6. The Boxer Rebellion’s Promises
Promises isn’t the worst album I’ve ever heard, but it’s easily one of the most contemptible. It’s a soulless, listless product, devoid of energy or emotion. What is so infuriating about it is that The Boxer Rebellion is a fairly obscure band; it’s not like “selling out” could be a viable motivation for them to turn into a pseudo-Coldplay rip-off. The only explanation for an album this dispassionate and generic is that The Boxer Rebellion just doesn’t care about their music.
5. Adam sexually assaults someone on Girls
In the penultimate episode of Girls’ second season, “On All Fours,” Adam sexually assaults his girlfriend, Natalia. He performs a degrading sex act on her without her full, prior, enthusiastic consent. (Sorry, sexual assault isn’t just committed by creepy dudes in dark alleys.) For some reason, people were reluctant to call it sexual assault, but that’s neither here nor there. You don’t think what Adam did legally qualifies as rape? Fine. (It probably doesn’t.) But what really enraged me was that Adam was portrayed as a hero in the following episode, the season finale, “Together.” While I was watching the final sequence, when Adam was coming to rescue Hannah, I wanted to yell, “This guy is not a hero; HE’S A SEXUAL ABUSER.” Not according to Girls, apparently.
4. The loss of gaming outlets 1UP, The Gameological Society, and The Penny Arcade Report
This year saw the end of several gaming news and commentary outlets, including 1UP, The Gameological Society, and the Penny Arcade Report. In particular, I was proud to call The Gameological Society my commenting home for the majority of its existence, and I’m immensely sad to see it go. Luckily, Gameological is sticking around in some capacity as a section of the AV Club.
3. The Rob Ford media frenzy
Who would have thought that the mayor of Toronto would end up becoming a household name? But in 2013, it surfaced that Rob Ford had smoked crack while in office, and suddenly, everyone was calling him to answer for his transgressions. He became a frequent punching-bag on late-night television. But substance abuse isn’t Rob Ford’s only problem: he’s also a sexist, homophobic, racist bigot. The media have rarely called him out on this. So Ford, secure in the belief that getting caught for smoking crack is the only bad thing he’s done, remains in office, an embarrassment for the city of Toronto.
2. Harassment of women at E3
For a professional event, E3 can be a pretty shitty place. This year, creepiness and misogyny at the Expo reached new depths, with a security guard sexually harassing one female attendee and Microsoft including an offhand rape joke in their press conference. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There were numerous reports of groping and harassment, and several female attendees were mistaken for “booth babes.” (Why is a professional event employing show models anyway?) Industry professionals should be asking themselves: is this really the kind of crap that we want people to associate with gaming? E3 sets the tone for the entire gaming industry. If we can’t get its attendees to y’know, act like fucking professionals, then what hope do we have of fighting the insidious bigotry that permeates gaming culture?
1. The Ian Watkins sex abuse scandal
When the charges against former Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins surfaced in late 2012, they sounded like a horrible joke. He was planning to rape a baby? What? How would he even do that?
But, sadly, they were true, and when Watkins pled guilty to the charges last year, the truth came out, and a portrait of a sad, sick man began to emerge: addicted to meth and increasingly extreme sex acts. Watkins even managed to convince two female fans to offer up their children for abuse. That’s just all kinds of fucked up.
And then more sordid details began to emerge. It turned out that a previous romantic liaison of Watkins had made numerous police reports about his suspected abuse, and each time, she was turned away. Years of Watkins’ abuse could have been prevented. But because Watkins was a popular rockstar involved with charitable endeavours – or perhaps because they were just lazy – the authorities turned a blind eye.
Fortunately, Watkins was eventually caught and sentenced to 29 years in prison plus 6 years’ extended licence. Hopefully, he will never harm another young soul again. But what this whole saga illustrates is just how little we, as a society, care about sexual abuse. Reports of Watkins’ abuse were repeatedly ignored, and in fact, Watkins was caught only because of a drug investigation, not a sexual abuse one.
Let this be a lesson not only to UK police, but to police all around the world: we can’t let this happen again. We can’t let someone get away with abuse for this long. We can’t ignore reports just because they seem outlandish or sensational. We can’t turn a blind eye to the transgressions of the rich and famous, especially not ones as depraved and disgusting as these.
My heart goes out to Watkins’ family and former bandmates, who must be undergoing severe emotional turmoil. But more importantly, my heart goes out to Watkins’ victims; the only solace I can provide is that they were hopefully too young to remember the abuse that was inflicted upon them.
(Dis)honourable mentions: Antichamber; Shelter; BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode 1; The National’s Trouble Will Find Me; Despicable Me 2; The possible repeal of net neutrality in the US; Anita Sarkeesian and the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian; The delay of Closure in Moscow’s Pink Lemonade; Progressive gaming discourse falls victim to call-out culture; The Miley Cyrus VMA twerking fiasco; The failure of The Colbert Report and The Daily Show to take the American government to task over the botched Obamacare rollout; The lacklustre fall television schedule; Awfulness on Black Friday; The Xbox One Kinect fiasco.
Okay, enough negativity for now. Up next: what I’m most looking forward to in 2014.