Warning: This piece discusses sexual assault, domestic abuse, physical assault, and child abuse. If you don’t want to read about that stuff, then don’t read this piece.

It’s time for Refrigerator Rants’ most-treasured annual tradition! Every year, I take a look back at the pop cultural works, events, or occurrences that disappointed me or large numbers of other people. (I’ve decided that I’m equivalent to large numbers of other people.) This year had no shortage of crappy pop culture. In fact, there was so much garbage this year that the perennial tenth-place finisher, the Academy Awards telecast, got knocked off the list. Congratulations, 2014! You managed to produce at least 10 things that were worse than the Oscars this year. Bravo!

A brief note before we continue: There were lots of disappointing – if not tragic – things that happened this year. But occurrences such as the events in Ferguson, Missouri, the Rolling Stone/UVA scandal, and the numerous airline disasters don’t really fall under the purview of pop culture. For that reason, I’m not including them on this list.

Without further ado, it’s time to take a look back at 2014: The Year in Shit!

10. The bizarre feud between Mark Kozelek and The War on Drugs
A lot of strange things happened in the music industry this year, like that time Taylor Swift accidentally released a track consisting of eight seconds of white noise and it topped the iTunes charts in Canada. But none were weirder than the very one-sided feud between folk singer Mark Kozelek and indie rock band The War on Drugs. After TWoD apparently drowned out Kozelek’s set during simultaneous performances at the Hopscotch Music Festival, Kozelek made some rude remarks about the band. He quickly apologized, but then inexplicably rescinded his apology and went on to antagonize TWoD at every opportunity. He then released a song called “War On Drugs, Suck My Cock.” (It’s as stupid as it sounds.)

Initially, TWoD took the high road, but eventually their patience wore thin, and their leader Adam Granduciel referred to Kozelek as a a “douche” in an interview. This prompted Kozelek to record another song called “Adam Granduciel’s Blues.” It seems like Kozelek has all the maturity of a grade-schooler, and it’s just bizarre to see a man in his forties acting like this. At first this whole thing appeared to be a huge joke, but if it is, I don’t think Granduciel is in on it, and I don’t think Kozelek realizes that everyone is laughing at him, not with him.

9. Mixology
ABC’s Mixology had an interesting premise: over the course of its first season, it would show the events of a night at a bar from the perspectives of several different characters. It’s a similar structure to the most recent season of Arrested Development.

Not a similar level of quality, however. (And the 4th season of Arrested Development wasn’t even that good to begin with.) Mixology was a steaming pile of televisual feces, rife with sexism and general ugliness. One character was introduced as a scam artist, and the show tried to redeem him by giving him… a British accent. No really. I’m not making that up. Another character spewed bullshit about how a woman has to be literally physically abused by a man in order to be attracted to him. I wish I was joking. Never has so much repulsive filth concentrated itself in a single ostensible comedy. The master tapes of this show should be burned in a bonfire, and everybody involved in its making needs to take a long hot shower. Or ten.

8. Twitch’s new copyright policies
Last year, YouTube had its own content ID kerfuffle. This year, popular live-streaming service Twitch followed suit. They stopped indefinitely archiving old broadcasts, they put limits on the lengths of highlights, and they started muting videos with copyrighted music in half-hour chunks.  Moreover, they sprung this change on users with very little advance warning.

The first two changes are obvious problems with user-friendliness, and the second one was eventually reversed. However, the third change, muting videos with copyrighted music, is a lot more contentious. The problem with automatic copyright infringement detection algorithms is that they have no sense of fair use. They can’t differentiate between licenced in-game music and some dude blaring Beyoncé in the background while he plays Dota 2. Heck, even Twitch’s own gaming show, Twitch Weekly, ended up getting muted by the algorithm.

Twitch eventually introduced an appeals process to deal with mutings, but it was too little, too late. 30-minute chunks are simply unreasonable. Why not do it in, say, 2- or 3-minute blocks, so that entire videos aren’t ruined?

The reasons for the changes to Twitch’s policies became clear in late September, when Amazon acquired Twitch. Now, the formerly independent Twitch is under the thumb of one of the world’s largest Internet media and business conglomerates. We should all be afraid.

7. Ubisoft’s shitty year
For a while, Electronic Arts was the new Activision. Now, Ubisoft is the new EA: the most-hated video game publisher amongst both gamers and the games media. How did they end up in this position?

It might be that Ubisoft’s tentpole releases all showed a callous disregard for women. The women in Watch Dogs’ plot all had no agency whatsoever and existed mainly as props to be rescued or coddled by the main character, Aiden. Meanwhile, Ubisoft failed to include playable female characters in Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4. The gaming press seized on some comments by a developer about how it would be a lot of extra work to animate a female character in addition to a male character for the single-player campaign. This was a mistake on the part of the press, because it directed ire towards the developer and his inelegant comments and away from Far Cry 4, whose lack of female characters in the multiplayer component of the game was far more egregious, as well as from Ubisoft’s management.

You see, based on comments made by the developers, it seems like they wanted to include a playable female character in AC:U; they just didn’t have the resources. In other words, the publisher wouldn’t give them the resources to do so. Think of what that says about Ubisoft’s priorities: they’re more concerned with jamming microtransactions and social bullshit into their games than they are with including women.

That’s right, AC:U was littered with microtransactions, despite being a $60 AAA title, and some of them were useless or didn’t even work properly! You’d think that $60 was enough money to charge for a video game. Apparently not.

But Ubisoft’s terrible decision-making didn’t end there. Both Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed, as well as AAA racing game The Crew, were riddled with bugs at launch. Ubisoft doesn’t even have the decency to release games in a playable state anymore, instead relying on post-launch patching to fix game-breaking issues. Moreover, issues with their online infrastructure meant that several components of Watch Dogs and The Crew frequently didn’t work at all. Personally speaking, the online component of Watch Dogs didn’t work consistently until I was over halfway through the game. Hell, Ubisoft was so bad at releasing functional games this year that they couldn’t even get fucking Tetris working right!

If that weren’t enough, most of Ubisoft’s major 2014 releases – Watch Dogs, Far Cry 4, The Crew, Assassin’s Creed: Unity – debuted to mixed, if not negative, reviews. (I myself gave a negative review to Watch Dogs.) In addition to technical issues, many reviews cited that Ubisoft games suffered from a lack of imagination. As pointed out by this satirical review, they all consist of the same basic gameplay: claiming additional territory in an open world by capturing control points on a map.

The funny thing is that Ubisoft received praise this year for championing and publishing smaller titles like Child of Light and Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Even their second-banana last-gen Assassin’s Creed title, Rogue, was warmly received. However, their AAA publishing and development arm is bloated, greedy, and creatively bankrupt. If Ubisoft wants to win back gamers’ trust, they have to do better at polishing their games before release, make games with new gameplay ideas, and take the microtransactions out of their AAA titles. Whether Ubisoft will do any of these things in 2015 remains to be seen.

6. Thief
Ubisoft wasn’t the only video game publisher that released shitty games this year; Square Enix also did its part by releasing an awful reboot of the Thief franchise, simply titled Thief. I’ve already written a lengthy negative review of the game, and I named it my second-worst game of the year, so I won’t write much about it here. Suffice it to say that there is literally not a single good design decision in Thief, and only a handful of okay ones. Thief is one of the worst AAA games I’ve played to completion, and it’s especially disappointing coming from Eidos Montréal, the studio that released the stellar Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

5. Lena Dunham’s abusive behaviour is written off
I understand the impulse to defend Lena Dunham, given the amount of sexist, body-shaming crap she has received from her critics. But that should never extend to defending child-on-child sexual abuse, which she describes herself as perpetrating in her book, Not That Kind of Girl. I’ll spare you the gory details, but if you’re curious, you can read some of the offending excerpts here.

Shit like this shouldn’t be written off as normal, healthy exploration. Bribing your younger sister for kisses is grooming behaviour, a common technique of abusers. This is not curious children of the same age showing each other their genitals. This is abuse, plain and simple, and the fact so many people – including prominent feminists – leaped to Dunham’s defence against a supposed “right-wing smear campaign” is shameful.

Sometimes the people we like do terrible things. The mature reaction is to evaluate what they did and then adjust our assessments of those people accordingly. It is not to defend them blindly against any and all accusations, regardless of the evidence. Speaking of which…

4. GamerGate
Actually, you know what? Let’s just skip this one.
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Okay fine, you want to talk about GamerGate? Let’s talk about GamerGate. Let’s talk about journalistic ethics. Let’s talk about the harassment of women. Let’s talk about bigotry. Let’s talk about minority erasure. Let’s talk about toxicity in activist circles. Let’s talk about the Streisand effect. Let’s talk about free speech and censorship. Let’s talk about toxic masculinity. Let’s talk about abuse apologism. Let’s talk about media narratives and herd mentality.

But you don’t want to talk about each of those issues individually, do you? You want me to take a single position on the GamerGate controversy as a whole, rail on “SJWs” or “neckbeard misogynerds,” and call it a day. Well, fuck you.

Yes, fuck you.

You are the problem with GamerGate.

You see, what’s often lost in discussions of GamerGate – and in online discussions in general – is that there’s a difference between moderation and nuance. Moderation is simply taking an intermediate stance on every issue. Nuance is the ability to analyze large issues and decompose them into smaller issues. There’s no inherent virtue in moderation – in fact, it’s often cowardly – but nuance is almost always a good thing. Unfortunately, it’s been severely lacking from discussions about GamerGate.

“GamerGate moderates” – the name given to people like Liana Kerzner, David Auerbach, and Philip Wythe who have meaningfully engaged with both “sides” of the GamerGate debate – is a misnomer. These people don’t have moderate stances on many of the sub-issues comprising GamerGate, but they’ve displayed a knack for actually identifying those sub-issues, most of which were bubbling under the surface long before GamerGate’s catalyzing events. People would do well to follow their lead, rather than doxxing, harassing, or threatening those with whom they disagree.

From far away, GamerGate might look like a fight over journalistic ethics or the status of women in the gaming industry. Upon closer examination, however, it looks like the total collapse of civil discourse. We can do better than insults and Twitter wars. Let’s do better in 2015.

3. The NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse fiasco
What could be worse than GamerGate? We’re really wallowing in the shitpile now.

When a part of a video showing Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancée (now-wife) Janay Palmer out of an elevator after knocking her out cold surfaced, the immediate reaction should have been an automatic lifetime ban from the NFL. Instead, he was given only a two-game suspension, because apparently the NFL doesn’t give a shit about domestic abuse. When another part of the video surfaced, this one actually depicting the blow that knocked Palmer unconscious, the NFL finally banned Rice from the league, but was forced to rescind that decision at a judge’s orders, because Rice had already served his suspension.

Rumours that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had seen the entire video at the time he handed Rice his suspension abound. Even if those rumours are untrue, how the hell does Goodell think Palmer ended up unconscious? Certainly not from a gentle caress on the cheek. Either way, Goodell is a slimy coward who cares only about keeping up the NFL’s appearances. As long as he could maintain some level of plausible deniability about Rice’s actions, he refrained from handing down any sort of substantial punishment.

As for Rice’s defenders, let me say this: The vast majority of NFL players are not domestic abusers. Heck, the vast majority of football players are not domestic abusers. Do you really think kicking Rice and other abusers out of the league would significantly impact the quality of the sport?

2. Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi are outed as abusers
This year, it was revealed that popular entertainers Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi were serial abusers, with multiple women coming forward alleging that they had been raped or physically assaulted by them. In this situation, the disappointment doesn’t lie with the fact that they were caught. I couldn’t be happier that these two abusers were finally made to answer for their crimes (and in Ghomeshi’s case, are being criminally investigated). I’m disappointed that it took so damn long to get these guys.

Allegations have been swirling around these two men for years (in Cosby’s case, for decades). But powerful, likable people – especially famous, well-loved men – are good at silencing any chatter about their transgressions. That’s how they maintain their hold on power. Furthermore, those who have the ability to do something about the allegations often choose to do nothing, because they rely on those men for their livelihoods. Sometimes the media and the public dismiss or even fight back against allegations against men such as Cosby and Ghomeshi. After all, those men are good people, and the women who accuse them are lying, cheating sluts, right?

We, as a culture, need to realize that the people we like are sometimes capable of doing terrible things. (That seems to be a running theme of this blog post.) The revelations about Cosby and Ghomeshi make me wonder how many other serial abusers are hiding in plain sight, protected by the love and admiration the public has for them.

1. The Interview causes a geopolitical shitstorm
This story is so bizarre that I don’t even know what to make of it, but I’ll try. Here’s the rundown: James Franco and Seth Rogen make a silly stoner comedy called The Interview, which involves the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The film’s distributor, Sony Pictures, is hacked in a (likely unrelated) cyber-attack. The hackers later claim to be from North Korea and threaten terrorist attacks if The Interview is released. Sony Pictures caves and shelves the movie indefinitely. Then President Obama gets involved for some reason, chastises Sony for caving, and all but confirms that the FBI thinks North Korea is behind the cyber-attack. Sony then partially reverses its decision and releases the film to streaming services. Finally, cyber experts and linguists start poking holes in the official story and assert that the attack likely didn’t involve North Korea.

Well, that’s a fine clusterfuck, isn’t it?

The way I see it, there are three possibilities for what went down. None of them are good:

  1. North Korean hackers – or hackers paid by the North Korean government – really did hack Sony Pictures. In this case, we briefly let a foreign power dictate the kinds of things we can say and produce over here. That sets a terrible precedent. By all accounts, The Interview is a silly, toothless film. What happens when we want to make a film that is seriously critical of a foreign regime?
  2. North Korean hackers weren’t involved, but the FBI seriously believes they were. In this case, the FBI’s cyber division is completely fucking incompetent, and whoever is in charge of it should be fired. Moreover, the United States just provoked North Korea for no reason whatsoever.
  3. North Korean hackers weren’t involved, and the FBI knows they weren’t, but the Obama administration is saying they were anyway. In this case, President Obama is accusing North Korea of hacking Sony for political gain. He’s exploiting The Interview and the Sony hack for patriotism points. I have a hard time believing this is true, because the Obama administration would have to know that the FBI’s supposed mistake would eventually be discovered. They couldn’t seriously be that shortsighted. (Then again, the Bush administration thought they could fool us all into thinking that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and they really committed to that bit.)

No matter what really happened, somebody comes out of it looking bad. Who would have thought that a stoner comedy could touch off a geopolitical shitstorm like this?

(Dis)honourable mentions: Murdered: Soul Suspect; Halt and Catch Fire; The slow implosion of Crytek; Coldplay’s Ghost Stories; Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate)’s You Will Eventually Be Forgotten; Yellowcard’s Lift a Sail; The Academy Awards telecast (of course I was going to mention it); Journal; Gael Monfils loses to Roger Federer in the US Open quarterfinals after dropping two match points in the fourth set; Shirtstorm; The downsizing of Irrational Games; The Donald Sterling NBA fiasco; The Jay McElfresh scandal; Cardboard Computer’s utter inability to stick to a release schedule for Kentucky Route Zero.

This concludes 2014: The Year in Shit. Let’s hope for a less shitty 2015.

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