The Ten Biggest Pop Culture Disappointments of 2021

Content warnings: sexual abuse; suicide; death

This blog’s most time-honoured [citation needed] tradition returns. 2021 fucking sucked. A global pandemic raged on, the rich continued to get richer, and uncontrollable forest fires demonstrated that global warming’s effects are already here. Simply put, shit’s fucked. Viewed in that light, talking about pop-cultural disappointments feels petty. But you know what? This is my personal blog, and I’m allowed be petty and laugh at stupid things. So that’s what I’m going to do, as I’ve done every year since… -searches blog- holy shit I’ve been doing this since 2011??? How have I not lost my fucking mind yet???

A reminder: these aren’t necessarily the worst aspects of pop culture in 2021. They’re just the things that disappointed me the most, personally. So without further ado, I bring you 2021: the year in shit.

10. B: The Beginning: Succession

You may have noticed that I didn’t do an anime roundup this year. I won’t be doing one. That’s because I only watched 6 anime series in 2021, and I didn’t love any of them. The only three I liked, in order from best to worst, were: Star Wars: Visions, which was wildly inconsistent though did feature some great storytelling in a few of its episodes; Komi Can’t Communicate, which was occasionally quite funny but also often clichéd and frankly just plain offensive; and Season 2 of BEASTARS, which was gorgeously animated but also somewhat of a frustrating trainwreck plotwise. Below that, there was Horimiya, which had a couple of great episodes but just completely shat the bed by the end. And below that, there was the second season of B: The Beginning, subtitled “Succession” for some reason.1 (And below that, there was another series, but I’ll get to that in a bit.)

Honestly, B: The Beginning: Succession was so bad that it was part of what killed my interest in anime in 2021. (Again, we’ll get to the other part.) I don’t even know where to begin to explain where it went wrong. The first season of B: The Beginning wasn’t high art, but it was trashy good fun with some flashy style. By contrast, Succession is both boring and baffling, with a downgrade in production values robbing the series of any style it once had. The plot is illogical nonsense; the villains’ plans seem to be determined by spins of a roulette well rather than any coherent agenda. And there’s an incest subplot for no fucking reason whatsoever THAT TAKES PLACE ENTIRELY INSIDE A CHARACTER’S HEAD. Practically the only good moment in the entire season is when one of the characters defies physics and drives a car sideways on a wall. It makes zero sense, but it’s the good kind of nonsense. If only the rest of this incomprehensible slog had had any sense of fun.

9. Sexual misconduct allegations against Matthew Good

Matt Good was my favourite singer-songwriter for most of my adult life. Heck, I even wrote a comprehensive career retrospective about him a few years ago. But in 2021, he was accused of infidelity, sexual misconduct, and emotional abuse by over a dozen women. He was dropped by his label and management, and now he effectively has no music career. I’m angry that I ever supported this scumbag.

8. The Montreal Canadiens lose in the Stanley Cup finals

The last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup, it was 1993, when the Habs hoisted the trophy. In 2021, it looked like they might do it again, after an improbable run that saw them come back from a 1-3 deficit in the first round of the playoffs. However, in the finals, they met their Waterloo, falling 4-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Another Canadian cup feels so close, yet so far away.

As for how the Habs are doing this season, they’re currently sitting in 31st place, just ahead of the last-place Arizona Coyotes. What a tumble!

7. COVID-19 is still happening and fucking everything up

Pretty self-explanatory.

6. NFTs

I could go on about how energy-intensive blockchain technology is. I could tell you about how NFTs just point to URLs and confer no practical ownership to their users. I could lament the fact that creative industries, especially gaming, have tried to get in on the craze by jamming NFTs into their output with seemingly no understanding of what the tech does or how it works. But instead of further apophasis, I’ll just leave you with this:

5. IGN and Game Informer forced by management to remove articles about Palestine

In May 2021, when Israeli forces yet again escalated their brutal apartheid campaign against the Palestinian people, gaming news outlets IGN and Game Informer published articles on the conflict to raise awareness and outline some ways gamers could help. Those articles were swiftly taken down by the sites’ management. While the reaction at Game Informer was more muted, IGN staff publicly rebuked management and even posted an open letter decrying their actions.

If editorial independence is to be breached, it should be done so only in the direst and most pressing circumstances. Doing so in order to take attention away from an ongoing genocide is unconscionable. Management at IGN and Game Informer should be ashamed of themselves, but somehow I doubt they’re capable of feeling shame.

4. The 93rd Academy Awards

Where to even begin with this trainwreck?2 First there was the decision to eschew the ceremony’s traditional Dolby Theatre venue in favour of Los Angeles’s Union Station, which necessitated: a) shutting down the city’s major transit hub used by essential workers in the midst of a global pandemic; and b) booting all the homeless people who traditionally hang out in the area. Imagine having the gall to make thousands of ordinary folks’ lives hell just so a bunch of rich douchebags can glam up and pat each other on the back. Every public official who signed off on this plan should be forced to be homeless for a week, just so they can understand the consequences of their actions.

And then there was the ceremony itself, which made so many baffling, bizarre, and downright insulting presentation choices that I have to believe Stephen Soderbergh was trying to Producers this shit. I mean, how can you have a film awards show without clips from the actual movies? Did they spend too much money bribing local officials and run out of funds to license the clips or something? That would also explain the cheap-looking production design, which made the whole affair look like a charity ball for a municipal hospital. Even worse was the rushed In Memoriam segment, which flew by so quickly that viewers could barely read the names on the screen. Notable actors, such as Naya Rivera, Jessica Walter, and Nick Cordero, were snubbed for the segment. Even musician Adam Schlesinger—a previous Oscar nominee!—was snubbed.

The reason for the rushed In Memoriam segment became clear near the end of the ceremony, leading to its worst part, a display of hubris so comically inept that I couldn’t help but laugh. Best Picture is usually the last award presented, but the producers decided to switch things up and make it the antepenultimate one, saving the two major acting awards for the end. How come? You see, Chadwick Boseman tragically died of cancer in 2020, and he was up for a posthumous Best Actor award for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He was heavily favoured to win. So, thinking that they could end the ceremony on a tribute to Boseman, they rushed through the In Memoriam segment and banked on Boseman getting the trophy.

That bet did not pay off. In what I can only describe as an episode of cringe comedy brought to life, more Academy voters had chosen Anthony Hopkins for his performance in The Father. Due to the ongoing pandemic, Hopkins had opted not to travel for the ceremony, so there wasn’t even a speech to end the night, just a few awkward words and a cut to credits as attendees looked around in confusion. What a fucking shitshow. There’s a silver lining, though: at least now we know the Oscars’ voting process isn’t rigged.

3. Season 2 of The Promised Neverland

As I hinted in the first entry on this list, two series were responsible for killing my love of anime in 2021. The first was B: The Beginning: Succession. The second was Season 2 of The Promised Neverland, a disaster so egregious and all-encompassing that it made waves in mainstream nerd media, outside of anime’s typical weeaboo niche.

The second season of The Promised Neverland started off promisingly, continuing with the slow-burn pacing and dark psychological drama of the first season. But before the season’s halfway mark, cracks started appearing as the pacing ratcheted up. By the second half of the season, things were completely off the rails, with nonsensical plot points being piled on top of each other like a Dagwood sandwich of awful writing. This all culminated in a finale so laughable, unearned, and perfunctory that I just shook my head the entire time.

I could try writing a coherent takedown of everything that was wrong TPN’s second season, but if the show didn’t bother being coherent, then why should I? Instead, here’s a list, in no particular order:

  • The show introduces a subplot about Isabella hunting down the Grace Field escapees, and it just goes completely unaddressed.
  • Going similarly unaddressed: Sonju’s comments from early in the season about wanting to eat the children.
  • There was a recap episode only 5 episodes in, indicating severe production problems behind the scenes.
  • The animation quality took a nosedive toward the end, lacking fluidity and using lots of static shots.
  • The show makes it look like Vincent is a traitor in Episode 9 only to reveal that this was part of the plan all along in Episode 10.
  • Norman has a “Martha” moment when he realizes that the demon kid he’s about to kill is also named Emma.
  • By sheer coincidence, Vylk just happens to have the pen part with the information the kids need to infiltrate Grace Field.
  • By sheer coincidence, the portal to the other world is located under Grace Field.
  • The patrol routes at Grace Field haven’t changed in decades.
  • All the moms instantly betray Peter Ratri, because reasons.
  • Peter Ratri commits suicide, so the kids don’t even need to get their hands dirty.
  • The first season adapted roughly four-and-a-half manga volumes. The second season adapted fifteen-and-a-half, skipping many of the series’ most memorable arcs and excising any explanation for what the fuck is actually going on.
  • Half the series finale is a wordless montage containing static images of most of the manga plot that the anime didn’t adapt.
  • Manga author Kaiu Shirai took his name off the last few episodes of the season. The final two episodes had no credited screenwriters.

And that’s not even everything that was stupid about it! But we don’t have all day, so I’ll end the list there. Suffice it to say, while TPN S2 might not have been the worst season of anime all time—I can name at least two series I hated more—it was by far the most disappointing. Few shows have insulted the viewership’s intelligence as much as The Promised Neverland did, and none can claim to have so thoroughly destroyed a celebrated manga’s legacy as this one did.

2. Alec Baldwin accidentally kills cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust

On October 21st, 2021, not knowing that the firearm he was asked to handle contained live rounds, Alec Baldwin shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and director Joel Souza, fatally wounding the former. How could such an incident happen? In the weeks that followed, investigations revealed a poorly managed movie set where safety regulations were regularly disregarded and weapons were negligently handled. The whole thing was run on a shoestring budget, and expertise was in short supply. The crew even walked off the job due to these lapses.

There’s a reason the film industry makes such a big fuss about safety: no film is worth the cost of someone’s life. It shouldn’t have taken a cinematographer’s death to remind us of that.

1. Activision-Blizzard’s ongoing sexual misconduct scandal

In July 2021, after a two-year investigation, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing initiated a lawsuit against Activision-Blizzard for discrimination and harassment of female employees. The allegations run the gamut from sexual harassment to improper support for nursing mothers to an employee taking her own life after a sexual assault. In response, employees walked off the job and Blizzard president J. Allen Brack resigned.

But that wasn’t the end of the controversy for the video game publisher. CEO Bobby Kotick refused to resign, even in November when the Wall Street Journal reported that he’d known about the misconduct for years, covered it up, participated in some of it, and lied to the board about what he knew. To this day, the board continues to support Kotick. Nobody intends to force him to resign. He continues to face no consequences for the misdeeds he perpetrated or the rotten culture he built. Fuck Activision-Blizzard, fuck its board of directors, and most of all, fuck Bobby Kotick.

(Dis)honourable Mentions

In no particular order: Betty White dies on December 31st, just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday; the drama surrounding Lindsay Ellis and her so-called “cancellation”; Gawker’s return and awful website layout; Nancy becoming boring and repetitive; Maquette; Aaron Rodgers revealing himself as an anti-vaxxer

That does it for 2021’s disappointments. In a sick sort of way, I’m hoping for some supremely awful art in 2022 so I can rant about it in this space at the end of the year. In a less sick way, I’m hoping for awful art instead of death and sexual assault.

See you soon for a list of what I’m most anticipating in 2022!

1 Instead of being called what it should have been called: C: The Continuation. (And then Season 3 should have been D: The Denouement, and Season 4 should have been E: The Ending.) ^

2 Pun very much intended, considering where the ceremony took place. ^

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