Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Petition To the State of California in Support of Roger Avary

State of California,

I am writing this on behalf of the entire filmmaking and artistic community worldwide.

We have just learned the astonishing news of the sentencing of Roger Avary, Oscar-winning co-writer of Pulp Fiction and director of Killing Zoe, to one full year in prison resulting from his conviction on the charge of gross vehicular manslaughter.

Filmmakers, intellectuals, Gen Xers, movie geeks, and meth addicts from across the country and around the world are dismayed by this turn of events and you must know that it cannot stand.

True, Mr. Avary pleaded guilty last August to a crash that killed a passenger in his Mercedes-Benz and, true, he was driving over a hundred miles-an-hour and was legally intoxicated at the time. But all of this is of little consequence when balanced against one irrefutable fact: He helped write Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Surely, the enduring legacy of these masterpieces -- not to mention the fact that he also directed a film in which a character played by Ron Jeremy was shot in the chest with a shotgun -- absolves him of this or any other crime he may have committed or will commit in the future. Besides, the victim in the case is dead, which means that he cannot demand that Mr. Avary be forced to serve this sentence. Trust us when we tell you that Andreas Zini would've wanted this whole ugly mess to be over and for Mr. Avary to be allowed to put it behind him. That is, if, you know, he were alive.

Mr. Avary is currently writing the script for Silent Hill 2, which we hear will be a big hit on DVD. We think you'll agree that it is simply unconscionable that anyone stands in the way of this caliber of work and what it will mean for the artistic community and the world.

If only in the name of friendship between California and the rest of the civilized world -- which, let's admit it, is pretty strained right now -- we demand the immediate release of Roger Avary.

Thank You,

The Royal We (Chez)

The Huffington Post: Roger Avary Sentenced in DUI/9.30.09

(Update: By the way, this delightful little piece is now also up at the Huffington Post. Like it? Show some love and Digg away.)

And Now the Thought for the Day, from Chez's Evil Twin, Garth*

You can't blame Roman Polanski for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

He's French.

And you can't blame him for sodomizing her.

He's Polish and couldn't figure out where the hell he was going.

(As always, the opinions of Garth do not necessarily reflect those of Chez, who would never stoop to making ethnic jokes on this site.)

Quote of the Week (Honorable Mention)

"The big lecture buyers in the US are paralyzed with fear about booking her, basically because they think she is a blithering idiot. They don't want to tick people off."

-- Unnamed source speaking to the New York Post about why Sarah Palin is bombing on the lecture circuit


I'm all about the First Amendment, but at what point are we going to start arresting these assholes for incitement?

Talking Points Memo: Newsmax Columnist: Military Coup May Be Needed "To Resolve the Obama Problem"/9.30.09

The Fall of Roman: Art Attack

Someone mentioned this yesterday afternoon, but I was so busy ridiculing Bernard-Henri Lévy and Europe's Olympic Intelligentsia Team that I didn't feel like diluting the pool with anyone else.

As it turns out, though, there is actually a larger petition circulating in support of Roman Polanski -- and almost unbelievably, it's even more arrogant in its tone that Lévy's.

It reads as follows:

"We have learned the astonishing news of Roman Polanski's arrest by the Swiss police on September 26th, upon arrival in Zurich (Switzerland) while on his way to a film festival where he was due to receive an award for his career in filmmaking.

His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals.

Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.

By their extraterritorial nature, film festivals the world over have always permitted works to be shown and for filmmakers to present them freely and safely, even when certain States opposed this.

The arrest of Roman Polanski in a neutral country, where he assumed he could travel without hindrance, undermines this tradition: it opens the way for actions of which no-one can know the effects.

Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom.

Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians - everyone involved in international filmmaking - want him to know that he has their support and friendship.

On September 16th, 2009, Mr. Charles Rivkin, the US Ambassador to France, received French artists and intellectuals at the embassy. He presented to them the new Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the embassy, Ms Judith Baroody. In perfect French she lauded the Franco-American friendship and recommended the development of cultural relations between our two countries.

If only in the name of this friendship between our two countries, we demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski."

My favorite line: "A case of morals."

Because drugging and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl amounts to a trifling little disagreement over one person or country's morality versus another's.

Oh, and of course the final threatening coup de grace: "We demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski."

I love that. Yes, otherwise we'll immediately impose sanctions and cut off the United States' supply of critically acclaimed films that twelve people outside of the film festival circuit actually see. Do what we say or we will bring East Village coffee house conversation to its knees!

Look, I realize I'm being harsh here, but the truth is that I'm a huge movie geek -- appreciating everything from the tiniest independent film to the biggest-budget blockbuster. This is probably why it disappoints me in ways I could never properly put into words that so many of my favorite filmmakers have jumped on board and signed this laughable petition.

A partial list:

"Woody Allen, Darren Aronofsky, Sam Mendes, Alfonso Cuaron, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, Wong Kar Wai, David Lynch, Tom Tykwer, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Michael Mann, Julian Schnabel, John Landis, Wim Wenders"

Now I get that some of these were givens: Woody Allen has no choice but to forgive sex with a little girl, Julian Schnabel is clinically insane, and John Landis is thinking, "Polanski's an amateur -- at least the kid survived her encounter with him."

Also on the list, inexplicably, is Buck Henry.

That bears repeating because it's so damn weird: Buck Henry.

The bottom line here -- the only possible rationale I can come up with as to why a large group of otherwise lucid human beings with working hearts and brains are on board with this travesty -- would seem to be best related by way of a little story: Back in 1999, you might remember, Shakespeare In Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. To this day, this is a decision that makes zero sense and it actually has gone on to become one of the most controversial (and regrettable) choices the academy's ever made. After the Oscar was announced, I remember a few academy members and various Hollywood heavies speaking out about the decision, saying with a completely straight face that they got behind Shakespeare because they saw it as a love letter to actors. (Those were William H. Macy's words exactly, in fact.)

So if you follow that logic, it goes something like this: Honoring actors is a more noble and important statement to make than honoring the guys who helped save the world.

I realize that I'm simplifying things quite a bit, but the point I'm trying to make is that the arguments so many level at the artistic elite -- that they live in a fantasy universe revolving solely around them, that they've been told "yes" for so long that they believe the rules no longer apply to them -- these have a certain amount of validity. Is there a better explanation as to why so many intelligent people would come together with one voice and proclaim loudly that one of their own is above the law?

I really hope that's it, because if not I'm going to have no choice but to assume that the people behind my favorite movies are all crazy, despicable fucking monsters.

Quote of the Week (Honorable Mention)

"We like our guns in the United States."

-- Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada, defiantly rationalizing why the mortality rate in this country, which would normally be attributed to a bad health care system, can't be trusted because factoring in every American's right to die by gunshot wound skews the survey

Listening Post

After yesterday's Paramore cover, I decided to pore over the rest of the Live Lounge videos that had been posted on YouTube and I have a feeling you're going to be hearing quite a few of these very cool covers in the very near future.

Starting with this: One of my favorite bands doing my favorite song from another of my favorite bands. (Got that?)

Here's Stereophonics covering the Foo Fighters' Best of You.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Fall of Roman: I Rest My Case

The piece I wrote just a few hours ago on the arrest and potential extradition of Roman Polanski is now up at the Huffington Post. As is common, posted at the bottom of it are several links to related stories, one of which is a public appeal from French writer and philosopher (the latter being an amusing redundancy) Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Titled "Artist Rally Behind Roman Polanski," the open petition is so far signed by over a dozen mostly European actors, filmmakers, authors and designers.

I think it's important that I reprint Lévy's demand (because that's really what it is) in its entirety so that you can appreciate how thoroughly full of crap the whole endeavor is.

"My journal, 'La Règle du jeu,' is working in support of Roman Polanski and mobilizing writers and artists through the following petition:

'Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski now sleeps in prison.

He risks extradition to the United States for an episode that happened years ago and whose principal plaintiff repeatedly and emphatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings.

Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecutions in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which would be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe.

We ask the Swiss courts to free him immediately and not to turn this ingenious filmmaker into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, require it.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Pascal Bruckner, Neil Jordan, Isabelle Adjani, Arielle Dombasle, Isabelle Huppert, William Shawcross, Yamina Benguigui, Mike Nichols, Danièle Thompson, Diane von Furstenberg, Claude Lanzmann, Paul Auster'"

Where to begin.

First, the gargantuan arrogance on display in this thing -- Lévy's piously condescending tone -- is staggering even for a self-described French philosopher. The idea that he sees himself, his fellow artists and the region of the world in which they all live as somehow more socially and culturally advanced than the rest of us is obvious. He doesn't care that a girl was raped. He doesn't care that the act was committed in the United States. He cavalierly offers as a defense the notion that in Europe, where the civilized people are, the statute of limitations would've run out on this silly little offense years ago.

Except that there's no statute of limitations at play here because Polanski's not facing charges. He was convicted. He fled. He's still wanted because he copped to the crime three decades ago but never faced sentencing.

I'd really like not to draw a distinction between Europe -- particularly the easily assailable French -- and the United States in this matter, because the reality is that it should come down to only one thing: right and wrong. Where someone happens to live or what his or her cultural mindset might be should have no bearing on it whatsoever. That said, there's simply no way to ignore the likely predisposition of a French philosopher and artist to unleash some particularly virulent strain of moral relativism in a case like this -- to utilize his superior intellect to hem and haw over what exactly constituted a pursuable offense and whether Polanski had contributed enough to society through his films to bring his Karmic tab even.

Once again, I don't care if the man lived inside a human skin suit made to look like Orson Welles and was the one who, in reality, directed Citizen Kane. I don't care if Polanski's entire career since 1977 could in fact be directly attributed to his desire to atone for having raped a 13 year old girl. He never took responsibility for what he did on terms that weren't completely his own, and he has to now. Period.

Wrong is wrong.

I don't care how brilliant the man is. He's not above the law.

And defending him simply because he's an artist isn't just sickening -- it's sociopathic.

(Insane) Quote of the Week

"Obama's first act as president of any consequence, in the middle of a financial meltdown, was to send taxpayers' money overseas to pay for the killing of unborn children in other countries. Now, I got to tell you, if a president will do that, there's almost nothing that you should be surprised at after that. We shouldn't be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can't do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity."

-- Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona at Saturday's "How To Take Back America" conference (a helpful hint: saying unconscionable horseshit like this isn't the way)

The Fall of Roman

I'll try to make this quick.

Roman Polanski needs to come back to the United States and face his conviction for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Period.

Why? Because he intentionally ran out on the justice system in the country where he committed his crime and has never been held accountable for what he did by standards that weren't his own. Simple as that.

Now, does he deserve prison time? Does he deserve mercy? These are questions for others to debate so I'm not going to bother getting into them, but one byproduct of the admittedly surprising arrest of Polanski in Switzerland really is worth exploring, because it's something that should leave a bad taste in the mouth of just about everyone, yet strangely doesn't. I'm talking about the idea that Roman Polanski should somehow be considered above the law because he's a talented artist.

It took all of a few hours after Polanski's arrest in Zurich for the notoriously pompous European artist community to rush to his defense, claiming outrage and indignation at the notion that Polanski could be impolitely busted while visiting Switzerland to receive (gasp!) a lifetime achievement award for his filmography. They're calling it a "provocation." The implication is crystal clear: There is often an unnavigable gulf between the artist and his work and, dammit, that's okay; you can honor the man's abilities without letting your paean be tarnished by any of the nastier realities of who he is or what he's done. If this kind of nonsense sounds familiar, it's because we all just lived through weeks of it when Michael Jackson died. Although it's never wise to willfully trample on someone's grave, you can't simply pay tribute to an artist's talents without recognizing that there's a very real person who may be guilty of very real crimes at the center of your love-fest.

And yet Europe's artistic community -- specifically French, Swiss and Polish filmmakers and cultural trendsetters -- seem to truly believe that Roman Polanski's abilities should amount to a Get Out of Jail Free card. That it's okay if the stereotypically tortured artist broke a few eggs along the way as long as the omelet came out looking like The Pianist. That in the end, the greater good was served by having Polanski free to make movies.

Just some of the reaction to the arrest: "(Polanski was) thrown to the lions," says says French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, melodramatically. "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."

"(He has) atoned for the sins of his young years. He has paid for it by not being able to enter the U.S. and in his professional life he has paid for it by not being able to make films in Hollywood," says Jacek Bromski, head of the Polish Filmmakers Association.

You're kidding, right? Roman Polanski has paid for raping a kid by not being able to live in Hollywood and being forced to make his movies -- and his vast fortunes -- in France? A comment like that is just shocking in its detachment from the reality you and I call home.

It's true we let talented people -- from musicians, to actors, to athletes -- get away with quite a bit more than the Average Joe in our society. As Chris Rock famously said, if OJ Simpson had been simply "Orenthal the Bus Driving Murderer," he would've been in jail twelve years ago. But there's a difference between admitting that we can occasionally be starstruck blind and literally making excuses for someone's criminal behavior because they happen to entertain us with their music, movies, etc. Once again, I'm not arguing whether or not Roman Polanski belongs in prison; I'm saying that he shouldn't be able to avoid prison just because he's Roman Polanski.

We can let our entertainers get away with being assholes -- but not rapists. In a case like this, you can't separate Polanski the man from Polanski the artist. And it's reprehensible to even try.

Learn It, Know It, Live It

I swear I'm having this printed in fine calligraphic script on a sheet of parchment, framing it and putting it on my wall.

From Matt Taibbi, probably the single greatest quote about being a journalist I've ever read:

"Let me just say that I’m always suspicious when I see articles about the motivations of journalists. I think they often reflect a misunderstanding of what journalism is all about. Journalists are supposed to be assholes. The system does not work, in fact, if society’s journalists are all nice, kind, friendly, rational people.

You want a good percentage of them to be inconsolably crazy. You want them to be jealous of everything and everyone and to have heaps of personal hangups and flaws. That way they will always be motivated to punch holes in things.

Obviously it would be bad if all journalists were like this, and there is certainly a place for the more gentlemanly school, i.e. those writers and TV reporters who maintain good relationships with politicians and institutions, and work with them to deliver important information to the public.

But the iconoclastic school of journalist should be a difficult person. You know how when you go on the subway, there’s always one asshole on the train who just has to whip a pen out and draw a mustache on the face of the cute blond stewardess in the Jet Blue ad? That’s the kind of person we’re talking about. A pain in the ass on the subway, and in most places (and personal relationships, for that matter), but very useful in this particular profession."


(By the way, read Taibbi's entire post and concentrate on his take on the difference between mainstream journalists and bloggers these days. Also perfectly spot-on.)

Quote of the Week

"Governor Palin has been unbelievably conscientious and hands-on at every stage, investing herself deeply and passionately in this project... It's her words, her life, and it's all there in full and fascinating detail."

-- Harper Publisher Jonathan Burnham, on Sarah Palin's 400-page memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, which will be released next month

Uh-huh. Sarah Palin -- Sarah Palin -- finished writing a 400-page book just four months after the deal was announced. This is the same Sarah Palin who can barely string together two complete sentences without choking on her own tongue. The same Sarah Palin whose discipline took her to five colleges in six years. The same Sarah Palin who once tried to have certain books banned from the Wasilla library. The same Sarah Palin who obviously thinks literacy is reserved for those elitist know-it-alls on the coasts, and not Joe Six Pack. She wrote a 400-page book in four months.

Stephen King can barely write a 400-page book in four months and that man's a machine.

I love that they really just expect you to buy this crap -- not just the book itself but the notion that you're not being utterly lied to when they (and she) look you right in the eye and tell you something you know 100% can't possibly be true.

Kids, the only way you'll know for sure that Sarah Palin was involved "hands-on at every stage" of this book is if it comes with a box of crayons.

Listening Post

A while back I posted a clip of Paramore doing a really inspired cover of Failure's Stuck On You.

Well, I'll give Hayley and the guys credit; they've got good taste in other peoples' material. Here's Paramore, live on BBC Radio 1 (on Live Lounge, which kind of specializes in current bands playing other current bands' stuff), doing Kings of Leon's Use Somebody.

Paramore's new record is out today, incidentally. I like them. You should too, darn it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

All Apologies

Sorry, gang, but I'm a little under the weather at the moment. Hence why I've been neglectful of my responsibilities to the site.

I'm gonna down a half-bottle of Nyquil and pass out early tonight. Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow morning and things will get back to normal around here.

Exhibit A-hole

Ah, behold the majestic beauty of the North American lummox (Whitius Trashicus). Indigenous to the Southern United States, the lummox enjoys Monster Truck rallies, spousal abuse and the assorted works of Larry the Cable Guy.

Seriously, watch this shit and ask yourself: How did this idiot even manage to turn his computer on?

I'm not even sure this is for real, it's so damn perfect.

(h/t Cesca)

Listening Post

Happy Monday, folks.

Here's the Morning After Girls -- Run for Our Lives.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Story of the Day

The Village Voice: Cow-Molesting Cop Gets Off/9.25.09

Listening Post

One of my favorite songs from one of the coolest bands ever.

From way back in 1981, here's the Pretenders -- The Adultress.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Quote of the Week (Honorable Mention)

"Mariska liaised with American Airline ticket agents on behalf of the entire plane to get a real answer on when the flight was going to leave."

-- Unnamed passenger who happened to be on a delayed flight from L.A. to New York with Mariska Hargitay, simultaneously praising her and proving why so much of America hates people from L.A. and New York

For those of you not from either of these places, allow me to translate for you: "Liaise" means to fucking talk.

(This isn't to say that "liaise" isn't a real word -- only that you're a pretentious tool if you use it in everyday conversation.)

Let's Get Ready To Rumble

The Village Voice: They'll Bring the Lunacy, You Bring the Laughter/9.24.09

Suit To Nuts

What I want to know is, who the hell would've believed this frat douchebag's getup? His entire look -- and hers as well -- screams what a silver spoon-fed white college kid thinks a "pimp and ho" look like.

The Village Voice: Sting Trick 2: The Wrath of ACORN/9.24.09

Listening Post

I'm always a big fan of being surprised when it comes to music. I especially like it when someone I'd otherwise probably discount hits me with a song that just floors me.

Such is the case with Fergie's Velvet.

There's no video for this, but it's another case of a song not really needing one. I challenge you to not close your eyes, sway a little and nod your head (to say nothing of grabbing the first person that walks in front of you and kissing him/her) while listening to this.

Here's Velvet.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Clueless Ambassador

So Sarah Palin spoke today at an economic conference in Hong Kong. I'm far too exhausted to get into this deeply right now, but I figured I'd trot out my two favorite quotes from the event -- both of which illustrate in hilarious fashion why Palin shouldn't be allowed to speak, much less do it overseas as a representative of the United States (unofficial or otherwise).

First up, this inscrutable gem:

"Personally, I’ve always been really interested in the ideas too about the land bridge. Ideas that maybe so long ago, had allowed Alaska to be physically connected to this part of our world so many years ago. My husband and my children, they’re part [unintelligible] Eskimo, Alaskan natives. They’re our first people, and the connection that may have brought ancestors from here to there is fascinating to me. Making our world seem a little bit smaller, more united, to consider that connection that allowed sharing of peoples and bloodlines and wildlife and flora and fauna, that connection to me is quite fascinating."

Sorry, what the fuck is she talking about? Palin's like that jock kid giving the history speech at the end of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. She always seems like she's struggling to come off as having an even slightly-above-average IQ, when in reality she wants nothing more than to just raise her fist and shout, "San Dimas High School Football Rules!" and be done with it. Incidentally, that "land bridge" I assume she's referring to (who the hell can tell?), isn't that something that supposedly existed long before Jesus's dad popped the Earth into being 6,000 years ago?

Moving on, Palin also took time out from making no sense at all to, of course, slam Barack Obama -- basically laying the world's financial crises right at his feet:

"I'm going to call it like I see it and I will share with you candidly a view right from Main Street, Main Street U.S.A... We got into this mess because of government interference in the first place. We're not interested in government fixes, we're interested in freedom. Now... a lot of Americans are asking: more government? Is that the change we want?"

Needless to say, this brand of authentic frontier gibberish didn't necessarily go over well with the audience Palin was speaking to, one member of which stated obviously, "As fund managers we want to hear about the United States as a whole, not just about Alaska. And she criticized Obama a lot but offered no solutions."

What the Hong Kong investors who hired her to speak probably should've understood from the beginning was that Palin can barely string two complete sentences together -- she had probably gotten her passport stamped by a foreign country for the first time two hours prior to her speech -- so there was damn sure no way she'd be able to make sense of the American or global economic situation. If this idiot passed sixth grade algebra I'd be shocked.

Then again, if you've ever been to a strip club you know that maybe the Asians picked Palin to speak so that they could put her six-figure fee into her garter one dollar bill at a time.

Oh yeah, and one more thing, didn't people like Sarah Palin spend the last eight years screeching about how traveling overseas and speaking out against the U.S. government amounted to treason? Does this mean we can finally put Palin up against a wall somewhere -- or maybe just refuse to let her back in the country?

Yup, I get cranky when I'm tired.

Phillips Screwdriver

The Village Voice: Drugs Aren't the Only Things MacKenzie Phillips Has Done/9.23.09

The Bad Touch

The Village Voice: Bronx Dean Accused of Molesting Student, Title of First Novel Won't Help/9.23.09

Listening Post

Yeah, his last album was a goddamned travesty, but I can never hate Chris Cornell -- and this song is one of the reasons why.

From the Singles soundtrack, here's Seasons.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Growing Pain

The Village Voice: Mike Seaver Is Coming for Your Children/9.22.09

Story of the Day

The Village Voice: Skaters, Haters (Oh, and There's a Virgin Living in New York City)/9.22.09

Listening Post

The other night I put this song on repeat and must've listened to it 20 times while driving around at night. There's no video for it, aside from the standard wallpaper, but that's okay: It's gorgeous and evocative enough to where you can close your eyes and create your own.

Or you can do what I do, and let it fit perfectly with a specific set of images you already have.

Either way, here's Hybrid's latest single -- Formula of Fear.

Tuesday Is Recycling Day

I excerpted this last week, but here it is in its entirety -- one of the most popular things to ever appear on this site.

"That Stupid Year: The Ten Most Ridiculous, Shameful or Generally Unfortunate People and Events of 2008" (Originally Published, 1.5.09)

Well, it could've been worse.

As 2008 mercifully ends, we're left to ponder a year in which the real and the surreal were pretty much indistinguishable, where insanity actually became tedium, and where every silver lining was eclipsed by a brand new dark cloud. Sure, O.J.'s going to prison, but think about the absurdist comedy-of-errors it took to finally put him there. Yeah, gas is technically affordable again, but who has money to make car payments -- and for that matter, will anyone in Detroit still be in business in the coming months should you, for whatever reason, feel like buying American? True, Barack Obama was elected president in a political upheaval that can only be described as epochal, but, well, you don't really think Cheney's just going to quietly vacate his office come January 20th, do you? Not when construction on the new Death Star is so far from completion.

2008 will be remembered as the year that a simple "hockey mom" from Alaska, an ex-beauty pageant contestant and political neophyte, paved the way for history and helped prove once and for all that anyone can ascend to the highest levels of government in the United States -- even a black man. It will be remembered as the year that Beyoncé inexplicably demanded that everyone call her "Sasha Fierce" and Britney Spears demanded that somebody call her an ambulance. Then leave her alone. Then give her back her kids. Then buy her album. 2008 was the year that Michael Phelps won enough Olympic gold to make him the most financially secure man in America. It was the year that the flagging economy, taxpayer-funded bailouts and a holographic image of dominated the news coverage. It was the year that Katherine Heigl could claim to be better than the material being given to her and actually be right (only because that material happened to be the scripts for Grey's Anatomy). It was the year that an unknown plumber who wasn't really a plumber became a household name and a singer who was really an unknown bartender became the latest American Idol. Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards fell from grace and turned into national punchlines and Heath Ledger died tragically but still had the last, and lasting, laugh. Prop 8 passed and civil rights lost.

Everything changed. And not much changed at all.

So, as we watch that giant ball drop like the value of your 401k, ushering in 2009, let's take a look back in anger at the people and events that make us think that no matter what's to come, it damn sure can't be any worse than what we've already been through. In the words of Crowded House: Don't scream -- it's over.

That's not how the song goes? Well it should be.

We'll start at the bottom -- literally.

10. Madonna

Title: Cinquagenarian Entertainer, Gay Icon, Homewrecker

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Cymbalta, Viagra, Geritol

The Facts:
You've really got to hand it to Madonna. Most waning sexpots adopt a nauseatingly pretentious air of faux-class in their twilight years (and indeed that's the territory Madge seemed to be staking out exclusively for a while). But only the truly self-absorbed can manage the kind of scandalous second-wind that catapults them back into the tabloids for breaking up not one but two celebrity marriages at age 50. 2008 was a banner year for the Immaterial Girl: She incomprehensibly got herself inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, very comprehensibly got divorced, had a hit single whose only appealing characteristic was the fact that its video was thoughtful enough to feature a large digital clock which counted down the time until the song finally ended and something else came on, and caused "Controversy™" by bombastically comparing George Bush and John McCain to Hitler and Mussolini. Oh yeah, and she brashly flaunted the apparently Benjamin Button-esque nature of her sex drive by fucking Alex Rodriguez and helping to land him in divorce court (Note to A-Rod: Being able to say that you're nailing Madonna doesn't carry quite the amount of clout that it used to. You may as well be the new bass player for Bon Jovi -- the guy who missed the stadium tours but gets to be on board during the state fair years). In between all of this -- somewhere in that hectic schedule -- Madonna found the time to get in a work out. Quite a few, actually. As in, she looks like a piece of driftwood that's been beaten by the ocean and left in the sun for a hundred years or so.

Mitigating Factor: Her succubine presence and presumed vagina dentata probably spared the country the hell of another Yankees World Series run.

"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." Post-menopausal.

Dishonorable Mention: Ben Stein, who pulled off the somewhat laudable feat of being on the wrong side of almost every argument in 2008, notably culminating in the theatrical and DVD release of the documentary Expelled, in which Stein insurgently railed against Darwin's Theory of Evolution in favor of the unadulterated nonsense that is Intelligent Design. I wrote it at the time but it bears repeating: The SNL writing staff, circa 1977, couldn't have created a more audaciously comical premise than Ben Stein -- a man so square he craps cubes -- writing "I Will Not Question Authority" on a blackboard while dressed like Angus Young. Stein is a Dangerous Mind only if you see mark-to-market accounting as a ballsy show of defiance, which makes him the perfect impertinent hero for the God-said-it-I-believe-it set.

9. The American 'Tween

Title: Consumer, Arbiter of All Entertainment, Not the One Paying the Goddamned Cell Phone Bill

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Ritalin (for the Kid), Xanax (for the Parents)

The Facts:
If you're the relatively sane parent of a 13 year old girl, chances are you love the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, right? No, of course you don't. What you've done is ceded your own tastes to those of your kids, who robotically inundate you with the same crappy music, movies and TV shows that Disney giddily bombards them with 24/7. This wouldn't be such a big deal were it not for the fact that your children are no longer harmless islands unto themselves; thanks to the internet and cell phone text messaging, they've coalesced into a hive mind and, what's worse, one that's turned them into a giant conduit/amplifier for whatever garbage is being cleverly and cynically marketed in their direction. In our new Wiki-world, those with the loudest voices can dictate what we all see and hear -- they can literally adjust reality to suit their needs and, well, have you ever heard how loud a 'Tween girl screams for the fucking Jonas Brothers? In 2008, the 'Tween demographic asserted its authority in unprecedented ways, forcing the rest of us to endure a seemingly endless cavalcade of Disney "Stepford Teen" entertainment, from High School Musical 3 to Miley and, by extension, her father -- the honest-to-Christ most spectacular douchebag on the planet -- Billy Ray Cyrus. We listened to the music, paid to see the movies and bought every manner of merchandise until our kids became walking billboards for this shit. Parents willingly allowed a million little Veruca Salts to inflict their will on the world, and did nothing to stop it.

Mitigating Factor: Well, they did almost nothing to stop it. David Cook somehow managed to wrestle the American Idol crown away from frumpy, willowy-voiced 'Tween fave David Archuleta. That's gotta be a step in the right direction.

"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." More than likely, pregnant. Or a member of the Pussycat Dolls. Or maybe suckered into sex with a guy like Chuck Bass on Gossip Girl, who'll then turn around and post naked pictures of her on the internet so that she can be just like her erstwhile idol, Vanessa Hudgens. But none of this will happen before she drags you kicking and screaming to see The Jonas Brothers: 3D in February.

Dishonorable Mention: Speaking of graduating to the big leagues of noxious teen entertainment, MTV's The Hills is so utterly devoid of any value whatsoever that the craft services truck could catch on fire, turning the entire cast into running, screaming balls of flame, and the correct response would be to sigh and flip your pillow over to the cool side. And among that show's collection of future has-beens, no two have been more overexposed than Spencer Pratt and his idiot pretend girlfriend, Heidi Montag. Their tabloid-friendly relationship, a triumph of post-modern meta-reality, peaked just a couple of weeks ago when the two returned from their fake fake elopement to Mexico to engineer a fake real wedding in a Beverly Hills courtroom, which the court happily went along with while presumably telling a truly in love gay couple to go fuck themselves.

8. CNN's "Hologram" Technology

Title (On the Record): The New Standard in Live News Coverage and Proof of CNN's Journalistic Dominance; Title (Off the Record): A Much Cooler Way to Spend the Salaries of 21 People

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Primidone, Lasik, Changing the Channel to the Jim Lehrer NewsHour or BBC World News America

The Facts:
The ability to lay claim to the biggest "What the Fuck?" moment of the seemingly interminable coverage of the 2008 presidential election is a little like being able to say that you're the gayest man at a Scissor Sisters show. An exhausted America had already endured approximately 623 sponsored debates (including ABC's unforgivable gossip-and-conjecture-fest), the "lipstick on a pig" non-story and of course Fox's famous "terrorist fist jab" comment by the time election night proper rolled around. Yet CNN, obviously saving the best for last, somehow managed to make all of that inanity seem like the work of amateurs by pulling out its secret weapon when it really mattered. And so, on the night that millions tuned in to find out who would become the 44th president of the United States, CNN gave them something they'd really be able to tell their grandkids about: an uncomfortable conversation between Anderson Cooper and a supposedly holographic image of the Black Eyed Peas' It was Vaudevillian theater in its purest and most ridiculous form, especially when you considered that the "hologram" in question wasn't really a hologram at all and that, as Wolf Blitzer had done earlier in the evening, Anderson Cooper was essentially talking to himself on national television. Taken on its own merits, this would've seemed like nothing more than a silly ratings-grabbing gimmick, and indeed it was swiftly and roundly panned as being just that. But the fact that it was the culmination of a garish year-long spending spree by CNN -- one that was immediately and conspicuously followed by a series of high-profile layoffs that included respected flesh-and-blood veterans like Miles O'Brien, Kelli Arena and the network's entire Science and Technology Unit -- made it clear that network president Jon "Diddy" Klein's priorities and his head were in pretty much the same place: his ass. When all was said and done, an interview with the New York Observer in which Klein had bragged less than two weeks before the layoffs, "We can afford more people on our air and off our air. So, goddamn it, we’re going to have more people," would become the icing on the irony cake and an almost amusing epitaph for those who'd lost their jobs. But hey, at least audiences could still count on being able to tune in and be dazzled by the pretty special effects.

Mitigating Factor: As far as anyone knows, the CNN "hologram" was built without the use of illegal Mexican labor -- which gives Lou Dobbs one less thing to bitch about.

"By This Time Next Year, It'll Be..." Obsolete.

Dishonorable Mention: Former wunderkind and current wunderkind (if you define "wunderkind" as a megalomaniacal tool who's inexplicably been allowed to run a television network into the ground with zero accountability) Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman, respectively. The two top dogs at NBC, Zucker and Silverman bear most of the responsibility for making the network what it is today: 4th place. The former's handiwork can be seen in the almost preternatural level of cross-promotional whoring between NBC Universal entities (the Today show interviews contestants on Bravo's Top Chef who cook for the cast of The Mummy: Tomb of Whatever the Hell using GE appliances); the latter's handiwork could be seen in network television's tribute to the absolute lowest common denominator, The NBC All American Summer. Beyond that, well, his handiwork can't really be seen unless you're lucky enough to nab a seat next to him at the bar of whichever exclusive party he happens to be attending at that moment. Put it this way: Silverman bears an uncanny resemblance to "Girls Gone Wild" CEO and overgrown frat-boy Joe Francis -- and the similarities don't end there.

7. Joe Lieberman

Title: Independent (as in, He Doesn't Have a Friend in the World) Senator from Connecticut, Political Opportunist, Embarrassing Jewish Stereotype, Guy You Never Want to Take Handicapping Advice From, Mr. Excitement

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Dexedrine, Pharmaceutical Cocaine

The Facts:
It takes a special kind of personality to go from being one party's candidate for vice president to being the go-to political hitman for the opposing party in the span of just eight years -- and that personality is, apparently, no personality at all. 2008 was the year that Joe Lieberman finally proved just how shamelessly and entirely he was willing to screw over those who'd spent a good portion of their careers supporting him. Like a desperate high school girl who flits from one clique to another sharing gossip in an effort to be liked, he'd spent years playing both sides of the fence and every conceivable angle hoping to stay one step ahead of political irrelevancy. But it wasn't until the last few months of last year's presidential race that the true evanescence of Lieberman's loyalty -- and therefore the general worthlessness of his friendship -- became clear to pretty much everyone. Old Droopy didn't just turn his back on the Democrats; he took center stage at the Republican National Convention. He didn't just support John McCain; he insinuated that Barack Obama might be a Marxist and, what's more, questioned his overall ability to lead (a somewhat laughable implication, considering the source). In the end, though, Lieberman's gambit didn't pay off -- so now, in wholly expected fashion, his one-time campaign battle cry, "Joementum," has taken on an entirely new meaning: "Joe meant... um..."

Mitigating Factor: Yup, it sure is fun watching as Joe sucks up to the Democrats, blissfully unaware that being their short-leashed bitch will almost certainly wind up being more humiliating than banishment to the Beltway's Phantom Zone.

"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Exactly what he is right now: A lame duck. On the other hand, a couple of years from now you'll probably be able to find him trying to send back the Reuben at Ben's Kosher Deli in Boca. Or maybe on the Fox News Channel, where he'll be a full-time contributor.

Dishonorable Mention: Zimbabwean, ahem, "President" Robert Mugabe. To twist a line from Craig Ferguson, you know what Zucker and Silverman are doing to NBC? Well Mugabe's doing that to an entire country.

6. Tyra Banks

Title: TV Host, Former Supermodel (Current Plus-Size Model), Self-Parody, Harbinger of the Apocalypse

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Topamax, Potassium Cyanide

The Facts:
There's no better caricature of fame in the 21st century and all that it represents than Tyra Banks. No one is more pristine an example of an entity whose entire existence is about the relentless pursuit of self-obsession simply for its own sake. Seriously, name one thing Tyra has done -- not just in 2008 (although it really was an ascendant year for the "fierce" one), but ever -- that benefited someone else more than it did her. Submerse yourself in Tyra's admittedly mesmeric vortex of televised self-love long enough and you actually begin to subscribe to the alternate universe she inhabits: one where she's the reigning queen of pop culture, where people actually believe that being a shallow and superficial fashion icon is an entirely noble endeavor, and where words like "booty and "badonkadonk" can be uttered in the same sentence as "Mr. President" and no one finds it the least bit unusual. Like her idol in the talk show game and rival in the battle for media ubiquity, Oprah, Tyra Banks has an affinity for taking any subject, really anything, and somehow twisting it inside out until the focus winds up being her and only her. But whereas Oprah has mastered the art of self-promotion to such an extent that it's become an almost exquisite thing to behold, Tyra's strictly a novice, clumsily bludgeoning the conversation -- to say nothing of the audience -- then propping up its limp body and putting her arm around it like some kind of trophy. And that's just on her talk show. Best we not even get into the grotesque minstrel show of gay and urban elitist clichés that is America's Next Top Model.

Mitigating Factor: Two words: Joel McHale

"A Year From Now, She'll Be..." If she has her way, holding Oprah's severed head aloft on the end of a spike and bathing in the blood draining from it.

Dishonorable Mention: Send the children out of the room; they shouldn't be exposed to the kind of unrestrained venom I'm about to unleash: CNN's Nancy Grace is the most loathsome, feckless troll to currently, unfathomably have a forum on national television. She's a vile, unscrupulous monster who peddles morbid prurience like a five-dollar whore and whose brand of rank solipsism is matched only by her near-sociopathic disregard for the lives she's ruined and exploited and by her apparent contempt for the tenets of responsible journalism (to say nothing of basic human decency). Nancy didn't do anything in 2008 that she hasn't done in years past, but then again she wasn't hit by a bus either -- hence, a place on this list. Incidentally, if that kid I mentioned a few seconds ago happens to be white and cute and disappears on his or her way out of the room, you can expect to see a hell of a lot of Nancy in the near future.

5. The Death of Heath Ledger

Title: Unqualified Shame

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: USE ONLY AS DIRECTED

The Facts:
Certainly the single most startling event in the world of entertainment in 2008, Heath Ledger's sudden and untimely death last January initially left millions scratching their heads in shell-shocked confusion. But what made it truly noteworthy was that as questions were answered and the facts began revealing themselves, it all provided little comfort and almost nothing in the way of macabre titillation. The fact is that Heath Ledger was so damn talented -- his death, such a tragic loss -- that even the typically scandal-hungry public found nothing to revel in, snicker about, or wag its collective finger at. The whole thing was just so sad. So heartbreaking. There were the constantly televised and published images of Ledger with his young daughter, Matilda, and the ugly debate over her financial security; the threats of protest at Ledger's memorial service by the reprehensible psychopaths of the Westboro Baptist Church; the grief of watching his past films -- most memorably, his astonishing and anguished performance in Brokeback Mountain -- and realizing the true measure of what was lost. And then, of course, came The Dark Knight -- and Heath Ledger's awesome, iconic reimagining of the Joker. It's a testament to the man's excellence as an actor that we could become completely lost in the character he created while he was onscreen and really only remember as the credits rolled that we'd never see him again.

Mitigating Factor: It seems sickening to find a silver lining to this cloud, and really there isn't one. That said, it will be an ironic final tribute to Ledger's abundant talents that Warner Bros. can't bankrupt the power and novelty of his Joker character by milking it to death in sequel after sequel (see: Hannibal Lecter, Jack Sparrow, the last two Matrix films). It was lightning in a bottle -- and it gets to remain that.

"A Year From Now, He'll Be..." If there's any justice in the world, an Academy Award winner.

Honorable Mention: Although many would rightly argue that Tim Russert's sudden death by heart attack had a much bigger impact across a larger swath of the public, for my money the shocking suicide of writer, columnist, and masterful cultural observer David Foster Wallace was a loss of staggering proportions. Like Heath Ledger, Wallace was a brilliant practitioner of his craft -- at once comical, challenging, and an unparalleled chronicler of the human condition. And, like Ledger, Wallace suffered alongside his art without in any way intending to. Unlike Ledger, though, David Foster Wallace lived with the pain inside himself until he simply couldn't anymore. He took his own life after battling depression for more than 20 years. His work, however, endures -- with his masterpiece, 1996's Infinite Jest, deservedly hailed as one of the greatest novels ever written.

4. Rod Blagojevich

Title: Governor of Illinois (For Now), "Entrepreneur," Asshole

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: A Huge Rail of Blow Done Off a Stripper's Tit and Washed Down with Five or Six Quaaludes

The Facts:
Alright, Andy -- enough already. Listen, man, it was fucking brilliant -- and I mean brilliant -- but it's time to take off the ridiculous outfit and just admit that it's you. I mean, we already knew you were a genius even before you faked your death back in '84, but obviously that was just the set-up for your biggest and best piece of performance art yet -- the greatest practical joke of all time. Only you could pull off a character like this and somehow get people to buy it: A foul-mouthed, belligerent and shamelessly corrupt politician; a Serbian-American with an Adrian Zmed circa 1981 haircut; a guy who's first name is actually a euphemism for "dick." Man, how the hell did you get away with this for so long? I mean, you publicly fought with your own cabinet, tried to smuggle flu vaccine past the FDA, threatened to beat the shit out of state senator Mike Jacobs, and called yourself "the first African-American governor of Illinois." Did you finally decide to go all out and try to sell Barack Obama's Illinois senate seat when you realized that no one was picking up on the gag -- or did you really just want to see how far you could push it? Either way -- fucking magnificent, dude. You're gonna go down in the history books. We're talking legendary. One problem, though -- you really need to cop to this thing, and soon. Really. 'Cause the alter-ego you created and have been nurturing for the past fifteen years or so is now facing a 78-page federal indictment -- and probably a shitload of jail time. Then again, knowing you Andy, that's all part of the joke. Genius.

Mitigating Factor: Not a one.

"A Year From Now, He'll Be..." Inmate #2259836

Dishonorable Mention: Proof that the left and the right are basically interchangeable, particularly at the "Craven Political Operative" level, Mark Penn was the Democrats' answer to Karl Rove before getting his substantial ass kicked out of the Hillary Clinton campaign in April of 2008. The CEO of public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller -- in other words, the top liar at a firm whose bread-and-butter is lying as creatively as possible and doing it inexhaustibly -- Penn is one of those guys whose physical appearance perfectly reflects his personality: In this case, he looks like he should have a bikini-clad Princess Leia chained to his bulbous frame somewhere while a little Muppet-like minion cackles mindlessly from the rafters. It was Penn's brilliant strategy to suggest that Hillary Clinton and her surrogates bring up Barack Obama's past drug experimentation whenever possible, and it was he who took the are-you-fucking-kidding-me prize by saying that Obama couldn't take the Democratic nomination by winning a lot of states he deemed not to be "major." Penn managed to drag the campaign of the famously opportunistic Clinton even deeper into the mud, if such a thing were possible. Oh yeah, and he did it all while his firm was busy repping PR-challenged organizations like Blackwater and Countrywide and lobbying for a free trade deal with Colombia that Clinton herself was against.

3. Kanye West

Title: Voice of a Generation (Just Ask Him), Auto-Tune Afficionado, Little Boy Who Just Wants To Be Loved, Douchebag

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Zoloft, Stick One Ball of Cotton in Each Ear

The Facts:
Let's just say it: Kanye West isn't nearly as talented, important, or distinguished as he thinks he is. He couldn't be. It's simply impossible to be a carbon-based life form and have achieved the kind of preeminence Kanye insists he has. If he were even half the omnipotent cultural juggernaut he believes himself to be, he would've shed his physical form and morphed into a phantasmal ball of pure energy years ago. For the most part, 2008 didn't really bring anything new from Kanye that we hadn't already come to expect: There were the usual boasts about possibly being the most influential human being since Christ; the inescapable guest appearances on the records of lesser musicians (the year's nadir being his irritating cameo on the already irritating-as-hell American Boy); and of course the petulant whining about how no one shows him the adequate level of respect and everyone is out to get him because he's black. But toward the end of the year, we were treated to a new, yet not even slightly unexpected, side of Kanye: that of the self-loathing mega-star. Certainly, the death of his mother took an emotional toll on him. But the supposed result of it and a few other recent personal catastrophes -- his latest release, 808s and Heartbreak -- plays exactly the way you'd figure an "introspective" album from Kanye West would. Even at its quietest and ostensibly least obtrusive, the whole thing exudes its creator's legendarily gargantuan ego. Kanye can do self-pity; God knows we've heard it from him before. But after being asked to tolerate his narcissistic swagger for so long, it's just not very easy to feel sorry for him. And 808s, with it's ironically bombastic sadness, makes Kanye seem all the more like the kid who, even at his lowest suicide-threatening point, is just looking for attention.

Mitigating Factor: You know what almost did make me feel sorry for Kanye? His performance on Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks back -- when his Auto-Tune malfunctioned and he was left standing there onstage, looking and sounding like a really lousy karaoke act.

"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Complaining about (fill in the blank).

Dishonorable Mention: Speaking of ego-driven bombast -- you can go back into hiding now, Axl. Chinese Democracy sucks.

2. Bernard Madoff

Title: Investment Banker, Two-Bit Con Man, Shakespearean Figure Sold Out by His Own Sons

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Find the Nearest Window, Jump

The Facts:
When all is said and done, the financial scandal surrounding Bernie Madoff won't be remembered as the costliest or even most brazen of 2008. But his arrest coming so close to the end of the year -- simultaneously bookending and providing an almost mind-boggling crescendo to the economic disaster that began with the subprime mortgage and credit crises and escalated to titanic financial institutions folding and taxpayers being forced to buy up most of Wall Street -- Madoff has become the one instantly recognizable face of unfettered greed in America in 2008. Sure he bilked investors out of billions of dollars -- perpetrating the largest fraud of its kind by a single person ever -- but more than that, he symbolized, maybe better than anything or anyone, the death of laissez-faire capitalism. The end of a political and economic era. Thanks to government deregulation and a complete lack of oversight, guys like Madoff had been able to run the table with impunity, turning Wall Street and the global market into their own personal sandbox at the expense of the average person looking to carve out his or her slice of the American dream. It's simply staggering when you consider what Madoff got away with; or the fact that AIG's top executives treated themselves to a half-million dollar spa vacation just a few weeks after the government bailed out their company to the tune of 85-billion dollars; or the fact that JP Morgan is still being arrogantly cryptic about what it's doing with the 25-billion that it received in the bail-out; or that the heads of the big three automakers flew private jets to D.C. to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for their flagging companies. I swear, in another time and place, the struggling masses would've carried these people kicking and screaming to the public square and joyously guillotined them.

Mitigating Factor: Like an raging alcoholic who suddenly wakes up one morning to find himself broke and beaten nearly to death in a gutter, it took hitting rock bottom for this country to finally decide that it's fucking had enough.

"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Inmate #2259837

Dishonorable Mention: It's probably a tie between corrupt-as-hell Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens -- now a convicted felon but always in our hearts as the man who lobbied for the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" and who understands the profound differences between the internet and a truck -- and New York Times columnist and neo-con architect Bill Kristol, who best symbolizes the far right's pig-headed tenacity when it comes to being unwilling to admit to its mistakes. Kristol was wrong about everything -- seriously, everything -- and yet continues to walk around with that Cheshire-Cat-on-Valium smirk on his face while espousing a political philosophy which failed in devastating fashion over the last eight years and was soundly rejected by voters in November of 2008.

1. Sarah Palin

Title: Alaskan Governor (Still), Political Nobody (Formerly), Likely Leader of the Republican Party (Currently), Fashion Plate, Punchline

Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Oxycodone, Hyrdocodone, Haloperidol, Lithium, All Taken by the Handful; Nitrous Oxide, Prozac

The Facts:
Man, oh man. It would be great to be able to throw some sort of Shyamalanian twist in here at the end, but there's just no way to escape the inevitable: Sarah Palin was hands-down the dumbest thing going in 2008. A comedian's wet dream -- and Intelligent America's worst nightmare should her political aspirations have come to fruition -- Palin was so astonishing in her provincial arrogance, so spectacular in her lack of knowledge or shame, and so admittedly awe-inspiring in her commitment to overlooking her own obvious deficiencies while putting absolute faith in both Jesus and the notion that a well-placed wink and a little small-town sweet talk was all she'd need to succeed on the world stage that her campaign instantly became a benchmark in unabashed folly. The new gold standard for idiocy in the 21st century. We could run down the moments that will be etched in our collective memory for years to come (at least one would hope they will; the alternative could be disastrous) but that would take all day. Instead, best we just cut to the chase: Sarah Palin was almost single-handedly responsible for turning the 2008 Presidential Election into a referendum not on left vs. right or rural vs. metropolitan -- but on smart vs. dumb. Her invocation of the supposed moral and political authority of "Joe Six Pack," particularly as opposed to everyone else in the country, and her smug and insulting implied denunciation of those who place a high value on intellect and education trod all-too-familiar ground for the Republicans; it reduced what had been an election season focused, for the most part, on issues to what some in the party hoped would be a fear-based culture war that would once again lead them to victory. But here was the best part: Palin never really saw herself as the small-town hick she pretended to be and hoped to ingratiate herself to. This was proven by the lavish spending spree that transformed her and her family into, literally, the Beverly Hillbillies. The truth is that she always aspired to be a fashion icon, some hyper-hottie in a tight leather blazer and knee-high black boots, someone worthy of a $75,000 shopping trip to Neiman Marcus. Sarah Palin became everything she ever dreamed of being: Sex and the City, right down to the "city" part. Sure, publicly she rebuked and ridiculed those cosmopolitan urbanites in their bustling elitist hubs, but she knew damn well that she couldn't buy Valentino and Louis Vuitton at the Wal-Mart in Wasilla -- and if you don't think that Sarah Heath Palin had always fantasized about wearing Valentino and carrying Louis Vuitton, I've got a bridge to nowhere I want to sell you. She was always a backwater dingbat, but she became a very well put together backwater dingbat -- which likely convinced her that she was no longer a backwater dingbat. If this is true, then it would mean that Palin essentially ascended to the same position as George W. Bush and her GOP benefactors: she only played the part of the rube and was, in fact, secretly talking down to every one of those pick-up-driving Toby Keith fans who showed up to her rallies -- the Dickies-clad folk not lucky enough to have won the Miss Vice Presidential pageant and been scooped up to a life of charter jets and appearances on Saturday Night Live. Sarah Palin was and remains completely full of shit, but we should be willing to concede that perhaps she's dumb as a fox -- which doesn't negate the fact that she's still dumb. Still a triumph of style over substance. And still dangerous.

Mitigating Factor: President Barack Obama, Tina Fey

"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." Already on the ticket in at least 23 states. And a great-grandmother.

Dishonorable Mention: Joe the Plumber -- who was neither named Joe nor a plumber. Tell me you don't roll your eyes at the mere mention of this entirely fictional mascot for the McCain campaign. Uh-huh -- I thought so.

Postscript: For those who have expressed curiosity as to why George W. Bush -- or for that matter Hillary Clinton -- wasn't chosen for this list, the answer is simple: The Bushes and Clintons are practically emeritii at this point when it comes to being the worst of the worst. I figured I'd give a few new folks a chance to compete. See you again in January of 2010.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Quote of the Week (Early Contender)

"In capitalism as envisioned by its leading lights, including Adam Smith and Alfred Marshall, you need a moral foundation in order for free markets to work. And when a company fails, it fails. It doesn't get bailed out using trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. What we have right now is Corporatism. It's welfare for the rich. It's the government picking winners and losers. It's Wall Street having their taxpayer-funded cake and eating it too. It's socialized losses and privatized gains."

-- Arianna Huffington in a piece that looks at Michael Moore's new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story

Listening Post

Great band. Great song.

Here's Ash -- Shining Light.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Village Idiot

Just a heads-up from Malcontent Central: Things are gonna be pretty slow around here for the next five days. I'm going to once again be writing and editing the Village Voice's "Runnin' Scared" news blog, and that's sure to take up just about every minute of my day.

If I put together anything over there that I think would translate well for readers here, I'll pop up a link; I'll also continue posting videos and the occasional smart-ass comment or two, but I figured I'd warn the regulars that the pickings will be pretty slim compared to the normal output.

Things should return to normal next Saturday.

Thank you for your patronage.

The Village Voice: "Runnin' Scared"

Size Matters

By now, chances are you've seen a supposed picture of last weekend's 9/12 Teabagger rally that shows, from an aerial view, a Capitol Mall choked with protesters. It's been widely circulated among right-wing blogs and news outlets. One problem: It's fake.

From the nonpartisan journalistic fact-checking organization Politifact:

"'It was an impressive crowd,' Piringer said. But after marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol the crowd 'only filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street,' he said. Yet the photo showed the crowd sprawling far beyond that to the Washington Monument, which is bordered by 15th and and 17th Streets. There’s another big problem with the photograph: it doesn’t include the National Museum of the American Indian, a building located at the corner of Fourth St. and Independence Ave. that opened on Sept. 14, 2004… That means the picture was taken before the museum opened exactly five years ago. So clearly the photo doesn’t show the 'tea party' crowd from the Sept. 12 protest."

Sorry, Teabaggers -- the number according to the Washington, DC Fire Department still stands right around 70,000. A good amount of people, to be sure -- but not the two-million that Glenn Beck and his minions continue to assert.

Least Surprising Headline of the Week

The Huffington Post: Fox News Producer Caught Rallying 9/12 Protest Crowd in Behind-the-Scenes Video/9.19.09

Sunday Sacrilege

Seethe the Day

A couple of weeks ago, I finally cracked and admitted that I thought the ongoing right-wing rage directed at Barack Obama was based at least partially in a certain amount of racism. I instantly caught crap for this, both in my e-mail inbox, at the Huffington Post and on other websites. The thing is, in the initial piece I wrote that brought up the issue of racism, I went out of my way to mention that the race factor is by no means the only thing at play in the virulent, supposedly populist uprising aimed at the White House. There's a hell of a lot more going on than just that.

In today's New York Times, Frank Rich gets into that -- into, say, Glenn Beck's ability to tap into the vague and silly feeling some Americans have that they're living in the Matrix -- and does so with a really commendable level of balance.

"Now, as then, a Dixie-oriented movement like this won’t remotely capture the White House. Now, unlike then, it is a catastrophe for the Republicans. The old G.O.P. Southern strategy is gone with the wind. The more the party is identified with nasty name-calling, freak-show protestors, immigrant-bashing (the proximate cause of [Joe] Wilson’s outburst at Obama) and, yes, racism, the faster it will commit demographic suicide as America becomes ever younger and more diverse. But Democrats shouldn’t be cocky. Over the short term, the real economic grievances lurking beneath the extremism of the Beck brigades can do damage to both parties. A stopped clock is right twice a day. The recession-spawned anger that Beck has tapped into on the right could yet find a more mainstream outlet in a populist revolt from the left and center."

The New York Times: "Even Glenn Beck Is Right Twice a Day" by Frank Rich/9.20.09

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Quote of the Week (Honorable Mention)

"Yes, it was fun this week to watch the teabaggers complain how the media underestimated the size of their march, "How can you say there were only 60,000 of us? We filled the entire mall!" Yes, because you're fat. One whale fills the tank at Sea World, that doesn't make it a crowd."

-- Bill Maher

Stupid Does as Stupid Is

Take ten minutes out of your day and watch this hilarity. The best part about really dumb people is that all you have to do is point a camera and a mic at them and wait for them to hang themselves. It never takes very long.

(Update: Sorry about the privacy issues with the video; they were put into place after Cesca and I posted it. I'll leave it up and still suggest that you double-click it and sign in to view the thing [it's worth it], but obviously it'll take you a little longer than the ten minutes I'd originally advertised.)

(h/t Cesca)

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Somebody call Lou Dobbs; there's a Mexican rodent infestation that needs some taking care of.

From 1962, here's Speedy Gonzales and Sylvester in Mexican Boarders.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beck To the Future

This is great. 20 years ago, the Kids in the Hall predicted the rise of Glenn Beck.

(h/t Cesca)

The Mad Profit of the Airwaves

So Glenn Beck is on the cover of the new issue of Time magazine.

At face value, there's nothing really wrong with this; the man's a pop culture phenomenon. The problem with the piece is, unfortunately, the same one that plagued Time's 2005 cover story on Ann Coulter: It heavily skirts the reasons why its subject is controversial in favor of just concentrating on the controversy itself (and the Beck article often doesn't even bother with that, with its author, David Von Drehle, penning the piece more as a fluffy love-letter than anything else). If you've heard this argument against the media before, that's because it's one of those offenses that's painfully ubiquitous; how many times in just the last year or so have you seen the media devote days of coverage or volumes of copy to the partisan battle over a particular incident without even bothering to dissect what all the fighting's about? It's this kind of disservice to the viewer, reader and the truth -- propagating conflict over understanding -- that drives people's hatred of the modern press.

Von Drehle manages to conveniently omit any of the really awful things Beck has said in the recent past -- about the families of the 9/11 tragedy he regularly and shamelessly exploits, about wanting to beat Charlie Rangel to death with a shovel, the bombastic comparisons of Barack Obama to Hitler -- choosing instead to paint Beck in the most innocuous terms possible: as an "immensely talented" carnival barker, populism's clown prince. Once again, there's nothing inherently wrong with admitting that Beck's shtick can be damn entertaining, but it's a pretty glaring breach of journalistic ethics to purposely overlook the reasons why a lot of people can't stand him (beyond simply the fact that he comes off as a weepy loudmouth with persecution issues).

Likewise, as Media Matters points out, the Time piece commits one of the most obscene and prevalent sins in modern American journalism: the false-equivalence. Right off the bat it claims that depending on whom you ask, left-wing or right, the crowd at the Beck-inspired 9/12 Teabagger rally in Washington, DC last weekend was either 70,000 or two-million strong. This is, of course, ridiculous, because there actually are official numbers for how many people were there; that 70,000 number didn't come from liberal sources -- it came from the DC fire department. Von Drehle doesn't mention this though; he makes it seem as if the whole thing is up for debate -- a matter of perspective. What kind of journalist does a story and doesn't bother to get an official and easily verifiable statistic?

My biggest issue with the Beck piece, though, is personal. Von Drehle, as so many have done before him when talking about Glenn Beck, invokes the legacy of the most important and prescient film about broadcast journalism and the media of all time: 1976's Network. I've mentioned more than once that Network stands as one of my absolute favorite movies, and with good reason: Not only is it a bona fide masterpiece of screenwriting and directing -- from Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet, respectively -- it's a movie that's almost impossible to wrap your head around these days, simply because what you see and hear in it seems incongruous with the notion that it was released more than three decades ago. It's that prophetic. The truth is that almost every grotesque, rotten and corrupt thing that Chayefsky predicted about the future of television news and the media in general has come to fruition in the years since Network debuted in theaters. There's never been a better movie made about the business of television, and I'm not sure there ever will be.

But whenever anyone thinks of Network the first thing that comes to mind is the film's doomed anchorman -- the so-called "mad prophet of the airwaves" -- Howard Beale. And whenever any hack writer pens a piece on Glenn Beck, he or she invariably compares him to Beale. The reality of course is that, beyond the ability to tap into a certain level of populist rage -- which almost anyone can do these days -- Beck doesn't have a damn thing in common with Beale, and to assume so misses the very point Paddy Chayefsky was trying to make (and I personally think that if you're a journalist and you don't get Network, you need to toss your laptop out a window and go sell Amway). The character of Howard Beale was literally going insane -- having a very ugly and public nervous breakdown -- and he was exploited by cynical, ruthless forces within his own network who knew that the sideshow nature of his downward spiral spelled ratings and revenue. Beck isn't crazy; he's only acting that way.

What's more, Beale didn't rant about just anything; his main target was the corporate takeover of what he called "the most awesome goddamned propaganda force in the whole godless world." That would be television. In the movie, his crusade against corporate oversight of the media begins just as a communications conglomerate has officially taken the reins of his network and its news department has been put under the control of the entertainment division (making the two seemingly antithetical entities practically indistinguishable, sound familiar?). Glenn Beck isn't railing against his overlords at News Corp (although the image of Rupert Murdoch taking a timid Glenn Beck into a darkened conference room and shouting, "YOU WILL ATONE!" at him is a damn funny one to ponder); he's making money hand-over-fist -- supposedly more than 20-million last year alone -- by pretending to be an everyman on the side of the little guy. Beck's a showman -- pure and simple. Beale raged against the artificial; Beck is the artificial.

And yet the unimaginative continue to bring up Beale in the same sentence as Beck -- and Beck himself continues to cite Beale as an inspiration.

I guess that means he won't mind if Murdoch has him shot dead on the air if his ratings ever drop.