Each year, we ask staffers to pick the piece of media that summed up the year for them, be it a book, movie, Web site… or a sing-along blog. Here are the highlights of 2008:
The puppy cam
By Vi-An Nguyen, Opinion Editor
Usually when something is covered by nearly every major news outlet, it has something to do with politics, the economy or a parody of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.” But in one very special case, it was the live puppy Web cam that reached a new kind of Web video fame.
Since the puppy cam was discovered and spread across the internet (it was first unveiled on Oct. 8), viewers have clapped their hands to their mouths in utter adoration of the six now-infamous Shiba Inu puppies more than 18 million times. The owners of the puppies frequently update a sidebar on everything from the puppies’ changing weights, bath time experiences and leash training shenanigans, and each set change or altered camera angle has been met with almost-audible Internet squealing from puppy cam fans. And though the owners have begun finding new, more private homes for some of the puppies, they promised that some form of the puppy cam will live on, to the relief of the online masses.
Brian Williams of NBC News said he didn’t understand what our love for the doggies says about society, but I say the answer is simple. We are a people starved for cute. For those of us who weren’t satiated by Sarah Palin’s precious mug this year, the puppies provided a source of scampering, slobbery inner peace. We turned to those six sleepy bundles of fur as a respite from counting the things younger than John McCain or accepting the fact that pretty much every governor of Illinois will end up in jail, without having to actually take care of puppies. And for that, we thank the heavens for the puppy cam.
Barack Obama’s Web site, Change.gov
By Ben Armstrong, Politics writer
The 2008 election cycle was not only marked by changes in ideology and policy, but also changes in technology and communication. While candidate Barack Obama enlisted millions of people in his quest for change through Internet donations and online pledges to volunteer, president-elect Obama has launched change.gov, an online vehicle to allow Obama supporters and Obama cynics to share their thoughts on what the next administration should do. Change.gov allows citizens to engage in online discussions with public figures and members of the Obama administration. It includes video addresses from the president, blog updates and room for anyone to share their story and their vision for the future of the country.
Change.gov captures the ethos of Obama’s 2008 campaign. It demonstrates that beautiful speeches, laced with calls for hope and change, are not empty. In 2008, Barack Obama both inspired the nation and democratized the political system. His candidacy depended upon grassroots involvement and a community of support. The Obama team remains flexible to changing circumstances and open to alternative approaches. One of the most valuable traits for a president is the ability to listen. Though it is too early to tell what will be made of the suggestions offered on change.gov, it is clear that the Obama administration will use the Internet to pursue a more direct and personal (dare I say Jacksonian) connection with the American people. It will use new media to listen to those citizens who wish to have a voice in politics beyond their vote.
The Dark Knight
By Carlton Barzon, Opinion writer
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I say that The Dark Knight was the most hyped movie of all time. But really, that’s not a big surprise. After all, how could it not be? The Dark Knight was the sequel to one of the biggest blockbusters of 2005, Batman Begins, a movie that revitalized a dying movie franchise dedicated to one of the world’s most recognizable fictional characters, the “Goddammed Batman.” The real question that was on my mind and the mind of every other comic nerd since 2005 was, “How can the next movie possibly top the last!?” Unbeknownst to us, director Chris Nolan already had an answer: cast Heath Ledger as the Joker.
The decision, of course, came with some controversy. Batman fanboys couldn’t imagine anyone donning the role that had been immortalized by Jack Nicholson in the franchise’s first movie back in 1989. Needless to say, all doubts were quickly alleviated when the first teaser trailer was released and we all heard those famous words uttered for the first time: “Why so serious!?”
Personally, I was pumped, and my excitement wasn’t cooled until opening day when I saw the movie for the first time. During the entire two hours, I could do nothing but marvel at the obvious care Nolan took to remain true to the gritty, dead-serious nature of the source material and recoil in horror at the demonically spot-on performance that turned out to be Heath Ledger’s swan song. By the end, I had become a believer in the idea that directors could take comics seriously and succeed with a wide audience, and, thankfully, I wasn’t alone. The success and critical praise that The Dark Knight achieved was a victory for both the comic book industry and its legions of socially awkward fans across the globe. For once, a big screen adaptation of a comic book couldn’t be written off as being good for a “comic book movie.” The Dark Knight was more than that: It was a good film. After walking out of the cold, dark theater and into the summer heat all the way back in July, I can truly say that I was proud to be a comic book fan.
CNN’s presidential election coverage
By Katherine Tang, photographer
The 2008 presidential election between President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (and his spotlight-loving sidekick Sarah Palin) will go down in history as one of the greatest elections of our generation. But it won’t be because we elected the first African-American President. It won’t be because a record number of young voters participated in all aspects of the campaign. And it definitely won’t be because we had a hot vice presidential candidate. No, we will remember the 2008 presidential election because of John King and his magical white board of endless electoral possibilities.
No longer will the general public accept mere newspaper articles or radio ads. Now we’ll expect our political news in a sound bite format that can be replayed over and over again on YouTube. We’ll never watch another vice presidential debate unless we have a graphic displaying exactly how excited undecided male Ohioans get when Sarah Palin opens her mouth. Instead of setting up routine satellite video interviews, we’ll refuse to pay attention unless the interviewee shows up in the studio as a hologram (or is it actually a tomogram?) and makes rehearsed small talk with Wolf Blitzer. Thanks to CNN, the world of election coverage has changed as we know it and there’s no looking back.
“Whatever You Like” by T.I.
By Matthew Leib, Northwestern Ink writer/illustrator
T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” has topped the charts in the three months after the Sept. 30 release of his album Paper Trail. But whether the Georgia-born rapper realizes it or not, his track could be called a synthesis of American economic policy at work in the latter part of 2008. Not only did the song’s release and ensuing success coincide with the country’s financial meltdown, but the lyrics and overall message of “Whatever You Like” also captured the spirit of Washington’s knee-jerk response.
T.I. sings “Anytime you want to pick up the telephone / You know it ain’t nothin to drop a couple stacks on you / want it you could get it my dear.” Here he is confessing to us that unless he showers his girl with riches, she will probably leave him. Thus T.I. is inclined to give his girl whatever she wants to keep her around. Washington, too, is afraid of letting the country’s banks and automakers fail, and hasn’t hesitated in dropping billions upon billions to keep them around. Now what T.I. does with his money — whether buying his girl a Bentley or a $5 million house — is his own business. He should probably get a girl who cares more about his personality, but who am I to give rappers advice about relationships. However, what the government does with our money is our business. Yet in the wake of what now amounts to $8.5 trillion in total money set aside for loans and bailouts in 2008, Washington seems to have extended the same “whatever you like” policy to America’s poorly-run banks and companies. Look, all I’m trying to say is that if Congress was going to drop that much money on someone in 2008, I’d much rather they would have looked like this than this.
Coldplay’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
By Emily Liftman, Life & Style writer
I have been struggling with the idea that Coldplay makes “chick music” for years. Jump over the pond to the band’s home country of England and the famous foursome led by Chris Martin attract far more equal amounts of men and women. I had to face it: the band’s past melancholy, dreamy hits such as “The Scientist” and “Fix You” (songs that rocked me to the core) just did not speak to American men.
Finally, with the release of Viva la Vida, I began to hear the rumblings of what I had been waiting years to hear. I knew something had changed when I found myself sitting in a car with a 47-year-old man and his 16-year-old son. Coldplay’s new track “Lost?” was playing and they both kept saying “How awesome is this?” in between their rather amusing attempts at air guitar and mimicking Martin’s soul-piercing falsetto. Then, this past quarter, I walked down my hall and heard Coldplay blasting from the guy’s room down the hall — the room that ONLY played rap. I knew Chris Martiin and his crew had finally arrived.
What changed? It’s hard to say. I think the band has become a bit edgier and has incorporated more guitar. But who cares? Music is meant for sharing and I am so glad I can finally share Coldplay with you, men of America. Welcome to the club, guys.
The Diddy Blog
By Emmy Blotnick, Video and Writing staffer
2008 was the year where the Internet’s barrier of nerdiness broke down, evidenced best by the Diddy Blog. You better believe that Diddy, in all his Bad Boy band-making bitchass-calling media dominance, has a blog. His official YouTube channel is loaded with tens of video entries that serve as chapters in the book of Diddy. Nearly all of them begin with the inspiring refrain “DIDDY BLOG, DIDDY BLOG!” and showcase him at his realest, venting about everything from politics to his own name. And he’s awesome at it.
But the Diddy Blog stands for more than Diddy: He is just the representative of a phenomenal onslaught of first-hand celebrity presences on the Internet. Where artists and actors used to have lackeys to tend to their Web sites, 2008 saw them seize control — blogging, promoting and speaking for themselves. This was the year where Shaquille O’Neal got a Twitter so we could be privy to his every misspelled observation, Gwenyth Paltrow started an e-mail newsletter to disseminate her bland pretension and Kanye West eagerly shared his gusto for design gadgets, the word “dope” and the Caps Lock key. The examples are endless and they don’t all suck (see: ?uestlove of the Roots and Michael Ian Black). 2008 marked the end of the Internet as an outlet reserved for lonely tech fanatics, gamers and chat room-lurking pedophiles. To call the Internet and its users “nerdy” became a self-imposed limit on one’s own media experience. Now more than ever, the Internet is open for everyone’s contributions — you, me, even famous people! — so raise your sparkling apple cider flutes and cheer “DIDDY BLOG!”
Tina Fey’s SNL impersonation of Sarah Palin
By Mike Elsen-Rooney, Opinion writer
The political landscape of 2008 was certainly not an easy one to navigate. Politics brought us overwhelming amounts of hope, fear, joy and sheer ridiculousness at different points during the year and the diligent satirists, from Colbert to Stewart to Bill O’Reilly (who said satire has to be intentional?) stood by us through it all. But the award for most memorable, and most representative, piece of political satire from 2008 goes to Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin, a skit that, along with a number of good political pieces, revived SNL this year.
But ironically, what distinguishes the SNL skit, and most of the political satire from 2008, is its seriousness. After all, how many satirists almost directly quote their objects of satire? In a year during which the failures of the Bush administration became increasingly visible and urgent, and public scrutiny of and interest in the presidential race was as focused as it’s ever been, satirists rose to the challenge of finding new, more serious, ways of addressing politics. It’s difficult to say what lies ahead for the art, and artists, of political satire, with a new (and conspicuously harder-to-make-fun-of) president. But it’s safe to say they gave us a hell of a 2008.
By Sarah Collins, Photo Editor
As we watch our economy tumble further out of control while our government debates just exactly how to throw away $700 billion, there is one game to give us hope. Budget Hero. It allows you, the humble taxpayer, to throw absurd amounts of money about in an attempt to fix all of our problems. Simply pick three badges that you want to work for, and then play economic “cards” to decide what the government will and will not spend its money on. Then sit back and listen as money clicks away.
While the delirious power trip would be enough to make playing worthwhile, the game is also informative. If you’re like me — and by that I mean completely incapable of understanding economics — the graphics and fun noises will help you to learn how the numbers go up and down. Even if you’re only guessing, you’re still bound to do better than Bush. Seriously. Numbers all look like squiggly lines to me and I still managed to cut the deficit by more than half. Now if we could just forward this to Paulson…
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
By Sara Hetland, News writer
While the superhero trend continued into 2008 with big-budget movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, it was a small-budget villain that really summed up the year. With the economy failing and the war in Iraq continuing, we hoped that the presidential election would give us a hero. But much like characters in this Internet musical, those in the political campaigns couldn’t be clearly divided into heroes and villains. We saw the candidates through an imperfect media lens, leaving us with conflicting opinions. When things got confusing in “Dr. Horrible,” the characters sang about their problems.
Neil Patrick Harris plays Dr. Horrible, a wannabe-villain with a “PhD in horribleness.” The story follows his attempts to join the prestigious ranks of the supervillians of the Evil League of Evil. The Internet video itself displayed the movement from television to the Web. Shot over less than a week, the short series proved that sometimes pluck prevails over big budgets. And while the year was filled with other superheroes, Dr. Horrible may be the first ever superhero/villain to have a video blog… so very 2008 of him.
By Lana Birbrair, Politics Editor
This year, rising gas prices once again turned international attention to the environment, bringing out all the environmentalists with their smug, told-you-so expressions. And with the recession making recycling unprofitable, what a perfect time for Wall-E, a movie about a robot designed to clear the Earth of insurmountable mounds of garbage. Wall-E’s lessons are pretty clear: widespread consumerism can have terrible consequences; if left to their own devices, people can get frighteningly lazy, obese and manipulable; and robot love stories are just too adorable. The fact that such a leftist movie could be as popular as it was tells us something about the direction the country moved in this year. But the movie manages to be moralistic without being preachy, appropriately doom-and-gloom, without too much gloom — kind of like the president we elected this year. The movie ends on an optimistic note, with one surviving plant giving hope to a one-day inhabitable Earth. And with the end of the year finding us immersed in a deepening recession, two wars and an astonishingly large national debt, a little bit of hope in a sea of disaster sums up the movie, and the year.
Heath Ledger’s death
By Brittany Petersen, Politics writer
He has been compared to James Dean: a young, talented actor who was prematurely silenced by a tragic death. Heath Ledger’s passing in January 2008 shocked the country, especially anyone that had been a fan of his early heartthrob roles (10 Things I Hate About You, A Knight’s Tale). He began turning heads in 2005 with Brokeback Mountain, snagging both critical approval and a Best Actor Academy Award nomination. (The prize went to Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote.)
The Dark Knight, which most likely would have gotten lost in the sea of summer movies had Ledger survived, was instantly catapulted to must-see status as Ledger’s final performance, and Warner Brothers did not shy away from the advertising campaign that kept Ledger’s infamous “Joker” front and center. Grossing over $530 million domestically, The Dark Knight easily claimed status as the top movie of 2008 and is second only to Titanic in all-time blockbusters.
There has been buzz since before the movie came out that Ledger might get an Oscar nod; if he does, he’ll be only the seventh person to ever get a posthumous nomination. If he wins, he’ll be the first since Peter Finch in 1976. Either way, Ledger isn’t done yet — he was filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when he died, and reports indicate that he will still appear in the film, though three separate actors — Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law — will portray his character in various settings to fill in the holes that had not yet been filmed. The film, which was written and directed by Monty Python actor Terry Gilliam, is set to be released in 2009.
By dying so young, Ledger secured his legacy, and his superb performance in his final completed role was a bittersweet ending to his short career. But his death struck a chord in Hollywood and across the country, and the young actor was appreciably mourned considering his young age and short resumé. I was surprised by how many of my friends were literally brought to tears at the mention of his name for weeks after his death. He was to be one of the cornerstone actors of our generation; his death was a tragic, unrecoverable loss.
By Jamie Wiebe, Assistant Managing Editor
The vampire genre was reborn in 2008, led by the Twilight series, where the new girl in town falls for a beautiful, sparkly, chiseled vampire. My first encounter with Stephanie Meyer’s four-book series came after several intelligent friends raved about the series. “It’s the next Harry Potter!” they said. After dedicating one summer Saturday to Twilight, I quit. It was no Harry Potter, by any means. But millions of teenage girls took an entirely different path, dedicating their time, emotion and meager HTML skills to a patriarchal vampire named Edward Cullen.
I’d like to say that despite the awful writing, weak plot, embarrassingly chaste attitudes toward sex and marriage and a remarkably anti-feminist (or even anti-womankind) plot, I welcome bad escapist literature. After all, many intelligent women I know have become wrapped up in Meyer’s world. But when escapist literature is this contrived, yet adored this much, it reflects much differently on society. While “change” and “rebirth” may have won the 2008 presidential election for Obama, Meyer’s fantastical tales represent a much different kind of change: a reversion to the 1950s, where women were bound to the whims of their husband and unable to fend for themselves. Bella Swan finds every male in her life, whether human, vampire or werewolf, fully dedicated to her constant supervision and protection. Apparently unable to find anything else entertaining, Edward dedicates his nights to sneaking into Bella’s room and watching her sleep. Which not only sounds creepy, but horrifically boring. Even Robert Pattinson, who played da-reamy Edward, has his reservations: “Sometimes you, like, feel uncomfortable reading this thing, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.”
But now that the biggest Mary Sue this side of Sarah Palin has captured the fantasies of America’s teenage girls (and many grown women, who should know better), we can officially drive the stake in the annoying heart of American feminism. With everyone searching for their very own Edward Cullen, all those men who’ve grown up respecting women and stuff can go back home. Why bother with “respect” when what women apparently want is a stalker that sparkles in the sun?
Discover Card’s “Brighter” Ad
By Patrick St. Michel, Cute Animal Blog writer
“Consumption — it’s the new national past time, fuck baseball.” I doubt comedian (and unfortunate 2008 obituary subject) George Carlin was even cynical enough to expect someone to ever turn one of his rants into an advertising campaign. Enter Discover Card, though, with the below spot, which opens with the completely un-ironic line “We are a nation of consumers, and there’s nothing wrong with that” before barraging viewers with shots of people joyously buying stuff set to music more appropriate for the Phillies year-in-review DVD.
Amid shots of sunglasses and sofas, the perky female voice goes on about “all the cool stuff out there” people just have to buy. Tough to argue with when iPhones and Blackberries went from “devices capable of locating nearby Persian restaurants” to “full-blown-must-own mania.” Or when Facebook subtly transformed into a demographic-gathering billboard. Or when a Wal-Mart worker got trampled and customers got angry because they couldn’t keep shopping. One of the bigger ad campaigns of the year saw people declaring “I’m a PC” while the biggest songs of the year reveled in joy-through-wealth(“you can have whatever you like,” “you should’ve put a ring on it,” “amilliamilliamilliamilli”).
“And there’s nothing wrong with that?” Even though it’s killing the planet? Even though America consumes most of the world’s resources? Even though immediate satisfaction isn’t nearly as fulfilling as long-term happiness — conveniently showcased in metaphor via the Sarah Palin gambit, brief excitement followed by a complete emptiness. Or, to keep it simple, even though such spending is the reason America is in a recession? The year’s best movie, Wall-E, skewered the consumer culture Discover Card embraces, though “Brighter” reminds me less of cute robots and more of They Live.
Iron Man and The Dark Knight: The superhero movie comes of age
By Kevin Sullivan, Entertainment writer
This year saw the full maturation of the superhero movie. Iron Man and The Dark Knight changed the way these films are perceived: Though the genre has always been a cash cow for the movie studios, these summer blockbusters transcended expectations and found nearly universal critical praise, as well as historic box-office numbers.
Iron Man followed conflicted billionaire genius Tony Stark and his battle to stop the terror he unknowingly created. The film took a serious look at the implications of one’s work and the responsibility that comes with it. Granted, Stark’s work was weapons manufacturing and his responsibility was to build a kick-ass suit of armor, but Iron Man was a world-conscious superhero movie with a message, and surprisingly enough, a good amount of humor. Not only did the movie show that movie-going audiences were ready for an intelligent and poignant superhero movie, but it also helped bring about the welcomed return of Robert Downey, Jr. as a major player in Hollywood.
What can honestly be said about The Dark Knight that hasn’t been said over and over again for the past six months? As of Dec. 14, it has made $530,723,626 domestically, the second highest domestic gross behind Titanic. At this point, Heath Ledger is a lock for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for his terrifying, hilarious and nihilistic portrayal of Gotham’s clown prince. What Iron Man did to change superhero movies, The Dark Knight took to the previously inconceivable next level only two months later. Director Christopher Nolan took an all-star cast and crafted a dark, thrilling and tragic experience that left audiences coming back for more and more and more. The film, which is in essence an ensemble picture (though egregiously overlooked for Best Ensemble by the Screen Actors Guild), was filled with living and breathing characters with real human weaknesses and dilemmas. Characters like Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, and Michael Caine as the ever-loyal butler, Alfred, roles that would have been thrown into the background of any other generic action movie, have their own conflicts and give additional moral weight to film. And there’s the often over-looked, but brilliant Aaron Eckhart, whose Harvey Dent, though often overshadowed by Ledger’s Joker, is the emotional core of the film.
Yes, 2008 was truly the year of superhero adulthood, showing the world that these are more than just comic book movies. With Iron Man 2 planned for the summer of 2011, the superhero crossover Avengers the summer after that, and the potential third Nolan Batman film coming out God-knows-when, if at all, cinemas look safe for superhero fans for years to come.
Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” music video
By Jessi Knowles, Video Editor
It was a simple concept: black leotards, big hair, and some muy caliente choreography. With her music video “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” Beyonce brought it back to basics – which is always a nice thing to do when the economy’s imploding. Inspired by this Fosse/Unk mashup (who knew the 1960s held such gems?) the video features Beyonce and her two doppelgangers strutting their way through some very vintage moves. “Single Ladies” was so epic that it spanned its own SNL skit with Justin Timberlake, not to mention a slew of YouTube video imitations. And Beyonce is the gift that just keeps giving: single women now have their very own hand gesture. Thanks, Mrs. Z!
Katie Couric’s feminism
By Paul Schrodt, Print Managing Editor
The media’s tug-of-war between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin revealed two sides of a very familiar gender-studies coin (the Bitch and the Ditz) and subsequently upended all the progress we thought we had made. Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone wondered if there wasn’t something sinister about Hill’s “flabby arms.” Even this Web site waxed romantic about Palin’s backwoods “hotness.” Then a woman (from New York! who doesn’t even have cankles!) gave the best political interview of the year. Katie Couric’s “talks” with Sarah Palin didn’t just interrogate the candidate’s code language; they also flipped everyone’s ideas about the first solo female network anchor on their heads. She was polite but stoic and un-pretty (notice the frozen lips), unrelenting but objective (no Jon Stewart condescension). Couric’s bad ratings have been blamed on seemingly everything (inexperience, hissy fits, fluffy news judgment) except her famous legs. Now she’s turned lipstick journalism into feminism. Yes, Matt Taibbi, the best reporter of the year has a vagina.
Tweens take over the world
By Kaitlin Miller, Life & Style writer
Previously the awkward age between a child and an adult, tweens emerged in 2008 to dominate the demographics of children and teens, as well as to infiltrate and take over the music, TV and movie industries. The opinion of a tween now matters so much more than the previously coveted 18 to 25 demographic and it shows: How else do you explain how the Jonas Brothers have practically become the present-day Beatles? No longer just radio Disney fare, the JoBros provided one of the anthems of summer ’08 with their single “Burnin’ Up,” ruling the airwaves along with other tween stars Miley Cyrus with “See You Again” and Demi Lovato with “Get Back”. I’m pretty sure poster sales of the JoBros alone could feed a third world country, while the bloodbath of fans trying to get Hannah Montana concert tickets was of Tickle-Me-Elmo proportions.
Check the gossip magazines the next time you’re buying groceries. You’ll find the likes of Ashley Tisdale on the cover of Seventeen, while People and OK! are more interested in Zanessa (Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens) than Brangelina. The gossip magazines of housewives have morphed into Tigerbeat! One of the biggest scandals of the year involved Hannah Montana’s Miley Cyrus posing for Vanity Fair. The celebs that tweens are talking about have become the celebs that everyone is talking about And let’s not forget Hollywood. One of the most buzzed about movies of the year wasn’t an action movie like Quantum of Solace or an epic like Australia, but High School Musical 3. The tween demand is the only reason HSM3 made the jump from made-for-TV to the big screen.
A tween in 2008 had the world in the palm of their hands, with every facet of pop culture bending to their whims. 2009 better watch its back, or else it will be the year Zac Efron wins an Oscar, Hannah Montana takes over Oprah’s job, and ABC replaces “Lost” with prime-time “Wizards of Waverly Place,” because the will of the tween was inescapable in 2008.
Obama’s acceptance speech in Chicago, Nov. 4, 2008
By Aubrey Blanche, Assistant Managing Editor
While no one can argue that the media is slightly (ahem) obsessed with Barack Obama, that is not why I have chosen this video. Rather, it is what the video stands for. This represents the thousands of people of my generation who now believe in politics. As a member of a generation who has been told that we are apathetic and spoiled, we made change in the world. We have not won everything, but maybe a change is what we need. As Obama said, “But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.” Congratulations America, yes we did. So congratulations, because we fucking did it.
Real Chance of Love
By Max Brawer, Entertainment writer
When VH1 first debuted The Surreal Life, the focus on D-list or washed-up celebrities seemed like a stretch — a real scraping of the bottom of the barrel, so to speak. How could they get more obscure! Keep in mind that this was a time when Google was just a search engine and Apple was primarily making computers. Americans hadn’t seen just how far corporate media could reach.
After spinning off The Surreal Life into Strange Love into Flavor of Love into I Love New York, VH1 arrived at Real Chance of Love, a show which takes two ghetto-cowboy “Stallionaire” contestants from a fourth-degree spin-off series and turns them into a prize for the most attention-hungry models/actresses/waitresses/strippers that Los Angeles has to offer who will do anything to be with them/be on television. The novelty proves absolutely hilarious, again reaffirming the power of reality TV. The astounding thing is that a few years from now, when contestants like Corn Fed, So Hood, Meatball, Milf and Bay Bay Bay have their own shows running for a third season, Real and Chance won’t seem unusual.
The rise of the podcast
By Ben Millstein, Video staff
When something gets on Bill O’Reilly’s radar, you know it’s entered the mainstream. In an election year in which the 24-hour news cycle became more than 24 hours long thanks to amateur and professional pundits alike, in a time when a Google serach for “presidential poll” yielded results from a blog before Gallup or Rasmussen, it’s fair to say that new media is on the rise. No new-fangled Internet invention flaunts this better than the podcast.
Papa Bear O’Reilly breaks it down like this: The Internet has turned simple consumers of content, listeners, into creators of content, producers. “So I have to be compelling enough to pull someone away from his own show — which means I have to give him something he can’t get on his own.” But people are getting it on their own, and no where has the use of this listener-turned-producer aesthetic become more prominent than in podcasts. These free subscription-based Internet radio programs have been around for less than four years, but don’t be fooled: This baby-faced medium has teeth. Bill O’Reilly has a podcast. Porn star Jenna Jameson has one, filmmaker Kevin Smith has one and President-elect Barack Obama has… four. And counting. The podcast is coming of age. Two years ago, the stereotypical podcaster was an unemployed, middle-aged Californian dude with a Mac, some liberal anger and a spliff nestled behind his ear, ranting about why ninjas have NO place in the latest Batman graphic novel. Now, podcasters look like Anderson Cooper.
This new medium also gives insane amounts of freedom to anyone who wants to be heard. You don’t need to be carried by a radio station, vetted by a sponsor or beloved by a legion of political radicals to make a good podcast. You just need a digital recorder, a little bandwidth and a whole lot of chutzpah.
By Jason Plautz, Assistant Politics Editor
Sure, everybody says they were excited when they watched Micahel Phelps win eight gold medals at this year’s Olympics. But nobody could possibly mean it unless they were Michael’s spastic mom, Debbie. With her overenthusiastic cheers and her dramatic nerves, Debbie managed to make spectating a spectator sport. While her son walked away with world records and sudden patriotic appeal, Debbie left Beijing with “Mom of the Games” honors, all of the flowers that momma’s boy Michael gave her and instant celebrity. But while Michael moved on to magazine covers and hot chicks, Debbie went right back to working as a middle school principal. In a year where Phelps and Obama got Americans united and cheering again, Debbie did it louder and bigger than anyone else. And while times may be tough, doesn’t it just help to know that somewhere out there, a little woman is containing all of that excitement and joy?
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II Camera
By Jared T. Miller, Design Editor and Assistant Video Editor
Though it was only recently made available to consumers (in mid/late November), the 5D Mark II has already begun to redefine photography as we know it. Canon’s newest toy has a few nice improvements, but its most important feature has nothing to do with shooting still photos. The 5D Mark II is Canon’s first camera equipped with the ability to shoot HD video, and does so quite well: At 1080p and 30fps, the video quality is comparable to most film and video production cameras. And the movies are all captured through Canon’s set of photography lenses, giving filmmakers the option to mess with the depth-of-field and low-light shooting capabilities that give the videos you watch that shiny Hollywood look.
Northwestern’s own (Medill ‘97) Vincent Laforet calls it a “game changer.” What the New York Times photojournalist-turned-budding filmmaker means is that Canon’s new camera is breaking down the barriers between different kinds of media. Photojournalists must learn to shoot video, and are running out of excuses not to as technology continues to develop. Amateur and indie filmmakers, who once had to pony up tens of thousands of dollars even for low-quality equipment can now try their hand at shooting movies with the 5D Mark II, for the price of a camera body and a few nice lenses. Canon’s new camera isn’t powerful enough to put film studios out of business or make photography obsolete — but it will make both markets a hell of a lot more competitive.
Film gearheads ought to check out the the RED video camera, which is making similar waves in the video production industry. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Guns N’ Roses’s Chinese Democracy
By K.M. McFarland, Entertainment writer
On some sick level, I wanted to despise the living shit out of Chinese Democracy just to put Guns N’ Roses out of its misery. There is a special place in an audiophile’s heart reserved for lost albums, and like it or not, Axl Rose’s epic-in-waiting had always been the White Whale of the category (both in its prominence and in its popular divisiveness). Derided for over a decade until a Dr Pepper campaign became the last to deliver the “unreleased” joke, Guns N’ Roses finally returned. The biggest surprise, even after all the overdubs and re-recordings to hammer out any and all imperfections, was its quality. Of all the reviewers to tackle the beast that is Democracy, Chuck Klosterman for The Onion’s AV Club brought out the two most important points in the discussion:
- Chinese Democracy is essentially the last relevant album to be released and examined as a cohesive whole and not simply a series of tracks meant to be commercial singles. Perhaps that is a function of its 15-year production process, but the milestone is still noteworthy as the death-knell of an era.
- The music is actually good. Beyond that, it doesn’t end the fascination with the Roses’s decade-plus recording process. It’s full of mystifying decisions from a dreadfully serious perfectionist artist terrified of what any and all critics would say no matter their readership. It was so gripping I wanted to hear every single damn tape of recordings to figure out just what the hell was going on in the man’s head all these years.
Last year belonged to Radiohead, with discussions of the “name your own price” business model for online downloads (and incredibly profitable boxed set physical releases). All critiques aside, In Rainbows was the most important album of 2007, and in the same vein Chinese Democracy is the most culturally significant album of the past year simply by its very existence in a store in an official capacity. The blogger zeitgeist for the year may rest elsewhere, but Axl Rose got his last dance in the relevance spotlight by coming through once and for all.