Looking back on 2013, you'd think America spent the whole year recovering from the vapors and waking up between fainting spells. Whether the story was Kanye making a baby with a Kardashian or Miley Cyrus and her pancake butt making a spectacle of herself at the VMA Awards, the Internet reacted to major news stories with expressions that are usually only found on Taylor Swift after walking in on her parents doing it.
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Actual picture of me watching C-Span.
Forget "selfie" -- the word of the year should have been "incredu-rage," a word I just made up to describe how we handle unexpected events now. Did you know that when the Breaking Bad finale aired, our collective gasps of disbelief turned the tide of global warming? It's true. Look it up.
If we'd just taken a few minutes to learn some history, none of these stories would have shocked us. As a reminder that history, like first grade, often repeats itself, here's why 2013's most outrage-inducing stories were old news before they ever happened.
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In August, former Disney child star and current world dominator Miley Cyrus shocked us into a frothy lather when she used her MTV VMA performance to rub her butt against a 36-year-old man's crotch. (P.S. Let's stop calling what Miley did "twerking." Five minutes of YouTubing will reveal that Miley wouldn't know a twerk if it slapped her in the face with its popping butt cheeks. Double P.S. If you're not popping, you're not twerking.) The notorious performance couldn't have provoked us more if she'd birthed a baby onstage and then eaten it whole.
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Honestly, there could have been baby cannibalism involved and it probably wouldn't have made a difference.
Why It Was Old News:
Hey! Did you ever see that 1968 Madison Square Garden performance where a practically topless Tina Turner pretended to do fellatio on a microphone while Ike Turner made slurping noises in the background? No? Here you go!
Hey, again! Did you ever see that time Debbie Harry walked on a stage without her panties (or pants)? Here's the version of that time that I'm allowed to publish on this website:
In case you're wondering, Debbie is not a natural blonde.
If ever there was an appropriate time for the phrase "don't hate the player, hate the game," this was it. Because Miley Cyrus is playing a game. And she's winning it hard.
For good or bad, for almost as long as women have put themselves on the stage, they've used what the good Lord gave them to get your eyes on their bodies and your ears on their voices. Madonna, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Debbie Harry, Janet Jackson, Britney, Cher, Tina Turner, and middle-aged Julie Andrews are all part of a long tradition of scintillating while entertaining. Oh, did you miss that part where I said Mary Poppins has performed with her bosoms unswaddled?
We forget that popular music, like beauty pageants and high school, is one part talent and 99 parts sexual spectacle, and has always been that way. Jimi Hendrix dry humped his guitar on stage just in case no one noticed the actual mind-blowing music he was making at the time. 1970s disco icon Donna Summer spent one of her most popular songs writhing in orgasmic ecstasy. Miley Cyrus' own godmother, Dolly Parton, transformed herself from a Betty White look-alike into an inflatable sex toy over her six decades in the spotlight.
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So let's make a vow to stop condescending to Miley Cyrus and all the other skankyish pop stars who come after her as victims of predatory management or even worse -- naivete. Clearly, there's some foresight and brilliant planning behind the career of Miley Cyrus. It's time to recognize Miley as a woman who is self-aware and probably on her way to stealing the pop star throne.
This summer, the sugar hit the fan when we found out celebrity Southern cook Paula Deen admitted to using the N-word back in 1986. She also admitted to fantasizing about hosting a plantation-style wedding complete with small African-American children tap dancing around like in "Shirley Temple days," but that's a story for a whole other article. The important thing here is that for the first time in the history of old people saying racist, backward things, we didn't just blink in embarrassed silence before asking Grandma if she'd like some more pie or which of her friends has cancer now.
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All of them. It's a cancerpocalypse out there.
This time, when Deen fulfilled the oldest comedy cliche in the book, aka old people are racist and inappropriate, the country flipped its lid and rightfully called her out on it. And Deen responded in the only way she thought appropriate: by turning into an Oompa Loompa and begging for forgiveness as uncomfortably as possible.
Why It Was Old News:
You don't have to look back far to find white celebrities using racial slurs. Whether it's Dr. Laura, Roger Ebert, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, or Riley Cooper, every single instance draws anger and shock BECAUSE WE ALREADY WENT OVER THIS. For every white person defending their right to use the N-word, there are thousands and thousands of white people wondering where these idiots come from and how they always end up with cameras in their faces. White people see frequent N-word user Quentin Tarantino as the Michael Scott of Hollywood: clueless, embarrassing, and inappropriate, but somehow good at sales.
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But back to Paula. Those who defended Deen tried to provide context/excuses for her gaffe: she grew up in segregated schools, the city where she got her start actually named a bridge after one of Georgia's most insane white supremacists, she just couldn't know any better. Which is all bullhonkey. As early as 1904, Northerners were recognizing that racist white Southerners who still insisted on using the N-word were doing so with complete awareness of their choices, cognizant that the slur was a slur, stubbornly insisting on keeping the word going. More importantly, defending Deen's screw-up with a history lesson doesn't acknowledge the fact that there are plenty (millions, if I had to guess) of white people who grew up in her exact same context without picking up the word in the first place.
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Here are two of them reaping their Not-a-Racist Reward.
While I obviously can't explain what compels otherwise bright people to spit out verbal garbage, I do think I get why the media love covering the story. Whether it's a washed-up celebrity or a beloved folksy cook using the word 26 years ago, it's always going to be news. Not because we're totally over racism and everything's great, but because look at how dramatic it is when CNN does a hard-hitting N-word special!
More importantly, talking about other people using the N-word gives those of us who never use it a chance to pat ourselves on the back. We knew skipping it in rap songs would pay off someday!
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Thanks to secret documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, we found out that the United States government has been secretly and illegally tracking our phone calls, emails, pages, faxes, telegrams, and smoke signals for the past, oh ... I don't know, forever. And they've been more than happy to inflict the same treatment on our allies, including German head of state Angela Merkel. When asked about the breach of trust, she said something to the effect of "It's like no one even remembers what angry Germans are capable of."
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This is one moment when the outrage was actually disproportionate to the story, but in the other direction. Knowing our government was recording our everything should have sent us rioting in the streets and screaming at the White House in righteous anger. American men and women go to war to fight against regimes that treat their citizens like this. We should be rounding up pitchforks as we speak, not laughing it off with Twitter hashtag games.
Why It Was Old News:
We have yet to invent a form of communication that our government hasn't used to spy on us. Maybe that's why the American reaction to the news was more of a sad trombone sound and a fart than a raised fist. When we found out Verizon was collaborating with the NSA, did anyone disconnect their Verizon service in a fit of rage? Probably not -- shares of the company rose when the news broke. I guess investors were glad to know Verizon had found a new niche.
"Everyone is out of milk! Buy! Buy! Buy!"
It feels like the federal government has always been that weird jealous boyfriend who oversteps his boundaries, which makes the American people the insecure girlfriend who just puts up with it. For example, when George Washington was barely president, he requested money for a secret service fund, a fact I only discovered by visiting the CIA's Kids' Zone page. It wasn't long after the country started that we passed the Alien and Sedition Act, which gave the president the power to imprison anyone who dared to speak out against the government. True, the act was allowed to expire, but it was like we had already joined Slytherin by that point.
Then something happened. In 1898, the United States found itself in possession of the Philippines, a nation that didn't want to be occupied by a foreign power, for some odd reason. To quell the (completely justified) rebellion that followed, the American military used every technology they could get their hands on to turn the Philippines into a police state. And when it was time to come home, the U.S. turned around and applied all their new tricks to ferreting out German-Americans with suspicious loyalties, draft dodgers, and overly zealous labor organizers. By the 1940s, Western Union was cooperating with the NSA's predecessor to provide copies of every incoming or outgoing telegraph. No caveat there -- they were just turning over all of them. This, by the way, is all public information thanks to congressional hearings that were held back in the 1970s. In fact, the reason why we're extra sure all this domestic spying is illegal is because in 1978 Congress completely freaked out over the intelligence community's overreaching monitoring boner and passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to keep their mitts off us.
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Then this happened.
Long story short (too late!), three different whistle-blowers alerted us about the NSA's insanity before Edward Snowden. The difference between those guys and Snowden was that Snowden went straight to the press, bypassing all the internal mechanisms that got the other three shut down faster than a brothel during period week.