Jack O'Brien: Donald Trump


In the NBA and NFL, great coaches can cause their opponents to lose after they play them. A well coached team may win or lose that particular game depending on how much talent they have, but their opponents then tend to lose their next game. That's because great coaches expose a weakness nobody has seen before -- one that subsequent opponents see and exploit. Donald Trump is the mainstream media equivalent of a great coach. He is a genius of manipulating national attention, regardless of how clearly we see through what he's doing and hate him for it.

That's still a terrible toupee, but it's the terrible toupee of a puppet master.

While Trump has had more obviously successful years before, this year he exploited the weakness in the mainstream media that would define the Republican primary. He may have dropped out before anyone was paying attention to the race, but he spent the first four months of this year creating the blueprint for the GOP candidates who have dominated the news in the second half of the year.

He invented what I'm calling the Trump Law of Media Manipulation, which states that if you make ridiculous enough claims with a straight face, the media will be forced to cover what you're doing as though it's legitimate. Therefore, if you don't really think you can win, it's better to make a splash while being entertaining and shameless than it is to be a coherent, serious politician.

"Co-what now?"

This works because the modern media is built on a logical fallacy: that "fairness" involves covering both sides of a story even if one of those sides is profoundly stupid. It also doesn't hurt that the modern media is driven by ratings and clicks, so they will give the advantage to whichever side makes the more sellable story.

The plainspoken pizza mogul with no prior political can take the lead in the polls because he will make outrageous claims, outline Sim City-inspired tax plans and generally be entertaining.

"I am exactly as good at politics as I am at making edible pizza."

When that guy gets accused of sexual harassment, suddenly the old fat guy who helped create the Clinton sex scandal (a brief period in the '90s when it was Christmas for an entire year at major news outlets) becomes a front-runner.

Trump has always been willing to do whatever it takes to create a story, and that seems to be what defines whoever is "leading in the polls." He knew exactly what he was doing when he made the preposterous accusations about Obama's birth certificate that were later disproved. The version of that story that is currently being repeated by the popular media is that Trump lost when Obama showed his birth certificate and promptly killed bin Laden. The fact that Obama felt the need to disprove Trump's absurd accusations is what we should take from that story. It's certainly the lesson that the most successful Republican nominees up to this point seem to have learned.

Soren Bowie: Tim Tebow

In War of the Worlds, the aliens, with all their superior technology and brains, were still defeated by something as simple as a virus. They had reached the highest form of evolution but had somehow lost immunity to the simplest form of attack along the way. The success of that virus against invading aliens is an apt analogy for Tim Tebow's success against every other NFL team.

For anyone who doesn't follow football, Tebow is structurally designed to be one of the best fullbacks football has ever seen. The trouble is that he plays quarterback and his throwing mechanics are so bad that even someone wholly unfamiliar with the sport will look at his passes and think, "Hold on, that can't possibly be right." But somehow, defenses are powerless to stop him from winning games.

As we understand it, the football is supposed to be on the ground 85 percent of the time.

Not since the return of Michael Vick has there been a more divisive player in the NFL than Tim Tebow, which is odd, because Michael Vick tortured dogs, while Tebow just sucks at throwing and loves God a bunch.

2011 is his first year as a starter for the Denver Broncos, and Tebow consistently rushes for more yards than he throws. But more importantly, he's become famous for kneeling in prayer before games. And during games. And after games. In fact, he kneels in prayer with such frequency on the field that his piousness has become an Internet meme. And while his constant mention of God can be exhausting to listen to, even for a Broncos fan, it's shocking to see how many people outright hate him. Among commentators, fans and even people who have no interest in football but love controversy, there is no one who is on the fence about Tim Tebow -- he inspires only love or loathing. Part of that may have to do with how overrated some people think he is -- culturally we hate seeing terrible athletes bathed in positive attention -- but more than likely it's because somehow his combination of wobbly passes and God-loving is actually working.

Expect a lot of mascot sacrifices this weekend.

Since he became the starting quarterback for Denver, their record has gone from a dismal 1-4 to 8-5. Somehow he continues to win games,usually with comeback victories all while making skeptics privately suspicious that maybe there is a God and he does watch football after all.

Dan O'Brien: Charlie Sheen


You already know the main, horrible stuff about Charlie Sheen. Dates loads of prostitutes, chases women around with knives, does lots of drugs and drinks too much, brother of Emilio Estevez, etc. He dominated headlines more than any single person this year, and this was the year America's first black president had America's Captain Bad Guy executed. Charlie Sheen's name was still the most thrown-around name of the year. For the first time in ... ever, millions of Americans were caught saying, "But what's going to happen to Two and a Half Men?

But I don't want to just talk about how he crushed headlines all year. It's easy to crush headlines when you're rich, white and crazy, that's not interesting to me. What's interesting is that, whether anyone admitted it or not, America was quietly prepared to watch Charlie Sheen die, right in front of their faces.

Like all of you, I enjoyed watching his meltdown because, like all of you, I get bored sometimes. It was fun to watch a guy flip out and lose his shit. It was fun to watch him publicly insult his boss. It was fun to watch him test the limits of madness in interviews. But then I watched this vlog that he made, and I suddenly became nervous and concerned and thought, "Oh shit, he might shoot himself in the head in his next vlog." That is clearly the video of a desperate and disturbed man who needs lots of help. He's chain-smoking, fidgety and gaunt, and he's spewing nonsense. That was the first time I thought, "Oh my God, he's going to kill himself." That's what America was watching toward the end of the Charlie Sheen saga.

He'd already torpedoed his career and, as someone who pathologically craves constant attention, the only thing he could logically do next was die right in front of us. And we all ... kind of let him. No one could watch his videos or see his interviews and not think, "This guy needs help," but still no one did anything. We saw the guy with two cigarettes hanging out of his mouth and a gun to his head and we said, "Well, let's see where he's going with this ..." Toward the end of his crazy reign, it really felt like we were testing the limits of celebrity culture. We watch and judge celebrities and scrutinize their every move because they're not real people to us anymore, and Charlie Sheen's almost-tragic meltdown was the extreme version of that. We were watching a crazy person actively lose his mind as entertainment.

He didn't die, which is good. But that doesn't change the fact that we still watched, all of us morbidly knowing that he could, at any minute, die, and that it would be spectacular and crazy and that we did not want to miss it.

Cody Johnston: George Lucas

To best illustrate my point, here's a gif of a scene from the Star Wars 'Darth Senile' Edition 2032 BluRay.

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