A disclaimer: The spirit of this piece isn't about picking "the best" or "the worst" of the year; it's about finding which photo, song, person, etc. best captured the essence of 2011. However, this has been kind of a bullshit year for me, and as a consequence, I can't help but view the world through bullshit-colored glasses. So if you ask me what the last 12 months have really been about, you're going to get one of two answers, depending on how much whiskey I've had:
1. "A bunch of bullshit."
2. "I'll fight all of you. EVERYBODY. I'm the best. Arooounnnd. And nuthinevergunnakeepmedowwww --"
With that being said, let's get this bullshit started.
The last decade or so has undeniably been the epoch of the nerd. We went from unwashed basement trolls to trendsetters, and all it took was spending all of our money on things we liked anyway. We got what we wanted, everybody made money hand over fist and it finally became acceptable to admit to a few of our more easily digestible hobbies (you still have to closet those miniatures and write that fan fiction under a pseudonym, Narutophiliac243). It has, in short, been a paradise. We really had a good thing going there.
And then Sucker Punch came out.
That movie should have been everything to everybody: Schoolgirls for the horny, mechs for the Warhammer freaks, magic for the D&D nerds, zombies for the Romero fiends and slow motion for the slow kids(?).
But it wasn't. Sucker Punch flopped tremendously, and it was only marginally due to the fact that it was a god-awful film. No, Sucker Punch's failure wasn't about admittedly inferior quality, it was just the inevitable ebb of the nerd flood. To borrow from Hunter S. Thompson:
"There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning ...
And that, I think, was the handle -- that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting -- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave ..."
So now, less than 10 years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Cyrodiil and look West, and with the right kind of Alteration Spell you can almost see the high-water mark -- that place where the nerd wave finally broke and rolled back.
The first two seasons of Community were fantastic, experimental and optimistic. But above all, they were fun: You got a real sense that everybody truly enjoyed what they were doing, and even if it didn't always work, they acknowledged the failure with a charming smile, an enigmatic shrug and a shot of some Alison Brie cleavage, so all was forgiven.
A strategy we've shamelessly stolen.
There were some rumors that this abrupt, jarring change in both tone and quality was due to Dan Harmon suffering some personal setbacks, and even though you should never let that affect your work (you can't just flip out and start calling everything bullshit; that's unprofessional), we all know that these things happen. Luckily, the show started to regain some footing around episode 6, and was back in fighting form by episode 8 ... which was when the network execs announced that it was going on mid-season hiatus. That's TV-polite for "canceled, but we're sort of sorry about it."
That seems to be a trend this year: People suffer their usual setbacks and are staggered, but just as they finally, slowly start to recover, they get royally screwed again.
So I guess what I'm trying to say here is: I'm totally fired, aren't I?
Yes, but here's a charming smile, an enigmatic shrug and ...
If you don't know this one off the top of your head, just think back to the last time a chain store tried to sell you skinny jeans: This was the song they played. I didn't pick this because it's terrible (though Foster the People are definitely the Monkees to Broken Social Scene's Beatles), I picked it because 2011 is the year we can officially put a nail in the coffin of indie rock, and we're going to hammer that shit in with "Pumped Up Kicks."
2011 is to indie rock what 1979 was to punk rock: It marks the official tipping point from subculture to marketable commodity. You'll find this album wedged firmly in the indie rock section of every record store (ha! Like those are a thing anymore), and yet it's a song written by a commercial jingle writer (seriously, that was his job when he wrote it) who came to prominence after first being featured on Entourage.
Marky Mark taints everything by association.
The worst part is, it's so utterly forgettable and innocuous that the song doesn't even stick out enough for you to hate. It's only once you look into it that you realize how cynical and exploitative a track it really is. For example, the lyrics make allusions to school shootings so as to cultivate that controversial buzz, yet Mark Foster denies that blatant connection vehemently at every turn, because actually acknowledging it might hurt the song's airtime on major stations. You really have to dig to find the source of this bullshit, because there's just so much shit that it's actually, physically concealing the bull.
Skyrim. My choice was going to be Skyrim. This entry was going to be about Skyrim, and this entry was going to be the one point of optimism and hope in this otherwise cynical wasteland of bitterness and profanity. But you know what happened?
Michael Swaim is way better about checking his email, so he got to pick it first. Therefore, for game of 2011, I choose Diablo III, which isn't even coming out this year. Why? Let's run down some of its killer new features:
*Always-on DRM means you can play the game anywhere there's an Internet connection! And nowhere there isn't.
*Sick of the pressure that customizing, improving and personalizing PC games comes with? Diablo III's got your back: New security measures prevent all modding!
*Tired of real-world problems breaking the flow and action of game play? Not anymore: Diablo III does away with that horrible pause function. Now nothing's going to stop you from gaming -- even your own wants and needs!
*Tired of multiplayer games hogging all the server issues and connectivity problems? Don't worry! Diablo III requires a working Internet connection ... even for single-player games!
*Want added adventure, excitement and intrigue? If Blizzard servers crash during game play, you can lose all of your progress! Real action requires real consequences. You want to be real, don't you?
So real you put your fist through the monitor and throw your mouse at the kids.
If somebody wants to call shenanigans on me for griping about a game that hasn't even been released yet, that's fine. You can mentally change my pick to Driver: San Francisco, or literally any other Ubisoft game. They all have pretty much the same "features" this year. My general point doesn't change with the specific property chosen to represent it. I'm just saying that the publishers are pushing a new theme for 2011 PC games, and that theme is:
Hey, why don't you stop playing PC games?