Popular culture officially stopped making sense to me in 2012. If I had to pinpoint a single moment, it'd have to be when Bob Costas asked Missy Franklin -- the most popular athlete of these the most watched Olympics of all time -- to turn to the camera and speak directly to Justin Bieber, like he was directing a ransom video. Bieber had been everywhere during the Olympics despite not actually being in the Olympics, and it suddenly became shockingly clear to me that Justin Bieber was still the most famous person in the world, and I still had no idea why. Then I ate some nachos or did something else that wasn't finding out the answer to that question.
Proving the wisdom of my "Nachos first, ask questions later" method of inquiry, the preposterously named talent agent Scooter Braun was already in the process of solving the mystery for me. In case you're not familiar with that name, he's the guy behind Bieber, as well as the universal, almost hysterical popularity of the pop songs "Call Me Maybe" and "Gangnam Style." The music industry was supposed to be dead by now, but these songs were as universally beloved as any I can remember. They cut across generation gaps, class lines, musical tastes and every conceivable type of (white) person in existence this year. Weren't these the sorts of global trends the Internet was supposed to have delivered us from? And isn't Braun, a talent agent, the sort of middleman who's not supposed to matter in our world of on-demand entertainment?
Bill McCay / Getty
And isn't "The Bieber" just the generic spunky lady haircut from the posters that hung in every barbershop where I got a haircut during the '80s?
Before this year, Braun was mostly known as the architect behind the Bieber empire, or the smallpox blanket fanning the spread of Bieber fever, depending on how you feel about the tween heartthrob. Like most people my age, I felt very little, beyond general discomfort about the existence of phrases like "tween heartthrob." Since launching Cracked, I've always had a mutual understanding with teen pop stars: I wouldn't freak out about their songs during the few weeks they were impossible to avoid, and in return they agreed to stop being famous before I had to give a shit. Miley Cyrus begat Taylor Swift begat Katie Perry begat angry Taylor Swift, and I never had to care about any of it.
Google Search velocity for Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Katie Perry and Jesus.
Bieber was different. He achieved the type of maniacal, unsustainable fame the Internet usually reserves for celebrity meltdowns and sex tapes, and then he just sort of ... stayed there. For two years now, he has been universally, inexplicably, haircut imitatingly famous in a way that would probably draw comparisons to Beatlemania were it not for the fact that nobody seems all that crazy about his music. Katie Perry, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus would have to go in on a lesbian sex tape to get Googled as hard as "Bieber," but they've all had at least one recognizable song. Justin Bieber had one about babies that I've never heard from beginning to end. And yet ...
Justin Bieber: More famous than Jesus since 2010.
"Call Me Maybe" was equally inexplicable. It'd been out for a few months in Canada when Braun signed its singer, Carly Rae Jepsen, and encouraged Bieber and his friends to upload a video of themselves dancing around and singing it. Soon everyone was uploading videos of themselves doing that. The most viral video of the Olympics was the U.S. swim team lip-syncing to "Call Me Maybe" on the flight over to London. The song shot to number one, and was praised by critics as undeniable and perfectly written, even though it had spent eight months being plenty deniable before Braun came along.
Then, in July, Braun did the same thing to "Gangnam Style." The song was already a hit in Korea, but like every other Korean pop song up to that point in history, it had failed to find an American audience. But in the weeks after Braun tweeted about it, celebrities were tweeting the video around to their millions of followers and uploading videos of themselves doing the horse dance, because that's just what you do when Scooter Braun gets behind a song. The next month, Braun signed Psy to his label, and the song was at number one on iTunes, and was the most viewed YouTube video of all time.
James Lemke Jr. / Getty
Scooter Braun, Canada's answer to Pearl Harbor.
It turns out that this is the exact same method that gave us Bieber, whom Braun discovered in a YouTube video that had 70,000 views. Remember those home videos of Bieber playing the drums and singing in what appeared to be the basement of his childhood home? Those were all shot after Braun signed him, half of them by Braun himself. They looked like home videos because Braun knew that the shittier they looked, the more authentic Bieber would seem, and the more people would root for him.
Christopher Polk / Getty
He also knows something about teenagers with bangs in their face that nobody else has figured out yet.
Some people still claim that Braun is just a lucky talent manager who won the lottery with Bieber. From where I sit, he looks more like the pop music equivalent of Steve Jobs: someone who's about to spend the next decade wielding enormous influence over our day-to-day lives despite the fact that we don't really have a word for what he's good at.
A lot of important things happened this year.
I'm pretty sure. I couldn't tell you. My life is entirely consumed by bullshit, paranoia, infantile self-indulgence and brief stints of jail time. I'm almost certain that some politics happened. Probably. Somewhere.
What I can tell you is that something called a Josh Romney has arrived on our planet, and thus I name it the most important person of the year, if only to delay its terrible impending wrath from finding me and mine. This is a Josh Romney:
This is also a Josh Romney:
GIF via Gawker
I could not tell you if they are the same Josh Romney or different Josh Romneys, or if their species even has a concept of "identity," but I can tell you that I now sleep in a fortified basement atop a giant pile of loose hand grenades. There is easier prey for now, Josh Romney. Please, take it.
You must seize opportunity on those rare occasions when it presents itself. And once you've seized it, you must not let it go until you've wrung every last drop of personal benefit from it that you possibly can. No story in 2012 demonstrated this fundamental principle of successful living better than the tale of Cecilia Gimenez.
Gimenez had become increasingly disappointed at the advancing state of decay into which this fresco (like a painting, but fresher) of Jesus, located at the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Spain, had fallen.
That's not a crown of thorns on his head. It's moss.
So, with what she was pretty sure was the blessing of the priest, but that time has revealed to be something more along the lines of a demand to stop feeding the pigeons on the sidewalk out front, Gimenez commenced turning that ragged picture of Jesus into something special:
"Special" being the operative word.
What you're looking at is Gimenez's version of her lord and savior. I think we can all agree that, if nothing else, this is a far more entertaining interpretation of the subject than what the original artist had in mind.
Unfortunately, connoisseurs of fine messiah paintings don't generally go in for fun and games, so Gimenez's Picasso-in-grade-school-esque rendering of Jesus was met with derision and ridicule. Spanish officials immediately swept in to try and figure out what sort of materials she had used to "fix" the century-old fresco in the hopes that the original could be unearthed once again.
NY Daily News
"I mostly just finger-painted it."
Within hours of the story breaking, images of the newly christened "Monkey Jesus" painting were trending on Twitter and Tumblr. Cecilia Gimenez was a laughingstock, and her well-intentioned attempt to fix a damaged piece of art was suddenly the funniest piece of unintentional comedy of the year.
And that's when Gimenez did something that skyrocketed her to the lead position in my own private "person of the year" race. Cecilia Gimenez sued to be paid for her work.
"There's a difference between money-changing in the temple and gettin' paid by the temple."
See, after all the hubbub erupted over the "damaged" fresco, the church started charging tourists to come in and see the now hugely popular work. But Cecilia Gimenez wasn't seeing a dime of that money. Not content to be the unpaid punchline of the story, she lawyered up and, if there is a father to that man in the fresco, should finally be seeing a long overdue payday for her work. And she deserves it!
Before she started, barely anyone even knew that this fresco existed (aside from the granddaughter of the painter, who had secured a grant to have the work restored by a professional mere moments prior to Gimenez putting her spin on it). After she was done, it was a worldwide sensation, a real-life version of Buddy Christ from Kevin Smith's Dogma. When Gimenez jacked up that painting, she inadvertently gave the world a personification of Jesus that both believers and non-believers alike were happy to post on their various social media pages, talk about for days on end and just generally stare at in adoration.
Go away, boring Jesus. Come back when some crazy person ruins you.
Who else could claim to bring both sides of the religious argument together with such effectiveness in 2012? Only Cecilia Gimenez, and she wasn't even trying. All she wanted to do was make that painting look pretty, and you'll never convince me that she didn't succeed. And because her inspired accident, even if just for a moment, brought the world a little bit closer together, Cecilia Gimenez is my person of the year.
The great sociology experiment among parents at the end of the 20th century finally has some results. The children of the Trophy Generation, protected in a cocoon of pure emotional indulgence and unwarranted encouragement, are now hatching into young adulthood, or at least those who survived exposure to honest human interaction and particularly strong gusts of wind are. In 2012, at last we have a chance to look them over and see what happens to a person who's been raised exclusively on a diet of affirmation, and it turns out we fucked up.
Venturelli / Getty
Peter Brant is the quintessential example of a kid who has never known anything other than praise, and much like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, he is pretty, flamboyant and likely to fall apart if you touch him. He is the child of industrialist Peter M. Brant and supermodel Stephanie Seymour. Wealthy and spoiled to the core, naturally the general public can't stop staring at him out of disbelief that anyone could be such a mockery of high culture. He's popped up in interviews with his 15-year-old brother, Harry, in Vanity Fair and the New York Times, and at fashion events around the world. I wrote an open letter to both of them after Peter's 18th birthday requesting that they stop doing pretty much everything they do, but they either didn't bother to follow my advice or they only go to Cracked for the pictures, because they've only gotten worse.
"Socialite" is just another word for "hasn't been punched enough yet."
Following the presidential election, Peter Brant shared texts with a friend about how Obama would make them both poor before Peter said "I have a contingency plan. Kill Obama hahaha." Then, in (presumably tearful) admiration over his own joke, he took a picture of it and posted it on Instagram so that the rest of the world could see how clever he was. Granted, he's only 18 and lacks the social context to know that that joke is not only offensive and dangerous, but also structurally terrible. Still, I think his obliviousness is less a symptom of being a rich idiot, and more a symptom of being a teenager right at this point in human history. He is the amplified version of the hundreds of thousands of other kids turning 18 this year with an absurd sense of entitlement and blind pride for having done nothing but breathe; kids who are eager to share the bland, inane versions of the humans that they've become like it's an achievement.
That's not to say that every teenager is awful; there are plenty of good apples who have enough sense not to make haul videos or post shirtless love confessions on YouTube. But just be aware that those good kids are the minority now, and for all the others, Peter Brant is their mascot.