While there were plenty of more successful movies this year, no movie so thoroughly defined a genre, dropped the mic and walked away like The Cabin in the Woods. Horror is inherently dumb. Even the very best horror movies depend on a heaping dose of stupidity from the main characters; the girl will descend into a darkened basement alone, the jock will refuse to believe that there's a killer, even while the corpses are piling up, and rag-tag teams will split up, even in the face of mortal danger, despite the entire course of human evolution screaming that that's a terrible idea. Meanwhile, fans are forced to quietly tolerate it all because these bad decisions fuel horror. But The Cabin in the Woods manages to deconstruct all of those tropes, ripping apart the genre and taking a look at its guts before sewing it all back up into a really great slasher flick.
This is exactly what we want.
The Cabin in the Woods is self-aware from start to finish, following the story of archetypal teens trapped in a cabin while being hunted by torture-loving zombies, but it also follows the story of the pencil pushers working in an office building who orchestrate the whole thing as a sort of sacrifice to an audience that demands it (us). It's simultaneously a critical analysis of the genre and a celebration of it, but to really understand how difficult that is to pull off, it needs the context of another film this year that tried to do the exact same thing and failed miserably: The Expendables 2 (Expendabler?).
Bear with me.
The Expendables 2 is stuffed with winks and nods to the action genre. The movie makes Die Hard references and Terminator jokes, and even acknowledges the Chuck Norris Internet meme. They want the audience to know that, yes, this is a mindless shoot 'em up, but everybody involved is in on the joke. But when The Cabin in the Woods breaks down the fourth wall, there's an entire fictional universe back there that explains all of the horror movie cliches in a way that makes it clear that the creators love and respect the cliches and conventions they're working within. The Expendables 2 seems to be ashamed of the action genre. Whatever love Stallone and the other creators once had for action movies is drowned by their crippling self-awareness as they keep indirectly apologizing for continuing to make movies about hairless buffaloes jump-kicking each other. The Cabin in the Woods allows the movie to keep the narrative structure alive on the table while simultaneously doing an autopsy on it.
But regardless of whether you agree, the fact that The Cabin in the Woods and The Expendables 2 came out in the same year is the sign of a bigger trend in film: The age of the unselfconscious movie is over. There will never be another Rambo or Blood Sport or They Live or Troll franchise because irony has swept through the entertainment industry and killed sincerity. Audiences are so jaded by tropes that it's almost impossible to surprise them anymore. In the case of horror, that's bad news for the whole industry, because it relies on surprises. The only way for a film to stay afloat now is to laugh along with the audience about how clever we all are for figuring out the patterns. At least The Cabin in the Woods is proof that it's still possible to make good movies while simultaneously poking fun at the impossibility of doing so.
During the 2012 Olympics in London, platform diver Tom Daley barely missed out on medaling, and within minutes of his final dive, he received the tweet above from a 17-year-old kid. To give a little more context, Tom Daley's father had died of brain cancer a year earlier. Rileyy_69 went on to tell Daley that he wanted to find him and drown him in a pool.
Now, social media has been a lawless wasteland since its inception. At some point, we all just accepted that it would be full of trolls and other online equivalents of the bad guy from Lethal Weapon 2 discharging his weapon in all directions while shouting "Diplomatic immunity!" Except this time, Tom Daley refused to just let it go. Instead, he contacted police about the offending posts and the cops tracked down the 17-year-old kid and arrested him. To be clear, a teenager wrote some mean things to a stranger on Twitter and then got arrested for it. Whether or not this was a result of the hyper-security surrounding the Olympics, this year marks the first time, as far as I know, that someone has faced criminal consequences just for being a dick online.
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Daley, meanwhile, went on to a successful career of having perpetual bed head.
I would hope that this would make people think twice before spilling clumsy, misspelled abuse across comment sections or inviting strangers to kill themselves. It certainly worked for the 17-year-old, who accepted full responsibility for his actions and apologized profusely for any pain he ca- oh no, wait. He did none of that. In an interview with The Daily Mail, he remained stubbornly unrepentant, complaining "I shouldn't be victimized -- and I hope he loses the next competition that he is in." He has since gained tens of thousands of Twitter followers.
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.
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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.
Dubstep is the George Lucas of music. Just as Lucas remastered your favorite movies and made them worse, so too has dubstep remixed all of your favorite songs into something that sounds like a Nintendo game freezing when the cartridge is loose. If you are somehow unfamiliar with dubstep, then imagine listening to any song in a rusted-out car where the bass from thousands of songs has rattled the screws loose inside the speakers and you have a pretty good idea. Add in some mechanized whirring and thumping noises on irregular beats and now you've just created the chorus of every single dubstep song in your own mind. Congratulations.
"It's like music, only without all that distracting 'rhythm' and 'coherence'!"
The most recognizable dubstep song is "Too Close" by Alex Clare, which technically came out at the end of 2011, but didn't become ubiquitous until the last few months, when dubstep wholly infiltrated pop culture. If you haven't heard it on the radio, you've heard it in commercials or in movie soundtracks or boring a hole in your temple while wandering around the grocery store. It starts innocuously enough with a verse about breaking up played over muted guitar strums and some clacky-clacky percussion that you'd expect to hear someone pounding out on buckets and metal pans in a subway station. That's not intended to disparage the song -- in fact, I suspect that's the only part of "Too Close" that anyone actually enjoys. The rest is just patience, endless patience.
Now, I'm willing to accept that maybe it's a sign of my age that the signature "wub wub" noise of dubstep sounds to me like an accident. And I will accept that maybe I'm too traditional in my expectation that artists be able to play their own music live instead of just dancing in front of their laptops. I will even accept that I could be wrong in my private suspicions that dubstep creators aren't actually musicians at all but just programmers who are tricking everyone into thinking that they're rock stars. But I refuse to believe that this is a permanent institution in music. After all, I lived through an era of Limp Bizkit selling 34 million records while pretending there was room for a genre between rap and metal. Not every new fad sticks, and I'm pretty confident that dubstep will be remembered as an embarrassment of 2012.
"Next we're gonna drop chainsaws on live orchestras and sample that shit."