Closing the Door

Roland Hicks, No Boat on No Ocean, 2011. Courtesy the artist and Eleven, London.

The Year That Wasn’t

As much as 2011 was filled with noteworthy events, it was also littered with meaninglessly overhyped blips that, try as we might, we shouldn’t forget. We asked our group of writers and thinkers: What was the least important event of 2011?

David Shapiro, Pitchfork Reviews Reviews

The least important event, outside of celebrity news trivia, may have been the death of Osama bin Laden. He was the vanguard of an already dying movement, rendered further irrelevant by the Arab Spring. His death didn’t change any practical aspect of the War on Terror, didn’t shift any allegiances in the Arab world, wasn’t emblematic of any global mood, and may be best remembered for inciting innumerable instances of bad behavior on our part (the “USA! USA!” chants, transparent propaganda about him using women as a human shield/growing marijuana/possessing a mountain of pornography). I’m glad he’s dead, and I’ll remember where I was when I heard about it for the rest of my life, but I’ll also remember where I was when the Giants won the Super Bowl in ’07 and that wasn’t exactly D-Day either.

Jeff Sharlet, Author of Sweet Heaven When I Die and Founder of Occupy Writers

Apparently, there are some people running for president.

Michelle Legro, Editor at Lapham’s Quarterly

I wanted to know the enemy, so I wanted to watch the Republican debates. But then there was another, and another…and another. It was actually hard to keep abreast with any outrage, any insanity, because it was all so dull and repetitive. Even the brightest light of crazy turned out to be the least important person of the year. Godspeed, Herman Cain.

TMN Editor Liz Entman

This wasn’t the least important event of the year, but it was probably the most overhyped. In August, S&P downgraded the United States Treasury’s sterling credit rating from AAA to AA+ and opened the door for another possible downgrade in the future. From all the hue and cry raised by this, you’d think we’d been bankrupted. Maybe the downgrade would have had the chastening effect that it was intended to, except that S&P made a $2 trillion math error and had to issue a correction, and then said that the error didn’t really matter because Congress couldn’t get its act together on fiscal policy anyway. The upshot of this bungled tough love? S&P’s credibility took a ding and Treasurys are selling better than before the downgrade, thankyouverymuch.

Matt Langer, Editor of Gifzette

It seems that any fair judgment of a given year’s least important event must take into account the ratio of that event’s utter lack of importance to the grossly disproportionate amount of ink spilled on the subject. And 2011 was a competitive year! At first glance all the countless young people on the internet bemoaning the uncertain future of Community seemed to take the prize, but after careful consideration it became abundantly clear that no other event this year had as throaty and vociferous a numerator buoyed by such a fractionally insignificant dividend as the death of Christopher Hitchens.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper, Author of Mad Men Unbuttoned

Least important news story: Sarah Palin’s fake run for presidency. It was clear, almost from the start, that she was never going to run. And yet, week after week for MONTHS the media kept running a “will she or won’t she” piece and tagging along on her pitiful bus tour around the states. This was not a story.

Instantly, Twitter blew up in a fireball of #disgust and #wut, #ew, and #boohoo.

Maria Bustillos, Author of Dorkismo and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman

For least important (or more like the least effective, I guess) event of the year, I nominate last week’s roundup of breathtakingly tone-deaf pronouncements of billionaires. Apparently these billionaires don’t like the bad press they’ve been getting! So they “fought back.” Instantly, Twitter blew up in a fireball of #disgust and #wut, #ew, and #boohoo. Was it the self-satisfaction that excited the most comment, or the cluelessness, or perhaps even news of the May-December romance of Tom Golisano and Monica Seles? Hard to say, but this was clearly the backfire of the year. Stay in your bubbles, plutocrats, if you value your self-regard.

Matthew Newton, Editor of Annals of Americus

At a certain point, symbolic honors such as Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” lose their shine (and relevance). This year’s selection, “The Protestor,” exemplifies the dumbed-down manner in which news is so often presented to us. To take the civil unrest occurring in Egypt, Syria, and cities throughout the United States and roll it into one neatly packaged issue may be a convenient way to sell magazines, but it simplifies the struggles of each individual movement. Commission cover art from Shepard Fairey, an artist at odds with the #occupy movement, and your magazine’s culture irrelevancy is cemented.

Nic Rad, Artist

The least important event of 2011 was the inspirational mediocrity of Tim Tebow. If he were praying to Shiva and doing a four-armed, five-headed creation and destruction endzone dance, that’s a story. If he were chanting to Abeguwo and getting results… but everyone already knows about Jesus’s special interest in overly self-assured white dudes. Not a story.

Tom Scocca, Managing Editor of Deadspin, Slate Columnist, and Author of Beijing Welcomes You

Nothing meant less than the supposed presidential candidacy of Herman Cain. Throughout the Republican presidential pre-primary campaign, the deep and not at all democratic machinery churned out of view, even while its underlying assumptions—that the voting, the casting of ballots by citizens, is meant only as a symbolic coda to the real contest—bobbed oddly close to the surface. So every second or third week, a new frontrunner was brought forward for examination by…well, by the press, but implicitly by someone else, who was deciding and would have to finish deciding quickly, because (this was often explicit) Iowa and New Hampshire were just around the corner. The confusion about what was truly happening, and why, eventually led to a few weeks of Herman Cain, who couldn’t even summon the seriousness to imagine himself executing the responsibilities of the presidency (“Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan”) before the invisible consensus dumped him back into the niche-market obscurity whence he came.

Maria Popova, Editor of Brain Pickings

Anything with the word “winning” in it.

Kevin Nguyen, Editor of Bygone Bureau

The Royal Wedding: I don’t really know who these people are or what they actually do, and at one point, I actually confused this wedding with the Kardashian thing. Kanye put it best: “Prince Williams [sic] ain’t do it right if you ask me/ Cause I was him, I would have MARRIED KATE AND ASHLEY.” (In case it’s not obvious, the sic is because Yeezy says Williams instead of William. That shit cray!)

Osama’s death did not really bring any significant positive (or negative) change in this part of the world in the pace of the war on terrorism.

Sohaib Athar, @ReallyVirtual, Who Inadvertently Live-Tweeted the bin Laden Raid

I think that the Osama bin Laden raid may have been the least important event, when normalized by the hype and the international media coverage that it attracted, mainly because Osama’s death did not really bring any significant positive (or negative) change in this part of the world in the pace of the war on terrorism, and might actually be a classic example of a pyrrhic victory in the next century.

Ken Silverstein, Washington Editor for Harper’s Magazine

The unfolding presidential election race/Republican primaries.

First, because the election is already over as the Republicans have put forth such a self-destructive, moronic field of primary candidates. Barring (another) economic collapse, Obama will win re-election and so the Republican primaries are meaningless as well as noxious.

Second, even if I’m wrong and Obama loses (a fate he richly deserves), it won’t mean much anyway. Wall Street and corporate money has so hollowed out American democracy by now that the outcome of the presidential election matters in a meaningful way mostly to cable news commentators and newspaper pundits. Henry Paulson or Tim Geithner for Treasury Secretary? Goldman Sachs is happy either way.

Of course, the presidential election will be even more meaningless next year and will take up far more of your time, if you let it. Do yourself a favor and stop paying attention now.

TMN Contributing Writer Giles Turnbull

Anything and everything relating to Facebook.

TMN Feature Editor Kate Ortega

The uprising earlier this year in Egypt, a part of what was breathlessly dubbed the “Arab Spring” by commentators, resulted in not much different for the people of Egypt. Hosni Mubarak may not be in charge any longer, but the military is, instead, and just in the past week more than two dozen people were killed in five days of clashes between the military and protesters seeking, again, for a change.

Matthew Gallaway, Author of The Metropolis Case

Though it was my most important pick, gay marriage in New York State is also the least important event because until it’s recognized at a federal level, gay couples will have only a small percentage of the rights and benefits available to non-gay couples who marry.

The UN used the occasion to release a report on the challenges facing humanity. But that was lost amid people calculating what number human being they are.

TMN Editor Mike Deri Smith

I care for people. But I don’t care that the population of the world reached the milestone of seven billion on Oct. 26, according to the UN. As a symbolic date, a rough estimate of the world’s population on a rough assigned date, was the least important thing. It was just as important as the fact that this year saw the time and date 11:11:11 11/11/11 occur, as well as 364 other unique dates. The UN used the occasion to release a report on the challenges facing humanity. But that was lost amid people calculating and posting status updates after using a tool that tells them what number human being they are, rather than taking a second to consider one of the other seven billion.

Brad Listi, Founder of The Nervous Breakdown and the Author of Attention. Deficit. Disorder.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the least important event of the year involved an absurd amount of self-importance. To be honest, I’m loath to even mention it here, because the guy responsible is such an obnoxious publicity whore, he would probably be happy to learn of the mention. So I’m not going to say his name.

I can, however, tell you that he’s a bloated, insufferable, loudmouthed reality television star with unusually bad hair. (And no, I’m not referring to The Situation.) I’m talking about the guy who pretended to be interested in the presidency in a naked attempt to elevate his public profile and boost the sagging ratings of his grim little TV show. (See also: Sarah Palin.) In better hands, it’s the stuff of comedy gold. But no such luck here. We have instead been subjected to the humorless and profoundly annoying blather of a spectacularly pompous Park Avenue shithead.

What can you say? It’s a story for the ages. A man is born into great wealth, an Ivy League-educated trust-fund baby who, through hustle and hard work, manages to transform himself into a spray-tanned, chest-thumping ignoramus and a hero to the most craven, idiotic, and easily persuaded subset of the electorate. He is the capitalist id on steroids, a cartoon version of gold-plated success, and now, somehow, a hemorrhoid on the body politic. Only in America.

Joanne McNeil, Senior Editor at Rhizome

Least important digression from the News of the World scandal—Daily Mail discovers MP Louise Bagshawe Mensch wrote her 1995 chick lit novel about her new husband’s ex-wife. (“Rowena could wear as many rubies as she liked and carry it off, whereas Marissa just seemed vulgar.”) Actually, I want say the Great Flash Mob of Fascinators of 2011, but, umm, I think they both seem lovely enough and it feels mean to call a wedding “unimportant” unless there is spouse-stealing and roman a clef potboilers. So what if Pippa’s rump is all anyone remembers of it.

TMN Contributing Writer Robert Birnbaum

One way of judging the unimportance of something—an event, person, discovery, or invention— is to imagine a world without that something. Which in the case of a gibbering, posturing, twittering, and breathing alliterative klan of money-grubbing shoppers is easy to do. The Kardashian bovines will not even be consigned to the dustbin of history.

TMN Editor Nozlee Samadzadeh

Pseudonymous young woman writes 15,000 words about a sexual encounter with an older (taken) man, an entire slice of the internet goes inexplicably wild.

Teddy Wayne, Author of Kapitoil

At first I thought the death of bin Laden, but if that gave Obama the political capital and justification to exit Iraq, then it’s meaningful. This year’s GOP race is setting new lows for lack of substance, ineptitude, and exploitative media coverage. It makes George W. Bush’s clown act seem refined by comparison.

Roland Hicks, The Gathering Things, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Eleven, London.

Julie Klausner, Author of I Don’t Care About Your Band

According to the media, it’s of no significance whatsoever that Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist and Charlie Sheen’s history of violence against women is as prolific as his public battles with mental illness and addiction. But according to the success of The Hangover 2 and The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen, it’s all OK because they can both laugh at themselves now! And so should we! Ha ha! Oh, wait, I’m not laughing, I am just horrified and sad for humanity.

Conor Friedersdorf, Staff Writer at the Atlantic

Jay-Z bought a new luxury watch, as recounted in his song “Otis,” where he raps, “New watch alert.”

Fred Benenson, Kickstarter

The White House launched a petition site implying they were going to take petitions and direct democracy seriously. The best a petition gets is a promise of a reply from the White House if it reaches 25,000 signatures. My favorite was (it has since been taken down): “We demand a vapid, condescending, meaningless, politically safe response to this petition.”

Maura Johnston, Music Editor at the Village Voice

Despite everything, we still had things to distract us from the despair in 2011, like the pregnancy of Beyoncé—a “news” development that will probably have no effect on your life if you’re not the (admittedly megatalented, but) super-rich pop star, Jay-Z, a close friend/relative/employee of hers, or a person employed by a business that needs ad revenue from pageviews to survive. Someday the world will tire of obsessing over its most famous ladies’ uteruses and send the phrase “baby bump” back into the ground from whence it came.

TMN Contributing Writer Lauren Frey Daisley

I had a Google Buzz account. Or is it, I was on Google Buzz? Not only do I not know the right way to say I signed on to the service, I also I don’t know the specifics of what it did. The closest I came to using it was clicking on the word “buzz” near the “starred” button on my Gmail, just to refresh the page. (I know it’s unnecessary to refresh Gmail; it’s just a tick I can’t subdue.) So when I got Google’s notification saying the company was formally putting Buzz out to pasture, I thought something along the lines of duh.

Hrag Vartanian, Editor of Hyperallergic

Reality TV jumped the shark. All the Kardashian reality shows were a waste of time. Jersey Shore was scientifically proven to kill brain cells and Work of Art was really bad but not bad enough to be significant.

If you’re going to go out of your way to ding the Obama administration for something, ding it for something more important. Not burgers.

Marian Wang, Reporter for ProPublica

Michelle Obama eating anything with calories, despite her campaign against childhood obesity. It wasn’t just right-leaning outlets counting calories for the First Family. Mainstream papers were doing it too. It’s silly. If you’re going to go out of your way to ding the Obama administration for something, ding it for something more important—for its lack of transparency on drones, for its failure to help homeowners, for its defeatist attitude about prosecuting major players in the financial crisis. Not burgers. Everyone eats burgers.

Jessanne Collins, Managing Editor of Mental Floss and Co-Editor of Finite + Flammable

I thought a lot about marriage in 2011. Per usual, the rest of the Western world thought about weddings. Waaay too much so, when it came to Kim Kardashian, so let’s not even touch that one; too much, even, when it came to Kate and William. You could say the Royal Wedding was important for its spectacle, symbolism, history, heritage. I say it’s a fairytale, as all weddings are, whether they take place in the tabloids or the backyard. That’s fine. Fairytales have their place, culturally and psychologically. But they’re the oldest stories in the book.

TMN Editor Liz Entman

Late last year, Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping began to claim that, based on his numerological readings of the Bible, the Second Coming would take place on May 21, 2011. When that didn’t happen, Camping said that the date was actually just a day of spiritual judgment and that the physical Rapture would take place Oct. 21, 2011. Camping then promptly had a stroke and retired from his radio network. Oct. 21 was, as far as anyone can tell, just another Friday.

Seth Colter Walls, Freelance Culture Critic and Reporter for Slate, the Village Voice, and others

Something on the order of Lady Gaga’s Thanksgiving special, despite its likely appearance in many a future cultural studies thesis.

Jenna Wortham, New York Times Tech Reporter

The argument over how “real” Lana del Ray is—which is a separate debate from her artistic merit and hype machines—because it emerged right as the web began to groan collectively about how Facebook and Google are collapsing our notion of identity and eroding the much-needed ability to mutate and evolve and molt through multiple identities as we move through life. Are we getting so conditioned to the idea that we can only have one true self, that our online and offline identites are so inexorably linked and that our past, present, and future selves cannot deviate from one another, that pseudonymity in the real world feels reprehensible? Which in a way, makes it also feel like an actual important thing to discuss because how we view ourselves and our identities in an era when the web makes it impossible to shed our former selves is only going to become more pressing and crucial to consider in year to come.

Honorable Mentions: the Kardashians. Don’t get me wrong—I watched (and enjoyed!) Khloe and Kourtney Take Miami, but I reached my capacity for that family by the end of this year. Come on guys, let’s find something else to fixate on. Also: that virgin kiss! Can’t unseeeeeeee :(

Joel Whitney, Editor-in-Chief of Guernica Magazine

So many things vie for this honor: e.g. the publication of In My Time by Dick Cheney.

A few months ago, we couldn’t get enough tiger blood, mercury surfboards, Vatican assassins, or bi-winning, and now you’re probably cringing just reading those words.

TMN Contributing Writer Michael Rottman

My my, did Charlie Sheen play us all for suckers. A few months ago, we couldn’t get enough tiger blood, mercury surfboards, Vatican assassins, or bi-winning, and now you’re probably cringing just reading those words. The Warlock was captivating to the point of distraction, and in retrospect, could that have been his motive? If you rose from your laughter-induced fits to find a brand new toxic waste dump next door, you have only yourself to blame, mortals.

TMN Editor Leah Finnegan

Some rich people got married.

Sheila McClear, Author of The Last of the Live Nude Girls

Perhaps the most anticipated—and baffling—record of 2011 was that Metallica/Lou Reed collaboration album unfortunately named Lulu. How and why this configuration happened is steeped in impenetrable PR hype, but we are assured that it came about completely organically. Either way, across the internet, fans and gawkers waited, poring over the preview tracks, trying to figure out what the hell to expect. Track titles—“Junior Dad,” “Pumping Blood”—revealed little.

The general consensus was that Lulu was both puzzling and hubristic. As a YouTube commenter put it in response to a performance on Jools Holland: “Why was there nobody at any point during the making of this album to say ‘wait… guys… you’re making a terrible mistake’???” Because once you reach a certain point, everyone is afraid to criticize you, that’s why. It was impossible to look away from the Lulu show. It was a bit like watching your otherwise-distinguished father—no, your grandfather—join the local metal band. That, at least, was sort of endearing.

Still, take a gander at James Hetfield’s yowling on “The View”: “I am the root / I am the progress / I’m the aggressor / I am the tablet.” Was he referring to the iPad 2 or an ancient Biblical stone? Nobody knew. The collaboration had a strange love-story aspect to it as well: the band was clearly proud of what had been created—or maybe they just felt the proximity to Reed gave them a new type of arty cred. As diminutive drummer Lars Ulrich put it in an interview, “It really is what art should be.”

Rachel Rosenfelt, Editor-in-Chief of The New Inquiry

While it’s important to remember that 2011 was the year of Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage and Justin Bieber’s paternity lawsuit, Lindsay Lohan’s Playboy spread wins the vote here—if only because if we don’t see another Marilyn homage it’ll be too soon.

TMN Editor Liz Entman

A drunk moose got stuck in a tree. Words can add nothing to this picture.


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