As promised, here's my personal list of the 10 Worst Things of 2005. You'll notice that there aren't any obvious items like Hurricane Katrina, the deaths of 800+ soldiers in Iraq, bird flu or that kind of thing; those are pretty much givens. I wanted to make a list of the political and/or pop-cultural aspects of American life in '05 whose detrimental effects might not have been quite so immediate or obvious. Basically, these are 10 things that won't make the history books but still made life shittier in the past year (and, in most cases, probably beyond). We begin:
10. The rapid decline of Tara Reid
Sure, Britney Spears's has been bigger and more publicized, but that's been happening for quite a while now. In fact, Reid's downfall might be even worse, because she had Britney's descent into white-trash whoredom as a cautionary tale and still went down the same dark path anyway -- if anything, she looks like she's been making every effort to emulate Britney's as closely as possible. In less than a year, Tara Reid managed to shed the chrysalis of the perky, fresh-faced blonde from the "American Pie" flicks and emerge as the kind of nasty, overly-made-up, perpetually drunk embarrassment who makes Paris Hilton look like Sandra Day O'Connor. (In the picture at right, you'll notice that even Paris is looking at Tara like, "Ugh, what was I thinking bringing her out in public? She's an even bigger gorgon than Nicole Richie.") Make that an embarrassment with one of the worst boob jobs in recorded history (absolutely NSFW, but then you knew that). Worst of all, she has been encouraged in this behavior in ways even Britney was not, as the E! network gave her her own show, "Taradise," that was basically a platform for her to continue her drunken-whoreness. Thanks to E! and Reid, skanky has become the new black, and while I hate to sound like one of those Focus on the Family dillbags, someday this attempted veneration of white trashiness is going to start having a very palpable detrimental effect on society. Not to mention boobs. Just you wait.
9. ESPN's constant fellation of USC
Look, we all know the Trojans of Southern California are a good football team. They've won 34 games straight, not to mention the last two national titles (OK, the last 1.5), and have scored an average of 50 points a game as they went wire-to-wire as #1 in both major polls this season. Yet ESPN apparently doesn't trust us football fans to take their excellence as a given, because every five minutes they have to come up with something new to drill the point into our skulls, to the exclusion of just about every other team out there -- including Texas, the fellow 12-0 team USC will be facing in the Rose Bowl. Texas has scored more points per game this season than USC, allowed seven points fewer per game than USC, and did not have to mount second-half comebacks against teams like Arizona State (6-5) or Fresno State (8-4). Yet it was Southern Cal, not Texas, that ESPN hypothetically pitted against great teams of the past to answer the question OMG is USC the best college football team ever??!!!1!!1! The always entertaining Jonathan Chait of Slate magazine ably dissects that particular stunt and the talking heads who abetted it here (hat tip to EDSBS for the link), so I'll simply break the sad news to ESPN that the greatest net result from all this shenanigans has been to convince millions of otherwise uncommitted football fans across America to root for Texas just to see Mark May, Lou Holtz, et al. look like total idiots (by which I of course mean bigger idiots than they already look like). Mark May, I should probably point out, I'm already biased against because of his well-documented inability to give Georgia any props whatsoever; if Georgia had run the table this year and gone on to destroy USC 49-7 in the Rose Bowl, after which D.J. Shockley raced across the field to administer life-saving CPR to a Trojan assistant coach suffering from a heart attack, May would spend 20 minutes of the post-game show explaining how Georgia's inability to break 50 on the Trojans means that USC's legacy as the greatest college-football dynasty of the modern era is still intact, and probably ended with a parting shot about how Shockley isn't a certified EMT. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself here.
8. Internet fads
None of us find unsolicited e-mail ads for cheap Viagra, Internet porn, or fly-by-night "university" degrees to be entertaining. So why aren't unsolicited e-mails containing links to the latest JibJab short or Webcam idiot also tagged as "spam"? We've gotten to the point where any overweight, talent-free wack job can film himself brandishing an aluminum pole like a light sabre and not only become famous (if only temporarily), but get an entire CNN segment devoted to his so-called "phenomenon." Again, this goes back to the whole Tara Reid Effect whereby being a complete tool is becoming a surefire exit ramp to fame and riches, and while it apparently worked for any number of people in the Bush administration, I don't think it's a trend we should be celebrating.
7. Terrell Owens
Quite possibly the whiniest, most selfish crybaby in the history of team cancers. It was everyone else's fault he wasn't happy in San Francisco; he didn't want to go to Baltimore because they weren't good enough for him; then he went to Philly and everything was peachy for precisely one season -- until he decided out of the blue that helping the Eagles get one full round further into the NFL postseason before succumbing to inevitable collapse merited him a new contract, only one year into his current one. And just like that, the wheels came off. The QB that Owens had been so delighted to play with just a year before suddenly became a loser who wasn't fit to toss a pigskin in T.O.'s direction, and as Owens's self-concocted controversy further engulfed the Eagles organization, the team backslid into mediocrity until Donovan McNabb's injury finally put the nail into the shark-jumped coffin of the Eagles' season. The worst part of this is that Owens, through either his charisma or Uri Geller-like hypnotism powers nobody knew about, was apparently able to convince at least a few people that it was not his fault but McNabb's that the Eagles went from NFC champions to fallen souffles in 2005 -- meaning that once the Eagles sever ties with McNabb for good, it's only a matter of time before some other team gets suckered in by T.O. And then we get to start this whole stupid process over again.
6. The "runaway bride"
I've already excoriated the perpetually coked-up-looking Jennifer Wilbanks at length on this blog, already made all the jokes I could make at the expense of both her and the numbnut who apparently still wants to walk down the aisle with her even after everything that happened. So I'll simply say that the next time something like this happens -- and you just know it will -- the bride in question had better be way hotter than Jennifer Wilbanks. Preferably with some topless photos somewhere in her past. I mean, at least make it somewhat worth my time.
5. Kevin Federline breeding
I've expounded on this one at length, too, though I want to make it very clear that I'm not calling out Kev and Britney's innocent child as one of the worst things of 2005. The child didn't have a choice in the matter. However, the mere fact that there is any woman in North America who would allow the Federpenis to come within 50 feet of her is indeed a black mark on our society. In an announcement on his Web site that he's self-distributing a new single (presumably because it got laughed out of every legitimate record company in the country), K-Fed says ominously, "I am coming." Yeah, Kev, we know. And that's the problem.
4. Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
The fact that Ohio's Jean Schmidt could get elected to anything inspires a level of "How the fuck did you get here?" incredulity equivalent to the revelation that somebody somewhere actually signed Ashlee Simpson to a record deal, but at the end of the day, Schmidt is neither smart nor influential enough to impact the country with anything more than a few monolithically stupid remarks made from the floor of Congress. Young, however, is the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and thus was able to grab $231 million in taxpayer money for a bridge to an uninhabited Alaska island, a bridge whose sole purpose appears to be so that Young can name something else after himself. Young bragged that he stuffed the transportation bill that included the bridge "like a turkey," and yelled at anyone who dared suggest that perhaps the money would be better spent rebuilding interstate bridges on the Gulf Coast that people, you know, actually drive on sometimes. This guy represents a frozen wasteland whose population is lower than Birmingham's, yet he has somehow amassed enough influence to blow hundreds of millions of dollars on vanity projects. I've been vociferously opposed to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the mere existence of Don Young is enough to make me support a bill that would suck all the oil out of ANWR, then give the state back to Russia.
3. The Terri Schiavo controversy
Another issue on which my opinion is well documented. Apparently the religious right is convinced that the life of one brain-dead woman in Florida is more important than the lives of thousands of sentient people in New Orleans. (So apparently, being brain-dead is more socially acceptable than being low-income . . . like the world needed another reason why it sucks to be poor.) I've asked the question before and I'll ask it again: Between this and the Don Young stuff mentioned above, can we officially put an end to the myth that the Republicans are the party that wants to spend less of your money and get out of your private life? Pretty please?
2. "My Humps"
It was a tossup between this and "Hollaback Girl," but at least the "Hollaback" video redeeed itself somewhat by showing Gwen Stefani's ass early and showing it often. After seeing the picture at right, I'm not sure I want to even come near Fergie's ass, though even if we could prove conclusively that she hadn't actually peed her pants in that photo, she'd still look, in the words of the always-eloquent Ian, "like what would come out if you spliced Carmen Electra's DNA with that of a leather ottoman." And even if she was hot, there's the fact that she refers to her tits and/or ass as "lovely lady lumps." Guys, that's a turnoff equivalent to taking off a girl's pants and finding a baggy pair of granny panties underneath. Or to explain it a different way, any woman over the age of 18 who refers to her "lovely lady lumps" is occupying the same plane of maturity as guys who name their penises. This song, again, ties into my fear that gratuitous classlessness is somehow evolving into a vital key to success in modern American society, because you can't tell me that the Black Eyed Peas didn't know how stupid this shit was when they were writing it. Even with "Hollaback Girl," I can stretch and strain and come up with some larger point Gwen Stefani was trying to make, even if it was insipidly expressed; with "My Humps," though, it really looks as though the Peas went into the assignment with the explicit purpose of writing as horrible a song as possible, just to see if it'd hit. The frog-ringtone remix of "Axel F" from this past summer should've been a sign that people will listen to any old pointless piece of crap as long as somebody hypes it enough; "My Humps" is an even more ominous sign, a sign that we still haven't learned our lesson.
1. Michael Brown
OK, I know I said in the intro that I wasn't going to just slap stuff like Hurricane Katrina on here, but the mere existence of Michael "Heck of a Job" Brown holds a queasy significance that runs deep, deeper even than the scar Hurricane Katrina, by itself, left on our society. The question is not How could Michael Brown have sucked so bad at his job; the question is How could anyone have thought he wouldn't suck from the get-go. This guy got fired from a job running horse shows, for Christ's sake; you can't even find a diehard Republican who thinks he was qualified to head FEMA. But somehow those same folks can't seem to make the connection that Bush bears some of the blame for appointing his incompetent ass in the first place. To me, Brownie was more than just one ass-witted government bureaucrat who'd probably get a celebratory Gatorade bath simply for managing to put his shoes on the right feet; he was a sign of the Bush administration's contempt for the American people and for the day-to-day business of government in general. If you're looking for someone to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it stands to reason that you'd appoint someone with experience managing emergency response. This is, after all, the government agency tasked with coordinating post-disaster response and making sure that entire American cities don't devolve into Thunderdome simply for having ended up in the path of a hurricane. It's not the kind of deal like, say, Ambassador to Shlagoongistan, where you know nothing's ever going to happen; for FEMA, you have to actually look for someone who knows what he's doing, given that natural disasters do have an established record of happening even in utopias as wonderful as the United States. But for this rather important, responsibility-laden post, Bush decided that the need for a qualified manager was secondary in importance to his need to find an office he could drop a room-temperature-IQ political crony into. And that, kids, is unacceptable. We can agree to disagree on whether the war was the right thing to do, or whether tax cuts are a good long-term strategy for economic growth, or even on the Dick Cheney: strong, qualified second-in-command or just the Prince of Lies come to Earth in human form? issue. But we can't just agree to disagree on "Brownie," because that was George W. Bush not even pretending to give a shit about what was once a cabinet-level agency. And if that's all the interest you can muster, then I'm pretty sure I don't want you to be president.
This, of course, is by no means a comprehensive list. Feel free to add your own worsts in the comments -- we'll make it like a belated Airing of the Grievances kind of deal, if you're so inclined.
Happy New Year!