Best of 2013: The Everything is Weird Edition
December 28, 2013 § 1 Comment
I actually really enjoyed 2013, even though the last 12 months have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the future is fucking weird, man! On the personal front, 2013 was just boffo. Chris and I fled West, first to Washington State for a spell and then to Northern California. We also got married, and were graced by the rainbow armadillo cake of my dreams (unfortunately only the second most magical cake in all of Christendom). Plus I got a pretty great husband out of the deal, so three cheers for positive life choices.
On the pop culture front, oh boy. The following is a rundown maybe not of things I “liked,” because what does it even mean, to “like” something these days, but things that were interesting and/or made me laugh. Which is a much better designation than “like,” on account of laughter allows for more ambiguity. And interest can indicate just about anything.
My overall comment on the following media artifacts, and to pop culture generally, is that welp, the New Aesthetic has officially jumped the art and design movement rails, gobbled up a bag of MDMA and is now runaway-training all over Disney’s Tomorrowland. But a bit of backup is in order — as I discuss in this seriously tl;dr post, the New Aesthetic is a coinage often attributed to artist/futurist James Bridle, and was popularized in 2012 following a high-profile SXSW panel. It essentially refers to moments of overlap between the digital and analog space, the most conspicuous example of which is offline 8-bit imagery. Proponents of the New Aesthetic tend to frame these moments as Art with a Capital A, because of winking machines and stuff.
From my perspective, calling this sort of thing the New Aesthetic is no longer necessary; “Tumblr” will do just fine. I’m joking, sort of, but also not really — the New Aesthetic, which initially had a particular arthaus bouquet, has become increasingly intertwined with mass culture, even/especially in circles that otherwise wouldn’t be considered particularly internetty or even remotely invested in hot new art and design trends. It’s just shit you see when you leave your house.
Obviously I’m not arguing that everyone in America is now a Tumblr .gif fiend, but rather that the Tumblr aesthetic (I do prefer that designation to the New Aesthetic; it’s uglier and less pretentious) has been identified by marketers and PR people as a reliable way to package cultural products — making this 2013 conversation an indirect extension of this 2012 conversation about the mainstreaming/death/zombie corporate respawn of internet culture. Walk around the kids’ section at Target and you’ll see what I mean. There’s 8-bit crap everywhere, and wacky rainbow kitty shirts, incidentally not unlike the backdrop of Miley Cyrus’ desperate bid for Queen of the Internet, which I’ll be linking to below, and other stuff one would be just as likely to find on some hipster 24 year-old’s [whatever] feed.
Digital runoff, in other words, is everywhere — and it is weird my friends. It is so weird! With that, I give you my Best of 2013 list, all of which walks (or in Miley Cyrus’ case, licks horrifically) the line between online and off:
#1 Beyoncé pizza troll
This .gif is an inside joke. See, in early December Jay Z made a big deal about how he and Beyoncé will be going vegan for Jay’s 44th birthday. Which cool, except then Beyoncé (busy girl this year; see #3) decided to wear a head-to-toe photo-realistic pepperoni pizza outfit to a raw vegan lunch with her husband, itself an indirect nod to Tumblr, which just looooves photorealiztic pizza clothing (bonus points for the 8-bit pizza sweater art). That was good trolling, and the internet responded in the best way it knows how — the above .gif being my favorite reaction.
#2 What Does the Polished, Musical, Internet-to-Radio Ready Turd Say?
My runner-up for this category is The Russian Interior Ministry’s cover of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” mostly because it reminds me of Eduard Khil’s 1960’s Russian extravaganza Trololo but also because people are getting smarter and smarter about how to speak to existing internet sensibilities, all the better to post to Facebook (do people still do that?) with.
In the end, though, Ylvis takes the internet cake. I really wanted to be too cool for this song, but ultimately I had to give it to these guys. For what it is –the sort of internet parody that isn’t really a parody, like how ironic racism isn’t actually ironic, it’s properly racist, only winkier– this is done very well. It’s packaged directly for internet consumption, but in a way that is so self-assured and culturally literate that it avoids feeling contrived. Of course, it is contrived, but in an authentic sort of way — a paradox made even funnier by the song’s offline success. For a few months earlier this year, I couldn’t drive 5 miles without hearing this mess. It might have been a joke, sort of, but people were really listening to it, making “What’s the Fox Say” one of the first songs –that I’m aware of, anyway– to bring an internet aesthetic to ClearChannel of all GD places.
#3 “Girl fuck your cupcakes”: One Fan’s response to Beyoncé’s Internet-Breaking Album
I chose this moment because it’s funny, true, and is the ultimate in 2013 transplatform heckling. The comment (full version here) was posted in response to Beyoncé’s holy-shit-she’s-Netflixing-the-whole-thing-at-once?? “visual album” which forwards, among other things, strong messages about feminism, destructive beauty standards, giving blowjobs in backseats of limos, the various feats of Beyoncé’s top shelf vagina, downtown lady love, and just that ass, damn — the whole thing is pretty awesome.
The day the full album (complete with videos for every song) magically appeared on iTunes –with zero promotion– Beyoncé kept on internettin’, and that day posted a picture of some vegan cupcakes she made onto her Instagram, like celebrities do in 2013. “Girl fuck your cupcakes” was posted in response to this image, and is great because celebrity + social networking + media outlets that post artifacts from non-celebrity responses to said celebrity + social networking = this is just a whole new level of one-to-many communication. And echoing #1, making and casually posting pictures of stupid vegan cupcakes the day she breaks the damn internet is solid trolling, so slow claps for Beyoncé.
#4 Perfection, Thy Have a Name
Hey so do you remember how in October of this year, Miley Cyrus released a video for “Wrecking Ball” directed by the world’s creepiest photographer-uncle where she’s naked and writhing around on a wrecking ball, because subtlety, and also licking a sledgehammer for some reason, thereby inspiring many Halloween costumes? And do you remember how in an interview directly following the video’s release, Miley Cyrus credited Sinead O’Connor as being like such a huge inspiration? And how then Sinead O’Connor wrote an open letter to Miley telling her to stop being a prostitute and to fire everyone who works for her? And then literally everyone started writing open letters to each other? Well, the above video, featuring reigning Chatroulette King Steve Kardynal, makes up for all that.
#5 She’s Just Being Miley
(wow, the slow-down of the above VMA performance is actually sort of terrifying)
The thing about Miley Cyrus is, she’s probably my least favorite part of 2013. The Molly stuff is annoying, her whole GIVIN NO FUCKS IM SO PUNK EVERYBODY YOLO attitude is too wannabe edgy to warrant much more than a Tommy Lee Jones, and I just can’t with the racial weirdness. I just find her whole…thing…tedious and uncomfortable. On the other hand, it’s also very interesting. Not because she is interesting; I don’t like her, and not even in a so-bad-it’s-good hate watch sort of way. I don’t like her in a non-fan sort of way, where I would prefer not to watch her at all. But given how ubiquitous her nakedness/twerking/tongue have been this year, that hasn’t been possible. And so I find myself crab-walking the line between disinterest, antipathy, and intrigue. The disinterest and antipathy are easy enough to explain, and stem from the fact that I am, not to put too fine a point on it, getting too old for this shit. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Hank and Marie from Breaking Bad!
That said, her style choices, political insensitivity (“LOL BLACK PEOPLE! LOL LITTLE PEOPLE! I’M GONNA PUT YOU IN A PEDOBEAR SUIT AND TWERK ON U!!), and overall aesthetic are a perfect embodiment of all that is disorienting and problematic about the internet — at least, this particular sliver of the internet (which, to be clear, is raced and classed in very specific ways). Miley’s are references without history, without consequence. At least, that’s how they’re framed: as empty, harvestable bits of cultural detritus that don’t actually mean anything. In her bid to be Queen of the Internet, Miley Cyrus (to say nothing of her manager and various handlers) takes this dehistoricizing impulse and wears it like so many high-waisted shorts. And just like high-waisted shorts, it isn’t cute on anyone.
And with that, I turn my eyes to 2014. Who knows what fresh 8-bit hell the internet has in store for us all! Whatever it is –r/googleglasscreepshots? i.e. r/picturestakenwithgoogleglass– I’m looking forward to paying attention to much less of it. Which is, in all seriousness, one of my New Year’s resolutions.
Have a great one, everybody!