No doubt you’re thinking, “How could there be anything good about the greasy roadkill stain that 2017 has left on the highway of American history?” It’s true that we spent much of this year staring shellshocked at our social media feeds, wondering how we got to a place where the revelation that an outspokenly conservative chain of craft-supply stores (because those are a normal thing now) was illegally smuggling thousands of black-market artifacts out of Iraq could somehow amount to one mere blip in the ever-accelerating news cycle. It was a dark, numbing 12 months, and some days it seemed like the terrible headlines would never end.
But we can’t wallow in despair forever. Every negative story offers a glimmer of hope, if you look at it from the right perspective. And so we present some of the shittiest trends that dominated news coverage in 2017, each composed of several fragments of disappointing or downright bad news, but all balanced by their potential upsides. Some of these advantages may be relatively minor compared to the problems themselves—that’s also true. Yet let us consider them incremental steps toward clawing our way out of a truly insane year.
One of the inevitable, soul-draining by-products of electing a nativist, David Duke-backed, Alex Jones-fed Breitbart spore to the highest office in the land is that a bunch of Nazi dipshits suddenly felt emboldened to show their own pasty faces in public this year. Whether they were of the “ironic,” cartoon frog-worshipping 4chan ilk, desperately camera-trolling “provocateurs” like Milo Yiannopoulos, Mike Cernovich, and Tomi Lahren, or Swing Kids cosplayers like Richard Spencer, the “alt-right”—the fucking Nazis—were all over our Twitter feeds and TV screens in 2017, yammering their “anti-PC” and “ethno-nationalist” garbage for a new generation of racists. Sometimes they even took to the streets, donning their pleated khaki armor and wielding Home Depot tiki torches; most of the time they just popped up in your @ replies and comment threads, triggering the snowflake libs with their ultimate weapon: the crying-laughing emoji. Either way, they were omnipresent and fucking annoying, and the open endorsement of a man who thinks his hate-bag minions are “very fine people” only means they’re going to stick around a while.
On the other hand, as Trump reminded us, there are “very fine people” on both sides—and the good news is the other side is much, much larger, and it has no compunction about punching the Nazi side in the face. There has been no greater pleasure this year than the many repeated humiliations sustained by these Proud Boys (in addition to that name), including watching them get trapped perilously inside a gazebo, seeing their careers and book deals undone in an instant, and of course, savoring each and every time one of them gets maced in the eyes or clocked in the jaw. Richard Spencer even had his favorite band of all time, Depeche Mode, call him a huge “cunt”! That alone was almost worth the repeated incitement of racial hatred in disenfranchised and easily manipulated young men who will be rightly embarrassed someday when they inevitably realize this Nazi shit isn’t going to get them laid either. [Sean O’Neal]
Of course, it wasn’t just the “alt-right”—or even antifa—who were radicalized this year, fortified by the election of a base-level president who reduces the complexities of political discourse to a desktop folder of dank memes. Politics is now so easy that anyone can do it, whether it’s your 14-year-old cousin who’s still posting Hillary Clinton seizure GIFs on Facebook or even esteemed White House guest Kid Rock, who turned a new album promotion into a fake Senate campaign. Hell, a coincidental confluence of a pro-Trump rally with the March Of The Juggalos in D.C. even turned that into something political. It’s bad enough you can’t even make dumb jokes on Twitter now because everyone is so busy decrying the administration’s latest blatant affront against American ideals. Politics even ruined the purity of the Juggalos, man!
That being said, the fact that politics is suddenly “trending” means that, inevitably, brands will want to get in on it. So this year also provided us endless entertainment in the form of corporate products either getting unwittingly co-opted by “alt-right” dipshits (MAGA dorks forcing Starbucks baristas to say “Trump” for, uh, reasons; Papa John’s, Wendy’s, and New Balance being claimed as the bland property of white people; the worship of Taylor Swift as an Aryan goddess; extremely online man-babies chugging milk and eating raw onions), or those products being hilariously, impotently boycotted, often for idiotic reasons (the NFL, because of the protests during the national anthem; Budweiser, over “revealing” that it’s from Germany; Jim Beam, because Mila Kunis donated to Planned Parenthood; The Goldbergs, because its creator tweeted a joke about Spaceballs; Keurig machines, because they didn’t want to support Sean Hannity’s defense of a child molester, smashy-smashy). Please, America, never stop forcing your political worldview on your favorite foods and TV shows, then telling the internet about it. Some days it was the only thing that got us through this loud, dumb year. [Sean O’Neal]
The simple fact that powerful men can get away with abusing the vulnerable for their own twisted satisfaction—sexual or otherwise—is hardly news. It’s the bedrock of the patriarchy. Even in Hollywood, actresses have been speaking out about sexual harassment for decades, as in this interview with Maureen O’Hara from 1945. But 2017 was the year that the slow drip of protests against sexual misconduct became a rushing torrent, with high-profile news stories detailing allegations against influential figures in the worlds of music (PWR BTTM’s Ben Hopkins, Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile, Brand New’s Jesse Lacey, Russell Simmons, R. Kelly, again); movies (Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Brett Ratner, James Toback, Bryan Singer); TV (Danny Masterson, The Flash showrunner Andrew Kreisberg, Amazon executive Roy Price, ex-Girls writer Murray Miller); comedy (Louis CK, Garrison Keillor); and media (Tavis Smiley, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, DC Comics’ Eddie Berganza).
Leering over them all like a bloated gargoyle is the specter of accused serial rapist/ex-movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose history of abusive behavior was publicly revealed with a pair of disturbing exposes in The New York Times and The New Yorker, followed by accounts from women like Rose McGowan, Lupita Nyong’o, and Salma Hayek. The number of Weinstein’s accusers now stands at more than 90, and every week since Weinstein’s initial reckoning in October has seen new news stories, each a variation on the same devastating themes: Predatory men are everywhere, even “nice guys” can be monsters in private, and for too many women, an act as simple as going to work is a calculated risk.
For survivors, the steady stream of sexual misconduct allegations that have dominated the news for the last several months has been an emotional experience equivalent to picking at scabs until they bleed. But there’s also no denying the power of those survivors’ personal stories, which were released into the cultural consciousness en masse this year with the resurgent #MeToo movement. Originally conceived by activist Tarana Burke, the idea regained traction on social media in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, as millions of people flooded Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with a simple hashtag identifying themselves as victims of sexual harassment or assault. The #MeToo movement proves that there is no such thing as a typical victim—just look at 6-foot-3 muscleman Terry Crews, who revealed that he had been groped by a Hollywood agent—and that sexual misconduct is far more common than many men realized. (The women, it must be said, already knew.) The impact of that realization was enough to jolt the culture into action, and many of the accused predators mentioned above have already faced professional consequences on a scale that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Even politicians, like former Minnesota Senator Al Franken, are now being held accountable for their behavior. Hopefully the momentum continues to build and by next year the wave of change will engulf the White House as well. [Katie Rife]
Journalists have never been infallible, but even the most diligent among them took a hit this year as public trust in the media declined sharply. The Trump administration played a key role in this, with the president openly declaring war on the Fourth Estate—CNN in particular—by barring members of the press from White House press briefings, and threatening to end daily dispatches. In any other year or timeline, the chief executive posting poorly edited wrestling videos and adding “FAKE NEWS” to virtually every tweet about the media might have been met with some healthy skepticism by the public. But unfortunately, the rush to call out Trump from as many angles as possible has sometimes led to actual misinformation being published, which has only inadvertently strengthened his anti-facts position. The most frustrating thing is, they don’t need to gild this particular turd blossom—certainly not when a dedicated staff fails to keep up with all of the president’s lies.
Still, the president beating his (white) nationalist drum hasn’t drowned out all common sense, nor has it completely distracted from the fact that he’s surrounded himself with incompetents. Trump has run through administration officials like his daddy’s money, turning the positions of press secretary and communications director into revolving doors: Mike Dubke, Anthony Scaramucci, and Sean Spicer were all appointed and disposed of in under nine months. And despite his trumpeting of “fake news,” a June 2017 Gallup poll indicates trust in the media is actually steadily rising.
This spring also saw a bump in subscriptions to outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times, and over the summer, MSNBC and CNN had considerable ratings spikes. Meanwhile, at least some members of the media have started to wise up by disinviting spin merchants like Kellyanne Conway to their interviews. The fact that the mere sight of journalists can cause Spicer to hide in the bushes—and that investigations by the likes of the Times and the Post can still influence elections, as we just saw in Alabama—means they still have plenty of power left. [Danette Chavez]
The war on knowledge was spurred on earlier this year by Kellyanne Conway’s now infamous “alternative facts” proposition, but Fox News has been on the battlefront much longer than that Paddington Bear cosplayer. And where it was once merely the go-to news source for everyday bigots, Fox News has now become the semi-official purveyor of the president’s daily briefings. After all, why bother scheduling meetings when you can take in some bullshit during your morning constitutional? That’s become a two-way street of disinformation, but even without his Fox News mouthpieces, Trump also established some state-run media this year. Then there’s the mix of good news/bad news: Steven Bannon’s out as White House chief strategist/white supremacist, but he’s back at the Breitbart helm. Equally disturbing was Megyn Kelly’s sit-down with Infowars host and lunatic Alex Jones on national TV, which never aired, but also should have never happened—much like the normalization of Megyn Kelly herself.
Despite the shot of confidence from the president, these snake-oil salespeople are clearly not ready for a more legitimate platform. Now that they have to spin in tandem with the White House, Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity have donned tinfoil hats and devolved before their audience’s very eyes into conspiracy theorists and partisan defenders of child molesters. Jones continues to have to invite people onto his show just to have some human contact; he can’t even trust Kelly, whose meager credibility took another blow when she interviewed the man who promoted the Sandy Hook conspiracy. Kelly herself couldn’t even best a rerun of America’s Funniest Home Videos. As for Bannon, he may still be a godhead of the “alt-right” media, but he’ll never be embraced by the Hollywood types he clearly adores from afar. Instead, stars like Cate Blanchett and George Clooney are taking turns dunking on him, while the GOP calls for his ouster from its party, and he can’t even get a horse-riding Republican elected in Alabama. [Danette Chavez]
It’s not like we expect a lot of maturity from fan boys, especially not when they’ve got America’s orange-skinned, entitled boy king in the White House setting the ultimate bad example for toxic masculinity. But 2017 was still a particularly rough year for performative pigtail-pulling. Summer saw the arrival of feminist icon Wonder Woman in theaters, and with it came much wailing about the outrage of a few women-only showings of the film. (“But where are our exclusive screenings?” they whined, with the confidence of someone who’s never been creeped on by a rando when they just wanted to watch a kickass lady hurl her shield.) Then there’s Adult Swim favorite Rick And Morty, which deeply wounded some of its fans’ sense of ownership by hiring—gasp—some women to write for its recent third season, causing a bunch of self-styled wannabe Ricks to lose their shit in decidedly non-genius ways. (The less said about their baby-needs-his-self-referential-ba-ba reaction to the series’ whole McDonald’s Szechuan sauce debacle, meanwhile, the better.)
Despite the mewling protests, Wonder Woman revealed itself as one of the best superhero films in years, a bright, cheerful adventure that shed some much-needed light into the grimly dark DC Extended Universe. And after a brief pause for Dan Harmon to tell the monsters in his audience to politely fuck off, Rick And Morty returned as strong as ever, examining its title character for what he is: a funny, interesting sociopath, and not some sort of alpha-level intellectual for message board overlords to style themselves after in order to cover up their various social flaws. [William Hughes]
The bad news: America’s epidemic of mass shootings continued, epitomized by the massacre at a Las Vegas concert.
In October, a gunman opened fire on a massive crowd at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500. The audience had been watching a performance by country star Jason Aldean, who managed to flee the stage during the attack. The shooter, a 64-year-old man named Stephen Paddock, fired from a window in the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel and shot himself before the police got to his room. Inside, officers found 10 weapons, including several long-range rifles. In the days after the attack, investigators discovered that Paddock had also booked a hotel room with a view of Chicago’s Grant Park during Lollapalooza, and other reports suggested that he had been visiting other music festivals around the country.
It’s hard to claim that anything even remotely good came out of such a tragic loss of life, but the fact that the shooting inspired some musicians within the traditionally pro-gun country music community to publicly question their stances gives us a small glimmer of hope. One of the performers at that festival, Josh Abbott Band guitarist Caleb Keeter, released a public statement explaining that he had decided to reject his former beliefs as a staunch “proponent of the Second Amendment,” saying he could now recognize the need for stronger gun control. Similar sentiments followed from country and roots performers like Rosanne Cash, Jason Isbell, and Margo Price. And while the Country Music Awards attempted to sidestep any political discussion by banning the media from asking about gun control at all, the organization quickly realized how awful that was and canceled the ban, all while Sturgill Simpson busked outside and shared his positive thoughts on gun control, gay rights, and Black Lives Matter. If there’s any tiny, positive takeaway from the horrors of Las Vegas, it’s that, in the aftermath, country music is starting to take a hard look at its politics. [Sam Barsanti]
2017 was the year the film industry finally faced its greatest fear: the little cartoon tomato. In our TL;DR culture, film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes has become the end-all, be-all of movie criticism for any number of time-conscious consumers, condensing hundreds of nuanced critiques down into a single, poster-friendly “rotten” or “fresh.” Far more worrying, though, is that the studios clearly know and fear its power, and are actively making decisions based on it. Film execs and even some of its greatest directors spent the year complaining about the site’s effect on box office sales, and finding increasingly ludicrous ways—canceling early critical screenings, refusing to show their films to anyone outside friendly genre press sources—to game the system that’s become their new god.
Like a defiantly screaming Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner, the humble film critic isn’t being boiled down into a simple data point without putting up a fight. If you need proof, just take a look at the press response to Disney’s decision to ban the Los Angeles Times from advance screenings of its films over the paper’s critical reporting on the company’s business practices. The critical community—including our own film team—came together with a quickness to force Disney to back down from a critical boycott, proving that film critics are still more than just a number and a blurb on Rotten Tomatoes’ all-consuming site. And the blame-placing and panicking of studios and Justice League fanboys alike aside, critics—and even Rotten Tomatoes—are not responsible for bad movies, or for people overlooking the nuances and only focusing on “scores.” They’re still writing the reviews; people just have to read them. [William Hughes]
The bad news: Stephen King’s The Dark Tower went from the next great franchise hope to a massively disappointing flop.
Fans waited decades to see Stephen King’s Dark Tower saga get turned into a movie, and while the lead-up to Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation showed some real promise, it somehow turned all those rich, delightfully weird books into a disappointingly generic sci-fi adventure. Any hope that the movie would advance the plot of the books in a clever and meaningful way turned out to be nothing, as the film abandoned what could’ve been an interesting way to keep fans interested—even despite how bad the movie itself turned out to be. The Dark Tower was such a flop that it (most likely) erased any possibility of there being more Dark Tower adaptations, including a prequel TV series that promised to be a more faithful retelling. The whole thing was just a big waste of everyone’s time, and it killed what could have been a long-running and rewarding new franchise in an instant.
Arcel dropped the ball, but plenty of other filmmakers were able to make worthwhile Stephen King adaptations in 2017. Andrés Muschietti’s It was a massive, massively entertaining hit; Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game was arguably even better; murder mystery Mr. Mercedes earned a second season on the Audience Network; and Netflix’s take on 1922 was at least faithful to the novella (if you could get past Thomas Jane’s extremely intense accent). All of this success brings some optimism for the other King adaptations that went into production this year, including the It sequel, the TV version of his novella N., and Hulu’s mysterious Castle Rock show, which will somehow tackle the larger Stephen King multiverse. Provided you weren’t too attached to Roland’s mission to kill the Man In Black (or Spike’s lousy The Mist show), it was a good year to be a Stephen King fan—and an even better year to be Stephen King himself. [Sam Barsanti]
Rather than increasing leg room or eliminating baggage fees, in 2017 two commercial airlines responded to an increasingly competitive marketplace by introducing in-flight entertainment so cheerfully diabolical that it could double as an episode of The Good Place. On paper, in-flight pop-country concerts and interactive theater may have sounded like fun, headline-grabbing shortcuts to social media engagement, but they both operate on the same deeply flawed premise: assuming that everyone on board is a fan of those things and would prefer them to comfortable silence and a cold can of Sprite. Icelandair’s Ahead In Time immersive live performance sounds especially intolerable, incorporating crew members into a painfully earnest 11-hour transatlantic ordeal featuring such kooky characters as a pair of “hippies” on their way to “Woodstock” and a “’90s backpacker” in search of his lost passport. Actors were even waiting at the gate when passengers disembarked for a scheduled layover, making it quite remarkable that no one got stranded in Reykjavik after fleeing the scene.
As irritating as it is to be forced to play along with Icelandic theater majors on a transatlantic flight, at least those people made it to their destination. Dr. David Dao, a Kentucky physician who made international headlines after he was forcibly dragged off of an overbooked United Airlines flight in April, wasn’t so lucky. The footage of Chicago police officers dragging a bloodied, screaming Dr. Dao off of the plane was merely the most dramatic in a string of PR mishaps for the airline this year, one that found its passengers being stung by scorpions, losing their pets, and being shamed for their wardrobe choices. The world’s largest bunny rabbit even died after flying United this year (although he was technically alive upon landing, so the airline isn’t legally responsible for that). United was forced to settle with Dr. Dao, at which point it changed its policy to forbid the forcible ejection (sorry: “re-accommodation”) of passengers once they are seated on a plane. It would be nice if airlines could stop the practice of overbooking entirely and start treating passengers like paying customers instead of livestock to be corralled. But hey, one step at a time. [Katie Rife]
One of the shrugging, half-hearted responses to the election of an incompetent white nationalist with fascistic leanings was that “at least the music will be good.” This is, of course, not the case. Even overtly political musical movements like punk rock and hip-hop were formed over decades of systemic oppression, not in the wake of a single shitty election. What seemed much likelier was instead a flood of grandstanding attempts at resistance anthems, which, good lord, did we get. Katy Perry’s time on the campaign trail led to an album of enfeebled woke pop, while Prophets Of Rage’s supergroup ambitions fizzled into cringe-inducing blues-hammer riffs. Eminem and N.E.R.D. attempted to wrangle political insight into their fussy new albums, to dispiriting results. Even worse were one-off protest songs like Todd Rundgren’s remarkably specific lite-jazz cruiser “Tin Foil Hat,” and—wearing the crown as single worst Trump-era protest song thus far—was Ministry’s Vox-style antifa explainer named, of course, “Antifa,” which needs to be heard to be believed.
That said, many of our best musicians wove a theme of resistance seamlessly into the fabric of their music—a tacit reminder that life, and art, must continue. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, and Joey Badass raged against Trump specifically, while also sighing at the predictability of the power structure that put him in power. Protomartyr met the gaze of the apocalypse raging just on the horizon, and long-running radical punk outfit Propagandhi released its seventh album just in time. Country music outlaw Sturgill Simpson told any Trumpists in his fan base to fuck right off; Eminem, at least, did the same. This trend played out repeatedly, from Algiers to Fever Ray to Miguel—musicians who responded to our anxious cultural moment without obsessing too much over the fuckhead in office. You could always go to Twitter if you needed to bone up on his latest outrage, but our best musicians reminded us of the life—and beauty—that existed outside that narrow space. [Clayton Purdom]