As we continue our year-end coverage, we come to the annual questions that asks staff and readers about pop culture from years past:
What non-2018 pop culture did you finally get around to this year?
I’m really, really slow to absorb new music, but when I find an album or song I like, I tend to listen to it on repeat for weeks, sometimes months. Thus it was that I got really into Fleetwood Mac this year, mostly Rumors but some Tusk as well. I know there is nothing revelatory about discovering that Fleetwood Mac is one of the greatest bands of all time, and that Rumors fucking rocks. The way I see it is my sluggish listening habits allow me to spread out hearing the world’s best music for the first time for much longer than the person who went through all the greats in high school and their early 20s. Spotify Wrapped, where Spotify tells you what you listened to the most over the past year, tells me it doesn’t have enough information about me to give me the data—I guess that goes to show how little music I listen to overall—but I’m guessing I’ve listened to Rumors straight through more than a hundred times, specifically the “Super Deluxe” version, because “Silver Springs” is an incredible song. Listening to this album—really listening—ties into last year’s pop culture resolution, which was to just sit and listen to music, giving it my full attention instead of half-listening while scrolling through Twitter. What I’ve taken away from really paying attention to Rumors is that sometimes the drums are really good, and sometimes they act like a voice in the songs. Music! It’s good.
My own personal pop-culture blind spot that I finally rectified this year (foreshadowing!) was to correct an oversight in my own TV knowledge, and watch a critically acclaimed show that had nonetheless fallen through the cracks of the oversaturated television landscape: The Sundance channel’s indelible drama Rectify. I had been assured by no less an authority than my TV editor Erik Adams that it was indeed one of the finest programs in recent years, and I needed to get on it post-haste. When at last I did, earlier this spring, I was rewarded with a complex and deeply meditative series about the value we assign to human life and how we create meaning for ourselves. The story—a man is released from death row for a wrongful murder conviction after nearly two decades behind bars, only to find that almost no one is ready or willing to let him move on, including himself—is deceptively simple, and as the layers of his fractured family begin to peel back and reveal themselves, the cast and crew deliver a powerfully felt narrative of uncertainty and regret, reminding the viewer that we’re all constantly a hair’s breadth away from our lives being upended completely, and whether that should even matter in terms of how we live. I’m holding off on the final season, in part because I want to take my time and savor it; but also, if I’m being honest, because I don’t want it to end.
I’m probably going to lose my rap-critic license for this, but I have in the past month or so finally cracked the Boosie Badazz catalog, and it is glorious. He’s long had a reputation as a god-level emcee, Tupac from Baton Rouge, with a decades-long career sprawled across loose singles, remixes, unofficial mixtapes, compilations, muddled but occasionally brilliant comeback and crossover moments, and so on; equally compelling is the rapper’s story, a Job-like series of ordeals including endless legal trouble, overlapping imprisonments, a scary bout with cancer, a name change, and near-constant record-label shuffling. There are as many suggestions for possible entry points as there are, well, possible entry points; I just had the 2006 record Bad Azz on recently, and was overcome with gratitude not just for his emphatic, indomitable delivery, but the knowledge that I have approximately one billion other Boosie Badazz records to sift through.
Daredevil is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One is my favorite comic book, but until this year I had never gotten around to reading anything from Frank Miller’s legendary run on Daredevil. Unfortunately, at the risk of being overly critical of a classic, I think I would’ve been fine if I had never bothered. A lot of Miller’s work has aged dreadfully, but his Daredevil comics in particular just try so hard to be “edgy” that it sucks all of the swashbuckling fun out of Ol’ Hornhead. I get that the stories are from a different era and that it was important for comics to be granted a bit more maturity, but was it really necessary to have Karen Page become a desperate junkie just so she could expose Daredevil’s secret identity? It’s all too bitter and mean-spirited for me, and it’s a shame that the next few decades of Daredevil comics were spent reeling from the fallout of the ridiculously grim shit that Miller pulled.
I spent a lot of my year at the world’s greatest movie house, Chicago’s own Music Box Theater, taking care of some of the more egregious blindspots in my personal filmgoing history: Classics I only knew via reputation and references like Sunset Boulevard; epics like Lawrence Of Arabia and The Sound Of Music (both in 70mm!). But with all due apologies to Billy Wilder, Peter O’Toole, and Julie Andrews, the inaugural viewing from 2018 that’ll stick with me the longest is a Sunday-morning Music Box matinee of Joe Dante’s 1989 horror-comedy The ’Burbs. The nosy-neighbor caper shares of whiff of old Hollywood with those more reputable repertory screenings: Its cast is stacked with marquee names like Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, and Bruce Dern, and the whole thing takes place on a cul-de-sac that’s a permanent fixture of the Universal backlot. But it’s driven by an energy more typical of the cartoons that would’ve run before those features, Dante’s signature anarchy turning a seemingly quiet subdivision on its head as Hanks—urged on by Dern’s loopy military vet, Rick Ducommun as the ideal late-’80s sidekick, and Corey Feldman in the Corey Feldman role—mounts suspicions about the late-night activities of the folks next door. The satirical sting has dulled across the past three decades, but Dante’s Looney Tunes sensibility hasn’t; The ’Burbs would make a fantastic first half of a double feature with the faux-Fincher intensity of this year’s Game Night. It should also convince some filmmaker or other to allow Tom Hanks to be this unabashedly goofy on-screen again.
I try to be judicious with my recommendations. Everyone’s tastes are different and nobody has the time to consume all the good pop culture out there. That said, it’s been impossible for me to not be a loud-mouthed evangelist to everyone about the astonishing graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. The site has already covered it extensively and rightfully so. It’s more confidently told and massive in scale than works made by long-established creators, which makes it all the more amazing for being illustrator Emil Ferris’ publishing debut. The story revolves around Karen, a 10-year-old obsessed with monsters, and how she uncovers the strange history of her murdered upstairs neighbor. Set primarily in the early ’60s, Karen’s story strongly evokes Lynda Barry in presenting a layered, unsentimental account of how hard it can be just to be a kid. But the scale gets bigger and more surreal as Karen delves deeper into the recorded account of her neighbor’s life. For as engaging as the story is, the art work is singular and exceptional. Done entirely as ballpoint pen on lined notebook paper, Ferris shifts between photorealism to sketchy, cartoonish caricature on a single page, and produces delicate shading that seems impossible with such a simple tool. This book is already a classic.
Everyone, including our own Katie Rife, was right about Mitski. Be The Cowboy is one of the best albums of 2018, both incredibly self-composed and revealing. I’m not (too) embarrassed to admit that I listened to “Me And My Husband” for hours a week at certain points in the year, until I realized there were other Mitski albums I could consume. That led me to 2016’s Puberty 2, an intense and sprawling album that makes me wish I’d allowed myself to have a messier adolescence. Now it’s “My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars”—every bit as jagged and burning as the heavenly bodies in its title—that plays on a loop.
2018 was the year when I finally let my lurking love of body horror and Lovecraft-inspired unease draw me into the works of Japanese manga master Junji Ito. Ito’s work has been passed along online for years now, pretty much any time someone wanted to give their friends a feeling of disgust that went deeper than mere shock images could provoke. Like Lovecraft, he has an ongoing fascination and distaste for the things that lurk, unseen and alien, beneath the seas. (See, for instance, the titular Thing That Drifted Ashore.) But his most awful stories derive their horror from our own compulsive behaviors, whether it’s the irresistible, ugly attraction of spirals in Uzumaki, or the human-shaped holes that draw doomed souls in in his short story The Enigma Of Amigara Fault. In Ito’s monstrous worlds, there’s no beating the ugly things your brain might make you do, but at least it’s nice to have a new bit of vocabulary for the language of my nightmares, right?
I scratched a few titles off of my “you’ve never seen that?!” list in 2018, but the most delightful of them was Tampopo, which I was inspired to finally sit down and watch (RIP FilmStruck) after asking “what is this?” no less than twice when it was on in the background at a party I went to back in April. It’s not often that you get to see a new favorite movie, but Juzo Itami’s playful comedy about food, sex, and movies (in that order) through the medium of a run-down noodle shop is such a warm, wise, whimsical treat for the senses that it instantly, easily cracked my top 10 of all time.