The 5 Worst Pop Culture Moments of 2014 (Chris ZF version)

 5. The Family Guy – Simpsons Crossover

When The Simpsons was great, it was genius. When The Family Guy was great, it was because it was always chasing The Simpsons. But today, Fox’s two most successful animated shows are both shells of their former selves. With the crossover, The Simpsons showed that they are, after all these years, now chasing after Family Guy. The meaning of this is obvious: both shows are mired in mediocrity.

Still, nothing could prepare us for how unfunny the crossover was. It was a bad idea from the start, and it was as poorly executed as one could imagine. The crossover felt like neither team was really invested; the jokes were lame, the story unoriginal. Usually, I’d be happy to let something this terrible disappear into the annals of bad TV history. But this episode is responsible for the single un-funniest moment of TV in 2014: the sexy car-wash. Everything about it is lazy and stupid. We should remember so we ensure it never happens again.

4. The Amazing Spider-man 2

The worst movie I saw this year. Hand’s down. Mostly because it’s so easy to see how The Amazing Spider-man 2 could have been a decent, even quality, superhero movie. Tighten up the action, cut two or three (or four, how many were there again?) villains, and either embrace silliness or embrace sincerity. Instead? So much talent squandered; so much time, wasted. Everything about TASM 2 is a reminder that Hollywood is breaking (more on that later).

tasm2About the movie, I don’t have anything more to say than this: it sucked.  And yet Sony’s awful, overlong, girlfriend killing, Giamatti wasting, 5th installment of Spider-man still managed to make over $700,000,000 at the box-office.

Got to love those international returns.

3. Jaime Lannister rapes Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones spoilers ahead)

The scene in “Breaker of Chains,” episode 3 of Season 4 in Game of Thrones, is among the darkest you’ll find on TV, even on HBO: a brother rapes his sister under the displayed corpse of their dead son, King Joffrey. It’s easy to see the appeal in writing such a scene into the morally murky world of Game of Thrones. What could have been dark and difficult TV, though, turned out be a disaster when some questioned whether or not Jaime did in fact rape Cersei. For the record: He did. But after the episode aired, director jaimecerseiAlex Graves said that the encounter was not rape and that it “becomes consensual by the end.”

The discussion veered in many directions. Some argued that we should ignore that scene and watch the show like it never happened. At The Stake, we discussed with Christopher Orr and Andrew Romano the curious situation of how to watch a show after the characters do something the creators did not intend.

But creative arguments aside, the episode highlights the extreme difficulty of portraying rape and sexual violence in our stories. The weeks (yes, weeks) after it aired saw countless responses from viewers, bloggers, critics, and creators (including G.R.R. Martin). All of which serves as a reminder to creators and reviewers alike that portrayals of and conversations about rape and sexual violence are necessary and difficult. (Unfortunately, many stories made this point in 2014).

2. Franchise Bloat

I said above that the Hollywood system is breaking. Turns out it’s franchise bloat that is responsible. In 2014 Hollywood introduced a number of new franchises to audiences (including YA adaptations DivergentThe Maze Runner, reboots like Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even new franchises embedded in existing franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy). We also heard about countless reboots to come (Terminator, Mad Max , etc) plus the continuation of existing success (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).

franchiseThe Hollywood dependence on sequels is so out of control that finding a creative and enjoyable story in the midst of the sea of retreads makes pretty good seem downright amazing (Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Hollywood Franchise Movie of the year, and I truly enjoyed it, but its still an adaptation of a comic book shoe-horned into an existing multi-franchise developing Mega Franchise. This is less a compliment to Marvel than a recognition that originality is in short supply with big-budget spectacle).

Franchise bloat is not just affecting new film properties. It’s also going backward to cause retroactive harm. The Hobbit has done wonders in this regard, de-magicalizing the magic of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It also happens with the mid-franchise extension fad (created by Harry Potter) of adapting the final book into two films. What workd for Potter seems like pure commercial exploitation in Twilight. And it has now hit one of the best running franchise properties of the decade, The Hunger Games. Enjoyable, culturally relevant, and bankable at the box-office,   Lionsgate has made the purely commercial decision to extend Hunger Games in to four movies.

Because who cares if it hurts The Hunger Games achievement as glorious, entertaining movie spectacle. It guarantees another $500,000,000+ in the bank.

And the worst part? There’s no end in sight.

1. The Celebrity Nude Photo Hackjlaw vanityfair

The hack and theft of photos from more than 100 celebrities this past summer was the worst moment of the year in American pop culture. It combines so many of the worst aspects of 2014: the openly misogynistic abuse and the exploitation of women online; the continuing erosion of privacy and the failure to extend privacy to the digital world; the public’s sense of ownership regarding celebrities and their bodies; the continual use of victim-blaming as a defense for offensive–and illegal–behavior. All of this came together in this hack (and in #GamerGate, to be sure, which could share this spot on this list).

But the worst thing about this hack? Nothing happened. Apple, from whom these photos were stolen, conducted an investigation and the FBI conducted an investigation and then…nothing happened (I can’t find anything, but if there has been any action, please let me know). So we moved on. Now Sony was the victim of a massive hack. And  now Sony is conducting and investigation, as well as the FBI and…most likely, nothing will happen. The rapidity with which we move on from “internet news” is cause for its own investigation.

When Jennifer Lawrence finally spoke to Vanity Affair about the incident, she called the theft a sex crime, and she was right. Everything about this hack is gross and illegal and obviously wrong. A few hackers exposed women and men in their most private moments, and thus exposed our cultural culpability in the process.


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