Well, it could've been worse.
As 2008 mercifully ends, we're left to ponder a year in which the real and the surreal were pretty much indistinguishable, where insanity actually became tedium, and where every silver lining was eclipsed by a brand new dark cloud. Sure, O.J.'s going to prison, but think about the absurdist comedy-of-errors it took to finally put him there. Yeah, gas is technically affordable again, but who has money to make car payments -- and for that matter, will anyone in Detroit still be in business in the coming months should you, for whatever reason, feel like buying American? True, Barack Obama was elected president in a political upheaval that can only be described as epochal, but, well, you don't really think Cheney's just going to quietly vacate his office come January 20th, do you? Not when construction on the new Death Star is so far from completion.
2008 will be remembered as the year that a simple "hockey mom" from Alaska, an ex-beauty pageant contestant and political neophyte, paved the way for history and helped prove once and for all that anyone can ascend to the highest levels of government in the United States -- even a black man. It will be remembered as the year that Beyoncé inexplicably demanded that everyone call her "Sasha Fierce" and Britney Spears demanded that somebody call her an ambulance. Then leave her alone. Then give her back her kids. Then buy her album. 2008 was the year that Michael Phelps won enough Olympic gold to make him the most financially secure man in America. It was the year that the flagging economy, taxpayer-funded bailouts and a holographic image of Will.i.am dominated the news coverage. It was the year that Katherine Heigl could claim to be better than the material being given to her and actually be right (only because that material happened to be the scripts for Grey's Anatomy). It was the year that an unknown plumber who wasn't really a plumber became a household name and a singer who was really an unknown bartender became the latest American Idol. Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards fell from grace and turned into national punchlines and Heath Ledger died tragically but still had the last, and lasting, laugh. Prop 8 passed and civil rights lost.
Everything changed. And not much changed at all.
So, as we watch that giant ball drop like the value of your 401k, ushering in 2009, let's take a look back in anger at the people and events that make us think that no matter what's to come, it damn sure can't be any worse than what we've already been through. In the words of Crowded House: Don't scream -- it's over.
That's not how the song goes? Well it should be.
We'll start at the bottom -- literally.
Title: Cinquagenarian Entertainer, Gay Icon, Homewrecker
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Cymbalta, Viagra, Geritol
The Facts: You've really got to hand it to Madonna. Most waning sexpots adopt a nauseatingly pretentious air of faux-class in their twilight years (and indeed that's the territory Madge seemed to be staking out exclusively for a while). But only the truly self-absorbed can manage the kind of scandalous second-wind that catapults them back into the tabloids for breaking up not one but two celebrity marriages at age 50. 2008 was a banner year for the Immaterial Girl: She incomprehensibly got herself inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, very comprehensibly got divorced, had a hit single whose only appealing characteristic was the fact that its video was thoughtful enough to feature a large digital clock which counted down the time until the song finally ended and something else came on, and caused "Controversy" by bombastically comparing George Bush and John McCain to Hitler and Mussolini. Oh yeah, and she brashly flaunted the apparently Benjamin Button-esque nature of her sex drive by fucking Alex Rodriguez and helping to land him in divorce court (Note to A-Rod: Being able to say that you're nailing Madonna doesn't carry quite the amount of clout that it used to. You may as well be the new bass player for Bon Jovi -- the guy who missed the stadium tours but gets to be on board during the state fair years). In between all of this -- somewhere in that hectic schedule -- Madonna found the time to get in a work out. Quite a few, actually. As in, she looks like a piece of driftwood that's been beaten by the ocean and left in the sun for a hundred years or so.
Mitigating Factor: Her succubine presence and presumed vagina dentata probably spared the country the hell of another Yankees World Series run.
"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." Post-menopausal.
Dishonorable Mention: Ben Stein, who pulled off the somewhat laudable feat of being on the wrong side of almost every argument in 2008, notably culminating in the theatrical and DVD release of the documentary Expelled, in which Stein insurgently railed against Darwin's Theory of Evolution in favor of the unadulterated nonsense that is Intelligent Design. I wrote it at the time but it bears repeating: The SNL writing staff, circa 1977, couldn't have created a more audaciously comical premise than Ben Stein -- a man so square he craps cubes -- writing "I Will Not Question Authority" on a blackboard while dressed like Angus Young. Stein is a Dangerous Mind only if you see mark-to-market accounting as a ballsy show of defiance, which makes him the perfect impertinent hero for the God-said-it-I-believe-it set.
Title: Consumer, Arbiter of All Entertainment, Not the One Paying the Goddamned Cell Phone Bill
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Ritalin (for the Kid), Xanax (for the Parents)
The Facts: If you're the relatively sane parent of a 13 year old girl, chances are you love the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, right? No, of course you don't. What you've done is ceded your own tastes to those of your kids, who robotically inundate you with the same crappy music, movies and TV shows that Disney giddily bombards them with 24/7. This wouldn't be such a big deal were it not for the fact that your children are no longer harmless islands unto themselves; thanks to the internet and cell phone text messaging, they've coalesced into a hive mind and, what's worse, one that's turned them into a giant conduit/amplifier for whatever garbage is being cleverly and cynically marketed in their direction. In our new Wiki-world, those with the loudest voices can dictate what we all see and hear -- they can literally adjust reality to suit their needs and, well, have you ever heard how loud a 'Tween girl screams for the fucking Jonas Brothers? In 2008, the 'Tween demographic asserted its authority in unprecedented ways, forcing the rest of us to endure a seemingly endless cavalcade of Disney "Stepford Teen" entertainment, from High School Musical 3 to Miley and, by extension, her father -- the honest-to-Christ most spectacular douchebag on the planet -- Billy Ray Cyrus. We listened to the music, paid to see the movies and bought every manner of merchandise until our kids became walking billboards for this shit. Parents willingly allowed a million little Veruca Salts to inflict their will on the world, and did nothing to stop it.
Mitigating Factor: Well, they did almost nothing to stop it. David Cook somehow managed to wrestle the American Idol crown away from frumpy, willowy-voiced 'Tween fave David Archuleta. That's gotta be a step in the right direction.
"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." More than likely, pregnant. Or a member of the Pussycat Dolls. Or maybe suckered into sex with a guy like Chuck Bass on Gossip Girl, who'll then turn around and post naked pictures of her on the internet so that she can be just like her erstwhile idol, Vanessa Hudgens. But none of this will happen before she drags you kicking and screaming to see The Jonas Brothers: 3D in February.
Dishonorable Mention: Speaking of graduating to the big leagues of noxious teen entertainment, MTV's The Hills is so utterly devoid of any value whatsoever that the craft services truck could catch on fire, turning the entire cast into running, screaming balls of flame, and the correct response would be to sigh and flip your pillow over to the cool side. And among that show's collection of future has-beens, no two have been more overexposed than Spencer Pratt and his idiot pretend girlfriend, Heidi Montag. Their tabloid-friendly relationship, a triumph of post-modern meta-reality, peaked just a couple of weeks ago when the two returned from their fake fake elopement to Mexico to engineer a fake real wedding in a Beverly Hills courtroom, which the court happily went along with while presumably telling a truly in love gay couple to go fuck themselves.
Title (On the Record): The New Standard in Live News Coverage and Proof of CNN's Journalistic Dominance; Title (Off the Record): A Much Cooler Way to Spend the Salaries of 21 People
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Primidone, Lasik, Changing the Channel to the Jim Lehrer NewsHour or BBC World News America
The Facts: The ability to lay claim to the biggest "What the Fuck?" moment of the seemingly interminable coverage of the 2008 presidential election is a little like being able to say that you're the gayest man at a Scissor Sisters show. An exhausted America had already endured approximately 623 sponsored debates (including ABC's unforgivable gossip-and-conjecture-fest), the "lipstick on a pig" non-story and of course Fox's famous "terrorist fist jab" comment by the time election night proper rolled around. Yet CNN, obviously saving the best for last, somehow managed to make all of that inanity seem like the work of amateurs by pulling out its secret weapon when it really mattered. And so, on the night that millions tuned in to find out who would become the 44th president of the United States, CNN gave them something they'd really be able to tell their grandkids about: an uncomfortable conversation between Anderson Cooper and a supposedly holographic image of the Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am. It was Vaudevillian theater in its purest and most ridiculous form, especially when you considered that the "hologram" in question wasn't really a hologram at all and that, as Wolf Blitzer had done earlier in the evening, Anderson Cooper was essentially talking to himself on national television. Taken on its own merits, this would've seemed like nothing more than a silly ratings-grabbing gimmick, and indeed it was swiftly and roundly panned as being just that. But the fact that it was the culmination of a garish year-long spending spree by CNN -- one that was immediately and conspicuously followed by a series of high-profile layoffs that included respected flesh-and-blood veterans like Miles O'Brien, Kelli Arena and the network's entire Science and Technology Unit -- made it clear that network president Jon "Diddy" Klein's priorities and his head were in pretty much the same place: his ass. When all was said and done, an interview with the New York Observer in which Klein had bragged less than two weeks before the layoffs, "We can afford more people on our air and off our air. So, goddamn it, we're going to have more people," would become the icing on the irony cake and an almost amusing epitaph for those who'd lost their jobs. But hey, at least audiences could still count on being able to tune in and be dazzled by the pretty special effects.
Mitigating Factor: As far as anyone knows, the CNN "hologram" was built without the use of illegal Mexican labor -- which gives Lou Dobbs one less thing to bitch about.
"By This Time Next Year, It'll Be..." Obsolete.
Dishonorable Mention: Former wunderkind and current wunderkind (if you define "wunderkind" as a megalomaniacal tool who's inexplicably been allowed to run a television network into the ground with zero accountability) Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman, respectively. The two top dogs at NBC, Zucker and Silverman bear most of the responsibility for making the network what it is today: 4th place. The former's handiwork can be seen in the almost preternatural level of cross-promotional whoring between NBC Universal entities (the Today show interviews contestants on Bravo's Top Chef who cook for the cast of The Mummy: Tomb of Whatever the Hell using GE appliances); the latter's handiwork could be seen in network television's tribute to the absolute lowest common denominator, The NBC All American Summer. Beyond that, well, his handiwork can't really be seen unless you're lucky enough to nab a seat next to him at the bar of whichever exclusive party he happens to be attending at that moment. Put it this way: Silverman bears an uncanny resemblance to "Girls Gone Wild" CEO and overgrown frat-boy Joe Francis -- and the similarities don't end there.
Title: Independent (as in, He Doesn't Have a Friend in the World) Senator from Connecticut, Political Opportunist, Embarrassing Jewish Stereotype, Guy You Never Want to Take Handicapping Advice From, Mr. Excitement
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Dexedrine, Pharmaceutical Cocaine
The Facts: It takes a special kind of personality to go from being one party's candidate for vice president to being the go-to political hitman for the opposing party in the span of just eight years -- and that personality is, apparently, no personality at all. 2008 was the year that Joe Lieberman finally proved just how shamelessly and entirely he was willing to screw over those who'd spent a good portion of their careers supporting him. Like a desperate high school girl who flits from one clique to another sharing gossip in an effort to be liked, he'd spent years playing both sides of the fence and every conceivable angle hoping to stay one step ahead of political irrelevancy. But it wasn't until the last few months of last year's presidential race that the true evanescence of Lieberman's loyalty -- and therefore the general worthlessness of his friendship -- became clear to pretty much everyone. Old Droopy didn't just turn his back on the Democrats; he took center stage at the Republican National Convention. He didn't just support John McCain; he insinuated that Barack Obama might be a Marxist and, what's more, questioned his overall ability to lead (a somewhat laughable implication, considering the source). In the end, though, Lieberman's gambit didn't pay off -- so now, in wholly expected fashion, his one-time campaign battle cry, "Joementum," has taken on an entirely new meaning: "Joe meant... um..."
Mitigating Factor: Yup, it sure is fun watching as Joe sucks up to the Democrats, blissfully unaware that being their short-leashed bitch will almost certainly wind up being more humiliating than banishment to the Beltway's Phantom Zone.
"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Exactly what he is right now: A lame duck. On the other hand, a couple of years from now you'll probably be able to find him trying to send back the Reuben at Ben's Kosher Deli in Boca. Or maybe on the Fox News Channel, where he'll be a full-time contributor.
Dishonorable Mention: Zimbabwean, ahem, "President" Robert Mugabe. To twist a line from Craig Ferguson, you know what Zucker and Silverman are doing to NBC? Well Mugabe's doing that to an entire country.
Title: TV Host, Former Supermodel (Current Plus-Size Model), Self-Parody, Harbinger of the Apocalypse
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Topamax, Potassium Cyanide
The Facts: There's no better caricature of fame in the 21st century and all that it represents than Tyra Banks. No one is more pristine an example of an entity whose entire existence is about the relentless pursuit of self-obsession simply for its own sake. Seriously, name one thing Tyra has done -- not just in 2008 (although it really was an ascendant year for the "fierce" one), but ever -- that benefited someone else more than it did her. Submerse yourself in Tyra's admittedly mesmeric vortex of televised self-love long enough and you actually begin to subscribe to the alternate universe she inhabits: one where she's the reigning queen of pop culture, where people actually believe that being a shallow and superficial fashion icon is an entirely noble endeavor, and where words like "booty" and "badonkadonk" can be uttered in the same sentence as "Mr. President" and no one finds it the least bit unusual. Like her idol in the talk show game and rival in the battle for media ubiquity, Oprah, Tyra Banks has an affinity for taking any subject, really anything, and somehow twisting it inside out until the focus winds up being her and only her. But whereas Oprah has mastered the art of self-promotion to such an extent that it's become an almost exquisite thing to behold, Tyra's strictly a novice, clumsily bludgeoning the conversation -- to say nothing of the audience -- then propping up its limp body and putting her arm around it like some kind of trophy. And that's just on her talk show. Best we not even get into the grotesque minstrel show of gay and urban elitist clichés that is America's Next Top Model.
Mitigating Factor: Two words: Joel McHale
"A Year From Now, She'll Be..." If she has her way, holding Oprah's severed head aloft on the end of a spike and bathing in the blood draining from it.
Dishonorable Mention: Send the children out of the room; they shouldn't be exposed to the kind of unrestrained venom I'm about to unleash: CNN's Nancy Grace is the most loathsome, feckless troll to currently, unfathomably have a forum on national television. She's a vile, unscrupulous monster who peddles morbid prurience like a five-dollar streetwalker and whose brand of rank solipsism is matched only by her near-sociopathic disregard for the lives she's ruined and exploited and by her apparent contempt for the tenets of responsible journalism (to say nothing of basic human decency). Nancy didn't do anything in 2008 that she hasn't done in years past, but then again she wasn't unceremoniously kicked off the air either -- hence, a place on this list. Incidentally, if that kid I mentioned a few seconds ago happens to be white and cute and disappears on his or her way out of the room, you can expect to see a hell of a lot of Nancy in the near future.
Title: Unqualified Shame
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: USE ONLY AS DIRECTED
The Facts: Certainly the single most startling event in the world of entertainment in 2008, Heath Ledger's sudden and untimely death last January initially left millions scratching their heads in shell-shocked confusion. But what made it truly noteworthy was that as questions were answered and the facts began revealing themselves, it all provided little comfort and almost nothing in the way of macabre titillation. The fact is that Heath Ledger was so damn talented -- his death, such a tragic loss -- that even the typically scandal-hungry public found nothing to revel in, snicker about, or wag its collective finger at. The whole thing was just so sad. So heartbreaking. There were the constantly televised and published images of Ledger with his young daughter, Matilda, and the ugly debate over her financial security; the threats of protest at Ledger's memorial service by the reprehensible psychopaths of the Westboro Baptist Church; the grief of watching his past films -- most memorably, his astonishing and anguished performance in Brokeback Mountain -- and realizing the true measure of what was lost. And then, of course, came The Dark Knight -- and Heath Ledger's awesome, iconic reimagining of the Joker. It's a testament to the man's excellence as an actor that we could become completely lost in the character he created while he was onscreen and really only remember as the credits rolled that we'd never see him again.
Mitigating Factor: It seems sickening to find a silver lining to this cloud, and really there isn't one. That said, it will be an ironic final tribute to Ledger's abundant talents that Warner Bros. can't bankrupt the power and novelty of his Joker character by milking it to death in sequel after sequel (see: Hannibal Lecter, Jack Sparrow, the last two Matrix films). It was lightning in a bottle -- and it gets to remain that.
"A Year From Now, He'll Be..." If there's any justice in the world, an Academy Award winner.
Honorable Mention: Although many would rightly argue that Tim Russert's sudden death by heart attack had a much bigger impact across a larger swath of the public, for my money the shocking suicide of writer, columnist, and masterful cultural observer David Foster Wallace was a loss of staggering proportions. Like Heath Ledger, Wallace was a brilliant practitioner of his craft -- at once comical, challenging, and an unparalleled chronicler of the human condition. And, like Ledger, Wallace suffered alongside his art without in any way intending to. Unlike Ledger, though, David Foster Wallace lived with the pain inside himself until he simply couldn't anymore. He took his own life after battling depression for more than 20 years. His work, however, endures -- with his masterpiece, 1996's Infinite Jest, deservedly hailed as one of the greatest novels ever written.
Title: Governor of Illinois (For Now), "Entrepreneur," Asshole
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: A Huge Rail of Blow Done Off a Stripper's Boob and Washed Down with Five or Six Quaaludes
The Facts: Alright, Andy -- enough already. Listen, man, it was fucking brilliant -- and I mean brilliant -- but it's time to take off the ridiculous outfit and just admit that it's you. I mean, we already knew you were a genius even before you faked your death back in '84, but obviously that was just the set-up for your biggest and best piece of performance art yet -- the greatest practical joke of all time. Only you could pull off a character like this and somehow get people to buy it: A foul-mouthed, belligerent and shamelessly corrupt politician; a Serbian-American with an Adrian Zmed circa 1981 haircut; a guy who's first name is actually a euphemism for "dick." Man, how the hell did you get away with this for so long? I mean, you publicly fought with your own cabinet, tried to smuggle flu vaccine past the FDA, threatened to beat the shit out of state senator Mike Jacobs, and called yourself "the first African-American governor of Illinois." Did you finally decide to go all out and try to sell Barack Obama's Illinois senate seat when you realized that no one was picking up on the gag -- or did you really just want to see how far you could push it? Either way -- fucking magnificent, dude. You're gonna go down in the history books. We're talking legendary. One problem, though -- you really need to cop to this thing, and soon. Really. 'Cause the alter-ego you created and have been nurturing for the past fifteen years or so is now facing a 78-page federal indictment -- and probably a shitload of jail time. Then again, knowing you Andy, that's all part of the joke. Genius.
Mitigating Factor: Not a one.
"A Year From Now, He'll Be..." Inmate #2259836
Dishonorable Mention: Proof that the left and the right are basically interchangeable, particularly at the "Craven Political Operative" level, Mark Penn was the Democrats' answer to Karl Rove before getting his substantial ass kicked out of the Hillary Clinton campaign in April of 2008. The CEO of public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller -- in other words, the top liar at a firm whose bread-and-butter is lying as creatively as possible and doing it inexhaustibly -- Penn is one of those guys whose physical appearance perfectly reflects his personality: In this case, he looks like he should have a bikini-clad Princess Leia chained to his bulbous frame somewhere while a little Muppet-like minion cackles mindlessly from the rafters. It was Penn's brilliant strategy to suggest that Hillary Clinton and her surrogates bring up Barack Obama's past drug experimentation whenever possible, and it was he who took the are-you-fucking-kidding-me prize by saying that Obama couldn't take the Democratic nomination by winning a lot of states he deemed not to be "major." Penn managed to drag the campaign of the famously opportunistic Clinton even deeper into the mud, if such a thing were possible. Oh yeah, and he did it all while his firm was busy repping PR-challenged organizations like Blackwater and Countrywide and lobbying for a free trade deal with Colombia that Clinton herself was against.
Title: Voice of a Generation (Just Ask Him), Auto-Tune Afficionado, Little Boy Who Just Wants To Be Loved, Douchebag
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Zoloft, Stick One Ball of Cotton in Each Ear
The Facts: Let's just say it: Kanye West isn't nearly as talented, important, or distinguished as he thinks he is. He couldn't be. It's simply impossible to be a carbon-based life form and have achieved the kind of preeminence Kanye insists he has. If he were even half the omnipotent cultural juggernaut he believes himself to be, he would've shed his physical form and morphed into a phantasmal ball of pure energy years ago. For the most part, 2008 didn't really bring anything new from Kanye that we hadn't already come to expect: There were the usual boasts about possibly being the most influential human being since Christ; the inescapable guest appearances on the records of lesser musicians (the year's nadir being his irritating cameo on the already irritating-as-hell American Boy); and of course the petulant whining about how no one shows him the adequate level of respect and everyone is out to get him because he's black. But toward the end of the year, we were treated to a new, yet not even slightly unexpected, side of Kanye: that of the self-loathing mega-star. Certainly, the death of his mother took an emotional toll on him. But the supposed result of it and a few other recent personal catastrophes -- his latest release, 808s and Heartbreak -- plays exactly the way you'd figure an "introspective" album from Kanye West would. Even at its quietest and ostensibly least obtrusive, the whole thing exudes its creator's legendarily gargantuan ego. Kanye can do self-pity; God knows we've heard it from him before. But after being asked to tolerate his narcissistic swagger for so long, it's just not very easy to feel sorry for him. And 808s, with it's ironically bombastic sadness, makes Kanye seem all the more like the kid who, even at his lowest suicide-threatening point, is just looking for attention.
Mitigating Factor: You know what almost did make me feel sorry for Kanye? His performance on Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks back -- when his Auto-Tune malfunctioned and he was left standing there onstage, looking and sounding like a really lousy karaoke act.
"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Complaining about (fill in the blank).
Dishonorable Mention: Speaking of ego-driven bombast -- you can go back into hiding now, Axl. Chinese Democracy sucks.
Title: Investment Banker, Two-Bit Con Man, Shakespearean Figure Sold Out by His Own Sons
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Find the Nearest Window, Jump
The Facts: When all is said and done, the financial scandal surrounding Bernie Madoff won't be remembered as the costliest or even most brazen of 2008. But his arrest coming so close to the end of the year -- simultaneously bookending and providing an almost mind-boggling crescendo to the economic disaster that began with the subprime mortgage and credit crises and escalated to titanic financial institutions folding and taxpayers being forced to buy up most of Wall Street -- Madoff has become the one instantly recognizable face of unfettered greed in America in 2008. Sure he bilked investors out of billions of dollars -- perpetrating the largest fraud of its kind by a single person ever -- but more than that, he symbolized, maybe better than anything or anyone, the end of hands-off capitalism. The death of a political and economic era. Thanks to government deregulation and a complete lack of oversight, guys like Madoff had been able to run the table with impunity, turning Wall Street and the global market into their own personal sandbox at the expense of the average person looking to carve out his or her slice of the American dream. It's simply staggering when you consider what Madoff got away with; or the fact that AIG's top executives treated themselves to a half-million dollar spa vacation just a few weeks after the government bailed out their company to the tune of 85-billion dollars; or the fact that JP Morgan is still being arrogantly cryptic about what it's doing with the 25-billion that it received in the bail-out; or that the heads of the big three automakers flew private jets to D.C. to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for their flagging companies. I swear, in another time and place, the struggling masses would've carried these people kicking and screaming to the public square and joyously guillotined them.
Mitigating Factor: Like an raging alcoholic who suddenly wakes up one morning to find himself broke and beaten nearly to death in a gutter, it took hitting rock bottom for this country to finally decide that it's fucking had enough.
"By This Time Next Year, He'll Be..." Inmate #2259837
Dishonorable Mention: It's probably a tie between corrupt-as-hell Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens -- now a convicted felon but always in our hearts as the man who lobbied for the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" and who understands the profound differences between the internet and a truck -- and New York Times columnist and neo-con architect Bill Kristol, who best symbolizes the far right's pig-headed tenacity when it comes to being unwilling to admit to its mistakes. Kristol was wrong about everything -- seriously, everything -- and yet continues to walk around with that Cheshire-Cat-on-Valium smirk on his face while espousing a political philosophy which failed in devastating fashion over the last eight years and was soundly rejected by voters in November of 2008.
Title: Alaskan Governor (Still), Political Nobody (Formerly), Likely Leader of the Republican Party (Currently), Fashion Plate, Punchline
Big Pharm Recommended Treatment: Oxycodone, Hyrdocodone, Haloperidol, Lithium, All Taken by the Handful; Nitrous Oxide, Prozac
The Facts: Man, oh man. It would be great to be able to throw some sort of Shyamalanian twist in here at the end, but there's just no way to escape the inevitable: Sarah Palin was hands-down the dumbest thing going in 2008. A comedian's wet dream -- and Intelligent America's worst nightmare should her political aspirations have come to fruition -- Palin was so astonishing in her provincial arrogance, so spectacular in her lack of knowledge or shame, and so admittedly awe-inspiring in her commitment to overlooking her own obvious deficiencies while putting absolute faith in both Jesus and the notion that a well-placed wink and a little small-town sweet talk was all she'd need to succeed on the world stage that her campaign instantly became a benchmark in unabashed folly. The new gold standard for idiocy in the 21st century. We could run down the moments that will be etched in our collective memory for years to come (at least one would hope they will; the alternative could be disastrous) but that would take all day. Instead, best we just cut to the chase: Sarah Palin was almost single-handedly responsible for turning the 2008 Presidential Election into a referendum not on left vs. right or rural vs. metropolitan -- but on smart vs. dumb. Her invocation of the supposed moral and political authority of "Joe Six Pack," particularly as opposed to everyone else in the country, and her smug and insulting implied denunciation of those who place a high value on intellect and education trod all-too-familiar ground for the Republicans; it reduced what had been an election season focused, for the most part, on issues to what some in the party hoped would be a fear-based culture war that would once again lead them to victory. But here was the best part: Palin never really saw herself as the small-town hick she pretended to be and hoped to ingratiate herself to. This was proven by the lavish spending spree that transformed her and her family into, literally, the Beverly Hillbillies. The truth is that she always aspired to be a fashion icon, some hyper-hottie in a tight leather blazer and knee-high black boots, someone worthy of a $75,000 shopping trip to Neiman Marcus. Sarah Palin became everything she ever dreamed of being: Sex and the City, right down to the "city" part. Sure, publicly she rebuked and ridiculed those cosmopolitan urbanites in their bustling elitist hubs, but she knew damn well that she couldn't buy Valentino and Louis Vuitton at the Wal-Mart in Wasilla -- and if you don't think that Sarah Heath Palin had always fantasized about wearing Valentino and carrying Louis Vuitton, I've got a bridge to nowhere I want to sell you. She was always a backwater dingbat, but she became a very well put together backwater dingbat -- which likely convinced her that she was no longer a backwater dingbat. If this is true, then it would mean that Palin essentially ascended to the same position as George W. Bush and her GOP benefactors: she only played the part of the rube and was, in fact, secretly talking down to every one of those pick-up-driving Toby Keith fans who showed up to her rallies -- the Dickies-clad folk not lucky enough to have won the Miss Vice Presidential pageant and been scooped up to a life of charter jets and appearances on Saturday Night Live. Sarah Palin was and remains completely full of shit, but we should be willing to concede that perhaps she's dumb as a fox -- which doesn't negate the fact that she's still dumb. Still a triumph of style over substance. And still dangerous.
Mitigating Factor: President Barack Obama, Tina Fey
"By This Time Next Year, She'll Be..." Already on the ticket in at least 23 states. And a great-grandmother.
Dishonorable Mention: Joe the Plumber -- who was neither named Joe nor a plumber. Tell me you don't roll your eyes at the mere mention of this entirely fictional mascot for the McCain campaign. Uh-huh -- I thought so.
Postscript: For those who have expressed curiosity as to why George W. Bush -- or for that matter Hillary Clinton -- wasn't chosen for this list, the answer is simple: The Bushes and Clintons are practically emeritii at this point when it comes to being the worst of the worst. I figured I'd give a few new folks a chance to compete. See you again in January of 2010.