News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

8 Awful Pop Culture Offerings to Dread in the New Year

Racism, sexism and more Ayn Rand...we're gripping ourselves for some of the worst in 2012.
 
 
Share

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
Photo Credit: Jeff Kern via Flickr

 
 
 
 

Certainly 2011 was one of the worst years for pop culture in recent memory. If you need proof, look at the resurgence of the Ayn Rand oeuvre, the spate of reality shows on virtually every channel on television, or, perhaps most chillingly, "Hey Soul Sister" by the band Train.  But in the first week of 2012, it already looks like this year might, in fact, be worse. Here are 11 forthcoming happenings in pop culture that may have you wishing for the Mayan apocalypse.

1. Atlas Shrugged, Part II

This follow-up to the worst movie of 2011 comes out in October, just in time to make election season even more hellacious. (Can you even imagine? We’re already popping Xanax in anticipation.) The follow-up to the laughably bad, "objectivist" Atlas Shrugged, which tanked in 2011 despite voracious Rand adoration from the Tea Party, various libertarians, and extreme conservatives, part two explores more destroy-everything capitalism in the campiest, least self-aware way possible. It follows suit with the films' financier John Aglialoro who was motivated to continue with his plan to finish his trilogy (oh, yes—a third film is on its way) after the first installment was summarily panned. (It received zero stars from Rolling Stone's Peter Travers and one from Roger Ebert). Aglialoro told the Hollywood Reporter, "I'm going to get a picture of Ebert and Travers and the rest of them so I can wake up in the morning and they'll be right there. They're revitalizing me with their outrageousness." Not sure if he saw the same film we did, but the $10 million on advertising he promised to spend for the follow-ups lead us to surmise Aglialoro's a man in denial. At the very least, though, the follow-up inspired Second City TV to make this hilarious trailer spoofing the film's proponents and its poor reception: "When the free markets get spanked by the free markets, there's only one thing to do: cut costs. Atlas Shrugged part two, coming soon!

 

2. “Work It”

Network television seemed to peak last year with the amount of shows that boiled down gender stereotypes to their basest, with no less than three programs based entirely on the premise that masculinity is becoming rarefied and men are oppressed. Enter 2012’s first entry into this gross and highly offensive subcategory: “Work It,” in which two men decide the (mythical) “mancession” has affected them enough that they need to dress up as women in order to get jobs. Never mind that women still make 75 percent of the money men make in the same positions, and are less likely to receive promotions in corporate environments. Rather than repeating ourselves, let’s focus on the aspect of the show that provoked GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign to protest before it even aired: that “Work It” perpetuates “negative and damaging stereotypes about transgender people.” [Update: the show, which ABC aired only twice, was cancelled Saturday following poor ratings and extreme disinterest from the TV-watching public. Heartening!]

 3. “Party Politics”

Election season 2012 has already shaped up to be a shitshow  and we’re already bracing for pain in November. Rubbing salt in the wound, though, is “Party Politics,” a reality show crafted by Doron Ofir casting, which is also responsible for your favorite, “Jersey Shore.” It’s based on the same premise, too: place a group of people with conflicting political views in a house somewhere (hopefully DC) and watch sparks fly. Doron Ofir told Fox: ““We want the hottest politicos in the USA, we want intelligent 21- to 35-year-olds who have had a little life experience and education and can argue their beliefs, and have the knowledge to back up the debate.” He also said: ““But it’s a reality show too – there is an entertainment factor. They’ve got to be inspirational to look at, explosive and dynamic, or maybe find love across party lines… you just never know.” Aren’t reality shows supposed to be about escapism? This just seems painful.

4. "¡Rob!"

Comedian and Saturday Night Live vet Rob Schneider stars in this new CBS comedy. In case you were wishful thinking that the Spanish punctuation was just a cheeky joke to emphasize the enthusiasm, sorry: it refers to the thin and racially stereotypical plotline, in which Rob marries a beautiful light-skinned woman and then goes loco when he discovers his in-laws are all... Mexican-American! Dios mio, ay chihuahua! In the trailer alone, Schneider asks incredulously, "They're all Mexican?," compares a family gathering to a Julio Iglesias concert, and tries to bring up the 1995 death of Tejano princess Selena as a topic of conversation. Beyond just perpetuating dumb racial stereotypes, the show hinges on the extremely dated concept that, hey, people of different ethnicities are different!It's not as blatantly offensive as some of the other TV shows on this list (see: "Angry Boys"), but it's condescending to both Mexicans and gringos, and depressing to see that some of America's best comedic actors—Cheech Marin, Lupe Ontiveros—are wasted on such a cheap show. Even more depressing: real-life Schneider is married to Mexican TV producer Patricia Azarcoya Arce. Wonder what her parents think?

5. “Angry Boys”

Adapted from Australian television for HBO, the Sacha Baron Cohen-style comedian Chris Lilley plays every “angry boy” of the title. An Ali G rip-off is annoying, but not offensive, right? Sure, except that Lilley—a white man—also plays the character of S.mouse, an American rapper, in blackface. If that weren’t racist enough (!), his portrayal of S.mouse is a completely offensive take on hip-hop, making misinformed and easy swipes at materialism and gangsterism that people outside the culture tend to focus primarily on. It’s completely revolting, and the fact that HBO would air a show WITH A WHITE MAN IN BLACKFACE IN 2012 is both infuriating and completely beyond us. 

6. The Dictator 

Speaking of Sacha Baron Cohen, he portrays the anti-democracy dictator of a fictional Middle Eastern country in his latest "spoof," supposedly basing his script and character on Hussein, Gadhafi, and Syria's Bashar Al Assad. Certainly Cohen has made his name and career off being "inappropriate," but his stupid movies aim for cheap laughs based on racial stereotypes, and The Dictator is no different: he dons a long, fake beard; sings offensive faux Arabic pop songs; and shoots his opponents in a track meet. It's never the time for one of this dude's idiotic movies, but right now, after so many people in the Middle East have died fighting for their freedom, it comes off as particularly hateful and racist. (Oh, and he casts Megan Fox, playing herself, as essentially a prostitute.) Meanwhile, the song in the trailer is by Jay-Z and British-Punjabi singer Panjabi MC, which leads us to believe Sacha Baron Cohen does not know the difference between Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, and/or Indians. Which, given his body of work, would make total sense. 

7.  A Tim Tebow Superbowl? 

It’s bad enough that anti-choice Christian quarterback Tim Tebow is constantly a trending topic, prays to God at every game and is viewed as some sort of True American Warrior (TM) for spreading the evangelical view to the country’s football diehards. (He even writes biblical verses on his eyeballs.) But it could get worse: at this very moment, the Denver Broncos are still in the playoffs. The odds are this is their last week in the biz, but they still have a chance: and if they make it there (and win!), we can look forward to another 12 months of Tebow deifying. And more Tebow-dedicated songs like this re-write of John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire” by... John Parr. Ugh. 

 

8. Ex-Beatles Doing Cover Songs

It's bad enough that the beloved Beatles are probably one of the most-covered bands in history (and that said covers are usually limited to "Yellow Submarine"). But this year, both Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney will release brand new albums, with two conspicuous things in common: two of the supposed greatest songwriters in the history of rock are doing cover songs. Ringo Starr's 2012 will include his versions of Buddy Holly's "Think It Over" and Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line," but since the rest is comprised of original works he's slightly less infuriating in this rubric. Even more obnoxious is Paul McCartney's forthcoming Kisses on the Bottom, an album of covers that range from "More I Cannot Wish You" to "Bye Bye Blackbird." He says: it's an album meant to show his fans exactly which individual songs influenced his career. We say: it's a little late in the game for that, buddy. We don't expect him to write another Wings album (or, say, "Yesterday"). But when a king of the rock-pop canon resorts to standards, it's a depressing message that maybe things aren't the way they used to be. And if we're sick of people who aren't the Beatles singing "When I'm 64," why would we be excited for people who are the Beatles singing tracks from Guys and Dolls? So depressing!

 

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.