Bad Behavior Rules Pop Culture in 2006
No, Jon Stewart had to emphasize this year, Stewart/Colbert will not be a presidential ticket in 2008. All in fun, of course, but there are some who get their news almost exclusively from Comedy Central's fake newscasters. Was this the year where fact and fiction tended to blur together?
In publishing, one author claimed his memoirs were valid even if they weren't literally true. In film, we laughed at the antics of a randy, offensive, anti-Semitic journalist - we knew Borat was fake, but his co-stars didn't (or did they?)
When two celebrities drew attention for truly offensive comments - anti-Semitic in one case, racist in the other - they told us it wasn't the "real them," in essence. And on YouTube, fans were crushed to learn that a lonely girl they'd come to love was just an actress playing a role.
Perhaps it's impossible to enforce a theme upon a whole year of popular culture, but it's fun to look back. Join us for a chronological journey of things that made us talk in 2006...
In the first seconds of Jan. 1, we're greeted by a beloved icon, DICK CLARK, ringing in the New Year at Times Square as he has so many times - only now he's struggling from aftereffects of a stroke. His words are slurred, his posture stiff, but his cadence is brisk and assured. Some critics imply he shouldn't have shown up, but many people - fellow stroke survivors especially - are inspired.
Inspiring isn't the word to describe author JAMES FREY's halting, remorseful appearance on "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW." But it's riveting television: Winfrey, angry, tearful and embarrassed, lambasting Frey for fabricating chunks of "A Million Little Pieces," his so-called memoir and her book-club choice. He says the book felt true to him. "I feel duped," she says, and apologizes to viewers for having defended Frey at first: "I left the impression that the truth is not important."
Late-night comics must feel like it's Christmas and their birthday all rolled into one when VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY has his famous hunting accident, shooting a friend in the torso, neck and face. If you believe in karma, this marks the beginning of a bad year for the GOP.
"BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN" loses the best-picture Oscar to surprise winner "Crash," but it's no contest in the enduring-pop-culture-icon category. Those GAY COWBOYS are the subject of endless jokes and imitations - the best being the fake movie trailers (remember "Brokeback Penguin"?) to the distinct guitar twangs of the movie soundtrack. And "brokeback" becomes an adjective unto itself, meaning something with gay overtones.
Those who dreaded the day they'd do a movie version of Sept. 11 breathe a sigh of relief: Paul Greengrass' "United 93" turns out to be a harrowing but honest and skillful portrayal of one of that day's horror stories. In other words, it's real - a refreshing affirmation that some things need no adornment at all. A key FAA operations manager even appears as himself.
On a different note, the celebrity baby craze hits a new high with the birth of Suri Cruise. The infant immediately drives gossip editors crazy by not appearing in public for months. Some ask: Does Suri even exist? Finally she bursts forth on the cover of September's "Vanity Fair." But move over, Suri - anticipation is greater for what some in the media dub the most awaited baby since Jesus ...
The genetically blessed SHILOH JOLIE-PITT is born in Namibia, instantly raising the profile of this small African nation and briefly sparking rumors that Britney Spears will also give birth there. (They are false.)
How do you get yourself booked onto every talk show in town? Insulting women who lost their husbands at the World Trade Center is one way. The brash, blonde conservative pundit Ann Coulter outdoes even herself in "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," where she writes: "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." The book spawns a new trend in revenge literature: "Soulless," "Brainless" and "I Hate Ann Coulter" all come out later in the year.
An inebriated movie star spews anti-Semitic slurs at the cop who pulled him over for drunk driving - but that wasn't really me, MEL GIBSON says in one of the year's many non-apology apologies; it was the booze talking.
One of the funniest moments at the Emmy awards - "Good evening, godless sodomites! - belongs to Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, underlining their status as the nation's commentators par excellence. Oh yeah, they're FAKE commentators, but surveys have shown that some young people depend on Comedy Central for their news intake.
The movie "Snakes on a Plane" debuts after much Internet buzz. It's nice to have buzz; what the film doesn't have, though, is "People in the Theaters."
Speaking of buzz, Katie Couric finally makes her debut on the "CBS Evening News," the first female sole anchor of a network evening newscast. Feminists rejoice at the landmark and laugh off the attention to her clothes. But after big ratings driven by curiosity, Couric sinks into the program's usual third-place slot, where it remains.
Some YouTube followers of the young Lonelygirl15 are crushed to discover that she isn't the authentic teenager whose life they'd been following, but actually an actress hired to play the part. But isn't that the point of Internet fame - it's democratic (it could be you or me tomorrow) and it's heady, but sometimes it just isn't ... real?
Speaking of YouTube, it's only fair that one of the biggest business stories of the year is the wildly popular online video site - after all, it was YouTube that captured so many of the year's other stories for the world to see. It's a marriage of two of the most indispensable names on the Web when Google Inc. agrees to buy the site for $1.65 billion.
BRITNEY SPEARS - let's face it, folks, she's our pop culture champion, hands down. She's in the news this year for every mommy foible imaginable, down to ALMOST tripping on her espadrilles and dropping little Sean Preston. But in November, she tops it all by finally leaving Kevin Federline and embarking on a celebratory romp with buddy Paris Hilton, apparently flashing her nether regions to the paparazzi in the process. Is it any wonder that Britney in 2006 is - yet again - the most-searched term on Yahoo, globally?
Then there's MICHAEL RICHARDS, aka Cosmo Kramer of "Seinfeld," whose racist rant at heckling black fans (captured on a cell phone) shocks everyone. "I am not a racist," he says in an awkward appearance on David Letterman, while pundits debate whether his remarks could come from someone who isn't. More apologies follow, but it looks like Kramer's comedy career could be in trouble.
Quite the opposite for SACHA BARON COHEN, whom we know much better as "Borat" (he's usually in character). His movie is a surprise hit - and falls into that murky space between truth and fiction. We know Borat is fake, but what of all the secondary characters drawn into his wacky, R-rated world? Were they playing along, or were they in the dark? Some have sued Cohen's film company, saying they were duped. Others, like "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson, won't say whether they knew or not.
And when is an apology not an apology at all, but a cynical act of self-preservation? Some are saying that about a chastened Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp., who bows to a universal wave of disgust and shelves a TV interview and book by O.J. SIMPSON entitled (speaking of cynical) "If I Did It."
Thousands of gay and lesbian couples raising children in America cope with endless questions and scrutiny. Imagine also being the daughter of the vice president - a vice president whose administration strongly opposes recognizing same-sex couples. MARY CHENEY's pregnancy promises to put the spotlight on the plight of gay and lesbian couples across the country.
And as the year comes to a close, there's comfort for those who crave consistency. Tune in on Dec. 31 and you'll see - who else? - Dick Clark, greeting the new year for the 34th time.
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