Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016: Winners and Losers

Well, the year is almost over, so that means I'm posting my thirteenth annual list of winners and losers for the year.  And even though making these lists (particularly the losers' list) may sound like fun, it really isn't.  So many choices . . ..  Who was a bigger winner?  Who was a bigger loser?  Who broke out in a big way for all the right reasons?  Who did so for all the wrong ones?  Yeah, I have my lists here, but I'm not entirely happy with them.  Maybe because I wasn't happy with 2016 overall.  Who was?
As always, this list tries to be comprehensive of all aspects of popular culture, especially this year, because if I primarily concentrated on politics - the biggest reason 2016 sucked big time - I'd never finish the damn lists. Also, when contemplating losers, I came up with one loser in the world of sports, an individual athlete  - not Ryan Lochte, because his foibles ultimately paled in comparison to those of others.  But the the sports loser I did choose was so reprehensible, it was unfair to the other losers to equate them with him, which would have been way out of context.  Hillary Clinton is inevitably on the losers' list this year for the obvious reason that she, well, lost the presidential election, and rock and roll, after being on the winners' list in 2015, is back in the goose-egg gallery (I should never have put rock and roll on the winners' list last year, because its victories were minor and momentary; I should have left it off and made room for American Pharoah, the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, but that slipped my mind).  Also among the losers are a couple of consumer-product companies and the insufferable Roger Ailes.  But none of these losers on this list - not even Ailes - is as reprehensible as this athlete, and so I've created a separate, one-shot category for him: a loser of all time from 2016.  This is so no one equates being in a flop movie with this all-time loser's sin.        
Right, so here are this year's winners first:
Michael Phelps.  23 Skidoo! The Phelpster finished his competitive swimming career at the 2016 Rio Olympics with 23 gold medals, and oh yes, he has five more of other colors.  He was to have gone out on top after the 2012 London Games, but now he goes out higher than that.
Katie Ledecky.  And Mademoiselle Ledecky is right behind her fellow swimming Marylander Phelps with some pinnacles of success of her own to brag about - setting a world record in the 800-meter freestyle race for the fifth time in Rio and becoming only the third woman to win the 800-meter Olympic women's freestyle twice in a row.  Maryland may not have produced a President this time (O'Malley in 2020!), but it has produced a king and queen of swimming.
the Chicago Cubs.  The longest championship drought in team-sports history is over.  Baseball's once-hapless Cubs finally won the World Series after 108 years of disappointment and  disgust.  St. Louis Cardinals fans had better not get too cocky and expect the Cubs not to repeat their success before 2124; the Cubs happen to have one of the best baseball teams in the majors now.
Leonardo DiCaprio.  I've always called DiCaprio the Paul Newman of the twenty-first century - not just because he's handsome, talented and philanthropic, but because he had a history of being nominated for Oscars but not winning any of them.  That changed this year, when DiCaprio won the 2016 Best Actor Oscar for his role as mountain man Hugh Glass in The Revenant.  And at 41, he was younger than Paul Newman had been when he finally won his first Oscar.
Alexander Hamilton.  Not only has the nation's first Treasury Secretary been rediscovered and re-appreciated thanks to Hamilton, the most successful and most honored Broadway musical of the year and perhaps the decade, his image on the ten-dollar bill was spared after the current Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, announced that a woman would replace him on the ten spot; a public outcry moved the woman to be honored (Harriet Tubman was eventually chosen) to the twenty-dollar bill instead.
Lin-Manuel Miranda.  And none of that could have happened without the creator of Hamilton himself. :-)
Beyoncé.  From her provocative Super Bowl appearance in the early part of the year to the release of her wildly successful and critically acclaimed Lemonade album, Queen Bey demonstrated why calling her the former frontwoman of Destiny's Child and leaving it at that is like calling Disney World an amusement park.  And she won't just win Grammys in 2017 because Kanye West says she should.  
Jane Pauley.  Supposedly headed for oblivion after leaving NBC's "Today" show many years ago, the veteran newswoman began her latest assignment: hosting CBS's "Sunday Morning," and doing what everyone thought was impossible - filling the shoes of her predecessor, Charles Osgood.  She's far from done in her own career.
Isabelle Huppert.  It's one thing for an actress to dominate in one movie in any given year.  But two?  France's  Isabelle Huppert has done just that, in the psychological thriller Elle (which has earned her a lot of acting award nominations) and the drama Things To Come.   
LeBron James.  Despite the Cubs and Olympic swimming threatening to overshadow him, basketball's James still shone brightly.  He redeemed himself by, after having returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Miami Heat, guiding the Cavs to an historic NBA championship.  He went back to Ohio, but his city was far from gone.
And now, the losers of the year:
Hillary Clinton.  She wanted to make history.  And she sure did.
the Democratic Party.  Hillary's loss caps a dismal cycle for the Democrats - commonly referred to as the Obama Presidency - in which the party lost the House, a large majority of governorships and state legislative chambers, the Senate, several "rising stars," and now the White House.  The Democrats may have made history by nominating a woman for President, but now they're now less likely to make history and more likely to be history.   Whig out!
Rock and roll.  After showing signs of life in 2015, rock returned to a period of decline this year.  And as if all those deaths of high-profile veteran performers, the sight of Coldplay - the only rock act at the Super Bowl - getting upstaged at the game by the other three acts, the underwhelming reception Lake Street Dive obviously got for its first major-label LP, the shutout of rock from the major awards at the 2016 Grammys - including Courtney Barnett's Best New Artist loss to Meghan Trainor - the shutout of rock in the major 2017 Grammy nominations, and Journey's pending induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame weren't all bad enough, one of the Grammy nominations in the best rock performance category for 2017 went to . . . Beyoncé. When I heard about that, I knew that the rock era was definitely over.  Lay down your guitars and surrender, fellow rock fans.  Oh yeah, the New York radio market is now entering its fifth year without a commercial new-rock station.
Martin Scorsese.  The famed movie director co-produced the HBO period drama "Vinyl," about a record company in the seventies involved in rock and roll, which got renewed for a second season.  Then HBO reversed the renewal and canceled it when the cable channel suddenly realized that no one cares about seventies nostalgia or rock anymore.  The last waltz, indeed.
Kate McKinnon.  It should have been a good year for the "Saturday Night Live" comedienne.  After all, she starred in the all-female remake of Ghostbusters, which was expected to be huge hit, and she had a "Saturday Night Live" impersonation - Hillary Clinton - that she was expected to be able to do for the next four years.  But Ghostbusters underperformed at the box office, costing its studio $70 million, and Hillary Clinton got upset at the polls when she underperformed in three states.  One ray of hope for McKinnon is that she'll have Kellyanne Conway to imitate on "Saturday Night Live" in the foreseeable future, but Kellyanne Conway will be hard to parody because Kellyanne Conway parodies herself.       
Ford. One could argue that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had a bad year, given its decision to thin its ranks in the U.S. and its poor-quality vehicles.  But the Ford Motor Company proved to be a shadow of its former self.  It's had to struggle to hold onto a 14 percent market share in North America against tough competition from domestic and foreign automakers, its share of the European market stands at a pathetic 7 percent, and its had to deal with safety recalls back home.  No wonder investors were disappointed.  This may be why I haven't driven a Ford . . . lately.
the Cleveland Browns.  While the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrated an NBA championship this year and the Indians camethisclose to winning the World Series, the city's football team was less than illustrious.  The Browns played sixteen games in the 2016-17 NFL season that, along with their last game in the 2015-16 season, amounted to a seventeen-game losing streak.  They broke it by beating the San Diego Chargers, as if that mattered.
Samsung.  Its Galaxy S7 cell phone was so hot it caught fire.  Literally.  On the plus side, the Korean company could get a nice contract from the CIA, since the S7 is guaranteed to self-destruct in five seconds.
Wells Fargo.  It's what the business-news media call a strong performance when a bank opens two  million accounts and credit cards in a four-year period, right? Except that Wells Fargo's accounts were opened without permission of the customers in order to improve the bank's bottom line under pressure from its corporate officers . . . now, the bank's reputation is at rock bottom.    
Roger Ailes.  As if his manipulation of the voters on behalf of Richard Nixon and the elder George Bush - coupled with his arrogant stewardship of the super-arrogant Fox News Channel - weren't enough to earn Jolly Roger a special place in purgatory, it turned out he was a prolific practitioner of sexual harassment, including a few indecent proposals toward Megyn Kelly.  Noncoincidentally, Kelly  has proven to be formidable newswoman, the one good thing to come out of this scandal. 
And now, in his own category, a loser of all time who made news in 2016 . . .
Brock Turner.  For everyone who thought Ryan Lochte's made-up story of a robbery in Rio during the Olympics to hide his own drunken vandalism spree was the worst possible behavior for an athlete, remember Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who raped an unconscious woman in 2015 and then deservedly got thrown in the slammer for it this year . . . only to be inexplicably released for jail after three months.  As far as I'm concerned, he's still doing life.  He will never be redeemed or pay his debt to society, and he deserves to have his life made such a living hell that he'll wish he were back in prison.  Ryan Lochte has a chance to work his way back into people's good graces. Turner never can.
Well, there you are.  I think - and hope - that I've made it clear that I do not equate the inhabitants of the main losers' list with Brock Turner, whose awfulness goes beyond just being a loser of the year, and the reason I even mentioned him here in the first place is because I couldn't let the old year pass without acknowledging and condemning his crime against humanity.  It's bad enough that Bill Cosby,  who occupies his own place in the realm of the irredeemable, is going to reappear in 2017 when his own rape trial begins.
Right, I'm done with 2016.  And although things don't look good now, I hope that 2017 is a damn sight better than the year gone by.  Have a happy new year, indeed - we deserve one.   

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