Saturday, January 3, 2009

2008: truly a year like none other

By Rick Morris

Over the past few weeks, media outlets everywhere have been taking a look back at the year that was, which is a fairly common development at this time of year. As is generally the case, they tend to be divided into pop culture recaps, or news recaps, or sports recaps. But since we evaluate everything here -- "nothing is off-topic" -- we're going to look at the entire picture.

^ POP CULTURE: This is the weakest part of the argument for 2008 being a truly momentous year. There were moments that flowed from news/politics events during the year (think Obama or Palin), but really no more water-cooler moments overall than you would see in an average year. The biggest movie was "The Dark Knight," and "Iron Man," "Juno" and a few others got a lot of attention, but the movie landscape wasn't demonstrably different or bigger than other years. Musically, there weren't a great many developments in a decade that arguably has seen fewer of them than any other since the '50s. Coldplay's return cheered up women and wimpy men everywhere, but when the long-awaited Guns'N'Roses (or, to be more accurate, Axl Rose and a bunch of guys he calls fellow members of Guns'N'Roses) album turning into "Ishtar" before our very eyes was as big of a story as it was ... well, that tells you all you need to know. Ditto to AC/DC's comeback -- it's remarkable that they're as great as they ever were, from several decades back, but for them to stand out like they did, it's more of a reflection of the time. Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers have managed to sell plenty of albums without breaking out of their very young demographic very much at all. In a sense, it's a continuing legacy of the fragmentation of musical tastes that took root on radio in earnest in the early '90s, but it embodies perfectly this "Age of the Ipod" in which everyone's ability to craft their own playlists crowds out the possibility of any music really ever unifying across different lines ever again.

^ SPORTS: The guys at Sports Il who are pushing the "Best Year Evar" point of view are probably right from a sports perspective. From the obscure dude catching the football with his helmet to set up the winning TD in a historic upset in the Super Bowl ... to the Four Legacy School Monsters dominating the NCAA hoops season all the way up to the Final Four and Kansas' return to the top thanks to Mario Chalmers' big shot (he'll never have to buy a beer in Lawrence, Kansas the rest of his life) ... to the NBA's biggest rivalry again taking center stage in the NBA Finals ... to the NHL's dream Stanley Cup Finals matchup ... to the hoopla of Danica Patrick's first win -- but, more importantly, the long-overdue American open-wheel racing reunification and first Indy 500 under the new arrangement ... to what will probably go down as THE signature win of Tiger Woods' career (think of all of his big moments to contemplate what that truly means) and Padraig Harrington's big success in majors ... to all of the great tennis moments, from the ones provided by the Williams sisters to the epic Federer-Nadal duel at Wimbledon, maybe the greatest match ever ... to everything at the Olympics (including, but certainly not limited to Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and USA Basketball) ... to Brock Lesnar's amazing triumph as UFC heavyweight champion ... to the memorable scene of Oscar The Golden Boy's abdication as the best boxer in the world ... to Jimmie Johnson's NASCAR title three-peat ... to an NFL season that sparkled with extreme unpredictability and managed not to be weighed down too much by the loss of Tom Brady ... to a World Series that capped off Tampa's unbelievable run and gave Philly its first world title in a quarter-century ... to a college football season dominated by great Sun Belt QBs ... this truly was probably the best sports year ever. Now, keep in mind that only Major League Baseball and boxing really mattered decades and decades ago to the vast percentage of the populace, so we're really only considering the modern age here. Keep in mind also that our perception of these moments can be shaped disproportionately by "The Worldwide Leader" -- as they themselves noted, the "Game of the Century" between the Colts and Giants took place in virtual obscurity in 1958 whereas these days the TV geeks regularly try to convince us that the dirtbike jump by Jimmy Jinormous at the X Games is the most significant event ever.

^ NEWS/POLITICS/GEOPOLITICS: A year that dawned with Tom Brokaw shilling his book about the huge events of 1968 ended with a near-consensus that what we had just seen rivaled the earthquakes of 40 years ago. Barack Obama imitated the RFK candidacy of that year, but thankfully avoided the assasin's bullet and won the presidency in a shocker. Establishment candidates simply don't get toppled in either party in presidential politics, but Obama pushed aside Hillary Clinton in what would have made this political year momentous even if he couldn't win in November. He proved that the Internet, a marginal part of the campaign in 2000 and a somewhat important element in 2004, had become by far the most important tool for winning due to the organizing, fundraising and communications components of it. John McCain came out of a weak and fractured GOP field to claim the nomination for president and provided his party with the only spark it experienced all year long when he nominated the second woman ever for the vice presidency, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The surge in Iraq surprisingly provided the window for a withdrawal of US troops under at least some positive circumstances. But the global financial meltdown, which was foreshadowed early in the year by the continuing subprime mortgage crisis and the Bear Stearns collapse, became the biggest story not merely of the year, but of the next few years when it hit full force this autumn. An unprecedented set of circumstances threatened interconnected economies worldwide and led the US government to provide historic bailout and support functions. By year's end, it seemed that the world had escaped the worst-case scenario and would "only" have to battle off the most severe recession since the Great Depression. As if to officially crown the end of an era with the loss of prosperity and a new face assuming the presidency, many influential figures passed from the scene, including (but not limited to): William F. Buckley, Jr., Jesse Helms, Paul Newman, Paul Weyrich, Charlton Heston, George Carlin and Studs Terkel. News of the year was so momentous that some potentially huge stories have been made to feel like afterthoughts at the end of the year: the unraveling in Pakistan after the Bhutto assassination ... twin disasters in South Asia: the massive Chinese earthquake and the tsunami in Burma that just became one more tool of the inhuman repression there ... John Edwards' flameout in Democratic politics by getting caught screwing around with a who-are on his campaign after exploiting his sick wife for sympathy votes ... the Russian invasion of Georgia. And at year's end, a huge story brewed that will carry over into 2009 with big ramifications: the explosion of the low-level Israel/Hamas conflict into full-fledged war.

When you consider the totality of events in 2008 in all areas, it is safe to say that it certainly was probably more historically significant than any other year in our lifetime. The combination of good and bad that can be seen above will indicate, however, that it won't be a completely bad thing if 2009 is much quieter.

No comments: