Well, folks, Christmas is over and the new year is on its way, but before we close the book on the glorious year that was 2008, I'd like to reflect on some of my favorite things from the past 365 days. Won't you join me?
Favorite album of music: Vampire Weekend’s Vampire Weekend
You can criticize Vampire Weekend’s debut album on as many levels as there are metrics for measuring music’s “goodness.” It’s not especially inventive, insightful, or technically accomplished. It isn’t the best genre exercise of the year. It isn’t a passionate statement of purpose from a hungry young band. It doesn’t have the most interesting production. It won’t forgive third-world debt or cure AIDS. It cannot be used as food. But it is the album I listened to the most this year, and it’s the most fun I’ve had listening to an album in at least two years. At least. Maybe that says more about me than Vampire Weekend, but there you go.
Runner up: Black Mountain’s In the Future, which I enjoy almost as much for very different reasons.
Favorite famous person: Barack Obama
Let me get this out of the way first: I didn’t vote for Barack Obama in the recent 2008 election for President of These Here United States. I know it seems insane--treasonous almost--but I trust reasonable people will find my motives at least defensible, and I hope we can remain friends. That being said, I really do like the man. I think he genuinely wants more people to have more control over their lives, and that’s one of my favorite things, like, ever. And I think he’s an honest man too. I mean, what politician in their right mind in the year 2008 in this here country, the greatest country starting with a U and ending with an A on the North American continent, would ever actually admit to smoking cigarettes?
If a man can be honest with the American public about something so heinous, so vile, so potentially disastrous to the health of millions of impressionable little children (think about all the kids who refused to eat broccoli after Bush I banned it from his White House meals), then he certainly can be trusted to be forthright about other, relatively trivial issues like the war in Iraq, the economy, and his sex life.
But I’m serious about this. I like Obama, and I think this degree of candor adds to his likability. I only wish he’d admit to actually enjoying the tobacco products he occasionally inhales.
Runner up: No contest.
Favorite viral video: You Can Vote However You Like
I don’t really care much for the electoral process and I don’t think kids this age should be particularly concerned with politics at the presidential level, so it doesn’t excite me that these kids are learning important lessons about their country that they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives. No, what excites me is that they’ve taken one of the most depressing aspects of living in this kind of great land of ours (trying to choose a leader who won’t fuck things up too much) and made it into a joyful exercise in youthful exuberance that doesn’t really concern itself with anything more than having fun here and now live on CNN. I very much think that’s awesome.
Favorite thing to watch while exercising: Penn and Teller’s Bullshit
I discovered Penn and Teller’s Bullshit way back in 2007 (I think), and I haven’t actually watched any of the episodes from 2008 (because I don’t have Showtime--I watch on my iPod), but Penn and Teller’s Bullshit belongs on this list for one simple reason: it’s awesome. And I watched it a lot in 2008. That’s two reasons, which makes this entry bullshit, but you know what else is bullshit? Recycling. Recycling is (because it is often, like a lot of "green" initiatives, more about making us feel good about ourselves than actually doing what's best for humans and their environment) bullshit. Know what else is bullshit? Anti-smoking laws (most of ‘em anyway). Let’s see. What else is bullshit? How about the war on porn, the good old days, Mount Rushmore, alternative medicine, ESP, talking to the dead, P.E.T.A, ghosts, and 6 seasons worth of other things you may or may not already think are pretty stupid.
I don’t agree with all the conclusions Penn and Teller come to, and I don’t think I’m getting “the whole story” from watching the show, but I happen to find that refreshing. They approach topics that are often controversial from a perspective that you may not have heard before, and they try to present the issue as they see it. They’re also not afraid to correct themselves or to make fun of themselves or to shamelessly use topless women to make the show more interesting. For a taste of what I find so refreshing about this show, check out this clip from Penn Says, Penn’s video thingy, in which Penn, a full-fledged religion-is-a-disease atheist, reacts to being witnessed to by a conservative Christian to see just how even-handed, humane, and surprising the show is.
Runner up: the fat guy on the treadmill in front of me.
Favorite sports team: Your 2008 Carolina Football Panthers
Sports. Men like ‘em, right? Right. Rest assured, gentle reader, I am a man, and I, like most men of my gender, engage in the occasional sports-related obsession. Mine mostly manifests in a baseballular fashion, but I probably have had some of the most exciting sports-related moments of my young life watching football. There’s nothing quite like watching your favorite team of ragtag misfits traverse the minefield that is the NFL and ascend to the ranks of world champions by attaining football’s top honor: champion of the world. That’s just what I hope the Carolina Panthers do this season, and they’re having a good season, so they just might do it. And if they do, I’ll be there every step of the way…watching on my television, eating greasy food, and complaining about the commentators.
Runner up: Your 2008 Chicago Baseball Cubs
Favorite sports player: Rhys Lloyd
Every sports aficionado needs a favorite sports participant, and this sports aficionado is no exception. Thing is, my favorite sportsters tend to not be the best of the best but rather the ones with the weirdest jobs (like LOGGYs), funnest names (Milton Bradley, Coco Crisp), and most interesting bodies (Cecil and Prince Fielder).
Lucky for me the Panthers have a player that fits all three criteria: Rhys Lloyd. He’s got probably the oddest job of any NFL player: kick the shit out of the ball in the general direction of the other team. He’s got an awesome name that he got from his British parents. He’s got a cute little pudgy belly. And he’s got a mustache (sometimes).
Runner up: Ryan Dempster, but for more traditional reasons
Favorite nickname: Kemo
Maake Kemoeatu, the Panthers 345-pound defensive tackle, is called Kemo by his teammates, the media, and adoring fans in Charlotte and beyond. And it’s a fitting moniker. Much like the chemical cocktail used in chemotherapy destroys cancer cells, Kemo destroys the Panthers’ competition. And he often shaves his head bald. The similarities end there.
Runners up: Fumbles Jones, Cancer Gordon Green, and Buck Lawson
Favorite web comic: American Elf
I’ve been following James Kochalka’s insanely interesting daily diary comic for a couple years now, but hardly a day went by in 2008 when I didn’t visit americanelf.com at least 15 times, reading the same strip over and over again. Why do I do this? Sometimes I get stuck in this loop where I repeat the same tasks over and over again without thinking until something happens and knocks me out of the loop. I’ll sometimes just go through my bookmarks, visiting the same 10-15 websites over and over and over until my wife calls me and asks me what I want for dinner or a cat bites my toe or I have to pee. Lucky for me Kochalka’s American Elf is thoroughly engaging, often offering intimate glimpses into the life of an artist, a father, a husband, a rock star, a minor celebrity, and a neighbor to drug dealers. Like the time Kochalka drew a strip of him and his son tongue wrestling (exactly what it sounds like) and readers in the forums suggested that maybe he shouldn’t do that. I believe that happened in 2008. That was fun for me.
Runner up: Scary Go Round
Favorite Manga: Kazuo Umezu's Drifting Classroom
2008 will always be remembered as the year I discovered the joys of horror manga. I’ve still only read a few, but my favorite so far is Kazuo Umezu’s Drifting Classroom series, which was reprinted by Viz Media from 2006-2008. Originally published from 1972-1974, Drifting Classroom is the story of a group of school children who are transported along with their school to a seemingly barren wasteland where they must learn to survive drought, plague, monsters and each other. I swear I didn’t steal that from the back of the book.
Runner up: Junji Ito’s Uzumaki