2015 was a year that gave us a lot of excellent books, films, TV shows, albums, and other cultural wonders. It was also a year in which a lot of people evangelized — and in some cases realized — a lot of egregiously dumb ideas. We’ve devoted plenty of space to 2015’s cultural highlights, so here, in the name of balance, is a slog through the year’s cultural sewer. Content warning: transphobia, Twitter fights, Martin Shkreli.
The year’s first media controversy? New York magazine’s cover story by Jonathan Chait about Political Correctness Gone Mad! “Can a white male liberal critique the country’s current political-correctness craze (which, by the way, hurts liberals most)?” asked the magazine — to which the answer is, “Yes, as this large cover story in one of the nation’s most popular magazines demonstrates amply.” Is such a critique a good idea, though? Um, well, no. It’s a terrible idea! Elsewhere, Gawker’s Sam Biddle reflected on whether putting PR exec Justine Sacco (remember her?) into the Internet pillory was in fact such a good idea. (Spoiler: no, it wasn’t.)
2015 was a banner year for Amy Schumer, a year in which she went from being a well-respected comedian to being a bona fide star. You might be surprised at this had you trusted the testimony of Hollywood Elsewhere’s notorious Jeffrey Wells, who argued that despite Schumer’s obvious talent and charm, Trainwreck was going to bomb because she was too fat to be a romantic lead: “[There’s] no way [Schumer] would be an object of heated romantic interest in the real world.” The film made $140 million on a $35 million budget. Also: investing in Bitcoin? Bad idea.
“Adventurous” argument of the month: Deadline’s TV Nellie Andreeva argued that all this diversity-on-TV business had gone too far, and that there weren’t enough roles for white actors anymore. The piece, predictably, went down like a zeppelin full of shit, and Deadline eventually apologized, sort of. In the New York Times, Sheryl Sandberg educated the mens on the concept of “choreplay”: do the dishes, and maybe you’ll get laid! And finally, luxury private buses in San Francisco so that tech people don’t have to mix with the plebs: good idea or bad idea? We shall see.
Nothing much! The irony of the year’s only bad idea-less month coinciding with April Fools’ Day isn’t lost on me, don’t worry. (Edit: oh, OK, the Apple Watch. Yes, definitely a bad idea, or at least a largely unnecessary one.)
Richard Prince took this year’s Jeff Koons Award for Vapid Appropriation in Art by
stealing taking people’s Instagram photos, modifying them slightly, and selling them for a heap of money. In the sociopathic world of capitalism, this probably qualifies as a good idea, but as far as art goes, it’s not so much a bad idea as a non-idea. The good idea, for what it’s worth, came from Suicide Girls founder Selena Mooney, who started selling prints of Prince’s prints for $90 a piece.
Trollgaze is not dead at the New York Post, which took time off from harassing homeless men to publish a piece about why women will never understand Goodfellas. Elsewhere, Caitlyn Jenner came out as trans and the Internet lost its mind — most of the resultant articles are happily already forgotten, but if you’re going to take your latent transphobia to the Paper of Record, it’s going to haunt you, Elinor Burkett.
Possibly the worst media idea of the year: Gawker deciding to out a Condé Nast executive for the sin of being in the closet, for which he was blackmailed by a porn star. The post itself is long gone, of course, because Gawker’s managing partnership voted to take it down, a decision that led to Gawker tearing itself apart for all the Internet to see. Apart from that, though, July was a bumper month for terrible ideas: the New York Times’ David Brooks’ ill-advised open letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates (entitled “Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White,” FFS), Taylor Swift saying dumb shit to Nicki Minaj on Twitter, and Reddit firing its AMA coordinator and subsequently going into meltdown.
“Beyoncé and the Politics of Stringy Hair” is an actual article that exists in the world, and guess what? It was a BAD IDEA. Also, as you might remember, Lenny Kravitz went commando in pants that lacked structural integrity in the crotch area. Inadvisable! And Gamergate figurehead/hero to priapic teens the world over Milo Yiannopoulos decided to run with a story about Black Lives Matter organizer Shaun King being, well, not black. Was it true? Nope. Has that ever bothered Breitbart before? Nope.
The month that introduced the world to Martin Shkreli! As with Richard Prince’s Instagrams, Shkreli’s infamous AIDS-drug price hike was probably a good idea in a purely capitalist sense — hey, he was briefly rich and famous! — which is perhaps why Vox had the decidedly bad idea to publish a piece entitled “Martin Shkreli Is an American Hero. Here’s Why.” (The piece argued that Shkreli’s awfulness shed light on a pharmaceutical industry practice that had existed for years, which is a valid argument, but dear god, that headline.) September also gave us Richard Dawkins’ 2015 nadir, namely picking on Ahmed Mohamed, the unfortunate Texan schoolboy who was arrested for bringing a clock to school and just happens to be a Muslim. It also gave us two of the year’s very worst cultural ideas — Morrissey publishing a novel that contained the phrase “bulbous salutation,” and someone who may or may not be the Antichrist making an album of Sublime covers for babies — and perhaps its silliest thinkpiece. Is Miss Piggy a domestic abuser? No. She’s a Muppet, for Chrissakes.
Halloween costumes. Oh god, all the Halloween costumes. And the arguments over Halloween costumes. And the arguments over the arguments over Halloween costumes. And so on. (Also, Germaine Greer became the latest second wave feminist to wheel out a line in egregious transphobia.) And to answer a question from earlier in the year: private luxury buses in San Francisco: good idea or bad idea? As it turns out, bad idea.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Anonymous declared war on ISIS (and a Vice commenter, of all people, provided a hilarious response). Elsewhere, Slate told us unsubtly that subtlety “sucks”, and at least one man proclaimed that he would not be buying the new Adele album (news at which Adele was no doubt distraught.) And hey, if you thought Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was great, Complex has news for you: you’re only pretending to like it. Ugh.
A bunch of reporters barged into the apartment of the San Bernadino mass shooters and trampled all over the place, which everyone agreed was a terrible idea (except Slate, obviously). Slate also finished the year with 2015’s worst #slatepitch: this piece, entitled, “If You Are Not Comfortable Being Naked Around Other People, You Are Not an Adult.” Oh. And, finally, lessons learned: don’t spend $2 million on a Wu-Tang Clan album when you’re already under investigation for securities fraud. Bye, Martin!