December 28th, 2006
The past year saw new issues around sex, privacy, media and politics — sometimes, all at the same time. But with TV on the web, and web users on TV, the boundaries melted into a swirl of media — ours, mine, and theirs. Accidental stars discovered they were soaking in it, at the center of a spinning globe that likes to watch.
And everyone else had a lot of fun.
1. Carl Monday is watching you masturbate
A 23-year-old masturbates with the public library's computer — but when he gets outside, there's someone waiting for him. It's Cleveland investigative reporter Carl Monday! "For some, pursuing the porn sites is a favorite past time at local libraries," Monday warned somberly in a news segment broadcast in May. (Monday even follows the "unemployed porn site user" to his parents' home, where he asks for their opinion on their son's public masturbation.) Video of Monday's disturbing ambush interview brought him interent fame, with one entrepreneur selling t-shirts with Monday's dour face (along with the words "Carl Monday is watching you masturbate.") Ultimately even The Daily Show got involved, leading to a surreal encounter in which Carl Monday interviewed Jason Jones interviewing Carl Monday. (Jones turns the tables by asking Monday the same question Monday asked the hapless library masturbator.)
And what happened to the library masturbator? He was sentenced to one year's probation and a promise to avoid all public libraries — and Carl Monday was there in the parking lot to ask for a comment.
Not surprisingly, the comment turned out to be: "Get the hell away from me."
2. "If I were one of those sick-o's..."
"We track library books better than we track pedophiles," Congressman Mark Foley told America's Most Wanted, adding "If I were one of these sick-os I'd be nervous with America's Most Wanted on my trail."
"Maybe this was an overt cry for help," John Walsh later told Larry King.
Shortly after running his last campaign ad (which touted "a record we can be proud of...") it was discovered that the Republican Congressman had been sending cybersex messages to underaged male Congressional pages. When the first hints of scandal surfaced, Foley tried brazening it out. ("Congressman Mark Foley's office says the e-mails were entirely appropriate," reported an ABC News blog, "and that their release is part of a smear campaign by his opponent.") But the flood of evidence was overwhelming, eventually revealing that Foley once even held up a vote on Emergency War Time supplemental appropriations for cybersex with a high school student. (A commenter on the gay South Florida blog
asked: "Where's Ken Starr, now that he's really needed?") Foley resigned — although his name remained on the ballot for the November elections. (He came within 1% of beating his opponent, though all votes for Foley were transferred to a replacement candidate.) While bloggers wondered whether Foley would ultimately be prosecuted under sex predator laws that he helped pass, the U.S. Attorney's office now appears unlikely to press charges. But the episode still left politicians stunned by the changing rules for privacy in an information-hungry world.
3. The head-butt heard round the world
Zinedine Zidane had already announced his retirement from the French soccer team after completing a five-year, $66 million contract. His last game would be the infamous match against Italy in the final round of the 2006 World Cup tournament. With the score tied after two hours of hard soccer, and the teams headed for a shootout of penalty kicks, Zidane got into an argument with Italian defender Marco Materazzi. From various news accounts their conversation went something like this.
Zidane: "If you're going to grab my shirt, why don't you just take it?"
Materazzi: "I'd rather have your sister."
There followed a fierce headbutt from Zidane — whose position, ironically, was "attacking midfielder". He was thrown from the game (which Italy ultimately won 5-3), achieving a second notoriety for his final-game foul. According to Wikipedia, French President Jacques Chirac congratulated Zidane for being a national hero and a "man of heart and conviction".
And inevitably, footage of Zidane's attack found it's way to the internet, where the career culminating moment was re-mixed again and again and again.
4. The yin and yang of Comedy Central
Virtually every news story of 2006 drew sardonic commentary from both Jon Stewart and his former correspondent Stephen Colbert. But in April they made a rare joint appearance to present the Emmy award for best reality TV.
"It's a pleasure to be here tonight," Stewart says innocuously.
"Good evening, godless sodomites," Colbert offers as a counterpoint.
The event gave a rare glimpse into a comedic yin and yang which challenges the way media outlets cover politics. While both men target the echo chamber of news shows, Stewart simply shares how bewildered he is by foolish politicians and the correspondents who cover them — while Colbert creates a walking caricature of the rabid ideologues he's targeting. (On the Emmys Colbert said he was reading from the teleprompter in his heart.)
In a final irony, both men have been given cable TV shows to attack other cable TV shows. But while their popularity continues to grow, this clip shows that there may be a limit. Colbert and Stewart's final jokes note that The Colbert Report lost earlier in the evening after being nominated as "best performance in a variety or music show". The ultimate winner? Barry Manilow.
5. Special comments
Keith Olbermann was entering his fourth year as an MSNBC prime-time commentator — but in August he discovered large audiences would tune in for his "Special Commentary" segments. Since the first one aired in August, his ratings have nearly doubled, and Olbermann is now reportedly asking MSNBC for a multi-million dollar increase in his contract.
In a memorable segment on September 11, Olbermann remembered working near Ground Zero and seeing fliers for colleagues who had perished in the towers. "All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends..." he said sternly. "For me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.
"And anyone who claims that I and others like me are soft, or have forgotten the lessons of what happened here, is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante, and at worst, an idiot — whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President."
6. The legend of Jihad Jerry
Meanwhile Devo shocked the world in March by joining Disney to create a new incarnation of their pioneering geek band using cute pre-teen Disney kids. ("If you're not upset...we haven't done our jobs," Devo's Gerry Casale told The New York Daily News.) But while the children sang and eventually toured as "Devo 2.0," 58-year-old Casale was plotting fresh subversions. Soon a mysterious new band appeared called "Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers" (including all the current members of Devo). The liner notes explain that a young Jerry turned to music when the Ayatollah declared his secular high school "evil" and he was "unwilling to finish his education without girls."
"You have the right to remain naked..." he sings in "Army Girls Gone Wild,"a subversive political commentary in the guise of a music video. "What happens in Abu Ghraib stays in Abu Ghraib."
Casale also surprised the online world in 2006 by paying a visit to two video blogs.
7. Code Monkey
Movie attendance is still lower than it was in 2004, partly because geeks would rather spend time playing massively multi-player games. One glorious moment combined everything into a shiny package — work, games, and music videos. Musician Jonathan Coulton had been writing a new song every week, and hit the jackpot with his ballad about an under-appreciated computer programmer who is also a monkey. When the song was released for a re-mix contest, Adobe employee Mike "Spiff" Booth then envisioned its evolution into a music video created with in-game footage from World of Warcraft. With poignant echoes of a real-world workplace, the gorilla stoicly endures his deskbound manager-goblin Rob, and pines for the company receptionist, a green-haired night-elf who is watching her weight. Besides being one of the best music videos of the year, it's playful proof that the online world is still curiously exploring new possibilities for collaborative creativity. And best of all: "No monkeys were harmed in the making of this film."
8. "This is NOT a joke!"
When you're being filmed in the Web 2.0 era, the worst thing you can do is over-react. Jason Holt, the student body vice president at the University of South Carolina, was the target of a standard-issue college prank. In April he returned from an appearance before Congress to discover his office filled with colorful balloons. His dramatic outburst was surreptitiously videotaped, capturing Holt's furious eyes burning with undergraduate intensity as he yells "It's not a joke! Look at me being serious...! I want to go to bed and you fucked up my office!!" Within two weeks the video had found an audience online at its new home — Look At Me Being Serious.com. And Holt had become a perfect example of how privacy is changing in a technology-enabled world.
The video was eventually broadcast on VH-1, and in a July letter Holt called the aftermath "bitterly painful". Saying he'd received over 100 "negative and demeaning" emails he wrote that he'd learned "humility" and the abiliity to "admit a mistake."
"[M]y actions in the video were rude, arrogant, and inconsiderate," he continued, wondering if his tantrum would cost him a career in public service, and asking for the student body's prayers "as I continue to deal with the consequences."
9. Brokeback Brady
At the Oscars in March, the most-nominated film was Brokeback Mountain — but overall movie receipts had fallen by six percent, with finicky consumers enjoying new entertainment choices which also included new gaming consoles and personal video recorders. This means Americans probably were more likely to discover a sympathetic same-sex relationship when they played back the May episode of That 70s Show where Greg and Peter Brady played a gay couple. Two actors from the 1970s family sitcom The Brady Bunch were transported back to the decade one more time as the new neighbors for hard-nosed Red Forman.
This snapshot of the way we were in 2006 was followed two weeks later with another TV-sized message of acceptance. That 70s Show culminated its eight-year run with a finale showing class-conscious Jackie falling for foreigner Fez.
10. The last joke of Louis Rukeyser
A television legend flashed his last smile — but not before getting the last laugh. In 2002 the producers of Wall Street Week ousted Louis Rukeyser for someone younger. But the wily 69-year-old used his last show to encourage viewers to follow him to a new network. "I'll let the market decide," the Wall Street commentator joked, knowing his audience would stay loyal after 32 years. His new show premiered with CNBC's highest ratings ever, while the old PBS show lost 84% of its audience, and was eventually canceled altogether.
Louis Rukeyser died on May 2 of a rare form of blood cancer at the age of 73. But if he could see how the web continues forcing old media to evolve, I'm sure he'd be smiling.
Just like the rest of us.
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