Now that 2012 has staggered to a close, we, along with everybody else on the Internet and in life, can look back on the year’s events with a bit of insight, that insight being: we freak out really easily. Seriously, I know it’s generally not difficult to cause an uproar online, but it feels like this was an especially good year for panic attacks, trolls and shouting matches. That isn’t to say that some things aren’t worth getting upset over, but far too often a situation can spiral out of control when every sentient lifeform with wifi gets to weigh in, and outrage begets more outrage like some horrible plague. There were people that said and did stupid things this year, and some items on this list are only needless because they never should have happened in the first place. But in most cases, it’s a simple matter of people going crazy to go crazy and blowing things hopelessly out of proportion. I’ll warn you now that revisiting some of this might make you angry all over again, and let me say up front that I don’t mean to lecture anyone. I didn’t come here to cause any trouble. I just came to do the Sarcastic/Reflective Nerd Rant Shuffle.
Clearly, we’re all tired, despairing, aimless slugs disappointed that the world didn’t end on December 21st because it means we still have to go to work in 2013: if some videogame designer said something sexist or we discovered a potentially unsettling detail in our favorite TV show, then it lets us take a break from the real problems of our own lives. On that uplifting note, we at Topless Robot present an aperitif, if you will, as we buckle up for the oncoming storm that will be the new year. If nothing else, I can guarantee this article will be one of the few year-end lists you’ll read that won’t mention a certain ubiquitous K-pop song. At all. That’s a promise.
10) The “Cockamamie Coulson Controversy.”
The name comes from our dear friend and former TR editor Rob Bricken, coined to describe an odd change between the US and UK releases of The Avengers Blu-ray. In the UK version, Loki’s staff does not protrude quite so much through Agent Coulson’s chest at a pivotal moment in the film, whereas in the American version it’s definitely sticking out there. Why was this change made? It wasn’t apparent until later, when…well, actually, it’s still not clear, but we know it was to secure a “12” rating, since the scene was not considered appropriate otherwise. Why was that? It’s not like erasing the tip really makes that much of a difference, and it clearly has had no effect on Coulson’s viability for other projects, like the upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, news that undoubtedly still has fans the world over masturbating with joy. I suppose calling this controversial is a bit of an overstatement, as there wasn’t exactly any rioting in the streets over it, but it did seem unnecessary and was certainly much ado for no real reason.
9) Before Watchmen.
The outrage around this one’s pretty understandable, actually, being the usual tale of writer makes comic, comic gets prequel without writer’s permission, writer gets screwed and prequel gets produced anyway (for the record, the artist of Watchmen, Dave Gibbons, supports the series). Noah Berlatsky’s great Slate article about the situation nicely explains why the protagonists of Watchmen (who are NOT called “The Watchmen,” mainstream media) were never meant to be treated like most comic book heroes. I wish getting pissed off about this mattered more, because it does seem to be yet another example of modern media clinging to recognizable brands and forcing them into franchises, rather than come up with any challenging ideas (to be fair, I have not read the prequels) . But even Moore has washed his hands of the affair, the way he refuses to see any movies made of his work, so it would seem best to follow suit. If you don’t like Before Watchmen, you’re probably already doing the best thing you can do to show it by not buying any issues. On the bright side, Moore fans had the final volume of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century to calm their wounded hearts, a comic which resulted in its own needless controversy: I’m pretty willing to bet that Before Watchmen does not feature a giant covered in eyeballs and shooting lightning bolts out of his penis.
8) George W. Bush’s head outed on Game of Thrones.
We live in a time where very little can be kept truly secret, as the makers of Game of Thrones learned this summer. A little aside thrown out as a bit of trivia on a season one DVD commentary quickly billowed into a hurricane of scandal once it hit the media, eventually culminating in an apology from HBO and series creators David Benioff and DBC15 Weiss. Apparently, one of the heads on a spike slightly visible alongside Ned’s during the season finale was a replica of George W. Bush’s, albeit facing away and adorned with a gnarly Conan the Barbarian wig. With all of the hullabaloo, no one seems to remember (or care, or believe) that the actual commentary makes it clear that this was not a conscious decision or political statement, although I can’t really imagine why HBO would have spare George W. Bush heads “lying around” unless Bill Maher likes to use them for throw pillows or something. Whether or not you find this offensive, it’s hard to deny how little it really has to do with Game of Thrones. It’s barely in the show, you can hardly identify it when you see it, and I daresay no one would have given a shit had the creators not openly admitted to it being there. Yet this became a frightfully huge deal, so much so that the offending shots were removed from future season releases. See, even a show where people get cleaved in half and prostitutes get fucked with antlers can still shock people every once and a while. One plus to this whole situation: all those folks who had already bought the DVD’s suddenly had collector’s items on their hands, which will be a comfort as we approach the Fiscal Cliff.
7) “Girlfriend Mode” in Borderlands 2.
If you’re a fan of sexism, you were in for a real treat this year, as many folks put their respective feet straight into their speaking orifices when it came to women’s issues (and only some of them were politicians). There’s more of this later down the list, but first let’s examine the curious case of Mr. John Hemmingway of Gearbox games. In an interview with Eurogamer, Hemmingway, the Lead Designer of Borderlands 2, touted the more accessible skill tree being implemented in the new game’s Mechromancer class as “for lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill set”. In hindsight, it turns out there were probably many better terms he could have used, perhaps millions. Soon paraphrased to “girlfriend mode”, this unfortunate idiom sparked waves of deep upset throughout the gaming community, with some people canceling pre-orders in disgust. It was a dumb thing to say, and it is unfortunate that there is such latent and unintentional sexism in the gaming industry and that many developers (and gamers) still think like this. All the same, there are bigger issues at work here, and the fact that this was not ever an official name or anything but just a misstatement should not be overlooked.
6) The Hunger Games‘ Racial Casting Outrage.
So the movie of The Hunger Games came out and people saw it and stuff. Apparently there were lots of fans who were hardcore enough to read the books but not to glance at the film’s IMDB page, where certain characters that had not been, perhaps, explicitly described as being black were suddenly played by black actors, specifically the character Rue. Some people tweeted about it and said some things that were kind of racist, and voila: another scandal that could have easily been avoided. However, just like that time some tweeters didn’t know the Titanic was a real boat and everyone got upset, the backlash against the initial offenses have proven almost as tiresome as the offensives themselves. A whole blog entitled Hunger Games Tweets suddenly materialized, devoting to criticizing and shaming the fools foolish enough to broadcast their foolish foolery in such a manner. Whatever. All the same, many important questions were raised: Do we really care what a few ignorant people think on Twitter, and does one tweet about such things make you categorically a racist? Will there be a time in the future when Lenny Kravitz is more widely known as Cinna than the guy who did that annoying cover of “American Woman” for that Austin Powers soundtrack? Is that time upon us already? What horrors!
5) Pretty much anything related to The Hobbit.
It would be child’s play to write a whole daily list solely of things that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has made people upset about. Given the tenacity of Tolkien fans and the size of the film’s production, it’s no real surprise that it’s caused multiple heart-attack-enducing headlines during its development. You can take your pick: the animal abuse allegations, the lawsuit from Tolkien’s estate, the 48 FPS debate, Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies. There’s so much to be potentially upset about it’s a wonder anyone still wanted to see this movie when it did come out. The biggest bombshell was probably in July, however, when it was announced that Tolkien’s charming little 300 page children’s novel would become nine sprawling hours of weirdly sped-up entertainment. While Peter Jackson and company assure us that the words “naked cash grab” are the furthest things from their minds on this, it’s still hard not to think of it that way, even when we hear that the three films will incorporate other elements from the Middle-earth mythos and expand on stuff that was supposed to be in The Hobbit originally anyway etc. It’s true that short source material does not necessitate a bad adaptation, for sure, and Ian McKellen thundered at someone during a press conference recently when it was even suggested that these films are a new franchise. In the end, of course, it doesn’t really matter: most of us are going to see it anyway, and whatever we feel about it, Jackson and company will live to tell the tale. Plus, it means that the economy of New Zealand has another decade or so of life injected in it, which is more than I can say for some countries.
4) The Backlash Against Feminist Frequency’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.
In many ways, the clashes between women and pop culture that erupted this year echoed the struggles they faced in the political mainstream. Case in point is poor Anita Sarkeesian, who unwittingly became something of a feminist icon in gaming but had to endure a mountain of bullshit to get there. All she wanted to do was make a series of videos examining the treatment of female characters in videogames, an extension of her existing series Tropes vs. Women. She wasn’t trying to say that gamers can be misogynist, overly defensive assholes, but it turned out she didn’t need to, as the typhoon of hate, rage, and hateful rage that crashed upon her proved why her work was important in the first place.
But much like with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jason Bateman, striking her down has only made her more powerful than you could ever imagine. This is one instance where a wholly unnecessary controversy actually resulted in something positive for its victim, since the bullying led to more media exposure and eventual support for Sarkeesian and her mission. She also raised over $150,000 for the production of her new series, which is still in the works, and is speaking at TED conferences, so I’d say she’s had the last laugh in that respect. Still, there was no call for people to freak out about this the way they did. You don’t have to agree with what she says, but you also don’t have to watch her stuff if you don’t want to, and you certainly don’t have to make a shitty flash game degrading her in order to make yourself feel better. And when she finally finishes making the damn videos that started all the uproar in the first place, maybe then you can decide how much and how vehemently you hate them.
3) The ending of Mass Effect 3 (spoilers).
You knew this was coming. For about a third of the year it seemed like us gamespeople talked about little else aside from the disappointing conclusion to one of the most beloved video game series of recent memory. Actually, “disappointing” doesn’t cut it: that ending sparked impossible, Richter-scale quakes of nerd rage and confusion. Now, I’m not arguing that the three endings are great or anything. I’m not arguing anything, except that we spent way too much time and energy arguing about the ending of a videogame. The Federal Trade Commission got involved, then the Better Business Bureau, and then Bioware finally just released an extended cut, which doesn’t sound like it was that much better but seems to have helped ease the pain somewhat. The way this whole thing played out is a little unsettling. Do fans really have the right to complain until a company changes the game they made, just because they don’t like it? Will this set a dangerous precedent for the future? Who can say? But if you ask me (and I know you did), the solution to problems like this is not more DLC, but more time spent during development to iron out the kinks with huge titles (part of the reason I’m 100% ok with all of the Bioshock: Infinite release date delays). Of course, it turns out we’re not done with Mass Effect at all, as a new game was announced to be in the works. It won’t be out for a while, though, so we’ve all got plenty of time to start thinking of things that will probably be wrong with it and getting upset about them in advance.
2) “Fake Geek/Nerd Girls.”
At this point, there have been about as many articles written in response to this obnoxious brouhaha as there have been perpetuating it, but if we must: this year, an overwhelming amount of convention attendees appear to have been attractive women in revealing costumes, who were obviously just doing it for attention (he said sarcastically). This apparently bothered people like CNN contributor Joe Peacock, and the result was a completely unnecessary cataclysm of hate, followed by a seemingly endless counter-cataclysm of articles debunking, analyzing or ridiculing this hate. Thus the “fake geek girl” or “fake nerd girl” paranoia was born.
Leaving aside the fact that there’s a difference between women who choose to do this just for fun and “booth babes” getting paid to do it by game companies: why do we care? Why can’t we just let people dress up to dress up, whether or not they’re as nerdy as some of us, and get on with our nerd lives regardless? Even though there are very real issues here about geek culture and misogyny that we need to address, the fact that I’m not even the millionth person to make this counter-argument shows how exhausted the issue has become. I’m just tired of the whole damn affair. I think the concept is stupid and I don’t want to read the words “fake nerd” in front of anything ever again. Hot chick or no, I don’t give a fuck if you’ve never seen Battlestar Galactica or refer to Christopher Eccleston as the “first Doctor” (although I will correct you); to paraphrase Dickens, you keep the nerd spirit in your way and I’ll keep it in mine. If this debate is a signifier of other conversations we need to be having, then let’s have those conversations instead because this one’s been beaten deader than Deadman and Deadpool playing Dead Rising on an episode of The Walking Dead.
1) Nerds bash the critics of The Dark Knight Rises and break Rotten Tomatoes.
This stuff makes me sick. The Dark Knight Rises (I still wish they’d called it Batman Concludes) may have been the second-highest-grossing movie of the year, but it was also (troll alert!) massively overhyped, in many ways hoisted by the petard of its gargantuan promotional machine. Expectations were astronomically high, and we all should have known that whoever was going to be first to publicly proclaim the movie to be anything other than a cinematic orgasm would be crucified for it by fans. But no one could have foreseen that it would get this bad: after critics like Marshall Fine and Christy Lemire’s negative reviews garnered a swelling of hateful comments on Rotten Tomatoes, the site’s Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity announced that comments for the film had been suspended. Keep in mind that this was before the movie was even released. Eric D. Snider even infamously went so far as to post a fake negative review just to see how much ire he would get, as he had done with The Dark Knight (I understand that he was not disappointed). It’s yet another example of the ugly underbelly of fandom, a swarming unseen mass coming to the knee-jerk defense of a film that would have grossed a billion dollars if it had just been three hours of Michael Caine playing with his armhair. I get the feeling this is not the last time we will see this sort of thing happen, and though Atchity has not banned comments on reviews or required people to log in with their Facebook accounts yet, the implications are ominous.
Guys, this isn’t cool. Even if you don’t agree with a particular movie critic, even if they make you angry, posting hateful ad-hominem comments about them is immature and pointless. Behavior like this makes me ashamed to be a Batman fan, and it saddens me to see friends on my Facebook feed continuing this trend when it comes to blockbusters like The Hobbit. Atchity said it best: “If I could ask everyone for one thing, it’s this: don’t be a dick. Even if you think someone else is being a dick.” If you take nothing else from this article, please let it be that: don’t be a dick. That, and don’t impale people, especially if you’re British. That’s all. Happy New Year!