Monday, December 31, 2012

A Rogue Scholar's 2012 (Pop Culture Edition)

(Collage by Nyasha Juta)

2012 was interesting; but you hear that every year. Well, if not for anything else, we at the Rogue Scholar Society especially cherish it because it was the year of our establishment; and it has been nothing short of an honor to share this platform with you all.

As a token of our appreciation, we present to you our most memorable pop culture moments in 2012 (sports, entertainment, technology, and other fads).


5) Spain National Soccer Team reigns supreme

In an off-World Cup year, the European Championships are usually the next best thing in terms of national competition. Well, Spain was up to the task; often playing with no forwards at all! Ultimately, they became the first Euro champions to defend their title, plus they are still the world champs- giving a lot of weight to their 'best ever' argument.

After winning the last European championships in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010, there was serious conversation on whether the current Spanish team could be the best national team in the history of the game. Few other teams have dominated the game on that level (turn-of-the-millennium France, Pele's Brazil), and no European champion had ever been able to defend their title.

4) Manny Pacquiao gets knocked out

The Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez series of bouts has definitely earned its place in boxing folklore. Going into their December 8 fight, the two had fought 3 hotly contested fights before; with the first one being a draw and Pac-Man winning the other two. One cannot emphasize how close and controversial the fights had been. Fans on either side of the fence and everyone in between had one common wish: a decisive fight.

Decisive it was. After 5 rounds of great boxing, Marquez delivered a right hook to the jaw that floored Manny at the end of the sixth. The knock-out went on to carry a life of its own on the internet, and you know how that goes. As for the rest of us, well, we wouldn't mind one more!

3) King James' Coronation

Very few athletes in the history of organized sport have been under the pressure that Lebron was to win a title. Despite being arguably the league's best player in the past few years, he had found championship honors elusive. No big deal, there was little chance of him leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a title anyway: they are hardly about that life. When, however, 'King James' infamously decided to 'take his talents to South Beach, Miami' after 7 years in Cleveland, he made his intentions clear: it was crowning time. Partnered up with hotshots like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, much was expected of Lebron in his first year. After making it to the finals, he choked time and again, leaving the Dallas Mavericks to walk away with 2010-2011 title.

This year, however, there was  a renewed energy in the Heat camp, and they went all the way, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in game 5 of the 2012 finals! Finally, the king had been honored thus. Now, can he do it again? And again? (a la other 'kings'; MJ, Kobe etc.)

2) Say it isn't so, Lance

Nobody has single handedly defined a spot in the manner that Lance Armstrong defined cycling. The 7 time Tour De France champion was more than just the perfect cyclist, he had also fought a battle with testicular cancer at the peak of his career, and subsequently became a renowned philanthropist through his 'Live Strong' foundation.

Over the years, he had also been dogged with doping allegations, which he always denied. This year, however, the USADA released a 1000-page document which all but damned him. He has been stripped of all his titles, and brought the idea of sporting 'heroes' into further disrepute.

1) The 2012 Summer Olympics

What else can be said about the most phenomenal sporting event the world has ever seen! With more than 10,000 athletes from 204 nations, the London games were everything and more. The 2012 were also significant for several other reasons: they were the first game in which all disciplines had both male and female competitors, they were the 'greenest' games yet, etc.

So, just how much did we enjoy the Olympics? So much, that we have decided to do a sub-top 5 memorable moments, just to capture the essence of the Olympics!
5) The British Golden Night
Where Great Britain was excelling as hosts, they were underwhelming as competitors, if their medal count for the first few days was anything to go by. It however, all changed on August 4th when their athletes made quick work to reestablish the nation among the Olympic big wigs. On what has since been heralded as 'one of the greatest nights in British athletics' it took Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, and Greg Rutherford just 45 minutes to amass three gold medals in front of 80,000 adoring fans. Farah's gold in the 5000m was his second, following another in the 10000m a week earlier. Farah's overwhelmed celebration went on to develop a life of its own in the meme-o-sphere, thereby cementing him as a 'runaway' Olympic phenomenon.

4) Unstoppable Oscar
Oscar Pistorius of South Africa became the first ever double-leg amputee to participate in the Olympics, competing in men's 400m and the 4X400m relay. He also participated in the summer Paralympics, where he won gold in the 400 meters and 4X100 meters races, both in record time. We'll let it in sink in for a moment. Oscar lost both his legs. Oscar sits and competes among the world's strongest and fastest. What did YOU do in 2012 again?
3) Gabby Douglas and the Fierce Five
You saw them; you loved them! The five 16 yr old American female gymnasts were the bonafide darlings of the games. As beautiful as they were graceful, the girls pranced and flexed their way to the USA's second only gold medal in the history of the event, as well as individual gold for Douglas (first African American to achieve the feat) and captain Aly Raisman in the all-round individual and floor exercise events respectively, while McKayla Maroney walked away with silver on vault. In the end, the lore of the Fierce Five transcends their medals: their tears and smiles, the presidential congratulations and subsequent invites to the White House, the absurd debate regarding Gabby's apparently unkempt hair, and, in one of the games’ most iconic images, ‘unimpressed Mckayla’, make the five girls Olympic immortals.
2) "To Di World!"- Jamaican sprinters
It is no secret that there are certain Olympic disciplines in which one or two nations/regions/ethnic origins - inexplicably or not- dominate (sprinters of Caribbean descent, East African long-distance runners, U.S. basketball etc.) This year, the sprints were all about Jamaica. Led by the peerless Usain Bolt, the small island nation collected 12 medals (4 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze) in sprints. They had first and second place in the men's 100 meters, with Bolt setting a new Olympic record at 9.63! The men also got first, second, and third place in 200m, and phenomenally set a world record for the 4X100m relay, which they ran in 36.84 seconds! Not to be outdone, the women excelled, getting the gold and bronze in the 100m and sliver in the 200m, before sealing it off with impressive victories in the 4X100m and 4X400m relays. (Studies are being done to account for the superiority of Caribbean- descent (and thus, West African) sprinters- might be worth a read!)
Aside from winning races, the Jamaicans put on a great show: they brought a spark to the games, and we are grateful to have marveled at their excellence.
1) Michael Phelps
What else is there to say about Phelps? Coming into the 2012 Olympics, there were doubts on whether he could recapture the magic of past games. By the end of the games, his 4 gold and two silvers brought his total Olympic tally (over three games) to a staggering 22 medals; 18 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze. He stands apart, and it will take an amazing run to match his exploits. All hail Michael Phelps: the greatest Olympian to ever grace the modern games! 
Honorable Mentions
  • David Rudisha: He may not have the flair of his counterparts Mo Farah and Usain Bolt, but he is certainly just as talented. He broke the world record at the Olympics becoming the first runner to ever run sub 1:41 in the 800 meters, in a time of 1:40.91.4 
  • The North Korean/South Korean national anthem debacle.
Sport Headliner Runner-Ups: NFL Replacement Refs, Ryder Cup Golf (Miracle at Medinah), French Open Tennis Final (Djokovic vs Nadal), Zambia’s emotional African Cup of Nations Win, Super Bowl XLVI, Ibrahimovic's stunning overhead kick against England.

5) Call Me Maybe
Wow. Could this song have been any bigger? The catchy Carlie-Rae Jepsen song was initially released in 2011, but blew up this year. How big? MTV song of the year, 2 Grammy Nominations (Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance) ,#1 in more than 20 countries in 5 continents, one of the biggest-selling digital singles of all time etc; you get the picture.Add to the the legend several parodies, remixes, renditions, memes, a video with an interesting twist, and you have yourself one of the biggest monster singles of this century.

4) The Hunger Games
As fans, young and old, said adieu to Harry Potter, a new craze took over known as The Hunger Games. Young book fans all over the nation had already fallen in love with Katniss Everdeen, the brave teen who stood up to save her sister, and ends up becoming the symbol of a revolution. As news that the book trilogy would hit the big screen approached, everybody wanted to know what the big deal was. Some read the books before watching the much-anticipated movie, while others did it the other way round. The book series has gone on to sell more copies than the Harry Potter series, which is remarkable considering that The Hunger Games is much shorter, with three short books to 7 longer Harry Potter reads, and has only been out since 2008. No doubt the digital book age has helped, and the movie hype lived up to its promises, grossing over $650m for the first movie alone. Everyone had an opinion about the 'girl on fire', but whether good or bad, no-one can deny that she took 2012 by storm.

3) The Presidential Campaign
It would strike the unwitting eye as odd that such an important matter as the selection of the leader of the free world be deemed a subject of pop culture. Yet that is exactly what the last election cycle developed (or degenerated) into. Fueled by nasty attacks on either side from as early on as the primaries, the campaign period often became downright absurd. The presidential debates were more akin to freestyle battles than forums for progressive conversation. The fact that Big Bird became the lasting legacy of the year's vote bears testament to how much the candidates - and thus society- tended to stray from what matters most.Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair. Mitt Romney has 'binders full of women'. News stations and late night comics were only ever so willing to stick their knives into the electoral steak too. To make matters worse, an incredible $4.2 billion was spent to finance the entire circus! By the time November came, we all felt like little Abby here:

2) 50 Shades of Grey
Today, there are very few non-fashion related trends that divide us right down the gender middle. Increasingly, what is good for the goose is being deemed good for the gander as well. Except for 50 Shades of Grey: that was all you, ladies! Released in 2011, the erotic novel became a public and private staple. People who hadn't flipped open a book in years begrudgingly found their way to the local book store. As dominantly popular as it was with the fairer sex, it made its way onto the shelves of fellas as well, who, in large claimed to be reading it "just to see what the ladies are into" (but we all know better). We'll let the book's prolonged stay on the best-seller list and author E.L James's addition to Time's '100 Most Influential People in the World' list for 2012 testify that the book was apparently 50 Shades of Awesome.

1) Gangnam Style

Move over Bieber; move over Macarena, move over anybody who claims to have the biggest song/biggest dance fad/most watched video in the history of the game: Psy has taken over 'Gangnam Style!' Released in July, the song has transcended language, nationality, and every imaginable specter of pop culture. At a time when 'Call Me Maybe' was garnering an unheard of 1.5 million YouTube views a day, Gangnam style took over and did 9 million a day. The dance has been attempted publicly by world leaders such as Barack Obama and Ban-Ki Moon, who went as far as calling it "a force for World Peace."

Attempting to describing the phenomenon here does not do it justice. Gangnam style is an exceptional work of art. It is no surprise that it is the all-time most watched video on YouTube. Hell, it even brought MC Hammer out of obscurity (video below). When our time here is done, and every year is documented by just one event, being or phenomenon- 2012 shall be the year of the 'Gangnam'.

Honorable Mentions: Avengers, Honey Boo-boo, Jersey Shore ending, YOLO, Scandal, Breaking Bad

5) Endeavor Finally Retires

Built in the late 1980s to replace the tragically lost Space Shuttle Challenger, Endeavor is one of NASA's most celebrated shuttles. After taking its last voyage in 2011, the shuttle was retired this year; but not before making its final journey: a 12 mile (at 2m/hr) trek through Inglewood and Southern Los Angeles. The cost of of this celebratory victory lap was pegged at $10m provided by private donors, and the logistics proved to be hell; but it was definitely a fitting end to a triumphant symbol of NASA and humanity's pursuit of excellence.

4) Tablet Wars

With the iPad as a prototype, tablets were the technological device of the year. The gadget's popularity led to one of the most fascinating patent cases in recent history between Apple and the Galaxy's Samsung. The two companies had been battling since early 2011, when Apple sued Samsung for "slavishly" copying the look and feel of the iPhone and iPad with its Galaxy lineup of devices. While the case was handled differently in different countries' courts, but came to a head when it stood before California's courts this summer. 

After weeks of intense testimony, the jury judged in favor of Apple, to the tune of $1.05 billion. The jury did however, find that Samsung did not infringe on Apple's iPad design patent, so the judge lifted a ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the U.S. Since then, Samsung is appealing the decision and the two companies have another, very similar case in the same court that will go to trial in 2014. A later UK court ruling redeemed Samsung, when it required Apple to state publicly, on its website and in newspaper ads, that Samsung did not copy the iPad with its Galaxy tablets. The battle looks set to go on. The European Commission has found Samsung of patent abuse by charging Apple absurd amounts for its 3G patent licensing terms; Apple agrees that Samsung is asking for too much. And so it goes...

3) Automated (Self-driving) Vehicles

This year brought much excitement to the reality of the future of the automotive industry. In May, a Toyota Prius powered by Google’s innovative technology was granted the very first automated vehicle license issued in the U.S. Later this year, with much initiative from Google, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law in September allowing autonomous vehicles to be driven in the state. California now joins Florida and Nevada, which have also legalized autonomous vehicles on their roads for research purposes. The leadership of these states in this field will not only attract related research and business investments, but it will also propel the U.S. as a leader in the field of autonomous vehicles. Though we are much closer to the dream of having cars drive themselves while we sip on our coffee on the way to work, there is still much more research to be done to make sure that the vehicles are safe for consumer use and to ensure there are proper regulations put into place for the use of autonomous vehicles. Don’t fret though, according to Intel’s Chief Technology Officer, Justin Rattner, the vehicles may be ready within the next ten years!

2) Fracking

Photo credit: Propublica
“All hail to shale?” What the frack?! To those not familiar with the term, “fracking” might sound more like the latest slang word. Fracking actually refers to hydraulic fracturing, which is a method of drilling and horizontally injecting highly pressurized water, sand, and chemicals to break the earth’s shale formations and extract natural gas. 2012 was a big year for fracking as the controversy surrounding this clean energy issue only intensified and will without a doubt continue to heat things up on the political horizon in the coming year. Concerns surrounding the issue include the contamination of ground water and drinking water, possibilities of earthquakes initiated as a result of the fracking, and the effects of the release of methane from the process on global climate change. Fracking has been a top issue in states like Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Even Hollywood has cashed in on the fracking controversy with this month’s release of “Promised Land”, staring the ever so charming Matt Damon and John Krasinski. 

1) Look How Far Curiosity Has Brought Us!

While Endeavor retired, another astronautic feat was being set. In August 2012, the rover Curiosity made history when it landed on Mars in what has been termed "the most daring landing on another planet in human history." It was so spectacular that even the lead NASA engineer who worked on the project admitted to not being confident that the landing would go as well as it did.

A win for humanity: to the skies and beyond.

AND.. In Case You Missed it...(Impossible, we know)

5) Apocalypse (Zombie and otherwise)

While the Mayan doomsday had been waging war on some minds (guilty as charged), most folk were just going about their 2012 without batting an eyelid. Independently, the past few years have seen a resurgence in pop culture's obsession with the undead. For a brief moment this year, the two seemingly independent phenomena collided, leaving many a cynic fearing the worst: Zombies were here, and this was it for the world as we have known it. (The TV show, The Walking Dead While the Mayan doomsday had been waging war on some minds (guilty as charged), most folk were just going about their 2012 without batting an eyelid. Independently, the past few years have seen a resurgence in pop culture's obsession with the undead. For a brief moment this year, the two seemingly independent phenomena collided, leaving many a cynic fearing the worst: Zombies were here, and this was it for the world as we have known it. (The TV show, The Walking Dead
Sounds silly? Well, digest this: In May, a Miami homeless man had his face eaten right off by another, before a police officer stepped in and shot the assailant. A day or two later, a New Jersey man cut open his own stomach and threw his intestines at the police. Less than a week later, a 21 year college student in Maryland killed his roommate and ate his brains and heart. Oh, American psychos, did you say? Within a month, the Zombie apocalypse had moved east, with reports coming out of China being equally as disturbing.

Say what you will, but we have never known modern man to be a huge fan of human flesh. That a trend would develop months away from predicted doomsday definitely had us shaking in our skin- but we were more than happy to still be holding on to in 2013.

4) Penn State

Penn State University's football program was often considered the beacon of success with honor. Boasting the highest graduation rate among football programs in the land and having no previous NCAA violations, the aura came crashing down in 2012. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexual assault of multiple children and the university faced heavy criticism for what seemed to be a cover up by former coaching legend Joe Paterno and other officials.  It was bad.The NCAA handed a crippling sanction to the university which included the loss of scholarships and a $60 million fine.

Many predicted the demise of the Penn State football program. Enter Mr. Bill O'Brien. The former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots led Penn State to a winning season while infusing new-found hope in the Penn State faithful. The program has continued to bounce back with the landing of several big-time recruits and maintaining high graduation rates within the team. True to his form, O'Brien was crowned the Big Ten Coach of the Year. The university has also continued to raise money for charities dealing with child abuse.

What you may have missed: While the NCAA relished in making an example of Penn State University as an institution, they refused to give serious sanctions to North Carolina's athletic programs that reportedly had faux-classes set up in order to ensure athletes' academic eligibility was not in question. Double Standard? We'll let you decide.

3) Fall(s) From Grace

2012 brought us a double dose of idols whose reputations were dashed against the rocks. Lance Armstrong, the embattled, cancer-surviving, take-no-prisoners, 7-time Tour De France pseudo-winner dropped his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. No more a symbol of perseverance and hope to cancer survivors and sports enthusiasts alike, Armstrong has had his titles stripped, been banned from professional cycling for life, resigned from his cancer foundation, and watched his reputation implode in spectacular fashion. Armstrong had been plagued with accusations of doping for years, but 2012 was the year that the American public finally agreed with the USADA's description of Armstrong as a "serial cheat who led the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen."1

If Lance Armstrong’s quiet surrender didn't come as a huge surprise, General David Petraeus’s abrupt departure from the CIA in the wake of a sex scandal with a former biographer was met with shock and awe. Petraeus, who was widely perceived as a latter-day American hero following his successful turnaround of the Iraq (and, to a lesser extent, Afghan) war(s), was a shoo-in for CIA director and floated as a possible future Republican presidential candidate until his resignation on November 6. Some say the real scandal is the national security state, whose ever-longer arm was able to dredge up thousands of personal emails with thin justification. Whatever your take, you can rest assured Petraeus will not be sleeping in his own bedroom, much less the Lincoln bedroom, anytime soon.

2) Stop Kony

On March 5th, The Invisible Children, a US-based non-profit aimed at tackling the plight of child soldiers in central/east Africa released 'Kony 2012' and officially began the 'Stop Kony' movement. Aimed at capturing and bringing to justice the infamous Ugandan Warlord and leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, the campaign was sensational. The video garnered millions of views in a matter of days, and #StopKony trended on twitter for the better part of a week (most trends last a few hours). Beyond the moving video, the campaign spiraled into conversations on how misguided and patronizing the video was; how Invisible Children allegedly lacked transparency with their money; who is supposed to lead the escapade to 'stop him'? etc.

While the effectiveness of Kony 2012 is debatable and still remains to be seen, the movement will forever be be credited with being a beacon into a new age of philanthropy: and that is our number one 2012 fad:

1) The Rise of the Internet Activism (Slacktivism)

After the online phenomenon that was 'Kony 2012' and its effectiveness in at least getting the conversation started, the internet asserted itself as a new force in activism. The tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin and the injustices surrounding it where brought to light and sustained in social consciousness thanks in large part to social networking sites.

The debate that has endured revolves around the actual success of online activism. Proponents find that, in today's fast-paced world of 24 hour news cycles and international communication, the internet is a very poignant tool for this generation. Skeptics, on the other hand, have termed it 'slacktivism' and chastise it for doing more than being a front for those who want to do the least possible to work and still be deemed 'do-gooders'. While the internet can never replace marches, courts of law, first responders, etc, it has definitely proven to be an organizing weapon bar none. Now, if we can only figure out just how to use it optimally...


Andy Griffith, Ravi Shankar, Whitney Houston, Neil Armstrong, Chuck Brown, Donna Summer, Etta James, Dick Clark, Don Cornelius, David Kelly, Junior Seau, Adam Ndlovu, Robin Gibb, Jenni Rivera, Sage Stallone, Joe Paterno, Michael Clarke Duncan, Larry Hagman and all others we lost this year.

Well, folks, that's our 2012 Review- Pop Culture edition. Look out later today for our other installments in the End of Year series. We probably missed some of your favorites; what were they?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of my favorites that I think will go down in pop culture history was the 'return' of Tupac at Coachella! That was special!!!