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The worst pop culture of 2017

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The moments, movies, and memes that made us want to shut our eyes and close our laptops

rick and morty Cartoon Network

As we head into the final weeks of 2017, the inevitable nostalgia for six to 11 months ago is engulfing the pop culture universe. But amid all the best-of lists and greatest-moments roundups, we tend to forget the other side of the coin — the “how did this get made, and why did we suffer through it?” memes, moments, and movies that made our jobs harder and our lives sadder. Here, we asked our staff: what in the cultural world made you question humanity in 2017?

Fake news

Is there a word for the peculiar synesthesia that makes a written phrase sound like nails on a chalkboard? "Fake news" was that phrase in 2017. It was originally, and somewhat reasonably, used to describe amoral pseudo-news sites that fabricated stories for viral social media appeal. But it spread to cover ideologically skewed or misleading coverage, shallow "clickbait" content, good-faith journalistic errors, and eventually covert Russian meme warfare, another of the year’s absurd cultural artifacts. It was useless even before the Trump administration turned it into a grammatically flexible and redundant term for "reporter" — when all critical news is fake by definition, you don't really need a modifier. The most annoying part of the Trumpian "fake news" framework might be how touchy it makes legitimate (or even lighthearted) media critique — which lots of outlets and stories still deserve. Remember when you could make fun of CNN for airing 24/7 coverage of a missing airplane, without signaling support for crypto-fascists who want to actually murder journalists? Good times. —Adi Robertson, Senior Reporter

An effigy of film producer Harvey Weinstein burning during a fireworks display in Edenbridge, England.
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Entertainment-industry sex scandals

The in-depth New York Times and New Yorker exposés of Harvey Weinstein opened the floodgates for sexual abuse stories, often coming from people whose attempts at legal and societal recourse have been ignored for decades. It’s like a poisonous gift that never stops giving. It’s terrific that those who used their power in the industry for systematic exploitation and abuse are being exposed, and are facing censure and loss of the power they weaponized. But the last quarter of 2017 has been a long, wearying slog through other people’s sweaty pants. There have been so many dispiriting stories of promising careers cut short because women fled the entertainment industry after being harassed, raped, or just informed that their biggest contributions to the zeitgeist should come from surrendering their bodies to their entitled, grabby employers. There have been so many unpleasant revelations about the intimate, ugly details of strangers’ sex lives. And the backlash, with people whining that we can’t lose industry-wide sex abuse without victimizing innocent office flirters and making relationships impossible — that’s been pretty miserable as well. So let’s all make a resolution in 2018 to not lie to people to get them alone, lock them into our offices or hotel rooms, or tell them they have to comply with gross sexual demands to keep their jobs, okay? —Tasha Robinson, Film/TV Editor

baby driver Sony Pictures Entertainment

Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s boogie-caper-gritty-drama-rom-com was the most fun and creative summer blockbuster in years, according to every publication I’ve ever heard of, as well as most of my friends. It’s one of the 15 best movies of 2017, according to our film and TV editor.

If this is true, that’s really too bad, since Baby Driver is a boring movie about a boring boy experiencing a boring conflict between his vague desire to be “good” and his more pointed desire to not get murdered by Kevin Spacey. His love interest is so idiotic and outdated an archetype that I briefly thought I was being pranked. The film is set in Atlanta, the epicenter of modern hip-hop (music that is specifically meant to be played in a car!), yet it features an over-hyped soundtrack of New York rock and California pop, coming through earbuds or a parking garage. Though Baby Driver was not literally the worst movie of 2017, it made me feel worse than just about anything else. It made me feel despair. I recognized the creativity of the concept, but still felt hollow after spending two hours with lifeless characters, and I realized I no longer wanted to give successful, rich guys credit for trying, when more than 50 percent of the population still doesn’t even get a fair first shot. Rewarding male mediocrity becomes very dangerous over time. This year should have made that clear enough. —Kaitlyn Tiffany, Culture Reporter


Fyre Festival

Fyre Festival could arguably be the best or worst pop culture moment of 2017, depending on whether you were actually there. Either way, it gave us plenty to talk about in April 2017, and it gave most of us a healthy dose of schadenfreude. Organized by Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, the festival was heavily promoted by a bevy of Insta-famous models and “influencers,” including Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Bella Hadid. It was touted as a tropical luxury music festival set in the Bahamas, complete with bespoke luxury lodgings and top gourmet meals… which turned out to be leftover refugee relief tents and sad little cheese sandwiches with bits of salad on the side. Some attendees paid upward of $12,000 for access to this disaster, and they got less entertainment out of it than the rest of us got for free, watching this disaster unfold on Twitter. Apparently money really can’t buy everything. —Thuy Ong, News Writer


Stranger Things 2, Episode 7: “Punk”

Stranger Things 2 was a solid sequel with a few frustrating moments scattered here and there: Billy is kind of useless, and the story wraps up a little too neatly. Oh, and also, almost the entirety of episode 7 is awful. "Punk" changes things up considerably from the rest of the show, focusing exclusively on Eleven and some new “punk” friends. It sets the action away from Hawkins and away from almost every other character, allowing for some wandering around that ultimately leads to Eleven getting a pep talk she probably didn't need, and a makeover she did. "Punk" would have been a bad episode of TV on its own, but placed in the greater context of the season, it's almost inexcusable. Episode 6 ends with basically every other main character staring down an invasion of lethal demo-dogs. Then the show leaves viewers hanging on that cliffhanger for an hour. "Punk" feels like a waste of time and effort from a show that otherwise gets so much right, and in a series like Stranger Things, which is meant to be binge-watched, it feels like a slap in the face to viewers. —Chaim Gartenberg, Reporter


How many retweets?

When Nevada teen Carter Wilkerson jokingly asked Wendy’s how many retweets he needed for a year of free chicken nuggets, his efforts went viral on Twitter and quickly dethroned Ellen DeGeneres for the most retweeted tweet of all time. It was a fun and purely genuine moment on a platform that’s been derailed by harassment and poor community policy enforcements. For a brief period, everyone came together to root for a totally random and silly cause. Although Wilkerson milked the publicity, something good came out of it, and we ended up with $100,000 in donations to a charity to support adoption.

Then came the shameless copycats. Like anything that goes viral on the internet, imitators sought similar spotlights, and the internet lit up with other folks begging airlines, restaurants, cruise ships, and telecoms for free services in exchange for a shot at 15 minutes of fame. It’s a sad reminder that joyful things on the internet don’t last long — which makes it harder to enjoy pure moments online at a time when the internet and social media become increasingly hostile spaces to navigate. Natt Garun, Technology Editor


Neo Yokio

Neo Yokio had all the makings of an amazing show — something to herald in a new generation of multicultural anime. We could have really used a show like that in 2017. But executive producer and co-writer Ezra Koenig, best-known as the lead singer and guitarist of Vampire Weekend, infused the six-episode series with ingratiating self-importance and existential doubt that weighed down the fun. Forget the sidelined demons hiding inside diamonds and Chanel outfits, the sassy supporting characters, and Susan Sarandon’s aunt with gravitas. Jaden Smith’s character, a reenactment of his Twitter persona, coupled with Koenig’s boring soliloquies, makes for a bad show that’s too nonsensical and pompous to be enjoyable. — Shannon Liao, News Writer

Fans ruining fandoms

Fandoms have always been a haven for the overzealous, the fanatical, the too-dedicated devourer of anything meant as entertainment. They’re communities where people should be free to share their deep love of a specific thing with like-minded individuals, free of judgement. But in 2017, a few specific fandoms rose to the top of news feeds for all the wrong reasons. There was the Rick and Morty fanbase, a notoriously toxic group that achieved new heights when bad actors began harassing the show’s female writers. Even the show’s creators denounced these “idiots” for their gross behavior, which continued with fans throwing full-on tantrums over a shortage of themed sauces at McDonalds.

Rick and Morty may take the crown for worst fans of 2017 — until a late contender showed up just this month. Within the Star Wars fandom, angry voices reared their heads once again in response to the recent release of The Last Jedi. I’ll save you the details on the angry-man petitions about how Rian Johnson ruined the universe, but instead point to instances like the racist vandalism about new character Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran, on the online fan encyclopedia Wookieepedia. The cruel, abhorrent behavior of people within both of these fanbases goes against what makes fandoms so wonderful in the first place. When so-called fans act this way, they’re only establishing themselves as spoiled children who don’t want other people to play with their toys. —Megan Farokhmanesh, Culture Reporter

Image: 20th Century Fox

Characters doing dumb things

I was looking forward to a bunch of films in 2017, including Alien: Covenant, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Life, and a couple of others. I was hoping they’d at least be entertaining enough that I could switch off my brain and enjoy the spectacle. But sometimes even setting expectations for a film to the lowest setting doesn’t help, because the screenwriters have decided to let their characters do the dumbest things imaginable. Alien: Covenant and Life were probably the worst offenders this year, and they’re each carried along as their characters make one stupid decision after another. They’re set in worlds where the characters should know better about opening a door to an isolation chamber with an alien in it, or touching something that they shouldn’t, or any number of other things that make me yell at the TV. Hollywood has been complaining about people not turning out to theaters like they used to. Movies that set up smart characters, then have them act dumber than the audience, are the main reason I personally avoided theaters in 2017, and waited for Blu-Ray. — Andrew Liptak, Weekend Editor