As 2009 dawns, I thought I’d recognize all that made my 2008 bearable (and occasionally inspiring). Since my year divides roughly into two seasons — college football, and the rest of the year — I’ve decided to name an all-star team. These were my MVPs, on both sides of the ball.
QB – Barack Obama – For keeping cool in the pocket, and methodically moving the ball downfield. That said, under the circumstances, winning this election was comparatively easy compared to the real task at hand. Keep cool, Mr. President.
RB – Ben and Rose Kompare – To be honest they drive me a fair way up the wall most days, draining between 60 and 80 percent of my energy and attention. However, they keep right on moving forward, and remind me what it’s all about.
RB – Heath Ledger (RIP) as The Joker – Full disclosure: we just saw The Dark Knight a few days ago (life with little ones = summer movies in winter on DVD). I was literally haunted by this performance, dreaming of the Joker after seeing the film. The rest of the production was also compelling, but Ledger’s Joker was on another plane, taking a well-worn character that’s been around for over six decades and making him exactly of the moment. One could easily imagine that weird, uber-smart, misanthropic and vaguely scary guy you knew in high school or college showing up like this, and meaning it, a decade or so on.
WR – everybody involved in Battlestar Galactica – They’re all done with it, having wrapped production a few months back, but we’re still to see the last ten-plus hours of this existential saga. Even when they get a bit sloppy, as with the shaky Mutiny on the Bounty arc, it’s compelling (like, say, Miles Davis on an off night). Like the best receivers, they go deep, and make things happen. Bring home the cat, guys.
WR – Henry Jenkins – The very model of a 21st century media scholar, and a helluva person in his own right. Consistently pushing, never staying put, and generously bringing us all along. And in 2009, he’s literally moving forward to what looks to be a more prominent position at USC, after many years at MIT. Good luck, Henry!
TE – Tim Anderson – After some challenging times, Tim’s had an amazing 2008, with a new family and a new job, and he’s poised again to challenge Media Studies. Plus, he’s kind of built like a tight end.
C – William Petersen – Having reviewed all 190-odd episodes of CSI for my book this year, I am in awe of Petersen’s nine-year performance as Gil Grissom. It’s kind of the inverse of Ledger’s, all underplayed and thoroughly normative, but at the same time carrying heavy burdens. Grissom has been through hell the past three years in particular, and Petersen’s made that transition subtle yet compelling. Hats off for nine years, and for seeing Grissom through to his end.
OL – Google apps – They’ve made my life so much easier, to the point that I scarcely run anything that’s not anchored in my web browser anymore. Gmail alone is a godsend, but Google Reader and Google Maps are incredibly versatile apps. It’s been the reinvention of the personal computer.
OL – Sean Griffin – I’ve several amazing colleagues in my division at SMU, but only one Sean Griffin. Tireless, brilliant, dedicated to our little community (and to the Meadows School in general), and always doing it with aplomb and good humor. And he always throws a heckuva soiree.
OL – Lifehacker – This site is crazy addictive, but also thoroughly useful, with everything from video conversion tips to coping with job loss. It protects us fearlessly, making our lives easier.
OL – Willie Tuitama – The four-year starting quarterback of my University of Arizona Wildcats, he’s not flashy like Florida’s Tim Tebow or those Big 12 guys, nor as rock-solid as USC’s Mark Sanchez, but he’s as good as it gets when he’s on, calmly toying with opposing offenses. Four years of highs and disastrous lows ended with a sharp, flawless performance against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 20 (I was there!). He holds every significant QB record in UA history, and, more importantly, weathered the storm of uncertainty alongside Coach Mike Stoops to finally (finally!) get us back to a winning record and a bowl game.
OLB – Mad Men – It’s on defense because it represents all that has been great about the medium of television for the past sixty years; i.e., defending it now from becoming irrelevant. Moreover, in its rich vision of the early 1960s, it waves the flag of historiography, i.e., of critically examining its sources and not pretending to be a window to that world.
MLB – Sally Kompare – She’s defended me more reliably and more readily than anyone else has for half of my life. In 2008, she made some major changes, and we’ve both grown more as a result. Plus, she’s very effective against those shifty running backs, Ben and Rose.
OLB – My iPod – Oh, iPod, what did I ever do without you? In 2008, you served up gigabytes of my standard writing music (soundtracks and classical), helped me organize fixations on 1950s-60s pop and contemporary indie, and kept me enlightened with scads of podcasts. And you kept the world out when I needed it most.
DE – The Colbert Report and The Daily Show – Unbeatable as always, but particularly on-target in this crazy election year. Nailing the opposition relentlessly, four days a week.
DT – Daily Kos – I only really get into the Kos in an election year, and although I’m only a lurker there, I found its diarists reports, commentaries and calls to action invaluable in 2008. After an entire existence in the Bush years, it’s going to be interesting to see how the community, and the whole progressive blogosphere, evolves now that the Democrats are the government.
DT – Russ Pennell – Having only been hired on Lute Olson’s staff last spring, he took the reins of the men’s basketball team in the wake of Olson’s surprise November retirement. Even though he has to wear the badge of “interim,” and will almost certainly not be around next fall, he’s completely redesigned the Wildcats’ style. This team could have completely folded, but they’re 9-3, and look to be a legit threat in the Pac-10. Memo to UA athletic director Jim Livengood: don’t rule him out entirely for the future.
DE – Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow – For expanding the challenge to the Fox (or, in CNN’s case, Fox-esque) mentality, and reawakening my greatly lapsed faith in television journalism.
CB – Console-ing Passions @ UCSB – The best conference I attended this year, in many respects. True, the incredible California climate and jaw-dropping beach views might have swayed me a bit, but this was an academically solid event through and through. Excellent feminist analyses of television texts and social contexts, and a well-managed theme of “women in production.” In these leaner times, conferences per se are looking more and more like extravagances. But if they can maintain this high standard, they’re well worth the expense.
CB – Heather Hendershot – The incoming editor of Cinema Journal inherited a very solid title from Jon Lewis, but has upped the ante with a swath of new departments and a more varied structure. These are changing times for SCMS and for academic organizations and publishing in general, and Heather’s meeting those challenges with verve and thoroughness. In 2008, I also loved geeking out with her over BSG, and am more and more convinced about her fifth Cylon theory.
S – George Carlin (RIP) – He’s been vital for the last 35 years, but perhaps never more so than during the last eight. Thank you, George, for shouting the truth and never letting up.
S – 30 Rock – Yes, television comedy is in a pretty sad state at the moment (as is all of television, but that’s a larger story). Thankfully, we have Tina Fey. The more I watch, the more I realize how amazing this show is. I’ll still go with Arrested Development as the sitcom of the 2000s, but 30 Rock is a suitable heir to a “backstage” TV comedy tradition that goes back to The Dick Van Dyke Show, where completely implausible characters and situations thrive. Where else on TV are you going to get an updated take on Ted Baxter and Georgette (in the forms of Tracy Jordan and Kenneth)?
K – Catherine Tate – One of the truly fantastic things about Doctor Who has been its consistent ability to surprise us, and one-up itself. Many people (myself included) were dubious about the revival of Ms. Tate’s Donna Noble, this time as the regular companion. But, like a place kicker under enormous pressure, Tate nailed it every time, fleshing out the fairly one-dimensional character seen in “The Runaway Bride” with pathos, wit, intelligence, anger, and joy.
P – Grant Morrison – Faced with writing two universe-shaking DC Comics titles this year (Batman and Final Crisis), Morrison fearlessly aimed high, challenging readers, artists, and fellow DC writers to keep up. While the end results of these dark narratives have yet to be seen, they’ve provided a hell of a ride thus far.