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Year In Review

The Worst Ideas Of 2021

Kean Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images

These are the ideas that the Defector staff found to be the worst of 2021.

Everything Becoming Fandom

What a delight it would have been to have a new bad idea in 2021. The year when a massive groundswell of public support propels the guy from Staind to a Nobel Prize in Literature. The year everyone starts dressing like Gerardo in the video for “Rico Suave.” But this was not that kind of year, and so we mostly got old ideas, again. For a year that I mostly spent waiting for it to start in earnest, or re-start in the way I wanted it to re-start, or finally just to fucking end, it fit. Someone else, who I will not meet, is getting into tarot cards or espresso martinis or dressing like Jerry Seinfeld in Seinfeld or whatever. Not my problem!

But an idea that had not-so-recently announced itself as pervasive and stubborn and dangerous reasserted itself at the end of 2021—the cultural tendency, which is currently ascendant in but not remotely limited to the United States, to turn every corner of the culture into an exercise in partisan fan performance. Being a fan is of course not a bad thing in itself. It makes you stupid, admittedly, or at least offers a number of easy ways in which to act stupid, but it can also sometimes make you happy, so who’s to say whether it’s good or bad. But being a fan of a team, or an athlete, or of like the run-pass option as an offensive approach is finally just a way to wring some delight out of being alive. Being a fan of a political party, or a streaming network, or literally any brand—this hands you all the tribalism and obligation of fandom without ever affording any of the grace or fun. It’s the old internet gag about logging out of Bad Screen at 6:00 p.m. and logging onto Good Screen at 6:05, except both screens are somehow workplaces and only the Bad one actually pays you anything.

From my perspective, watching people use their leisure time to abase themselves in the defense of, for instance, Andrew Cuomo or Netflix or the one Marvel Studios executive who is always photographed wearing a baseball hat with Hawkeye’s logo on it and looking like he just got done crying at his own birthday party, is all extremely wack and demeaning. It makes me sad not just for the people pledging their axe to people or institutions that will and moreover cannot ever care about them as anything more than goo-rich Matrix pods, but for the ways in which some perfectly decent human instincts—to work together, to care one way or another—can wind up jumping the track and wind up dead-ended and useless. 

These last few years have not been kind to the idea that people might somehow be convinced or even compelled—by a plague, say, a big global plague that could be remedied at least to some extent by the broad application of some fairly simple measures—to reason together, and to get past their various real but trivial antipathies and at least figure out how to live. This is not really what people want, maybe, or maybe it is just that the people who become rich or powerful by riding this kind of broader tidal public will have figured out that people want to work together for the common good much less ardently than they want to work together to make people they dislike unhappy, or at least feel like they are losing. It all ends up in the same place, I guess. 

But even and maybe especially as someone who loves sports, there is something distressing about watching all of our culture start to take on the same valences and idiocies. I cheer for the New York Mets, although I do not ever really expect them to make me happy, because it is a habit I have adopted over the course of my dumb life. I will vote for candidates who work toward a public health care system, to make an absurd but not totally incorrect comparison, because I think it’s absolutely the bare minimum that should be afforded to every person according to my understanding of basic human dignity. I care about both, but not remotely in the same way, or for the same reasons. I suppose they’re both kinds of caring. But it seems like a very stupid and potentially very dangerous mistake to get the two confused. – David Roth

The California Recall Election

Despite committing one of the least subtle gaffes a high-level politician has made in recent memory, and despite a quarter of a billion dollars being thrown at making him a former politician, Gavin Newsom is still the governor of California. We did not learn much of substance, though we got to waste a lot of time and money in service of doing so. He won by one million percent, like five minutes after the polls closed.

I will admit I was nervous that Newsom would lose the recall vote and his governorship in September. I don’t particularly like him, but Larry Elder would have tried to turn Sacramento into a Chuck E. Cheese for far-right D-teamers. The election took place in an off year in the late summer, and since turnout was the primary dynamic in play, there were legit scenarios on the board where Newsom lost to someone truly repugnant. Or, maybe, this weird landlord influencer guy. Anyway, the roar of the masses turned out to be farts. Take it away, Minions:

Patrick Redford

When Mike Graham Tried To Own Some Guy By Insisting That You Can Grow Concrete

I do not know the full context of this clip, but I don’t think anyone needs to know much of anything about who Mike Graham is or what exactly he was aiming to accomplish during this interview, in order conclude that this was one of the worst ideas of 2021.

Where our toad-like friend Mike fucked up was not in thinking he could get away with spouting some insane and easily debunked bullshit on TV, but in his choice of debate opponent. I’m sure we all like to think that, if called on, we could face off against any of the stupid bloviators who define our current age—your Alex Joneses and Ben Shapiros and whatnot—and expose them as bumbling frauds for all the world to see. But the thing about people like that is that they make up for what they lack in sense-making with an unrivaled ability to aggravate anyone they speak to and froth up any conversation they are having into a muddy and senseless mess. You can never really win an argument against a person who is at all times prepared to be the grandest psychopath you’ve ever spoken to, even if they are arguing that the U.S. government is turning all the frogs gay.

And yet! Win the argument is exactly what young Cameron Ford, one of the heroes of 2021, did. And how did he do it? He just sat there, and let the stupidity of Mike Graham’s insistence that concrete can be “grown” hang in the air like an eggy fart. What restraint. What comedic timing. What an idiot that shithead Mike is. – Tom Ley

The Re-Promotion Of Pluto To “Planet”

Get a load of these guys. Some scientists want to classify Pluto as a planet again. Get the fuck out of here!

Pluto, despite being useful in that little mnemonic we all learned, started to lose planetary credibility as astronomers began to discover dozens of pathetic little bodies just like it: in highly elliptical orbits, and which had neither the mass nor the strength of will to “clear the neighborhood” of other bodies. So the IAU made it official in 2006 by redefining what it meant to be a planet. Pluto hadn’t cleared its orbit, so in essence the Big Space Experts declared that Pluto ain’t played nobody. They were correct. 

But here come the Pluto dead-enders, who just can’t accept that their precious little rock couldn’t hang with the big boys, like bountiful Earth, mighty Jupiter, and adequate Mercury. They propose a new definition for planets, which is seemingly much simpler: anything in space that displays geologic activity. This is insane! This would make some asteroids planets. This would make some moons planets. Ludicrous. And most ludicrous of all, Pluto would be back among the ranks of the planets—of which there’d then be around 150 and counting. 

Pluto is shit. It’s not even the most massive of the dwarf planets. It’s just an ambitious asteroid that got a little too far out over its skis. It’s UCF thinking it could hang in the College Football Playoff. It’s the Maple Leafs thinking that former glories against nonexistent competition should count for anything today. It’s outclassed, outmassed, and left behind by history. Leave Pluto where it is: the minor leagues. This solar system is for real planets only. – Barry Petchesky

The Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match

All Elite Wrestling’s 2021 might go down as one of the best years for any wrestling promotion in history. But it started with an unforgettable botch for the ages.

During their March PPV, Revolution, in what was likely the most anticipated main event in the young company’s history up to that point, Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega were set to face off for the title in what was dubbed an “Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match.” The name alone gets the idea across, but the specific structure of the match featured ring ropes lined with explosives and barbed wire, a few areas set up outside the ring with the same, and a 30-minute timer that would supposedly trigger every bit of danger in the venue at once, San Diego-style.

The problem should be obvious in retrospect: It’s extremely hard to make something as wild as this both safe and cool in real time, and AEW appeared to lean heavily on the safe side (better than the other way, at least). Moxley and Omega worked a very compelling match, using the gimmicks intelligently as storytelling devices, but the “explosions” they set off were very obviously all triggered at a safe distance, undermining the actual intensity of the performance. 

However, if the effects were a bit underwhelming during the action, the ring looked like New York City on the Fourth of July compared to what came when the 30-minute time limit was reached. As Eddie Kingston emerged to protect his friend Moxley after he’d been beaten down and defeated, covering his body as the clock hit zero, the two were suddenly surrounded not by big scary booms, but by roughly the amount of pyro you’d see when a kid has a birthday at Red Robin. The dud triggered boos from the crowd and served as a humiliating finale to an otherwise very good show.

After the initial round of jokes, AEW turned out fine. Company president Tony Khan got his $100,000 refunded from the pyro guys. The promotion brought in huge new signings like Bryan Danielson and CM Punk, and it drew over 20,000 fans in New York in September. And Eddie Kingston, after what could have been a career-killing embarrassment, remains one of the most popular and beloved guys in all of wrestling. Hopefully, everyone there has learned an important lesson: Live television and gnarly explosions simply do not mix. – Lauren Theisen

Our Continued Acceptance Of Ticketmaster

I still have those damn Ticketmaster emails. You know, the ones that came to many of us after more than a decade of litigation with the concert-ticket giant, the ones that, briefly, seemed like a real win for us concertgoers. On May 7, 2016, I received an email saying that the 13-year civil lawsuit—in which Ticketmaster was accused of charging misleading fees for the sole purpose of gouging ticket buyers and making more profits—had been resolved. In return, I received discount codes. To use them, I had to activate my Ticketmaster account, which I had stopped using because of Ticketmaster’s practices of charging me all sorts of fees. I logged on, saw that the only available concerts accepting these discount codes were bands I did not want to see in cities far away from me, and sighed the familiar sigh of defeat. I kept getting emails about those discount codes, but never bothered to try. Whatever money Ticketmaster scammed me out of, I never got back. Neither did many other people.

I had forgotten about Ticketmaster in recent years because I grew older, got busier with the mundanities of adulthood, and went to fewer concerts. But I was forced to reckon with Ticketmaster again this year, when the band BTS announced they would play four shows at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, where I live, and I, a newly converted member of their fanbase, knew I had to see them. But SoFi is a Live Nation venue, that meant I would once again dance with the devil.

Ticketmaster, I discovered, had only grown worse since I last used it.

The day the presale started, I quickly realized that my chances of getting tickets through Ticketmaster were zilch. Fans who had early access because they’d held tickets to the canceled Map of the Soul tour were reporting hours spent in online queues, getting kicked out of queues, and tickets selling out one day only to see more released the next. If people who had already bought tickets to a prior concert were having issues, I figured little ol’ me didn’t stand a chance. As the days went on, Ticketmaster trickled available tickets through its made-up tiers, which have names like “Ticketmaster verified fans,” as if fans were anything more to Ticketmaster than bodies its corporate leaders could flog for cash. The reports I saw from fellow ARMYs online only got worse: hours-long wait times, getting kicked out of queues for no reason, finally getting through only to be told no more tickets were available. In the corner of Twitter that is BTS fans, it was days of despair.

So I overpaid. I bought two nosebleed tickets for $356, and I was very fortunate. I saw them being sold in the same area on StubHub for $500 for two tickets on the day of the concert. But many, many people weren’t able to go at all simply because they couldn’t afford the markup prices. This isn’t just a BTS problem; plenty of fans of other artists have had the same issues. And this is not a new problem. In the 1990s, Pearl Jam—at the time, one of the biggest bands in the world—tried to take on Ticketmaster for all the same reasons I outlined here. They lost. I have lived my entire adult life under the foot of Ticketmaster.

There is an easy, obvious explanation for all this: Ticketmaster is part of a monopoly that has only grown bigger in recent years, and monopolies are never good for consumers. Six years before Ticketmaster offered me those nearly useless vouchers, the U.S. Justice Department approved Ticketmaster merging with Live Nation, which meant the nation’s largest ticket provider and the nation’s largest concert promoter were now the same company. In 2018, eight years after the merger’s approval, The New York Times looked at the concert landscape and reported: “Ticket prices are at record highs. Service fees are far from reduced. And Ticketmaster, part of the Live Nation empire, still tickets 80 of the top 100 arenas in the country.” A scathing report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office followed, reiterating the same facts—Ticketmaster was still the market leader for ticket sales, with less than a dozen other companies controlling the rest of ticket sales. So much for that class-action lawsuit. 

Since then, Ticketmaster has been fined $10 million by the government for hacking a competitor, which one executive said they did, according to the government, to cut an unnamed rival “off at the knees.” Ticketmaster has been the subject of a letter from members of Congress to the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, asking them to take action because the merger “strangled competition in live entertainment ticketing and harmed consumers and must be revisited.” 

None of this has resulted in even a modicum of movement on what seems like a very basic problem: Almost no one can afford to go to concerts anymore because Ticketmaster prices are a mirage. If the gods are smiling upon you, you get to buy through Ticketmaster. But what’s far more likely is that Ticketmaster “sells out” to ticket brokers using bots, while other tickets are held back for unknown reasons, and you will be forced to buy your ticket through a third-party reseller, which is another monopoly, in this case StubHub, at a huge markup. If you’re lucky, this marked-up ticket looks like a monthly car payment. Less luck, and it looks like a monthly rent. (A New York Attorney General’s Office report from 2016 found that, in that state, less than half of all tickets for popular concerts went up for sale to the general public.) It’s a game with one winner: Ticketmaster/Live Nation. Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino’s total annual compensation in 2020, a year the concert industry was largely shut down due to COVID-19, was still more than $4.7 million, according to the company’s proxy statements filed with the SEC. The same document said the median pay for a Live Nation employee in 2020 was $57,195. It’s a ratio, Live Nation stated, of 84 to one. 

Yes, I realize that there is a lot our government is not doing nearly enough about right now: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemicclimate changepolice killing more than a thousand people this year alone, just to name a few. How trite, you could argue, in these bleak times, to be angry about concert tickets. But if I might, let me suggest that this ongoing sham is worth our anger and energy. Because if our government can’t fix an obvious problem with an obvious solution that will make nearly every person in our country happier (essentially all human beings, minus ticket resellers), how can anyone ever hope to tackle anything bigger? Tear it down. Break it apart. Give Live Nation/Ticketmaster the Standard Oil treatment. It would be, as we say in sports, an easy W. – Diana Moskovitz

Good Information Inc.

In October, a bunch of the usual billionaire marks gave millions of dollars to Tara McGowan, the liberal hack best known for being the girlboss CEO of ACRONYM, a company infamous for backing the developers of the failed app that led to a botched 2020 Iowa Caucus, and for launching a network of unread propaganda sites called Courier News, which is facing an FEC complaint for not being transparent about its funding. These billionaires, including Reid Hoffman and George Soros, gave money to McGowan for the purposes of combatting misinformation. “Combatting misinformation” is a phrase that means whatever you want it to mean, which is partly why it’s so easy for hacks to turn it into a business opportunity. Oh, you’ve heard of misinformation? Well I’m combatting it! Don’t you want to give me some money?

McGowan’s idea for “combatting misinformation” is called Good Information Inc. Here’s the gist, per Axios: “Good Information Inc. will invest in new businesses and solutions that tackle the disinformation crisis. That could mean funding new or existing companies that boost news from existing news outlets. […] Good Information Inc. will acquire Courier Newsroom from ACRONYM for an undisclosed sum as part of the deal. […] Good Information Inc. will acquire ACRONYM’s ‘FWIW’ newsletter, which covers digital political ad spending.” 

While selling various bullshit companies and products to yourself for the purpose of making money and convincing rich idiots to give you even more money sure seems like a nice little racket, the scamminess of the operation isn’t actually what makes the idea so stupid. What’s so stupid is that Tara’s big innovating idea to solve the information crisis is just … journalism. As I wrote earlier this year when Recode first reported the plans for McGowan’s project, there is nothing the venture capital brain can’t hack:

The issue with McGown’s latest idea, though, isn’t only her politics, nor is it merely the problem that dogged her first foray into digital media, Courier News, a network of seven local news websites that is best known for the criticism leveled against it—that it’s partisan news, funded by liberal dark money, masquerading as unbiased journalism. The real problem with PGI is the same one that doomed Juicero: It’s stupid and wasteful and doesn’t need to exist!

But maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, the project is just getting off the ground. Surely there are some concrete next steps. Some plans ready to be put into action. Certainly Good Information will actually do something, aside from buying up its CEO’s garbage from her last project. From Axios: “McGowan says that the group’s goal in the next year is to raise more awareness about immediate solutions to counter disinformation before it spreads.” OK, ma’am! – Laura Wagner

Every Time Aaron Rodgers Opened His Mouth

Remember the offseason, when Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t say anything about his future in Green Bay? I miss those precious times. In one NFL season, Rodgers has gone from being a (mostly) universally adored smart guy to Cole Beasley’s sidekick. It’s been quite a transition for the 2020 NFL MVP. I won’t rehash all the misinformation Rodgers has spread here (mostly via his weekly Tuesday appearance on Pat McAfee’s show), but the guy really hasn’t taken a week off since revealing that he is an unvaccinated Joe Rogan listener. 

I miss the Rodgers who was controversial for not eating dairy and for insisting he’d seen an UFO. – Kalyn Kahler

Roger Goodell Saving Dan Snyder’s Skin

Roger Goodell has, does, and will continue to eat a lot of excrement flambe for his bosses, so his choice to keep the Danny Snyder family of emails out of the public eye was easily seen, and well in advance. It actually wasn’t that much of a choice, to be honest.

But as a man who worries about his legacy as he contemplates his retirement as the king of Maine’s coastal provinces, Goodell surely knows the deal he has struck with history. He has cemented his place as the planet’s best compensated prostitute, and when we say that, we mean no disrespect to prostitutes as a class. He will forever be known as the point of the spear that defended Snyder when he had no defense to make of his own, and that’s just how the deal goes down. He has made money, he will provide for his family through the next five generations, but he will be remembered as the guy whose first post mortem act will be as the target of a long lecture from his father about the folly of playing for the short cash.

Goodell had a huge advantage when he took the job forcibly vacated by Paul Tagliabue, and it was mostly that he wasn’t Paul Tagliabue. He was believed to be the new face of the NFL, youthful, modern, sensitive to the world outside and capable of humanizing the gargoyles who provided him the best and most degrading job he would ever have.

The flaw here is in the phrase “he was believed,” because that shows the naivete of the believer. Goodell was brought in to be a ginger mall cop, and to make the hard layer eligibility choices the owners would never bother with on their own. He was never going to be the benign face of anything, and once you start down the road of PR fixer, you never get to take the offramp. His first day on the job was going to lead sooner or later to Danny Snyder, or someone even worse. And don’t you dare think such a thing isn’t possible.

Goodell knows that the last stop of the hamster wheel to hell has already been passed, and that the amount of degradation he must endure is limited solely by the day when he chooses to retire. He knows that his only act of independence between now and then will be to take the key to his executive lavatory and flush it down his executive toilet. But retirement will not offer peace to a man who built his celebrity on the illusion that he wasn’t just a corporate shill like Tagliabue. He was a different kind of corporate shill, explaining far worse things away as part of the cost of doing the NFL’s version of business. Goodell lost the ability to make people think he was a figure of respect the minute he traded it in for $40 million per year of wet work, and running point for Danny Snyder as he shamed his female employees in a festival of masturbatory glee merely reinforced the true nature of his body of work.

The Snyder Papers will someday find the light of day, and Goodell will work hard to be unavailable for comment. If that doesn’t work, he’ll announce an investigation that will be comprised of wetting his index finger and waiting for Jerry Jones to tell him which way the wind blows. Hey, it’s a check.

Just remember this when he finally does retire. He doesn’t go out as a statesman, no mater how many glowing encomiums are expended in his direction, but as an associate bastard and full-time billionaires’ chew toy. Like we said, it’s a check. But that’s all it is, and eventually the money matters less that the rep. – Ray Ratto

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