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Year In Review

The Worst Ideas Of 2022

Alcaraz fire
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

These are the ideas that the Defector staff found to be the worst of 2022.

The Blake Masters Campaign

There are times where you can’t help but doubt yourself. What other people want from their government and the people they choose to represent them in it, or at least what they’re willing to settle for or talk themselves into, is invariably opaque (because they are other people) and profoundly dispiriting (because of the politics part). But most things, when considered at the national scale, are opaque and dispiriting to some degree, and so everyone develops a sort of palate for it. 

This is a strange thing in itself, the ability to pick out notes of sewage and rust in every contaminated sip like a master sommelier, but it’s also an adaptation of sorts. This discernment can keep you out of trouble once you’ve developed it; swirl around some vinegary cryptocurrency discourse and spit it out, or sniff the chunky bouquet of some influencer’s proprietary scam stack, and you already know that this shit is absolutely not safe to drink. This is an essential condition of living in a culture and a moment that is both driven and driven to distraction by scammers and scams. Some of it is just a matter of knowing when you are being lied to, but a lot of it comes down to trusting your stuff and respecting yourself. Every day, in various spaces and on various platforms, you will be presented with the opportunity to be the type of person who falls for something actively odious or just obviously stupid, and you get to choose whether or not to be that person. This isn’t much fun, although sometimes it can be kind of bleakly funny, but in the abandonment of this moment—the state isn’t even trying to stop the concerns sending spammy phone calls and texts, and it’s hard to imagine there’s a lot of powerful lobbying being done on behalf of the mortgage-scam phishers—it is necessary.

Still, there are times when you can’t help but doubt yourself. Look at the people serving in the United States Senate, to take one example, and you will see not just some open and obvious sociopaths and scammers, but a lot of truly ridiculous and instantly identifiable phonies. Intelligent and well-educated people pretending not to know what vegetables are in front of their constituents in a way that is somehow intended to flatter those constituents; the most preposterous fatted calves imaginable lowing wanly about Fighting For You; buffed-smooth Teddy Ruxpins hitting their lines by rote and then, presumably, powering down into energy-saver mode and being wheeled off by aides. They barely seem like people, in many cases, because the process in which they participate and the jobs in which they serve all push them in that direction. It is a mess, but even considering how broken it all is, it is also important to believe that there are some people who are just too strange or broken or uncanny to break through. 

This, more than anything else, is how I make my judgments on stuff like this. Someone as multiply vile as Tom Cotton is obviously no treat to behold, but he is disgusting within boundaries that will permit him to be elected in a statewide race; someone experiencing as many obvious and obviously severe Technical Difficulties as Herschel Walker, on the other hand, is not. It was for this reason that I was sure that Blake Masters, the pyrotechnically uncanny and relentlessly unpleasant protege of reigning Silicon Valley reactionary Peter Thiel, would not even win the Republican nomination for 2022’s Senate election in Arizona. There are limits to these things, and Masters—a man whose professional life has been spent capering about for a reptilian billionaire, a man who managed to graft the queasy memetic grievance of fringe online reactionaries onto the classic Adult Libertarian suite of personality damage, a carpetbagging goober with the personal charisma generally associated with deep-sea creatures—was beyond every one of them.

And then Donald Trump endorsed him, and Masters won that nomination, and then he was running against a more-or-less replacement level moderate Democrat, in a traditionally conservative state, during what was supposed to be the sort of wave election that would have borne aloft even a gnarled, translucent, covered-in-hideous-eyeballs trench-dweller like himself. This is where I started to doubt my discernment, because what I saw in Blake Masters especially was someone who was entirely too creepy to win a statewide election even despite how bad everything is. I am familiar with the flavor profiles of this moment’s non-potable sludge; I have done the weird chewing movements and made the thinking-very-hard faces while rolling it around in my mouth; I know that this has entirely too much Workplace Shooter in it to work.

And yet who knows? If there are still limits anywhere, they do not seem especially limiting. If there is still such a thing as “a compelling reason why not” anywhere in the culture, you still have to count on people being compelled by it. And at some point, just given the state of things, other people are hard to trust. Put enough money behind it, stack the right resentments in the right ways, slap the big TRUMP branding on it in Impact font and who knows, right? Do you know?

Anyway, Masters got his clock cleaned, losing by nearly five points in what wound up being a Democratic sweep in Arizona. Masters was indeed still too weird and unsettling. Those concepts might not exist with quite the rigor or along the lines that you might want, if you want to live in a better world, but it turns out that Blake Masters—the unblinking and pitiless and loveless avatar of this moment’s idiotic elitism and nihilistic reaction, firing his handgun in the desert like a fucking creep—is in fact outside of those boundaries. If this is a relief, it is not just because the United States Senate was spared the presence of Blake Masters and because the broader reactionary project was denied a win this time around. The Senate is, in a deeper sense, all the way gone, but it is important to feel like your own systems are still functioning.

And just because he lost doesn’t mean that Masters is gone. Seething, servile, heavily armed creeps are a big part of Masters’s party, and he will remain a part of it as well, doing all the unsettling things he does. “Have you guys heard that testosterone levels in men have been dropping precipitously?” Masters asked in his first public speech since getting trounced in his campaign for Senate in Arizona and subsequently joining the Republican party’s 2022 election autopsy team. “Down 50 percent in the last few decades. So what the hell is that? Yeah, soy? Is it microplastics and everything? I mean, we should be talking about this, because it is a big problem. But if you talk about it, wow, that’s weird.” That’s right man. It’s weird. - David Roth

Dan Snyder's Enduring Presence

Danny Snyder has transcended his monument of indefensible behaviors, incomplete business skills, and broken relationships into a concept, an idea, an all-encompassing catch-all that frames and finishes any discussion in which his name is invoked. And even as his eclipse as the owner of the Washington Commanders football team is rumored and even planned as tribute to the weight of his failings, his place as a worst thing is secure.

You've been involved in tavern controversies for years listening to your pals say that the owner of their favorite team is the worst in sports. Then everyone else throws in their own candidate until someone wants to change the topic and says, "OK, but what about Danny Snyder?" At that point, the ace has been played, the hand is over, and the conversation is mercifully done. You order another round and complain about the generations you are not a member of. It's the circle of life, in the same way that a flushing toilet is a circle.

True, he may not be part of our focus for much longer; his epic stubbornness has limits, and the only real thing keeping him in place has less to do with his will and more with those of his fellow NFL franchise owners. But he has set a standard for stereotyped evil that none of the other defrocked owners of the recent past—Bob Sarver, Jerry Richardson, the Wilpons, Glen Taylor, and Arte Moreno. There are people who found them materially objectionable on one level or another, but nobody has achieved Danny's phalanx of enemies. He has even been a focus of Congressional political wrangling because, hey, he is the black hole that pulls in all other grifters, hustlers, victims and offended partners. And when he is gone, he won't be missed because the idea of him will not go away. He will still be that guy until someone manages to be worse, as extraordinary a standard as that seems. - Ray Ratto

Going Down Bernie Brewer’s Slide

Mascots are armored. They have to be, given that a significant portion of their job consists of children, often crotch-height, running full speed into them for hugs. Their padding is not merely decorative, but protects their soft, chewy human center as they go about their assorted antics, japes, and pratfalls. This is a thing to remember. It explains why Bernie Brewer can go down his home run slide without receiving serious injuries, and why you cannot. 

Tricia Whitaker of Bally Sports Sun definitely cannot:

Nor can SportsNet L.A.’s David Vassegh:

Vassegh broke his wrist in two places and cracked six ribs, which is not all that much fewer than the number of ribs I thought a person even had. That these two incidents happened within a week of each other felt like a sign: Make do with your fragile human form—do not attempt to become as gods or mascots. - Barry Petchesky

The Axios Book-Buying Scheme

There were many bad media ideas this year and though Semafor is the easy target here, I think the funniest worst idea came from the Axios founders who told their employees to buy six copies each of their dumb book so they could get on bestseller lists. May these gentlemen get a freaking grip in 2023. - Laura Wagner

The Semaform

Look, I get it. When you're locked in an airless conference room trying to convince an addled scammer to write you a big fat check so that you can get your new media venture off the ground, you have to come up with something to sell him on. You can't just say, "Hey man, we want to hire a bunch of people to report the news. How about a few million dollars?" That's boring! You gotta bring him something fresh. Something new. You gotta tell him that you have reinvented the news article itself. You gotta show him ... the Semaform!

I still can't really believe that the founders of Semafor really backed themselves into this corner where every single article they write has to be shoved into the dopiest packaging imaginable. These guys are out here putting stories about sexual misconduct allegations into a framework you might find in a seventh grader's "How To Write A Compelling Essay" workbook. It's embarrassing! - Tom Ley

Elon Buys Twitter

I am, in all earnestness, a better businessman than Elon Musk. There’s a good chance that you are as well. Let’s say you had $150 billion, give or take. Would you use $44 billion of that money to buy Twitter, a relatively small player in social media that never managed to turn a significant profit? Would you offer to buy it as a price so high that Twitter’s board nearly DIED with pleasure when the offer first came in? Would you try to back out of that deal by saying, “LOL,” only to realize that LOLs are not legally binding? Would you take command of Twitter while your car company—the reason for your $150 billion fortune—is seeing its market share get eaten alive? Would you gut Twitter’s corporate infrastructure and lay off millions only to install a verification system that makes the old Homeland Security Threat Level color chart look like fucking Einstein devised it? Would you lead your company via bad faith Twitter polls?

The answer to all of those questions is a firm no. This is because you know what good business practices look like, and that Fartface here wouldn’t know them if they came out of Grimes’s birth canal. - Drew Magary


Like everyone else, I watched the clip 100 times: the turn of Harry Styles's shoulder, the smile fading from Chris Pine's face as he looked down toward his lap, the ghost of a shadow traveling between the two of them while millions of eyes followed it, their mouths opening, their vocal chords frying as they yelled, SPIT!! This was just moments, it felt, after Chris Pine had all but rolled his eyes when Styles explained that he liked their movie because it "felt like a movie." These famous beautiful people, we were told to believe, hated each other!

It was the third major publicity blitz for the movie Don't Worry Darling. There was the confirmed dating of Styles and director Olivia Wilde. There had been a huge rush of rumors about Wilde and actress Florence Pugh centered around another drama with Shia LaBeouf. Wilde's ex-husband served her divorce papers on stage. The press tour had bumps at every stop. And all of that generated headlines. Boring ones, but headlines. 

I for one, found all of this drama lacking. There was none of the interesting heart of a real scandal (like the one we would later be gifted by the co-hosts at Good Morning America), and all of it felt to my jaded, sad eyes ... well ... convenient. But people in Hollywood are dramatic! They love to create chaos, so even though it seemed stupid, I believed it might all be true, up until Spitgate. 

I have never in my life seen something I am more certain was a brilliant publicity scheme than Spitgate. I'm not certain that publicists actually planned all of this. They should be given raises if so. Instead, it felt like fan culture run amok without any basis, close-readings of body language amongst people who were allowing an entire world to do the publicity for their movie for them. It wasn't gossip or celebrity gossip or even intrigue so much as it was conjecture: the whole thing made up by the imaginations of people unaffiliated with the whole affair. It is the same mass consensus, armchair detective work that exists online for murder mysteries, current and historical. The entirety of Spitgate was built by people looking at their phones, free publicity created by strangers for a movie that wasn't talked much about otherwise. 

It was ridiculous to ever believe that someone like Harry Styles, who has been trained for the public eye since childhood, who is more aware of cameras and eyes than anyone should have to be, would spit impulsively in a public space. It was even more ridiculous to believe that the person who would have noticed this would be someone watching a replay of a video and not any one of the dozens of people sitting in the rows of people facing the incident. It may not have been an intentional publicity scheme, but it was one the Don't Worry Darling PR team played perfectly. Styles mentioned it on stage. The cast began shifting during red carpet photos. The headlines rolled out for weeks, sustained on the tweet of one person close reading a single glance by Chris Pine into his lap where, most probably, his cellphone was sitting. 

But really, you know it wasn't true because no one ever apologized, and there is nothing celebrities love more than to write a notes-app apology. They had nothing to apologize for. All of the "shade" and the "spit" and the "annoyances" that the public knew about, they had created all for themselves. - Kelsey McKinney

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