The U.S. government knows what you masturbate to. So we supposedly discovered on June 6, when The Guardian and The Washington Post released information on the National Security Agency's widespread surveillance programs and made 29-year-old defense contractor Edward Snowden the most famous boyfriend in the world. Snowden fled his high-paying job in Hawaii late May seeking the safety of Honk Kong, where he'd record a video interview providing the single image of his pensive, goateed face we'd soon become tired of seeing everywhere.
In spite of bombshell revelation after bombshell revelation of the U.S. government's spying tactics, most of the world spent the summer much more interested in the mysterious saga of the "The True HooHa" himself. After celebrating a clandestine 30th birthday over fried chicken and pizza in Hong Kong, Snowden boarded an early morning flight to Moscow on June 23, clogging the phone lines of Aeroflot's headquarters with requests from hungry journalists demanding to know where the leaker was headed next. From there he pulled a fake-out for the ages, sending half a plane-full of confused reporters on an all-expenses-paid trip to Havana without him. By the end of the day the world was left with nothing but a dozen photos of the infamous seat 17A, igniting the biggest media frenzy over an empty chair since Clint Eastwood's speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Spending more than a month living out a familar movie plot in the transit lounge of Sheremetyevo Airport, Snowden and his Wikileaks-funded lawyers gave up on the prospect of asylum in Ecuador and Venezuela after being introduced to the fun-filled world of Latin American bureaucracy. Instead he was given permission to make his home in Russia for a year, a move which made things awkward enough between President Obama and Russian President Vladamir Putin for the American head of state to cancel his September trip to Moscow and leave an indelible stain on the relationship between the two powers.
In the months since the start of his round-the-world adventure, Snowden has been called a hero, a traitor, a whistleblower, a fugitive and everything in between. American lawmakers have called for his extradition and detention, with Obama choosing to brush the man off by likening him to a horny teenager in his mom's basement. Today Snowden bides his time in Moscow, enjoying alternating praise and condemnation while various media continue to reveal, in drips and drabs, the secrets he unearthed. As for where he's headed next, one thing's nearly certain: He's not coming back stateside any time soon.
Holy See, Holy Do.
With a few puffs of white smoke, Pope Francis made history March 13 for a multitude of heavenly reasons.
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, he was chosen as the newest head of the Roman Catholic Church after the surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 28. Benedict, 85, who looks uncomfortably like Emperor Palpatine, took up residence in the Vatican, cited health reasons for his resignation, the first of its kind since Pope Gregory did so in 1415 to end the Great Schism.
The Force must have been strong that day, because at least one woman was tweeting prophecies hours before and scooped Benedict's announcement and nailed the future pope's name — Francis — in honor of famous poverty-venerator Saint Francis of Assisi.
Pope Francis is the first "El Papa" from Latin America, which sparked celebrations in Spanish-speaking nations across the globe, with some comparing the jubilee to a soccer victory for Argentina. It was a huge moment for the estimated 483 million Catholics in Latin America, who until now, have never seen their region of the world represented in the papacy.
In addition to his history-making background, Francis has garnered support from a generation of younger Catholics, who laud his commitment to caring for the poor and interfaith dialogue. He's been called a "modern pope," declaring that the Church has grown "obsessed" with hot-button issues such as gay marriage and abortion, adding "Who am I to judge?" when asked about gay men wishing to join the clergy.
So far, Pope Francis seems to be living up to his namesake. He pays his own hotel bills personally and has declined the ornate Apostolic Palace in favor of a more humble guesthouse.
He welcomes children! He blesses the sick and disabled! He does all the things that, well, the leader of the largest Christian denomination probably should have been doing all along. But in a world clamoring for clickbait videos and feel-good retweets, Francis is a welcome change.
It's a decidedly warmer papacy after nearly eight years with Pope Benedict, whose deeply academic papacy seemed distant from the people, even amid the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church beginning in the early 2000s.
In addition to benevolence, Francis has the cool factor down pat. He was a bouncer at a bar in Argentina and has 10.7 million Twitter followers combined across the eight accounts written in different languages. Follow him @pontifex.
He must be doing something right, as we all know the true barometer of success is when Rush Limbaugh calls you a Marxist. Congratulations, Your Holiness, you've arrived.
Good times never seemed so good so good, so good for the World Series-winning Boston Red Sox, as the 2013 franchise recovered from devastating finishes in the 2011 and 2012 seasons and the city found comfort in the team's embrace of the "Boston Strong" slogan following the Boston Marathon bombings.
The 2013 season embodied the hardy character the Sox have come to represent. First, the team recovered from two disappointing seasons with renewed spirit. Players like Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia began growing out their beards during spring training, a tradition that caught on with the rest of the club and ultimately became a good luck charm no one wanted to shave off. "Fear the beard," they said, but they also offered a more formidable lineup and pitching rotation. The bearded tradition became the most obvious indicator of the team's closeness, the team one analyst called as close-knit as any team he had seen in the last 20 years.
Many of the Red Sox's most tremendous victories have emerged from the memory of painful defeat, like the numb, constant pain of an 86-year World Series drought, broken in 2004. While many remember the 2004 victory for breaking the Curse of the Bambino, the 2013 championship crowned the team with another notable achievement when the Sox won the title at home for the first time since 1918.
In more recent memory, the 2012 Red Sox had finished last place in their division with unpopular manager Bobby Valentine, finishing with 93 losses. After Valentine was fired and the team was essentially on the bottom of the baseball world, the team won 97 games and the World Series with new manager and former pitching coach John Farrell.
The more significant shock, however, came for Boston after the marathon bombings shook the city. Because residents identify so strongly with Red Sox nation, the team's resiliency was part of the community rebound in not only the determination players brought to each game, but also the commemoration of the "Boston Strong" 617 jersey hung in the dugout, David Ortiz's emotional "this is our fucking city" speech and community outreach events throughout the season.
The Red Sox's third world title in a decade was a manifestation of the spirit Boston's resilient population and die hard fans have historically brought to the team and the hope the team has given to the city. In 2013, tough character and some damn good baseball brought the Sox and the city a championship and a redemption.
We screamed. We cried. And those who actually read George R.R. Martin's books had a really, really good time while we watched our favorite king and queen get their abdomens perforated like a microwave dinner package.
But after we circled our couches and we ran out of hyperventilated breaths to breathe, the reality was still there — and it stuck out like a sweet sleeve of chainmail at a mellow wedding dinner. "The Red Wedding" didn't just change the way we saw the existential safety of Game of Thrones — it changed the way we saw TV. "The Rains of Castamere" was a stab in the back to any sense of character attachment we had for the Starks, or for that matter, any beloved citizen of Westeros: death on primetime television was finally as unpredictable as it was in the real world. We loved it, but dear God did we hate it.
On the web, the reaction wasn't so much a product of shock as it was one of abject terror and disbelief. Twitter feeds filled up long after the episode's silent credits, and YouTube reaction videos followed quickly afterward.
At the end of things, the episode was an experiment of authorial power: Our emotions were Martin's toys, and our childish supposition that developing storylines are safe storylines was his excuse to violate any sense of security we previously held on to. Martin, as he said in an interview last summer, wants "viewers to be afraid". With "The Red Wedding," we remembered that we had something to be afraid of.
But above all else, "The Rains of Castamere" reminded us all exactly what we love about Game of Thrones. When the rug was pulled up from beneath their feet, viewers said they'd drop the show for good, but viewership — which averaged out at 14.2 million per episode for the third season — didn't show many signs of slimming down post Stark massacre.
But in the universe of the show, that much didn't change anything. Waldor Fray still had his field day, Talisa her surprise abortion and Robb a shitshow of a wedding afterparty that even Bridezillas couldn't ever outdo.
It's strange to think that Vine debuted as an iOS app just in January when it's already so prolific in the social media community. The video app allows users to take snap videos up to six seconds long and share it through a social media outlet. After Twitter acquired Vine in October of 2012, and along with its official iOS release in early 2013, Vine's following grew with rapid adoption rates, making it the year's fastest growing app.
With video as a new format for bite-sized information, Vine does for video what Instagram did for pictures and — if we really want to stretch the analogy — what Twitter did for blogs. The app opened up opportunities for a giant host of uses, from funny clips to creative stop-motion mini-films to even citizen journalism. The Tribeca Film Festival even held a Vine competition, demonstrating just how Vine transformative truly is.
Perhaps even more creative, Vine opened up a new avenue for branded content. Everyone from GE to Tide jumped on the bandwagon to reach out to a new social media-friendly audience through creative Vines that aren't overtly branded, even including some references to The Shining as in Oreo's Halloween-themed Vine. Dunkin' Donuts made history with the first ad comprising of just a Vine, which had a TV debut in September on ESPN.
Not to be outdone, Instagram launched a video functionality in June, sparking an immediate comparison with Vine but with filters. Regardless of who did it best, however, Vine was the first to take the step to make video into quick, shareable hits, beginning the next wave of multimedia social media.
At the beginning of Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, we are told that "life in space is impossible." Thirteen minutes later, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer repairing the Hubble telescope, is catapulted into the cold, inhospitable void after her space shuttle is destroyed by satellite debris. As she spins wildly, rapidly losing oxygen and tumbling farther and farther from safety, Stone begins a fight for her life in the vastness of outer space. So begins the most thrilling film of 2013.
Aside from George Clooney, who plays a veteran astronaut, Bullock carries the movie on her shoulders, spending the majority of its runtime alone on screen. Stone's struggle to survive against increasingly terrible odds is fascinating on its own, but it's the tenderness Bullock gives Stone's mourning in the wake of her daughter's death that anchors us to her battle. Seeing Stone's soul in rebirth is perhaps the movie's most amazing special effect.
Working with the gifted cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón treats us to a visual spectacle as well, using visual effects that took four years to complete. Technically masterful in every sense of the word, Gravity pulls us into the emptiness of space with long, unbroken takes and sound design that isolates the vibrations of Stone's suit while silencing everything else (sound doesn't travel in space). Every massive moment is stunning and adds to the suspense of 90 pulse-pounding minutes.
But as much as Gravity thrills, its true achievement is the balance it attains in all its elements — in its grace and beauty it is equally terrifying and intense. It gives us awe-inspiring visuals without losing touch with its central character's emotions. In a movie set in the empty, boundless expanse of outer space, the one woman clinging to life — however pointless that life may seem — is never lost in that setting.
When Gravity finds the minute in the grandiose, it's magic. Cuarón puts the audience in the shuttle with Stone as she decides to live, and when she rockets back to Earth the movie pushes for catharsis and earns it. Gravity gives us an edge-of-the-seat thriller that reminds us why we go to the movies — to be pulled into a story, to be scared, to be amazed, to get lost in another world — and then to find our way back home.
ESPN had the update first.
There was an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and I saw the aftermath on a live stream at the corner of my laptop screen.
Before the flurry of smoke, before the heroes and villains, before the erroneous reports, before a grueling manhunt and a magazine cover, there was the silence. It rang out from the scrolling updates running along the bottom of a grainy pixelated broadcast.
This wasn't supposed to happen again. The United States had been a safe zone from terrorist threats since 9/11, for better or worse relegating our occupational hazards to war zones in vastly different area codes.
Boston made us have to think again, once more redefining the notion of public safety in America. It made us have doubts all over again. And as is to be expected with moments of incomprehensible darkness, it made us see heroes again, in our police officers, our neighbors, our family members.
It left reminders around every corner, the biggest of which was at the Chicago Marathon, the first major event of its kind after Boston.
Around many bends of Chicago's streets, guards armed with M16s stood at apprehensive attention, their eyes glued on the thousands pummeling the pavement. Security was different on the way in to Grant Park where the race began. Bags were checked as they hadn't been before. It was a scene very much like the one the year prior, but different in ways you only notice if you pay attention.
But the excitement was still there. And in the place of mourning came triumph with every bleeding toe that crossed the finish line.
Boston didn't make us better. It didn't make us stronger. It just reminded us of the humanity we already had. We can't replace the things we lost, but gathering the dust and trying again is still something.
Two months ago, a tube was pulled out of his chest. One month ago, he saved Gotham City.
Let Batkid begin.
Miles Scott is a seven-year-old leukemia survivor. But on Nov. 15, he was the smaller, cuter version of Batman. That morning, the Gotham City (actually San Francisco) police chief called Batkid into service. After he (and a licensed driver) arrived in town in a Lamborghini that had been transformed into a Batmobile, he saved a damsel in distress bound to cable car tracks.
The day wasn't over, though. He received a call on his Batphone to save a bank from the Riddler. Then, a quick break at Burger King, before Gotham City residents pleaded for him to free San Francisco Giants mascot Lou Seal from The Penguin. Finally, Batkid arrived at City Hall, where an estimated 20,000 people watched the Gotham City mayor (actually the San Francisco mayor) and police chief (actually the San Francisco police chief) thank him before presenting him a key to the city.
Hundreds of San Franciscans lined the streets, cheering him all the way.
The day was orchestrated by Make-A-Wish, an organization that grants the wishes of children with terminal illnesses. Scott was referred to the program this past February; his family hoped that his wish-come-true would motivate him through the last of his cancer treatments.
The wish did more than reward Scott, however. Through his wish, the nation watched as one city united. President Obama tweeted an encouraging Vine video to Batkid. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office even indicted the Riddler and The Penguin on multiple accounts of conspiracy and their "all too familiar villainous ways in Gotham City."
Over 16,000 people RSVP'd to volunteer to transform San Francisco into Gotham City. The Lamborghini was donated. San Francisco spent $105,000 putting the day together. That weekend on Instagram, 16,000 photos were posted with the hashtag #SFBatkid. Twitter saw 545,576 tweets about the event, with 13 percent of those tweets sent from outside the U.S.
But it's no surprise that one little boy could melt the hearts of a nation. After all, he is the Batkid.
The conflict in Syria may have claimed over 125,000 lives in the past three years, but it took allegations of a chemical weapons attack to push this war-torn country into the public spotlight.
President Obama labeled the use of chemical weapons in August 2012 as a "red line" that, if crossed, would provoke a U.S. military response. On Aug. 21, Syrian rebels raised claims that such an attack occurred in a Damascus suburb.
This prompted weeks of debate over whether the attack truly involved chemical weapons, and if so, who was responsible, as well as what the American and international responses should be. Obama appeared poised for a military response, but he shocked many when he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the strikes first.
Opinions were more numerous than differing body count totals from the attack, and came from both ends of the American political spectrum as well as internationally. Russian President Vladimir Putin urged American leaders to hold back.
Russia then proposed an alternate course of action on Sept. 9: compel the Syrian government to destroy its chemical weapons in exchange for the U.S. stepping down on its threat to strike. Syria readily accepted this, and Obama did soon after as well.
Not at all belated, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon released a report on Sept. 16, confirming that a sarin gas attack had occurred, but the investigation did not seek to ascertain blame. It's generally accepted that the Assad regime was responsible, but that's still up for debate.
Public discussion over Syria largely slipped away following September's agreement. The topic was briefly revisited when the group responsible for destroying Syria's chemical weapons, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, edged out the young Pakistani education advocate Malala Yousafzai for the Nobel Peace Prize in October. The OPCW plans to have completed the elimination of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria by mid-2014.
While it remains to be seen whether the agreement between the U.S. and Russia will actually work, deciding on a course of action was certainly a big test of Obama's credibility. And regardless of whether his course of action was the correct one, Syria certainly dominated our interest this year.
As the TV world rolled into 2013, trust in Vince Gilligan's AMC drama Breaking Bad was at an all-time high. "Gliding Over All," a supremely eventful midseason finale, had capped the fifth season's first segment with a grand yet inevitable twist: Hank, Walter's DEA brother-in-law, figured out that the crime lord over whom he'd so ceaselessly obsessed was sipping wine right outside the backyard door. With that, Gilligan had set up the final episodes of his series to revolve around the long-awaited showdown between these two familial baldies — yet the black comicality of Hank's toilet-ridden realization could not prepare viewers for the unimaginable darkness to come.
Breaking Bad has always been notable for its stringent moralism. Actions have consequences; oftentimes, those consequences are disastrous. This is a show that brought down a plane in the second season just to make that clear. Yet "Ozymandias," the show's antepenultimate episode, is a veritable circus of horrors: A slimy neo-Nazi executes Hank, Skyler attacks her husband with a knife, Junior's world falls apart and Walt kidnaps his own baby. We watch Marie's face contort as she learns of her husband's murder, and we cringe as Walt commits Jesse to a captive hell. Every consequence we'd ever feared makes a full-form appearance. The monstrosity of Walt's actions rears its ugly head, and the damage it wreaks is chillingly thorough.
Gilligan's world is not entirely pessimistic — indeed, the show ended on a note so bittersweet that it generated controversy. All the same, Breaking Bad plays up the notion of karma to uncharted degrees; arguably no work of modern storytelling has so exhaustively chronicled the common man's capacity to destroy. A final season that looked to be an emotionally charged cat-and-mouse game at the outset became a shattering work of human demolition by the conclusion. There are no happy endings here — only Walt's somber resolve to leave his world in the best state he can before he departs it.
Under most circumstances, such a parade of torturous tragedy would alienate its viewers. Breaking Bad's stakes are so masterfully wrought, however, that it plays as a grim culmination of karmic fate. Gilligan's series plumbed the darkest depths of the human soul, and it came back with a tale both cathartic and life-affirming in its concern for its characters. Wherever its spiritual successor may be, it will need to fill the immense shoes of an uncompromising show that, when it came to the integrity of its mission, treaded anything but lightly.
If you haven't listened to them already, here's what you should know about Haim: Este, Alana and Danielle Haim are three sisters from California. They are the hippest, trendiest sibling band since Tegan and Sara or The Naked Brothers Band, depending on your tastes. Every retro-sounding tune off their debut album, Days Are Gone, will make you want to dance like you're a redhead in a John Hughes movie. You will watch YouTube videos of their performances and consider adding more black to your wardrobe in an effort to become the fourth Haim sister, and while you are doing that, Haim will write you a song about how it's not going to work out. And then they will sing it to you in harmony while staring you down through a curtain of perfectly wavy hair.
Days Are Gone is a well-wrought album. But there are no wrecking balls to be found here, nor is anyone just holding on to go home. Still, all this doesn't mean that Haim can't pack a punch to whatever soundtrack you're putting together for your teen horror flick. Haim doesn't bother with getting emotional — and depending on what you want, that's fantastic. "You know I'm not one for leaving / Let me go" Haim shrugs in "Let Me Go." In "Forever," Haim tells us "I'm tired of fighting the good fight, / If you say the word then I'll say goodbye."
Haim may have been snubbed by the Grammys, but they crooned their breathy lyrics so well this year that they landed a gig on SNL. They have been featured on many-a-list and they performed at the Glastonbury Festival over the summer. Next time you're on Spotify, give the "play all" button on the more darkly-tinged Pure Heroine a break. Take a second to rock it out to Haim.
It's always sad when someone passes before their time. And when that someone is the beloved young star of one of TV's most popular programs, the loss is felt even more keenly. Despite Cory Monteith's known substance abuse problems, his death on July 13 at the age of 31 still came as a shock to most.
Monteith rose to instantaneous fame with the overnight success of Glee, the musical comedy TV show that captivated a nation with the tale of a show choir's struggles and the stories of its members. As the bumbling-but-ultimately-heartfelt quarterback Finn Hudson, Monteith soon captured the hearts of many teenagers across the world.
When news of his relationship with on-screen love interest Lea Michele broke, it only furthered Monteith's popularity. The couple's low-key but evidently devoted relationship was followed closely, especially by fans of their on-screen pairing "Finchel." Even as Glee began to fall in the ratings and critic's reviews, the show remained popular with fans, who remained invested in the ongoing journey of the characters, particularly the growth of Finn Hudson from a confused boy to a more confident young man.
Though the actor was known to have struggled with substance abuse, these issues remained mostly private and no indication of them showed in his personal or professional life, barring a brief visit to a rehab center in April, where he successfully completed his treatment. He seemed to be fighting successfully to reclaim his life and a true rags-to-riches success story. His death in July from a "mixed toxicity of heroin and alcohol," therefore, was a shock not only to mourning fans but also to his family and friends.
Somehow the Glee cast found the strength to come together and bid farewell to Monteith in a special episode, giving the fans their chance to bid farewell to the character and actor they had grown to love. The episode was one of the most-watched and highly-rated of the reason, and also a heartbreaking goodbye.
From all accounts, Monteith was an exceptionally kind and caring young man whom everyone seemed to love. He was also a talented actor with an undoubtedly bright future, and his loss will be felt not just by Glee but by fans for years to come.
In a year of twerking, "Blurred Lines" and more twerking, one musical artist emerged as being ready — and more than willing — to take down the Mileys and Selena Gomezes of the world. Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor, better known as Lorde, was launched into superstardom this past summer when her unavoidable hit, "Royals," took over the airwaves. Since then, Lorde has been at the center of the entertainment universe, for reasons musically-related and not.
2013 was a true coming-out year for Lorde. With both her debut EP The Love Club and her first full-length album Pure Heroine officially dropping this year (The Love Club was released on her Soundcloud during November 2012, but it did not have its official release until March 2013), Lorde has gone from practically unknown singer to Grammy-nominated artist over the course of less than a year. However, the 17-year-old global phenomenon certainly isn't new to the music scene. In fact, the young O'Connor has been part of Universal's record label since age 13. Since that point Lorde has been writing and recording music influenced by everyone from The Weeknd and Neil Young to authors Sylvia Plath and Walt Whitman.
While Lorde's almost-literary approach to music has definitely helped to contribute to her original sound, it has also given her an unfavorable perspective on mainstream pop. This became headline news in October, when O'Connor said she was sick of women being portrayed" the way they are in Selena Gomez's pop hit "Come and Get It." This sparked a feud with Gomez, who called Lorde "anti-feminist". Lorde showed no signs of backing off early this past November when she then decided to go further and call both Gomez and Miley Cyrus "fucking mental!"
With these tabloid sound bites and the success of "Royals," which just recently got knocked out of a nine-week reign atop the charts by Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball," Lorde was inescapable in 2013. And thanks to some impressive musical chops and a drive that shows no sign of slowing, we'll likely be hearing a lot of her for years to come.
"It's not complicated."
Late in 2012, AT&T adopted this slogan as part of a new advertising campaign. The series of commercials featured a roundtable discussion with small children trying to explain simple truths like why more is better or why you'd want to be fast instead of slow. The series took off in 2013, spawning more than a dozen different commercials this year.
The charm behind these commercials is pretty unmistakable. The children AT&T gets are wacky, unpredictable and straight-up adorable. The commercials also provide a little break from the fake acting in so many TV advertisements. It's painfully obvious when commercial actors are just reading the lines they're given, promoting a product that they probably don't even like. But these kids aren't doing that. They're not trying to sell phones. They're just talking about why bigger is better. AT&T has even said that they never wanted the kids to be talking about phones. They let the tagline at the end of the commercial do that.
Probably the best part of these commercials is Wilmette native Beck Bennett, the 29-year-old voice of reason in this campaign. His dry delivery gives the commercials their punchlines, and he very obviously has a way with these kids. In a role where other actors could quickly lose control of a room full of off-script children (the kids are largely improvising, only receiving prompts when a question falls flat) Bennett has turned it into a memorable commercial campaign. And whatever Bennett's doing, it seems to be working for him. He made his debut one of the new featured cast members of this year's season of SNL.
So the commercials definitely have some comedic talent behind them (fun fact: Every commercial was directed by The Lonely Island's Jorma Taccone), but the real talent here comes from the children. AT&T had actually worked with children before for a campaign for March Madness (they used Bennett then, too), and they seem to have a good thing going with their pint-size pitchmen. The commercial series might be getting a bit stale, but it's had a good run in 2013. At least we're able to look back on it and wonder what in the world a pickle roll is.
Few stories in 2013 captivated the sports world like the Alex Rodriguez saga. Baseball fans somehow found a way to stomach yet another story involving dishonest cheaters in Major League Baseball, a seemingly never-ending tale. Even to this day, we have yet to reach the conclusion, when A-Rod learns of his ultimate fate.
Rodriguez, the controversial Yankees slugger who is constantly associated with steroids, is likely as happy as anyone to see the end of 2013. After all, this year has been particularly unkind to him. In January, he was linked to the infamous Biogenesis clinic, which allegedly provided a number of MLB players with illegal performance-enhancing drugs. For much of the summer, it was speculated that MLB would suspend Rodriguez, and they finally did so on Aug. 5, banning him for 211 games.
Following the suspension, MLB released a statement, in which it cited its reasoning, which included A-Rod's "use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances," among other violations. As anticipated, Rodriguez appealed the decision, allowing him to play for the remainder of the season during the duration of his appeal process.
With his hands in the fate of arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, Rodriguez compiled seven home runs with a .244 batting average in 44 games with the Yankees. He was often met with a cacophony of boos upon stepping to the plate, and his stint included an ugly incident in which Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster intentionally plunked him.
Even now, as 2013 comes to a close, we have yet to see the demise of this drawn-out rigmarole. Recently, A-Rod stormed out of his hearing, calling his trial an "abusive process" and a "farce." Yet somehow, he continues to hang on for dear life, keeping afloat his ever-sinking chances of one again playing for the Yankees.
While we have yet to discover the final verdict, A-Rod has already been dealt his greatest punishment yet, with his legacy forever tarnished. Regardless of how the court rules, the years of the talented, innocent superstar that was Alex Rodriguez have long since passed.
That's probably what you had to do if you wanted the real deal from Dominique Ansel's bakery in SoHo in New York City. The pastry chef unveiled the Cronut™ in May and the croissant-doughnut hybrid has literally been drawing lines around the block, forcing people to sleep outside to get a good spot in the four-hour long wait.
The #Cronut craze reached its height this summer, fueled by gawk-worthy headlines from desperate New Yorkers digging for Cronuts in the trash to a woman paying $14,000 for a dozen Cronuts. The sought-after pastry even had a black market listing, and token B-list actor Emma Roberts was even rejected from cutting the ever-growing Cronut line.
New York wasn't the only place with phyllo-fueled shenanigans either. Not only did a plethora of Cronut ripoffs pop up in bakeries around the Big Apple, the Cronut even made its way around the world. The best part? The fact that Ansel trademarked the Cronut name so that its dupes had to be creatively named the "dossant" or the New York Pie Donut, giving a completely new meaning to "NYPD."
In the midst of this carbfest, the Cronut sparked other (disgusting) food fad hybrids, from the buzz-worthy ramen burger to the short-lived Crookie, which — you guessed it — also takes advantage of the innocent croissant.
Of course, people ate this shit up. Quite literally, at least for the people who were the first in line. Even so, the Cronut will live on as one of Time.com's 25 Best Inventions of 2013, right up there with the actual inventions like water fracking.
As 2013 comes to a close, perhaps it is also time to bid adieu to the omnipresent Cronut™ and instead #prayforcroissants.
When Netflix began advertising in June 2013 for its newest original show, Orange Is the New Black, I was, at most, vaguely intrigued. Mainly, I was just pissed that Netflix was airing promotions for it in between my shows. A month later, after hearing a load of hubbub about Orange Is the New Black from my friends, I decided I might as well just watch the pilot. I finished the show's 13-episode season in two days of inadvertent binge-watching. What I originally thought was some dumb story about a girl in an orange jumpsuit wound up being the must-watch series of the summer.
Orange Is the New Black, based on the memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, follows Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a yuppie New York City WASP, as she leaves her equally bougie fiance Larry (Jason Biggs) behind to serve a 15-month prison sentence for doing some "errands" for her drug smuggling ex-girlfriend, Alex (Laura Prepon), back in the day.
Piper acts as the show's main protagonist, but Orange Is the New Black is most notable for its primarily female ensemble cast. While a majority female show is already a unique feat in television, Orange Is the New Black offers viewers a heaping helping of representation for women of color and LGBTQ-identified women, whose stories typically aren't told on screen.
And there are infinite stories to be told about Litchfield Correctional Facility's inmates. Daya falls in love with (and gets knocked up by) a prison guard, Red runs Litchfield's kitchen after pissing off the Russian mob, the meth-head Pennsatucky thinks she's Jesus and whaddaya know, Piper runs into her ex-girlfriend Alex at Litchfield, where they're both serving their sentences. How awkward for them! How fun for us to watch!
While Orange Is the New Black is principally a drama, the show's comedic moments are among its finest. This mix of comedy and realistic drama is one of Orange Is the New Black's biggest selling points and contributed toward making the show so revolutionary for Netflix. Orange Is the New Black put the distributor on the map as a capable, innovative and noteworthy content producer; its earlier programs, House of Cards and the fourth season of Arrested Development, didn't come close to achieving Orange Is the New Black's viewership and popularity.
But more than its commercial success and gripping storylines, Orange Is the New Black is significant for making Taystee and Poussey everyday names.
Pope Francis may have been the more inspiring figure and Edward Snowden the more politically polarizing force, but if you're the kind of person who mostly interacts with the world through the lens of pop culture more than politics, 2013 was the year of Kanye West. I literally spent the fall in France, and still couldn't escape thinking about, listening to and passionately discussing Kanye on a regular basis.
Not that I wanted to; West's latest album, the dark and sparse Yeezus, is straight-up brilliant, my second favorite album of the year in a year literally overflowing with amazing music. I found Yeezus, with its expert conduction of different musical elements (from TNGHT's trap production to Bon Iver's indecipherable falsetto) fascinating and almost endlessly listenable, but many people did not. Unlike Kanye's previous solo album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was widely pronounced a masterpiece, Yeezus was polarizing. Some people objected to his questionable use of civil rights metaphors to illustrate his sexual anxieties (most obviously the sample of "Strange Fruit" in a song about getting a groupie pregnant... yeah), while others were turned off by the focus on siren-like Death Grips beats rather than the orchestral, soul music-sampling production Kanye is famous for.
But here's the thing with Kanye: His music is either outright, obviously perfect (MBDTF, Late Registration) or the covert type of brilliant that needs to be parsed out after multiple listens. People were initially displeased with the AutoTune flavor of 808s and Heartbreak, too, but it's become apparent in the years since that 808s opened up hip-hop to all kinds of new styles and sensibilities; we wouldn't have Drake without it. Similarly, as the months went by, Yeezus only got better, and only made more and more sense.
For instance, after Kanye's very interesting, very frank interview with the BBC's Zane Lowe appeared, Jimmy Kimmel responded by having a small child reiterate all of his quotes. Now you see what Kanye was thinking about: If people called it a "rant" every time you opened your mouth in public, you'd record a thundering, primal scream of an album too.
Whether it was the thinkpieces that flooded the internet in the wake of this Kimmel debacle, the loud music video for "Bound 2" that was so weird we could only collectively process it by watching a James Franco/Seth Rogen parody or the brilliant music itself, there was simply no way to avoid Kanye West in 2013.
This year, Amanda Bynes didn't make the news for being adorably fantastic in The Amanda Show or a comic genius in She's the Man. Rather, she shocked the internet one tweet at a time. In addition to the fact that she couldn't decide whether she loved or hated Drake, Amanda spent 2013 tweeting things that were offensive and honestly quite disturbing. She continuously posted about plastic surgery, Drake and her views on being physically unattractive. She also frequently tweeted pictures of her new look: platinum blonde wigs, a half-shaved head and her recent boob and nose jobs. Here are some highlights:
I wanted to share my story with you to prove that I'm not crazy, I was just embarrassed. Surgery is a complete miracle for me — nothing can hold you back from living out your dreams. There's a surgery for everything that's wrong with you!
Tragically, Amanda's last tweet was on July 19 due to her attempt to start a fire in a stranger's driveway, which resulted in her admittance to a mental hospital. Prior to this Amanda had been arrested for throwing a bong out her apartment window, smoking marijuana and threatening the NYPD. Amanda has just recently been released from rehab, plans to go to fashion school and wants start her own clothing line.
Clearly, 2013 was a time for Amanda to just do her own her thing. Maybe 2014 will signal the coming of better times, or maybe she'll find someone new to harass via Twitter.
Either way, R.I.P. to the girl Amanda used to be.
Lovers of the damsel-in-distress story beware, Frozen has come to change the stereotype and make us fall in love with the new Disney.
With the new era of "Princess Power," Disney brings us its movie of the year. Coming out at the same time as the new Catching Fire, the new Frozen brings us a whole new image of the female lead. The new princess is feisty, forward and independent.
Strong female characters are particularly fitting for this movie as Frozen is the first time a woman has directed a Disney animation feature in its 76 years of existence. Jennifer Lee, writer for Disney's Wreck-It Ralph and the screenplay for Frozen, shares the director's chair with Disney veteran and Tarzan director Chris Buck.
The new movie tells the story of Elsa and Anna, two princesses in the kingdom of Arendelle. After Elsa freezes the summer (by mistake, I should add in her defense) Anna must rush to her sister's castle on top of the mountain to ask her to thaw the ice. On the way, she meets Kristoff and some sparks fly between them in spite of Anna's recent and sudden engagement with Prince Hans.
Yes, there are princes and male characters in the movie in spite of the strong female leads. You will find, however, that by the end of the movie one of the male characters only kisses Anna after strictly being given permission and no, none of the male characters save the princesses in any way.
It is all about female independence as Anna and Elsa save the day and Queen Elsa rules the kingdom gracefully. All without a king. Although Anna dreams of a handsome prince for a part of the movie by the end she discovers, right along with us, the true meaning of love. A love that not only exists in relationships, but brings siblings together as well.
Although audiences may be surprised by the lack of romantic scenes in the movie, it is important to realize that this is a tale about love as a journey and not something meant to save a princess from distress. Disney has been trying to change this image ever since we were introduced to Tiana in The Princess and the Frog and Merida in Brave. Let us welcome the new princesses into our lives and realize that this is the way the world should be.
On Dec. 5, Nelson Mandela died and the world went into mourning. A young freedom fighter transformed into the first black president of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mandela exceeded the normal role of a statesman to become a beloved leader, who was affectionately called by his clan name Madiba.
He was more than merely a political leader; he was an icon of reconciliation and hope to a nation ripped apart by brutal racial apartheid. He struggled for freedom and others of the most basic human rights, refusing to compromise his ideals even while he was imprisoned for 27 years. He reunited a nation and inspired the world.
In the wake of his death, Mandela has been eulogized worldwide, through newspapers and news broadcasts, tabloids and Twitter. The magnitude of the emotions surrounding his death is as enormous as the magnitude of his life. Instead of a church, his funeral was held in the Johannesburg city soccer stadium, with South African officials expressing doubts that the 95,000 seats would be enough for the tens of thousands of local and international mourners. Almost one hundred heads of state and former heads of state, including Barack Obama and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, came to pay their respects alongside the citizens of South Africa. Even in death, Mandela served as a unifying force for not only one nation, but for the entire world.
With "Sunday Morning" as cozy as my Forever 21 sweatpants and "Sister Ray" as raucous as my latex bodysuit, the legendary Lou Reed has been the soundtrack to my fucked-up weekends ever since the tender age of 16.
Reed was the man who Steven Malkmus deemed "better than Bowie and Iggy," and his death from liver failure on Oct. 27 was a staunch kick in the gut. A seminal figure in the LES proto-punk scene, Reed has been an influence on the works of everyone from Andy Warhol to Kanye West. A genius who shaped the face of modern rock 'n' roll, his legend will at least live on in the form of vinyl repressings and a genus of velvet underground spiders dubbed "Loureedia annulipes."
Run! Allons-y! Geronimo! And now... fucking brilliant?
2013 has been an exciting, frustrating and confusing year for Doctor Who as show-runner Steven Moffat twisted everything we thought we knew about the series and turned it on its head.
The last eight episodes of the seventh season were broadcast in April, leaving Whovians with a teasing look at the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his new companion Clara, played by the sassy and vibrant Jenna Louise-Coleman. Following a rousing Christmas special where Clara once again appears and dies, Whovians started out 2013 in a panic expecting Season 7B to be a yawnfest like Season 7A, calling it "The One Where the Companion Dies... Again."
The season was instead filled with confusing twists and plot holes as Moffat scrambled to explain Clara, the "Impossible Girl." The audience gets a taste of wit-against-wit in season 7B, ending with the overly hyped-up episode "The Name of the Doctor" where — spoiler alert — we do not learn the name of the Doctor. We do learn the point of Clara, however, and discover the War Doctor (played by John Hurt) which left viewers satisfactorily confused until the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special.
Peter Capaldi, known in the UK for his character Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, was announced to be the show's newest Doctor in August with much fanfare, and is scheduled to appear in the Christmas Special. Fans are excited for the new regeneration, and how Capaldi's Doctor will manage to exterminate his habit for swearing on the show.
The saying "never apply logic to Who" was prominent in the 50th Anniversary Special in November, which celebrated 50 years of Doctor Who as being the longest-running sci-fi television show in the world and the most successful science fiction series of all time. The special was the largest simulcast ever of a TV drama, drawing over 10.2 million viewers overnight, and featured David Tennant and Matt Smith as well as the War Doctor John Hurt as the trio of Doctors are faced with the dilemma of ending the Time War or saving Gallifrey. The appearance of Billie Piper as "the Moment" as well as a brief cameo shot of Peter Capaldi at the end of the episode left Whovians with all the feels. This turned into confusion as fans realized the War Doctor takes up a regeneration, which changes the numbering of all the Doctors. Now it's confusing as ever to call Smith the Eleventh Doctor (or is it Twelfth? Thirteenth?) since its unknown which of his 13 regenerations he's on.
One thing's for sure: 2013 for Doctor Who has been, in a word, absolutely fantastic.
I remember the moment very clearly. I got home from school, plopped down in front of my computer and made my typical rounds on the internet — Facebook, CNN, Pitchfork. There, on the front page, the jubilant headline: "Listen: Vampire Weekend: 'Diane Young' and 'Step.'
I was transfixed as I clicked the link to "Diane Young," as glorious noises emerged from my speakers. Rollicking piano, clattering drums and Ezra Koenig's charismatic singing gripped me in the sound, making me unable to focus on anything else in the world.
Then, "Step." I thought "Diane Young" couldn't be topped, but Vampire Weekend proved me absolutely wrong. Instantly, Koenig's voice and a lilting harpsichord arrested me, seemingly removing the oxygen from the room. Koenig's lyrics especially stood out: "Wisdom's a gift / but you'd trade it for youth / Age is an honor / it's still not the truth."
If I had ever been more excited for an album before that day, it was instantly eclipsed by my desire to finally hear Modern Vampires of the City, the band's then-forthcoming third album. Vampire Weekend was one of my absolute favorite bands, especially after I got to see them perform at Red Rocks Amphitheater a few years earlier. By the time the album finally arrived in early May, my excitement levels were at a fever pitch. I'm not even sure I was that thrilled when I got my Northwestern acceptance email.
And boy, did that album deliver on every one of my wildest dreams. From top to bottom, no song left me wanting more, making MVOTC the first true masterpiece of the year. I loved that on even the most energetic track, some minor detail or theme made the music so much more emotionally complex. On a track like "Unbelievers," the band somehow writes one of the catchiest pop songs of the year about a young couple unable to find solace in religious faith. It's not necessarily a surprise from a group of Columbia University grads, but the band's literary dexterity still delights to this day.
In a year of endless breathtaking music, MVOTC somehow manages to tower above them all. Listening to it today, I'm still just as blown away as I was on that first listen. While Vampire Weekend may continue to release brilliant music for years to come (they better, anyways), something truly special like MVOTC simply doesn't happen that frequently.
"Google it." This phrase has become a part of everyday language. And it is no surprise, as Google provides a search engine, an internet browser, maps, an app store, email and now, the Google Glass.
Glass is a wearable computer, worn around the head and in front of the eyes, similar to regular glasses. Google's Project Glass developed these augmented reality glasses, and the concept was introduced in April 2012. By saying, "okay, Glass," a user can command Glass to carry out tasks such as taking high quality pictures, recording videos, sharing updates with friends, looking up directions, sending messages, translating words and asking questions to find out information.
At the moment, you can obtain Glass through the Explorer Program, which helps shape Glass' future.
Google Glass has also raised some concerns. With the technology of smartphones, people are increasingly distracted by receiving constant updates from apps and social media. With Glass, the user would be receiving these updates from a computer worn around the head, and this could lead to increased distraction. There are also privacy concerns from Google being more able to track more information about users because they constantly wear and use Glass. Google Glass could change the way people communicate with each other. Nevertheless, there are possibilities for Google Glass in areas such as journalism, visuals and graphics and more.