2009: the best and the rest

And so we end not only another year in this still spanky-new millennium, but we end the first decade.

But every year has a unique footprint, an almost palatable context. The trick is to take a quick, over-the-shoulder look and sort out what made this particular year unlike any before it.

If national issues create a dominant theme, then this year has been a ripper, beginning with the inauguration of Barack Obama. That cold January day represented a national sea change that actually began with his speech on election eve the previous November in Grant Park, Chicago.

Certainly health care has been part of the national discourse in 2009 and has generated some unforgettable moments, beginning with those pesky Medicare "death panels" that would soon be meeting in the dead of night and, after hearing from tearful members of the family, making the fiscally sound decision to pull the plug on grandma or, in the alternative, recommending that family members simply drop grandma off on a major interstate freeway.

Of course, the nation has been locked in an acrimonious debate about pre-existing conditions and public options, reminding us that if you love sausage never watch it being made. It's democracy in action and it's not pretty.

The engine of pop culture purred along quite nicely throughout 2009, creating some delicious moments. Celebrities continue to be our national preoccupation (some say obsession), and movies still remain our entertainment of choice — with the help of state-of-the-art 3D.

And, apparently, when we're not at the movies, we're checking those small, blue, glowing screens for messages. Some compulsively. A sizable number, as it turns out, are twittering Ashton Kutcher. Lots of folks initially thought Twitter was an over-the-counter drug. Wrong. Seems 4 million tweeters read Ashton's real-time updates in the telescoped language (max: 140 characters) created for the Twitter format. Try and comprehend that number: 4 million. Ashton has a bad hair day and he instantly lets all those folks (aka: followers) know. That's a medium-size city. Fans wait breathlessly for him to break out the hair gel and they are there. Twitter defines real time. "I'm walking into the kitchen. I'm putting toast in the toaster." This is so cool. This is so trivial; social critics have begun to weep uncontrollably. Britney Spears is a close second to Ashton at 3.9 million, with Ellen DeGeneres at 3.8 million. At a cool 3 million is Ryan Seacrest. Is this a great country or what?

It's also a country where our tweens and teens are listening to Florence + the Machine singing their hit album "Lungs." Or Band of Skulls ripping with their album "Baby Darling Doll Face Honey." And not to forget Kid Cudi. And there's a newly anointed diva: Lady Gaga (Lady who, you ask?). That's right, Gaga. She's a singer and a sartorial/tonsorial wonder. Words fail. But the name begins to paint a picture. She's also the antithesis of Susan Boyle, the zaftig singer who emerged from the safety of her living room to demonstrate that she has a set of pipes.

And speaking of pop culture personalities, 2009 would have been way less interesting without the following:

Sarah Palin and her new, hot book "Going Rogue." A million copies sold, a 33-city tour, and she reportedly went through 400 Sharpies. Now, if someone could please step forward and explain what the title means. Is going rogue being turned loose in Neiman Marcus with a no-ceiling credit card? Would we really want someone who is going or has already gone rogue anywhere near the White House? Really? When Sarah resigned as governor of Alaska, she said, "It is as throughout all Alaska that big wild good life teeming along the road that is north to the future." Sarah now travels with an interpreter.

And not to forget South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who went hiking on the Appalachian Trail ... or not. He's actually responsible for turning Appalachian Trail into a verb. A verb that for him, as it turned out, was applicable to Argentina. Unbelievably, while explaining himself to a national audience, he actually said, "Don't cry for me Argentina." The reason is still not clear.

Now David Letterman and Tiger Woods both apparently have gone Appalachian Trail and offered up just the right amount of distraction regarding their extracurricular dalliances as 2009 was grimly winding down. Letterman all but shrugged and then flashed his gap-toothed smile and said, "Yep, but that was then and this is now." Woods, in contrast, went MIA as a string of wounded ladies surfaced with text and taped messages in hand, insisting that they wanted only to set the record straight and remind folks that Tiger was their exclusive stud muffin (okay, not so exclusive), and he made promises, and they hoped the check was in the mail.

Words fail when it comes to the life and death of Michael Jackson, whose insomnia was so severe that he was taking industrial strength, intravenous sleep aids that eventually killed him. What a lost soul. What talent. And he was such a good-looking kid.

Perhaps it's hard to get over the unfailing need by some folks to get real, on television or in books. Richard Heene went so far as to launch a balloon and claim his son was on board, thinking it was a cool audition, no matter what the FAA or local law enforcement believed. Whoops. That will be 90 days in jail and four years probation. Now that's real. And not to forget the Salahis, party crashers extraordinaire, cameras in tow, who forgot that the Secret Service can hold a grudge. Whoops.

Andre Agassi penned a memoir titled "Open" and proceeded to explain that he once did crystal meth (likely one of the most addictive drugs ever), seriously hated tennis, and his wild mullet — that thick thatch of restless hair that seemed to have a life of its own — was a wig. Really? All along, Andre, you were prematurely bald? Seriously? Is there nothing we can believe in?

There is so much more. But fasten your seatbelts, 2010 has arrived and we live in interesting times.

Honoré's reviews appear weekly in Revels.

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