FLOOD Presents The Year in Art and Culture

Media’s boundaries are more porous than ever, and great artwork abounds. So does weirdness.
Art & Culture
FLOOD Presents The Year in Art and Culture

Media’s boundaries are more porous than ever, and great artwork abounds. So does weirdness.

Words: FLOOD Staff

December 14, 2016

The Internet had another big year in 2016, and it seems as though we as a culture are beginning to grapple with the more damaging aspects of our defining technology. (Too little, too late, perhaps—but only time will tell.) Our president-elect is a walking tweet-storm, as well as a meme (many times over), and also any number of GIFs. He is backward as a motherfucker, but he’s also our future, and our present; consider him the Rhizome-in-Chief.

To say the same thing another way: our arts and culture scene at the moment is very much an Internet phenomenon, for better and for worse. Podcasts represent the avant-garde of storytelling; many of the best critical debates take place on Twitter; and if a sports moment didn’t have a Vine (RIP), then it didn’t have much chance of becoming a Moment. As a result, we’re often forced to think in 140 characters and get our news in six-second bursts. But there are still plenty of great opportunities to rise out of the shallows, even while remaining among them. The boundaries across media are increasingly porous, and great artwork abounds. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote comics, for Thor’s sake! And although this was a year that abounded in deaths, it also abounded in wonderful elegies—and Vin Scully even got to narrate his own!

So what does it all add up to? I think the Internet said it best: Fuck 2016. But before we put this crap behind us, let’s revel in that shit once more. — Daniel Harmon

Papa Noel himself / photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Papa Noel himself / photo by Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images

Five Trends That Defined 2016

The End of Norms and Customs

The president-elect bragged about his dick in a debate. Our congress has refused to hold confirmation hearings on our current president’s nominee for the open position on the Supreme Court. And the racism, homophobia, sexism, and related bigotry that seemed to have been on the wane over the past several decades has risen again on the wings of a little blue bird called Twitter (although that’s certainly not the only venue for such anonymous vitriol). The norms and customs upon which we thought we could rely are crumbling faster than the proverbial cookies. Some think that is a good thing. But some people are also assholes. (Don’t @ me, eggs.) — DH

We Begin to Reckon with the Perils of the Internet

Fake news. The hacking of government agencies. Doxing. Cyber warfare. These things took on a world-historical importance over the past few months, and although people have been sounding the alarm about the Internet since, well, forever, this was the year when the e-shit really hit the web-fan. Lots of people saw this coming and lots of people wrote about it (where “it” equals the dark imaginings of the little science-fiction novelist who lives within us all), but this now seems like the moment where everyday citizens are forced to deal with the everyday impact of a digital world that in many cases is identical with the “real one.” — DH

The Rise of Fiction Podcasting

Nonfiction podcasting has experienced a huge boom over the past several years, and with the increase in programming, shows have pushed further and further into more fictional spaces. Serial, for instance, certainly deals with a true story, but its manner of telling that story has all the hallmarks of great fiction as well. So why the arbitrary wall? A bunch of new shows seem to think that there’s no good reason for it at all and have struck out into an interesting array of genres, including crime, sci-fi, drama, and more. Not everything will stick, but the early indicators are very promising. If you want daring literature, podcasting and comics now both have to be considered alongside more traditional publishing models. — DH

The Rise of Nice Trolling (a.k.a. Ken M)

Troll culture came to prominence with the stigma of it being a form of bullying—and it probably kind of was, in a way, if not just a really, really stupid version of one (remember this?). Thankfully, however, a new and improved form of trolling has emerged courtesy of Ken M, a copywriter out of Brooklyn who mocks the anger and meanness online by pretending to be a variety of doofuses, shining a light on the pile of shit that is most comment threads in the process. GOOD idea for those who feel the need to comment in Yahoo News articles: be nice, OK? — Nate Rogers

Relievers Take Over Baseball

The Moneyball-ification of baseball has been more or less complete for some years. Every team has their own squad of data scientists now, and everyone’s looking out for ways to get a better product for less money. AND YET. The very sudden transformation of the playoffs from a starter-driven format to a reliever-driven format took pretty much everyone by surprise. The least valued position of all time (the idea of a premium reliever—the closer—only appeared on the scene in the late 1970s) now suddenly seems like the thing every team absolutely must have. And in a sports world where change is always slow to come, where owners fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo, and where most managers fear new ideas like they fear their very jobs, that certainly is something new. — DH

books-2016Top Five Books

You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott

Gillian Flynn had a huge hit a few years back with Gone Girl, and You Will Know Me certainly contains a lot of the ingredients that made Gone Girl so successful (a murder plot to unravel, a trove of family secrets to sift through, a deeply pessimistic view of domestic life). But Megan Abbott’s novel also manages to revel in those tawdry elements without losing track of the humanity of its characters. This is as believable a novel about teenage cruelty and adult self-delusion as you are ever likely to find, and it explores the idea of the neglected younger child in a way that feels really fresh. Plus aspiring Olympics gymnasts, bein’ all aspirational and all! — DH

Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler

Sweetbitter may not be the most accomplished novel of the year, or the most original, but I can’t get over my delight at finding a bildungsroman in which the main character finally—finally!—has no real mission to speak of. Stephanie Danler’s Tess is a backwaiter first and foremost, and although she may mature over the course of the book and receive her mandatory education, she is not by any means pushing for it. She is the kind of adult that most of us actually are: a tentative one. — DH

Sudden Death, by Álvaro Enrigue 

Every page of Enrigue’s globetrotting novel of ideas contains eye-opening historical details—some fictional, some meta-fictional, some non-fictional, and good luck discriminating among them—often hilarious wordplay, and a deeply affecting drama involving, among others, Quevedo, Caravaggio, Cortes, and Cortes’s mistress “La Malinche.” It will have you scouring Wikipedia for more information on the Counter-Reformation and famous Renaissance artworks, and it is by far the best book club book of the year: fun, philosophical, and great. — DH

Babarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan

The longtime New Yorker writer’s Pulitzer-winning memoir was technically released in 2015, but this isn’t the kind of book you want the first edition of. The paperback, which came out in April, was meant to be stuffed into the bottom of a backpack and toted on the kind of surf pilgrimage Finnegan and a friend undertake in the book’s pivotal central section. It’s a meandering, undulating tale of occasional obsession, and the ways that we’re formed by the waves we chase. — Marty Sartini Garner

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead takes a semi-comic question—what if it actually were an underground railroad?—and weaves a tale of attempted liberation, taking obscure routes through genres and locations that would seem impossible in the hands of a lesser writer. Though it doesn’t lack for warmth and humor, the resulting novel feels bracingly urgent—and devastating — MSG

Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster of The Best Show / photo by Mindy Tucker

Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster of The Best Show / photo by Mindy Tucker

Top Five Podcasts

2 Dope Queens

One of the real pleasures of podcasting right now is the way it takes place in a kind of alternative media landscape—in what often feels like an alternate reality. Instead of screaming pundits, we get passionate hosts; instead of wave after wave of the same story offered up at escalating volumes, we get a wide range of often quixotic topics and approaches; and instead of ideological combatants, we get friendly roundtables. 2 Dope Queens is hosted by the eponymous queens (erstwhile Daily Show correspondent Jesssica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, by name) and includes a truly diverse array of guests and topics. Nothing’s off limits, and the jokes flow free and fast, and it’s such a pleasure to hear from so many new voices on so many pressing (and non-pressing) topics.DH

The Best Show

Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster’s longrunning conversation made its transition from terrestrial radio to the iTunes store in winter 2014, and they’ve only seen their profile rise from there—Sarah Koenig isn’t going on The Simpsons any time soon. In a difficult year, Scharpling has been poignant in the face of tragedy; his “Best Candy Bars” segment that aired in the days after the Pulse nightclub shooting is required listening. — MSG


Fiction podcasts are having a real coming-out party right now, as this recent New York Times piece notes, and the belle of the proverbial ball is Homecoming, starring Oscar Isaac and Catherine Keener. Say again, this fiction podcast stars Poe Dameron and one of the titular walkers and talkers from Walking and Talking. And if you think this is a weird way for radio to reassert itself, you may have a point, but if you’re not still interested then you may need to listen harder. Podcasts are hitting it big because they’re telling great stories in really creative ways, and if you haven’t gotten on board yet, Homecoming is where you need to start. — DH

On Being

Krista Tippett’s show asks a very simple question: what do you believe? Her conversational grace—and her ecumenical taste—give her guests the space to articulate a number of ideas and philosophies; rare is the venue that holds reverent atheists and iconoclastic ministers in the same regard. — MSG

Pop, Race, and the ’60s

Jack Hamilton is Slate’s pop critic and—more notably—a working academic, and his podcast bears traces of his day job. Pop, Race, and the ’60s is deeply informed by Hamilton’s work as a music historian, but the show somehow manages to avoid being bogged down by his expertise. Each episode involves Hamilton and another guest examining the context, impact, and legacy of two iconic pop songs, and the resulting hour or so offers a relentlessly revelatory account of…well, of pop, race, and the 1960s. It’s un-turn-off-able information. — DH

john_lewis-2016-march-2Top Five Comics

Black Panther, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze

People were justifiably thrilled when it was announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates had signed on to script the Black Panther reboot, but as Coates himself admitted, it was no guarantee that the resulting comic would not, in his words, “completely suck.” Coates had never written a comic before, and although he knew his stuff, it’s easy to imagine such a committed writer having trouble leaving space on the page for the actual art. In the end, that was not a problem, and the result is a thoughtful and thought-provoking reboot that is also just one hell of a comic series. So there’s geo-politics and cultural commentary, sure, but there’s also just a ton of rock  ’em sock ’em fistfights. — DH

Rolling Blackouts, by Sarah Glidden

In Rolling Blackouts, Sarah Glidden recounts her travels through Turkey, Iraq, and Syria in the company of two journalist friends and a former US soldier. It touches on a number of issues that the area is dealing with at this incredibly challenging—even tragic—moment, and although it will certainly make that world feel less foreign and more proximate, it refuses to provide a false sense of security or certainty: to read this book is not to understand the Middle East; what the book offers instead is an invitation to learn more. — DH

Hot Dog Taste Test, by Lisa Hanawalt 

I’m not sure if we’ve quite understood how influential the comics world is at the moment. Comics artists are working behind the scenes on the ads we see, the clothes we wear, the shows we watch, and the comics we endlessly adapt. Lisa Hanawalt is a great example on nearly all of these fronts. She first came up as a comic artist, but her aesthetic has since developed into a mini-empire. She’s the artist behind BoJack Horseman, and her aesthetic sense is something that I now can’t help seeing all over Los Angeles—both the filmed version and the real thing. It’s funky af, and if you want the purest distillation of her work, Hot Dog Taste Test is the fountain you need to bathe in. — DH

March, by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

There’s no shortage of ambition in the comics world at the moment, but this trilogy still stands out. The last chapter just came out this summer, and it’s been received with all due pomp and praise. John Lewis’s story is even more necessary now than it was when the book came out (before the election, that is), and Nate Powell’s art is absolutely stunning. (His previous work is very much worth checking out too.) For me, it also offered an important reminder that the story of the American Civil Rights Movement isn’t actually a story that I know that well at all. We’ve all ingested a lot of the imagery, but of course there’s much more to the political story than just dogs and fire hydrants. This doesn’t shy away from those things, but it also offers an account of the heroes who confronted that reality. — DH

Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Brian K. Vaughan is the writer behind Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Saga. He cranks out comics page-turners the way Stephen King cranks out horror hits. If you’ve missed his previous work, now’s the time to familiarize yourself, and there’s no easier point of entry than Paper Girls—which should be especially welcome for fans of Stranger Things. Like that show, Paper Girls focuses on an unlikely band of school kids as they first encounter and then fight back against a malevolent science-fictional force. It’s also set in the ’80s, and it looks as good as it reads. (And it reads real, real good.) — DH

Top Five Memes

Stressed Ben Affleck

DiCaprio hitting the vape at the SAG Awards may have started 2016 off with a disturbingly confident vibe, but the realest moments of the year came from a different vaper altogether. Affleck—the Vaped Crusader, if you will—has seemed…stressed lately (at least based on paparazzi photos and Rotten Tomatoes scores), so he ended up being a solid candidate to represent our #mood throughout. Chin up, pike. You won Best Picture (somehow). — NR


Crying Jordan

Like a parasitic leech, Crying Jordan reached peak meme in 2016 (even going so far as to be written up in the New York Times!) mainly due to all the terrible shit that kept happening. Space Jam 2 announced? Crying Jordan. The Olympics sucked? Crying Jordan. Our nation is falling apart? Crying Jordan. Even Crying LeBron wasn’t enough to knock Jordan out of his new spot in our sad, defeated culture. Sorry, Your Airness. Maybe if you had seven championships this wouldn’t have happened. — NR


Conceited Reaction

If Michael Jordan himself isn’t a big enough star to prevent a meme eclipsing his very being, then Conceited (of Wild ’n Out fame) certainly isn’t either. That said, this one isn’t disparaging in any way—and might actually be something for him to be proud of, touchstone of the human existence that it is. God help us if this one finds life in 2017, though. — NR

“Fuck 2016”

The A.V. Club’s Clayton Purdom has already made the case for “Fuck 2016” as the dead-ass meme of the year—“Hating the year we’re in is not a response to the various sadnesses and atrocities and deaths we encounter each year; it is a response to the Internet, which demands something droll and urbane the instant a thing occurs”—so we’re not going to try to one-up him. Still, as a year, 2016 was terrible; as a meme, “Fuck 2016” was ubiquitous. — MSG

“J. Cole went platinum with no features”

The North Carolina rapper’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive came out two years ago, but in May of this year, it did what no other hip-hop record has done in the past twenty-five years and achieved sales of over one million copies. Which is impressive! But it doesn’t put “No Role Modelz” in the same league as “King Kunta,” no matter what Q-Tip has to say about it, and Cole stans’s constant reminder of their dude’s singular achievement made this the crossover anti-hype meme of the year. — MSG

Cubs fans celebrate outside of Wrigley Field / photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Cubs fans celebrate outside of Wrigley Field / photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Top Five Sports Moments

The Cubs Win the World Series

For as long as anyone can remember, there have been certain things you can set your clock to in Chicago: the weather never being quite as bad as Tom Skilling says it’s going to be, Mike Ditka making a public statement that would get most current head coaches fired, a new Rick Bayless restaurant being impossible to get into. With the Cubs finally snapping their World Series drought, they have officially broken not only their identity, but the identity of the entire city. Which I assume means you can now put ketchup on your hot dog like a civilized person without getting harassed for it. — MSG

Vin Scully’s Last Home Game Capped with an Extra-Innings Walk-Off to Win the Division

Charlie Culberson has already been optioned down to the minors to start the 2017 season, but he’ll be a hero in the Dodger books for all eternity for giving Vin Scully the opportunity he deserved to cap off his sixty-seven-year career in style. An extra innings walk-off home run to clinch the division from the Giants, all on a sunny Saturday afternoon in LA? Get outta town, man. It even had shades of his classic Kirk Gibson call (“high fly ball…”), but this one was its own special moment—a wild celebration tinged with an overarching sting of the bittersweet. — NR

Kobe Bryant’s Absurd Last Game/Tim Duncan’s Perfectly Understated Retirement

2016 was goodbye for Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, and by default the end of a generation. The two were perfect complements for each other during their twenty years in the league—one a bull-headed flash of impossible mental toughness, the other a tall, cool drink of fundamental water—and it couldn’t have been more fitting that they went out as a pair, each in their own trademark way. Kobe dropped sixty for his final game, pushing (and shooting) himself very nearly into oblivion, and Timmy took the high road, waiting until the NBA spotlight had dampened to reveal that he’d had enough. They may very well be two of last true franchise players to ever step onto the court, but even so they’ll be remembered first and foremost as personalities. And considering both of their fashion choices, that really is something extraordinary. — NR

Ohio State Beats Michigan (or Doesn’t) (But They’re in the Playoff Anyway)

J.T. Barrett’s fourth-and-one carry in double overtime either was or wasn’t a first down, depending on how you feel about the Toledo War, and that minor shift in perspective is the only reason Ohio State is facing off against Clemson in the first round of the College Football Playoffs instead of Michigan. When the Playoff was instituted several years ago, people feared that it would ruin the sanctity of the regular season; instead, it elevated this year’s edition of The Game into an all-time classic. — MSG

Ryan Lochte Does Brazil, Brah

Ryan Lochte: Olympian, party-animal, celebrity, sex symbol, and… criminal? Rio 2016 says sim, de fato. If ever a man was made for an Olympics covered in shit, it was this man, who covered himself in shit, metaphorically, after a long night out on the town. (In brief, he got very drunk, vandalized a gas station, got in a fight with armed guards, fled the scene, and then lied about what happened until he couldn’t lie anymore.) And he did it all while wearing a tinfoil hat! — DH

Top Five Non–Trump Related Tweets

(Everyone needed a break every now and then.)