Fascinating and Concerning, Segregating and Discerning: 2014 in America

Unlike those ponderous Facebook stories, let’s delve into what really made 2014 special.

2014

2014 was the year of:

Race and Racism – I will write much more about this shortly after the New Year, but it suffices to say race relations were a big deal in America this year, and issues of race and racism were pervasive in every facet of culture. That’s not to say it was always a negative thing, but it often was and is.

U2 – The release of Songs of Innocence was probably the story of the year in music. After years of waiting, U2 surprised us with an unannounced release and gave the album away for free via iTunes. And people got mad about it. The greatest band in the world gave you 11 free songs and you’re mad? A few quick notes:

  • The album is really good. I can’t believe how many people gave it mixed to negative reviews.
  • U2 somehow is considered too new for old music fans and too old for new music fans.
  • The album is not so much a rebirth as it is U2 just continuing to do their thing.
  • This has been the year of U2, starting with the free song during the Super Bowl, continuing with the Oscar nomination, playing on Fallon, releasing the album, and then performing in Times Square.
  • I’m not sure what the best song on the album is, but I think it’s “Every Breaking Wave,” “Song for Someone,” or “Iris.”
  • U2 is the world’s greatest band.

The NBA’s ascension – While baseball struggles through the usual morose of being baseball and the NFL faces crisis after crisis, the NBA continues to do just about everything right, and is setting the standards in American sports right now. In what was already a star-studded league, the number of superstars continues to grow: Stephen Curry, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and John Wall are a few of the players becoming MVP-caliber players in the absence of Paul George, Kevin Durant, and our boredom with LeBron’s greatness. The most trouble the association faced was from Donald Sterling, and all things considered Adam Silver and co. handled that pretty well.

Beast wide receivers – In ten years we won’t see many freak athletes playing wide receiver, as kids with that skillset will probably play basketball or soccer instead of football. But right now, the athletes in the NFL and the current rules have made for a host of unbelievable pass catchers, including the well-established Calvin Johnson, the 1A Dez Bryant, DeMaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones, and a number of emerging stars such as Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Evans.

Female rappers – The day has improbably arrived when Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea are household names. Female rappers are not a new revelation, but it has been some time since they have found this kind of success, with Minaj and Azalea both succeeding commercially and critically in the past year. And of course it would be these two that do it: an Afro-Trinidadian who came to prominence via Jay-Z and Kanye, and an Australian who is dating Swaggy P. They both have successfully blended rapping ability (although Minaj is certainly the better of the two), radio-ready production, fiery content, and sexy bodies to establish places in hip-hop and popular entertainment. But there’s one more female rapper that made a splash this year. Jackie Hill Perry released her debut album, The Art of Joy, and displayed top shelf lyrical abilities over the production of the talented crew at Humble Beast (and you can legally download it here). There’s a comparison to be made, and it’s to Lauryn Hill. And it’s a fair comparison. However, while Lauryn’s debut album won a Grammy, Jackie’s just established a foothold in the sub-genre of Christian Hip-Hop (of course, Lauryn had already gained notoriety through her work as a member of the Fugees). And while she’s certainly talented enough to be a mainstream rhymer, she has a few things going against her that mainstream secular America won’t easily accept: explicitly Christian lyrics, modesty, and the fact that she’s a former lesbian (who married spoken word artist Preston Perry this year and gave birth to their first child). Modest, heterosexual Christian women don’t have a place in hip-hop today.

The NFL’s dark side – The NFL carries on as America’s religion in spite of itself. 2013 was bad, but 2014 has been even worse. Player safety and domestic violence have been the key phrases that have plagued the NFL continuously. And yet, it remains number one, even as the masses become more and more aware of what players are doing and what doctors are not doing.

Clint Dempsey after his stunning goal versus Ghana.

Soccer – The Beautiful Game was big this year, but I’m not really sure how to sum up it’s year in America. The response to the World Cup was excellent, and ESPN did a really nice job covering it, but I’m not sure yet whether or not it will have a lasting impact on interest in the global game on par with the effect that the 2010 version did. It was, however, great to see the nation get excited about the U.S. team, even if they did look so badly outmatched versus most of their opponents. Tim Howard gave us the defining single-game performance in American sports for the year. Soccer is on the up and up, and I think improvement in MLS and the USMNT are the next steps.

Failing feminism – Please don’t get up in arms before you understand what I’m saying here. 2014 demonstrated the problems faced by the all-encompassing idea of “feminism”, which is perhaps a misnomer, as I would call myself a feminist, but most “feminists” would not call me a feminist. But never mind the labels, as you can judge my perspective through how I explain it. There were plenty of opportunities for feminism to gain some ground in 2014, what with the NFL’s domestic violence issue, the #YesAllWomen campaign in response to the Santa Barbara shooting, and other smaller happenings such as the hiring of Becky Hammond to the Spurs’ coaching staff. However, I feel the movement is in no better place than it was 12 months ago, for three main reasons: It focuses too much on the evil of men, it does not give enough attention to the objectification of women by both sexes, and it has a serious lack of unity as to what the ends and means of the movement are. Walk with me here:

  1. Yes, women have a men problem. And they have had that problem throughout history. Many, many men have a sickening view of women. But the feminist movement takes this, so often, to an extreme that walks and quacks like “anti-male”. Two problems: not all men are awful to women and men who are and hold power don’t care. We see these stories like the hoax video in which young men quickly try to take advantage of a woman wandering the street in drunkenness. You don’t hear the story about the night that I was wandering around campus and saw a girl staggering along. I asked, from a reasonable distance, if she was okay and she said “yes” and wandered on, clearly not okay. I found a group of girls a little ways off and asked them to go check on the girl and they did, telling me as I walked away that I was doing the right thing. Someone told me that they thought most guys would have taken advantage of the girl in that situation and I’m telling you most would have just walked away. Some would have done what I did. Only a few would have done the unthinkable. Do rapes happen on college campuses? Yes. But it’s a very small number of men that are doing it. Too many, of course, as one is too many, but stop deceiving yourself into thinking that all men are wickedly mistreating women.
  2. We need to focus more on the beauty of women as people. Men treat them like sexual objects and servants because that’s how they are presented… by both sexes. 2014 firmly established Booty Worship as one of the leading idols in America, whether it be in the tempting casual wear of yoga pants, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, “Anaconda”, or any other of a number of instances. Men are obsessed with the female butt, and plenty women are more than willing to display it. Have men objectified the female body? Yes. Absolutely yes. But are women, in overwhelming instances, playing off of this desire? Yes. Men and women need to treat this as a two way street, as we’re all a part of this problem. Recognizing beauty is fine and healthy, but can so often devolve into something wrong. We all need to view men and women as being made in the image of God, and our worth is so much more than our physical appearance.
  3. Ask ten feminists if “All About that Bass” has positive lyrics and you’ll get a mix of yes and no. Are skinny, athletic women to be criticized or praised? What does it mean for a woman to “have it all”? There is not unity in this movement.

Bottomline: We need feminism. I need feminism. But right now it is ineffective and sometimes, for lack of a better word, annoying (to both men and women). The movement needs to reassess its strategy, because there’s a lot of good that can and should be accomplished by it.

Netflix – Five years ago this was something you used to order movies through the mail. Now? Everyone is binge-watching television shows on Netflix. The internet is becoming the place to watch TV. Netflix rocks, but be wary, my friends. Something here is too good to be true.

The College Football Playoff – We still aren’t satisfied are we? Sorry Baylor and TCU. Eight teams is only a matter of time.

Anomaly

Anomaly

Christian hip-hop – It’s a fascinating genre, and 2014 was the year in which it made its biggest mainstream splash with Lecrae’s number-one album, Anomaly, which moved 88,000 units in its first week. It was a huge year for Lecrae as he continues to establish his place in hip-hop, and as the unofficial leader of the movement, that opens the door for the entire genre, which continues to improve in quality, not only with its central figures (such as Tedashii and Trip Lee, who both released albums this year) but also with labels less popular than Reach, such as Humble Beast, Lamp Mode, and Collision. Best Album: Anomaly by Lecrae (duh)/Best Artist: Lecrae (also duh)/Best New Artist: Jackie Hill Perry/Best Song: #SameTeam by Swoope et al/Best EP: 100 by KB/Best Independent Album: Bonfire by SPZRKT/Best Producer: COBRA

Internet literacy – Twitter fuels movements. Facebook facilitates relationships. Memes have created new languages. Unreleased films and nude photos are fair game for hackers. It is the great platform of ideas. And people are reading, and reading, and reading. While television stays the same and books are thrown to the wayside, the internet has taken an unshakable grip on the minds of Americans. It teaches us not just what to think but how to think. And those who control the internet hold the power. Relevancy is nearly dependent on internet literacy. As this trend develops, I think we will eventually see a more visible Neteratti (phraseology pending) that refines the information disseminated. Any idiot can write a blog now (cough) and make it look really professional. Buzzfeed and Upworthy have become holy texts. I don’t know that this can sustain itself. In the future, qualified and trusted intellectuals will deem content to be credible or not in a sort of upvoting system that many sites have utilized, but run by a more select constituency. Writers will join together in join operations that can thrive under a common, trusted banner, such as Grantland. Among the masses, printed works will never make a comeback, and there is a large, powerful, dangerous world out there online. Eventually we will figure out better ways to use it and discern idiocy from intelligence.

Aging legends – Was Derek Jeter a great player? Yes, but his send off was a little over-dramatic and people still don’t get how amazingly overrated he was, especially defensively. And, in his final season, he was hurting his team with his play. In basketball Kobe’s season has prompted unfair re-evaluations of his career.

Adapted films – If you want to get really meta, we could say that there are no original ideas anymore, but despite the undeniable presence of influence, in any work of art, I think we can safely say people create works that are, in a sense, original with them. But 2014 showed, once again, that the films that make money are the ones that are inherently products of former ideas. Take a look at the top domestic grosses for the year and you’ll see what I mean. Correct me if I’m wrong, but among the top 20 films for the year, The Lego Movie, Interstellar, Neighbors, and Ride Along are the only “original” films. Everything else is either a book adaptation (Mockingjay), a franchise (Transformers), a sequel (22 Jump Street), or some other sort of presentation of source material (Guardians of the Galaxy). This is not at all to say that these movies are lesser, as many if not most Academy Awards are given to films of this nature, but you have to admit it’s rather overwhelming. I think this is one reason why filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino are so appreciated.

LeBron – His return to Cleveland is arguably the sports story of the year. This will prove to be a big story in 2015 as well, as the Cavaliers aren’t exactly dominating and the players are not buying into rookie coach David Blatt. Interesting turn of events: the NBA’s constellation of superstars has expanded well beyond LeBron and Kevin Durant. Some people are getting bored of LeBron, but just wait until the Playoffs and we will all remember why he’s such a big deal.

The Hobbit – It’s become really trendy to bash this trilogy. Knock it off. I disagree with people who criticize it as a movie, because for all of Jackson’s errors he does some things so well that what we are left with is a satisfying epic conclusion to an entertaining yet flawed trilogy in the most anticipated film of the year. For those of you who hate the movies because they aren’t like the book: what did you expect? What I think these people are missing is that the general idea of the book is still there. A love story, extended battle sequences, and unwritten scenes do not chip away at the meaning of the book. Did Jackson make mistakes? Yes. But, again, revel in what he did well rather than pining about what he did wrong. If the credits gave you chills, made you cry, or touched you emotionally, you get it. If not….

Controversial college quarterbacks – It’s remarkable how much attention the sports world gave to Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston. They provoke plenty of worthy discussion, particularly in off the field issues concerning amateurism, student-athlete legal systems, evaluation of talent, racism, and a lot more. So in that sense these guys were really really important this year, but eventually the story might be that only one of the former Heisman trophy-winners turned out to be really good. (Speaking of Jameis: Let’s just say his off the field issues turn out to be nothing and he’s a stupid college kid who had sex with a girl who is looking to cash in on regrets. Then aren’t we talking about a once in a generation quarterback? I mean do you listen to the things experts say about this guy? Goodness. Then again, if the off the field issues are something…)

Cleveland – Well Cleveland means a lot more now than I think any of us thought it ever would. The Indians phased out their offensive mascot and look like they might make the Playoffs sometime. The Browns had a decent year amidst a big time quarterback controversy involving one Johnny Manziel. LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers in a script you couldn’t write. And the shooting of Tamir Rice added to the racial tension of America while bringing to light the racism afflicting the shores of Lake Erie. Cleveland matters. Who knew?

Wow. We live in quite a place. And there’s no reason to think 2015 won’t be just as…. special.

What do you think are the stories of the year? Like, comment, subscribe/follow, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at pcd5834@gmail.com. Thank you for reading, and Merry New Year!

Soli Deo Gloria

The SneakyGoodSportsGuy

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