Pessimus Populus: The Worst People of 2009

Ah, January of 2009 . . . those were simpler times. We were so gripped in hope and change and whatnot that the future seemed a bastion of illimitable glowing possibilities illuminated by an infinity of suns. Doing another “Worst People” list seemed antithetical to what we hoped would be a new zeitgeist. That lasted about five metaphorical minutes. So here we go:

10. Joe “You lie!” Wilson

What a dick.

9. Mark Sanford

We don’t really care that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is the kind of dick who cheats on his wife. That’s dickish, sure, but not of heroically-dickish enough proportions to land him on this list. And his priggish refusal to accept federal monies to ensure that SC schools didn’t tank was pretty awful too. We don’t even care that he left his post and went AWOL to hook up with his mistress (lying to his staff, his family, and his constituency in the process). We just hate his hypocrisy. Here’s Sanford in ’98 blasting Clinton. Sanford, a bastion of family values, also was a strong proponent of SC’s hateful anti-gay “Defense of Marriage” Act. What a prick–yet another in a long line of right wing politicians who love to tell others how to live their lives yet fail to live up to their own standards.

8. Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck is a fatty-jowled pussy of the worst order, a crying little bitch who offers up conjecture and speculation–and no real information–to a dimwitted audience. His pandering to racist, xenophobic attitudes has made him millions of course. Oh, remember when he called Obama a racist?

7. Orly Taitz and the “Birthers”

Speaking of racist, xenophobic attitudes . . . Watch Orly Taitz. Her lunacy set an example for way too many Americans overeager to reclaim “their” country from a Harvard-educated, arugula-eatin’, biracial liberal (who occasionally smokes). Jeez.

6. Teabaggers, et al.

Have you seen this video?

Kind of sums up the insanity of the summer of ’09 (fueled in part by some of the assholes on this list). It’s marvelous to watch how quickly these people melt under the simplest questions or prompts to respond with specific information. God bless America!

5. Kanye West

Asshole.

4. Pitchfork

We’ve been reading the music review site Pitchfork since the late ’90s, when it was a simple html affair with pretty bad writing. It still had a letters page, and even if the reviews were amateurish, there was also a sense of fun. In the past decade, the site has become bloated and self-serious; it’s also arguable that Pitchfork’s expansion into festival promotion is at ethical odds with its ability to criticize fairly. We’ve quibbled with Pitchfork before, but they were especially egregious in 2009. Like a giddy teenager, Pitchfork shot its load prematurely, running its “Best of the 00s” series of reviews in the summer. They also devoted two entire weeks to revisionist criticism, reviewing Radiohead albums that have been out for years and Beatles albums that have been out for decades. Telling us Abbey Road is a 10.0 is like shooting retarded fish in a barrel. It’s also bad form for a site that pretends to be forward-thinking and trendsetting. Perhaps as a reaction to the hype-backlash cycle that infested indie rock and blogdom in the late ’00s, Pitchfork devoted much of its review space to reissues and greatest hits collections and consistently began lowballing albums by new artists. Oh, and for a site that aspires to professional criticisms, theirs is full of typos and bad writing.

3. Fox News

The worst part about Fox News is that many of their viewers honestly believe that the network is “fair and balanced.” It looks like we’re gonna forget to squeeze Dick “Dick” Cheney into this list, so we’ll do so now, noting that Fox has repeatedly given that grizzled draft-dodger airtime whenever he’s elected to emerge from his cave, wipe the blood from his lips, and try to scare Americans into thinking that they are unsafe and should relinquish more freedoms.

2. Sarah Palin

Sarah!’s book tour showed us that the only major city in “real America” is Dallas, Texas (Texas is, of course, so “real” that they might secede).

1. George Bush

Sure. Bush didn’t do much in 2009, ‘ceptin maybe clearin’ some brush (and lots and lots of biking). So why does he rank #1? Well, maybe it’s just for old time’s sake, or maybe it’s just a way to recognize all the evil he perpetrated in the aughties. Call it a victory lap. Thanks for the giant shit sandwich!

Imperial Vollmann, Populist Beach Reading, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

A few odds and ends (and perhaps a bit of ranting):

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Read this fascinating profile of William Vollmann from this week’s New York Times. It makes me wish I had nothing to do but read everything this maniac writes. Vollmann’s new book Imperial comes out today from Viking. You can read an excerpt here.

Not really surprisingly, Vollmann did not make NPR‘s reader poll for the 100 Best Beach Books Ever. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series topped a list that pretty much consists of a bunch of drivel (Twilight, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), drivel posing as non-drivel (The Kite Runner, The Time Traveler’s Wife), overrated “classics,” (To Kill A Mockingbird), and a few surprises (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a fantastic book, but is it really best enjoyed on a sunny beach?)

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This one didn’t make the beach reading list either. For a few years now, selections from The Classic Slave Narratives have been required reading in my high school classroom. I usually emphasize sections from Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass, two masterful writers whose complex syntax and diction can be stunning, if not overwhelming, to the average AP student. I think that these narratives speak to why writing matters, and, importantly in today’s idiocracy, why reading matters as well. These first-person accounts of the horrors of slavery need to be read, and editor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. does a great job of setting the stage in his remarkable introduction to the collection. It’s sad, intellectually tragic, really, that Gates’s recent arrest should be given so much credit for sparking a “debate” or “teachable moment” about race, when Gates’s own scholarship makes the rootedness of racial tension in this country so plain. When a demagogue like Glenn Beck calls President Obama a “racist,” or a big fat idiot like Rush Limbaugh suggests that Obama simply has a “chip on his shoulder” because he’s black, we can see precisely why the first-person narratives of Equiano, Douglass, Mary Prince, and Harriet Jacobs are so important. These dangerous lunatics repeatedly suggest on their shows that America needs to keep its “traditions,” that our “history” is a strength, and that somehow the past was a place of better values. Perhaps if they read something outside of the dominant narrative they’d understand why someone might want to reappraise historically traditional values (and also, why someone might have a chip on his shoulder). But I’ve digressed from my main point: The Classic Slave Narratives is a valuable and important collection, and the stories collected here are a real entry point for any genuine discussion on race.