Every year you come to discover stuff that you have either never experienced or have never heard of before. Since year-end “best of” lists only deal with things that actually came out within the year, they do not allow you to qualify or rank older things that you experienced throughout the year. But, I have found a solution to this problem, with this year’s Top 10 Discoveries in 2012, which includes a wide range of things and can be pretty much anything I liked at all during the year. So here you have it, the ten best pop cultural(ish) discoveries of 2012.
10. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
I knew I would love this book before I ever read it (yet to see the movie). Hornby’s tale of a depressed record store owner who spends his time ranking things in lists of 5 (certainly relatable) while trying to overcome his broken heart engaged how pop culture connoisseurs look at the world and deal with things. The protagonists expressions of how he just can’t understand how people don’t like things the way he does, with maniacal-like obsession was so fun for me to read, even if he was sort of a whiny prick. The realizations and evolutions he goes through, while simultaneously maintaining his wit and love for pop culture was essentially everything I need in a novel.
Unbelievable is a British radio show/podcast that just missed my top 10 podcasts of the year list, as I had only recently discovered it for reals. However, I think this is one of the best things out there for theological, philosophical, and spiritual discussions. Host Justin Brierly facilitates a question each week between two people with opposing views on a subject. This can be everything from an atheist and a Christian, interfaith dialogues, or even opposing theologians going at it on different issues. Brierly tries to keep it fair (though he likely has his own opinions) allowing both sides to argue for their side, but feeling respected by the other. In an age where civil discourse is lacking, it is so refreshing to see that something like this exists.
8. The Wire
Probably the show that led us into the “Golden Era” of television (after The Sopranos anyway) was one that I started this year. I have only started season 3, but I still think it is fantastic (and I hear there is much better stuff to come). Season 1 blew me away with its fantastic portrait of both sides of an attempted Police drug bust in Baltimore, showing the good and bad of cops and drug dealers who are simply trying to get by in a city that they love, but know holds them back. The first half of season 2 felt like it was trying to reiterate the magic of season 1 (with a few golden moments), but by the end of it had a fully flushed out story with great character arcs and storylines. It might have been higher if I had been able to get through all 5 seasons, but even only after 2, it cracks my top 10.
As a wannabe foodie, I had to include at least one new food item to my list, and I think this year I certainly came to see pho as the new food item I ate the most. Around where I live in Southern California there are dozens of pho shops all waiting to be explored and eaten with vigor. Pho is a Vietnamese soup that is for the most part a fairly simple dish (I even kinda made some myself one day), but when done right it turns simplicity into rich flavor, with its bone soaked broth, noodles, and various vegetables. Its cheap and simple, but oh so rewarding.
6. The Clash
I explored a lot of older music this year, but the favorite of all my explorations was punk pioneers The Clash. Upon the first listen of “London Calling” I wasn’t impressed, but after a second listen it became one of my favorites. After playing through “London Calling” all Summer long, I moved on to their self-titled debut and quickly loved tracks like “Janie Jones” and “White Riot”, the high energy, low quality, political subversiveness is something I could quickly connect to and continue to listen to as one of my now favorite bands.
5. Happy Endings
I heard musings about this show around the internet, but through minute clips (I believe recorded on the DVR post-Modern Family watchings) it didn’t look appealing. After hearing enough about it, I decided to give it a shot, starting with season 1. I am now completely caught up and consider it one of the best shows on TV now (not that I am any sort of expert). It seems at first to be a Friends copycat, but unlike something like How I Met Your Mother it quickly takes away any sappiness and builds character around jokes rather than the relationships (a la 30 Rock or Arrested Development). The show is focused on 6 friends who essentially just hang out together doing various things (it doesn’t really care too much about their real lives or how they got to be so rich). While it doesn’t seem like a new concept, it feels fresh every week and un-stereotypically gay Max is probably a character that has yet to be created on television.
4. Big Brother
Being a Survivor superfan, you think I would have caught on to its little brother of a show by now, but it wasn’t until this summer that I finally committed to watching it. I had always thought it looked cheesy or wasn’t as strategic of a game as Survivor, but boy was I wrong. Big Brother is probably a more strategically complex game than Survivor to the point that most participants of the game cannot even begin to grasp which moves should be made. Luckily, the latest season offered one of the most strategically proficient reality competition competitors of all time in the return of Dan Gheesling who put on a clinic. Big Brother is a far longer show than most reality shows, which makes it boring at times (3 episodes a week is a lot to watch!), but with the power shifting each week it is always keeping the viewer on his/her toes. This is a show I will definitely return to.
3. Anthony Bourdain
This year I grew in appreciation for cooking and for eating; this led to and was enhanced by being introduced to the empire of Anthony Bourdain. Known for his rebe-no-nonsense attitude, the Punk Rock chef, who doesn’t give a … Bourdain is what I was looking for in starting to learn more about food. An appreciator of the finest French cuisine and an expert in cooking of all sorts, Bourdain equally finds a home eating Pho in Vietnam or sausage in Germany. His expose on the life of a chef is entertaining and eye opening (Kitchen Confidential) and his recently ended television show “No Reservations” is a lot of fun to watch as he travels around the world trying the best food, made by locals, while learning about their cultures. This year I discovered that “No Reservations” would essentially be my dream job, writing, traveling, and eating all around the world.
2. Settlers of Catan
I had played settlers before this year, but I had never really cared about it. This year, however, my friends and I became obsessed with it. We had a massive tournament and months worth of weekends were occupied with trying to obtain brick, wood, and sheep in order to rule the Catan economy. The game becomes especially fun when you play with a group of people over and over again, as jokes and rules begin to develop to make the game unique to your own clan. The strategy is in depth, but also leaves you relaxed enough in between turns to have a good time. The game design is aesthetically nice and if you bring the right people to the game, you can have a lot of fun with it.
Grantland exists at the heart of pop culture and sports, which is a place that I often find myself. Started by sports talk personality/writer Bill Simmons, Grantland can simultaneously feature some of the best in-depth analysis of sports (Bill Barnwell and Jonah Keri are two of the best analytical sports writers I’ve read) while also featuring a bracket of the best characters from The Wire or a column comparing the 49er’s season to season 3 of Friday Night Lights. They have a wide ranging set of topics and their writers seem to be at the top of their game. They are always funny and regularly updating the site with new articles or features to check out. It’s an extremely fun site that touches on occasional depth and marks the top spot of my top ten discoveries of 2012