Winners & Losers Of 2011 (Part Six)

Winner:  Ryan Gosling

He’s been a working actor for almost 20 years, beginning with his two-year stint on The Mickey Mouse Club back in the early-to-mid 90s.  This past decade he had already garnered acclaim for his big screen performances in The Notebook, Half-Nelson (which earned him his first Oscar nomination) and Lars And The Real Girl.  But in 2011, he finally became a movie star.

In the summer romantic comedy, Crazy Stupid Love, he plays a smooth-talking lothario deeply smitten with Emma Stone who’s also trying to help his recently divorced pal Steve Carell move on with his life.  The film generated over 140 million worldwideMost critics enjoyed it.

Next came the modestly budgeted Drive which had reviewers raving with pleasure.  (Roger Ebert recently named it one of his favourite films of the year.)  The crime thriller features Gosling as a Hollywood stunt man/getaway driver on the run after a botched heist.  Made for a measly 15 million, it earned almost 70 million globally.

Finally, there was The Ides Of March where the Canadian actor plays Presidential candidiate George Clooney’s unethical press secretary.  Another critical fave, it made 55 million worldwide.  Add to these successes all those nominations for his work in last year’s Blue Valentine, the awards he’s already up for next year (with possibly more to come) for Drive and Ides Of March, and being named one of Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainers Of The Year, and I’d say, “Not bad for a kid from Ontario”.

Loser:  News Of The World & Rupert Murdoch

It was one of the oldest tabloids in Britain with roots stretching as far back as the early 1840s.  But an astonishing revelation this summer singled the beginning of the end for this much maligned publication and the man who had owned it for more than 40 years.

In 2002, a British teenager named Milly Dowler was kidnapped on her way home from school and later murdered.  But long before her young body was discovered, there was a glimmer of hope that she might still be alive.  Messages had been accessed and deleted on her cell phone leading her parents to believe in a hopeful outcome.

Nine years later, however, The Guardian newspaper reported that Dowler wasn’t the one listening to her voicemail.  In fact, there was more than one.  It turns out a undisclosed number of reporters for the News Of The World had cleverly figured out how to hack into her phone, thereby interfering into the police investigation into her abduction.  The fallout from the story was immediate and devastating.  Milly’s parents sued for damages and later accepted a three-million pound settlement from the tabloid, a third of which went to charity.  (Beleaguered NotW owner Rupert Murdoch later apologized to them in person which they graciously accepted.)

Amazingly, News Of The World had actually managed to survive previous phone hacking allegations and even a couple of criminal convictions for five consecutive years, the perception being that only a couple of overzealous reporters had done anything illegal.  But right from the start of 2011, that turned out to be a lie.  A big one, in fact.

In January, former editor Andy Coulson was under intense media scrutiny for his possible knowledge of widespread hacking practices at the tabloid during his tenure which he denied.  At the time, he was Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director.  But during that month, he promptly resigned.  Six months later, he would be arrested.  He wouldn’t be the only one.

Also in January, Coulson’s then-assistant editor Ian Edmondson was suspended then fired for his alleged role in the scandal.  (Police picked him up three months later along with two other NotW reporters.)  In April, after denying responsibility for years, The News Of The World offered a public apology, secretly hoping they would once again survive a difficult period.

They were wrong.  As the summer rolled on, the tabloid’s already sour reputation continued to take a beating.  In June, actress Sienna Miller accepted a hundred thousand pound settlement regarding almost a dozen NotW articles that relied heavily on hacked messages from her cell.  She wouldn’t be the only one.  In July, during the Dowler firestorm, it was revealed that reporters from the tabloid hacked into the phones of the families of the victims of the July 7, 2005 terrorist attack.  Squeamish advertisers started to pull their ads from the Sunday weekly.

On July 10th, two days after Andy Coulson’s arrest, The News Of The World published its final issue on orders from James Murdoch, Rupert’s son.  (This is what’s left of their website.)  Again, like the apology three months earlier, the idea was to minimize the damage.

But there was even more devastation ahead.  The very next day, reports noted hacking allegations at two other Murdoch publications, The Sun and The Sunday Times, suggesting that the illegal practice was stretching beyond one newspaper.  As a result, the day after that particular revelation, Rupert’s twelve-billion-dollar bid to buy satellite company BSkyB, which was originally a done deal just a week earlier, was temporarily put on hold.  Two days later on July 13, thanks to the relentless onslaught of public outrage, the 80-year-old Australian media menace backed away from the deal.  (He still has almost 40% of BSkyB’s public shares.  But for how long, though?)

The day after that big story, reports surfaced that 9/11 victims and their families may have had their cell phones hacked by employees working for Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Fox News, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal.  The FBI launched an investigation that has yet to result in any arrests.

Just a week before all of these articles came to light, publicly embattled Prime Minister Cameron, who has a long history with Andy Coulson and Murdoch, ordered a public inquiry.  (That same day, July 6, The Telegraph reported that British military personnel fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan may have had their cell phones hacked, as well.)  Despite initially refusing to testify, Murdoch and his son would eventually come forward as one of the first witnesses, but only because they were officially summoned to do so.  Proclaiming he was “humbled” by the experience of being there, he got a much deserved “pie” in the face from one of the spectators.  His home country of Australia would ultimately launch their own investigation into his newspaper practices Down Under.

Former NotW editor Rebekah Brooks (who was on duty during the Dowler tragedy and testified at the inquiry the same day as the Murdochs), the flamboyant red-head who was chief executive of News International, the company that owns numerous British papers, at the time of the tabloid’s demise, despite receiving public support from Murdoch Sr. for a brief period, ultimately resigned the same day as Les Hinton (himself, a former Chief Executive of NI) who relinquished his position as CEO of Dow Jones.  Two days later, on July 17th, Brooks was arrested.  Also, the head of Scotland Yard resigned.  The following day, another high-ranking police official quit.  Now, law enforcement was being implicated in the never-ending scandal.

Since then, there have been several more arrests, more public testimony, more resignations, more lawsuits, more settlements, more accusations and more outrage.  Near the end of July, the most explosive month in the scandal’s timeline, another crime victim was likely hacked, and another former NotW editor found himself having to defend his own tenure on numerous occasions.  After months of initial investigation, it’s been said that some 800 people, both famous and anonymous, were legitimate victims of hacking.  That number could easily go up (or down, for that matter) as time goes on.

This story has so many layers and players, it’s very easy to lose track of everything.  (To fill in the blanks, click here and here.)  Its comparisons to Watergate – the cover-ups, the slow start followed by a barrage of revealing stories day after day after day – are well-founded.  It will be quite some time before the full story is documented and justice is served.

But regardless of what will happen and when it will take place, this year, what once was not possible has become all too real.  It’s the end of the road for Rupert Murdoch and no one fears his vengeful wrath any longer.  The Conservative lion has been thoroughly declawed.

Winner:  Lady Gaga

She continues to look ridiculous with all those unnecessarily wacky outfits she wears but there’s no disputing her ongoing professional success in 2011.  Two years after The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga released Born This Way, her third set of recordings.  A monster right from the get-go, the album sold well over a million copies in just its first week in late May.  To date, it’s gone double platinum in America and has sold roughly eight million worldwide.  Despite some pans, it’s been a well-reviewed blockbuster.  (December 23 UPDATE:  Rolling Stone named it the sixth best album of 2011.)

Five Top 40 singles have already been issued from it.  The title cut became her third number one smash on Billboard; The Edge Of Glory, featuring the late Clarence Clemons on tenor sax (which she performed solely on piano to much acclaim on The Howard Stern Show), peaked at number three; You And I (produced by Mutt Lange and sounding very much like a Shania Twain outtake) hit number six; Judas climbed as high as number ten, and her current A-side, Marry The Night, has already hit the Top 30.  (It wouldn’t surprise me to see it hit the Top Ten in the near future, as well.)  A sixth single, Hair, was shipped to radio stations as a promotional teaser and because of Billboard’s much looser standards for compiling the Hot 100 these days, it went as high as twelve on that chart.

In February, the same month that the Born This Way single was issued, Gaga sang with Elton John on a song in the animated comedy, Gnomeo & Juliet.  (Curiously, this duet version of Hello, Hello isn’t on the CD soundtrack.)  She also sang with Tony Bennett on The Lady Is A Tramp for his beloved Duets II album which they also performed together on her ABC TV special, A Very Gaga Thanksgiving.  (He compared her to Picasso during an interview segment.)  Seen by almost six million viewers, it was the most watched program of its kind in five years, according to Wikipedia.  And it was well liked by critics.  Her other TV special, Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour: At Madison Square Garden, was seen by over a million HBO subscribers and was also a critical success.  Nominated for five Emmys, it only won for editing.

Speaking of awards, Gaga snagged a couple of MTV VMAs and four MTV Europe trophies.  She was added to the 2012 Guinness Book Of World Records for having the most Twitter followers (13 million) and the most enduring song on the US Digital Hot Songs chart (the fantastically catchy Poker Face which stayed 83 weeks).

And she received the ultimate tribute when Weird Al Yankovic released Perform This Way, a goof on Born This Way.  (The song almost didn’t get released.  Thanks to a complete misunderstanding, Yankovic was under the impression Gaga was not cool with his parody.  It turns out she didn’t even know he was doing it, thanks to her dopey manager who foolishly turned him down without keeping his client in the loop.  Once the story got out there, Gaga gave her blessing and Yankovic was able to issue the song as well as a video.)

Now if only she’d do something about her annoyingly awful fashion sense.

Loser:  Michael Ignatieff & Gilles Duceppe

He had been leader of The Liberal Party Of Canada for two years and an elected MP for five.  After he put forth a “no confidence” vote in the House of Commons, all the opposition parties jumped on board to help bring down Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority government in the spring.  As a result, in April, the fourth federal election campaign in seven years was ready to commence.

And the former Harvard professor and best-selling author was in over his head.  With dynamic NDP Leader Jack Layton, tireless and forthright despite walking with a cane and bravely battling the cancer that would sadly kill him in the summer, stealing away a lot of his supporters, Ignatieff was captaining a sinking ship, one that will take many years to rebuild and smoothly sail the choppy political seas again.

When the votes were tallied on May 2nd, the news was horrific for the Liberals.  Before the election, they were the Loyal Opposition with 77 seats, the united, ruling Conservative Party had 143 and Layton’s New Democrats had a measly 37.  After the election, the Liberals were down to 34.  The NDP soared to 103 (making them the new Official Opposition) and the Conservatives added 23 seats, giving them their first majority since the Mulroney era.  To add insult to injury, Ignatieff lost his own seat.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, who was first elected to the House of Commons in a 1990 by-election, was hoping for a much better showing for his own party.  The Quebec Separatists advanced as high as the Official Opposition in 1997, the year he became their leader.  With almost 50 seats before the election, no one expected them to repeat that success.  But not many anticipated their utter annihilation.  Thanks to Layton’s shrewd campaigning in Quebec, the Bloc was only able to win four seats which means they’re no longer an official party in Parliament.  (You have to have at least 12.)  Like Ignatieff, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe lost his own seat.  Both men resigned as party leaders in May.

Ignatieff ended up taking a teaching position at the University Of Toronto while Duceppe has been getting involved with provincial politics in Quebec.  For now, their time on the national scene is kaput.  After the utter shellacking they both suffered from this year, no one would blame them.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 22, 2011
3:39 a.m.

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Winners & Losers Of 2011 (Part Five)

Winner:  CM Punk & Zack Ryder

The juiciest parts in entertainment are always the villains, nefarious characters with few boundaries and plenty of evil intentions.  But sometimes in the world of professional wrestling, even being the bad guy can limit your opportunities for advancement.  In 2011, two former heels transformed themselves into the two most talked about babyfaces in the WWE.

For the first half of the year, CM Punk was the leader of The New Nexus, a small group mostly made up of graduates from the NXT show who were making life miserable for John Cena.  At the Royal Rumble, Punk cost old nemesis Randy Orton a chance to regain the WWE Championship from The Miz by giving him the GTS while the referee was otherwise preoccupied with his minions.  (Three years earlier, Orton had punted then-World Champion Punk backstage before he was to defend the title at Unforgiven 2008 forcing him to forfeit.)

For the next several months, Punk and Orton worked a fairly decent program that culminated in three pay-per-view matches, the best of which was probably their last one at Extreme Rules where they alternated whipping each other with that nasty kendo stick.  (Orton came out on top in that one.)  During an interview at the Capitol Punishment pay-per-view prior to his match with old foe Rey Mysterio, Punk promised that the next day on Raw he would deliver the most honest promo in history.

He didn’t disappoint.  After interfering in a non-title Tables Match between WWE Champion John Cena and R-Truth (Punk moved the table before the champ could AA his opponent through it) which gave the latter a much-needed victory, he seized the microphone and proceeded to tell it like it is, running down Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley (without naming them) and WWE owner Vince McMahon in the process.  The crowd ate it all up even though Punk was still a villain and even admonished the crowd a couple of times.

Over the next several weeks, he stopped bashing the fans and focused his attention on Cena and Triple H (John Laryngitis would be waiting in the wings).  More awesome promos followed which made you think something exciting was happening to the point where reality and storytelling were beautifully blurred and therefore, indistinguishable from each other.  At Money In The Bank, in front of an extremely supportive hometown Chicago crowd, Cena and Punk took their time to put on a terrific main event which saw the latter finally elevated to the WWE Championship.  The new champion vowed not to re-sign with the company and to walk away with the title.  But a week later, after Rey Mysterio won the belt in a 2-week tournament on Raw and Cena beat him for it, the original prodigal champion returned.  Living Colour were very pleased.  (Punk started using Cult Of Personality as his entrance music.)

To determine the undisputed champion, Cena and Punk battled again at SummerSlam in another solid main event.  After winning controversially (special guest referee Triple H didn’t see Cena’s foot on the rope when he made the three count on him), Punk was ambushed by Kevin Nash (who hadn’t been seen since his brief appearance in the Royal Rumble match) and the Raw Money In The Bank winner Alberto Del Rio cashed in his briefcase to steal the title away from the dazed champion.

Punk would soon do battle with Triple H in the main event at Night Of Champions which he would lose and bizarrely, team up with him only to lose to Awesome Truth in a tag team match at Vengeance.  (Sadly, the WWE’s COO is feuding with real-life pal Kevin Nash at the moment.  I miss their verbal jousting.)  In between, he remained in the hunt for the championship securing numerous chances.  At the Survivor Series, he finally regained the title from two-time champ, Alberto Del Rio.  At the end of the year, he won two much deserved Slammys including Superstar Of The Year, which was voted on by the fans, and survived a Triple Threat TLC title match against Del Rio and The Miz.  May this second reign last a hell of a lot longer than the first and may the outspoken promos of the summer make a triumphant and permanent return.  Remember Phil, “You’ve got the power!  You’ve got the touch!”

The same year that Punk was first feeling the threat of Randy Orton, Zack Ryder was one of Edge’s goons hired to keep the World Heavyweight Championship around the waist of The Rated R Superstar.  But after that angle was dropped, Ryder changed his look and became something of a joke.  He wore tights with only one leg.  His catchphrase, “Woo woo woo, you know it!” was more annoying than endearing.  In 2010, in order to avoid having to defend his WWE title against a substantial threat on pay-per-view, Sheamus gave Ryder a shot only to beat him in seconds after levelling him with the Brogue Kick.

In the 40-man Royal Rumble match this year, when he made his way to the ring, colour commentator Matt Striker snarked, “Even The Situation finds this guy annoying!”.  Needless to say, he didn’t last long in the match.  Realizing he needed to do something to get over with the fans, in February, Ryder began a YouTube series called Z! True Long Island Story, an homage to the celebrity biography series, E! True Hollywood Story.  The videos became very popular as more episodes were filmed and posted.  Soon, on pay-per-views and the weekly TV shows, the crowds were either chanting “We want Ryder” or showing signs expressing that sentiment.

The WWE slowly started to realize that Ryder was having an effect through his social media promotions (he has almost 400,000 followers on Twitter and his 44 YouTube videos have been viewed millions of times) so gradually he was reintroduced on Raw and Smackdown, mostly through backstage sequences.  Triple H would name him an assistant to Smackdown General Manager Teddy Long.  By June, he was finally seeing action in the ring (and wearing regular trunks for a change).  In the second half of the year, Ryder, the self-proclaimed Internet Champion (Ted DiBiase would be proud), was regularly teaming up with main event superstars in TV and house show tag team matches and going over big time for the most part.  John Cena, The Big Show, Randy Orton, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and yes, even Sheamus have all helped elevate him to a level of success he had never previously enjoyed.  At the end of the Survivor Series, even The Rock gave him a shout-out.

Ryder was doing so well with his promos and matches that he started a program with U.S. Champion Dolph Ziggler, even defeating him in a few non-title encounters on TV, one of which came about through some timely interference from actor Hugh Jackman who nailed him with a decent right cross on Raw.  Despite not being put over at The Survivor Series, The Long Island Iced Z finally got his championship push at TLC, ending Ziggler’s six-month reign.

Now wearing an officially sanctioned title, will Ryder remain popular with his broskis or will they grow tired of his Jersey Shore schtick?  As he would put it, “Are you serious, bro?”.

Either way, if there was a Slammy for Broski For The Year, Zack Ryder would be a fitting recipient (he actually won Trending Star Of The Year).  And no one was more effective in the ring and on the mic than WWE Champion CM Punk.

Loser:  Sun News Network

Did we really need a Fox News-style cable channel in Canada?  The CRTC seemed to think so when it allowed Quebecor, the parent company of Sun Media, to broadcast its right-wing nonsense on a daily basis.  Launched in April, there was much hype.  The timing was particularly slick with the federal election campaign just about to commence.

But ratings have been poor from the start.  Despite hiring ubiquitous, moronic firebrands like Ezra Levant and later, Bloaty McFatAss, the CBC and all other Canadian news outlets haven’t had much to worry about.  No matter how many times the channel complains about Canada’s public broadcaster or even The Toronto Star, few really give a damn.  Not only were TV viewers turned off, reviewers have been equally disinterested.  In particular, TV Critic John Doyle of The Globe & Mail has hammered the channel on numerous occasions.

Then came the ridiculous controversies.  With NDP Leader Jack Layton on the verge of becoming the Leader Of The Opposition, Sun News (and The Toronto Sun newspaper) put out a silly story about him getting a massage from an alleged bawdy house in the mid-90s.  Their source was a former cop who ended up being investigated for the incident.  (He wasn’t charged.)  Layton rightly condemned the story as political nonsense (he didn’t do anything illegal and was never arrested) and his party went on to have their best national showing to date.  (Tragically, his cancer would return and he would die before sitting in the House Of Commons to savour his remarkable triumph.  He was just 61.)

Then came the infamous Margie Gillis interview.  Former CBC reporter Krista Erickson, the host of Canada Live, interviewed the award-winning dancer about arts funding.  She made fun of her profession by flapping her arms in a mock-interpretative manner, condemned the wisdom of taxpayer money supporting it (a little over a million spread out over a dozen years or so; the annual federal budget for all government expenses is hundreds of billions) and shouted over her while she was trying to respond to her inane questions.

A record number of complaints found their way to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council – more than 4000 – and a official decision has yet to be made on what should be done about the widely panned interview.  Erickson’s Facebook page was loaded with criticism.  Her wall has since been completely scrubbed.  For their part, Sun News foolishly stood by her over the whole debacle.  They were the only ones.

The same couldn’t be said for afternoon anchor Theo Caldwell, the channel’s first casualty.  Like most Sun broadcasters I couldn’t take him for more than a few seconds but considering the fact that his ratings were just as bad as everybody else’s, it seems deeply unfair that he’s the only one to get 86’d thus far.  Late in the year, Sun News absurdly tried to cover up his image from an old group photo by inserting the offensive presence of McFatAss right on top.  Hey guys.  Ever hear of re-taking a photo?  That would’ve made more sense.  Guess there wasn’t room in the budget.

Then came the biggest indignity of them all.  After just seven and a half months on the air (in certain cities, the channel replaced the money-losing Sun TV, the former Toronto One), Sun News Network got booted from Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw and Bell’s basic cable line-ups.  One of the most pleasurable moments of the year for me arose unexpectedly when I clicked channel 16 and nothing came up.  (No more TV Guide Channel listings, either.)  With the Crumbling Tradition Service no longer airing repeats of his old chat show, Bloaty McFatAss is officially off of my TV.  Insert Hallelujah choir here.  The only place SNN exists now is on Digital cable through the above-mentioned companies.

With Quebecor bleeding its newspapers to keep this industry joke on the air, how long before it’s taken out behind the barn and shot to death?  I give it a year.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
1:29 a.m.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 1:29 am  Leave a Comment