This was a year of comeuppance, a year when the public decided it wasn't going to take it and slapped down our leaders faster than a group of 6-ft.-tall athletes would take down a skinny, 66-year-old wannabe cowboy who called them "nappy-headed hos." Heads of state, CEOs, celebritiesno one escaped retribution. It was sort of like a revolution, only instead of taking up arms, people sat at home and made fun of stuff on the Web. Which worked even better. Because if you think hurling rocks is the most effective way to scare someone into reforming, then you've never suffered through an unflattering self-Google.
Cultures have long used the afterlife as a way of dealing with the lack of justice in this world. No more. Thanks to the Web, cell-phone cameras and those billboards that feature the head shots of people convicted of DUIs, we have become a world where everyone is busy stitching virtual scarlet letters. It was a year when the powerful were so scared of the public that they were willing to endure a cruel test of an old Zen koan: If presidential candidates debate 100 times and no one is watching, will CNN eventually switch to more exciting footage of a tree falling?
In this year of payback, the masses, as always, went after the cocky, and the cocky, as always, thought the masses still liked them. Bill O'Reilly became so sure of himself that he figured he was qualified to review restaurants in Harlem, noting that the atmosphere at Sylvia's exceeded his expectations since none of the patrons yelled, "M.F.-er, I want more iced tea." Steve Jobs, who has never retreated from anythingincluding a style choice he apparently made in 1989 while watching "Sprockets"charged so much for his iPhone that he later had to drop his price and hand out refunds. China, its head swollen from reading too many Thomas Friedman columns, thought it could speed up its world dominance by poisoning everyone else. Larry Craig, for decades so brazen about his gayness that he was part of a Senate barbershop quartet, figured, wrongly, that no one would care if he made like George Michael in a Minnesota-airport men's room. And George W. Bush got so used to seven years of unilateralism, he interpreted the country's November 2006 electoral mandate to get out of Iraq as a passive-aggressive desire to send a lot more troops there. Bush made his entire party so unpopular that Craig decided he could stick around the Senate. It was the kind of year when Americans of all races could put aside their differences and decide that, you know what, O.J. Simpson should be in jail after all.
The powerful themselves brought this on, finally pushing just a little too far. Dog lovers, whose major triumph thus far had been keeping Marmaduke in local papers, sent Michael Vick to prison for longer than most people serve for manslaughter. Hugo Chavez was told to shut up by the King of Spain, who hasn't done anything notable since he split the world with Portugal in 1494. The brutal military regime of Burma was attacked by monks. In Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf's regime was attacked by an even wimpier group, lawyers. Hollywood was shut down by its worst-looking inhabitants, writers. Barry Bonds broke the manliest record in baseball, and the ball was sent to Cooperstown, N.Y., with an asterisk drawn on it byand this is the painful partthe fashion designer who bought it. Congress, even less popular than the President, proposed the Video Game Decency Act, and teenage boys responded by spending $170 million on Halo 3 on its first day of release, making it more popular than any movie this year. And it wasn't even produced by Judd Apatow.
Celebrities, who seemed safe since their job is to be celebrated, were turned upon too. Paris Hilton went to jail, Lindsay Lohan went to rehab, and Britney Spears completed her transmogrification into Elizabeth Taylor. American Idol producers, meaner than ever, were punished by having viewers vote, week after week, for that Indian kid who couldn't sing. And what about the U.S. dollar, strutting around and showing off all her pretty little redesigns? She's selling herself for 49 pence, like some cheap Argentine peso.
In a year when our heroes were toppled, we were so desperate to give our respect to someone, we handed it to Bob Barkera man whose main accomplishment was not appearing bored despite his occupation. The most successful person on earth this year was Al Gore, who made the brilliant choice to do absolutely nothing. Sitting out 2007 was the best decision anyone could have made.
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