A message from the beyond

I hope you don’t mind that I’m writing this as a ghost because according to professional opinion, I’m already dead.

As someone who used to make most of her living writing for print (aaaaaaah!) magazines (oh god, noooooo!), I can’t believe that I have to sift through this kind of crap when I should be enjoying the free-spirited world of the afterlife. While I rather like the tone and efficiency of the original, I’m a little annoyed with all the bad, jump-on-the bandwagon copycats.

Is this what great journalists do? Kill off their compatriots? And not even bother to be funny while doing it?

FYI, “the media” is not dying. (I call it “the media” because I hate that term almost as much as I hate to hear people throw it around with such funereal ease.) But whatever it is, I assure you it’s not dying. It’s changing. And it’s about time.

To retaliate—maybe it’s like haunting; after all, I am dead—I gathered the best examples I’ve found that prove that fact. I began by dividing them into things like “books” and “blogs” which suddenly struck me as pointless because the very reason why I wanted to include them is because they defied categorization. They were so innovative, so fascinating, so ahead of their time, they can’t be pigeonholed. This, my dear, death-bed-ridden media friends, is what we should aspire to. Read on. If you dare!

(Note: Many of these were not published/released/made in 2008, this just happened to be the year I read/saw/heard them. But I’m including them here because they made me feel, well, alive.)

Best stuff that used to be called “television”

The IT Crowd: The single greatest show on American television is not American (surprise surprise) and it’s not on television (at least here). This British sitcom is a Three’s Company for the Facebook (sorry, FriendFace) generation. It makes me laugh so hard I cry. True to its audience, all the episodes are online. You can begin your sobbing here.

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job: I don’t have to remind you again that this is the greatest show known to man. If you don’t get it, well, maybe that’s the point. News I could not reveal when I interviewed Tim & Eric back last spring that I can reveal now: John C. Reilly’s Dr. Steve Brûle is getting his own spin-off show. FOR YOUR HEALTH!

Hulu: We don’t have cable, and we don’t have broadcast television. What we have is Hulu, where we can watch the premiere episode of Beverly Hills 90210 (the original one), Alf (which makes a lot more sense now after reading Permanent Midnight), the newest Muppet Christmas special (don’t bother), and 30 Rock (below). With everyone whining about how TiVo would ruin TV for advertisers, they found a way to make it work. And it works great.

30 Rock: I’m writing this on a plane where they’re showing that episode with Al Gore that I’ve seen about 20 times already (thanks to Hulu). It does not matter. 30 Rock is eternally rewatchable, and not only for locating the Star Wars reference in every show.

That Lion Video: Perhaps the most heartwarming tale this side of the internet, although I wish it was possible to watch it without Whitney screeching in the background. You can’t script this stuff!

Everything Sarah Palin Said: You can’t script this stuff! No really, you can’t!

Best visuals

20×200: Whoever said the internet would be the downfall of culture did not check with Jen Bekman. The premise is simple: She finds hot new artists. You sign up for emails that announce their work. Some pieces are $20 prints, some are $200 editions, a few are $2000 investments. Artists get exposure, people get art. High and low. Everyone wins.

Kate Bingaman-Burt: She’s been doing this for awhile now, but it never fails to astound…every day, Kate draws something she buys, then sells the drawings. She also offers drawings of her credit card invoices, which she sells for the minimum balance due.

Daniel Eatock: This British designer has been building a website of his work that features everything from his incredible dancing to car alarms to orchestrating giant crop circles advertising Big Brother. His book Imprint, is one of the most amazing compendiums of What You Should Have Been Doing With Your Spare Time During the Last Ten Years. After the jealousy subsides, It will inspire you to pursue all those self-initiated projects you’ve got on the shelf.

The Whale Hunt & I Want You to Want Me: Jonathan Harris is one brilliant boy, there is no other way to put it. He tinkers around with technology, creating experimental narratives about hunting whales with Eskimos in Alaska or revealing our obsession with online dating. Get lost in this dazzling little world. Get very lost.

The Selby: Beautiful photos of houses inhabited by people who are much cooler than you. Somewhat incongruously, more cluttered equals more classy here.

Christoph Niemann: Basically, whatever he touches.

Best books-as-rabbit holes

The Night of the Gun: As a culture, we’re memoir-ed out. Especially when it comes to the Memoir of the Abusive, Jail-Frequenting Addict. New York Times writer David Carr knew this, and instead of subjecting us to the same old, albeit beautifully-written, description of how much blow a person can cram into the void where a septum once was, Carr takes us on a remarkable and riveting journey through the making of his memoir. I spent an entire afternoon picking up the pieces of Carr’s life one-by-one by venturing through the artifacts of the book’s mesmerizing website. Carr includes every police report (and there are a ton of them), every photo, and clips from video interviews that he used to reconstruct his terribly tragic, yet remarkably redeeming life. From a crack addict to a New York Times awards show writer. You’ll never believe it. But you have to, because all the proof is right there.

Oh the Glory of It All: Same concept as Night of the Gun, different era, less coke. Sean Wilsey embarked upon a quest to reconstruct what happened to his family when his dad married his mom’s best friend and her husband went off and married Danielle Steele, while his mom went of the deep end and dragged him on a globetrotting tour to meet world leaders and the pope. You’d end up at reform school, too, right? It’s a lovely tale of teen angst, with every scrap of evidence right there online. The photos and blurbs about his parents—many nabbed from newspaper society pages and People—are simply priceless.

Best magazines

New Yorker: We only subscribe to one magazine. But we’re not going to renew it, and here’s why: Would you ever have thought the stodgy, looked-the-same-since-1850 New Yorker would have been the magazine that made the most fantastic transition to this millennium? Their website is the only one I can think of that tries and succeeds at replicating the print experience (same typeface and layout, even). Their blogs are great. The bonus video and audio is awesome. They have a conference and a festival. Long live guys with monocles. Online.

GOOD: I’m biased. Very biased. But when a young, constantly-diversifying company gets people this excited, this active, this involved…I can only imagine what will happen in 2009.

Best news

LA Observed: For every paper that’s failing in this country, there should be a front row seat to its demise like the one Kevin Roderick gives us every single day.

Wonkette: Maybe because they got sold away from Gawker and they drank too much to think straight. But Wonkette‘s pugnacious, slurred coverage of the election reminded me of the old days, and I’m talking the way-old-Ana Marie Cox-days (who is still doing her thing, raunchily, elsewhere). I praise them for having the balls to get away with it.

Curbed/Eater/Racked: Still written by the hardest-working editors in the blogosphere, and still the best way to find out everything you need to know about what’s opening/closing/rocking/sucking in your hood. Of course, I’m biased.

Big Pool of Money/Another Frightening Show About the Economy: Who produced the most provocative and insightful coverage about the economic collapse? 60 Minutes? 20/20? Time Magazine? What’s that you say? A bunch of guys at Chicago Public Radio? This pair of shows blew my mind, picked up the pieces and had them read back to me by Ira Glass. Best quote: “So, have you ever seen that movie Boiler Room?”

Best NYT sections

Consumed: The best way get your recommended daily requirement of business, design, trends all at once is my estranged uncle Rob Walker’s column on consumer culture. Peter Arkle’s illustrations, like Leif Parsons before, are a very special bonus. Bonus bonus: Rob’s blog, Murketing, and book, Buying In.

Frugal Traveler: Matt Gross spent the summer engaged in a Grand Tour of Europe, but all his columns are just as fiscally magical. I find myself cheering him on as he scrimp and saves his way through the city, and marvel at his ability to wander into a bar at night and get invited home to some local’s house for dinner. It’s a way of traveling we should all aspire to, and he makes it feel not only possible, but better than the pricey alternative.

Best funniest

The Daily Show at the DNC and RNC: From treating the DNC like a tailgate to trying to get Republicans to say “choice”, the Daily Show’s coverage of the conventions was two weeks of the finest journalism I have ever witnessed.

Running Toilet: Ads have become the den of suck lately, but this PSA from Denver Water that actually happened, live, at Invesco Field, is the only one I saw this year that was worth watching (thanks, Bethy).

Iran So Far: Saturday Night Live is better than it ever has been, true. But the best parts remain the digital shorts, and the best of the digital shorts was this ode to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It’s way better than Dick in a Box. (Thanks Hulu, again.)

Green Team: I never get sick of it. Never.

Wes Anderson commercial for McCain: There was a trio of these fake campaign ads “directed” by famous directors. But this Wes Anderson one was so dead on. Right down to the gratuitous Bowie.

Best nightmares

The Road: Read cover-to-cover on a cold, sunless day, is not how this book should be consumed. Doing so will throw you into deep, plaintive funk for days. Movies can do that sometimes (and this will be one soon), but to be honest, I can’t remember the last book—if any—that has ever done that to me. Cormac McCarthy’s sparest prose (and that’s saying a lot) and bleakest premise to date is one terrifying read. Three months later, I still think about it almost every day.

Dexter: Whatever Jimmy Smits did to me this season has made me physically unable to watch the opening titles by Digital Kitchen, the best on TV. Cereal for breakfast from now on.

Best writing

Claire Hoffman: In 2006 this writer used slick prose and wit to expose smarmy Joe Francis better than any court case did. This year, whether she’s touring Dov Charney’s boy harem, inspecting Amy Winehouse’s drug use, or uncovering Prince’s homophobia, she confides in us like we’re her best friend along for the ride. The best lady writer this side of print.

Jonathan Gold: It’s not so much where Jonathan Gold eats, it’s what he eats (“a plate of CornNuts that has gone through media training”), how it’s served (“a willowy carafe encased in tight, zippered neoprene, like a fitted wetsuit on a supermodel”) and who cooked it (“a chef as hard to pin down as the first chanterelles in spring”). Those are all from the same article, by the way. Take away his fork-as-cultural divining rod and he still makes me a better writer, every time. That Pulitzer—the only one ever bestowed on a food critic—could not have gone to someone more deserving.

David Foster Wallace: In his passing this year, a wake of appreciation and remembrances lead me to revisit his work, finally buying the book named for the story that started it all for me. I remember buying a Gourmet before a flight in 2004 and reading “Consider the Lobster,” by this unknown-to-me, rambling man. I was almost angry at the end: Why isn’t all food writing like this? Which of course lead to: Why isn’t all tennis writing like this? and Why isn’t all travel writing like this? Well, it isn’t, because there was only one.

Best discoveries

Jill Bolte Taylor: If this TED presentation—the most mind-blowing, life-affirming story I have ever heard in my life—doesn’t change your day instantly, then you must be missing one hemisphere of your brain. To find out which one, watch the video.

Bhutan’s New King: What began as an eye-snagging story on the Guardian’s website about the world’s youngest king took me down a path of enlightenment towards the tiny country of Bhutan, which is slowly opening itself up to democracy. Their amazing taste in fashion aside, did you know that its citizens are the happiest in the world (who wouldn’t be, in those clothes), so much so that the country declared its Gross National Happiness to be more important than economic success? This may be common knowledge to you, but to me it was a revelation, and it reminded me that there are still secrets in the world to be discovered. And oftentimes, it’s writers that get to do it.

Got more highlights from “the media” this year? Add them in the comments! And I’ll see you next year, or in hell…you know, depending on how things go.

Update: I forgot so many things I went back and added some more in 2009. Ghosts reserve the right to do that.

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  • http://www.gelatobaby.com Alissa

    Oh, I can’t believe I forgot this one, which I still watch, post-election: The “Wes Anderson” attack ad for John McCain.

  • http://www.carolinetiger.com Caroline

    Awesome post! As a freelancer and a follower of that morbid Twitter feed whose name shall not be spoken, I appreciate your positivity. I’m excited to check out some of your picks. I agree that S. Palin was/is friggin’ funny.

    Off the top of my head, I would add the NYT’s blog, The Moment, and their T Design issues.

  • http://www.gelatobaby.com Alissa

    Thanks, Caroline! And yes for sure, the NYT’s The Moment is a fantastic blog, although—and I’ve complained about this already—I wish the T Magazine website had a little more functionality.

  • http://www.williamsandhouse.com Pam

    Great lists, great picks, great insights. A few are new and I can’t wait to check them out! Thanks, Alissa.

  • T. Evans

    Allisa love your blog! About Oh The Glory Of It All…Can you tell me where the *Evidence online is online?* From your blog “lovely tale of teen angst, with every scrap of evidence right there online.” Everything I know of Sean Wilsey is just well…CRAP for lack of a better word. Thanks :0)

  • T. Evans

    Alissa…there now I got it…sorry for spelling your name wrong :0)

  • Alissa

    Hey T. Evans, thanks! Check out the website here: http://ohtheglory.com/, there are tons of pictures and more information about the book.

  • http://www.gelatobaby.com/ Alissa

    Thanks, Caroline! And yes for sure, the NYT's The Moment is a fantastic blog, although—and I've complained about this already—I wish the T Magazine website had a little more functionality.