My favorite stuffs of 2008

These were my favorite things in the past year. You’ll notice a criminal lack of tv–I probably would’ve included the end of the Wire or Mad Men’s “The Jet Set” in a longer or separate list.

10. Virginia goes for Obama!

I spent the weeks leading up to the election nervously refreshing the electoral maps on various websites. After the advent of the financial crisis, I was no longer worried about the ultimate result of the presidential race. However, anxiety about Virginia’s results grew as the first returns came in. Even though the earliest results did not include the population-rich north, I was surprised and worried when they pointed in McCain’s favor. Thanks to the Associated Press’ county map, I was able to follow Fairfax county’s resultsas they came in. A few flighty calls to my sister later, networks called the state for Obama. Virginia now has Democrats for both senators, as well as in the governor’s mansion. They even got rid of Virgil Goode in the Fifth District.

The electoral transformation of Virginia has made me deeply curious, homesick, and full of regret. I could enjoy its success, but could not claim a part in it. I’m staying in Virginia right now and it’s so beautiful–there are trees and decent daylight hours and everything. The Democrats have recently endeavored to remind us that they are not perfect (quite an understatement) but the republicans are pure evil. At the very least, things will get worse at a slower speed than they would in other hands.

9. Staying in Hotels

This was a big travel year for me, especially the last two months. Hotels granted me a privacy and comfort level I couldn’t even find in my apartment. I had a ball skipping the end of the comics conference in Bowling Green and heading to the cheap hotel instead. I ate junk food, watched football, and read Tropic of Cancer in bed. There was no clutter. And it was impossible for me to really work all that hard, being away from so many books, so I couldn’t think about all the responsibilities I was shirking.

In Minneapolis Matt Thomas and I stayed in the same Marriott where the M/MLA was being held. He accurately descibed the view out our window as “right out of The Dark Knight.” I had a comfortable sleep and watched more football.

8. Portishead–Third

I am not a ravenous Portishead fan, nor have I ever met one. I’ve even misplaced my copy of Dummy! But this was the album I listened to most in the past year. Because sometimes life feels like a survival-horror video game, and Beth Gibbons holds the key to making it out of the library or the office alive.

The notion of an album as a complete document spawned from a music industry eager to kill the less-profitable  single, but I still find it compelling and seductive high-wire act. This was the only Album that felt to me like a complete discrete work instead of a collection of tracks. This is not to say I didn’t like other albums this year: see Fennesz, Grouper, Ponytail, Kasai Allstars, the Bug, Flying Lotus, Lindstrom, and of course Vampire Weekend (this band and TV on the Radio have names whose greatness depends upon how much thought you think the bands actually put into the names–I know exactly what a Vampire Weekend is, and I know how frustrating it is to only listen to tv instead of watching it).

7. Morrison and Quitely finish All-Star Superman

All-Star Superman #10 was my second-favorite individual comic this year. In its pages Superman uses the infant-universe Qweeq to run an experiment: what would a world without him look like? As it turns out, if Superman didn’t exist we’d need to invent one–a pretty sweet tribute in the 70th year of his creation.

Morrison and Quitely repeatedly reintroduced the central cliches of Superman’s character and made us realize their hidden depth (this was a big part of my year–see no.2). They also might have

6. Ganges #2 by Kevin Huizenga

This, this was my favorite comic of 2008. Glenn Ganges plays an absurdist fighting game late into the night, which segues into a reminiscence of his days working (and playing first-person shooters) at an internet start-up.

As my favorite comics writer Abhay wrote recently, video games work because the player naturally fills in gaps narratively and visually, which goes for comics as well. Nostalgia, the subject at hand, is actually works as a violent act of memory erasure as well as being an instance of memory recall (preserving the pain of nostalgia’s literal definition). Personally, this piece of drawing recalls my first year of college amongst the barbarians in my dorm hall. Huizenga always takes visual chances, welcome in a field (art-comics) which lusts after (sur)realism as symbolic of truth.

5. Batmania!

The year has provided two giddy bat-thrills: the film The Dark Knight and comicdom’s visceral Batman R.I.P. The first was a wonderful experience. I’m generally becoming an oldster, but it was easy to generate the energy needed to make it through the Midnight showing. The Joker had a Lil Wayne-like viral existence–he was everywhere, a fictional character who became real by killing an actor (not really, but this is kinda cool to think about) and inspiring copycat crimes. People eagerly debated whatever political messages the film might be said to have, and they debated its politics with more vigor than the actual events that might have inspired it. If this isn’t an argument for the continuing vitality of art I don’t know what is.

Some, including me, did not recognize the Batman in this movie–our personal Batman was always prepared for any situation. He’s not paranoid or psychotic in his preparedness; he’s a giant boy scout. This year the comic nearly made us forget that this was the case by creating an elaborate conspiracy around Batman, pumping him full of drugs, and breaking his heart. Batman responded in a big way: he created a “backup personality” in case Bruce Wayne went under, and “used his memories as a weapon” when an invasive Lump tried to steal his mind.

Douglas Wolk said that DC’s big 3 superheroes were all examples of perfectability. Batman is a problematic case because human perfectability is the stuff of our nightmares as well as our dreams. In the hands of the right writers and artists, we can choose Batman without fear that he is secretly an authoritarian or a lunatic. We need the ambiguity of The Dark Knight but we also need a Batman who’s overwhelmingly positive.

4. Wall-E

This movie made me deeply embarrassed in the theatre, since the rotund space-humans eerily resembled myself and my fellow patrons. I wish that its concern for the environment carried over to its toys, distribution, and packaging, but Wall-E makes it with gentle humor. Pixar also gets to spread its wings a little, adding live-action and extended wordless sequences, and hitching the whole thing to music from Hello Dolly! My favorite piece is the postscript during the end credits, a history of art that makes me feel very small.

3. Sloane’s Wedding

This is probably the real #1. It was beautiful, it was odd, it expressed the beautiful and odd things about the couple so well. Weddings don’t always communicate who the bride and groom are, but this one did. I got to see some old friends who reminded me what jealousy and ambition feel like. They bring out the best in me and I need them.

2. The Bittersweet Feeling of Reading DFW After his Death

After David Foster Wallace died, I made a genuine effort to read his works. First the journalism, which felt honest and genuinely creative writing. I finally made it through Infinite Jest, which scared me and made me laugh and absorbed me ten pages at a time. It made me afraid to put it down, and afraid not to, and captured my headspace and my anxieties better than anything else. And I wonder, if the mind capable of realizing and communicating the troubles getting through everyday life decides to eliminate its map, what are my chances?

1. The Gnocchi at Saffron in Minneapolis

It’s really good!

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