Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Vote Now! The 2014 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Two

Here are the candidates for day two of voting for the Miserable Crank Awards of 2014. (The first day of voting, for Government, Technology, Sports, and Embarrassment, can be found here. The third day of voting, with Entertainment, Person, and Inconvenience, can be found here.)

Elk River Chemical Spill
It's easy to make fun of West Virginia for a variety of reasons. But it's hard not to feel bad when a chemical spill--made by chemical company Freedom Industries--affected over nine counties. While the chemical itself isn't fatal--it's used to remove impurities from coal (or something; I'm no orthocoaldibiologist)--it can make people feel nauseous, burning skin and eyes, and--worst of all--makes water smell like licorice.

GM Recall
I suppose it's relevant that when I researched this entry I had to specify that I wanted to know about the 2014 General Motors recall. Over 800,000--wait, I mean 24 million-- vehicles had to be recalled early this year for ignition switch (and, eventually, other) issues. The initial issue was that the ignition switches didn't account for heavily weighted keychains and would cause the key to turn off on its own due to gravity--bad news for the sort of people who keep keys on their keychain as if there may be a sudden National-Treasure-Style emergency that has about six dozen locked doors as obstacles.

Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters has had a long and surprising history of controversy, especially for a company that slings third-rate clothing to ungrateful teenagers. this year was no different; first, they release a shirt with the word "Depression" slathered all over it, as if the word is the trendy new YOLO. Next, they started offering a Kent State hoodie that looked suspiciously like it was covered with splattered blood; they countered it was simply a stock design. Either way, the company has to hire some guy whose idea of sensitivity didn't come from an old Andrew Dice Clay cassette tape they found in their uncle's pickup truck.

Radio Shack
"Even CEO Can't Figure Out How Radio Shack Still In Business," blared a classic Onion headline. Not so funny anymore, really Despite a flashy (and hilarious) Superbowl ad and an attempt to update their image, Radio Shack finally bowed to what was inevitable to everyone else in the planet. While certainly not out of business, they had to shutter about 20% of its stores and stopped matching 401(k) contributions for their employees. Retail revamps like this rarely go well, and given Radio Shack's reputation as a place to buy nothing of use whatsoever unless you are a ham radio operator or a small child in 1981 its future doesn't look nearly as bright as a LED display.

The retail giant based in the UK--it's the second largest retailer in the world and the biggest employer in all of Europe--has been around for nearly a century. It's a well-established brand with its mainstay in groceries but has its hand in a wide range of services, from banking and internet services to film-making and cell phones. And yet 2014 marked one of its most troubled years, having an overstatement of their profits by over 260 million pounds (that's close to a half billion dollars to us yanks) and forcing the ouster of its CEO.

Let It Go
No, seriously, let it go. Disney's Frozen came out late last year, but the movie's signature song--aside from that stirring ballad about the ethical implications of building a snowman--caught every single six-year-old girl in the world in a whirlwind of popularity. No doctor's office, supermarket, or elevator was safe without hearing the tune which--in my humble opinion--sounds like every bad 80's hair band rock opera that everyone makes fun of now. Of course, I don't have a dancing snowman to back it up, but I guess that's my problem, not yours.

Ice Bucket Challenge
Three cheers for having a successful charity campaign, and one can't be too harsh given how much money it raised for ALS, but this past summer it was hard to look anywhere on the internet without seeing yet another video of someone dousing themselves in ice water. One can nitpick that it's not exactly torture to be drenched in cold water in the hot summer months, and one can grouse about people who would rather do fun stuff instead of donating money or volunteering their time, but in the end it raised a ton of cash. Still, one can't feel guilty for being happy that it's finally over.

Flappy Bird
A simple, elegant game, Flappy Bird was destined to be the next Candy Crush or Angry Birds...until it wasn't. With graphics shamelessly pulled from Super Mario Brothers and a rather unoriginal interface, its creator pulled the game from the phone markets. Claiming that the attention was overwhelming and that he only intended it to be a small, fun game, he withdrew all applications relating to it--along with all the potential revenue. Thankfully, the phone gaming market being what it is, there were immediately two million clones created within a day.

Alex From Target
Hey, props to a teenage retail worker for becoming an internet phenomenon just by looking cute and doing his job. So many of us could be so lucky. Still, the fame seemed to be far in disproportion to his claim to fame--even by social media standards--and it got a little too squicky when Target and some branding managers tried to take credit for the ordeal. Still, Alex will be "Alex From Target" for the rest of his life, which I am sure will come in handy in college.

If you don't know what Minecraft is, join the club. Actually it's not a difficult concept--you take a bunch of blocky graphics that look like it was created on a Commodore 64, you make a "game" that isn't really a game but a reason for preteens to dick around for hours on the internet, and make just enough culturally relevant icons so you can sell T-shirts and you have a hit game. Minecraft's been around for years, but this was the year that the big guys took action--Microsoft bought the franchise for $2.5 Billion dollars. All for a game you don't pay for and has no immediate revenue stream.

Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Fresh off of its success in hosting the 2014 Olympics, Russia decided to completely throw it away by annexing the Crimean peninsula.Crimea is made up largely of ethnic Russians and are sympathetic more to Moscow than Kiev, but (as is usually the case when it comes to Russia) there are a dozen factions with a dozen loyalties all tied up to a history of conflict and shared interests. Of course, all of this violates international law in one way or another, and will probably end up in live armed conflict at some point.

Ferguson, MO
It was not a good year for police officers and the public. With very public, very much recorded incidents of police brutality and flawed tactics--with subsequent refusals of juries to convict any of them--the reputation of many officers are under question. This all came to a head in Ferguson, Missouri, when Michael Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson. When the grand jury declared that the case would not go to trial, violent riots broke out in the town (and protests held in cities across the nation). While most agreed that the facts of the case favored Wilson, the fact that it didn't even get out of the grand jury (and thus no proper trial) angered many, and many were also mad at the overall treatment of the issue.

When medical personnel travel to help others in need across the globe, there's always some risk involved. When that risk is then carried back home and spreads, however, it can lead to panic. So it was with the Ebola virus, a violent disease with little chance of survival; after several individuals traveled home and infections started to gain media attention, people who came into contact with the medical professionals--including airplane passengers and airport workers--became concerned. Only ten people have been diagnosed (two have died) and all had been in Africa or dealt directly with those just coming from Africa, so the threat to many was seen as overblown, and how the government handled it was seen as either lackluster or overzealous.

ISIS--or IS or ISIL or about ten other acronyms--came to the forefront this year as probably the most influential, if not biggest, organized threat to the West from the Middle East since Al Qaeda. The organization has launched attacked, beheaded journalists, and generally fostered violence in the Middle East with a particularly efficient manner of needling the United States. They've also gained political influence in the area as well from various sympathizers, and chances are they are the future of the enemy.

Malaysian Airlines
Everybody loves a good mystery, although it's hard to wrap your head around 239 missing people. Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was flying over the South China Sea when it simply disappeared. No explosions, no particularly mysterious messages from the pilots, no signs of terrorism or large payments to bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. To date, no wreckage has been found and no survivors discovered. The only casualty was the 24 hour news networks, who had to find something else to air after about three months. (See: The other items in this category.) 

[Voting is now closed.]

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