NEW YORK — Sure, we had wars, natural disasters, a growing populist movement and a presidential race heating up, not to mention the deaths of a technology icon, a silver-screen goddess and a couple of shadowy dictators.
But in the bubble that is our popular culture, a world in which fame is measured not by power, influence or substance but by Twitter followers, YouTube hits and general consumption of cyberspace, we can declare two 2011 winners: a prom king and queen of pop culture, if you will.
Not that Charlie Sheen and Kim Kardashian are actually a couple — if they are, we missed that, although hey, we hear she's not married anymore. But together, they sucked up so much attention, for better or for worse, that they're the chosen guides for our sixth annual, highly selective journey back through the year's Pop Culture Moments:
You know you're in for a rough year if you're already the butt of Ricky Gervais' jokes at the Golden Globes. For CHARLIE SHEEN, the year starts with his messy personal life already under the spotlight. As the month ends he's in rehab, with his hit show, "Two and a Half Men," on hold. Meanwhile three sisters named KARDASHIAN — Kim, Khloe and Kourtney — are sued by a credit card company after pulling their endorsement for the Kardashian Kard, pilloried for its high fees.
A unique American romance takes a poignant turn when astronaut MARK KELLY announces he will launch into space, briefly leaving his wife, wounded congressman GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, on Earth. At the Oscars, the emphasis on "young and hip" bombs, with hosts JAMES FRANCO and ANNE HATHAWAY falling short and the crowd cheering wildly for comedian BILLY CRYSTAL (and guess who's hosting in 2012?) But for SHEEN, things get really bad. The actor's violence-tinged, anti-Semitic radio rant is finally enough for CBS and Warner Bros., who shut down the show for the season (funny how that happens when you call your producer a "contaminated little maggot.")
"Friday," an amateurish, much mocked but strangely addictive song by 13-year-old REBECCA BLACK, is released as a single. Screen icon ELIZABETH TAYLOR dies, leaving behind a legendary career — and a final tweet, promoting her interview in Harper's Bazaar with... KIM KARDASHIAN. Remember PARIS HILTON, who was famous for being famous when that was sorta unique? "I am the original," she declares. This is the month SHEEN seems to self-destruct, staging an unsettling media blitz and coining new expressions — heck, a new language — with phrases like "Duh, Winning!" and "Adonis DNA" and "Vatican Assassins." His Twitter account gains a million followers a day after it opens. Finally he is fired for good. He files a lawsuit, shops a memoir and announces a national tour: "Charlie Sheen Live: Torpedo of Truth." Will it be funny, or will it be....
... Awful? Why, how did you guess? All that Tiger Blood can't save SHEEN from blistering reviews. Speaking of Sheenspeak, the actor also moves to trademark 22 of his catchphrases. Meanwhile, LARRY KING, asked if he misses his nightly platform on CNN, replies yes — but adds: "I don't miss the KARDASHIANS." And, not a great transition here, but we must mention KATE MIDDLETON: Prince William's new wife is an immediate fashion star and perhaps the savior of the monarchy, after all.
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