Throw the rip-and-read desk calendar away as 2004 vanishes into the history books. Ten or 20 years from now when we look back at this time, how will we react? Will it bring nostalgia -- or just plain nausea? When we consider the pulse of popular culture, this last year was a very mixed bag. It had a few splendid moments, and numerous potential breakthroughs for cultural sanity amidst the dogged persistence of smut, coarseness and nihilism.
Loser: Janet Jackson. Her breast-exposing "wardrobe malfunction" stunt in front of hundreds of millions of Super Bowl fans around the globe brought this woman the kind of infamy only her brother would understand: worldwide attention, worldwide scorn. Sure, it sold some albums, but those sales soon dried up. Janet is just another pathetic Jackson family member who will stop at nothing to stay in the spotlight, even if it means disgracing herself.
Winner: Bill Cosby. After spending decades entertaining millions of children with his brand of marvelous comedy, Cosby has now launched a crusade of passionate speeches urging black children -- and their parents -- to ditch the "gangsta" rap culture that is poisoning the black community in favor of educated, civilized behavior. He's virtually alone, and for his efforts to advance the radical notion of "taste" he has gained the nasty opprobrium of some apologists for cultural nihilism, like the scribes at the Village Voice, for falling "back on what elitists do best -- impose condescending lessons on ethics and etiquette."
Loser: "South Park." The producers of this curdled, malodorous black hole of Comedy Central vomit want to elicit only one sentence from viewers: "Did I just see that on television?" For anyone who thinks television today is not as offensive -- and downright stupid as those "prudes" say it is, we suggest a look at the Dec. 1 episode. At the South Park "Whore-Off" competition, Paris Hilton inserts an entire pineapple into her vagina. A gay man in a biker vest then takes off his pants and puts the entire body of Paris Hilton up his rectum. Remember this episode the next time some TV critic raves about the "talent" behind "South Park."