From Gubernators to Kardashians to once-mighty Greece herself, it’s been a year like no other for the realization: “Oops, I stink.” But lest schadenfreude get the better of us, let’s also remember that all of us have, at one time or another, suffered from the realization of massive failure. Let’s look at the suffering of these 10 as an opportunity for them, and us, to be liberated from the quest for greatness: of always having to be the best Governor, the most debt-free country, or the perfect congressman who never tweets himself naked. Let us applaud these people for helping to remind us how freeing it can be to admit we’re human. We spent plenty of our childhood years trying to be perfect. 2011 was a year to renew our quest to be average. Not special, not touched, just ourselves: pathetic, forgetful, broke, damaged, huddled naked mole rats. And that’s on our good days. Here’s to the 10 most Unspecial people of 2011.
10. Arnold Schwarzenneger: I May Not Be Back
May 2011: One minute you’re a box office star/governor of the most populous state in the country, the next you’re tossed-out of office as a budget-busting politician, and your home for a Clintonesque affair with the live-in maid. This reversal of fortune would have been enough by itself to land him a spot on the NTS top ten. But there’s more. 2011 was also the year this video began to go viral. It’s a brilliantly compiled montage of Arnold’s comments for the Total Recall DVD special features segment. You’ll notice that rather than add any actual insight to anything we’re seeing, The Gubernator, like Beavis, decides to just narrate exactly what’s happening on the screen.
9. Rick Perry: Oops
November 2011: While it would be easy to just have a good guffaw over Rick Perry’s Oops moment, and of course we all did, we at Nothing Special are also fascinated by the psychology of these public “blanks.” For those who don’t remember, during the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate, Perry, when attempting to list the three Federal agencies he would eliminate as President, named the Department of Commerce, Education, and then completely, utterly blanked on the third. So much so that, after turning down Romney’s generous suggestion of the EPA, he was left, naked and helpless before us, to form only the one simple word he remembered from childhood: “Oops.” How could we not feel sorry for him? And why do we feel sorry for him? Because as smart as we like to feel by laughing at him, we know that this could be us. Perform this simple test on yourself. In the next 15 seconds, name the five other federal agencies. Go! Did you do it? Now try this. In the next 15 seconds, name 5 presidents from before 1900 who are not on Mt. Rushmore? Did a vast wasteland of nothingness pop into your mind? Or maybe racing thoughts of how badly you’re doing? Now imagine having to answer these in front of an audience of 5 million people. From Jan Brewer, to Herman Cain, to Governor Perry, we love jumping on these public blanks and pointing out how stupid the blankers are. But are the panicked lapses really indicators of low intelligence? Or are they examples of times when the mind says “Don’t screw up, don’t screw up, don’t screw up!” so loudly, that we screw up. Is this something unique to politicians, or could this happen to any of us at any time?
8. Kim Kardashian: Wait, Love Can’t Be Produced?
November 2011: This story has been so overly reported there’s not much we can add, other than to say that at Nothing Special, we don’t believe that this 72-day-marriage was a sham from the beginning. We believe, rather, it was an example, albeit a spectacular one, of how easy it is to confuse the excitement of “falling in Love” with the work it takes to “be in Love.” Everything we Special people were raised on, from movies like Mannequin, Can’t Buy Me Love, and most notably The Princess Bride to later love competitions like “The Bachelor,” and “The Bachelorette,” taught us that we “fall” in love, helpless to resist its overwhelming powers. Kim is part of our generation. We think love enters with a boom and continues to make us want to move mountains daily, rather than work at a relationship that includes burps, farts, warts and, at times—the sheer terror of it—boredom! It might behoove Kim to look to Erich Fromm for more realistic expectations. In The Art of Loving, Fromm choses the term “Standing” in love rather than “Falling” in love. We don’t get to be the Dread Pirate Roberts who fall for a beautiful farm girl, die for her, get brought back by Miracle Max’s pill for her, and finally ride off with her into the sunset while Peter Faulk and Fred Savage gurgle. Yes it’s fun at the beginning, but we then have to “stand” in love. Falling in love only lasts for, well, around seventy-two days.
7. Oh Sh$%#@, the Republicans are coming!
January 2011: After a rout in the 2010 election midterm election, 87 Freshman GOP members were sworn in on the Capitol Steps. If this wasn’t a reminder that just because we got a “progressive” in the Oval Office, we’re still not that Special, we don’t know what is. In 2008, a collective sigh went out among progressives around the country. Every Deaniac, Wellstone-loving, Truman and FDR-quoting one of us at last let ourselves collapse into the post-election easy chair of complacency. Now the trend is set for decades, we thought. Now all of the Rovian groundwork that was laid in local elections, redistricting and wedge-issue-referendum launching that had put a cold grip on our hearts for the past eight years was put to rest. The country was safe. Obama would bridge the divide. The nation would heal. We had, as a friend said to me, “gotten our USA back.” Then this happened, and we realized, it’s never that easy. After a year in which simple debates have been turned into threatened shutdowns and an unseen puppeteer has held more power than all of these Representatives put together, one thing is certain for the 2012 election. Nothing is being taken for granted. We are not Special.
6. Chelsea Clinton: Ho-Hum Rock Center Debut
December 2011: If anyone was rooting for Chelsea, it was we at Nothing Special. Like her, we were raised with large expectations. We went to a great private school in DC, a wonderful college and had all the world looking at us as the first daughter—a genetic combination of two of the most intelligent people on the planet (OK, that last part was just Chelsea). So when we heard that Chelsea was a little tired of her corporate career, and had decided to report on do-gooder people for Brian Williams’ show, it was almost as if we ourselves were making our debut with her. And when the media panned Chelsea, calling her slightly underwhelming and not exactly electrifying, it was as if we ourselves got panned. But all this really means is that Chelsea, like the rest of us, is human, is finding her way, is not her parents, is normal, is unSpecial. And tis better to be panned than praised—ask anyone here at Nothing Special! Chelsea will have her ups and downs, just like the rest of us. And hey, she has good paying job, nu?
5. NFL’s JaMarcus Russell: Et Tu, Life Coach?
April 2011: This may have not been the biggest sports headline of 2011—not Derek Jeter’s home-run-sealing entrance into the 3000th hit club, or Clemens’ perjury mistrial, but it was surely the dearest to our heart at Nothing Special. Former number one draft pick JaMarcus Russell, still teamless after being dumped spectacularly by the Raiders in 2007 (he’s been accused of being lazy, falling out of shape, and imbibing codeine via “purple drank”) decided to turn things around this year. So he hired life coach and former NBA player, John Lucas. Now whether Lucas, whom this editor remembers from the Washington Bullets solely for being “that guy with the drug problem” is the best-suited coach for Russell, is another story. The main point is that Lucas fired Russell for not having a strong enough work ethic. To us this is like getting tossed out of cooking class for burning the chicken. That’s why I was taking the cooking class, man! Anyways, if being fired by your life coach doesn’t give one that “Not so Special” feeling, then we’re not sure what will. May 2012 be the year JaMarcus Russell finds a life coach that won’t run out on him!
4. Zynga: Buying The FarmVille
December 2011: Hot off the presses, last Friday saw Zynga realize its Unspecialness in a very public fashion—an initially public fashion. The day it went public, the company, which makes money by selling virtual bartering goods for its Apps (mostly via Facebook, where it does 95% of its business) lost its investors an immediate 5% on their investment, or a total of $50 million. Ouch. Investors seem to be worried that Zynga relies too much on the Facebook and gives too much power to its CEO, Marc Pincus. We’re no experts, and we can proudly say that we utterly loathe reading any Facebook posts that even mention FarmVille or CityVille, but we certainly can spot a Not that Special moment when we see one. Mr. Pincus, you lost your investors $50 million dollars on a day that was supposed to be your shining hour. Congratulations! You flopped!
3. NS Editor: I Have Few Life Skills. I Think I’ll Blog.
September 2011: It’s a brisk fall morning. This humble editor is on his way to the bank, pockets filled with change that he plans to exchange for bills. At the bank he receives those brown paper rolls with which he must hand roll the change in order to procure the $23.54 cents to which he, by the law of full faith and credit of the United States, is entitled. Despite every other alarm bell that should be going off that this is his current plan for raising cash, all he can focus on is how much trouble he’s having adding the change, and whether this indicates a huge falling off of basic math skills that seemed so promising in third grade (where he was taught borrowing in a small group of 4 select students). Out of this shocking realization emerges the blog Nothing Special, a place where all formerly-great people whose actual paths have been more modest than their predestined ones could converge and share in one common realization: We’re Not That Special.
2. Greece: Didn’t We Build The Parthenon?
October 2011: A deal is reached whereby European banks will take a 50% hit on the debt they’re owed by Greece. Barely passing Parliament in Greece, this deal is hardly a cure all. If successful, it will bring Greek debt down to 120% of GDP by 2020. Talk about low standards! Now the problem here is of course not just that Greece did terrible budget keeping and is now broke—it’s the fact that they have to go to France and Germany to bail them out. Greece was inventing Democracy and the golden ratio centuries before France and Germany were a glimmer in the eye of Caesar! This is like being broke and unable to hold onto a job, then having to go to your younger brother for rent payments. For this reason, we give Greece the number two spot.
And the number one Not that Special moment of 2011…drum roll please!!!
1. Weinergate: Love me! Love me! Tweet That You Love Me!
June 2011: If we ever needed a moment to confirm to ourselves that sometimes highly “successful” people have bottled up all of their failures, fears, the need for love and for sexual praise, and that these needs, like anything trapped too tight in a bottle, must, at some point, blow the top off and make a big mess, it was six-term Congressman Anthony Weiner tearfully confessing to Bill Clinton his sexting improprieties. We at Nothing Special, admiring Weiner for the progressive battles he fought (for example, his defense of the public option in healthcare) take no joy in his downfall. We only hope that he gets the help he needs, most importantly the realization that he won’t find self-esteem by sending nudie photos of himself to every campaign cutie. In the end, he’s just an aging guy with a lovely wife and that’s OK. He’s Not That Special, and that’s a good thing to embrace.
Daniel F. Levin is the editor of Nothing Special. His comic essays Fiddler in the Rough and Osnat’s Story were serialized last year on Frontier Psychiatrist. His holiday play, Hee-Haw: It’s a Wonderful Li_e, was called a “delightful surprise” by the New York Times. His musical, To Paint the Earth, about resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, won the Richard Rogers Development Award. He recently completed work on his memoir about being not that special.