With Labor Day officially behind us, it’s only a matter of time until a chill begins to creep into the night air and your diet sees a spike in the number of calories you consume in the form of things people who’ve never eaten an actual pumpkin think a pumpkin tastes like. We may have a couple of weeks to go before the summer of 2020 officially ends but its firmly on its way out the door.
Most years, I’d be bummed about the warmest months of the year coming to a close, but if I’m being honest, I’m not shedding a single tear over this one. The summer of 2020 has been a weird one; noticeably light on the carefree, easy-going vibes most people associated with the season but very heavy on the dark and ominous tones that have served as a major buzzkill.
Sure, some good times were had but they were largely overshadowed by all of the bad ones that have been churned out at a distressing rate. You know how people have become so fond of saying “This is why we can’t have nice things?” whenever someone finds a way to ruin something that was supposed to bring us joy? That was this entire summer, so no, I won’t be all that sad to see it go.
However, before it officially ships out to mark the arrival of an autumn that will undoubtedly introduce even more unexpected twists and unpleasant surprises to a year that’s already featured far too many of them, I want to try to end it on a good note by giving some love to all of the people and things that did what they could to minimize the intensity of the dumpster fire that’s been raging or the past few months.
Last year, I looked back on the summer of 2019 to determine who deserved to be crowned its “winner,” and much like a couple of the leagues responsible for one of the contenders for the title were determined to crown a champion, I felt obliged to pick through the heaping pile of steaming shit the summer of 2020 has produced in search of some of the forgotten heroes buried inside it—including these.
Zac Efron and his buddy Darin taught me so much this summer. They taught me about the best kind of water to drink, the most delicious fruit you can eat, and that you should say “This is what it’s all about, brah” when you want to convey you think something is especially rad. Of all of things I have an a virtually endless “Things I Never Would Have Expected To Happen In 2020” list that gets longer with every passing day, “Zac Efron becoming a lifestyle guru” remains very close to the top since being added after Down to Earth dropped on Netflix in July.
It turns out Efron had some sort of awakening a few years ago and embraced the healthy living lifestyle championed by his trusty sidekick Darin Olien, whose personal website claims he’s “often” referred to as the “Indiana Jones of Superfoods” and other incredibly organic nicknames that were totally dreamed up by other people and definitely not just labels he dreamed up for himself. Olien built his brand on the back of his quest to scour the globe for overlooked substances with properties that promote the five “life forces” he says you can manipulate to maximize your well-being, and if you didn’t know he wrote a book he wrote to champion his wellness philosophy, you’ll be more than aware of that fact by the time you make your way through the eight episodes where it’s repeatedly plugged.
It’s easy to be skeptical of some of the claims that come out of Olien’s mouth over the course of the series, and while he’s yet to discover an ancient grain hidden in the jungle of Peru that grants him the ability to will certain beliefs that might not actually be true into existence, he seems to genuinely buy into what he’s selling. It’s no coincidence that Down to Earth really hits its stride when he takes on a more pivotal role halfway through the season the passion he has for the destinations they explore and the people they meet there is almost palpable.
With that said, Efron is still the star of the show and he’s so damn likable that it’s easy to overlook the occasional moments of headiness that come with the territory when you’re dealing with the subject matter being tackled. It’s also a great way to “visit” places like Iceland, Italy, Costa Rica, and other destinations I’d love to take a trip to if they ever reverse the bans that prohibit most Americans from entering their borders.
If that ever turns out to be the case, the first thing I’m doing is booking a flight to Iceland so I can boil some eggs in the sand near a volcano.
When the United Kingdom found itself with a pandemic on its hands, one of the measures Parliament took in order to address it was to make sure children from families who have their financial burdens eased by the free meals schools provide for students who qualify would continue to receive vouchers until the end of a term that came to a premature end in March.
That was certainly a nice gesture but it didn’t do much to address what would happen when the date that was originally supposed to mark the last day of classes inevitably arrived. However, they soon discovered they had an ally in their corner in the form of Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, who understood the struggles that came with being faced with the all-too-familiar situation he’d encountered as someone who relied on those meals growing up.
Rashford wrote an open letter in which he urged lawmakers to extend the voucher program and saw his efforts pay off when they voted to extend it by six more weeks. However, he didn’t stop there, as he followed up that campaign by recruiting a number of supermarkets and some of the companies that produce the items they stock their shelves with to join the task force he created to combat childhood hunger in the hopes of allowing more people to qualify for assistance and ensuring they’ll still be fed on holidays where schools are closed.
Oh, he also scored 17 goals over the course of the 31 Premier League games he played last season. This year might’ve been a wash for a lot of people but Rashford is a very notable exception.
Dr. Anthony Fauci
His ability to throw out a ceremonial first pitch may leave something to be desired, but if we ignore that, the man commonly referred to as “Dr. Fauci” had one hell of a summer.
Fauci has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease since 1984 and has spent his entire career waiting for a moment he was hoping would never arrive. However, when it did, he stepped and quickly established himself as served an authoritative voice of reason capable of providing some sound advice and some calming reassurance during an uncertain period in history where all of those things have been in very short supply. He’s been at the helm to help America navigate false alarms, incredibly legitimate alarms, and all of the ones in between and expertly weathered the storm that came with his decision to tell people what they needed to hear as opposed to what certain high-ranking government officials wanted him to say.
He also had the distinction of being the only immunologist in the world who can brag about being played by Brad Pitt on Saturday Night Live. Should an episode that originally aired in April be taken into consideration when it comes to determining who won the summer? Probably not, but if I’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s that human construct we call “time” is largely meaningless and much more fluid than we were raised to believe, so I’m going to allow it.
Sadly, none of the excuses he rolled out to explain why his first pitch was was so terrible can make up for how unforgivably awful it was, so while he might’ve had a chance to take home the title if he’d fired a heater across home plate, the one he ended up throwing basically took him out of the running.
I would assume someone with the kind of credentials Dr. Fauci is packing would tell people to wear a mask (and even go as far to suggest it might be time to break out some rec specs) because they actually work and not because he simply derives pleasure from subjecting hundreds of millions of people to the slight inconvenience they’re forced to deal with by wearing one.
When you consider basically every expert on the planet also suggests covering your face, there are basically two conclusions you can come to. The first is that masks are effective at slowing the spread and the least you can do is wear one. The second is this is a global conspiracy orchestrated by a medical community comprised almost exclusively of sadists who get their rocks off knowing the minor discomfort they’ve convinced the majority of people to endure for no reason whatsoever.
If that second theory hasn’t already made the rounds on Facebook courtesy of an anti-mask crowd that will put any straw they can use to justify their lack of common decency in a death grip, I apoligize if that ends up being the case now that I’ve floated it.
Just wear a mask. It’s not that hard? Oh, you’re worried masks don’t look cool or make you look less manly? Tell that to all of the superheroes who’ve used one to hide their identity from a world they’ve saved on countless occasions. I’m sure Spiderman would love to hear about the shortness of breath during you had to deal with during a visit to the grocery store when you consider how many times he’s managed to stop a moving subway in the middle of a fight with some unnaturally strong villain without without stopping to gasp for air.
Most people were understandably less than thrilled when mask-wearing became the new norm but we’ve reached a point where they’ve evolved into a fashion accessory. There are plenty of ways you can use them to showcase certain aspects of your personality, whether it’s wearing one emblazoned with the logo of the sports team playing games you’re currently prohibited from attending or donning one of the novelty designs that popped up when the ironic t-shirt industry quickly pivoted to making masks that make you look like you have a beard you’d never be able to grow and and all of the other novelty offerings that have taken Etsy by storm.
If I had to draw a parallels between this list of nominees and the films up for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, masks are basically the equivalent of a movie was universally loved by critics but absolutely despised by a vocal minority of moviegoers; in other words, they’re basically this article’s Brokeback Mountain.
You’ll have to wait and see if they end up taking home the Oscar at the end of the ceremony, they’re a strong contender when it comes to winning the summer of 2020 because there’s no telling how bad things would be right now it it wasn’t for the progress we’ve made because of them. They have only slowed the spread of the disease but the peace of mind they’ve managed to provide was largely responsible for seeing some sense of normalcy return to a world where the bars, restaurants, and other sources of comfort that suddenly disappeared have been able to open their doors again.
To borrow a phrase from Kevin Durant, masks are arguably the real MVP of the pandemic but they’re still facing some stiff comeptition.
When I was putting together an initial list of contenders, “booze” was one of the first things I wrote down. Why? Because everything is terrible, and while you don’t necessarily need an excuse to get drunk, you tend to feel much less guilty when you have a reason you can use to justify it.
However, that fell a bit insensitive, and after thinking about it, I realized I needed to be a bit more inclusive, which is why I decided to broaden it to all of the varyingly self-destructive coping mechanisms everyone has turned to for help with riding this out.
I’ve thankfully never encountered a situation in life that required me to eat a worm-filled poopburger topped with a housemade vomit sauce but I imagine it would be about as pleasant as having to endure everything 2020 has thrown my way so far. There usually comes a point in the fall, winter, and spring where you find yourself wishing you could just skip to the next season, but barring a particularly brutal heatwave, you won’t find many people are counting down the days until the ocean becomes too cold to swim in and they finally have to put a sweatshirt on whenever they leave the house.
The warm weather that accompanies the summer probably plays the biggest role in making it an inherently delightful stretch of time, as simply going outside and doing literally nothing else can provide you with an odd amount of satisfaction. It has also the uncanny the ability to enhance basically every aspect of life, whether we’re talking about activities that can only exist when it’s hot out or those that are relegated indoors for the majority of the year that are infused with a bit more enjoyment courtesy of the sun.
However, with so many different types of social gatherings off the table, people have had to find ways to supplement the fun they’re missing out on however they. can. Some people have subsequently seen a spike in their alcohol and/or weed intake while others can find a suitable fix in the form of running, shopping, or getting really, really into European soccer. There’s no right answer and no use in judging anyone for how they chose to approach things. If I’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that everyone has their own way of staying sane and the coping mechanisms that are more necessary than ever deserve credit for being there when we needed them the most.
The Synder Cut News
Justice League was not a good movie. It was a hot mess that looked even worse when compared to the streamlined efficiency of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the people responsible for approximately 37 films featuring members of The Avengers to hit theaters over a three-year span had put int the work to do them justice, DC ironically tried to rush things and it showed.
The events that play a role in Snyder’s Justice League being such a sorry excuse for a movie aren’t exactly uplifting, as the director left the production during filming following his daughter’s suicide and saw Joss Whedon hop behind the chair to inject a bit of levity into a project that wasn’t really supposed to have much.
Now, it’s worth noting the two other DC films that saw Snyder at the helm the entire time (Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) weren’t exactly cinematic masterpieces, but for some reason, fans started clamoring for the studio to release the mysterious “Snyder Cut.” His rumored version of the film had become something of an urban myth, and while no one actually knows if it’s a marked improvement over the one that debuted in theaters, it’s hard to do much worse than that turd.
In May, Warner Bros. dropped an absolute bomb when it not only confirmed the existence of the Snyder Cut but announced it will be be released on HBO Max at some point in 2021, giving some people a reason to look forward to the future during a time where those are few and far between. Since then, we’ve been treated to a trailer in addition to a steady trickle of information concerning what to expect from what will be released as a four-part series to accommodate for the backstory Snyder want to include that Whedon left on the cutting room floor.
Again, Snyder’s track record suggests there’s a very real chance everyone who’s gotten invested in this is setting themselves up for disappointment, but thankfully, 2020 has given us plenty of practice when it comes to knowing how to deal with that.
No, I’m not talking about the character on The Wire or the magical soap and the wand you dip in it that have the impressive ability to keep my daughter entertained for at least twenty minutes (which is the equivalent of two hours from the perspective of a parent with young children). There’s nothing wrong with either of those bubbles but I’m referring to the secure environments the NBA and NHL use to get back into action, which—much like the bubbles you blow—have been remarkably effective when it comes to keeping the good times going.
The NBA set up shop at Walt Disney World Resorts in Orlando while the NHL opted to do so in a couple of cities in Canada, which has handled the pandemic about as well as Florida did not. However, both leagues were able to resume play without reporting a single positive test after players made it through the initial quarantine period after entering the confines of the bubbles, giving everyone involved some peace of mind that made it a bit easier to focus on the task at hand as opposed to the general state of the world.
Major League Baseball, on the other hand, opted to forgo a bubble in favor of a modified schedule designed to minimize travel only to see the Marlins with an outbreak on their hands a few games into a season that somehow hasn’t been totally derailed despite the other teams who’ve found themselves grappling with the same issue.
Having teams converge in a central location also gave the NBA and NHL a chance to focus on ways to up the production value of its telecasts and figure out ways to make up for the lack of fans in the stands in ways that have made those games a lot more compelling to watch compared to most of the MLB matchups I’ve encountered. The wall of screens featuring the virtual fans lining the basketball court has become a fun little subplot that allows viewers to play Where’s Waldo? to try to spot the celebrities or exposed buttocks scattered among the fake crowd while the NHL has showcased a hilariously dry sense of humor through the Stanley Cup Playoffs as it repeatedly acknowledges how weird the current situation is.
Baseball? Well, many teams have allowed fans to pay to have a cutout of themselves in the stands alongside other fake fans and random stuffed animals, which has managed to produce some entertaining moments.
Scary moment in last night’s A’s game. You never want to see a fan get hurt and I really hope he’s ok 🙏 pic.twitter.com/KFbmwbSKau
— Josh Billinson (@jbillinson) August 21, 2020
However, every time the camera pans out to reveal the largely barren bleachers at baseball stadium around the country, I can’t help but be reminded how royally screwed everything is. The NHL and NBA are facing the same problem, but thanks to the approach they’ve taken, it’s much less jarring for some reason.
On the bright side, at least we’re past the point where watching a rebroadcast of a random Super Bowl was the only way to get your sports fix. It might have been an adequate substitute at the time but that was a pretty dark period I’d rather not return to.
Some people got really into breadmaking to stay sane during quarantine, but New York City-based comedian Sarah Cooper opted to put her time to good use with the Donald Trump lip-syncing videos that took TikTok by storm and turned her into a viral sensation thanks to their ability to provide a bit of a chuckle at the end of yet another stay stuck inside while left to (and hooked on) our own devices.
Cooper’s eventually upped the production value and her videos got taken to the next level as she developed the unique character she’s come to play in them, positioning Trump as a put-out, can’t be bothered CEO with a questionable understanding of the real world. She also began to pull double duty while stepping into the role of a reporter or random bystander, and before long, she was popping up on late-night talk shows and even managed to ink a deal with Netflix.
The videos aren’t for everyone (my wife isn’t a fan because she prefers not to subject herself to Trump’s voice, which I get), but at the same time, we need to laugh even in the face of end-of-days absurdity and tragedy and Cooper helped make that happen.
Streaming New Movies At Home
I don’t even remember the last time I went to a movie theater and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you when I’d feel comfortable going again. It certainly won’t be soon. I will gladly wait a spell to be confused by Tenet in the friendly confines of my living room, and yes, the new trailer for No Time To Die was dope but I’m fine waiting until sometime in 2021 to see it.
However, movie theaters are starting to open up again, meaning you won’t be able to pay a premium to watch either of those films from the comfort of your own home, which was one of the few unexpected developments we were treated to this year that I welcomed with open arms. After the Trolls sequel proved this can be a somewhat viable release strategy, studio around Hollywood followed suit and I personally reaped the benefits more than a few times.
Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu (and Apple, if you’re into that kind of thing) also got opportunistic and snatched up films that found themselves in production limbo, including Palm Springs, Greyhound, Extraction, and The Old Guard,. The fact that all subscribers had to do to watch them was press a few buttons probably also helped them reach a wider audience than they would have if they’d have to convince people to go to a theater and buy a ticket to see them—especially Palm Springs, which ended up being one of the best movies I’ve watched this year.
Because the moral panic that ensued when she dropped “WAP” with Megan Thee Stallion was everything I didn’t know I needed in my life.
Because Folklore is a really good album and could end up changing the game when it comes to making the music industry rethink the way records are traditionally rolled out.
Because it’s hard to imagine what we would’ve done without it when in-person communication became extremely frowned upon (and it’s also where people went to freak out about “WAP”).
Because it’s become your home away from the home you’ve spent too much time in, a mobile waiting room before the haircut you put off for far too long, and the most comfortable seating arrangement you’ve ever encountered at a concert.
Because it’s keeping you alive. Maybe. There’s a lot of off-brand and sanitizer out there that really doesn’t do shit. Do your research, folks—and please try to resist the urge to drink any.
And The Winner Is…
Of course it’s coping mechanisms! 2020 is a shit show! I shudder to think where we’d be right now if we didn’t have ways to distract ourselves from our new reality and numb the pain that comes with inhabiting it.
Cheers, coping mechanisms. I raise the glass I’ve poured countless drinks into over the past few months to you.