Years ago when I was a student at Northwestern University, a handful of executives at America Online came to my class and explained that you, I and everyone we know would soon find ourselves pleasantly stranded on "information islands." We nodded, though we didn't entirely understand. What they meant was that broadcasting would soon end and nichecasting would take over. Your island would become a mirror of yourself, what you knew, liked and watched, and you would rarely have the incentive to venture off of your narrowly prescribed landmass.
This, of course, happened. It's somewhat the reality of the Internet Age — somewhat. What information-island theorists hadn't considered, though, became one of the cultural themes of 2012: the second screen. Tending to your island, while simultaneously monitoring other islands and what the world was saying about your island, necessarily requires second islands. How else to trawl for all the culture floating past?
So woe to the year-end list-maker.
Even with a second island, we need a third, a fourth, an archipelago, to keep up now. Being a pop-culture watcher in 2012 is a multidisciplinary task. We're big on moments, fleeting images and snippets. What follows are — to borrow a phrase from that Oak Park teen oracle, blogger Tavi Gevinson — literally the best things ever from 2012. Or rather, the moments, snippets, stuff that I felt, if only for a blink of time, were the best things ever.
One island would never hold it all.
Watching Fiona Apple during her Chicago Theatre concert in July inexplicably wander off to the edges of the stage, then kneel down before her band and rock in place as though she were either praying or nauseous.
Riding past "Sunder Planet," the odd, Death Star-like sculpture on the lakeshore bike trail from DePaul University professor Stephen Luecking, one of more than 50 pieces of public art installed along the lake in the fall.
Playing the well-written "Walking Dead" video game on Xbox 360 (and skipping the spottier AMC series).
Reading Ben Fountain's funny and sad "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," my favorite book of the year.
Cringing at the scene in Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," where Joaquin Phoenix, working as a department store photographer after World War II ends, toys with a customer until a fight breaks out.
Not hating on often-hated-on rapper Childish Gambino during his Lollapalooza after-show at the Vic.
Wanting Channing Tatum's sweaters in "The Vow" for myself. (What? They're nice clothes! So what?)
Watching singer Frank Ocean hit a home run in his TV debut on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" in July.
Unpacking the giant box of books and pamphlets and newspapers — 14 pieces in all — included in Chris Ware's remarkable art object/graphic novel "Building Stories," about the life of a Chicago apartment building (and unlike anything else).
Admiring the guts of the lonesome season finale of FX's "Louie," which begins on Christmas and glides though an emergency room, an airport and an impromptu New Year's trip to China without breaking a sweat.
And admiring the smartly designed first issue of the revived Chicagoan magazine. (But where's No. 2?)
Catching one last look at the red, polka-dotted tentacles in Louis Vuitton's Michigan Avenue store window.
Love/hate-rewinding (over and over) Apple's iPhone commercial with Zooey Deschanel until I was certain that, yes, she was standing before a window and asking a talking phone if it was raining outside.
Watching NBC anchor Brian Williams' droll, spot-on editorializing about pop culture ("exhausted by the prospect of changing out of her pajamas, (Zooey) asks for the weather while standing next to a window, shares her desire for tomato soup, then just declares the day a total loss").
Attending my first "Nutcracker," opening night of the Joffrey's 25th anniversary "Nutcracker," not really understanding what was going on (So, wait, what happened to the soldier mice again?) and not minding.