The Naughty List: The Most Controversial Cultural Icons of 2011


We think it’s safe to say that it’s been another colorful and crazy year. In the past few weeks we’ve taken a look at all the things we loved most in 2011 — including some of the best movie moments, the year’s greatest book covers, and the most controversial art shows. Every positive has a negative, however, and this year was no different. From directors who can’t seem to keep themselves out of hot water, to celebubimbos that we can do without, and 1% of the population that really pisses us off, we bring you ten of the year’s most controversial cultural icons that made everyone’s naughty list. Leave your picks below.

Odd Future

The young, Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective that launched a thousand think pieces also birthed two stars (Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean) this year. Although some were convinced that Tyler was the future of both hip-hop and punk, many were troubled by his misogynist, homophobic lyrics — even if he was, as many argued, playing a purposely exaggerated character. Meanwhile, OFWGKTA were constantly in the news for their shit-starting antics: assaulting photographers, pissing off Steve Albini, beefing with B.o.B., and more. While Ocean’s talent has arguably already transcended the controversy surrounding the group, the jury is still out on Tyler. If, as he claims, his upcoming album Wolf will eschew themes of rape and violence in favor of “making hippie music for people to get high to,” the result should give us even more to talk about in 2012.

Brett Ratner

We’re still not sure why the venerable (and sometimes frustrating) Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences wanted to hire frat boy director Brett Ratner to produce the 84th Academy Awards in the first place, but no one’s perfect. Things got ugly when the Rush Hour filmmaker made a “fag” faux pas at a Q&A for his latest movie, Tower Heist. “Rehearsal is for fags,” was his ignorant and insensitive response to one attendees’ question. A media firestorm ensued asking for his immediate dismissal from the Academy, but to the shock of many the institution cut him some slack. “It will not happen again. He apologized and we will move forward,” AMPAS prez Tom Sherak offered. A few days later, Ratner resigned and shared, “I deeply regret my actions and I am determined to learn from this experience.” After years of bragging (sex with a “really young” Lindsay Lohan), oversharing (blow jobs from a transvestite at age 13), and random douchery (take your pick), does anyone actually believe him?

Kim Kardashian

SNL amusingly dubbed it “Kim’s Fairytale Divorce.” Everyone groaned when a new story was reported. Yes, no one wasted more space in the 2011 pop culture universe than Kim Kardashian and her 72-day marriage to NBA star Kris Humphries. The union reeked of a publicity stunt, and further confirmation came from the socialite’s former publicist who claimed the whirlwind romance was indeed staged to promote the Kardashian’s various moneymaking ventures. That’s just a slice of the family’s ongoing drama. When recently asked how long the Kardashian television series would continue for, Kim’s response sounded more like a serious threat to us than a hopeful promise: “These shows could go on for years.”

John Galliano

Christian Dior fashionista John Galliano got the boot from his chief designer gig at the haute couture company after making anti-Semitic remarks at a Paris bar. The whole tirade was made worse when video showed up right before Paris Fashion Week with a drunk Galliano claiming to love Hitler. He was fired, sentenced to pay a hefty fine, and as anyone could have predicted, entered into rehab. No successor has been appointed yet, and it’s been a guessing game as to where he might end up next. We did like the dresses he created for Kate Moss’ wedding, so perhaps there’s more good to come. Galliano’s bon mot calls to mind another 2011 offender …

Lars von Trier

After known provocateur Lars von Trier made some “sympathetic” comments about Hitler during a Cannes Film Festival press conference, the director was banned from the celebrated cinemagoers paradise. The questionable remarks quickly polarized people in the same way that the Danish filmmaker’s movies often do. Some found it to be a lame joke that quickly veered off course, while others applauded when the Denmark police interviewed the Melancholia director about a possible violation of French law against the justification of war crimes. Seemingly spooked, Von Trier renounced all interviews. We’re wondering how long that will last since his latest project — a hardcore film exploring a woman’s “erotic life” — is already making waves in the press. How many more feet can Von Trier stuff into his mouth in 2012?

Lana Del Rey

Without releasing so much as an album, Lana Del Rey became one of the most talked about musicians of 2011. Her success was fueled by a lone buzzy single, “Video Games,” a slow, moody track that really is about having a boyfriend who plays a lot of video games. The record itself was nothing to write home about, but Del Rey’s pretty face, cartoonish pout, conspicuous name change (her managers thought “Lana Del Rey” sounded more exotic than “Lizzy Grant”), and the song’s hipster-friendly, ’60s-nostalgic music video made her fodder for an endless stream of celebration and critique. For many (us included), she represented the triumph of style and sexuality over substance and the crass co-opting of “indie” aesthetics. Others — like the folks who ranked her #2 in Stereogum’s annual indie-rock crushes poll — eventually learned to stop worrying and enjoyed the view.

Tracy Morgan

Oh Tracy, where do we begin? That time on TNT when you said that Sarah Palin was “good masturbation material?” Or maybe your standup performance in Tennessee when you said that if your son announced he was gay you’d “pull out a knife and stab him.” You apologized, and Tina Fey eloquently made a case for why we should probably forgive you, but it left a really bad taste in our mouths — especially after you said being gay was a “choice” several years ago. Then you pissed off disabled people everywhere with talk about “cripples” and “retarded kids.” We’ve suggested that the genius writers at 30 Rock find a way to incorporate your cringe-worthy antics into the series to perhaps help us understand how to embrace your loveable character again. Grant us this holiday wish, won’t you?

Arnold Schwarzenegger

It was a big year for Arnold Schwarzenegger, but for all the wrong reasons. After acting as the Governator for seven terms, the action icon retired from his political career in California. Known as Mr. Grabby Hands by the many women who accused him of sexual and personal misconduct over the years, it was soon revealed that Arnie had also been keeping himself occupied at home with the housekeeper. The actor fathered a son with his employee (14 years ago), made a slimy move by telling his wife of 25-years about his affair only after he left office, and then got a divorce. Can you watch Schwarzenegger with a straight face when he makes his return to the big screen next summer?

Wall Street

News about the Occupy Wall Street movement has overwhelmed the cultural landscape in 2011. While the majority of the American population is struggling to live, the 1% has been destroying the economy while putting record profits ahead of the common good, taking bailouts of taxpayer money because they were “too big to fail,” and then gambling with our future and earning huge profits. The details are too immense for just one list, but these are a few of the lowlights. Clearly, the greatest trick that capitalism ever pulled was convincing the world it could just work hard and live the American dream. There has been a lot of positivity coming from the movement, however, which we will definitely be focusing on in the coming year.

Marina Abramović

Know for pushing the limits of her own body and subjecting herself to eyeball warfare — like she did in last year’s The Artist Is Present — performance art legend Marina Abramović created a stir when she was accused of exploiting other artists during L.A.’s MOCA gala. Guests at the posh event paid up to $10,000 dollars so they could be seated at one of her tables decorated with centerpieces that included rotating human heads and naked bodies pseudo-copulating with skeletons. Gala guests were allowed to touch the performers and feed them, because the live tabletop pieces signed a non-disclosure agreement and were paid off with a whopping $150 bucks that allowed them to be manhandled as desired. A dancer who auditioned for a spot at the table spoke out, prompting her mentor — famed dancer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer — to write MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch questioning the poor compensation and exploitation of the performers (an ongoing issue for many in the art world). The lack of nude male bodies that made it to the dinner was also a question of concern (something that apparently requested of the art director). Just another Abramović moment?