Bread and circuses: They make the world go round. Sure, things weren't so hot this year when it came to bread. But the circuses were as healthy as ever in 2014, thanks to a constant supply of silly, stupid, narcissistic, and sex-obsessed celebs.
But this year, the usual round of frolicking, twerking, punch-ups, meltdowns, and arrests was punctuated by some of the darkest sex scandals in recent memory. Explosive allegations brought down cultural icons as respected and admired as Bill Cosby and as popular as Stephen Collins.
So we begin with the abysmal and abyssal and try to work our way up to the merely absurd.
Perhaps it was appropriate (if that word has any place here) that Cosby's immolation was sparked by an event in his hometown, Philadelphia. In October, comic and former Saturday Night Live writer Hannibal Buress, 31, lashed out at Cosby during a stand-up performance at the Trocadero in Chinatown, accusing the legendary 77-year-old comedian, actor, and activist of rape.
Since then, Cosby, who celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary to TV producer Camille Hanks in January, has been accused by at least 20 women of sexual assault. Several allege that Cosby first drugged them, rendering them unable to defend themselves, then raped them.
Between the 1970s and early 2000s, Cosby fought off similar allegations from 13 women. This time, he may not get through the maelstrom.
So the actor and novelist told Katie Couric earlier this month. Insisting that he doesn't fit the "clinical or dictionary definition" of a pedophile. Collins, 67, who played a beloved minister and father on 7th Heaven, wanted to clear the record after admitting in a statement that he had "inappropriate sexual conduct with three female minors" between 1973 and 1994. The scandal broke when a tape in which Collins acknowledged his misdeeds leaked during his contentious divorce proceedings with Faye Grant.
Let's take a break from the awful and consider some positive events: Say, the delightful show put on by the Carters at MTV's Video Music Awards: Beyonce performed a 15-minute mash-up of her tunes as hub Jay Z watched with their baby, Blue Ivy, on his lap. Then the hip-hop mogul presented his wife with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.
Little Blue, who will turn 3 on Jan. 7, was still in his arms and blurted out, "Yeah, Mommy." Hearts melted, tears flowed. Even die-hard cynics had an oh gosh moment.
Eyebrows were raised in September when the National Enquirer claimed reality show mom "Mama" June Shannon's on-and-off bf, Mark McDaniel is a convicted pedophile. The scandal cost Shannon her meal ticket, the TLC show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, which made money off of her now 9-year-old daughter, Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson.
Actor, writer, director, poet, and scholar James Franco, 36, got some unwelcome press in April when he apparently tried to arrange a hotel hookup with a 17-year-old Scottish girl on holiday in New York. Franco's people later claimed it was all a hoax, but a leaked Instagram exchange between the two suggested another story. The girl, identified only as Lucy, turned him down.
Writer, producer and actor Lena Dunham, 28, is emerging as one of the brightest cultural leaders of her generation. Her HBO show Girls explores the sex lives of the 99.9 percent of American women who don't look like Victoria's Secret models. In a series of startling allegations - admired by some, attacked by others - in her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham makes a stand against campus rape by revealing she was raped in college.
The disclosure, Dunham has said, was intended to empower her and was not meant as an accusation. She has no plans of pursuing the alleged assailant.
Feminism? Seriously? It's all so very yesterday! As scholar Camille Paglia said earlier this year, "feminism today just exists as a bunch of mean girls on Twitter."
Emma Watson doesn't accept such glib brush-offs. The Harry Potter star in September embraced the word during a speech at the United Nations that earned her a standing ovation. "I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body," said the 24-year-old Paris-born English thesp. "I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that, socially, I am afforded the same respect as men."
The good ol' boys who produce the Emmy Awards may want to brush up on their Gloria Steinem. At this year's awards in August, they used the Modern Family star Sofia Vergara as a piece of entertaining meat, having her stand on a platform that spun around as Television Academy CEO Bruce Rosenblum stood next to her and addressed the audience. Vergara, a four-time Emmy nominee, defended the show. The stunt, she told Entertainment Weekly, simply proved "that somebody can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself."
In a real fit of embarrassment, the New York Times published a rare apology this fall after TV critic Alessandra Stanley called Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder producer Shonda Rhimes "an angry black woman." In a note to readers, the newspaper called Stanley's piece "astonishingly tone-deaf," but pointed out that her review was positive.
Forbes mag's annual list of the top 10 most overexposed celebs is topped this year by Justin Bieber, whose silly antics have caused police a few headaches. It's a terrifying list: Fully four of the 10 names belong to some member of the Kardashian Kabal, including Kim (No. 2), her mom Kris Jenner (No. 6), and Kim's sisters Kourtney and Khloe (Nos. 9 and 10).
With apologies for not dwelling enough on the masculine, we end with this quotation from French star Juliette Binoche: "I would like to be a man, yes, I would. Maybe just one day. Why? To see what it felt like. Not just the physical, but the emotional. Is it different to be a man? Or are we all truly just the same inside?"