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The Media Consumption List: 2012 Edition

PUBLISHED: December 21, 2012

Media Consumption by Anne Helen Petersen

This is no “Best Of” List. It’s no Top Ten. Rather, it’s a highly subjective list of the most compelling media objects, broadly defined, that I’ve encountered and endorse in my capacity as a media studies professor-doctor of celebrity gossip-Twitterphile-VQRcontributor.

We welcome your own endorsements in the comments. Happy exploring!


[1] The country of Sweden gives its official Twitter feed over to a different Swede every week—sometimes that Swede is boring, sometime she’s raunchy, sometimes he really makes me want to move to Sweden. No matter: The feed proves that once again, Sweden does nearly everything, including social media, with more verve.

[2] I thought Ken Jennings, he of Jeopardy-winning-fame, was just a nerd. Turns out he’s also really, truly witty.

[3] There’s been a lot of hoopla over Twitter poetry and spam poetry. I didn’t really buy it. Until I started following Horse E-Books—a spam account ostensibly geared toward promoting, naturally, Horse E-Books—that surprises me with eloquence and unintentional pathos daily.  Must be followed to be believed.


[1] The new incarnation of Alec Baldwin amuses me greatly, and his podcast for WNYC, Here’s the Thing, in which he interviews all types, from David Letterman to Lewis Lapham, proves he’s still deep in the second act of his career.

[2] Media studies geeks love Kim Masters’ The Business, in part because she gets such great guests—including guests who aren’t (necessarily) promoting anything, or at least not promoting it to a general audience.  She and her guests talk “business,” which is another way of saying that they don’t talk bullshit.  Plus, at thirty minutes, it’s the perfect length for a commute.


[1] The Staple Singers, The 25th Day of December. Choice track: “The Last Month of the Year.” I like Sufjan Stevens as much as the next Christmas music dork, but this album has been blowing my Christmas-music mind.  Will please everyone in the house, from grandma to grandson.

[2] Simone White, Silver Silver. Choice track: “Big Dreams and Headlines.” A small, spooky voice—somewhat reminiscent of Portishead, only add in a Hawaiian background.

[3] Anything you can get your hands on by old-timey Appalachian singer Elizabeth LaPrelle. NPR did a feature on her in November and her voice made me stop in my tracks.

[4] Andrew BirdBreak It Yourself/Hands of Glory. Choice track: “Lusitana.” I’ve written more words to Andrew Bird this fall than to anyone else.

[5] Jessie Ware, Devotion. Choice track: “Wildest Moments.” (Bonus: Black Cab Session rendition.) Ware is going to be so big. A huge voice that’s part Sade, part something even better.

[6] Cat Power, Sun. Choice track: “3, 6, 9.” (Supplemental Reading: Cat Power Is Playing Tonight, But I Won’t Be Going To See Her) Everyone’s said it, and it’s true: her best in years.

[7] Frank Ocean, Channel Orange. Choice track: “Pink Matter.” Ocean made headlines earlier this year when he wrote about a romance with a man on his blog.  But the music is bigger than the hype—the type of album you find yourself listening to five times in one sitting and wishing for more.

[8] Beach House, Bloom. Choice track: “Myth.” Intricate, pulsing, unexpectedly cheerful. Rhythmic, hypnotic: Music to Clean Your House To.

[9] The Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls. Choice track: “Hold On.”  (Supplemental Reading: How to Keep It Real When Making New Soul) A lead song that hooks you; an album that stays. A great driving record.

[10] Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist. Choice track: “Thrift Shop.” (Supplemental Reading: It Isn’t (Just) Ironic: In Defense of the Hipster.) One of my students wrote a paper about “Thrift Shop” in August, and suddenly I had early, young-person knowledge of something cool before it hit mainstream. These days, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are deservedly all over the place, but the song is still the catchiest thing I’ve heard all year. (If you’re not convinced, just look at them performing for the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Series).


[1] Alan Sepinwall and a host of other Tweeting television critics have helped change the way that we conceive, discuss, and judge television. With his new self-published book, The Revolution Was Televised, which explores, in twelve expansively researched chapters, twelve shows that changed television, he might be showing us the future of book-length criticism. New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani raved about it and included it on her Top 10 list.

[2] Sepinwall’s shows are all “quality television”—a moniker we’ve given to television that’s better than television; television that smart, educated, middle- and upper-class people watch. ”Legitimate” television. Media scholars Elana Levine and Michael Z. Newman interrogate that idea in Legitimating Television, an ostensibly academic text that will fascinate and challenge any serious consumer of “quality television.” A perfect counterpoint to The Revolution Was Televised, plus my undergrad students devoured it—and if you know undergrad students, then you know that’s a fairly strong barometer for intriguing-meets-accessible.

[3] I read Julian Barnes’ exquisite The Sense of an Ending in one sitting, which is how I think it’s best read. I looked up several hours later and nothing looked the same.

[4] I love a highly plotted Western filled with taut, terse prose. If you do too, then you’ll love Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers.


[1] I preach the gospel of the Sleep Cycle app. I sleep better, longer, and wake up happier—all because I want to up my stats. I can’t wait to wake up and see my “sleep quality.” I compete with friends. I have become a bonafide sleep nerd … and I feel great.

[2] You know what’s boring? The normal Apple Weather App. You know what’s not? The beautifully designed Partly Cloudy. Makes you want to check the weather as often as my grandpa.

[3] I’m not a huge “stupid games” player, but I revel in simple games with perfectly spaced rewards. In Flow, you connect dots. The satisfaction level is off the charts.


[1] Molly Lambert, Grantland, 1D Internet Fantasies: Liz Lemon, One Direction, and the Rise of the Manic Pixie Dream Guy: “The Manic Pixie Dream Boy builds up the heroine’s self-confidence, providing comfort, inspiration, and nurturing vibes without demanding anything in return. He patiently tamps down her stubbornness and temper while appreciating her quirks, helping her to become her best possible self. He’s a nerd, but not an angry or vindictive one. He’s handsome, but he has no idea that he is. His taste in media and hobbies might be immature and run toward the teenage, but it doesn’t extend to his emotions or interfere with him getting shit done. He’s a selfless, responsible Peter Pan.”

[2] Pete Coviello, Avidly, Love in the Ruins: or, Should I Go to Grad School? “I found that what one might cherish with a sustained, lifewide devotion was not only objects—books, passages, arguments, etc.— but the scenes that kindled around them, scenes forged in the heat and friction of contestation and knit together by, precisely, language, the languages we were just then learning to inhabit. The almost inevitably collaborative quality of graduate life matters greatly—or it did to me—since talking about why you love what you love with other passionately interested parties, or why you find one idea generative and another hackneyed, or one book’s political intervention clearly the superior of another, does more than give you improvised training in the use of critical languages you’ll need later, in whatever kind of ‘professional’ life you find for yourself. Making a language together is after all another way of describing what it is that happens, not only when you’re enduring the often attritional sociability of institutional life, but when you fall in love, with friends, with lovers, with entire scenes. We all know how this happens: in your besotted ardor, you invent together a baroque terminology that carries within it your styles of apprehension, your delights and your disdains, the whole fabric of the scene that, by speaking this language back and forth over years and refining and reworking and reanimate it, you and those you love elaborate into being.”

[3] Adam Wilson, Louis C.K. and the Rise of Laptop Loners. “If the 1980s was the Me generation—marked by consumerism and an obsession with personal needs (Give me hair gel! Give me cocaine!)—then we are living in the iGeneration, in which the self is projected back toward the world via social media. But whereas many Americans weave their public personas from curated chains of cultural signifiers—think of the popular web platform tumblr, where users ‘express themselves’ by posting digital reproductions of existing images—C.K. aims for something more penetrating, a filmic representation of his own psyche. Louie is fascinatingly insular; it reads like a direct transmission, a strange and lovely Athena, birthed whole from the head of a brilliant, balding Zeus.”

[4] Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, Birthright: What’s Next for Planned Parenthood? “Here is where we are. Republicans established the very federal family-planning programs that Republican members of Congress and the G.O.P.’s Presidential candidates are this year pledging so vigorously to dismantle. Republicans made abortion a partisan issue—contorted the G.O.P. to mold itself around this issue—but Democrats allowed their party to be defined by it. And, as long as Planned Parenthood hitches itself to the Democratic Party, and it’s hard to see what choice it has, its fortunes will rise and fall—its clinic doors will open and shut—with the power of the Party. Much of the left, reduced to a state of timidity in the terrible, violent wake of Roe, has stopped talking about rights, poverty, decency, equality, sex, and even history, thereby ceding talk of those things to the right. Planned Parenthood, a health-care provider, has good reason to talk about women’s health. But, even outside this struggle, ‘health’ has become the proxy for a liberal set of values about our common humanity. And it is entirely insufficient.”

[5] … and Mallory Ortberg’s iconoclastic, bizarre, strangely beautiful writings for The Gloss, Gawker, and The Hairpin. Highlights: A Close Reading of the Lululemon Manifesto; Upcoming Single-Subject Issues of Vanity Fair; Texts from Little Women.


[1] No social media phenomenon has impressed me more than HUMANS OF NEW YORK—a Facebook page started by photographer Brandon Stanton. It’s simple, really: portraits of the people of New York. Sometimes the picture tells the story; sometimes Stanton includes an anecdote from the person’s life. It’s compelling in a way I can’t quite articulate, and a beautiful intervention in your Facebook feed. He’s currently in Iran, and the richly human photos he’s posted are transforming the country’s image for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

[2] Slate’s new archive blog, The Vault, is a delightful mix of esoterica, history, and archival aura.

[3] I’ve loved the Old Hollywood Tumblr for years—in part because the images are almost always ones I’ve never seen before … and I’ve seen a lot of images from Old Hollywood.

[4] Everyone outside of academia knows that academic humor is the worst. But if you’re an academic, then the When in Academia Tumblr will give you pleasure for days.



[1] House of Pleasures: Social Realism meets Prostitution. Equal parts fascinating and devastating

[2] Fish Tank: The foundation on which the gravitas of Michael Fassbender was built.

[3] Luther: The Best of British crime-genre television, starring Idris Elba, better known as The Wire’s Stringer Bell. Law & Order meets the macabre.

[4] The Queen of Versailles: A brilliant documentary study in the abjection of capitalism.

[5] Pina: You missed it in 3D, but you can still be transported by Wim Winder’s sense of how to best mediate the dancer.

[6] Take this Waltz: Unexpectedly frank treatment of women’s desire—without the demonization. Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Toronto at its most sun-kissed.

[7] Jiro Dreams of Sushi: You only thought you loved sushi. The slo-mo shots of the sushi settling in to place are to be relished.

Amazon Prime

A whole host of Classic and Silver-Age Hollywood:

[1] Shampoo

[2] Sunset Boulevard

[3] To Catch a Thief

[4] The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

[5] Now, Voyager

[6] Cool Hand Luke

[7] The Philadelphia Story

Hulu/Hulu Plus

[1] Ben & Kate: The most underrated new show of the year.

[2] Misfits: Brilliant, biting British import—stick to S01-02.

[3] Martin Short on Saturday Night Live: Of particular note Royal Family Doctor (so funny I forgot I was watching SNL).

As part of Hulu Plus’ Collaboration with The Criterion Collection:

[4] An Autumn Afternoon: Japanese master Ozu at his most poignant and heartbreaking—and in color.

[5] Three Colors Trilogy: Red: Still ravishing, so many years later.



About the authorAnne Helen Petersen writes Scandals of Classic Hollywood for The Hairpin, blogs at Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style, and teaches media studies at Whitman College. In 2013, she’ll be curating a media consumption list for the VQR blog on a quarterly basis.


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