The best meltdowns of 2012

Scott Feschuk salutes those whose failures made us feel better about ourselves
photo illustration by taylor shute

So the Mayans were wrong, the world didn’t end and I’ve lost my last, best excuse to put off cleaning the basement. Thanks for nothing, 2012.

On the other hand, the outgoing year did us one favour: it produced a bumper crop of high achievers who suffered very public failures. Let’s take a moment to salute those whose personal catastrophes made us feel by comparison much, much better about ourselves.

David Petraeus. In a country in which Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on whether Clint Eastwood looked stupid talking to a chair, Petraeus was admired by partisans on both sides. In 2012, he once again brought together red state and blue state in a shared thought: shouldn’t the nation’s top spy know better than to use Gmail to make naughty talk with his mistress? He’s the head of the CIA—surely he has access to advanced cryptographic devices or a shoe phone. At minimum, Petraeus could have dispatched a shadowy figure to a darkened parking garage to pass along secret messages: “The Falcon thinks your thighs are shapely, Snowman.”

Linda McMahon. The co-architect (with her husband Vince) of a professional wrestling empire, McMahon lost by a wide margin in her second bid to be elected to the U.S. Senate. She has now spent more than $100 million to be publicly humiliated in front of all Americans. One small consolation: this gives her something in common with the Boston Red Sox.

Karl Rove. The famed political strategist suffered a credibility meltdown on the night of the U.S. election, stubbornly refusing to accept that Barack Obama had won re-election. It reminded me of my thought process during the Lost finale: It can’t be over yet! Give them just one more episode and they’ll figure out a way for it not to suck!

It was tough to watch Rove. We’ve all been confronted by the truth of a reality that doesn’t match up with our imagined world. For some, it’s discovering that the Grade 7 girls weren’t actually turned on by my light sabre routine. I mean, by your light sabre routine. Obviously, I didn’t have a light sabre routine that I performed in my bathrobe while humming the Star Wars theme because that would be sad. It’s silly even to suggest that I choreographed and obsessively practised such a routine. Unless seeing this routine is something you’d be interested—no, no, of course not. I’ll put back your bathrobe.

The guy in charge of Apple Maps. Thanks to this selfless hero, any future gross incompetence of our own in the workplace will look like regular, ordinary incompetence. Yes, boss, I showed up drunk for the meeting and insulted the client’s mother using limericks and doodles—but I did not mastermind a widely used GPS system that directs someone searching for downtown Baltimore to the middle of Mexico or possibly the moon. So . . . employee of the month?

Mitt Romney. The Republican candidate used the strategy of repeatedly reinventing himself in the hopes that eventually enough Americans would like one of him. I’m a pragmatic moderate! Now I’m a hard-core conservative! Given another few months, we would likely have been introduced to Mitt Romney, Asian lady golfer. Recent reports indicate Romney is struggling to cope with his defeat. He’s been sleeping in. He’s been obsessing over campaign decisions. Photos suggest he’s even stopped combing several of his hairs.

Greece. The philosophers, the Olympic movement, the whole birthplace of democracy thing—a noble national heritage built over the course of centuries. But over the span of just a few years the country has become defined instead by chronic unemployment, the recurring threat of economic collapse and the movie 300. Today, Greece is on the verge of selling the Acropolis on Craigslist and everyone thinks its ancient city states were the cradle of hyper-stylized bare-chested homoeroticism. It’s enough to make Italy feel better about itself.

Lance Armstrong. Talk about a guy who had it all: money, fame, yellow. And to see it all slip away just because every single thing he accomplished as an athlete was built on the most elaborate systemic cheating regimen ever uncovered in the entire history of sport. It is truly the opposite of heartbreaking. I personally look forward to the revelation that Armstrong never even rode in those Tour de France races—that it was all Hollywood trickery, like the moon landing or Cuba Gooding Jr. seeming like a good actor in that one movie.

Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk