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The year in pop culture: freaky sex, TomKat drama and prenatal TMI

Pop-culturally speaking, it's been a funny old year – one of ballyhooed beginnings (the opening of the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest freestanding tower in the world; the birth of a new generation of oddly named celebrity babies) and also of endings (the print versions of Encyclopedia Britannica and Newsweek; and, more tragically, the announcement that 30 Rock will be no more). It was a year that celebrated both weirdness and fusty conventions in equal measure. When we weren't watching Lena Dunham's character having freaky sex on Girls, we were watching Kristen Stewart debase herself over a youthful indiscretion in People magazine. When we weren't meeting the Ikea monkey on Twitter, we were marvelling that acts of terrorism could be spurred by a documentary trailer on YouTube. In this sense, it's been the best of years and the worst of years. A time for laughing, crying and learning to dance – Gangnam style.

Highlights

The Scientology backlash

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I don't like to applaud other people's marital misfortune, but who, apart from those directly involved, wasn't a teeny-weeny bit thrilled to hear that Katie Holmes had left Tom Cruise earlier this year?

At the time of the split, rumours swirled that she was fed up with the controlling ways of her husband's religion and determined to get their daughter out, free will intact. This, in addition to Paul Thomas Anderson's critically lauded biopic, The Master (which follows the life of an emerging cult leader not unlike Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard), Rupert Murdoch's critical tweets (in which he called the church a "weird cult") and the lingering aftershocks of Paul Haggis's famed defection and New Yorker interview, combined to make 2012 the year that shook Scientology to its very foundations.

Britain reclaims its cultural mojo

Culturally speaking, it's been a difficult couple of centuries for Britain. It's not that the Beatles, Lucian Freud and Harry Potter didn't make their mark. It's just that when you set the bar with Shakespeare, it's difficult to go anywhere but down. Because of this – and the dismal economy – there is a lingering sense of creative disappointment in Britain, one that smells vaguely of cod-liver oil and wet dog. This was the year the disappointment lifted, first with the help of the Queen's splendid Jubilee celebrations; and then by the Olympics, with its spectacular opening ceremony and its paean to universal health care – something Canadians know how to get excited about.

The rise of Lena Dunham

Number 10 on the Girls creator's list of the Things I Learned in 2012, in Vanity Fair, is the following: "It is possible to feel like a creepy, pervy producer even if you are a 26-year-old girl." This lesson is more instructive, if not quite as funny, as number three: "Drake is not interested in you romantically or even sexually." In a year that saw the untimely death of that great humorist and moviemaking powerhouse Nora Ephron, Dunham's emergence felt right. It confirmed the fact that a 26-year-old girl, with all her 26-year-old warts and wobbly bits on display, was capable of making a TV show that everyone in the whole world wanted to watch. With her intelligence, humour and unapologetic nakedness (both literal and psychological), Dunham and her show restored our faith in TV drama and twentysomethings – the creepy, the pervy and the marvellously talented.

Lowlights

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Celebrity baby madness

If it wasn't Blue Ivy springing from Beyoncé, Jessica Simpson oversharing about amniotic fluid on Jimmy Kimmel, Drew Barrymore tearing up over "the coolest moment of my life" in People magazine, it was the world's most famous cell cluster (and future monarch) causing an international media meltdown. Even with the welcome satirical Twitter antidote of @RoyalFetus ("I just had the most horrible dream I was inside one of the girls from Teen Mom"), this was the year when the world lost its mind over the unborn.

The Decline of Downton

Warning: horrendous, unforgivable spoiler alert.

But if you've chosen to read on, I implore you to be seated. It seems that the delectable Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley on Julian Fellowes's much-loved costume melodrama, has made good on his promise that he won't be returning to the show next season. Downton Abbey's Christmas special sealed the deal in a plot twist that is – I will spare you the specifics – pretty much irreversible. While the news is sure to cause a holiday epidemic of binge eating and depression among the country's female haute bourgeoisie, there is consolation in the fact that Stevens is a rising star. I suspect we haven't seen the last of those electric-blue eyes yet.

Unfortunate splits and depressing reconciliations

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Hollywood is always awash in hookups and breakups, but 2012 was a particularly bad year for couples – at least couples I love – biting the dust (Rhea Perlman and Danny Devito; Seal and Heidi Klum), while those I loathe miraculously managed to work it out (Rihanna and Chris Brown; Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez). Of course, these are celebrities we're talking about, so if you wait five minutes, I'm sure all this will reverse itself, but it doesn't make me any less sad that Danny and Rhea, who have three children, decades of marriage, and barely 10 feet between them, won't be ringing in the New Year together, while Rihanna and Chris will be tweeting photos of themselves writhing on the floor of some nightclub covered in baby oil and glitter. I know it's none of my business, but where's the poetic justice in that?

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About the Author

Leah McLaren is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. She’s published two novels, The Continuity Girl (2007) and A Better Man (2015) both with HarperCollins Canada and Hachette in the USA. The first was a Canadian bestseller, though the second is actually much better. More

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