The Year in Culture: Clash 

When the presidential election results came in this year, many of us felt shocked. But the feelings weren't solely based on who won and who lost. It was how so many voters chose "moral values" as their deciding issue above the war, the economy or any of the other things that some of us think are vitally important. At once it felt like there was more dividing us than uniting us.

We shouldn't have been surprised, however. The worlds of art and pop culture have been delivering this message all year, not only through the stuff that hung on walls, played on stages, rang out from radios, or shone from big and small screens, but sometimes in our reactions to them.

Perhaps it began with Janet Jackson's Super Bowl peek-a-boo. Some saw a hot boob; others glimpsed our nation descending to hell. This spirit continued throughout the summer with holy rollers congregating for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, while Bush-hating libs marched into theaters for Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. This fall, even the most popular new TV show, "Desperate Housewives," played to our schisms. Sure, it allowed us to bask in sexual hijinks, dysfunctions and infidelities. But its dark, moral tone suggested that no bad deed would go unpunished.

For this edition of the Year in Culture, we chose not to try to sum up this mess, but rather focus on the ideas that movies, films, books, art shows, songs, plays and TV shows made us think about. The topics vary -- from things that made us horny to the proliferation of pop culture girlie men -- but what unites them is how they spring from an impulse, shared by many this year, to get a handle on who we are collectively and where we are going. -- Craig Seymour

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