NEW YORK -- Marilyn Monroe. The Rolling Stones. And Bond -- James Bond. What do they have in common?
Sure, one's long gone, and one's fictional. But all three marked a golden anniversary in 2012. And after a half-century in our pop-culture consciousness, they each displayed a surprisingly enduring appeal.
So even though, as a culture, we still worshipped at the fountain of youth this year, marveling at the precocious talents of a Lena Dunham, a Taylor Swift, and a slew of charming young Olympians, let's also give a shoutout to some of our most enduring icons. Turns out some things never go out of style.
Once again, our highly subjective pop-culture journey through the year:
Here begins the incredible ascendance of LENA DUNHAM, as HBO picks up the actress-director-writer's "Girls," a meditation on the awkwardness of being female and 20-ish in New York. By year's end Dunham, at 26, will have gathered so much buzz, she'll be on her way to becoming what her character, Hannah Horvath, can only dream of being: "The voice of my generation. Or at least, A voice. Of A generation."
Let's hear it for the adults! MERYL STREEP, 62, wins her third Oscar for "The Iron Lady." It's her 17th nomination, a record. The whole ceremony has a vintage feel: BILLY CRYSTAL is back as host a year after the rocky appearance of the "young and hip" hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway. The best supporting actor, Christopher Plummer, is 82, and the best picture, "The Artist," is a throwback to silent films. Meanwhile, all hail MADONNA -- at 54, not only does she score at the Super Bowl with her halftime show, but by year's end, her MDNA global tour will be the highest grossing of any in 2012. (Second place? That goes to BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, age 63.)
Enter springtime, and youth again: Billboard's top moneymaker for 2011 is TAYLOR SWIFT, less than half Madonna's age. In 2012, Swift will have the biggest sales week for any album in a decade, for "Red." She also writes for the soundtrack of one of the year's hottest movies, THE HUNGER GAMES. Speaking of which, JENNIFER LAWRENCE, 22, becomes a breakout star this year, rocketing to fame as Katniss Everdeen in the first installment of the Suzanne Collins trilogy. In fashion, MARC JACOBS' Louis Vuitton show in Paris has models in Edwardian hats stepping off a reconstructed retro steam train, with valets carrying vintage-inspired hat boxes.
In technology news, FACEBOOK buys INSTAGRAM for a cool $1 billion, banking on people's insatiable desire to share photos of their most mundane moments. And oh yes, it's an election year, and it's dog eat dog: Talk focuses on SEAMUS, GOP candidate Mitt Romney's Irish setter. The pooch is long departed, but the image of him strapped to the roof of the family car, suffering gastric distress, is too much for many dog lovers to stomach (sorry) and will continue to dog Romney (sorry) for some time. Romney supporters, meanwhile, point out that Barack Obama sampled dog meat as a child.
The weather's getting warm, and certain phrases are fast becoming ingrained into our consciousness. One of them is "Call Me Maybe"; Carly Rae Jepsen's dangerously catchy tune hits No. 1 on iTunes. Another is "Fifty Shades of Grey." The so-called "Mommy Porn" trilogy -- the publishing sensation of the year -- is banned by some public libraries due to its steamy content.
"Call Me Maybe" hits No. 1 on the Billboard chart. But let's dedicate the month to NORA EPHRON, the author, filmmaker and essayist whose searing wit put her in a class of her own. Her death at age 71 brings a flood of tributes. And rarely does a secretary of state make it onto our pop culture radar, but let's welcome HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, ever more popular, who wears green-and-purple cat-eye sunglasses this month to swear in a purple-loving public servant. (By now she's famous for her shades-wearing power texting, the subject of an Internet meme.) She apologizes for not wearing a purple pantsuit; it's the only color she doesn't own, she quips.
Who'd have thought the cheesy words "Hey, Sexy Lady" would go so far? South Korean singer PSY's video of his song "Gangnam Style," emerges this month and the rest is history -- it will become the most watched YouTube clip of all time. At the London Olympics, young athletes like the ebullient gymnast GABBY DOUGLAS and swimmer MISSY FRANKLIN, both 17, shine, but MICHAEL PHELPS -- now 27 -- still shows fellow swimmers how it's done, and 70-year-old SIR PAUL McCARTNEY delivers a soulful "Hey Jude" at the opening ceremony. Meanwhile, QUEEN ELIZABETH II gamely participates in a sketch in which she parachutes into the stadium.
Fifty years ago this month, MARILYN MONROE died, and look how a '50s icon has become a 21st-century phenom. Her platinum locks, slightly parted ruby lips, and curvy, clinging styles are copied by actresses and singers from MADONNA to TAYLOR SWIFT to LINDSAY LOHAN to RIHANNA to NICOLE KIDMAN. And there are a slew of Marilyn-themed enterprises on the horizon. Meanwhile, crusty CLINT EASTWOOD, 82, makes our night at the GOP convention with his infamous "empty chair" chat with President Obama. It becomes one of the enduring moments of the campaign, if also the most puzzling.
The most uninhibited person on the planet is now officially DUNHAM, who gets naked at the Emmys -- she sits naked on a toilet and eats a birthday cake, to be precise, in an opening skit. At the MTV Video Music Awards, the boy band One Direction makes its mark as a new teen-girl obsession. But look who's also making waves: BILL CLINTON, 66, who rocks the Democratic Convention with an energetic speech that shows he can still inspire the masses. As for little SASHA and MALIA OBAMA, the country does a double-take; in four years they've become two mature and fashionable young women.
Binders full of women! Big Bird! Malarkey! Debate season is on, so let the instant memes begin. This is the first election where you could have followed the debates purely via Twitter. Surprise, DUNHAM's in the news again -- and let no one doubt the value of pop-culture prominence, however ephemeral: Her new book deal with Random House is reportedly worth more than $3.5 million. But let's hear it for another 50th birthday: Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is back on Broadway exactly a half-century after it first premiered, and it's getting some of the best notices of the season.
BOND. JAMES BOND. Embodied by the tough and chiseled DANIEL CRAIG, the world's most famous British spy is in better shape than ever as the franchise marks its 50th anniversary with "Skyfall," regarded by many as one of the best Bond films. Another iconic image doesn't fare so well: Lohan's turn as Liz Taylor in a new TV film is pilloried. Sometimes the original just shouldn't be touched. And hail to the first statistician to achieve pop-culture cred: Blogger NATE SILVER scores with his spot-on predictions of the election's outcome. And we must mention the oldest pop-culture hero of the year: ABRAHAM LINCOLN is back, courtesy of STEVEN SPIELBERG's movie and a typically mesmerizing performance by DANIEL DAY-LEWIS.
As the year ends, the world is abuzz with news of a royal pregnancy. Soon, a baby will be one of the biggest celebrities in the world. But for now, let's give a shoutout to the ROLLING STONES, whose average age is 68-plus, slightly older than the average Supreme Court justice. In five concerts marking their 50th year as a rock band, the grizzled foursome shows the world they still have the power to rock huge arenas (at huge prices), and upstage celebrity guests like LADY GAGA with their own charisma. Along with aging rockers McCARTNEY, SPRINGSTEEN, THE WHO and PINK FLOYD, they dominate a televised benefit for storm victims. As for MICK JAGGER, who at 69 hasn't lost any of those "moves like Jagger," we can only say, to paraphrase the famous movie line: "We'll have what he's having."