What Works of Art, Culture and Technology Flopped in 2020?

But to get inspired, read what Times critics and journalists had to say about art, culture and technology in 2020:

In “Review: An Audio ‘Streetcar,’ Not Yet Reaching Its Destination,” Jesse Green critiques an audio adaptation of the play “A Streetcar Named Desire”:

After the pandemic forced the cancellation of its live season, Williamstown took the novel and in many ways noble route of reconfiguring most of its planned offerings as, essentially, radio dramas, produced with Audible Theater, the audiobook and podcast division of Amazon. “Streetcar,” the first out of the gate, was released on Thursday; three other titles will follow this month, three more in the new year.

Most of those upcoming plays being new works, they may not suffer as much as “Streetcar” does from the unasked-for translation to a medium in which it is literally impossible for a director to show us anything. And it turns out that Williams’s pungent language, full of poetic touches for Blanche and brutal ones for Stanley (Ariel Shafir, replacing the better-suited Bobby Cannavale), needs more showing than prosaic plays do, not less. Without faces and bodies to anchor them, and despite McDonald’s willingness to go anywhere emotionally, the lines too often float away or, in Stanley’s case, sink with a thud.

What remains isn’t so much bad as flat. Even with sophisticated engineering, audio has a difficult time detailing subtle emotional contours: Everything seems to be happening everywhere all at once.

In “The Lesson We Are Learning From Zoom,” Brian X. Chen airs his grievances with the videoconferencing app now used in workplaces, homes and schools across the country:

Ever since many of us started working from home in the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been invited to countless gatherings taking place on Zoom, the videoconferencing app. Virtual happy hours, work meetings, dinners, you name it.

I’ve been a no-show, and it’s not just because my hair has grown embarrassingly long. It’s because I have a fundamental problem with Zoom. …

But for the last year, I’ve been wary of the app. Zoom has had multiple privacy snafus in that period, which have come up so frequently that they became a game of Whac-a-Mole.

The missteps included a weakness that would have allowed malware to attach to Zoom and hijack our web cameras. The issues with basic security practices culminated with “Zoombombing,” in which trolls crashed people’s video meetings and bombarded them with inappropriate material…

And with in-person dining out of the question for so many people these days, Priya Krishna writes about home-cooking fails in “Fancy Cakes? Quarantine Sourdough? Not for These Hapless Home Cooks”:

When she began self-isolating in her apartment in College Station, Texas, in March, Melissa Hodges thought it would be her big opportunity to finally learn to cook. After all, so many of her classmates at Texas A&M University, where she is a senior, were posting Instagram photos of glossy strands of spaghetti carbonara and citrus scones drizzled with a sticky glaze.

Then she tried to heat up a frozen cheese pizza.

“I stuck it in the oven at a random temperature because I didn’t bother to read the instructions,” recalled Ms. Hodges, 22, who didn’t put the pizza on a dish. “About 20 minutes in, it fell through the cracks of my oven.” The result was both doughy and charred. “I sat on the floor and started crying.”

After that disaster — and another involving undercooked pasta that crunched when she bit in — she is resigned to dinners of breakfast cereal and other undemanding foods. “The kitchen just sits there and stares at me,” she said.

Students, choose one of the articles to read in its entirety, then tell us:

  • If you were to create a “Worst of 2020” list, what works of art, culture and technology would be on it? It can include movies, TV shows, online performances, books, video games or any other artistic work, as well as technology like Zoom or Google Classroom, and even cultural trends like a particular meme, pandemic baking experiment or Verzuz battle.

  • Choose one thing from your list that you would warn others against experiencing, whether because it is poorly done, shallow, dull, overrated or just plain terrible, and write about it. Why was it such a flop? What parts of its structure, design, appearance or experience made it so cringe-worthy or unbearable? Why do you think others should take care to stay away from it?

  • The live audience is one essential element of TV, sports, comedy and politics that has gone missing because of the pandemic. How has this affected your experience of arts and culture — whether as a performer or a viewer? Are you still as eager to watch these shows or events now that their formats and presentations have changed?

  • In general, how well do you think the arts, culture and technology have adapted to this moment? Have you enjoyed at-home versions of live events, galleries and restaurant food? Or can you not wait for the day you can go to a concert, dance performance or restaurant again? Are there any parts of the digital arts and culture experience that you hope will stick around once the pandemic ends?

  • If you’re having fun panning a work of art or culture from 2020, consider turning what you wrote into a review to submit to our Student Review Contest, which runs from Dec. 8, 2020, to Jan. 26, 2021. Please be sure to read all of the rules before entering.