The Most Heroic Gawker Characters of 2011

We loathe a lot of people here at Gawker, mostly because we recognize that humanity is irreversibly doomed and the future holds nothing but Kim Kardashian dancing in six-inch stilettos on the graves of the poor. (Silver lining: Well-aerated grave grass.)

But sometimes, we have hope! Sometimes, we are inspired. Along with major national heroes like SEAL Team 6, and unquestionably noble people like the CNN Heroes who do stuff like "help thousands of poor Indonesian women have a health pregnancy and birth," we have Gawker heroes: the people who stumbled, waltzed, or galavanted through stories we follow, and warmed out cold little hearts. These are the Gawker heroes of 2011.


The Party Crasher Who Stole Paris Hilton's Birthday Cake

The Most Heroic Gawker Characters of 2011

Deejay/musician/overeducated drifter PAZ crashed Paris Hilton's 30th birthday party—which featured six open bars and cyborg go-go dancers—and documented it on his blog. This, however, is not why he is a hero. He is a hero because, upon seeing Paris' many ornate birthday cakes and hearing that the heiress would "probably just throw out" the extras, our hero absconded with (liberated?) a 70-pound red velvet cake, then shared it with 125 people at a soup kitchen. He's the internet-famous Robin Hood of Beverly Hills! He was an occupier before occupying was cool. All hail PAZ, the man who saw how the other half lives, then took the other half's cake and ate it, too. It was, PAZ writes, "delicious." [images via]


Jose Antonio Vargas, Author of 'My Life As An Undocumented Immigrant'

The Most Heroic Gawker Characters of 2011

The 30-year-old political reporter and "came out" as an undocumented immigrant in The New York Times Magazine in June, in a first-person essay that changed the way many Americans understand and discuss immigration. Vargas, a citizen of the Philippines, entered the U.S. with falsified documents at the age of 12. He discovered he was undocumented at 16, when he attempted to get a driver's license and was turned away. His story is extraordinary precisely because it is so ordinary—shared by millions of undocumented immigrants living and working within our borders—but rare discussed in the first person in public. Jose is not the first undocumented immigrant to go public with his story, but he is a watershed one. He has since founded Define American, an organization that "brings new voices into the immigration conversation, shining a light on a growing 21st century Underground Railroad: American citizens who are forced to fill in where our broken immigration system fails." [image via]


Alec Baldwin, Flawed Hero of Cellphone Gaming

The Most Heroic Gawker Characters of 2011

Not all heroes are flawless. Our next entry is a hotheaded rich man who threw a tantrum on an airplane, forcing it to return to the gate and to kick him off, delaying the flight and making everyone uncomfortable. But he did it for a just cause: The inalienable right of fat, rich Americans to play mindless games on their cellphones, while the goddamn airplane taxies on the goddamn runway, goddammit, that part takes forever, and is so boring. Down with anti-cellphone-game airline fascism! Alec Baldwin did not play Words with Friends on an American Airline jet to become a hero. He did it because he was bored. Nevertheless, he has since become the necessary symbol of our pro-cellphone-game airplane uprising. You did not ask for this role, Alec, but now it is yours. Use it wisely. You are the mockingjay. (But STFU with that annoying 'maybe I should be a politician' shit, OK? You shouldn't, and you won't.) [image via Getty]


Child Gay Rights Activists

As the GOP's traveling primary carnival moves from town to town, a new genre of viral videos has emerged: Child gay rights confrontation video. It started when an Iowa high schooler asked Michele Bachmann what she would do to "support the LGBT community." The girl listens politely to Bachmann and her cheering fans, then systematically takes apart their homophobic positions. Video of the exchange demonstrates why politicized homophobia can't and won't last: Young people recognize the utter stupidity of denying civil rights to gay families. We're just waiting for the old homophobes to die off, now.

Sometimes the child gay rights confrontations are a little contrived, as is the case with this eight-year-old who, after much cajoling from his parents, whispers, "Miss Bachmann, my mommy's gay but she doesn't need fixing." Bachmann's reaction is, however, so damn funny that the whole thing is worth it.


Gennette Cordova, Who Received a Political Penis Picture with Grace

The Most Heroic Gawker Characters of 2011

Most people don't want to be part of a political sex scandal, and never will be. But what if you get thrown into one by accident? Gennette Cordova, the 21-year-old college student to whom Anthony Weiner tweeted his underwear-clad penis picture, is a Weinergate victim: She followed Weiner on Twitter but didn't have a cyber-relationship with him, has no idea why he tweeted a penis picture at her, and in fact didn't even see the infamous image before Weiner deleted it. Nonetheless, Cordova became the "femme fatale" of the story. Her reaction will go down in history as the correct way to extricate yourself from someone else's sex scandal: "I'm just collateral damage," Cordova said. "People are saying, 'You need a book deal.' What for? This isn't my place, I just want to get it over with." She turned down all interview requests (OK, she made one mistake: Always accept one interview request, preferably from Gawker.com) and spoke publicly only in brief, concise statements to shoot down the occasional media whopper or misquote. Then gritted her teeth and waited it out—and, slowly but surely, the storm passed. [image via]


Lady Who Graduated After 19 Years in College

On days when your goals feel impossible reach, when the slow slog of daily life becomes unbearable and everything feels like it's taking too long, remember the tale of Kathy Vitzthum. She enrolled in her first class at Iowa State University in 1992, and continued taking one class per semester, every semester, for 19 years while working and raising a family. On his deathbed, her father made her promise to keep working towards her degree, so Kathy did. Last spring—at the age of 48—she graduated summa cum laude.

"I've been doing this so long, I don't think I'll know how not to do it. It almost gives me anxiety to not know what I'm doing this summer," Vitzthum said. "But it's a definite sense of accomplishment."

Kathy Vitzthum: Hero of tenacity.


Barney Frank: Hero of Body Acceptance

The Most Heroic Gawker Characters of 2011

When Rep. Barney Frank leaves office in 2012, he will leave behind a legacy of progressive politics, passionate debate, and unrestrained corporeal grossness. Yes, there are many reasons to admire Barney Frank, but the reason we celebrate him today is that he is the kind of man who can fart on live TV, then roll his eyes and keep going. He's the kind of man who can unleash his man boobs in a chamber of Congress, and not feel ashamed! Long live Barney Frank, the man who didn't necessarily teach us to love our bodies—but did remind us that we can revel in our own fleshly filth and still be valuable people. They're your man boobs; flaunt them if you want to, and do not apologize.


Aaron Jamison, Who Enjoyed Life in the Face of Death

The Most Heroic Gawker Characters of 2011

Gawker first met Aaron Jamison in the midst of heartbreak: With a terminal colon cancer diagnosis, nine months left to live, and exorbitant medical bills, the Oregon man resorted to selling ad space on his future cremation urn, to defray costs to his wife. Readers rallied around Jamison's story, offset his medical debt with donations, and promoted the "Choose Joy!" bracelets he sold on his website. Jamison and his wife Kristin wrote upbeat blog posts and remained thankful and joyous to the end. Jamison died in early October.


Unnamed CBS Interactive Manager

Whoever offered New York Times blogger Nick Bilton a $500,000 compensation package seems to have touched off a series of outrageous compensation packages for that long-reviled category of writers whose job title is more frequently paired with the word "Cheetos" than any other, bloggers! Needless to say, we approve, for purely unselfish reasons that have nothing to do with a desire to dive headfirst into a swimming pool full of money, on a vacation to an island made of money, after spending some quality time with an anonymous CBS/CNET hiring manager who we are not inviting to give any of us calls, for research purposes only.