Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way: 2016 really fucking sucked. A bunch of really cool people died. A surly, orange clown somehow managed to con his way into the most powerful position on Earth. Rampant nationalism seems to be sweeping the globe. And we may be looking down the barrel of so many loaded guns (climate change, Supreme Court nominations, the gutting of health care, diplomatic relations with China, Turkey, Russia, The Philippines, etc.), that it’s enough to induce an all encompassing panic attack…the kind that last’s a lifetime.
People are scared. I’m scared. And we should be.
Because of all of this, it was a little difficult to come up with a good list of things to celebrate from the year that was 2016, though if you want to check out my thoughts on the year’s music, look here, here, and here. After giving it some thought, I came up with five things from our pop culture that made 2016 just a little less shitty.
1. David Bowie (Rediscovering The Artist’s Life through His Death)
Like some kind of ominous foreshadowing of what was to come over the year, David Bowie passed away in January at the age of 69, just a couple of days after his birthday and after he released what was to be his final album, the absolutely breathtaking and life defining Blackstar. Bowie’s death affected me in ways that most celebrity deaths don’t. Whereas I might be bummed out if some musician or actor dies, I openly weeped at Bowie’s passing. It felt like losing a piece of psyche, like losing a piece of the world. And because of that, I dove head first into his entire discography, getting into, loving, and rediscovering his music in a way unparalleled with any other artist I admire.
Suddenly I found myself enjoying songs or albums that I had written off years ago as lesser works. I began to listen to things in a different context. I began to hear songs like it was the first time. And with 50 years of material to sift through, there was never any shortage of music to hear.
While I’m still saddened by the death of my favorite artist of all time (who wouldn’t be?), I am eternally thankful for all of the wonderful music and art he left behind, and for the heart mending qualities it afforded when rediscovering it throughout this long and difficult year.
While we’re on the subject of music, despite everything that 2016 had to throw at us, it was a banner year for releases in pretty much any genre you can think of. It’s like everybody was trying to get everything out of themselves and into the ether before the impending apocalypse on the horizon gets started in earnest. And while that might be a somewhat macabre way of thinking about things, there was not a week that went by when I didn’t hear an album I utterly adored (The Body, S U R V I V E, Angel Olsen, Danny Brown, Nick Cave, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, and on and on). It very easily could have bankrupted me were it not for a modicum of self control (something I have to work on daily).
All of this wonderful music served as a painkiller, or a distraction, or just as the smallest of respites from a year relentless in its pain, fear, and sorrow. Here’s hoping that 2017 can offer up some similar sonic tonics and some moments of solace and relief before getting back to all of the work that we need to be doing over the coming years.
3. Stranger Things (My New Obsession)
From the moment I caught the trailer for Netflix’s Stranger Things, I knew I was going to be hooked. I knew nothing of the show or of its creators. One day the trailer just appeared in my news feed and made me giddy with excitement and anticipation. And ultimately, it delivered. I loved it. I loved the characters. I loved the mood. I loved the music (I especially loved the music). And I loved the nostalgia bomb it ignited inside of my brain, culling from all of my childhood memories of Spielberg, Carpenter, and King, and reuniting me with the kind of outcasts and nerdy kids I longed to be friends with when I was young. I can’t wait for season two.
As with most cultural phenomena, Stranger Things certainly has its share of detractors. And I understand that. It’s warranted. The series has some plotting issues, some scenes that don’t make sense within the context of the show, and some that just kind of tread water. There are an abundance of 80’s Easter eggs that don’t always fit the show’s stated timeline (there is no way a teenager in small town, USA would know who The Smiths are in 1983), and a bit of a “nostalgia-will-eat-itself” quality within its framework. The series’ influences are clearly worn on its sleeve walking the fine line between homage and imitation.
That being said, I still loved it. I don’t often binge watch shows (how does anyone with kids have the time?), but I ran through all eight episodes over the course of two nights, and I have every intention of watching it all again before year’s end.
And man, do I love that Dustin kid.
The Chicago Cubs are not my team. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the ball club or anything like that, I just don’t consider myself a fan. (Of all things, I’m a Red Sox fan.) But, it was nigh impossible not to pull for them during the 2016 World Series. Even the most casual of baseball fans found themselves routing for the Cubbies. And why not? The team was staring down a 108-year long championship drought, playing against another great team with its own decades long title absence, and culminating in what might have been the best baseball game I’ve ever seen in the Series’ game 7.
It was pretty cool to watch history being made, and to seemingly have a shared collective cultural experience as people all over the country stayed up into the wee morning hours to watch the game’s conclusion and celebrate in spirit with the people of Chicago. In our media-saturated world, that doesn’t happen too often. And I’d imagine that the fans in Chicago would still be celebrating were it not for what happened a week later…
The orange and pathetic shadow that’s been cast over all of 2016 is almost unbearable to behold, like some kind of satirical tragedy befalling our republic before our very eyes. It does not seem real. It is not normal. And it’s enough to make me despise this year despite any pop cultural enjoyment I may have derived from it…except for one thing. Although 2016 will be remembered as a despicable year, it will always have a soft spot in my heart and soul, with February bringing me my second son Robbie.
Like his older brother, he has been an absolute joy in my life, a reason to get up in the morning, and now, another reason to fight for the future. It was disheartening to see the morals and values that I want to distill in my boys get outright rejected by a large swath of the populace, to see ugly and ridiculous people exploit this country’s fear and desperation into a power and money grab. It’s terrifying to predict what my boys might have to grown up in. But that just make fighting it all the more important.
Remember, Trump is not normal, and he is assembling a cabinet full of monsters and opportunists eager to dismantle this world beyond all recognition. All of us must remain vigilant. All of us must fight this fight with all the energy and gusto we can afford. All of us must work together and help each other.
Here is a list of worthy charities and progressive organizations to give to:
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – aclu.org
- Planned Parenthood – plannedparenthood.org
- National Immigration Law Center – nilc.org
- Muslim Justice League – muslimjusticeleague.org
- NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund – naacpldf.org
- Earth Justice – earthjustice.org
- Everytown – everytown.org
- The Conservation Fund – conservationfund.org
- Southern Poverty Law Center – splcenter.org
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project – srlp.org
- The Trevor Project – thetrevorproject.org
There are many, many more out there that also need our help. Do what you can. Also be sure to maintain contact with your congressmen and women and senators on the state and federal level. You can find out who represents you at: house.gov/representatives/find or senate.gov/senators/contact. Call their offices…repeatedly. Voice your concerns and hold them accountable. Be sure to also let Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (office phone number: (202) 225-3031) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (office phone number: (202) 224-2541) know what you think.
Do everything you can. And if not for yourself, or your family, or your friends, or the world, do it for Robbie.
And so that’s my year-end list for 2016. Did I miss anything? What made the year better for you?
From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.