As with every year, a lot of folks died in 2016. This year, however, the consensus seems to be that fate has been especially cruel in taking away beloved artists and other public figures from us. In addition, a lot of bad things happened throughout the world this year (first and foremost, the election of a completely reprehensible human being). A few thoughts come to mind about this that I’d like to share.
I wonder how much of this impression that this year has killed more people than usual is actually correct? How many more famous people have died this year than in previous years? My suspicion is that this is just confirmation bias; once “Fuck 2016” took hold, we started looking for proof that, yes, this year is out to get us and take away those people who have so affected our lives.
In addition, we’re more connected to “celebrities” than we ever have been, especially with platforms like Twitter. Therefore, I think, when they leave us, it’s hitting us that much harder.
Folks (myself included) tend to appreciate others more in death than they did in life. I must admit that I was never a huge Carrie Fisher fan during her life. Not to say I disliked her at all—I didn’t know much about her personal life, let alone her public life. She was “the lady who played Princess Leia (who is pretty cool) and I think a crazy ex-wife or something like that in The Blues Brothers.” I thought she said some cool stuff this past year about our treatment of women in show business after she re-entered the limelight and people picked apart her appearance in The Force Awakens. Beyond that, though, my impression was a pretty big “meh.”
When I heard the news that she’d had a heart attack, I brushed it off; people survive heart attacks all the time. When she died, then, it hit me… confusingly, for lack of a better term. I was a little sad only at first. As I started to read about her life, her advocacy for the normalization of mental illness and its treatment, her renowned skills as a script doctor in Hollywood, her wry wit and dry humor, her kindness, her humanity… I started to feel more and more like I’d lost someone dear, someone important, a friend or family member almost. Of course, she’s not family, and I can only imagine how those who knew her personally feel. But she seems now to be the kind of person whose loss can be universally felt
I wonder, how many other people are out there whose sheer existence do we take for granted?
“Fuck 2016.” This phrase has been bothering me the past several weeks.
The idea that somehow the unfortunate events of this year are fate, and we are throwing up our hands in defeat rather than stand in the face of misfortune and dare to make the most of our seemingly grim fates; to say that this year is somehow inherently evil despite the fact there is no other way it could have happened, that everything is a result of what’s come before; to deny the cause and effect as a fact of life; it all seems hopelessly pessimistic and counter-productive.
First of all, I’ll return to a point I made earlier: aside from the election, has 2016 really been that much worse than previous years? Denialism has been a slowly growing force for years if not decades. Events of this year are merely a culmination of these forces. The rise of the tea party and internet-based hate-groups fostering fear, discrimination, greed, and anti-humanism have practically been defining this decade. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching these forces grow and slowly gain mainstream traction for awhile now, but I don’t really see how any of this is all that surprising.
“Fuck 2016” to me seems an excuse. A call to inaction. A collective “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” that fails to actually say or do anything actionable or take responsibility for where we went wrong or offer any productive direction to go from here.
A friend of mine, Garrett Steele, offers an eloquent counterpoint in defense of the “fuck 2016” mindset that I think nicely closes out this post:
I mean yeah, a lot of things went into the year that I think (and hope!) people are learning about and learning from.
And a lot of good things happened! For all the scariness with the arctic ice shelf, the ozone layer is starting to heal. We’ve got an ebola vaccine. Suicide is down globally and literacy has skyrocketed and it’s important to focus on these things as well.
And yes, time will continue to march on, and the personalities and authors and performers who have delighted and challenged us in our youths (and the youths of our parents and families) will continue to pass on.
But I think that there is something about cordoning off this weird experience that we are all having. There’s something about taking this confusion and sorrow and putting it in a box and saying “this goes over here” that’s useful, inasmuch as it gives people a line in the sand, a point at which to start dusting themselves off and getting ready for the years ahead. And honestly, we’re all gonna need that. If drawing an arbitrary border helps folks gird up, move on, and get ready for the turbulent times ahead, then by all means, I’m going to let them have it.