Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence: The TwH 2016/17 Megathread
Right from the very start, 2016 stood to challenge us. From the very start, we knew it wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill annum, from North Korea’s interstellar aggravation to the deaths of every stranger we thought we knew, from our laughter at nationalistic shortsightedness abroad to the joke turning on us with an apolitically exhausting election cycle that, even now, seems interminable, this year has cast shadows into every corner and fear into every heart, asserting its overwhelming pessimism past the point of absurdity and into realms of dystopian ennui.
But then, light is said to shed out of darkness; without the light, we wouldn’t know dark from darker, and pitch blackness would be broad daylight. As historically low as some of the valleys insisted upon going, a great many peaks, more than we’ll care to recall, shot up with a distinctly human, distinctly empathetic vitality. 2016 was the equivalent of the Gordie Howe hat trick: a goal first, an assist next and one giant, inevitable fight, with indescribable rage having finally boiled over to manifest itself in hideousness antipathy. It is with this in mind that we at TwH look back, one final, bitter time at the insanity of the preceding twelve months, with an eye toward what society has constructed as 2017. If Earth is really dying, and if we’ve only got five years left to cry in, U better live now.
Derek Beaupre: It’s no secret that the general consensus is this year has sucked. Marred by a wild election here in the United States, the Brexit abroad, political outrage everywhere, violent acts domestic and abroad, Zika and the death of a beloved gorilla. I could occupy your time with a depressing review of the last calendar year, or maybe I can try and highlight the good things and attempt to be the happy clown for the first time in my life. Instead (WOAH! Left turn!), I’m here to attempt to give you some scalding hot takes and predictions for the year to come. It’s the Year of the Rooster, and I’m feeling cocky. Sit back, put your feet up and be open minded: what better way to start the new year?
(One 2016 take real quick before we go any further: Alan Rickman was the greatest loss of celebrity life this year. No one is talking about it, and I won’t stand for it. We lost Hans Gruber for Christ’s sake! Hans! Bubby! I AM your white knight, and I will not rest until everyone mourns your loss.)
Pats beat the Giants in the Super Bowl. As an Eagles fan, it pains me to predict playoff success for the Giants, but it pleases me to predict playoff suffering for the Cowboys. The Giants make one of their wild postseason runs, only for Tom Brady to finally get his revenge, his fifth ring, fourth MVP and first “Hey Goodell: suck it” live on camera. The town of Boston continues to yell about “Titletown.” As for hockey, this is the year. The New York Rangers win their first Stanley Cup since 1994. The fear that runs through me as I type this in fear of a jinx is making me nauseous but I genuinely believe this. New York will parade, men will cry, it will be beautiful, trust me. In basketball, LeBron James finally embraces baldness and shaves his head before the start of the playoffs. Just like Jordan did, James gives bad hairlines everywhere a cool way out, and Propecia sales plummet.
On December 30th, Ronda Rousey will lose her title shot to Amanda Nunes, retire, and we will head into 2017 with just the memories of 14 second submission victories and the #DNB movement. That’s not the big one though. Step into my scalding hot take zone for a minute. Let’s go deep together: Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather WILL have a boxing match in 2017. Conor will take his time off from MMA, become a father, fight for ownership in the UFC and talk a TON of shit, all while quietly hitting the mitts. I predict November 11th, biggest PPV of all time, and a decision victory for Conor. I am an admitted Conor fan-boy, and yes that weighs heavily in this prediction. He won’t hit Floyd often, but when he does, he’s going to hurt him. McGregor wins, Ireland drinks, I cry, the world burns. Get on the bandwagon now.
I believe (and pray to the highest power, whoever that may be) that after months of “counseling,” Kim and Kanye West will get divorced. We all knew this Kardashian publicity stunt had a shelf life, but they will not bring down Kanye in the process. They will get divorced, sealing the fate of the doomed Saint and North, and the fate of the boom in Keeping Up with the Kardashians ratings. This conscious uncoupling will free Kanye, giving him the time and freedom to do what Kanye wants: make a Kanye album that rivals My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, hopefully full of Kardashian disses, an apology to Jay, that will be a reminder of how objectively great Kanye is. People will stop sleeping on The Struts, Gary Clark Jr. will (hopefully) continue to fly under the radar of the masses so I can continue to afford to see him, and Shia LaBeouf will drop a mixtape that will light our ears on fire.
Politically, I don’t know, and neither do you. No one does. If someone tells you they know, they’re lying and will most likely try to sell you a Power Balance bracelet right after. What I do know is the sky hasn’t fallen yet, and the sun still rises. Do yourself, and the future, a favor: shut off Fox, MSNBC, CNN and the like and research the facts for yourself (Sidenote: if these outlets don’t even address chemtrails, fluoride in our water, or the government elites, can they even be called “news” outlets???). Lend your ear to the opposition, challenge people who agree with you, fight with your dad next Thanksgiving. The only way we grow as a country is if we each decide to grow individually. Stepping off my soapbox now, let’s kick it up a notch.
You know how earlier I said that the sky isn’t falling yet? Well, in 2017 it will. Asteroids. Thousands of them hit the Earth’s surface every year, thousands more pass us by at “close” range. We’re due folks. This sounds crazy now, but remember where you heard it first. When it all goes down, follow me. We’ll start a commune in Montana and start anew.
Maybe 2016 was the worst year ever, maybe it wasn’t, but either way it’s coming to an end. 2017 is here, let’s make the best of it (it could be the end of the world that no one saw coming). Stop eating sugar, read more books and love someone. Godspeed, my friends.
James Funk: At the beginning of this year we mourned the death of David Bowie, and by the end many of us mourned the birth of a Trump presidency. I’m tempted to read such a trajectory as symbolic of the apocalyptic nature of 2016: Bowie, who represented and reveled in the fluidity of identity (sexual and otherwise), gives way to a man who, despite his own “ideological malleability,” blasts identity politics and peddles a fantasy of stability and tradition.
But this opposition between Bowie and Trump becomes complicated when one considers the former’s Thin White Duke phase, which included loads of cocaine and, not coincidentally, a flirtation with Nazi iconography. Many fans (myself included) would prefer to forget the political implications of this period; indeed, Bowie himself quickly disavowed his behavior. After expressing admiration for fascism to one journalist, for example, he told the Daily Express in 1976 that “if I said it […] I’m astounded anyone could believe it.”
This brief, unfortunate chapter from Bowie’s life resonates in our current political and cultural moment on several levels. Bowie’s shock that “anyone could believe” that his praise of fascism was genuine resembles alt-right leader Richard Spencer’s more cynical claim that the Nazi salutes recorded during a white nationalist conference held shortly after Trump’s victory were “clearly done in a spirit of irony and exuberance.” Trump has elicited a similarly “ironic” reading of his own racist statements and factual inaccuracies, prompting Salena Zito of The Atlantic to wonder if the key to Trump’s appeal is that “his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Furthermore, Trump’s meeting with Kanye West, who is himself experiencing something like Bowie’s Thin White Duke phase, captured for Katy Waldman the “traditional symbiosis between aestheticism and fascism,” suggesting “that in Trump’s America, the loss of contact with reality that is a hallmark of psychosis is indistinguishable from political strategy.”
But if the confluence of fascism and celebrity embodied in the drug-addled and emaciated figure of the Thin White Duke appears to have been resurrected in the not-so-thin Donald Trump, one should keep in mind Bowie’s insistence that his persona wasn’t “sinister” but “pure clown”: “I’m using myself as a canvas and trying to paint the truth of our time on it. The white face, the baggy pants—they’re Pierrot, the eternal clown putting over the great sadness of 1976.” Unlike the alt-right, which uses seemingly neutral language and a “respectable” fashion sense to normalize, and thus conceal, its grotesque agenda, Bowie’s aesthetics sought to expose a sort of cultural or existential “sadness,” just as his previous incarnation as Ziggy Stardust highlighted “the bizarre in our time.”
What we might call the “great sadness of 2016” exists somewhere between the Thin White Duke and Ziggy Stardust, between despair and the bizarre. But whereas Bowie openly acknowledged his role as “eternal clown,” Trump wants clownishness to be interpreted as leadership. My resolution for 2017 is to avoid such an interpretation at all costs.
Ray Furlong: Bobby Bonilla, again, will make more money than most of us reading this. I really hope someone in 2017 makes a Tasty-esque channel for filing taxes, changing a tire or doing other mundane tasks that we all should know because some of us just don’t want to have to sift through Yahoo Answers. We’ll call it Bland. The Cavs and Golden State will get together again in the Finals. The Warriors will bring back the hardware. The Cubs won this year, so who really cares about baseball anymore? Planet Earth II is going to be a good time. Thirty years since breaking up, The Smiths will get back together for a string of shows. It will rule. And Donald Trump. It will not rule.
Brian Kraker: This past year gave off the distinct feeling that God knows the end of the world is close, and he’s trying to finish his to-do list. Give Cleveland a championship? Checked that off the list. Give the Cubs a title? Check. Give a Premier League team with infinitesimal odds a league championship? Check there too. 2016 seemed like a time for conclusions, which is fitting when our president-elect is calling for a nuclear arms race in the year’s waning days. Bowie and Prince peaced out and returned to whatever planet they came from. We lost Muhammad Ali, an icon in both sports and the civil rights movement.
As we turn an eye toward 2017, the pessimist in me doesn’t see a reason for hope. Why should I believe that the turn of the calendar on an arbitrary date would have any more power over the fortunes of the world when the collective will power of so many good people couldn’t bring about a more positive existence? From the Pulse Night Club shooting, to Nice, to the atrocities in Aleppo, this year demonstrated again that man is capable of truly depraved acts. So much of what made this year terrible doesn’t evaporate in 2017 either; it will only get worse. The bigoted sentiments that led to the rise of Trump and his ilk will only gain more legitimacy when he’s the actual president.
The weight of all of this can be suffocating. I know that. But that’s just the pessimist in me. The optimist believes that we can do better. That we can learn from this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, call a mulligan and hit a better shot in 2017. The optimist also knows there were good things about this year. I went on a vacation to Vegas at the height of the Pokemon Go fad, a trip that will always be highlighted by a friend shouting about a Snorlax on the strip. We witnessed incredible feats at the Olympics. Beyonce made the greatest music video of all time (again). We got new music from Chance the Rapper that exudes happiness as if it were the musical manifestation of a warm hug. Game of Thrones made the best action movie of the year. We got J.R. Smith running around Cleveland without a shirt on. This happened:
Yes, all these things pale in comparison to the darkest parts of the year. But don’t they always? It seems like the worst of humanity is always capable of dragging us lower than our best are capable of pulling us up. So as I look to a new year, the only thing I can think of are the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.” What other choice do we have?
Tyler Lauletta: In terms of my personal life, this year has been pretty okay. I pay my own rent for the first time in my life (took me long enough) and make a living as a writer in New York City, a dream I have held since high school.
That said, 2016 was straight garbage. I am happy this garbage year is over. Everyone good died, and we have a racist (autocorrect changed my misspelling of “fascist” to racist, but at this point, either works) about to take the highest office in the land. Nihilism spread like wildfire, and it became cooler than ever to not give a shit because we’re all gonna die. I don’t think that’s unhealthy, but it could be.
The appreciation I and many others gained for our inevitable eventual deaths thanks to the shit storm that was 2016 can be turned into a powerful force for good. Existing is difficult; it’s the toughest thing that we’ll ever do. But if we all collectively acknowledge that shit is so bad that we jokingly wish we had died in our sleep as opposed to see another day, we can take that information to drive our actions. Life is this hard, and it is going to get harder, so be nice to one another, act with empathy, and if you see someone struggling, lend a hand.
I hate year-end platitudes because they are an inevitable set up for failure. Time is a construct created to keep the masses working, and the date we selected to signify the “New Year” is an arbitrary point of the Earth’s rotation and revolution around the sun. But since we have no better system of dividing one predetermined segment of time from another, let’s all try to be better next year. It’s all we can do.
Patrick Masterson: Of course a lot of people had bad years. Bowie, Prince, Zsa Zsa, Shimon Peres, Alan Thicke, anyone near Aleppo, Andrey Karlov, Henry fucking Heimlich, you (God forbid I should forget you). We’ve all heard everything about it in the Year of Our Dark Lord 2016 Anno DNS. But if you’re not dead, you’re still fighting – because you have to, because life is war, from the moment your mother breathes deep and pushes hard one last time and you’re thrust forth into the world through no fault of your own, existence couched in the linguistics of conflict. It’s a battle. Everything’s a battle against the inevitable evaporation, the lost proof that you were ever here. So you shove, you punch, you rage while your good health allows it.
And if you’re Romano Fenati, 20 years old and Italy’s brightest hope for a future MotoGP champion, you know what that gets you? It gets you fired from your job. Who cares what the exact details are; the short of it is that he was in the cozy womb of Valentino Rossi’s talent-breeding Sky Team VR46 farm system, in with a shout at catching Brad Binder for the 2016 Moto3 championship before an all-but-guaranteed graduation to Moto2 in 2017. Then there was an argument after practice in Austria with a mechanic, or maybe a shove with a manager, or a punch, or a rage – the team, anyway, was fed up with Romano’s “strong character” and elected to drop him for the remainder of the year, right there in the thick(e) of it. After half a decade in Moto3, Fenati was already basically done. What was anyone going to do with aging, damaged goods in this paddock then? Which pawnshop would pick up the tab? Where could he go?
Romano Fenati is a fucking child. He can’t even legally drink in America for another couple of weeks. He should be in Moto2 with Binder, but instead he’s defied a bad year and wormed his way back into Moto3 with Ongetta – a fairly organized, respectable outfit, not incidentally – for a sixth run at the season-long success that has so far eluded him. The stakes for Ongetta are low: If Fenati fails, there are scores of scrappy, “passionate” young knuckleheads from the boot of Europe to fill the void, to feed the need for new blood. The team will go on. Italy will find someone else to cheer (Enea Bastianini? Fabio Di Giannantonio? Nicolò Bulega? Lorenzo Dalla Porta?). Romano gets dropped and finds a Supersport ride if he’s lucky. Maybe he switches gears entirely and tries touring cars. Maybe he sees a sports psychologist, the fire inside dies and he adjusts to a quiet, unassuming role as a midlevel business development manager selling ad space on an Italian fake news site, preaching the power of personal reformation through war-laden sports metaphors to his direct reports as he refreshes the app on his iPhone 9 to catch the latest snaps from his former rivals while they write motorcycle racing’s storied next chapters.
And if he doesn’t? Well, that’s what we show up to see, right? A caged animal refined and remade into a champion of the people? You idiots sure loved the bread and circuses of that spectacle this year; imagine how much fun it’s going to be with lower stakes on two wheels in 2017. Come, #RageWithRomano. Tear yourself apart in front of the TV. Feel the conflict before science’s infinite vacuum imbibes and resolves. Hell, I might even share my Dark Lord with you on the way. The fight ought to taste like God, even if there’s no reason to believe in Him anymore.
Rory Masterson: Three years ago, for this website and in a thread not unlike this one, I wrote the following: “Disruption of constants: that was 2013.” It’s exactly the kind of heavy-handed, limp-wristed attempt at depth and cyclical hagiography you’d expect from a 22-year-old going into his senior year in college. Those are the naive words of a naive person surrounded by the better words of better, smarter, more talented people. It’s also exactly the kind of thing anybody can write about literally any year in recorded history, because nothing is forever, because the elevator doors open sooner or later.
Here are some names, one more time, for all time: David Jones, better known as Bowie. Alan Rickman. Glenn Frey. Harper Lee. George Martin. Johan Cruyff. Merle Haggard. Prince Rogers Nelson. Muhammad Ali. Gordie Howe. Pat Summit. Elie Wiesel. Arnold Palmer. Leonard Cohen. Leon Russell. Fidel Castro. John Glenn. Craig Sager. George Michael. Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds. I had to add names after I started this post, because 2016 is a cruel mistress running the meter discourteously.
2016 hardly afforded us the opportunity to even get out of bed. From January onward, it was kick in the stomach followed by bite on the arm. Every day granted us an opportunity to look at our phones – downward, fittingly, the tech-enabled pain in our necks – click a trending item in fear, scroll, see reactions before we even see the facts (and, in enough cases to likely make some difference, miss the facts completely) and fire off our own reactions: an emoji here, a hashtag there, click, send, you’ve left your mark on the world, unless you hadn’t, because your mark is identical to the only other marks you see. Only when the bubble bursts do we see things as they are rather than through our refracted lenses.
If anything – if everything – 2016 showed us that adidas was right all along, and impossible really is nothing. Everything was a surprise, such that surprises became the norm. From the deaths of the celebrities who knew us better than we knew ourselves to the completely, seemingly stunning victories of the Cavs, of Brexit, of Leicester, of Trump, this year kept us so firmly on our toes that everyone likely has pointe shoes filed away on an Amazon wish list for the sake of comfort. We should all be so lucky as Nico Rosberg, to retire at the very peak of the highest mountain. Many among us would preferred to have thought of that in 2015.
If you’ve made it this far, both into this thread and into this life, there is no sense in quitting now. The Chicago Cubs are the World Series champions. Russell Westbrook and Young Thug are working together on a fashion line. 2017 has every bit of potential to be the year we all overcome a 3-1 deficit. It may very well be that every part of this rocket was supplied by the highest bidder, but that hasn’t stopped us from hurtling through space yet.
Ray McCreavy: As much of this megathread has attested, the currently overwhelming narrative on 2016 is simple: it was the worst. Without a doubt, this year brought disappointment to many, and, broadly speaking, it ushered in a new status quo, not just political, but cultural. Our lives are quickly approaching a full on augmented reality, and I suspect most of the TwH readership experienced the year’s highs and lows just as I did: instantaneously through social media timelines. Likewise, I think it is safe to say that the bottom of our content food pyramid is now comprised of memes.
Memes became such a pervasive and dominant form of discourse this year that presidential candidates rode them throughout the campaign trail. Everyone’s mom is reading memes on her Facebook timeline as I type, even if she doesn’t know the word meme exists. In 2014, an article titled “The Year In Memes” would’ve been a successful, albeit somewhat lazy, end of year retrospective. In 2016, “The Year In Memes” can be seen less as click bait and more like a time capsule.
The best thing about memes is they are perfect for our now-shortened attention spans. The worst thing about memes is they are perfect for our now-shortened attention spans. The real problem, of course, is that now these short, formulaic tropes are ignorant and hateful as often as they are clever and relatable. As with all forms of communication, this was inevitable. We can’t go back to Pre-Pepe times.
The most notable memes are resilient; they can take on new life. In July, I was exhausted by the semi-sarcastic mourning of Harambe’s death, but by August I found the fresh takes on the internet’s favorite gorilla to be creative and hilarious, even as they became more nihilistic and absurd. While this example is of a frivolous distraction, it is undoubtedly emblematic of the joke format’s staying power. Look back on the reactions to the year’s most serious events through this lens, and it is easy to see how we got where we are.
In 2017, I predict memes will actually be truly important. As silly as that statement sounds, memes will likely form the basis of how coming events are initially described and then, eventually, remembered. As always, we are what we consume, and increasingly, we are what we share online. So, if this is how we are going to be stuck communicating over the internet for the foreseeable future, then the only choice we have is to embrace it. When terrible news breaks, and it angers you, show the internet Arthur’s fist. Allow Mr. Krabs to voice your confusion. Don’t let Pepe bring you down; not as long as we still have Kermit.
Brighid O’Brien: After trying for 20 minutes to find one, I can assure you there is no clever way to talk about 2016. The chapter about 2016 in the Millennial equivalent of The Greatest Generation will most likely be a few sentences, enough to include mention of Trump, the Golden Age of Internet Television and the fact that everyone died. Hopefully it touches on Winona Ryder in Stranger Things (but in my version of this fantasy book she has a chapter dedicated solely to her) and gives the Cubs a shoutout, too. Also, Kylie Lip Kits (I own 3?? They make my lips very dry. I do not look like Kylie Jenner). Definitely a paragraph on the Olympics and how good the gymnasts were and how terrible Ryan Lochte is. I’m also assuming there will have to be a pretty long exposition on the term “dumpster fire,” but maybe people will have started naming their children that by then? At some point there will be a reference to figure A, which will be a detailed family tree of Taylor Swift’s Squad. And obviously, Our generation’s Tom Brokaw is most likely hosting a Dawson’s Creek breakdown podcast from her dorm room right now.
Jill Pellegrini: The Year of our Lord 2016 was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year. Harambe died, Ryan Lochte nearly started an international incident at the Rio Olympics, Donald Trump was elected president, and depending on what news sources you trust, Kim and Kanye might be getting divorced (2016: RIP Prince, Bowie and True Love).
I think a couple good things happened. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in an all-time classic game, and we all got to sing “Go Cubs Go!” for a few weeks before it got annoying (just kidding, it’s still not annoying). John Scott got voted an NHL All Star captain, scored two All Star game goals and won MVP. Zayn Malik released his first solo album. Beyonce released Lemonade. This dog video happened:
And we’re going to need a lot more dog videos in the coming year.
Last year, when I predicted Trump would get on the ballot and we would all get nuked, I was being (mostly) facetious, but it turns out I’m actually psychic (not about the nukes… yet). In all honesty, it’s hard to be irreverent about what’s to come in 2017 because a lot of it looks very, very bleak. Personally, I began the year believing we would probably elect the first female president as an immediate successor of the first black president, and now we’re ending it by quickly devolving into a fascist state run by a racist, xenophobic sexual predator. So you could say things have gone downhill.
If nothing else, at least Saturday Night Live will continue to be funny once again – you know, until we all die in a nuclear war or get colonized by Russia.
Erin Regan: My first, and thus far only, time seeing Bruce Springsteen live was in January of 2016. I think that the themes of The River foreshadowed a lot of what was to come. It’s easy to be cynical. Let’s try to better, let’s try to be hopeful, for ourselves and for each other. 2017 is on us.
“And if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you’re broken
Check the line, check the time, check the action, check the score
Come and get me if I ain’t right,
But if I am, meet me in the city tonight.”
Stephen Ross: 2016: not the best. Ok, it was the worst. BUT, watch the video below and try to tell me that there wasn’t some greatness in 2016:
James Vasiliou: 2016 is the Year of the Raw Deal. We all got one and it wasn’t gifted to us by Richard Milhous Nixon. It was wrapped in a crappy, little red bow adorned with “Make America Great Again” by the people in America who conspire not in political war rooms or mahogany adorned high-rise offices but around the dinner table. People that you know as friends and family members all decided that the things that Donald J. Trump has endorsed are not as bad as the presidency of career politician Hillary Rodham Clinton.
While 2016 gave us the ascendancy of a racist idiot king, it wasn’t enough. It had to take as well. It took black bodies at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Charlotte. It took rights away from marginalized communities in North Carolina after the NC General Assembly and a conniving governor signed into law a sweeping discriminatory bill known as HB2. It took the homes of Syrian civilians, who were bombed and killed at the hands of their own government who were being supported by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
It also took the lives of two of the most singular artists in pop music, whose bodies of work changed and affected people in a way that could never be replicated.
If 2016 offered anything other than darkness to us, it came as small rays of light relative to the heaviness of existential dread that deepened its grip on the world.
Chance the Rapper offered a song cycle of joyful, gospel-influenced optimism in the face of a world gone mad and became Chicago’s champion to the world. Stranger Things immersed us into a sci-fi spectacle that was lifted by its Spielberg inspirations and its killer synth soundtrack. Beyoncé released a visual album that explored black femininity and its relationship with oppressive masculinity as well as society-at-large. Donald Glover’s Atlanta showcased the namesake of the show as a surrealist playground of transracial surgeries, invisible cars and Nutella sandwiches.
All of the aforementioned creative bursts are just a small sampling of what 2016 had to offer. They either helped us escape the current mess as a form of self-care or they helped us to act.
2016 was one of the shittiest years on record and the feeling may change as we creep towards 2017 with our new Heat Miser president-elect. But, if anything, my hope is that people are forced into action rather than using their phone keyboards. I urge all 2% of our readership to donate any disposable income to vital social and political causes and get involved with any local or state political organizations where you can. 2016 may have been all doom and gloom, but if we act, it doesn’t have to be for the future.
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