Fire and Fury: The TwH 2017/18 Megathread

2017

Graphic by Brian Kraker

Because 2016 wasn’t enough, 2017 has gone out of its way to escape its predecessor’s shadow and destroy the boundaries for how gratifyingly repugnant a single calendar year can be. Each day was a test of psychological fortitude on the parts of literally billions of people around this flat earth of ours, which somehow has yet to file for emancipation from us. For every second chance, we deliver a second disappointment, and a third, and a fourth, and–

Has the constant stream of threats, misguided anger, choose-your-own-isms and quasi-political figures you’re supposed to remember yet immediately forget driven you directly to the doctor’s office? Better there than to stay and wait for the robots to replace you, anyway.

We all have a thousand brilliant lies for the question, “How are you?” The better question, as we turn the corner with a glaring snarl, ’17 going on ’18, may very well be: Are you having fun yet?

James Funk:

Lowlights of 2017:
  • Humor based around the word “covfefe.”
  • The Die Hard-asChristmas movie debate.
  • Watching the country inch ever closer to fascism.
  • Kentucky losing to John Higgins in the Elite Eight.
  • Clempson winning the national championship.
Highlights of 2017:
  • Rajon Rondo recording 25 assists and 2 points in a game.
  • Finally being able to say Merry Christmas again.
  • Receiving on said Christmas a first edition of William F. Buckley’s Up from Liberalism – complete with an introduction by Barry Goldwater – as a gift.
  • Not perishing in nuclear war.
  • Finding out in the course of watching an absolutely dreadful college basketball game on CBS Sports Network that The Jim Rome Show will be simulcast on that channel in 2018.

Brian Kraker: Man, the tone of these year-end recaps got heavy. I was looking back at previous installments of our annual write-ups and in a two-year span, we went from flippant predictions about the coming year to suffocating under the weight of a political climate that saw a homophobic racist nearly win Alabama’s special election if not for the fact that he’s also a pedophile. It felt appropriate to look back on the history of these posts in a year defined by nostalgia, both in the sense that media like Stranger Things (a television phenomenon dripping in ’80s nostalgia) dominated pop-culture conversations and that our President is openly championing racist and fascist ideologies, while instilling a fear of nuclear war, not seen since the 40s and 50s.

the-leftovers-s3e7-kevin-and-patti

This brings me to the part of this year that resonated with me the most: the third and final season of The Leftovers. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it takes place three years after a global cataclysm called “The Great Departure,” in which two percent of the world’s population disappears, and shows how society copes with an event that touched the lives of every one of Earth’s inhabitants. The show is clear from the beginning: we’re not chasing answers about how “The Great Departure” occurred. It doesn’t care about the answer, and neither should you.

I discovered this show after the conclusion of Season 2. I listened to a podcast with its creator Damon Lindelof (see: Lost). He talked about the less-than-stellar critical response to the show’s first season and the process of creating its second. He even relayed the story of creating the opening sequence to the second season to specifically needle one critic in particular, who so happened to be hosting the podcast. I dove right in and discovered something I didn’t know television could be. The Leftovers is funny and strange and heartbreaking and life reaffirming, and so many more things, all at once. This show operated on a different level than any other piece of art I had consumed to that point in my life.

If I sound a little fanatical, it’s because I am a little fanatical, which meant I set the bar unrealistically high for the final season. And with Lindelof’s less-than-stellar history with series finales (see, Lost), I’m not sure I’ve fretted more about anything more this year with stakes as meaningless as “Does this television show live up to my expectations?”

Well, it delivered in every way possible. It was every bit as funny and strange and heartbreaking and life reaffirming and everything else. Plot points included a woman getting a Wu-Tang Clan tattoo, a priest finding God on a Tasmanian lion sex-boat, another man destroying the afterlife with atomic bombs and this hauntingly beautiful shot of Carrie Coon:

the-leftovers-water-and-tears

Lastly, it answered the question it promised never to answer. But it answered it in the most Leftovers way possible. Because it’s not really an answer. But it also is. Because, regardless whether you believe Norah’s story in the show’s final moments, you know that she’s found closure, something that seems so impossible in the world of the show and, truthfully, something that feels impossible in the world in which I’m currently living.

As I prepare to depart a year in which the Patriots make miraculous Super Bowl catches, movies can win Oscars even when they already announced another winner, porgs can be co-pilots and a racist can be President, my only hope is that something can thrill and inspire me as much as The Leftovers.

Because I’m sure 2018 will be as much of a slog as 2017. I’m sure I’ll spend ample time depressed and defeated by the direction of our society. And in those moments, sometimes, all we need is something beautiful and strange to say exactly how we’re feeling:

giphy

Patrick Masterson: Luka: It can’t be good if you’ve forgotten something you loved best. All our soul is in what we love. – Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths

I cannot say how many times in the past year I’ve broken down in my apartment. I’d be waiting for the oatmeal to expand or noticing out my front windows the contour of an evening cloudform – its hue a beautiful gradation from flame-licked edge to the dense, inscrutable gray of its mass, you really should’ve been there – or Swiffering the frigid tile of my floor or even just listening to a Crooked Man song literally called fucking “Happiness” and feel a sudden, irreversible surge of the opposite, an inchoate crash of dark, a paralysis in the face of divine ambivalence. All at once, I’d think about my immense hubris or the volcano under Yellowstone or Children Underground or the poor of Sahiwal, Pakistan bathing themselves in the filth of their sewers because of another citywide blackout or sexual violence against women and children, against anyone, or how a guy named Goodluck Jonathan was president of Nigeria, can you imagine the fortune, whatever – there’s no way around it. So I’d do what cognitive behavioral methods preach against and lean into the feeling, embrace the hurt and the sadness and the responsibility I take in all of this, which isn’t insubstantial, and think over and over for a few minutes or hours or however long it takes to pass that I am weak and that maybe this is it, maybe it’s time the black wing carry me out. I saw America from the West Coast in 2017. I’ve been to Ireland and survived the Mayan apocalypse, you know? Worked a job I knew I wanted from the time I was 20. I’ve had it inexcusably good not to feel self-absorbed about everything. But still the fog persists, the thing you know intimately and can inhale with unfortunate ease yet can’t put your finger on, can’t quite grasp, can’t reach out and touch without looking like an idiot. It’s what’s at the end of your tongue that you can’t bring yourself to say, the weight around your neck no one can see, the ideal phrase you’ll never be able to express, the thing you play Alice Coltrane to forget you carry because you can’t cut it loose. They’re just feelings, but it never gets easier compartmentalizing them no matter what you pay your therapist to tell you, no matter where in your apartment you try to hide, no matter what beer release you attend, no matter which shoulder you turn to sleep on in the smallest hour, the digital clock of the microwave a searing alien green. You can only run from them for so long. They’re Pizarnik’s shadow and lilacs, the fire and the fury irreversibly fading, the spectral melancholy of being alive. Mentre che la speranza ha fior del verde, yeah? Well, what? Living by a speck of greenish is only the half of it.

It matters less and less with every climbing birthrate statistic that I’m still alive, the truth will always be honeysuckle sweet in the beginning and bitter in the end when bees eat from the diseased flower: No one is redeemed down here. But if I happen to make it to the other end of 2018, I’ll have experienced Marc Marquez’s fifth MotoGP world championship in six years. And somewhere across the flat circle, maybe, my soul will have stirred to remind me that this was always all there was, that it was all there was of me – but it once was enough.

Rory Masterson: It’s this perpetual state of astonishment which has removed any sense of shock or awe from…anything, really. Pull open Twitter, that most devilish plaything of idle, carpal-tunneled hands, and read anything on any given day from, oh, roughly late January onward, and my response is almost certain to be one akin to Alonzo Mourning dealing with it:

It’s not just that the President of the United States is a petulant, reactionary, isolationist and, if I am to be generous in a way he never has been, perhaps senile fascist and literal Nazi sympathizer who deploys the term “FAKE NEWS” as quickly as a Klay Thompson deep bomb, but with none of the accuracy (check my facts, I insist). It’s not just that the omnipresent threat of a nuclear holocaust ruins a new job, a new apartment or a big purchase (good job waiting for that item to go on sale, you clever capitalist, you). It’s not just that the revolving door at the White House has by now included a lengthy list of indiscernible, fumbling ex-suck ups who have perpetuated lies in the name of their careers, only to have their careers ended in the blink of an eye. No matter: they end up with a book deal and a few national talk show appearances laughing about it anyway.

Elon Musk is not going to cure world hunger. Facebook cannot undo its considerable 2016 damage. Ballistic missiles are not going to create gardens upon arrival. The 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, should we be so lucky (or unlucky, depending on things) to make it that far, is not going to prevent you from tensing up at the mention of the words “Middle East,” regardless of context and how much you actually know and/or care about it. Speaking of which: did you hear that the world’s most expensive piece of art is going to be on display in Dubai? They truly have it all.

2017 is a time and place in which we gather to celebrate the NBA’s best player and leading spokesperson, LeBron James, literally calling the POTUS a “bum” in a tweet. That actually happened, and it will never not be amazing in the same way climbing aboard a several-tons bullet and having it shoot you thousands of miles in a few hours is amazing. That’s how everything is now. We’ve all been so beaten down by the flood of horrors that we lose sight of actual floods killing and displacing thousands of people. Try listing all of the atrocities of this year, from hurricanes to domestic terrorism in Las Vegas and Charlottesville to the public reveals of long-awaited cracks in male-dominated, non-consensual, quid pro quo pop cultural infrastructure to the Manchester bombing to the attacks in Burkina Faso and Barcelona to the mudslide in Sierra Leone, and you end up working yourself into such a huff that caring about anything at all seems beyond futile.

2018 will probably have the biggest mass shooting in American history, just like 2017 and 2016 before it, with nary an action on assault rifle policy to follow. A woman can hardly get a fair shake in the court of public opinion when accusing someone of sexual assault, but a man can get an official court date moved because of a college football game. Due to the powers that be, and the multitudes so quiet and implicit in their rise, we’d be better off shelving how obviously so many of them could have been avoided, if only anybody cared about anything at all.

But then, if that’s the final word, then it stands to reason that getting out of bed is as redundant an act as going outside is as redundant an act as participating, via voting and volunteering, in the broken system that led us here (it so very clearly is broken, but not for wont of trying. There will be more on that below). If that’s the case, then stay in bed. We should all be grateful Stanislav Petrov, for example, got up and went to work on September 26, 1983, believing in the powerful sliver of good of a flawed humanity.

In Notes Of A Native Son, James Baldwin wrote, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Popular culture can only go so far, least of all sports, but in a time when we’ve driven each other as far apart in this nation as at any time in the last 150 years, we need to start somewhere. Perhaps it’s reckless to display any sort of optimism in 2017, knowing the robots are coming with their atomic lighters and plans to make meals of the rest of us, but then – I watched a few thousand Brooklynites give a standing ovation to a one-man wrecking crew, hopelessly devoted to a dust bowl city of fewer than seven hundred thousand people, after annihilating their favorite basketball team. It may count for nothing, and probably does, but where there’s life, there’s hope, and there was plenty of life in that arena that night.

LeBron will be at the gym and on the phone, working for himself and for you. He won’t save us all; he barely saved Matthew Dellavedova, and only once. Wouldn’t it be selfish to let him shoulder that alone?

Don’t back down. Cavs in 7.

Jordy McKever: This year has just been hard. It’s been hard to watch people just realize that men (who have been able to make the rules and change those same rules whenever we want) are actually still going to be reckless and sex crazed and dismissive and unrelenting and unforgiving and unwilling to change. It’s been hard to see people continue to make excuses for the racist/sexist/homophobic folks that they interact with daily, yet are too afraid/apathetic to do anything about it. It’s been hard to see news organizations continually act in cowardice when it comes to accurately reporting the bullshit that our (somehow, God, I still have trouble admitting that he’s really the POTUS) President stays on. Even sports have been hard. It’s been hard to watch the Braves pretend to contend, then totally not. The NFL co-opted what Colin Kaepernick started and turned it into some lie about unity (Also, he never got a job again as a QB. Let that sink in).

But yet, somehow, we endure. Sports have thrilled us, from South Carolina basketball to the Warriors to LeBron still being LeBron to 28-3 to Clemson being a college football elite to the Houston Astros winning the World Series to Real Madrid to a magical WNBA Finals to Serena winning a major tournament while pregnant. Tiger was in a golf tournament and wasn’t terrible! Roger Federer won two majors! Rafael Nadal won the other two! The year has really been wild. And awful. I suppose that’s not much different than any other year, is it?

Jill Pellegrini: It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting to try to remember what happened in 2017 prior to like a month and a half ago. In fact, pre-June, all I remember is the FALCONS BLOWING A 28-3 LEAD.

Other than that, a lot of things sucked. We got Nazis back, which was horrible, but there were a lot of anti-Nazi rallies to go to, which was cool. We started to take back the country from our moron president who looked directly into the eclipse (another thing that happened less than a year ago, Jesus) via Virginia and Alabama and hopefully, soon, Wisconsin, because fuck Paul Ryan.

Also, we finally got new Taylor Swift music, and it was not her best, IMO. Fight me. (I’m still going to the tour).

A year is a fucking long time, especially right now, it seems. And a lot of fucking shitty things happened in 2017 (we started the year with the MUSLIM BAN. That was this same year!!!). But we survived, and maybe I’ve just adjusted my own perspective of late, but despite everything, I see a lot of reasons to be hopeful about 2018. I mean, we get another royal wedding!!!! And I’m not even mad about it because Meghan Markle is perfect!!!

So, like, 2018: New Year, New America. If I can commit to doing the Whole30, America can commit to not getting nuked by Kim Jong Un in the new year.

Kevin Price: I’ve been to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was pretty cool. So I don’t care if anyone gets in, stays out, had 70 WAR or was in the Korean War, is tops in JAWS or had a bit part in Jaws 3-D. Torch it.

Jimmy Vasiliou: On 2017’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Michelle Zauner’s excellent sophomore album as Japanese Breakfast, loss reverberates throughout its duration. While much of her songwriting is intensely personal, you can feel the weight of the current dystopian landscape bearing down on her in a way that expresses the anxiety of many Americans in the age of post-truth. “Striving for goodness while the cruel men win,” she sings on the title track, reflecting our troubling times and her own issues with an abusive relationship. A variation of this line shows up on “Till Death”: “All of the celebrities keep dying while the cruel men continue to win.” 

Both of these lines have been knocking around in my head for much of 2017. As Donald J. Trump has taken the mantle of the presidency, these lines continually popped into my head whenever headlines of travel bans, isolationist foreign policy and white nationalism emanated from the White House. Those lyrics also brought a flood of images from the day after the election. I could not stop thinking about the glum day after the election in 2016, and all of it sounding so quiet. I could not stop thinking about the manner born fraternity men jumping around in their dumb, red hats. I could not stop thinking about cruel men winning. 

Even when I try to take stock of the good of 2017, I cannot take my mind off of the gaudy assholes who have grabbed public office by riding populism only to deepen the racial and gender-based hierarchy of America. It’s deeply unsettling, especially when I have had personal and professional moments that have given me reason to celebrate this year: I got married to the woman I love this year! I visited England and France for the first time, and on my honeymoon no less! I got a new job with coworkers I actually like! The misdeeds and mismanagement of this administration hang over all of this like a storm cloud. Watching this administration and Congress actively seek to undermine its social compact with its own people in real time leaves me feeling disillusioned. The effects of this have led to moments of extreme frustration, anger and aggression – all of these emotions stemming not just from this administration, but from a deeper well of guilt due to my status as an active salesman of reckless Republican orthodoxy in 2010 and 2012.

In an effort to channel my emotions into something more productive, I volunteered for a Charlotte City Council campaign in July. The result of that decision to volunteer was a five month stretch of canvassing, phone calls, organizing and attending civic events that I would have never gone to had I not started participating locally. Though hectic and maddening at times, it was instructive to see that although federal and state governments play a role in the life of its constituents, local government has the biggest direct impact on the day-to-day. Policies regarding affordable housing and policing, some of the biggest issues facing our nation, are set by local town or city councils. These facts rallied me into action and left me feeling a bit more upbeat, especially when the Charlotte City Council gained five new members in November, including the candidate I worked to elect, who are committed to restoring trust between our communities and the police, increasing the inventory of affordable housing and growing the number of economic opportunities for all Charlotteans.
Yet, even as progressive candidates swept their way into the Government Center (our City Hall), the turnout for eligible voters in this year’s 2017 local election was at 20%. Believe it or not, this is actually one of the highest turnout rates in recent years in Charlotte. This low turnout for local candidates isn’t something that is happening solely in Charlotte. All across America cities and towns have experienced incredibly low voter turnout in local elections. The factors of which, in my opinion, stem from a lack of civics education, 24-hour cable news diverting attention from local channels and a dearth of information being provided to eligible voters.
While I can read into local election turnout numbers and further frustrate myself, I think it’s better to think about what was accomplished in the course of those five months. I was able to connect with constituents who saw a vision for Charlotte that was more equitable, more inclusive and more accountable. In this process, we helped elect leaders who are willing to execute that vision and, as a result, I was able to bask in a small ray of optimism for the future. That is a feeling that our cruel world cannot take away and a feeling that we should strive to achieve across the country.
While Japanese Breakfast’s lyrics kicked around in my head for much of the year, one song managed to make me forget the images associated with them. That song was Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “Pa’lante.” It is track that contains a dirge, a jaunt, an impactful poetry reading and, finally, a call to action. Pa’lante is a Spanish contraction of the words “para adelante,” which translates to “forward.” It is a word that the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican community movement active in the ’60s and ’70s, used in their literature and protests. In the song, front woman Alynda Lee Segarra wields the word as both a reference point to the movement and a rallying cry for all who wish to reclaim their humanity from a painful, unjust world.
The final minutes of the song are a poignant repetition of the word as she digs in the depths of history (referencing Emmitt Till, Julia De Burgos and Sylvia Rivera), cries out to survivors then ends forcefully with “Pa’lante.” The chorus of voices behind her hits their peak of uplift before ending abruptly after this final repetition. It’s a moment of music that is so powerful that it has brought me to tears. I think about this Puerto Rican woman who stares at the history of American violence and stands her ground. It forces me to ask myself, “If she’s not standing down, why should I?”
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