The Worst is Over or Lynchpin for the Endtimes?
I should open with something resembling full disclosure. As a wannabe lawyer and journalist, human misery is basically my bread and butter. Without it, I’d have little potential beyond being an office monkey who’d be lucky to get a salaried job in this economy. You don’t hire a lawyer unless you have a problem that warrants shelling out hundreds of dollars per hour on legal fees, and I can’t personally name a journalist who’s ever paid his bills on good news. As a famous journalist once said, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Naturally, I’m just waiting to be called up to the big leagues.
In that given context, 2016 was a great year. The election of soon-to-be President Trump on its own is enough to give any non-fiction writer an endless source of material. The world is seemingly going to hell on hockey skates and a twisted part of me loves it. With that in mind, here’s a review of 2016 from the perspective of Obiter’s jaded and painfully self-aware managing editor.
The Year of Celebrity Deaths
In retrospect, I should have seen this coming after the death of Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister in late December of last year. For those of you who don’t know, Lemmy was the frontman of Motorhead and was famous for his gravelly voice, awesome moustache, as well as constantly touring and producing new music well into his sixties. He also drank a bottle of whisky every day, smoked heavily, did basically every drug you don’t inject, and never ate a vegetable that wasn’t a potato. His idea of cutting back on the booze involved switching from Jack and coke to vodka and orange juice. He died of an incredibly aggressive type of cancer at the age of 70, less than three weeks after his final performance. It’s only natural that there would be a rise in the global death rate after the passing of such a man as Death was probably facing a massive backlog after finally putting Lemmy down for good.
From Alan Rickman to ZsaZsa Gabor, the deaths of this past year are too numerous to reference individually but the one that stands out right now is the passing of Carrie Fisher. Most people knew her as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, where her iconic scenes in the metal bikini will forever stand as a testament to the problem of women being overly sexualized in the film industry. I knew her more for her voiceover work and comedic roles in movies such as The Blues Brothers, to the point where my first reaction when she died was wondering who’d replace her on Family Guy. On top of all that, she was a very talented writer, with a body of work including five novels, three non-fiction books, and countless screenwriting credits (countless because she sometimes went uncredited). She did all of this despite suffering from serious mental health issues, which were often exacerbated by the strain of working as a woman in Hollywood. Hopefully in the coming months, we’ll come to remember her as the truly remarkable person that she was, and not as a half-naked woman at the end of a slug-monster’s chain.
On the subject of slug-monsters, at the time of this article’s completion, 2016 has eight hours to redeem itself by taking Donald Trump.
The Political Excrement Storm
In a sense, it’s sadly appropriate that Rob Ford was one of the people who passed away in 2016. It coincided almost perfectly with the time when the far right stopped being a political punchline and started becoming truly terrifying. Politically, Ford and Trump had a lot in common but the limits to Ford’s power made it possible to laugh at the absurdity of his antics. Also, while his head was generally wedged somewhere between his diaphragm and colon, his heart was often in the right place. Conversely, Trump doesn’t seem to have that innate—albeit partially smothered—sense of decency, and his ignorance seems to be more of a strategic construct used to exploit his supporters’ most vicious tendencies than an actual inability to know better. Furthermore, Trump will be wielding a tremendous amount of power even if the few remaining principled Republican senators and congressmen decide to break party lines and work against him. The far right used to be a lunatic fringe of conservatism, something tacitly accepted but largely disavowed whenever addressed by your political opponents. Now it is the norm, and it’s too damned scary to be funny.
That being said, America really did live up to the saying “you elect the government you deserve.” It’s easy to blame the rise of Trump on the short-sighted, ignorant, misguided, xenophobic, counter-intuitive, and bigoted tendencies that characterize American conservatism. However, that wouldignore the many other people who set the groundwork for his presidency. For starters, the Democratic party’s efforts to prevent a Bernie Sanders candidacy alienated not only people on the left but people across the political spectrum who recognized him as a man of principle and conviction, regardless of how much they disagreed with him. The DNC had effectively chosen their candidate beforehand, which was bad enough without utterly refusing to acknowledge the popularity of Sanders’ ideas. They refused to change course and ran their ship right into an iceberg; all they had to do was make a slight turn to the left. This is not to say that people on the left aren’t blameless as anyone who refused to support Hilary when the alternative was the political equivalent of a raving lunatic with a gas can and a lighter made a foolish decision. High-minded moral grandstanding won’t mean jack when you’re on fire. It’s easy to blame the vocal racist who spends so much time in a Klan hood that he has tan-lines around his eyes but sometimes when you point a finger, three point back at yourself.
2016 was the year where US politics reached an epitome of madness and stupidity but before I move on, there is one noteworthy first I wish to address: America’s election of it its first non-Christian president. I know, he claims to be a Presbyterian and his campaign pandered extensively to fundamentalists but he’s much more of an autotheist (a person who believes him or herself to be god) than anything else. Congratulations to America on electing a guy who embodies the worst aspects of both Christianity and Laveyan Satanism. Good luck with that.
The Rise of Extremism Around the World
While I do tend to single out the US, I have to say that it’s not the only place in the world that’s taken a troubling political turn. 2016 was the year when Britain voted in support of the “Brexit” plan, which is likely going to destroy its economy and lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom, an entity that has essentially existed for over three hundred years. The Brexit was inspired by the same anti-migrant sentiments that characterized the US election, suggesting a sort of nationalism that places xenophobia over serious economic concerns. Aside from the economic ramifications of the decision, it reflects the re-emergence of far-right nationalism in Europe, most frighteningly in its larger member states, like France. Recently, the French National Front party had been gaining startling traction among French voters, especially after the horrific terrorist attacks on 2016. While I hesitate to throw around the word “fascist,” I must note that the National Front’s leader lost a defamation lawsuit against a rival politician who called her a fascist, because the judge found the term to be essentially accurate. Even in Germany—a country that has an understandable aversion to far-right politics, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party became disturbingly competitive in state elections. Furthermore, between 2013 and 2016, support for the AfD has risen steadily from about four to sixteen percent. America is not the only country that has seen a return of the political lunatic fringe.
Of course, there are multiple sides of every story and one issue that has fuelled the wildfire of nationalistic far-right sentiments is the issue of Islamic extremism. Regardless of your religious affiliation, no halfway decent person can look upon the actions of Daesh (ISIS), Boko Haram, and the Taliban with anything short of horror. Incidentally, 2016 was a year where Boko Haram rose from the brink of defeat, the Taliban regained control of almost half of Afghanistan, and Daesh managed to wreak substantial havoc outside of the Levant. However, while righteous revulsion is a natural reaction to hearing about kidnapped schoolgirls being sold into slavery or religious minorities being slaughtered en masse, a problem with dealing with extremism is that it is intended to inspire extreme reactions because it is a monster that feeds upon itself. It’s difficult to blame a person for being appalled by the activities of such groups but people often struggle with accurately defining causal relationships, thus ignoring that an extreme “bomb the region to ash” mentality is part of these groups exist. Without getting into a history lesson, I’ll summarize it like this: the problem with far-right movements is that they’re characterized by xenophobia, and by getting scared, they play into the hands of the people they’re meant to defeat. He who fights monsters risks becoming a monster; don’t engage that sort of enemy on its own level.
Since I don’t have a comedic or clever afterthought to that particular section of this article, I’ll finish with:
2016’s Person of the Year:
Negan, from The Walking Dead.
Maybe I’m cheating by picking a fictional character, but I have a hard time imagining any real person who fully embodies the spirit of 2016. SPOILER ALERT: Negan is the main villain of The Walking Dead’s seventh season and he’s characterized by his smug grin, sadistic streak, and brutal murders of beloved characters. He made us cry, he made us cringe, but no matter how much we hate him, some of us can’t help but watch him with morbid fascination. Not unlike the year we’re leaving in our wake, he’s the sort of entity who tease you with a glimmer of hope before crushing your skull with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire.
Here’s hoping he’s also 2017’s person of the year, for getting what’s coming to him.
Happy New Year.