It was Nietzsche who wrote: “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”
Well I wish I could channel some of Gloria Gaynor’s optimism right now but I get the feeling that if our survival depends on extricating some grand meaning from the veritable shit pile of suffering that was the year 2016, we’re going to need a bigger shovel.
In fact if 2016 were a person then Nietzsche’s life seems to be conveniently analogous, seeing as it was one marred early on by tragic deaths, scarred throughout by severe ill health, and finally and mercifully extinguished only after a prolonged deterioration into madness.
Thankfully we don’t have to wait much longer now for the denouement, though if the process could be sped up at all I’m sure we’d all be on the first plane to Switzerland, dragging this burdensome, festering near-corpse of a year behind us in an effort to forego whatever fresh hell its death throes may yet vomit onto the carpet of civilisation.
The morbid imagery is apt, as 2016 looks set to be remembered – for whatever brief, hellish future remains for us to eke out – as the year of death. Not content with simply providing us with the usual amount of war, conflict and terror, this year we’ve been treated to an especially horrific smorgasbord of human pain and torment. It has been a miserable existence this year for so many groups of people: Syrians caught up in a bloody civil war, tourists attacked by bloodthirsty fanatics, and black people in the US who wanted to do things like drive through town or walk down the street.
Perhaps the only place more dangerous than Aleppo this year has been the world of show business, as 2016 ruthlessly dispatched celebrities with the zealous abandon of a drone at a Pakistani wedding party. Bowie, Prince, Ali, even R2-D2 died for fuck’s sake. It’s bad enough when someone you respect and admire passes away but even worse is having to deal with the outpouring of ostentatious social media grief from the kind of people who celebrate their cat’s birthdays.
There were times this year when we got up to at least a 7 or 8 on the Princess Diana-Ometer of disingenuous attention seeking. Twitter has only compounded this phenomenon as each passing is now hailed with a cacophony of teary emoticons, exclamation marks and greeting card phraseology digitally expectorated with a drooling vacancy by the chattering classes.
This was also the year that politics in the UK went from worrying about how Ed Miliband eats a sandwich to a Votey McVoteface catastrophe as the country committed economic and political seppuku to spite the Brussels fat cats who had for so long lorded over them with an iron fist of politeness, inclusive democracy and subsidisation.
The tabloid level of public discourse on display during the campaign, and the ultimate victory of witless, shameless demagoguery should probably have given us an indication of how events would unfold later in the year across the Atlantic, but most people were too busy floundering in apocalyptic angst to indulge in this kind of analysis. Or maybe even at that stage, there remained a modicum of hope, of faith in ordinary people to make a sound decision for their future. I can’t be sure as I can’t remember what that feels like.
And so we move to the biggest story of 2016, and to the proud nation that has just elected a human YouTube comment as its commander in chief. In one fell swoop the trite and much-maligned concept of American exceptionalism was confirmed as reality once and for all, if not exactly as it was meant, as US citizens defeated all competition in the race to the bottom of the barrel of narcissistic populism, displaying the collective self-awareness of an inert gas with Asperger syndrome.
This is the endgame of neoliberalism, of letting the free market dictate societal progress. An ideology that not only accepted but embraced some of the worst characteristics of a species still suffering from an evolutionary hangover and stumbling round in a haze of fear, anger and primitive chest-beating was never going to end well.
This is the broken, bitterly divided, hideously unequal pot of shit at the end of the shimmering rainbow of the American Dream. The US is trapped in a Kafkaesque Bruce Springsteen song, becoming ever more socially and culturally bereft as everything turns to misery and loss.
The binary echo chambers of the fascistic, identity obsessed left and the intractable, dried-up paleo-conservative husks will continue to orbit at a distance around the frustrated, disenfranchised majority whose antiquated political system has robbed them of their voice, and now their future.
But never fear, the wretched failed experiment in democracy that is America will stumble on in its own crass, inimitable way. After all, tomorrow is another day and there is work to be done: freedom to be wrested from tyranny; superhero sequels to be released; and of course, walls to be built. Home of the brave, indeed.
I suppose I should try to finish on a positive note and mention some of the happier moments of the year, such as they were.
Bernie Sanders was a brief bright spot amidst the gloom of the US election, refreshing the political tableau of the country with his ability to form long, coherent sentences and display something approaching human empathy. That is, before he was inevitably crushed by the Clinton money machine, like some insignificant insect or a woman whom Bill sexually assaulted.
In the world of mass entertainment as avoidance of reality the first season of Westworld was pretty good. That said, it’s a little disconcerting that TV plots now seem to be written not with story or character as the driving force, but rather constructed in such a convoluted way as to evade the painstaking, labyrinthine speculation by a committee of Reddit neckbeards that every frame of every episode is now subjected to. There’s also the unshakeable feeling that these violent delights will have nebulous and frustratingly unresolved ends.
Okay, more positives…well…the Olympics was fun I guess? Mmm…Zika didn’t become as widespread as initially feared…Planet Earth II? That was pretty impressive, right? Even if that terrifying scene with the lizard and the snakes provided us with a fitting existential metaphor for the year it’s been.
Well, what else is left to say? The long, painful penetration of the annus horribilis is almost at an end. So wipe yourself down, take a deep breath and brace yourself for 2017. It’s going to be yuge.