2016: Traumatic and Toxic
Well, it was a year wasn’t it? A catalogue of death and damnation and one wonders, given we still have a few days to go, what else might befall the planet?
Many years are much the same as others, and pool and blur into an indistinct hue once the moment has passed. Some years we remember: those where we succeeded; where lives started; where we met important people; where we traveled; changed jobs, and yes, lost loved ones.
2016 could be called our global annus horribilis, just like the good old queen had a few years ago, when amongst other things Windsor Castle managed to go up in flames. 2016 has seen the passing of many of the greats of the entertainment world – we kicked off in January with the death of David Bowie, followed swiftly by Alan Rickman and the floodgates whooshed open. I am not about to list the plethora of passings – it is too many to mention. Some celebrity deaths bit harder than others and in our celebrity saturated world it became impossible to keep up with the tributes and the ceaseless march to immortality. Once rock n rollers died young or faded into obscurity, this year they died in greater numbers than before and not the young and not from celebrity excess. No, we lost them to cancer, and illness and oddness (Prince, what actually happened there?) and to a more limited extent old age – Leonard Cohen was in his 80’s.
There must be something in the air, some cosmic disturbance of the energy surrounding the planet, something that has shifted us off orbit and decreed this a year of death, disaster, and disturbing changes.
Has this been a particularly savage year or is it just a symptom of age: of the age of the departing celebrities, our own ages and of our modern age of instant information? Once the spread of such news would have taken longer. But we knew within minutes of the public announcements that our beloved stars were gone. George Michael died on Christmas Day – we knew about it Christmas night. I was just getting used to Rick Parfitt (Status Quo – the morning music of my youth thanks to my brother, blasting it through the house as he ate his cornflakes, toast and Vegemite) being gone when there was George Michael, one of the iconic music figures of the 80s & 90s, gone as well. And, as I write, Carrie Fisher has died too.
Some deaths will effect some more than others. Yes, there was so much about Bowie, it was hard to ignore and yesterday BBC Radio2 was devoted to George Michael with a bit of Status Quo thrown in. Some of these artists had a massive impact, their songs marked people’s lives; they meant something beyond just great music and amazing performances. Celebrities matter these days and ones that were around for key moments in our lives are mourned like friends, are missed like friends. So, for some it has been like being in the ring with Muhammed Ali, whom we also lost this year, or the like – going the twelve rounds, getting knocked down, getting up only to be knocked down by the next death blow.
Celebrity deaths are traumatic things but the increasing toxicity of the media is perhaps far more to worry about this year. Several brutal and vicious elections were contested. And to continue with the boxing analogy, the gloves were well and truly off. The EU referendum in the UK was vile and ugly. It marked a low point in an area of life where we have come to expect gutter like behaviour: politics. As you well know I am no fan of Michael Gove, and everything I loathed about him was on display; arrogance, lies, contempt for all and sundry, no care for ordinary people, only ever about his own agenda. Never mind that both sides ignored the consequences of a campaign run on sound-bites and misinformation, never mind that a politician was murdered and that hate crimes and racism has spiked since Brexit, all that seemed to matter for Gove, Boris, Farage, Cameron and Osbourne was their opinions, their agenda, their egos; no, nothing really concrete or honest about what was going to happen next. I guess the best thing was that many political careers were wrecked in this democratic farce but what are we left with in this brave new world of looming UK independence and the lurch to the ultra-conservative right?
Across the pond the unthinkable happened and an ‘unelectable’, sexist, racist, hatred spewing geriatric was elected. How did the world get Donald Trump as president of the most powerful nation on earth? Would Hilary have been better? Who knows … But at least she had some experience and has spent her life in public service. The Donald seems only to have spent his life in service to himself. And why did so many people who were not his natural constituents vote for him?
No, I would not have voted for him, just as I did not vote for Brexit but the fact that so many did and effectively voted against their own self interests (you too, Australia) does make me wonder about democracy and the blatant lack of consequences for those elected on ridiculous promises they have no intention of keeping.
Regardless of your feelings about Brexit or Trump, or about who deserves to win, what is most reprehensible about both of these elections has been the unprecedented level of vitriol, misinformation, false news and outright lies. But no-one seems to really care. Hey ho, another politician has lied. More tax breaks for the rich, more pain and restriction for the poor and less able, in the US, UK and Australia too. Do people get the government they deserve when they are so deliberately misinformed about what is happening and what will happen when the election is over? Do ordinary people really deserve this level of toxic contempt from those who govern us?
And let us not ignore the media in this – the legit media – whoever they are these days and the alternative media, who may or may not be giving a thoughtful alternative to the gate-keeper news of the big papers and big networks. Where does this level of bullshit come from? Yes, the various media and tech barons across the world. Do you really think Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg aren’t influencing the masses, making normal folk vote the way they want? Mr Face-book himself needs to take a long hard look at the amount of acerbic vitriol that was parading as news on his platform, his octopus like platform with tentacles across the world poking into the impressionable minds of all sorts of unwary, unwise people. Does he think Face-Book did not influence the US election, does he really think his locks and bars stop the shit getting through? As to Murdoch, why is such an odious old man allowed such power, enabled by slews of policy making wonks to do his bidding?
How do you tell real news from fake news? How do you tell what is a toxic real story and a toxic made up story? Why are we buying into the slanging matches that are the comments on various articles, where we seem to prefer to ignore the argument and go straight for the personal attack? If people disagree with our view then clearly they are stupid, and should die or be raped, etc. Yes, these are the sorts of comments that are now common-place. There is no space for disagreement, you are either with me or you are the enemy. And so we scurry to safe places, behave like snow-flakes, ignore unpalatable truths and live in an ever increasingly dangerous world.
Perhaps this year’s gaggle of dead celebrities have seen too clearly how the world is turning to the dark side and have got off?
It’s been a shocker of a year. Not one to be repeated, but I fear things will not suddenly be better in 2017. Perhaps the death rate amongst the talented and exalted may slow, but the toxic state of the planet is not going to suddenly turn and shift to the light, move back to some sort of balance.
Your job, dear reader, is to learn from this horror show of a year. Hold your loved ones close. See your old bands and favourite musos before they go. Do your best to behave with honour and decency. Do not get pulled into the vortex of bile and slander, on-line or in life. Teach your children well, lead them to truth, let them discern the lies, enable them to stand up for themselves and what is right without resorting to violence and verbal assault. In the old Aussie Rules parlance, let’s play the ball and not the man. (Images taken from Private Collection)