It’s never helpful to personally or collectively indulge in misery. While it famously loves company, it’s not the best company to keep. 2016 was an absolutely miserable year according to, oh, everyone on the internet. It’s the year that, amidst great tragedy and uncertainty, we were offered a glimpse of hope, only to have the hounds of hell released upon us. Our politics, our journalists, our courts, and our sense of humanity all systematically failed us.
As that fateful night in November passed, 2016 suddenly exposed itself as the year of previously unthought-of horror. We were forced to look back at the trail of blood, tears, and mistakes only to realize that it was we who screwed up. We cried out because despite our best efforts, nothing we wished for came true. We didn’t fight hard enough. We let our brothers and sisters down. We rested upon flimsy laurels, and let our guards down in the wake of smugness and misplaced trust in the system. We laughed because the victory of goodness and snity, we truly believed, was ours. As reality served us a tall glass of STFU, our minds quickly became polluted with anger, rage, betrayal, and dismay. Social media took a beating. Liberals and loved ones took a fist in the face. The memes, they were aplenty. We lived and learned, and now–with our proverbial beds made–we fluffed the pillows and readied ourselves to lie in it.
While it’s been 15 years since the devastation of 9/11, the same year that George W. Bush took (stole) the presidential office, Generation X and the Millennials have witnessed some truly awful moments in history. We’ve also grown into adults, taken jobs, paid taxes, and watched our dreams evade us through an economy that has a hard time celebrating creativity.
It was once upon a time that we were were told we could be anyone, and do anything. In an age of technology, the superfluously rich and famous, and social media influencers, we believed this to be true. Yet, we quickly learned the road to fruition for most of us would be quite bumpy, unsightly, unattainable, and downright mean. Not unlike generations before us, we witnessed an endless loss of life in senseless wars, aviation catastrophes, and worldwide political and social brutality. In recent decades we’ve had the awful additions of witnessing more gun massacres in American history (the worst being at gay club in the US), fresh onslaughts of terrorism, reinvigorated racism (a diehard institution, it seems), and staunch and unyielding homophobia. The American dream we had constructed in our minds, the one that we believed, and were told, was true (the one where the good guys always win), seemed more and more to be just that – a dream. And it was a dream that grew into somewhat of a nightmare. As we tried to better ourselves through education, our debt mounted. Our educations cost most of us not only our precious youth, but our adulthood, too. Student loan debt is now at an all time high. We are overeducated in a world that values stupidity. Oh, and we’re underpaid.
As we grew to understand our system of rights in this great land, we understood that those rights came at a cost and had restrictions. This is to be excepted in any civilized and democratic society, but the level of restrictions, and the audacity of prejudice, we realized, was abundant. We learned that if we desired the total and complete freedom and protections we are supposedly granted as Americans, then we cannot ask for congressional transparency, we cannot be offered financial freedom, we cannot be a woman, we most certainly cannot be black, we cannot be queer, we cannot be trans, we cannot rationally question outdated institutions, and we cannot be poor. These restrictions now have a clear path to become more rigid than ever.
As the ashes dissipate and the stench becomes bearable, we must understand that the time has come. We must ride out the incompetence of an unqualified leader and his goon squad, and accept that this time it will be worse. Way worse. But how do we inspire ourselves to climb out from under the giant, wet carcass of 2016? What keeps our tattered and broken spirits from sequestering to the danger of the no-fucks-given zone? The answer is, possibly, each other.
The creatives, the writers, the artists, the musicians, the weirdos, the freaks, and anyone that has ever felt like an outsider–we stand to lose the most, and we now have a great responsibility. Embrace each other for this terror ride we are about to take. We are a sensitive bunch, and often misunderstood, even (and especially) by each other. But if we can finally move beyond the trend of victimhood, of irresponsible media reporting, inappropriate emotional reactions, of normalizing the awful and unjust, of blaming, of whining, of inaction, and take intellectual and philosophical responsibility for each other, there may be some kind of hope. Let us band together, because above all, it is our work that will define this age and not the tyranny. And there is a lot of work to do.
2016 robbed us of many things that we loved, and we have to pay honor to what we have lost. This honor must come in the form of dignity, brother and sisterhood, and a fierce fighting style we have yet to refine. Let it get messy, let it get ugly, and please, let it finally set us free.
lead art by Tim Etchells