It began with the death of David Bowie, less than two weeks into the New Year. An almost mythical figure, many would not have been surprised if he had proved to be immortal. The stark realisation that he was mortal, like the rest of us, set the tone for 2016.
Those of us not yet ready to accept this fact would craft a new myth. We joked that Bowie, with his godlike powers, had been personally holding the world together. Now that he was dead, everything was falling apart. It was a ridiculous notion, of course, but now it seems as plausible as any other explanation of the events of the year.
Take, as evidence, the people who left this world in 2016. As we mourned Bowie, none of us could have anticipated how many more of our idols would follow him. It was not just the sheer number of celebrity deaths that proved significant, but also the diversity of them. We all lost at least one treasured celebrity this year, regardless of who we were. As one generation mourned the death of Willy Wonka, another mourned the death of Severus Snape. As each celebrated life ended, they made for an unflattering comparison with their pop culture contemporaries.
Nowhere was this cynicism more prevalent than in the media. 2016 was the year that conspiracy theories went mainstream. Facts and figures lost their power as objective reporting was replaced by constructing a narrative. The term “fake news” was coined, and quickly became redundant, as people applied it to anything they disagreed with. At this stage, it feels like an article by a left wing news outlet declaring the sky to be blue would be labelled fake news by right wing commentators.
A related trend has been the normalisation of bigotry. For years, the right had claimed that liberals labelled anyone who disagrees with them a bigot. This probably has something to do with the bigoted nature of their opinions. None the less, 2016 saw many right wing commentators claiming that free speech was under threat. The irony that they were able to make this claim, through so many media outlets, was seemingly lost on them.
They cried out that their voices were not being heard because they were white, male, Christian, heterosexual, or all of the above. Apparently they felt that it was unfair they had only been allowed to dominate the conversation for the past two millennia or so. It tells you a lot about 2016 that Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos will look back on it as a good year.
No two men took more advantage of these two trends than Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. Both successfully rallied the ignorant masses against phantom enemies. Their template was simple; take growing tolerance of a minatory and twist it into a threat to the majority. Take as an exemplary case, Trumps baseless accusation that Mexican immigrants were predominantly drug dealers, rapists and criminals.
How naive it now seems to have assumed that people would see sense when it came time to vote. Instead the British people chose to isolate themselves from Europe on the basis of a string of high profile lies. Surely America, which just eight years ago had elected black president, would not follow suit? We were wrong again; they elected Donald Trump. Even seeing those words written in my own hand, it seems too ludicrous to be true.
With all that having been said, how best to sum up 2016? There is an old expression, purported to be an ancient Chinese curse; ‘May you live in interesting times.’
(Image courtesy of Chris Barker)