Another music icon from my teens – George Michael – passed away today (in London, aged only 53) and brought the by now predictable chorus of “Fuck you, 2016” from most corners of my social media. Which, inexplicably, sent up its own backlash pointing out how it’s not the year’s fault.
Well, yes, we know that. A year is a trip around the sun, measurably, with the calendar being sort of weird and arbitrary. 2016 isn’t a sentient being hellbent on mayhem, destruction, and the kind of soul sucking grief that turn you into a husk of your former self. *ahem*
Which is a pity, really, because regardless of intent, that’s exactly what 2016 has done to me and an inordinate number of my friends and acquaintances, and we’d all really like to hold someone – anyone – accountable. Assigning some order to this chaos goes a surprisingly long way toward making it feel like we had some measure of control over this careening, runaway train that was 2016.
No, it’s not the year’s fault. Neither is a celebrity death inherently more valuable than anyone else’s. But to deny that cultural icons create space in our consciousness – and therefore leave a space when they leave – is to discount most of human history. Art shifts and reinvents; both itself and its audiences. Not every celebrity is an artist (the same may be said in reverse), but there is not a 70s or 80s child that I know whose heart didn’t break just a little when America’s Mom, Carol Brady, passed away. Of course I mean Florence Henderson, who had a long and productive career playing many different roles, but there is an entire generation for whom she was the mom they came home to after school. That, my darlings, is an intersection of arts/entertainment and culture, and like it or not, its affecting.
Glenn Frey’s music is one of the few things my mother and I agree on. Gene Wilder turned up in all the films that made me realize what a weirdo I am. Leonard Cohen was one of the greatest poets of life’s essential truths. Morely Safer and Gwen Ifil were part of the old guard of authentic journalism and their influence will be missed. Prince was the soundtrack for and Muhammed Ali was a personal hero to a vast swath of America. What the loss of these people means to their friends and family is private, but the loss of their place in the cultural pantheon is significant, and in many cases symbolic. When David Bowie passed early this year, I was already lost in my own downward spiral of grief. A marriage that had just entered the explosion phase of the slow motion crash and burn that has characterized my life since August of 2015. Losing such a huge cultural icon and influence shocked me into reflection, and forced me to confront grief.
And then there is the political circus that was 2016, and that sadly, marks the start of what promises to be a 4 year shit show of incompetence at best, and WWIII at worst. That’s if climate change doesn’t get us first. The policies and promises that just under half the voting population managed to get into office promise to make my own life a Sisyphean struggle for the next 3 years, and for many of my friends and family as well. This isn’t hyperbole, this is just a simple fact over which I have almost no control.
Taken together, the national cultural tragedies added insult to the injury that was my personal life in 2016. I have wrested what control can be wrought, and am now at least in the engineer’s seat in the aforementioned runaway train, but it can still go off the rails at any moment. I could blame the train, or the tracks, but 2016 will pass from this earth and never be seen again. It can take the brunt of our anger and blame. 2017 will bring its own challenges and celebrity deaths, but it will not be the same as 2016 and for me, that’s enough.