The “Fuck 2016” meme didn’t emerge from a void (although it could have, given the current media climate), but rather from the ceaseless parade of jaw-dropping absurdity that’s delivered primarily on social media and is still technically referred to as “the news.” If 2015 was a year defined by outrage, the prevailing emotion of 2016 was disappointment—the raw, internalized shame of a parent whose offspring have behaved in ways that make them doubt their own genetic material. Here are 16 ways, both big and small, that this year made us wonder if all those drugs we did back in the ’80s had affected America’s DNA after all.
1. Death’s ceaseless culling of celebrities
2016 was barely 10 days old when David Bowie died. His was a loss whose shock was compounded not only by the fact that he’d so successfully concealed his illness, or the fact that he’d still seemed so vital (releasing his 25th album, Blackstar, a mere two days earlier). There was also the fact that he was David freaking Bowie, that immutably cool artistic phoenix who seemed destined to still be reinventing himself long after the rest of us were dead. Like the death of Motörhead’s seemingly indestructible Lemmy Kilmister only two weeks before, David Bowie dying felt like a cosmic screw-up, some clerical error that had misfiled these living myths under “mere mortals.” And it was enough for some to lament, in its earliest hours, that 2016 was already the worst.
In fact, 2016 was the worst, in many myriad ways yet to be discovered. But even in that early outpouring of cynicism, no one could have predicted the endless string of celebrity deaths that would follow Bowie’s, which often threatened to transform our Facebook feeds into digital wailing walls with their constant, keening, outpourings of grief. This was established soon enough when Bowie was followed by the cutting loss of actor Alan Rickman, but perhaps it wasn’t until the January 26 passing of Abe Vigoda—a guy who’d spent half his life joking about escaping the grave—that it really felt like, this year, Death wasn’t fucking around. Losing Prince, another mystical sylph who seemed to transcend time and space, to something as hoary as a drug overdose cut particularly deep. And it only compounded the prevailing feeling that this year was a remorseless celebrity bloodbath.
Even a partial list of bold names feels staggering: Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Anton Yelchin. Garry Shandling. Merle Haggard. Harper Lee. George Martin. Glenn Frey. Patty Duke. George Kennedy. Phife Dawg. Garry Marshall. Alan Vega. Edward Albee. Prince Buster. Curtis Hanson. Jean-Jacques Perrey. Gwen Ifill. Robert Vaughn. Leon Russell. Florence Henderson. Ron Glass. Sharon Jones. Alan Thicke. It all culminated (or so we hope) in the November death of Leonard Cohen—like Bowie and Prince, another artist we’d deluded ourselves into thinking was eternal—thus creating a shitty bookend to a shitty year that felt like one prolonged “In Memoriam” tribute. It hurt and it was awful. But fortunately, no celebrities will die in 2017. [Sean O’Neal]
2. Donald Trump
Even here at The A.V. Club—a nice site for nice people who want to read about fun things like movies and TV shows—even we couldn’t escape the pervasive, toxic spread of Donald Trump. We certainly weren’t alone: This year saw the internet consumed by a twice-hourly barrage of news stories, incensed op-eds, “42 Times Trump Said Terrible Things About Women” supercuts, and dispassionate round-ups of verbatim quotes, all enumerating the many ways that Donald Trump was not only dangerously unqualified to be president, but also actively stoking a voter base composed of the “poorly educated” and proudly anti-intellectual, the openly racist and militantly sexist, and other people fed up with feeling shame. Regardless of whether you felt these things were part of a liberal mainstream media smear campaign, or you know what the word “verbatim” means, we can all agree that this ceaselessly bubbling septic seep of Trump’s shit into the bedrock of our public discourse was incredibly exhausting. All the more so in that, as it turned out, this was only the beginning.
The fact that even websites such as ours were granted multiple avenues to contribute to this discourse further speaks to the bizarro world we now inhabit as of November 8, where our Hollywood elite-defying, man-of-the-people, billionaire president-elect with two dozen IMDB credits also has a history of partying in Playboy videos, bragging about grabbing women by the “pussy” on Access Hollywood, ranking female celebrities by their bangability with Howard Stern, and hosting a reality show where he was accused of sexually harassing its female contestants. And has, since his election, spent his scant hours before assuming the highest office in the land picking petty fights with the cast of Hamilton and carping about Saturday Night Live like your average TV Club commenter. Meanwhile, future historians will also be forced to consider what role Lorne Michaels and a cartoon frog may have played in Trump’s rise to power. The line separating politics and entertainment, blurred since the Nixon-Kennedy debates, is now just an ugly orange smear.
True, we may have been ruled by a former movie star for most of the ’80s, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both warmed late-night TV couches and released Spotify playlists. But Trump—who won by playing the election like an episode of his game show, or one of his many WWE cameos—feels like our first wholly pop culture-spawned president, even as his victory was, quite ironically, widely seen as a rebuke to pop culture’s political influence. What ramifications will Trump’s obvious resentment toward the pop culture that created him, but ultimately rejected him, have on that culture’s future? The fact that we now have to ponder that every single day for at least the next four years (along with a lot of other things) fills us with pre-emptive dread. [Sean O’Neal]
3. Growing antipathy toward the media
Trump’s ascension is made even more disconcerting by its dovetailing with another major narrative of 2016—that of increasing resentment toward the media. Accusations of bias, manipulation, and sloppy reporting have plagued the news ever since the governors of ancient Rome issued their official announcements on stone carvings, under which Roman citizens placed smaller stones calling those governors “cucks.” But this year, that faltering trust in the media fell to an all-time low according to a Gallup poll (if you can believe media polls), with a mere 32 percent of respondents now saying they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence that the news they see is reported fairly and accurately.
Our cynicism was crystallized not only by years of unabashedly politicized coverage—of which Matt Taibbi astutely noted, “Media power comes from trust and respect, and both are eroded quickly if you only ever give people what they want to hear”—but also by scandals such as the one that hit Taibbi’s own Rolling Stone over the now-retracted UVA rape investigation, whose flawed reporting resulted in lawsuits from the accused, and emboldened many who were already predisposed to think the media is dishonest, and quite possibly evil. This year, that old-fashioned, healthy skepticism calcified into a gleeful, open contempt that was reflected in the symbolic dismantling of Gawker by Hulk Hogan and his vindictive, literal bloodsucker billionaire sugar daddy Peter Thiel, then once more with feeling in the Thiel-backed election of a man who has made CNN and The New York Times his mortal enemies.
Even now, before that man has officially assumed power, the scorn toward the once-vaunted Fourth Estate has only intensified. Trump’s sole trusted journalist, Fox News host Sean Hannity, has already called on Trump to freeze out any media outlet who dared report negative things about him, and even replace the White House press pool with his Twitter account. It seems 2016 marked the dawn of an age where many people don’t just see the media as untrustworthy, but unnecessary. And for anyone who believes that an independent, unfettered media is crucial to a functioning democracy, that’s a terrifying thought. (But hey, why believe us? We’re the media.) [Sean O’Neal]
4. The rise of “fake news” and “post-truth”
The growing discontent with mainstream media sources is made even more troubling by what’s replacing it: fake news sites run by Macedonian teenagers and homegrown, opportunistic shit-stains that craft deliberate fictions, preying on the political biases and inherent laziness of your most gullible, most prolific Facebook friend. “Fake news” became more than just a social media annoyance this year; studies showed that intentionally false articles received more eyeballs and engagement than real news stories during the end-run of the election, where their fabrications were shared not only by Trump’s supporters, but also by his staff. Even more distressingly, today’s readers demonstrably can no longer tell the difference between real and fake news. Making matters worse still, even as Facebook (despite some public hemming and hawing from Mark Zuckerberg) joins Google and others in figuring out how to stop the spread of “fake news,” the term has already been co-opted and misused on both sides of the political spectrum—sneeringly applied by liberals to conservative commentary sites like Breitbart and Red State, and spitefully thrown back at The New York Times and CNN by right-wing critics. “Fake news” has very quickly become a catchall epithet for “article I don’t agree with,” which is only confusing matters further.
However you define it, the upshot is this: The spread of fake news, the concurrent mistrust and hostility toward actual news, and the appointment of alt-right propagandist Steve Bannon to the White House—all of this has resulted in us now living in a world where facts don’t matter, “post-truth” is deemed word of the year, and dudes riled by Reddit threads and Alex Jones videos bring assault rifles to pizza places to “self-investigate” some crazy shit they read online. When we start to feel like we can’t trust anything we’re told, we don’t trust each other. And that creates an unstable environment where things can turn violent very easily, and an uneasy populace that’s ripe for fascistic control. Hopefully TruthSpurtingCock.com will write it up soon so everyone will hear about it. [Sean O’Neal]
5. Leslie Jones’ Twitter troubles
We lost David Bowie and Prince, but, to hear some people tell it, women stepping into theGhostbusters coveralls was the true childhood-ruining moment of this year. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon were all mocked for daring to pretend to trap cinematic specters, but it was Leslie Jones who caught the brunt of the backlash. Back in July, the Saturday Night Live comedian’s Twitter feed was overrun with racist messages from bigoted keyboard jockeys. Jones implored Twitter to end the abuse by blocking the accounts, but was left to defend herself for a while as the social media platform busied itself with some important task that necessitated leaving Jones’ pleas unheeded.
6. Celebrities in crisis
Even when they weren’t the victims of vicious, coordinated attacks by racist trolls, 2016’s fitful, suspicious response to celebrities in personal crisis reflected the moral void at the center of our online consciousness. There were small gestures toward humanity, like the “Free Kesha” campaign that seemed to be gaining momentum after a New York judge ruled that letting the singer out of her contract with the man she says verbally and sexually abused her would damage the vulnerable billion-dollar corporation that bound her to him. But that momentum wouldn’t last. After a couple of months marked by whirlwind highs (a much-hyped Coachella comeback performance) and devastating lows (the systematic gutting of her legal case against producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald), Kesha booked a tour, and we decided, as a culture, that this would be a natural stopping point to the whole thing. It’s not, of course: A New York Times piece published in October revealed Kesha’s career prospects to be as tenuous as ever, two years in to this intermittently public legal nightmare.
More recently, outcry over a baldly exploitative episode of The Dr. Phil Show purporting to “help” actress Shelley Duvall—who is clearly suffering from some serious mental illness issues—took a complicated turn when Vivian Kubrick, daughter of Duvall’s The Shining director Stanley Kubrick, turned out to be a Scientologist, severely complicating her fundraiser for Duvall’s mental health. Kanye West, meanwhile, seems to have avoided any recent run-ins with Scientology (at least publicly), but is still making some concerning choices following his admittance to a Los Angeles hospital “for his own health and safety” last month amid a wave of canceled shows and onstage endorsements of Donald Trump. Naturally, E! camera crews will be there to capture whatever he does next.
Other celebrities who proved themselves to be Just Like Us! by revealing their flawed, fragile, deeply weird humanity this year fared slightly better, if only because their lives were subject to public scrutiny for shorter periods. Each of Corey Feldman’s three separate public humiliations through dance only dominated the news cycle for a couple of days, and Sinead O’Connor’s disappearance in the suburbs of Chicago and Tom DeLonge’s obsession with UFOs received even less buzz. Whether that’s more or less tragic is for you to decide.
Perhaps, in another universe, Amber Heard’s accusations of domestic violence against ex-husband Johnny Depp would be met with concern and good faith, and Brad Pitt’s movie idol image would have been irreparably damaged by the child-abuse allegations that surfaced in the wake of his divorce from Angelina Jolie in September. But that’s not our universe, unfortunately. So we must take comfort in the small, silly things, like Beyoncé fans threatening celebrity chef Rachael Ray because they confused her with Rachel Roy, a stylist suspected—and ultimately acquitted—of being Lemonade’s infamous “Becky with the good hair.” Just don’t scroll down to the comments, even on that innocent-looking Instagram picture of a sloppy joe. [Katie Rife]
7. Our phones betraying us
Even the most cursory scroll through the daily news feed confirms that clearly, other human beings cannot be trusted. But we’ll always have our phones. Surely they’re simply the conduit through which the infinite complexity of life on Earth is reduced to its scariest, most demoralizing component parts, and pose no threat in and of themselves, right? Wrong. 2016 was the year that, now that it’s got our most tender bits gently cupped in its smooth, cool, stainless steel-and-glass palm, smartphone technology decided to clamp down and squeeze.The most blatant harbinger of the coming technological apocalypse was the recall of Korean tech giant Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 7 phone back in September, after the phones played their hand way too early in the uprising and a small number of units (35 that we know of) exploded and/or caught fire within weeks of the product’s launch.
Apple was also up to no good this year, although its machinations proved sleeker and more pleasing to the eye. First, there was the company’s brave choice to remove headphone jacks from its upcoming iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models, forever freeing humanity from the annoyance of tangled headphone wires. (Destroying competitors like Square whose products rely on headphone jacks is just the price of innovation.) Then there’s the patent Apple filed in June for a device that can disable an entire music festival’s worth of cellphone cameras in one swoop, technology for which the incoming Trump administration will probably find uses both sinister and shallow. However, for the moment at least, we humans retain our competitive advantage over the machines—although if we keep using it for stupid shit like converting a teenage AI to Nazism, we won’t have that advantage for long. [Katie Rife]
8. Pokémon Go
As far as omnipresent, inescapable fads go, there are worse things than getting the country’s smartphones—and the bleary-eyed, sore-thumbed users helplessly attached to them—up on their feet to catch imaginary turtles and cartoon attack pigeons. And yet, there was something distinctly American about the arc of Niantic’s augmented reality hitPokémon Go: A few fleeting moments of joy, followed by instant, rabid addiction, and a slow slide into apathy and lazy despair.
Things started out well enough: For half a second in early July, we all get to experience an easy, half-assed sense of community, some quality Chuck Tingle erotica, and even a dead body or two. But then people started, inevitably, to let their latest distraction from the horrors of modern life coax them into propagating some horrors of their own, cheerfully posting pictures of themselves catching Rattatas and Pikachus (and, yes, even a poison gas Pokémon) at Washington’s D.C.’s Holocaust Museum. Even more than the tales of cheating boyfriends getting caught thanks to their incessant obsession with the game, or the spate of stories about people being hit by cars while playing it, though, was the widespread sense of diminished returns that settled over Pokémon Go’s millions of players as the collective bloom slowly came off the Roserade. (That’s a kind of Pokémon, in case it wasn’t clear.) By the time The Simpsons—operating with an uncharacteristic swiftness in its old age—issued its own send-up of the game, 12 days after its release, the sense had already set in that the daily hustle for Pokéballs and Pidgey Candy wasn’t so much the transformative, carefree lark we were all desperately flicking, tapping, and hunting for, as it became just another distracting part of our ongoing daily grind. [William Hughes]
9. Fan entitlement
Maybe the nerds shouldn’t have inherited the earth. More than a decade after traditional bastions of introverted loserdom like Star Wars and comic books transformed into mainstream blockbuster entertainment, a subsection of fans who grew up getting thrown into lockers for wearing Superman T-shirts retain the bitterness of the persecuted nerd, even as Hollywood studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars crafting blockbuster movies that cater to their obsessions. And with that bitterness comes a sense of entitlement, a mindset that posits that, because someone is a fan of something and it means a lot to them, the people who make that thing should care just as much about them and their needs. In this warped, one-sided relationship model, not only is giving a film a negative review like insulting an old friend, but any changes to a property not dictated by “the fans” aren’t just creative license. They’re personal betrayals.
This year, one of those (perceived) betrayals was met with enough (perceived) righteous anger to coin a new sobriquet: “Ghostbros,” those brave crusaders who stepped up to protect the iconic Ghostbusters jumpsuits from girls who might period all over them. (Besides, how would a ghost give a blowjob to a lady Ghostbuster, huh? Explain that, smarty pants.) Most of the furor over the film took place before it even hit theaters: The trailer was the most disliked in the erudite history of YouTube comments, and basically every high-profile member of the cast and crew—even Dan Aykroyd, who betrayed his gender by praising a film that he executive-produced—was on the receiving end of passive-aggressive grousing at best, and death threats at worst. (In one of the prouder moments of this writer’s professional career, over the summer a friend of mine received a Facebook message inquiring after my “hard-on with the new Ghostbusters,” and if I was “so blinded by feminist pride” that I couldn’t see what a travesty the movie was. Note that the message was not sent to me directly.) In the end, the movie was just okay, and it did okay-but-not-great at the box office, and the furor oozed back to the sewer where it belonged. Throughout it all, Ghostbusters fans on all sides of the debate failed to recognize the true threat to their childhoods: Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott’s unconscionable mangling of Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song.
Now, though, the “men’s rights activists” who played leading roles in anti-cootie campaigns like this one and last year’s anti-Mad Max boycott are being eclipsed by the hottest new trend in bigotry: the pro-Trump white supremacist fringe group that calls itself the “alt-right.” But while anti-Semitism is the new misogyny in hate-speech circles (not that neo-Nazis are pro-woman by any means), both groups have shown their underbellies to be equally soft. Take the edgelords who felt threatened because the writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tweeted that “Star Wars [is] against hate,” and started rumors (the “baseless” is implied) that the movie was reshot to include anti-Trump propaganda. Thus, the #DumpStarWars hashtag was born. We’re sure it will be just as successful as the Force Awakens boycott last year.
On the other side of the fan-entitlement collectible coin was something that The A.V. Club really would have liked to have been true: The persistent rumor that Marvel Studios was engaged in a payola scheme bribing critics to write positive reviews of MCU films, and negative reviews of DCEU ones, culminating in a petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes over its negative scores of Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad. (Never mind that Rotten Tomatoes is simply a review aggregator, and has no opinions of its own.) We tried our best to get in on this super sweet deal, even shamelessly petitioning Marvel with our payment preferences (cash, ideally, but whiskey and Edible Arrangements would have been acceptable substitutes). But now, at the end of the year, our checks and/or chocolate-dipped pineapple slices have yet to arrive, an
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