They say the way you spend New Year’s Eve is how the rest of your year will go. I spent last New Year’s Eve cursing celebrities, plotting a series national tragedies, destroying discourse, fanning the flames of racism, and deploying dictators into positions of power. I thought it was just a harmless writing exercise.
Sorry, my bad.
2016 The Year of “I Can’t Even”
2016 has been a gauntlet of gut punches.
There have been so many police shootings of unarmed black men that the front page of CNN came with a trigger warning. There have been so many terrorist attacks the American flag stayed at half staff from one to the next. There have been so many celebrity deaths their names have to share headlines.
Then there was the US presidential election, and the day after when it felt like we woke up in the preface of teenage dystopian fantasy fiction.
Stress over Trump’s administration has become so real doctors have asked friends about it before giving them a diagnosis (not hyperbole, this actually happened). Reality TV personalities donned Hitler stashes (yup, Tila Tequila actually did this), the Klan paraded in public, and alt-righters ‘Hail-Trump’ed.
It feels like the year will keep pilling tragedies on until the clock winds down. 2016 is a leap year and worst still it’s getting an extra leap second just to rub it in. It seems like everything that could go wrong did, but can a year actually be cursed?
We are programmed to see patterns in our experiences. When we buy a blue car we suddenly think that most cars are blue. We see faces in rock formations on the surface of Mars, and when we see a series of tragedies in the news we feel like there’s a greater phenomenon happening.
Why Death Seems to Have Been Looming Larger than Usual
OR Why Death is Fashion
It seems like a People We’ve Lost memoriam started at the beginning of 2016 and just kept going. The TV became a marathon of slow motion icons who’ve passed on. The Radio became an endless playlist of tributes to the fallen. Facebook feeds became a place to watch the dead live on as memes.
No matter how hard we prayed the Grim Reaper kept adding signatures to his autograph collection. Stars on the Walk of Fame turned into gravestones, headshots turned into death shrouds, and platinum albums turned into halos.
It seems like every magazine cover is either Donald Trump or someone we wished hadn’t passed on, like every tribute party is for several rock stars at once, and like every credit role on television ends with a dedication.
It seems like all of this death is a sign of the end times, but there’s a much more logical explanation.
Birthrates in the US have been declining since 1957. Technically they were declining since 1909 but there was a baby boom in 1945, when soldiers returned from World War 2 en masse. A lot of those enlisted men and women had waited years to get down and down they got.
People between the ages of 52 and 70 are part of that generation and they’re going to start dying. Those of us born after 1964 will feel their absence, because Millennials are the first generation since then to actually overtake baby boomers. Generation Xers won’t come close until 2028.
Now comes the real talk. Celebrities, who’ve pushed their bodies to the limits, are going to punch out sooner. It doesn’t help that we’re at the height of a prescription opiate epidemic, which means we’re going to be seeing a lot more of those RIP hashtags we all hate.
This doesn’t mean that this year (or the next) is cursed. It just means that the singularity technology to upload our consciousness to the cloud is still decades away and mortality is still a thing. I know this won’t make grieving any easier, but maybe it will put things into perspective.
2016 has been a hard year to check the news. Several of my coworkers have proclaimed they are willfully abstaining for the sake of their sanity. Everything seems to be getting worse and it all seems to be connected, but correlation doesn’t imply causation.
Some connections are hard to deny. Trump’s trolling from behind a podium has emboldened bigots online, inspired hate crimes, and lone wolf retaliators.
But not all of bad news is necessarily connected.
There seem to have been more police shootings of unarmed black man in 2016 than previous years, but the sad reality is that there is no national record of police shootings.
FBI Director James Comey told the House of Representatives, “We can’t have an informed discussion, because we don’t have data.”
It could be police have been getting away with shooting unarmed civilians before cellphones became common, videos of misconduct went viral, and news services started paying attention, sparking the public to demand action.
So are there more shootings or are we, as a nation, just now paying more attention to them? It could be that an ongoing tragedy is hidden in a dark field of study.
This is true of so much of the news. Things appear to be getting worse simply because we’re waking up to realities that have been there for a while. Now I’m not advising willful ignorance as a solution to painful news, but rather an understanding of how your outlook of the world is informed by your perception.
2016 was a bad year, but it wasn’t necessarily cursed.
More baby boomer celebrities have died, because they’re at that age. We noticed more police shootings because everyone finally started paying attention to them. More lone wolf terrorists have credited their acts to ISIS, because ISIS is dwindling.
As for Trump and his ilk… There might not be a silver lining.