The obligatory annum-ending column that traffics in fresh nostalgia (the stalest kind) gets a double-dose of it in 2016, the year that time remembered. The calendar nearly past borrowed heavily from the past.
One must travel down the box-office bestsellers list to #19 to find an original, live-action film (Central Intelligence) that does not fall into the category of cartoon, serial, remake, or comic-book movie based on decades-old characters. The moviegoers rewarding the glut of formula films no doubt anxiously await Rogue 2.
Coming off the first year in Nielsen Soundscan’s history that “back catalog” albums outsold “current,” pop music has never been so unpopular. In Billboard’s year-end top ten, just two songs — one by Adele and another by Justin Timberlake — pass the hum test, meaning the songs ring so recognizable that a normal person experiences no difficulty humming the tune on demand. Don’t feel as though your clock stopped if you don’t know the words to “Panda” by Desiigner.
Speaking of sequels and back catalog, David Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, and George Michael all left us before reaching four score. Harper Lee, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Fidel Castro, and, of course, Abe Vigoda died this year after we all thought they died in some other year. Muhammad Ali’s passing prompted us to recall a half dozen or more of his classic title fights as we blanked out on the current holder of his belt. Harambe, anonymous before death, enjoyed a celebrity afterlife. Nothing says 2016 more loudly than a dead primate grabbing the spotlight.
Like any other year, Islamic terrorists murdered civilians — in Nice, Orlando, Istanbul, Berlin, and points beyond. A hate-filled American who accused the surrounding society of hatefulness undercut his argument by killing five law-enforcement officers in Dallas. They won no sympathy for their causes and no points for originality. Nutters, unfortunately, became normal long before 2016. Their murderous acts we can forgive; their boorish copycatism of the villains of 2015, 2014, and so on asks too much of a people fatigued by the familiar.
Speaking of clowns, the prospect of whom kidnapping children in white vans and force-feeding them LSD haunted my Boston-area boyhood, returned (or didn’t) in the latter half of 2016 to clown us in all our hysteria. While bozos reincarnated as themselves, SARS (or was it swine flu?) returned as Zika. The bob (1920s), the beard (1880s), and the concert t-shirt (1980s) remained style trends. The Kremlin came back as the script’s supervillain lair, only in this remake liberals played the people imagining Russians hiding “under the bed,” “in the sink, “behind the door,” and “in the glove compartment.”
A folk singer peaking in popularity a half-century ago shortly after writing those lyrics won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016. A baseball team last winning the World Series during the Roosevelt Administration — the Theodore Roosevelt Administration — captured a classic of a Fall Classic. A real-estate mogul from the 1980s promising to “Make America Great Again” emerged victorious in the race for the presidency.
This last event marks the moment when an identity-crisis-of-a-year found itself. The HuffPost Pollster gave the Republican a two percent chance to win the presidency. Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Seth Meyers literally laughed at the idea of a Donald Trump presidency. But Middle America, tired of playing the punchline of the connoisseurs of condescension, enjoyed the last laugh.
And even this shocking turnabout, especially so given the rote predictability of so much of 2016, came with foreshadowing. Across the ocean, the Brits performed a dress rehearsal for November 8 in the Brexit vote (accompanied by similar doomsday forecasts that never came to fruition) removing the United Kingdom from the European Union.
Merriam-Webster, for reasons mostly pertaining to Trump, dubbed “surreal” its word of the year. The foreign yet familiar phrase “déjà vu,” the results of November notwithstanding, fits the times better.
Two-thousand sixteen, we’ve been there, done that.
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