Remember the Year 2K? The Millennial anniversary that signaled the end of life as we knew it? Unless I missed a memo, we ducked the digital meltdown and managed to get on with the familiar triumphs and trials almost as if the calendar was a convenient human invention rather than a playbook for the globe.
Having slipped by that one, we had to contend with December 21, 2012, which, as we knew all too well, was the date identified in the MesoAmerican Long Count Calendar as the start of the New Age. Scholars steeped in the history of the Mayans assured us that they had found no accounts of doomsday predictions, and that the presumed collision with the planet Nibiru was not imminent. Equally unlikely, they suggested, was the geomagnetic reversal (polar shift) that would set off an explosion roughly equal to that of one hundred million atomic bombs.
The temptation to catastrophize is always with us, and the events of the past year may, in fact, have consequences that turn out to be not-so-great, but my powers of prediction have turned out to be unreliable, and investment in prophecies that never materialize has not brought me much satisfaction. All of that now being said, it seems right and proper to take a look at some of the signal events of the past year, not to give them more weight than they deserve, but to remind ourselves of the road we have travelled together.
2016 brought discussion of “fake news” and of viral accounts that were entirely manufactured, particularly those that were disseminated via Facebook. The two runners-up in this year’s tally of Facebook shares are impressively vivid: ” Cinnamon Roll Can Explodes Inside Man’s Butt In Shoplifting Incident” and “Morgue Worker Arrested After Giving Birth To Dead Man’s Baby”. The most shared story of the year, however, must have resonated with disaffected employees everywhere; 1,765,000 people passed this one along: ” Woman Arrested For Defecating On Boss’ Desk After Winning The Lottery”.
Wish fulfillment? Magical thinking? It’s hard to prepare an informed citizenry for the exercise of democracy when we can no longer trust the news our friends pass along. And, by the way, the alleged Cinnamon Roll Can explosion would certainly move way past “incident” for any witnesses who happened to be waiting in line when the device deployed.
Real news, however, is stranger than fake, as is exemplified by the report issued by the Taunton, Massachusetts Fire Department, indicating that an arsonist attempted to use Cheetos as an accelerant in setting his ex-girlfriend’s house aflame.
The annual publication of the Darwin Awards celebrates the culling of the human gene pool as those most likely to reproduce the next generation of stunningly clueless mortals make mind-rattling and occasionally fatal choices, choices that suggest that they are unclear on a concept. More than half of the awards have been given to criminals who, in the heat of the moment, have forgotten some of the central elements necessary to a successful crime, but 2016 was the year in which ordinary folks moved into consideration for the top prizes. Both nominees failed to survive what must have seemed a perfectly reasonable impulse. The first attempted to take a “selfie” with a crocodile; the second attempted the same photo op with two elephants in the wild.
2016 was the year of rampaging “killer clowns” as claims of abductions by clowns came from virtually every state in the union. To date, no actual criminal clown activity has been substantiated, but schools and organizations did shut down in response to clown terror. Urban myths spring fully formed, and this one took off quickly, not only prompting parents to form “clown vigilante” packs, but compelling “pro-clown” groups to march under the banner, “Clown Lives Matter”.
In 2016, the world of wanna-be-wizarding was rocked by J.K. Rowling’s disclosure that one of the students attending Hogwarts, Dean Thomas, had originally been named “Gary”. Visitors to Pottermore – the digital heart of the Wizarding World took to the twittersphere to wonder at the meaning of the change of name. Apparently Rowling had known a boy named Gary. That’s it. That’s all there is. Gary. The mind leaps, of course, to consider the other sorts of names that might have been been enrolled at Hogwarts had Harry, Hermione, and Neville not made the cut. Chad Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, featuring Chad’s loyal pals, Trixie and Stu.
The year that was brought controversy aplenty. There was considerable flap over the sudden popularity of Lacroix Sparkling water, with particular concern that movers and shakers in Hollywood had adopted the fizzy stuff as the “insider” beverage of the year, hijacking what had been a down-to-earth product of the G. Heileman Brewing Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin and changing the pronunciation from “La Croy” to “Lah Crwah”. Was the “French” pronunciation merely an affectation? Hah! Consider these among the TWENTY flavors of sparkling water now available: Pamplemousse, Pomme-baya, Cerise limon, Pina Fraise, LaCola, and Mure pepino. Zut Alors!
Finally, Pokemon Go was touted as the answer to the sedentary habits of gamers as the mobile application employed GPS in order to propel players through the “real” world, encouraging physical activity. Maybe, but when players were directed to capture virtual creatures at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, The United States Holocaust Museum, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, when players were directed to trap creatures on the railroad tracks in Holland, when Bosnian players stepped into mine fields, when Japan reported seventy-nine Pokemon Go related auto accidents, when a stabbing victim in Forest Grove, Oregon refused treatment so that he could continue his hunt, when a boyfriend said, “Catch ’em all” instead of “I love you” when dropping off his girlfriend, we had to wonder.
And, just to send the old year off with proper fanfare, let’s remember that in 2016 we treated our celebrities well. The Forbes list of Highest Paid Celebrities has a few surprises, but I’m certain we all agree that every penny is well deserved. Leading the tally, Taylor Swift hauled down $170,000,000 last year, Dr. Phil McGraw counseled his way to $88,000,000 (How’s THAT working for you?), and Kevin Hart came in at $87,500,000. Howard Stern will have to get by with $87,000,000. Madonna still cashes a hefty check, coming in at $76,500,000 while the lovely and talented Rush Limbaugh tops that with $79,000,000. Some surprises might include Kim Kardashian at $51,000,000 and Judy Scheindlin (Judge Judy) at $47,000,000. I’m going to assume it’s residual income that brought Jerry Seinfeld another $43,500,000 last year, but how did virtually retired Tiger Woods bag $45,500,000? The universe is now finally in balance,however, as supermodel Giselle Bundchen earned a mere $30,500,000 while hubby Tom Brady pulled down $44,000,000.
No room for resentment here. I wish them a happy new year and pass on this urgent advice to the rest of us. Put down Pokemon Go, don’t take selfies with a crocodile, and if you win the lottery, steer clear of your boss’ desk.