2016 and pop culture: does any of this matter anymore?


So much has happened in the last 12 months. It’s hard to quantify. Is 2016 the worst year in human history? No; global wars and plagues have ended too many lives and nuclear bombs have redefined how we should think about humanity. From a western point of view, most of us live in prosperity and comfort but this year is different. This year feels like a relentless global barrage of terrible. There’s no single event to unite us in solidarity. There have been dozens, big enough to never be forgotten but still small enough to be anything less than a historical footnote. But there’s a snowball effect and now we are facing an avalanche of awful, the impact of which cannot be stopped.

This isn’t the kind of thing, I’d normally write about here, and there won’t be any analysis worth anything to anyone who has experienced tragedy or loss. But recently, I’ve stopped writing every day. There hasn’t been a post  on this site for 2 weeks, probably the longest gap since the site started.(Who cares?) It’s more than just a personal malaise, although let’s not deny that’s part of it, but more that this now seems so stupidly trivial and insignificant that writing about a new Star Wars trailer seems like a waste of human endeavour.

I’ve always maintained that film reviews, features and pop culture in general are important and that in troubled times, even more so. Art, and entertainment represent the best of us, help us to understand or somehow shine a light on a side of the human condition worthy of analysis. But now, I’m not so sure. Even that has soured. Where once there was space for an intelligent discourse has turned into name calling and fighting.

Certainty has become the enemy. It seems doubt is no longer the default position for most. There’s no questioning or being open to the position of others. There’s a rigidity which seems so destructive. “I am right and you are wrong.” And with this certainty comes a bizarre suspicion, a feeling that if you are not with us then you are against us. That somehow everyone has conspired to have an agenda.

Then that leads to a reactive snobbery, in me anyway – the privileged white, left wing, straight, university educated male. I think that those who think so rigidly don’t know enough, are childish, pathetic, aggravating but most of all I think that they are wrong. Not with any certainty; I regard being sure of anything a sign of a delusional mind, and I’m always happy to be proven wrong and will sway like barley in the wind depending on who talks to me. But this new rigidity makes me doubt everything I believed about humanity in general.

People are good and reasonable, and ultimately intelligent. Now it seems like ignorance is a badge to worn with pride, and people seek out tribes, both off and online to agree with their new doctrine. It’s like everyone is forming sects for new religions but without the imperative to do good. And in their name, this justifies abusing others – for their gender, religion or even or because they like a particular film.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a viewpoint, of course there isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with argument or debate. But forcing a point of view on others is horrific and it’s near impossible to avoid.

This shouldn’t be infecting our pop culture, but it is. The hatred and anger have penetrated right to the core, and expressing even opinion comes with the fear of abuse. What once felt isolated to closed sections and individuals now feels close to all encompassing. This stuff – games, films, books – is supposed to be fun. Once it stops being fun, then what’s the point.

There are so many terrible things happening in the world, maybe it’s always been the case, but there’s always been an escape. Maybe ignorance is bliss but toxic masculinity, toxic ignorance and just general pettiness have polluted any joy in the ignorance of entertainment. So maybe we should all just find something more useful to do instead.

But this is all I know and in some ways, it’s all I’ve got. It may not be inspirational, poetic or even adequate but I love writing. So in times of stress and torment and self-doubt, here I turn. It’s not much, but in a world we don’t really recognise, we all need to forge a space of our own, keep doing the things that make us happy. If nothing really matters, that’s the only thing that matters.

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