There have been some terrible years in the modern age. 1939 can’t have been much fun. 1973 must have been a real bummer. 2001 was a sobering experience. But 2017 stands alone. It might be the worst year the world has yet seen.
There were, of course, some bright spots in 2017. The #metoo movement is a welcome come-to-Jesus-and-Mary moment for men. It’s still a developing tool. It needs to be precise enough to distinguish the Ansaris from the Weinsteins. But I couldn’t be more delighted at its whirlwind effectiveness in 2017. After the defeat of Hillary Clinton, women needed a victory. #metoo gave them one. Speaking of victories, my sincere thanks to the people of Virginia and Alabama.
2017 had my favorite use of comic book mythology, which isn’t a high bar given that I’m not a comic book guy. I couldn’t care less about the X-Men in general or Wolverine in specific. But James Mangold’s use of X-Men mythology to tell a heartfelt tale about aging and responsibility was staggeringly effective. Star Wars’ return to irrelevance was disappointing, but years of George Lucas prequels have conditioned me to accept it. Martin McDonagh, Frances McDormand, and Sam Rockwell told an unforgettable story about the nature of anger. I love Greta Gerwig more and more every year.
On the smaller screen, Walking Dead’s long steady decline accelerated into an astonishing plummet as Jeffrey Dean Morgan grinned and rocked back on his heels. Game of Thrones has come together with a questionable emphasis on spectacle instead of acting. All those stately British actors and we’re getting down to Kit Harrington’s fizzleless chemistry with Emilia Clarke? Oh well. Bring on more dragons hauled out of the ice by zombies with giant chains! At least Star Trek: Discovery is something different. I’m the last guy you want to ask about new music, but why is Kesha singing country songs? Somehow I listened to K. Flay’s Every Where is Some Where a whole lot.
Nintendo’s Switch was a high point for videogaming. The ability to seamlessly move from the living room to the subway back to the living room, stocked with a generous catalog of indie titles alongside the usual Mario fan service. Nintendo, meet the indies. Indies, meet Nintendo. I can tell you guys are gonna get along just fine.
For me personally, 2017 meant settling somewhat comfortably into the routine of streaming video. It meant stabilizing Patreon as a way to make a living. It’s been really gratifying watching content on the site thrive with Nick Diamon’s insight and humor. Wildfires danced by the hills near my house and the police came down the street telling everyone to leave. I was fortunate enough to visit Sweden briefly, reminding myself that a) it’s really cool to leave the United States from time-to-time, and that’s especially true in 2017, and b) airline travel sucks more and more. After treatment for cancer in 2014, my third annual scans came back negative, which is a positive thing. My oncologist is a stocky Armenian man who could play a villain in a James Bond movie, but his voice goes soft with concern when he talks. “Things are looking very good for you, my friend.” He rapped a thick knuckle against some wood panelling on the wall. “Very good.”
But mostly, 2017 was an absolute fucking horror show in which devastating hurricanes and horrific shootings in Las Vegas and Texas were upstaged by the unfolding disaster in Washington D.C. At least you could see it coming. Of all the things I can say about this part of 2017, I can’t say it was surprising. The end of 2016 was that instant of equal parts terror and resignation when you realize you’re about to wreck your car. Part of you is an outraged “oh shit, I can’t believe this is happening”. Somewhere deeper, another part of you is “well, this is going to happen, better hang on”. That was how 2016 concluded.
And then the duration of 2017 was the sickening impact. The buckling metal, the shattering glass, the frame collapsing, the wheels twisting. The stench of things spilled, burnt, shredded, and scraped. None of it surprising. All of it very clearly anticipated with equal parts terror and resignation. It had only to happen. The parade of privileged white men and Betsy DeVos into the White House and sometimes right back out. The discrediting of the intelligence community and the judiciary, the neglect of the State Department, the setback to progressive social causes, the dismantling of environmental and financial regulation, the scuttling of whatever political capital the United States had accumulated in the world. In front of it all, that bloated gloating uncomprehending face, with background accompaniment by the unctuous incompetence of Sean Spicer and then Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ dead eyes and thinly veiled contempt for the press.
It wasn’t just the administration, of course. It was the entire Republican party. Everything you need to know about contemporary Republicans you can learn from the Alabama Senate race. We’re a two party system, half of which has given itself over to identity politics, unethical gerrymandering, racism, xenophobia, crass nationalist rabble-rousing, and the subversion of rule by law. For them, we are a country of men, not laws.
The only real surprise was how readily the Republicans rolled over and aligned with the dysfunction of the White House. How little resistance they offered. How few of them stood up for principles. There is not a hint of public service in the lot of them. Not a hint. It’s all opposition politics, pandering, and the shameless promotion of party-before-country policies. This is a party that has betrayed its country. Our only saving grace is its incompetence at governing.
One of the hard lessons of the Arab Spring, the 2012 wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East, was that democracy isn’t always liberal democracy. Tunis and Egypt took advantage of their newfound liberty to vote radical Islamists into power. Oops. That’s self-determination for you. It’s not like the Cold War, when we could just rig an election to make sure our guy won because we knew what was best for someone else’s country. But I never thought this observation about democracy would apply to my own country. It never occurred to me that a couple of decades of Republicans and Fox News demonizing the opposition, courting racists, and shamelessly lying would be so effective. It never occurred to me that 2017 would be a year for fretting about what sort of world is being set up for today’s children. What breaks my heart is that kids today don’t understand that this isn’t normal. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. This is a horrible aberration that never should have happened.
Now 2018 is that moment when you’ve gotten out of the car and made sure everyone is okay. The impact is still ringing in your ears. Your body aches. There’s a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach as you discover the damage. What will it take to repair this car? Or has it been totaled?
(The year 2017 won the drawing from a list of Patreon review requests. If you’re interested in participating in the review requests, click here for my Patreon campaign. For a list of reviews that have been drawn from the review requests, click here.)