Those of us who’ve ended long relationships because we saw some destructive cycle repeating itself can remember the precise moment when the wheel caught fire, when the love was lost.
The process leading up to that moment may have been long-delayed, drawn-out or otherwise exacerbated in the interest of sparing our partner’s feelings, dignity, or egos. But we became fed-up in that moment. We instantly became sick and tired of being exhausted. And therein lies a powerful lesson that we can take with us as 2016 comes to an end, something to remember in a year chock full of so much we want to forget.
We remember our exhaustion because we remember how much we stayed informed during this past election, digesting every bit of relevant information about our candidates and assuring ourselves we would be part of the movement that held those candidates accountable for past bankruptcies, megalomaniacal remarks and sexual assaults. We remember our exhaustion because we stayed up on the 24-hour news cycle, vigilant and in dialogue, even when that wheel was on fire, too.
Reckoning with the exhausting emotions that pour out of these losses, we’re reminded again how little the 24-hour news cycle cares to go deep or long on art and cultural legacies. We’re again reminded that we miss the Starman because his ★ was, in its rollout and prescient powers, a meditation on that very fleeting nature of memory.
But we must not let our exhaustion over 2016 dull what we have learned this year.
We learned that the channels through which we traditionally gleam information are normalizing. We saw this “normalization” term come up as the frumpy suit with the comb over and the atom tan descended his gilded palace of sin, contradicting claims he had made just days prior and effectively trolling the political media into submission. We saw how quickly the editors of major newspapers can whip up an obituary, and learned that some of them likely were written beforehand, stored on some hard drive in an act of editorial prophecy, only to be forgotten weeks later.
So we must not let our exhaustion over 2016 dull what we have learned this year, and we’ve learned a lot about how the old models through which our society functions—agriculturally, technologically, and artistically—are no longer working. We were reminded by Moby that our systems are failing.
When we resist feeling normalized by whatever horrible shit comes on the news or the music community’s cruel parade of sorrow and loss, we keep the fire in our bellies that we need to effectively create. We keep ourselves in the fight, committed to breaking through surface complacencies that numb and not stopping until we feel our toes again.
There’s a pretty far-out theory about what we rebels are up against, and it arrives in the form of a post-Brexit BBC documentary from October called HyperNormalisation.
This film came up often, in some form or another, with many of the musical luminaries I spoke to this year. Prince Rama described their vision of the future to me in March, a society in which technology has acclimated us to impulse and synaptic responses so suddenly that the high art of our time is all built on speed, daring and efficiency.
Austra described her visions of a future utopia, and how technology is getting in the way, in a story we’re running alongside the release of her wonderful new album Future Politics next month.
She and Emil Amos from Holy Sons also referenced HyperNormalisation to me by name, going so far as to unpack the film’s primary assertion that certain institutions of media, government and finance have a vested interest in keeping communal narratives manageable and free of chaos.
“In Hypernormalisation, Curtis locates global power not in our governments but in finance, computing and management,” writes The Standard UK. “It is this system, he says, that creates and maintains our sense of ‘transparent disenchantment.’ The sense we have that things aren’t quite right, yet we’re unable to do anything about it.” Does this sound familiar?
We must check our sources, cross-reference our claims. We must hold those in positions of relaying, composing and disseminating information accountable for the quality of their reporting and the meta-textual values that their publication buries in its narratives. But most of all, we must never stop at exhaustion.
For example, we can honor Bowie’s legacy and shed light on this year’s indiscretions at the same time. One Facebook friend shared this live version of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” from SNL in ’79 with the caption, “I fear we may now know who this man is.” Bowie wrote that song years prior in ’69, but delivered here right after he just shed the Thin White Duke with an extended stay in war-torn Berlin, Bowie’s Cold War visions could equally apply to the current state of national confusion, uncertainty and distrust over our country’s relationship with Russia.
When we wonder what Bowie would do after this shit year, we not only reinvigorate the symbolism and thematic resonance that he embodied through the characters he played, but keep ourselves from becoming numb to the fact that he’s gone. When we read Leonard Cohen’s poems or sing Leon Russell’s songs, we do the same.
And while we saw the continued downsizing of editorial departments, particularly The New York Times quietly killing its regional arts coverage and Complex Magazine laying off a whole metric shit-ton of employees, we also learned, yet again, that storytelling will have to adapt, to stay fresh in the wake of hypernormalisation and vulnerable attention spans. It doesn’t help that clueless editorial boards will mandate their teams increase production on mobile video and that produce more of that ugliest of ugly words, “content.”
So we stay vital amid fending off exhaustion by committing to practice all that we’ve learned in 2016.
No algorithm or stock newsreel aggregation of clips formatted for your mobile device can produce “content” tantamount to real writing, and this lives on with the few brave, dumb souls who started zines or print quarterlies this year. They have taught us much with their sheer contrarian, old-school defiance.
The narrative of moneyed interests has become the new normal. But normal is boring, and boring is exhausting. In times of chaos, let your hair grow long and your work be messy. In times of chaos, to stay weird is to stay both awake and furiously alive.