This year’s hit TV show, Westworld, implies that memory—the ability to recall our past traumas and joys and act on them—is what makes us human. As the robots in the show begin to remember their past, they get closer and closer to consciousness. But unlike humans, the memories of robots are crystal clear: They relive their traumas when they remember them.
It is a blessing, then, that we are only human. 2016 has not been a good year—it has been the year of Trump and Brexit, the year we lost David Bowie and Prince and Leonard Cohen, the year that The Chainsmokers became America’s most important band. But along the way, plenty of novelties and incidents distracted us from the year’s horrors. We’ve catalogued a few of the bright, shiny things that held our gaze for a moment, before we moved on to something else.
Snowden’s techno song
You might think that the most important Snowden product this year was Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing hot Snowden in Oliver Stone’s biopic, but you would be wrong. It was actually French electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre’s single “Exit,” which featured the Prince of Privacy and Surveillance himself, echoing over and over again: “If you don’t stand up for it, then who will?” (“It” being our collective rights.) Who indeed, Ed?
The Great Democratic Sit-In
This would have been one of the biggest political events in 2016 if it wasn’t, well, 2016. Democrats in Congress staged a sit-in to force a vote on gun control, which sounded great in theory, except that one of their main demands was for a bill that would have restricted gun sales for people on a discriminatory terror watch list. There is, perhaps, no better encapsulation of the Democrats’ year than this combination of futility, overindulgent optical tactics, and penchant for self-compromising on their own positions.
Calvin Trillin’s racist poem
In an April issue of the New Yorker, Calvin Trillin penned a poem called “Have they run out of provinces yet?” referring to the import of Chinese cuisine to America. A heated debate ensued: Was the poem racist? Was it satire? Was it a satire on nursery rhymes? Was it written by a small child? Is that child racist?
The piece of metal that fell out of Hillary’s pants leg
Over the past year, there was no bigger conspiracy theorist on Clinton’s health—fueled by her coughing fit and by her fainting on the campaign trail after being diagnosed with pneumonia—than Donald Trump himself. He consistently attacked her “stamina” and “strength,” despite the fact that Clinton released two pages of detailed medical records and that Trump is a year older than her. (If you factor in that women are expected to live five years longer than men, Trump is practically crumbling away in the dust).
Most of these health conspiracies were unfair and sexist—except for that time a piece of metal fell out of Hillary Clinton’s pants when she fainted at the 9/11 memorial. Conspiracy theorists had a field day, claiming that Clinton was wearing either a leg brace or a catheter under her pants; Occam’s razor says that she is probably a robot. The world needs to know the truth. Release the information about the piece of metal!
The doxxing of Elena Ferrante by the coward Claudio Gatti
The real identity of Ferrante was one of the literary world’s greatest mysteries, in the pantheon with “Is Thomas Pynchon really just three toddlers in a trench coat?” and “the persistence of Dave Eggers.” Italian journalist Claudio Gatti used real estate documents to discover Ferrante’s true identity, making everyone very mad in the process. But only a few months later, the controversy has largely been forgotten, along with Ferrante’s “real” name. I wrote about it at the time and I cannot, for the life of me, remember what it is.
The dumb thing Ryan Lochte did
Ryan Lochte, 2016’s second worst manifestation of American imperialism, vandalizing and peeing on a gas station in Rio and then lying about it took over the news for a week, while authorities and journalists tried to piece together what really happened. Lochte lost all of his endorsements, but then went on Dancing with the Stars, America’s most important celebrity rehabilitation project, so everything is cool now.
Third Eye Blind trolling the RNC
Is Third Eye Blind, the band behind history’s least persuasive songs about heroin and suicide (respectively), punk? No, of course not. Did they release a new song? Yes, but who cares. Instead, every high school student council vice president’s favorite band was in the news thanks to politics, baby. They backed Clinton. They talked about other politics stuff. And, when they got asked to play the RNC for a boatload of cash they did it—and trolled those clowns by telling them that gay people are good and science is real. Then they went back to doing whatever it is Third Eye Blind does now (appear on ’90s-themed podcasts).
Once upon a time, the way to beat Donald Trump was to treat him as a joke, to mock him mercilessly about his bankruptcies, his dumb hair, his tiny hands, his gaudy taste, his reliance on his father’s wealth and connections, his vocabulary, his love of social media, his creepy fixation with his daughter, his bad products, and the fact that he talks about sex like a total virg. The culmination of this was John Oliver’s campaign to call Trump by the name of his German ancestors, “Drumpf,” going as far as making “Make Donald Drumpf Again” hats. And you can still buy the hats! But the joke wore off a long time ago.
Ben & Jerry’s released a new ice cream flavor in honor of their favorite Vermonter, Bernie Sanders. The point of the flavor was to break a chocolate disk at the top of the pint and mix it in with the rest of the ice cream because, as Ben himself described it, “The disc of chocolate represents the 90 percent of the wealth that has gone to the top 10 percent over the last 10 years.” But really all the flavor did was to make you think about how you didn’t want to know what “Bernie’s Yearning” was.
The YACHT fake sex tape
Band you probably haven’t heard of claims that their sex tape was hacked and released without their permission, is forced to admit it was a publicity stunt to promote a music video, everyone gets mad, then returns to being band you probably haven’t heard of.
Jonathan Safran Foer and Natalie Portman’s pretentious emails
JSF and Natalie Portman’s pen pal relationship has been the subject of much scrutiny ever since it was rumored that Foer and his ex-wife, Nicole Krauss, broke up after Foer developed an unrequited crush on Portman. This summer, the two published a new email correspondence in the New York Times magazine but because they were written for publication they turned out to be boring and pretentious, rather than fun and juicy. I mean, who really cares about Foer telling Portman that “freedom might not be a prerequisite for the expression of passion.”