Yes, 2016 has been terrible. I have never looked to the end of the year with more excitement, and looked back on what happened with more exhaustion and cynicism. Every month felt like a knockout punch and every time we got up, the next one swiftly followed.
In respect to culture, we endured countless shitty movie sequels and disappointing albums. The local literary community seems to be in turmoil after many of its most esteemed members signed an open letter concerning UBC’s handling of the Steven Galloway debacle, and VIFF this year was somewhat underwhelming.
But there was plenty of good wrapped up in all of this. Bard on the Beach concluded yet another impressive season, the Chan Centre is playing host to an eclectic assortment of talent, the Fringe Festival was a huge success which brought immense success to plenty of UBC students — including the members of Gaspedal Productions. On top of that, The 1975, Earl Sweatshirt, Chance the Rapper, Hannibal Buress and Louis C.K. performed. We had Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s work displayed in a dazzling exhibition at the MoA, and an insightful look into Picasso’s love life at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
In music, we got amazing albums from the likes of Paul Simon, David Bowie (though this one is definitely bittersweet), Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Beyoncé, Bon Iver, Radiohead, Esperanza Spalding and many more who I don’t have the word count to list. My personal favourite albums are Blackstar, The Life of Pablo, Stranger to Stranger and 22, A Million. Each one of these demonstrated a bold experimentation that many thought had left the music industry decades ago. Though hacks like Justin Bieber, Meghan Trainor and Justin Timberlake keep pumping out the same generic shit over and over again, there is still hope for good, strange and inspiring music.
Concerning film, we got a slew of fantastic features such as Moonlight, Manchester By the Sea, The Jungle Book, Hail, Caesar!, Arrival, Zootopia, Finding Dory, Captain Fantastic, I, Daniel Blake and The Handmaiden. We even have fucking Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to look forward to! Although Suicide Squad, Civil War and Fantastic Beasts seem to be pointing to a future where studios shove half-baked, largely brainless films into our eyes while ripping money from our passive, limp fingers, this year has proved that there is still a resilient core in independent and even big-budget cinema that fosters daring, talented artists who are willing to portray all aspects of humanity, not just the violent, quippy, heterosexual escapism that tops every year’s box office. Creativity is not dead just yet.
On television, we had the debut of Westworld, a hardcore season of Game of Thrones and the continued drudgery of The Walking Dead. But there were plenty of more independent, risk-taking shows like The Knick, Easy, Love, Black Mirror, Stranger Things, Mr. Robot and American Crime Story that hit the screens to prove that television is now the most compelling medium for storytelling. Also, if Big Bang Theory being terrible for another season has you looking for something new, Broad City, BoJack Horseman, Silicon Valley, and Atlanta have finally proved that the best comedy doesn’t come with canned laughter or forced romantic interests that linger for seasons on end because Leonard and Penny are whiny assholes who will never work for each other, or any other human being for that matter.
For great literature, just look to The Globe and Mail’s list of “16 Canadian reads for the first half of 2016.” Yann Martel’s new book, The High Mountains of Portugal is a must read. In spite of the controversy surrounding the author, Madeleine Thien’s work Do Not Say We Have Nothing is an impressive debut which should not be omitted from your reading list, regardless of what you think of her views.
In addition to their list, check out Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed, Steven Price’s By Gaslight, Colton Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder and Don DeLillo's Zero K. Whatever you do, don’t read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It is a piece of utter garbage which is not worth the paper it is printed on.
So yes, 2016 was a shitty year that has me cringe every time I read The New York Times and scowl when I see the lineup of sequels that are in store for 2017. But in spite of all of that, it is important to not omit the good that has happened in the worlds of art, literature, theatre, television and film. Both locally and internationally, there is still plenty to be happy and excited about.