Looking back at the year that was 2016

The only good thing about 2016 is that it ends tonight, says Suzanne Harrington. She looks back at a year of break ups, celebrity deaths – and Donald Trump.
Looking back at the year that was 2016
Carrie Fisher

Oh dear god. Can we just take a moment, maybe hug a loved one, and acknowledge that we survived 2016. Allow the relief to course through us as we say goodbye to the year of the scary clown, a year that puts the bitch in obituary, a year whose epitaph can only be a collective gasp of WTF.

Humanity didn’t win any prizes in 2016 (apart from Bob Dylan, whose arrogance forbade him from acknowledging the Nobel Prize for literature). Not even a John Lewis ad could bring us back. Thank god it’s over. Or is it only just beginning?

Because we’ve tried unplugging it and plugging it back in again. One newspaper poll revealed 70% of us thinks 2016 is the worst year in a very long time. For once, this doesn’t seem like an overstatement. Like toxic dominoes, our world spent 2016 falling, country by country, towards the kind of political rhetoric not heard in mainstream discourse since the 1930s.

It’s been the year of the Angry White Male, which never bodes well for the rest of us — women, Muslims, people of colour, trans people in need of a bathroom.

A year where the scary clowns tried very hard and with considerable success to screech our social evolution to a halt, and send it reversing backwards to a mythical era that may or may not be a heavily fictionalised 1955. Thanks, guys. Nice one.

The only good thing about 2016 is that it ends tonight, although 2017 may not be a basket of fluffy kittens either. Buckle up, people.

The year started badly with the death of David Bowie, an event which in itself would have placed a black armband around any normal year. However, the loss of our beloved Starman was only the beginning. Month after month, celebrities fell like nine pins and not just any old celebrities, but ones we actually liked, bookended by Bowie and Leonard Cohen, who at least was 82, unlike Bowie, who wasn’t even 70.

It was the year of premature death. Prince shocked us by dying in April, aged 57.


The distinctly non-old Victoria Wood, 62, and Caroline Aherne, 52, followed, as did the murdered MP Jo Cox, 41, and the Munster rugby coach Axel Foley, 42. Gender fluidity lost performers Pete Burns at 57 and Alexis Arquette at 47. Acting lost Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder, while cheesy entertainment lost Paul Daniels and David Gest. Oh, and Cilla Black.

At least literary legend Harper Lee was properly old at 89, unlike international starchitect Zaha Hadid, who was only 65.

Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro made it to 90, but Howard Marks, Terry Wogan and Muhammad Ali were still all in their 70s, as was Bobby Vee, the singer of ‘Take Good Care Of My Baby’.

Cultural icons as diverse as Hilda Ogden and R2D2 died in 2016 though Jean Alexander was 90, and the R2D2 actor Kenny Baker was 81.

Even Florence Henderson, Mrs Brady from the Brady Bunch, left us in late November. And then the Brazilian Chapecoense football team on a flight to Colombia to take part in the Copa Sud Americana, decimated by an air crash.

Christmas took George Michael, later Carrie Fisher. It’s been remorseless. Even The Great British Bake Off, that most soothing of escapes into a Teletubby land of sugared pastries, didn’t survive.

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher

The year saw not just the death of public figures, but the death of love as represented by public figures. We gasped when the wheels came off Brangelina in August, having idealised them as the epitome of perfect love, only to discover that they are the same as the rest of us, just with more expensive teeth.

Other famous break-ups paled by comparison; we barely noticed as Taylor Swift shrugged off both Tom Hiddleston and Calvin Harris, or how Jennifer Lopez and Drew Barrymore both got rid of this year’s husband, joining Lady Gaga in a romantic clear-out. Amber Head and Johnny Depp ended very badly indeed, but our favourite ex-Shameless actors, James McEvoy and Anne Marie Duff, managed to be a bit more grown up about their split. The good news is that Sharon and Ozzy, the Mr and Mrs Claus of metal, sorted things out after their split in May, so that their 33-year marriage remains, like Ozzy himself, battered but intact. Oh, and one tiny sliver of hope, Idris Elba became single this year.

It’s not that 2016 has been the worst year ever in the history of awful. There have been worse. 74,000 years ago, a volcano in Sumatra , the Toba super eruption, caused the equivalent of 1.5 million Hiroshimas, making that year, and quite a few that followed, something of a writeoff.

1348 was also awful, when the Black Death wiped out one third of Europeans, as was the period between 1939 and 1945, where an estimated 15 million citizens were murdered by their fellow citizens.

Such horrors would never happen again would they?

This brings us — sorry everyone, but there’s just no way around it — to the most nightmarish aspects of 2016, a vast and movable banquet of horrors.

Not only the terrorist attacks on Brussels, Nice, and Istanbul, or the countless murders by IS in the middle east and beyond, but the ongoing civil war, with added Russia, slugging it out in Syria.

The Mediterranean became a graveyard for those fleeing warzones. The endless police shootings in the US, where innocent kids were killed because they were black, and innocent police were killed because they were police.

Just one of those events would have been enough to taint 2016 as a very bad year, instead humanity witnessed what can only be described as a clusterfuck.

It wasn’t a great year for women either: we learned that Hillary Clinton is not a president because she is a woman. Oh, and that Melania Trump wants to be like Betty Ford. Not alcoholic, but ‘traditional’. God help us.

Send in the scary clowns.

Not the actual scary clowns who, inspired by Stephen King and Halloween, took to leaping out on innocent passersby in the latter half of 2016 and scaring people witless in a craze that saw police visiting fancy dress shops and asking staff not to hire out clown costumes. No, those scary clowns were just bog-standard creepy and macabre.

The really scary clowns of 2016 were the ones who were democratically elected.

Scariest of all was the orange one with the comedy hair, who took the joke way too far. Those we had all initially dismissed as joke figures — Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage — are all now in positions of power and influence previously inconceivable.

And Marine Le Pen is on the march in France. How did all of that happen?

First, half of Britain allowed itself to be persuaded by a post-truth campaign to vote itself out of the EU, the result of the referendum in June leaving the other half of the British electorate slack-jawed in disbelief, and nobody — particularly the UK government — with the slightest clue about what to do next. Thank you, Brexit.

The glittering climax of 2016 — by which I mean its depthless nadir — then happened when America out-crazied Brexit by electing Donald Trump as their next president, under the impression that he will make America great again, and fulfil the dreams of every white citizen by deporting everyone else and building a large wall.

How on earth did this happen?

Rolling doom news, a post-truth media, and fake stories on Facebook are said to have contributed to Trump’s surprise election.

White House staff cried on the front lawn, as the internet melted and Trump lined up people with names like Mad Dog to be in charge of America’s military.

It makes the death of David Bowie seem almost reasonable.

So goodbye 2016, you’ve been dreadful.

And yet hope for 2017 to be anything more than a pussy-grabbing, humanity-dividing disaster seems not just overly optimistic, but insanely deluded –— a bit like the president elect himself. What can we do as we face into this crazed new world?

Keep calm, and carry on being nice to each other.

We are better than this.

Meanwhile, let’s go and find some puppies, rainbows, chocolates and unicorns to hang out with, while keeping all doors and windows locked.

Happy New Fear, everyone.

(Kidding! We’ll all be fine. Honest. I think.)

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