Life Moves Fast: These Were the Moments That Defined 2016
Thirty years ago a wise young man pointed out, possibly for the first time, that “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it.” It was true when Ferris Bueller said it (on his day off, no less), and it’s even more true today — only now you haven’t truly looked around unless you’ve posted an accompanying commentary about it on social media. The speed with which news stories are consumed, digested, and forgotten is fast enough to train astronauts. The incessant hunger for content (and the attendant, and inevitable, outrage it inspires) has popularized a term that fashion and media insiders have been using for a while to describe whatever is trending: “Having a Moment.”
While the term is accurate, it’s also kind of sad — and not just in the parents-dancing-to-Beyoncé-way that all clichés are sad. It’s a quiet admission that our collective attention spans aren’t sturdy enough to maintain interest in a subject without a finite amount of time attached to it. A moment has a beginning and an end. Problem is, the issues at the heart of many of our present moments don’t. Social justice is having a moment; racism, sexism, intolerance? That shit isn’t momentary.
So, before we move on to the next topic, we should take a look at some of the most prominent “moments” of the last year or so. Because it’s possible that while we were writing and promptly forgetting our hot takes, we missed a moment or two, or more importantly, missed what we should have learned in the moment. After all, life moves pretty fast.
The Moment: O.J. Simpson
More than 20 years after O.J.’s infamous trial, the disgraced former football star was everywhere, inspiring a nauseating nostalgia in anyone who remembers where they were when they heard The Verdict. Two — that’s right, two! — major series re-examined the case and the phenomenon. The first, a fictional retelling starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and David Schwimmer, garnered several Emmy nominations. The second, a five-part ESPN series, stands as one of the best documentaries of the last decade. In a cultural moment when truth and justice have never felt more tenuous for more people, dredging up the past can seem the most prescient thing to do.
The Moment: Online grief
STARTED: January 10
ENDED: Hopefully it’s already over
We didn’t even know David Bowie was sick when, just 10 days into the new year, we found out he’d succumbed to cancer. Same thing a few days later with Alan Rickman. Then Harper Lee, Garry Shandling, Merle Haggard. Prince. Gene Wilder. Leonard Cohen. Maybe 2016 wasn’t an anomaly — lots of people die, celebrities are people, ergo, it happens. But in the social media age, when everyone is clamouring to define themselves against the news, it seemed to hit harder; people mourned longer, shallower, more publicly. The real lesson from January 10 wasn’t just how great Bowie was — but how many of your friends were secretly such big Bowie fans.
The Moment: Death of the Influencer
Instagram was supposed to replace magazine advertising. It didn’t. This was the year people finally stopped paying attention to people who are famous for being famous, or for curating and capturing their douchey lifestyles on the Internet. In a notorious interview with Digiday, a prominent (but anonymous) social media executive admitted that “influencer” campaigns don’t actually work. Soon afterward Kim Kardashian was robbed during Paris fashion week. Coincidence or the system eating itself to death? Scary either way.
THE MOMENT: Gender Identity
STARTED: Earlier than you think
ENDED: Maybe never
In 2016, we talked a lot about gender identity. Sometimes this was good, as in the brilliant second season of Transparent; sometimes this was shocking, as in the bizarre bathroom laws and ensuing debate south of the border. At the Emmys in September, Transparent creator Jill Soloway called for us to “topple the patriarchy.” Most surprising is that, in 2016, it’s totally reasonable to assume everyone listening knew what the hell she was talking about.
THE MOMENT: Sexy Prime Minister
Here’s a fact: Justin Trudeau is a very handsome man. Another fact: he knows it. (How could he not?) When he was elected last year, he posed for photo shoots in Vogue and the New York Times Magazine, wearing slim-fitting suits and clutching his also-hot wife. He changed the image of Canada around the world — playing his youthful vigour and enviable hairline against Stephen Harper’s fusty decade in office, not to mention the general unlikeability of political figures in the year of Brexit and Trump. This summer, he kicked it up a notch by appearing shirtless in two separate photo-bombing episodes, simultaneously crashing the Internet and, possibly, Canada’s geopolitical integrity. Whatever you think of him, one thing is indisputable: the man clearly works out.
THE MOMENT: Real Estate
STARTED: Let’s say, what, 2009?
ENDED: When the market crashes (yeah, right)
If you live in Toronto and Vancouver you are concerned about real estate. House prices have become the number one conversation topic at dinner parties and the sole preoccupation of anyone with a passing interest in money and/or their children and/or the future of humanity. If you thought you could avoid the subject this year, you were wrong.
THE MOMENT: The ’90s
ENDED: Whenever the next generation grows up
After years (about 20) of waiting, the Nostalgia Industrial Complex has finally turned its sights on the ’90s. This year, we saw the full-scale resurgence of chokers and flowing skirts, flannel, and mildly baggier jeans, not to mention fun pop-cultural throwbacks like Pokémon, Full House, and Blink-182. Also, a Clinton could have been President. Only in a twist, they weren’t the ones with the troubling sexual secrets. What a world!
THE MOMENT: Point Of Viewing
STARTED: November 2015
We’re not sure what to call it, exactly, but TV has changed. We’re seeing more new voices, more diversity, more real-ish depictions of real people in real situations than ever before — think shows like Master of None (which debuted last year), Donald Glover’s Atlanta, the HBO version of High Maintenance, the British comedy Fleabag, and even Transparent. We probably have Louie to thank for all the funny-not-funny realism, but this was the year appointment viewing really had a point of view.
THE MOMENT: Fact Checking
STARTED: When Donald Trump opened his mouth
ENDED: When our spirits collectively break, and we resign ourselves to a world where facts are opinions and opinions are facts. So…maybe in January?
During the first US presidential debate in September, Hillary Clinton cheerfully boasted that the entire proceedings would be fact checked on her website. Why is this news? Because until this year, fact checking was some- thing only magazine professionals cared about. For everyone else — politicians, their constituents, major publications with major reach — facts, or at least the idea that facts are based on verifiable truths, used to be implied. Then Donald J. Trump started shouting “Wrong!” into his microphone, despite himself being wrong, throwing the whole idea of truth-based factuality into question, and bringing the concept of what exactly a real and true fact is into the broader cultural conversation. So yeah, that’s the moment we live in. Or is it?!
THE MOMENT: Racial Unrest 2.0
ENDED: When America finally elects a black president…wait…
So, you’re annoyed with the constant hand-wringing over all the protesters shouting for racial equality, interrupting everything from your NFL preseason to coverage of the latest Trump rally. Before you embarrass yourself by tweeting what you assume is an inclusive hashtag (wait, don’t all lives matter?), know that this moment has been a long time coming. Protests aren’t the problem — they’re natural, logical expressions of a larger problem. It might feel as though kneeling for a national anthem is causing an outsized amount of consternation and inconvenience. But that’s exactly the point.
THE MOMENT: Hard to Love Ladies
ENDED: Hopefully never
After the success of The Sopranos, prestige TV was taken over by stories about complex, morally ambivalent, difficult men: Don Draper, Walter White, Ray Donovan, whatever Charlie Sheen had been doing. One of the fruits of our modern call for gender equality is that, finally, women in pop culture are getting their chance to be unlikeable, too. Girls, Fleabag, Transparent, Love, Catastrophe, even Inside Amy Schumer: an army of complex ladies, ready to beat the shit out of the next Manic Pixie Dream Girl they see (or, at the very least, passive aggressively undermine her).