Western involvement in an unpopular foreign conflict; a refugee crisis; Russia flexing its military muscles; politicians exposed as self-aggrandising crooks; thousands of innocents slain in the name of a cause that had nothing to do with them; natural and unnatural disasters; the whole planet threatened by global catastrophe. Is this a brief summary of 2015 or any random year of the last seventy? Well, both. It is true there have been times since 1945 when wonderful events beyond the grim catalogue have served as a welcome distraction – say, when popular culture is experiencing a purple patch; but 2015 couldn’t offer such a distraction, alas. We had to make our own entertainment.
Brutal massacres that turned the streets of Paris red bookended 2015, but between them there was enough shedding of blood to put a medieval quack to shame. It would be all too easy to simply list the wars, airstrikes, terrorist attacks or trigger-happy American and Islamic lunatics that dominated this year’s headlines, but we’ve already had them on a loop courtesy of 24-hour news media, so there seems little point in revisiting man’s inhumanity to man yet again.
The fact is that calendar years aren’t self-contained entities; the previous calendar year bleeds into the start of the next one and the year that follows it inherits all the baggage of its predecessor. Events don’t adhere to a neat chronology imposed by the Romans or the Church of Rome, and that also applies to decades. One could argue a decade such as the 60s didn’t become what we retrospectively recall it being until around 1964/5, and a lot of the counter-cultural elements subsequently associated with it actually took place in the very early 70s. Despite what the Altamont historians would have you believe, the Age of Aquarius didn’t grind to a neat halt in December 1969.
Centuries are just as problematic if one tries to view them as a cohesive whole. Whenever the nineteenth century is mentioned, we think of Victoria and the Victorians; we think of prudishness and strait-laced moral values. Yet the century began with the Regency, with debauched, rakish Georgians and the Napoleonic Wars, closer in spirit to the eighteenth century than the archetypal, fog-shrouded nineteenth century of Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes. And if the fifteen-year-old twenty-first century has so far failed to distinguish itself in terms of something to be proud of, history has taught us not to rush to judgement.
It is true there wasn’t much to celebrate in 2015. Isolated acts of kindness or generous giving in the name of charity were there as always, but avarice, narcissism and unredeemable nastiness were as well. All sides of human nature were therefore in evidence. One cannot really add anything to 2015 that wouldn’t have been equally applicable to 2014 or 2013. TV reviews of the last twelve months will compile the stories that hit the headlines and create the illusion that this year was somehow unique and distinctive; but it really wasn’t. Of course, once one passes, say, 40, years tend to blur into each other anyway, and speaking personally, this has been the case ever since the dates of years ceased being prefixed by ‘nineteen’. I can narrow down a memory, event or hit record to the particular month of a particular year from the last thirty of the twentieth century, but this century seems harder to get such a grip on. The tools used to identify the years 1970-99 don’t appear to be working anymore, but the framework that enabled them to work isn’t there now, so I suppose it’s no surprise.
When every public figure, whether nonentity celebrity claiming column inches or politician wheeling out the same old meaningless slogans and sound-bites, inspires either ambivalence or contempt then it’s hard to get excited. My intense dislike of the deeply devious and callous blue meanies the Great British public decided to let off the hook back in May is not appeased by an opposition led by a clueless career backbencher and his online army of tunnel-vision trolls, so that’s the next four and-a-half years sorted in one area. In the musical arena, I hear nothing new in anything new, so have yet to resume the regular purchasing of recently-released albums that was suspended around 2011; as a one-time avid cinemagoer, my trips to the local picture house have become twice-yearly occasions when confronted by merchandise trailers masquerading as movies; and although some home-grown TV series have at least learnt lessons from the best US and Scandi dramas of recent years, ‘The Bridge’ remained one of the few unmissable small-screen highlights. I told you we had to make our own entertainment.
I wouldn’t say 2015 and the demoralising circumstances that will be grouped under its banner is entirely to blame, but I know a lot of friends are trapped in the doldrums at the moment; though I’ve certainly been down in those depths this year, I’ve managed to claw my way out of late and I can see clearly now the rain has gone. If 2015 can in any way take credit for that, the phrase ‘good riddance’ won’t be lingering on my lips today – and that hasn’t happened for a long time.
© The Editor