You are being stalked by a monster. You hardly even notice the thing: it's so vast, it's all around you, it has the ability to blend in to the world of ordinary objects – and then dart out to strike. It's killed countless people, people you loved. There's no telling who might be next. The thing is in your house right now, while you sit reading articles on the internet with your back exposed to the world as if your life isn't in danger. You've seen its name on the front pages of newspapers, you've heard it on TV, you've moaned to your friends about the monster and how terrible it's been, but all the while you keep on living your life – as if the creature were very far away, not waiting right behind you, its tongue slithering over your neck. As if you didn't realise that there's still time, that 2016 might still kill us all.
2016 killed Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Harper Lee, Harambe and tens of thousands of Syrians. There was no other cause of death; all these people were living happily until 2016 pounced on them, claws of densely folded time reaching out through the walls of reality to rip their souls right out through their ribs. 2016 caused the Zika virus – after all, mosquitoes don't live very long; they're always creatures of the present year. 2016 gave us Brexit and Trump – not you – you didn't do anything; 2016 swooped down low overhead on tattered wings and shat out a sickly-orange Donald Trump greasy and mewling into your hands.
2016 has been the worst year ever, a garbage fire, a no good very bad year. Why did nobody try switching 2016 off and back on again? How could we let something so weightless as a year cause so much damage to our lives? Why didn't we do what was necessary back in January and strangle this hideous year before it even drew its first breath, all 7 billion of us gathering around in a big circle to kick and punch 2016 into bloodied shreds, and then living out the next 11-and-a-bit months in a state of pure timeless ataraxy, floating free to somewhere the calendar and all its evils will never reach us? It's too late now. All that's left is to wait, until 2016 sloughs off, creaking on its wizened legs into the warm dark hole of the past, to die. 2017 will be better. In 2017 everything will be just fine.
Nearly everyone seems to agree that 2016 was the worst year ever. It was the worst year for human rights in Malaysia, for the construction sector in Rangoon, prison suicides in the UK, ersatz Mexican food, the Great Barrier Reef and pedestrians minding their own business in Toronto. John Oliver, the babbling kookaburra of your Facebook feed, went so far as to blow up a giant "2016" prop as a kind of substitute for destroying the year itself and everything in it.
A few writers have tried to put all this in proportion – at Slate, Rebecca Onion points out that people were also having a fairly tough time in 1348, when the Black Death killed nearly a third of Europe; or 72,000 BCE, when a volcanic eruption reduced the entire human population to around 3,000 individuals. I'm not entirely convinced; after all, 2016 happened to a lot more people. I'm not saying that 2016 wasn't the worst year humanity has ever faced. But then 2015 was also the worst year ever – Donald Trump! Man buns! Cecil the lion! And 2014 – planes falling out the sky all over the world, Isis spreading like a slime mould across the Middle East, a new cold war stabbing Europe's east with sharpened icicles – was the worst year ever, too. 2013 – something's happening here – was also the worst year on record. And 2012. And 2011.
A pattern seems to be developing. It's not that we've had a succession of particularly bad years, 12-month periods of arbitrary and abstract time colluding among themselves to ruin things for everyone else. It's that things are getting worse; everything is terrible and it's all disintegrating; a weary planet is spinning itself into extinction, and we're all on the long slow lurch into the abyss.
In so many respects 2016 really was the worst year ever. Take the dying idols: all those universally beloved film and music icons tend to belong to the post-1945 generation, the one that invented pop music and turned the culture-commodity into a universal world-system, and that generation is slowly thinning out. There really were more celebrity deaths in 2016 than in previous years, and there'll be even more next year, until everyone who unified the culture is gone, and the only people left are ageing YouTube stars and problematic faves, heirs to a more atomised world, whose disappearance will be wailed at by their isolated fanbases and utterly ignored by everyone else. But 2016 was also the warmest year in recorded history: a momentous, record-breaking year in which climate change really started to seem irreversible. And until 2016 came along, 2015 was the warmest year in recorded history. As was 2014. 2016 keeps breaking records, but these records keep getting broken. In 2016 there were fewer trees on Earth than in any other year, fewer surviving animal species, fewer natural resources for each living person. And in 2017, all those records will be broken again.
Blaming 2016 is weird, a mass-cultural means of making pathetically optimistic new year's resolutions – we all had a bad year, we did some things we weren't proud of, we died in our millions for no good reason, but the moment the first drunken whines of Auld Lang Syne rise in dismal chorus above the moving line of midnight tracking across the Earth, we'll put that behind us and start living right. But it never works out; in the bleak cold depths of January, when the days come and go in half an hour as an anaemic sun barely bothers to roll out of the horizon, while the nights are long and biting ever closer to your skin, we'll forget. We'll have another war, we'll elect another fascist, we'll exterminate another species of harmless woodland creature without even knowing what we're doing or why. 2017 will roll down to crush us with all the weight and inevitability of the dead, and we'll say the exact same thing. Ugh, what a garbage fire. Happy new year.
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