By Jon Gingerich
Am I the only one who had a good year?
Looking back, 2011 resembles something like a nightmare without any hint of meaningful symbolism. There was increased debt, historic global political unrest, layoffs, a plummeting dollar, the resurgence of recession, wars, earthquakes, the return of a protest culture not seen since the Civil Rights era, the Presidential signage of a bill that can indefinitely detain civilians without trial, a Congress so ensnared in months-long deficit standoffs that our currency is downgraded, and political theater embarrassing enough to fill episodes of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
Am I missing anything? Even third-world dictators — typically an embodiment of the untouchable — had a historically awful year in 2011.
It’s funny in a way. In 2008, every financial expert I spoke with said we’d be out of the financial doldrums by 2011 — maybe 2012 at the latest. Now the consensus is we’ll be here a lot longer — maybe indefinitely.
Look, it’s been 11 years since we’ve had a balanced budget. I think it’s time to finally accept the fact that the world we live in is a different place.
What’s worse, the division, corrosion and indecision that plagues our political climate is no longer seen as symptoms of a temporary stagnation, but has now been accepted as its salient traits. We’ve moved from what was once seen as a perceived dip in the road to embrace an all-encompassing culture of abject disillusionment.
We’ve been so divisive for so long we now think stalling bills that everyone admits aid working families is somehow a good game plan for getting what you want later, or that holding the economy hostage simply because you don’t like the man running the house is sensible policy.
As a result, 2011 has ended with a confusing role reversal that would carry hilarious poetic force if it wasn’t so sad. Obama is now the one who wants to cut taxes, and House Republicans are the ones voting down payroll tax cuts for the middle class.
The entire back-and-forth reminds me of petulant children who scream “no” for every adult “yes,” until, when the adult says “no,” the hoodwinked child retorts with a reflexive “yes” before commencing with a screaming tantrum.
No one’s happy with the current leadership we have. And for the first time in recent memory, no one’s happy with the current line-up of prospective replacements either. We find ourselves at a political stalemate, where the only thing we can agree on is the fact that we can’t agree on anything.
This isn’t just a policy problem. Our collective disunion from compromise and common sense has evolved into a comprehensive cultural paroxysm.
The American conversation remains at, conservatively, an eight-grade level. Our food of choice is celebrity infidelities, Charlie Sheen, pervert politicians, the authenticity of the President’s birth certificate (yes, still) or “The War on Christmas,” because, to put it bluntly, we require some sedative to forget how utterly insufferable we've become.
Is it any wonder reality TV — the lowest bastion of entertainment aside from hitting yourself with a hammer — is now the de facto network export? Is it any wonder our media have now found more success editorializing the opinions of their executives over delivering actual news? Is it any wonder Hollywood now makes a huge portion of its profits by remaking films that were already released twenty, or even ten, years before?
Our culture has become a museum of itself. We opine for the days when we had opinions and actually remembered why.
Something’s got to give. There’s a small part of me that thinks some grand Mayan Calendar finale would be a fitting conclusion to such predictably third-act lulls, but fortunately life doesn’t work with the literary neatness of a Michael Bay film.
Undoubtedly, we’ll just have to suffer through this until we can collectively agree to bite the bullet and affect a change together at the cost to our fevered egos, or until something so incredibly stupid happens that one day we’ll begin to look back at 2011 as one of our golden years, the same way we look at the 1990s today. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.