A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Fear, progress, and comedy: meditation on 2015, thoughts for 2016

I’ve thought about this reflection for weeks.

At first I figured I would recap some of the events of the year, as if there won’t be an indescribable amount of recaps. I would mention the January terrorist attack on the French satire publication Charlie Hebdo, the murky April death of Freddie Gray, the devastating April and May earthquakes registering 7.8 and 7.3 respectively on the Richter scale in Nepal, the coordinated November terrorist attacks in Paris, France, Beirut, Lebanon, and Baghdad, Iraq.

I’d include notes about Ireland’s legalization in May of same-sex marriage by popular vote and the US’ legalization in June of such by Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the brutality that was Hurricane Patricia, the magnitude 7.5 earthquake in the Hindu Kush region in October, the crash of the Russian airline in October.

Maybe, if I had my thinking cap on, I’d remember the deaths of B.B. King, Leonard Nimoy, and Yogi Berra, forgetting countless others.

I bet I would fail to mention the April shooting at Garissa University College in Kenya, the June terrorist attacks by ISIL  during Ramadan, or the deadly stampede at Mecca during the Hajj pilgrimage in September.

I’d probably leave out that the New Horizons probe flew past Pluto on its way out of the solar system, becoming the first spacecraft to visit the dwarf planet, or that the new species of human ancestor Homo naledi was discovered, or that liquid water was found on Mars in September.

I’d likely fail to mention that Iran agreed to limit its nuclear weapons program, or that the US and Cuba are back on speaking terms, or that China’s and Taiwan’s presidents formally met for the first time since 1949, or the groundbreaking carbon reduction agreements reached at the COP21 summit in December.

(Of course I would fail to mention the lives lost and gained, the personal triumphs and failures, and the little things that made 2015 great or terrible on a personal level.)

You’re reading this and thinking, but Lucy, you’ve just made your case right there! Throw in something about the new Star Wars movie and the new Adele album, and you’ve covered everything.

I see what you’re saying, and I can’t help but contradict that.

A year is made of more than just its events. It is patterns; it is movements; it is personal and collective change. I am no analyst (clearly: even the most critical, reflective IB students are not superhumans, despite what we are inclined to believe) and I could not even come close to encompassing everything that has occurred in 2015. Instead, I’ll attempt to organize my thoughts, in no particular order of importance, into a coherent meditation on the past 365 years.

Fear is not the answer.

This year has seemingly been laced together by anxiety. It has reared its ugly head within us in response to terrorism in the air and on the ground, to floods of Syrians fleeing their quickly disintegrating homeland, to governmental surveillance of the internet.

Especially for Coloradans, the feeling of trepidation has been familiar. For four years in a row we have had shootings too close to home: in 2012, with the Aurora Theatre; in 2013, with Arapahoe High School; in 2014, at the military base in Fort Hood; and in 2015, with the Planned Parenthood clinic. Yet it seems that we have not learned from those; apart from more secure door policies, there has not been a visible change. The only alteration that has been seen is one from “what a disaster” to “not again.”

We’ve yet to figure out that fear is not a useful power to wield. A reflection on 2015 may bring about that mindset shift, or at least cue a beginning towards such.

We have made progress, but there is still a long way to go.

This was the first year that I had the opportunity to go to Denver’s Pridefest in June, joining in the masses of people across the country attending these events. It seemed like no coincidence, then, when the Supreme Court released on June 26 their historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges to end all state bans of same-sex marriage. Queer people and allies rejoiced all over the country.

However, this was tucked within a series of incidents of police brutality, including yet more killings of unarmed black men. Most strikingly to me, of the nondeadly cases, were the harassments of two teen girls. One was in school when an officer wrangled her around her desk in front of the whole class. The other was at a pool when an officer tackled her to the ground.

I remember the May 11, 2015,  Time Magazine cover that compared racial tensions of nowadays to those of 1968. It emphasized something key to me: even in the age of globalization, where social justice seems rampant (for whichever side you fight for) and successes on a little scale are blown to epic proportions, where we have much potential to change the course of our collective existence towards the better, we are not doing all that we can. Gridlocked Congress, climate change (and science on any scale, really) denial, and Security Council veto power are just a few obstacles that have led us to moving at a snail’s pace on progress.

It’s great that any gender in America can marry any other gender, but there’s still much to be done for trans* rights. It’s wonderful that multiple police groups that have been aggressors against unarmed black men have been punished accordingly, but there are scores of victims without justice, and too few measures to prevent such violence in the first place. It’s fantastic that the world has committed to reducing pollution, but we’ve done this before with little to no result. It’s amazing how welcomed refugees feel in some countries, but there are many places where thousands are turned away, and the cause of this mass migration has still not been solved.

Don’t take life too seriously.

In this year that seems filled with events that evoked all kinds of levels of concern, there’s nothing better to alleviate unfixable distress than comedy. As students, with school becoming more and more difficult to navigate, it’s more crucial than ever to not get caught up in the despair that is so often projected to us if we fail, or do less than perfect, or have normal lives. This is not to say that some events shouldn’t be taken seriously; quite to the contrary, if we take seriously the events which we can influence and potentially change for the better, then why wouldn’t we? However, it seems ridiculous for us to get caught up in the skewed grading of a teacher, or in a war overseas, or in rising to the top of an ultimately irrelevant social ladder. That mentality is crucial towards becoming unhappy. Instead, take a step back and reassess how significant something is. If it won’t change your life course, then it’s not worth losing sleep over, which is to say that straight As are unnecessary and ultimately no one will care what class rank you were in high school, or who the cool kids were, or how many parties you went to over the summer. I digress a bit, but my point still stands: taking every single aspect of life with the utmost seriousness, especially that of yourself, isn’t healthy or fun.

Yet there is no lack of model for this mentality. Thanks to many willing victims- I mean contributors- last year produced some beautiful comedy, in sketches and movies. Remember the Justin Bieber roast (note: link is to official uncensored version) back in March? What about the crudely hilarious comedy special that was Amy Schumer Live At the Apollo? For The Office fans especially, don’t forget Aziz Ansari’s film Live at Madison Square GardenOf course, don’t forget the smash hit SNL sketch A Thanksgiving Miracle, wherein Matthew McConaughey donned a wig. For that matter, there are myriad viral videos that have earned their status for good reason.

What’s the point of all this?

Dear reader, I believe that new year’s resolutions are at once totally ridiculous and entirely necessary. In the very least, to reflect on the past will with any luck help us pave the way towards a better future. That might be on a collective level or a personal level or both. So here’s to another year, filled with joy and sadness, laughter and tears, anger and pain, but most of all, hope and change. In the words of famous journalist Edward R. Murrow, “good night, and good luck.”