Those of you that have a traditional bent (I hear there are medical supports available for such things) might complain that I’ve left it a little late to roll out a review of the year just gone. No apologies here. I’ve been running on Tongan time lately, so not only did the days get away from me, one vanished completely without trace. Better late than never, as my bus driver never ceases to cheerfully remind me.
After the jump: the News In Big Pants Review of 2011.
The big news of the year was The Arab Spring. Neither a new way of negotiating the high jump, nor a medieval torture inclement, or a rare type of contraceptive device, the Arab Spring was the point at which most of the Middle East got bored with decades of suppression and dictatorship and decided they’d quite like a bit of that democracy stuff that they kept reading about on Facebook. Interestingly, the point at which things really kicked off is the point when the dictators in question thought they could calm everything down a bit by switching off the internet. That’s usually the last resort of the desperate parent that wants their kid to go outside and play for a bit. This is exactly what happened in Egypt and Libya, except you should replace the word “play” with the phrase “enable regime change”. The lesson to take from all this–never deny your populace access to Farmville.
Social networking and protest went together like bopshoowopshoowop and ramamlamadingdong in 2011. Mobile web access meant that there was instant, global access to pixillated blurry footage of something that might have been an atrocity happening on YouTube if you squinted and tilted your head just right. It got to the point where you started to mistrust footage if it was nicely framed and clear. Authenticity came with pixels as big as Lego blocks.
But it also meant that updates on the ground ran so far ahead of traditional news outlets that the launch of online paper The Daily was met with the profound indifference that only comes from a project that starts in last place and starts running backwards once the starting pistol goes off. In a year when constantly changing events at street level were best followed by those in the thick of it using cheap domestic kit, the idea of a daily update became almost laughable. Twitter started breaking news in every sense of the word.
Time’s Person Of The Year was The Protestor. 2011 saw massive upticks in the sale of V For Vendetta masks, and you would have been wise to start a scarf-manufacturing business. An enterprising gent on Etsy went one further, and started selling scarfs pre-printed with David Lloyd’s iconic design. It was enormously cheering to see big business and government confronted with protest camps from St. Paul’s to Wall Street, and fascinating to see how quickly they responded in exactly the same way as the fascist bully-boys they had decried weeks earlier. It was a bit rich to see Iran offering support to our noble rebels, but somehow fitting. Things are quiet on the Occupy front at the time of writing. That’s not going to last, especially as trouble in the Eurozone is likely to lead to further economic squeezage. Things are only likely to get more interesting.
The August riots in London and Manchester were sparked by the closure of public services, leading to a bunch of unemployed wasters and bored schoolkids having nothing better to do than kick in windows and rob their local Comet at the hottest point of the year. Mingled in with an element of good ole fashioned race riot, the saddest moment for me was how the rioters tried to use protest rhetoric to justify their actions. A Sky News reporter on the ground in Peckham with a smartphone (you can’t say these guys don’t learn quickly) confronted a pair of girls caring a plasma taller than they were, to be told “we’re just getting our taxes back”. He should have asked to see the paperwork, cos I’ve never had a tax rebate that I had to claim by pulling it out of the window of my local PC World.
The bad news for traditional media only got worse as the phone-hacking scandal grew to engulf Britain’s ugliest tabloid, the News Of The World. In extraordinary scenes at the Leveson Enquiry, the demonic Rupert Murdoch lost his magic fog of evil to be revealed as a doddery old geezer ripe fior a pie in the face. The image of journalism was further pansted with the appearance of ex-NOTW scribbler Paul Mcmullan, who took every cliche of the shabby moral-free reporter and amped them up to levels of supreme comic parody. When he turned up to a Newsnight interview wearing a suit that looked like it had been in a tumble drier with him still in it, sporting something that was either an allergic rash or a black eye, it all became clear. Mcmullen was the straw man, the reason the News Of The Screws had to close. We were supposed to think of him every time the paper was mentioned. It was all his fault. Murdoch was just a clueless old geezer wiping shaving foam off his glasses.
The government bitched and moaned about the hit to productivity taken by public sector strikes towards the end of the year, and yet had been happy to give the country a big fat bank holiday break as the wedding of an upper-class twit to a slightly less upper class girl took place. Scenes of flag-waving pageantry that should have gone out hundreds of years ago scrolled endlessly part, and the old argument that the Royal Family are good for tourism was trotted out again as the crowds of peasants lining the Mall were joined by coachfulls of Yanks, Krauts and Frogs bathing in the fairy-tale atmosphere. The whole thing was frankly sickening. I was at work.
It was a very bad year for the Axis of Evil, as 2011 saw the deaths of three really rather unpleasant chaps. Saddam Hussain and Osama Bin Laden both met deaths of appropriate violence, if you’re of the opinion that as ye reap so shalt ye sow. How you equate that with Kim Jung-Il’s peaceful death in bed, with a final official photo of him descending an escalator is your problem. The fact that the North Koreans seem to have replaced him with a poor copy made out of choux pastry with raisins for features will be a subject for comedy for the next twelve months, unless Doughboy is persuaded to flex his nuclear muscles. His pale, flabby, yeasty nuclear muscles.
It was a fun year for the environment too. The Japanese tsunami made a sick joke out of fifty years of Godzilla movies, and floods in Thailand, a particularly thrilling hurricane season in the American South and the usual droughts and famines meant that any random nutbag could pretty reasonably announce the end of the world. Harold Camping was notable for pronouncing twice in 2011, the end result being… well, come on, work it out.
On the subject of endings, the list of famous people that karked it in any particular year is always met with exclamations of “I thought they’d died years ago!” But as ever, 2011 exceeded expectations. Amy Winehouse joined the 27 Club, and the death of Steve Jobs led to impromptu, exquisitely designed and horribly over-priced shrines going up outside Apple stores around the globe. It was a sadness to lose creative talents like Jerry Lieber, Anne Mccaffrey and Mark Hall, co-founder of Cosgrove Hall, the animation studio that bought us Dangermouse. Personally, I’m still reeling from the breakup of R.E.M., an event about which I’ve still been unable to blog. It’ll come. Expect much wailing and rending of hair. Much like Stipe during the Monster tour.
I could go on, but when even the BBC cut their losses and simply describe 2011 as “The Year When Lots Happened”, you know it’s going to be tricky to properly synopsise the year. There’s plenty I’ve missed, forgotten or ignored, but this is the stuff that meant something to me.
To you, my lovely Readership, have a peaceful and less eventful 2012. That stuff about the Mayan calendar running out just before Christmas next year can’t mean anything, right?
So it goes. See you on the flip side.