2016 was a year of change – let’s just leave it at that, shall we?
Here, some Coven writers and readers weigh in with the one thing that encapsulated the past twelve months.
To Begin is a Radical Act: This summer, in what turned out to be an unnerving coincidence given subsequent events, I holidayed in Berchtesgaden in the German Alps, a place whose stunning natural beauty belies its bleak history. In the 1920s, Adolf Hitler began to visit Berchtesgaden, purchasing a holiday home in nearby Obersalzberg. The area quickly became a Nazi stronghold, with locals brutalised and evicted from their houses to make way for the new arrivals. Surrounded by the Alpine postcard loveliness of lush green fields and snow-topped peaks, high-ranking Nazis like Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels gathered in Berchtesgaden to plan acts of barbarism. It was in Berchtesgaden that some of the most powerful Hitler propaganda was devised and produced, depicting him as a man of the great outdoors, a lover of children and animals, a demigod admired by the thousands who trekked to Berchtesgaden to catch a glimpse of their beloved Führer.
The rise Nazism was precipitated by many factors but key among them was the global shock caused by the Wall Street crash in 1929, the failure of political parties in Germany to mount a viable opposition and a population enraged by the humiliation and hardship caused by the Treaty of Versailles. The parallels with today are as clear as they are chilling. At the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, a museum dedicated to recording Hitler’s time in the area, I followed the long, weaving exhibition of film, photographs and a whole manner of texts from letters to arrest orders, outlining the rise of Nazi Germany. A process that began as gradual became unstoppable. Those who said ‘let’s wait and see what happens’ in the face of a slowly unfolding nightmare left it too late. The rest, as they say, is history.
Except, it isn’t.
The world is not the same place it was twelve months ago. The worst tendencies of humanity are being legitimized, the lessons of history ignored. The words ‘never again’ seem to be as empty as air. All changed, changed utterly, as Yeats wrote, but there is no beauty, terrible or otherwise, in this new dawn. Amidst the gloom, it can be hard to remember that we always have a choice; that resistance begins the moment our despair is transformed through action. I look 2017 coldly and clearly in the eye, accepting simplistic notions of human progress have been suspended, that this year will be worse than the last. But I am not defeated; I am ready to go to work.
Every Christmas, I return to the beauty and wisdom of Brendan Kennelly’s poem Begin, the last lines of which I’ve set out below. Looking back at 2016, Kennelly’s reflection on human resilience and hope – emerging out of endless acts of beginning – seems to me more important than ever.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: This year has not been a kind one, and I have looked like many others for solace in entertainment. One such source of joy for me this year was the TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, created by and starring Rachel Bloom. There is no other television like it, and its depiction of a flawed and mentally unwell women through UNBELIEVABLY CATCHY Broadway-style numbers is perfect. What other show would provide song lyrics such as ‘You ruined everything, you stupid bitch’. That particular ode to histrionic self-hatred is a real highlight. Please watch it, and then forgive it for planting earworms in your head that will last for weeks.
The Irish Times Women’s Podcast isn’t technically a 2016 thing. It was launched in 2015 and by this time last year they were 15 episodes in, including the Christmas Episode, which is definitely worth a listen, even just for Anne Enright reading the section from The Green Road that involves Constance doing the Big Shop for Christmas. It’s funny because it is so familiar. But it was 2016 that it really came into it’s own.
I’ve enjoyed the Women’s Podcast a lot this year. I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts but this is one I keep coming back to. The format changes week to week; sometimes it’s a few short segments around a theme, other times it’s a one on one interview. They mostly feature women, though not exclusively. They did an all-male “How to be a Man” episode which featured Mark Paul, the Irish Times journalist who described feminists on the internet as “coop full of angry chickens who have armed themselves with machine guns”. The podcast managed to temper his irritating views with the patient soundness of Patrick Freyne.
There was a wonderful live episode called Story Times, recorded in the Irish Times where journalists talked about the stories that meant something to them; the ones that affected them deeply or remained close to their hearts. The all-female group of journalists included Olivia O’Leary, Kitty Holland, Anne Harris. Bairbre Power, Catherine Cleary, Dearbhail McDonald and stories from the last three decades. It was fascinating to listen to and very moving. The thing they all seemed to share was a love and enthusiasm for the profession, and a desire to make the world a better place.
There are so many other great episodes that I could mention, episodes that taught me something or allowed me to see the world from a different perspective but my favourite episode and the one that sums up 2016 for me is Una Mullaly’s documentary on the abortion debate – The Year the Conversation Changed. She covers the events of a momentous year that was made up of lots of little moments, of good ideas and brave women speaking upand speaking out. This includes Maser’s mural in Temple Bar, the Repeal jumpers everywhere, #twowomentravel and the Rose of Tralee. Hearing those events described over the span of 40 minutes gives you a real sense of the stream becoming a river becoming a flood. It’s powerful to see that change, and to hear the stories behind the bright ideas. While nothing has changed legally and there is still a long way to go before women will enjoy full reproductive rights in this country, it still feels very hopeful to hear how much has changed over the last year. It’s well put together and a joy to listen to because it makes changes seems possible.
Grease: Live was transmitted on Fox on 31st January 2016, and after this everything was awful. It all went to shit. Because Grease: Live was this year’s cultural peak. I will fight you on this and you will think you have won, but when you finally sit down to watch Grease: Live, it’s on Netflix, you’ll know that I was the true victor. Like Russia in the Cold War, as we learned these past few weeks.
I didn’t know I was going to be utterly charmed by Grease: Live. I thought the original movie musical was not good. It was an excuse for musical theatre kids to come together in midlands schools to get the shift while jiving out of time. The arc of Sandy was a tragedy. A young, intelligent woman remoulds herself and her arse into tight trousers for a young man who publicly humiliated her? I did not RSVP to those ideals when I was a teen. And Rizzo! Rizzo deserves an opera, a first person novel to rival The Bell Jar when it comes to bedside desk domination. All that anger. The floundering leadership. A musical dedicated solely to Rizzo, please.
Now I think fuck it Sandy get your bit, because Danny in Grease: Live is portrayed by actor and Broadway star Aaron Tveit and I swear to god, that man is A Finer. I’ve looked up every grainy Youtube video of him singing since. Bonus points: he’s Eddie Redmayne’s pal in Les Mis and while Eddie is all moon eyed about the skinny girl he’s gotten a glimpse of, Aaron is managing a glorious mane of blond hair and leading a god damn attempt-at-a-revolution. Also Vanessa Hudgens slays as Rizzo in this production, and she performed the role the day after her father died. Anytime she’s on screen my heart is breaking. That poor girl.
So, please, watch Grease: Live, and when Sandy comes out sexed up for the fair and ready to get her bit off the boy she fancies who you know deep down loves her, revel in it.
The words of Sarah Maria Griffin’s fierce poem We Face This Land still echo in my head:
‘let us be the descendants of all the witches they could not drown’
‘A body is a body is a body is a body is a body is a body is a body’
‘Witches or women – these are our bodies which shall not be given up’
The visuals in Dave Tynan’s video match the poem perfectly, echoing the imagery of water and the religious connotations in the poem. It also offers a striking image of solidarity; of women standing up and standing together. Seeing so many brave and brilliant Irish women speaking these words, clad in Repeal Project jumpers, is incredibly moving. The words are so powerful…every time I watch the video it makes me cry, but it also gives me heart. In a year in which the Repeal campaign has gained momentum, this is a piece of art that has stayed with me. #Repealthe8th
If any object symbolises the Year of Our Lord, 2016, it is the Toblerone.
Let us imagine for a moment that the Toblerone is the promise of a good year. You gaze lovingly upon the golden wrapping that hugs the delicious, chocolatey prism within which you brought home from the airport – because no one buys Toblerones anywhere else – and you think ‘Yes. This is going to be very pleasant indeed’.
But wait! What’s this?
WHERE ARE ALL THE ALPS?!
There are now gaping flat plains where proud milk chocolate mountain ranges once stood. You willingly paid an unreasonable amount for was what is essentially a weapon of chocolate and you’ve being tremendously short-changed. How could this have gone so horribly wrong? There must be a mistake somewhere. Surely. Someone call the factory where they make these things and make them do it again until you get what you want. You placed your faith and trust in one outcome and you’ve been robbed of the security and joy you had previously come to expect. The Internet will hear of this! You are going to bloody well tweet your outrage at length.
This is not what you asked for at all. This is not what you expected. This is BULLSHIT.
Sound familiar? That’s basically everything that happened in 2016.