Just over 50 years ago, way back in November of 1971, a song was released by John Lennon called “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. Now a firm Christmas classic, it opens with the following lines…
So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very Merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
Having lived through 2020, it feels like the opening two lines take on somewhat of a new and depressing edge. In fact, on closer inspection, so does the whole song, for how many of us can truly say that 2021 will be “a good one” and “without any fear”?
The year 2020 Anno Domini has been many things to many people. The year started with Australian bush fires that killed millions of animals and destroyed thousands of trees. And there was also talk of World War 3 after Trump ordered the killing of Iranian army general Qasem Soleimani via an airstrike on the 3rd of January. Who knew that, looking back, these would the happier, more feel-good stories of the year?
Another way to look at 2020 is that it started with a global flu and ended with an American coup. This is the year when conspiracy theories well and truly went mainstream (cue QAnon). We also moved our lives online: schools, universities, shopping, work, socialising, and the rest. 2020 is also the year of global resistance, mainly due to the brutal death of George Floyd (cue Black Lives Matter, both the movement and the organisation). But mostly it has been the year of Corona, and because of that it has been a crazy, unexplainable 12 months for us all. Pretty much every human on planet earth has been affected in some way, shape, or form.
Using a sporting analogy, a medical expert on CNN recently said that, in regards to COVID-19, 2020 is the first half, Christmas and New Year is half time, and next year is the second half. He added that the second half will be far more intense than the first. Thanks for that, doc. But, hey, at least we now have a few vaccines. Having said that, it’ll still take months to roll these out for everybody, meaning we’re far from done with this pandemic, but at least it’s a start. The light at the end of the tunnel may have shown us just how bad and stinky the tunnel is, but now at least we can see it.
Meanwhile, the pandemic keeps on pandemicing, with the US setting record daily death tolls almost every day, and all experts saying that’ll remain the case well into 2021. In one day alone the US recorded over 3,000 deaths, something not seen since the 11th of September 2001 (too soon?).
The virus should hopefully teach us that we need to curb our capitalist enthusiasms. The backlash from nature is all around us, from wildfires to hurricanes to this global pandemic, no doubt the first of many (cue the various strains).
Likewise, the impact of this virus cannot be understated. It is a Guttenberg press type of social change on a global scale. One of the ways the UK has been impacted is that the number of food banks in the country surpasses the number of McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants combined. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. And these are figures from December 2019, just before COVID-19 hit the UK, so inevitably the situation will be much worse now.
Given the drama surrounding 2020, one of the main things the virus has done is to wreck our sense of time, to the point where a new word was invented to describe which day it is: Blursday. The passage of time itself became seemingly unreliable this year, as some days felt like a week, some weeks felt like a year, yet some months flew by in the blink of an eye. As for an actual year? That seems almost impossible to envision.
One reason for this is that so much absolute unhinged insanity happens on a regular daily basis now that time has thoroughly lost whatever little definition it once had. Every day you feel that ambient anxiety, that existential dread. Every day we have to deal with the combination of a relentless news cycle mixed with the droll, repetitive reality of life in lockdown, all of which has given existence in 2020 a Groundhog Day-esque quality.
2020 somehow managed to be an empty void of nothingness and a global existential crisis, at the same time. It feels like the world has shrunk and expanded around us. TV host Stephen Colbert called 2020 “the year that took years”. Fellow TV host Bill Maher referred to this era of history, 2020 specifically, as “the fuckening”. Meanwhile, Tim Herrera tweeted “Why was Monday 89 hours long but three hours ago it was Tuesday morning?”. Frostbit Desert Frogger (not his real name), when asked what day it was, tweeted “It’s the 76th of March” which weirdly sounds about right somehow.
Despite all I’ve said so far, I am still trying to make sense of it all. I am still trying to find the pulse of the cultural zeitgeist. Not sure how much success I’m having. Hopefully some, if not all, of the following quotes may help in having a better understanding of our world and our current place in it. I have indeed lived through 2020 and in the end, I hope I get more that this lousy blog post to show for it. As best as one can, enjoy…
Whoever said “Life is short” clearly did not spend several months in lockdown with their own kids. – Jason Manford
We can all agree that 2020 has been unlike any other year that many of us can remember or would have ever lived through. Many of the elite world leaders have been as bad as ever, we’ve seen disturbing scenes of social unrest and institutional racism rear its ugly head again, Australia was ravaged by wildfires. Oh, and there was and still is a major pandemic, which completely altered everybody’s life on the planet considerably (and that’s not an understatement) – Greg Evans, 02 Dec 2020, indy100.com
In about two weeks 2020 will be a part of history. As it begins to recede into the past, how will we look back on this blur of a year? No single event in American history seems to have yielded a lost year in the way 2020 has…The monotony, as well as the stress, of this year has made time pass in a peculiar way. Some people I interviewed felt it has flown by, while others felt it has dragged on; sometimes, people said that for them, both of those things seemed true…As they were living through this year, the monotony made time drag on, but when they look back on it, the shortage of distinct memories makes it seem like it flew by…This is one way many people will remember 2020: It was interminable to live through, but swift in retrospect. And as more time passes and the memories people do have degrade, maybe it will start to seem even shorter, and emptier. – Joe Pinsker, 15 Dec 2020, theatlantic.com
2020 wasn’t a great year. It wasn’t even a good one. It straight up sucked, honestly. Sorry to be a bummer, but it’s true: this wasn’t a very funny year. I mean, it was absolutely hilarious in one sense—the darkest, bleakest, blackest sense possible—but if you aren’t into gallows humor you probably struggled to find much to laugh about in 2020. It sucked. It still sucks. It’s going to suck for a while. Shit! – Garrett Martin, 04 Dec 2020, pastemagazine.com
Though it may feel like 2020 has been going on for a year already, or five years, or a century, 2020 is nearly over. The finishing line is just over the horizon. The light is just visible at the end of this horrendously long tunnel, although, bearing in mind all that this year has wrought, the light my well be on oncoming train carrying COVID infested nuclear waste. – YouTube comment
It’s not like a year could ever be characterized as “funny” — there are far too many moving parts for a through line of the hilariously whimsical or gut-bustingly amusing to ever take hold to a point of overwhelming dominance over time and space. The best-case scenario we can hope for, for a year, is mundane and uneventful…and 2020 was not that. One could go so far as to say that 2020 was a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good year. Not only was it an election year with its requisite nastiness, but it was one where a staggering number of people got sick and died, and another staggering number of people responded to that sickness and death with an emphatic “meh.” Shutdowns, lockdowns, isolation, and loneliness were a matter of course for many this year, along with the needs to fill free time, practice self-care, and relieve tension. – Brian Boone, 14 Dec 2020, vulture.com
Time is so broken now that looking back on tweets from five days ago can feel like opening a 30-year-old yearbook, or like reliving something that happened 10 minutes ago. There’s no rhyme or reason: it’s all just constant turmoil, an ever-present maelstrom of stress and nonsense. – Garrett Martin, 13 Nov 2020, pastemagazine.com
“Peloton!! Moderna!! It’s suppertime!!!” Me in 2034 calling my children in for suppertime. – tweet from Julia Shiplett, 14 Dec 2020
I simultaneously want to be awake for everything and asleep all the time. – tweet from Josh Gondelman, 09 Dec 2020
2020 was a time warp. Was it a year, a day, or a millennium? Time itself has felt different this year, our relationship with it altered significantly by the pandemic. Whatever comfort we once derived from considering the past is gone. Now it’s a stark reminder of all that we had, all that we took for granted, and what we must still reckon with — that our future is not likely to look like what we’re used to. Meanwhile, our hours and days dissolve together into some nebulous glob of experience. While time may run on a larger scale around us, we still live in our own intimate worlds. That dislocation in time has become a part of our running discourse, inspiring memes and jokes about not knowing what day it is. They drive home the fact that we’re all truly experiencing the same phenomenon — a sort of time melt. As our usual markers of time vanish, the days feel as though they’ve been whipped through a blender. We are animals living in a social world, and as such, we’ve created strict routines for our lives. We wake up, take the kids to school, commute to work, take lunch breaks, go to the gym, have dinners out. Now, though, any activities we once might have participated in outside the home have been abruptly removed, and we’ve lost the sense of time these seemingly mundane markers once provided. Lunch is whenever. Dinner is whenever. There is no more gym or meals with friends or travel plans. Our days are now simply that: days. – Shannon Stirone, 22 Dec 2020, vox.com
Since the pandemic began, I have felt completely powerless and out of control. It’s like I was picked up by a malign wind and thrown into the sky with little regard for where I might land. Nearly everyone I know has experienced some variation on this feeling in 2020. We are trapped by chaos…I know so many people who better learned to understand themselves when locked away at home this year…This has been a terrible, terrible year, even beyond the pandemic, with seemingly 500 major news stories hitting every other day. There was a presidential election, and then the sitting president (who lost) kept feigning that he might try to hold on to power by any means necessary, and many days, it wasn’t front-page news simply because so much else was happening. (You might have forgotten that he was also impeached this year.)…We will learn nothing from this experience. We will, instead, hurtle so quickly back to our lives as they were that nothing will change in a world where so many things need to change. – Emily VanDerWerff, 16 Dec 2020, vox.com
I know I am not alone in looking forward to the end of this year…Even my mother, a Muslim who wasn’t allowed to celebrate Eid because of the lockdown, bought new sofa cushions with tiny Santa prints to cheer herself up…Yet despite my complicity with the consumerist mood of Christmas, I can’t help thinking that our attitude is symptomatic of a larger problem. We are understandably exhausted and quick to agree that 2020 was a terrible year. But the year itself has morphed into more than just a date in the calendar: it has become the shared enemy of humanity. “2020 needs to pull over and let me out, I’ll walk”, has become one of the most popular memes since at least March. – Lea Ypi, 09 Dec 2020, theguardian.com
Blaming 2020 for our misery obscures the reasons why this year was wretched…With crises like Covid, it’s comforting to point the finger away from ourselves – but we don’t learn by doing so…There have been many times this year when non-human entities have got the blame for the consequences of our actions. In January, bats in Wuhan got the blame for Covid-19. But the idea that animals are solely responsible for the spread of the virus obscures the truth…There is something soothing about finding a common enemy in a non-human entity…We’ve long blamed providence or nature for the consequences of human action. In 1755, a devastating earthquake in Lisbon killed tens of thousands of people, triggering an important philosophical and theological debate about God’s intentions and the presence of evil in the world. It was a turning point in the optimistic outlook which characterised the spirit of the Enlightenment. As the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau remarked in one of his letters, “the majority of our physical misfortunes are our work”. By blaming things that have no agency, we render ourselves unable to learn from the crisis. For all we know, the next decade could bring worse years. As the climate emergency unfolds, it is increasingly likely this will be framed as a conflict between nature and humanity rather than the result of a social system that puts profits before survival. – Lea Ypi, 09 Dec 2020, theguardian.com
Covid has already disrupted so much of how we live. It has altered something else, as well – time itself. Not so long ago, we had merely months and years. Things happened in November or in December, last year or this. Some events are so big that they divide the world into before and after, into the present and an increasingly alien past. Wars do this, and the pandemic has, too. Coronavirus has cut a trench through time. The very recent past is suddenly another country. Now, amateur archaeologists of our own existence, we sort through our possessions and stumble on small relics from “then”, that strange place we used to live: a bus pass, a lipstick, a smart watch, a pair of shoes with the heels worn down, work clothes that, after just six months in stretchy active-wear, feel as stiff and preposterous as whalebone…Many moments of happiness are about anticipation, the joy of the imagined future – and distracting ourselves from the tedious, exhausting or difficult present. Yet even our small consumer choices or our musings about what to do this weekend now bring us back to the big, overpowering reality of the pandemic. We cannot escape it. Our daydreams have come crashing back to earth: 2020 is the year that the future was cancelled. – Catherine Nixey, 27 Nov 2020, economist.com