2017 sucked such a steaming hot one that it’s unfathomable that anyone could think otherwise. Oops, someone does. Controversial gazelle Taylor Swift recently had the temerity to post on Instagram that she’d actually had a good year. In 2017! I guess Nazis don’t put a damper on the everyday experience of a girl-next-door millionaire who makes records with bad fonts. The internet gave her major hell, bewildered that Swift has just been, dunno, living her life the last 365 days while the rest of the world crashes and burns around her, and then chose at year’s end to categorically sum up those days in single year form, found them to be good and positive days, and then took to social media to deem it so. The fuck?
“Jingle Bell Ball in London a few days ago,” Swift captioned a photo. “I couldn’t have asked for a better year, all thanks to you,” she continued, seemingly oblivious that this was the year of the Las Vegas shooting, Harvey Weinstein and more Donald Trump. “Thanks for all the birthday wishes,” she chirped along. “Can’t wait to see what 28 will be like. See you on tour.”
The Committee for the Correct Interpretation of the Year 2017 and Its Permitted Impact on Individual Happiness, also known as Twitter, let her have it. Among the most widely quoted drags celebrated for supposedly really nailing Swift to the wall was this little gem:
The essence of this criticism of Swift, and many others like it, is clear: Only a rich oblivious asshole could’ve had a good year in 2017, because the rest of us have suffered horribly. Only a rich, oblivious asshole wouldn’t know better than to pipe down about it too. And even if we weren’t personally impacted by the various tragedies, unlike her, the rest of us suffered right there with them — or at least know how to pretend we did. We are, after all, Good Internet People.
Swift was also deemed lacking in empathy.
But then something funny happened. Regular people began declaring their own 2017 as good years, too. Maybe they’re Taylor Swift fans. Maybe they’re assholes. Maybe they’re both!
Most of all, they’re for sure able to make a fairly obvious distinction between one’s personal experience on Earth and one’s understanding of the state of the world in which we live and how those two things can be different.
Look, Taylor Swift might very well be a tone-deaf asshole who can find inspiration in a Good Charlotte album cover, and I’m not in the business of defending those. But if there’s an Insta-crime here, it’s not her having a good year, it’s her not being a humble enough little potato about it.
In what you might call a defense-slash-burn, a fellow woman on the internet advised Swift to just think a bit before speaking out. Maybe it’s okay to have a good year, but Jesus, don’t admit it!
But the internet, delightfully vindictive mob that it is, combed through the woman’s feed and found that, back in March 2017, she too had the temerity to celebrate her own personal good year in spite of all the horrors in the world:
Oof. This staggeringly beautiful hypocrisy lies at the heart of the most performative corners of the internet, a place where nuance is simultaneously bludgeoned to death while being tediously teased out in long, celebratory, self-aggrandizing threads proving omniscience.
Inbetween, in the real world, some of us had good years, and some of us had bad years, and some of us had good and bad things in both.
When I was younger, a boyfriend’s dad told me with a sad, defeated look in his eyes after declaring his third bankruptcy, “One thing you’ll realize when you get older, there’ll be good years, and there’ll be bad years.” It kind of blew my mind. Whole years? I was 25, and still so absorbed in the day-to-day calculation of my life that I’d barely thought about ranking months, much less years. I was dirt fucking poor and also broke, and I couldn’t even see how the world was going to turn out for me.
Cut to now, and I recently had a year where four people close to me died in a row, including my mother and including my friend’s newborn son. That’s the kind of year so bad it will gut you, and I still haven’t figured how how that tax thing is going to fuck me. I feel terrible for myself, and I feel terrible for everyone else. Was my suffering say, Hurricane Harvey bad? Or just different?
I’m not being disingenuous when I say I don’t know.
Nor am I being disingenuous when I say it doesn’t actually matter.
What I do know is that if you had a great year in 2017 and managed to carve out a shred of happiness, mazel fucking tov. If you got married, had a child, beat cancer, survived serious grief, just got a good job, found out you were pregnant again after losing a child, got a promotion, bought your first house, painted your first watercolor, completed a novel, made a friend, apologized to an enemy, gave your time to help others, fell in love, planted a garden, ended a terrible relationship or are just the sort of person for whom actual happiness is a state of being, great.
It’s a crazy world to live in, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t personally still be trying to be happy, that you still shouldn’t do your own highly individual, personal calculation about What Matters to You. This year was your good year, and don’t let anyone take that away from you.
Yes, there were Nazis this year, Trump, natural disasters, white supremacy marches, senseless murders, sexual assaultapalooza, people losing healthcare, families torn apart. It’s clear some contingent of the internet believes that those things cannot be ignored to focus on anything personally positive. Or as one Twitterer sarcastically put it, “Gotta politicize everything!”
But there were also a number of excellent things that happened in 2017, too: Alabama pedo scumbag Roy Moore was defeated; the Islamic State was bashed in the knees; the relentless sexual shit women have taken as human beings since the dawn of time is finally a national conversation — and bad men are being forced out because of it; the teen pregnancy rate dropped again; and hey, women in Saudi Arabia can fucking drive!
We’re in an unprecedented era of global awareness about every civil rights cause and every tragedy, and that’s a good thing. And we’re in an even greater unprecedented era of being able to genuinely mourn and sympathize with those tragedies — or at least pretend to with a few keystrokes. Unfortunately, however, the outpourings of grief are as real and relentless as the grotesque, self-obsessed virtue signaling they inspire.
But it’s bad thinking to conflate that with the individual person’s right to muddle through, to find personal joy in spite of the constant reality of worldwide suffering at all times. There’s a reason our brains can blot all this shit year stuff out and still get married, fall in love or send someone a picture of our dicks. It’s so we can survive. To pretend we aren’t all practicing this psychic numbing to some degree or another to ensure our own survival as a species is the ultimate fail — an obvious luxury of hiding behind a computer screen sniping at Taylor Swift for daring to have a good year.
I really really don’t care about Taylor Swift, but hey, it’s not too difficult to see both that she had a personal good year, but is also aware enough of the political events to be moved to do something. She made sizable donations to Hurricane Harvey survivors and also a foundation for survivors of sexual assault, so she must have paid a little attention?
2016 was a shit year, too. There was Brexit, the Orlando nightclub shooting, Zika. Writing then at The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman asked, “Is it possible to remain happy, or even marginally optimistic, in such circumstances?” Part of the problem, he deduces from the research, is that we’re royally and forever fucked by the IV drip of horrible news we’re hooked up to, and it’s left us both overly affected by things too far away to actually affect us, and also unable to distinguish between which terrible thing is actually a real threat to us. It’d be one thing if the glut of fear-mongering served our daily lives, but it largely doesn’t.
“We fear terrorist atrocities more than car accidents, for example, because it’s easier to call to mind vivid images of terrorism,” Burkeman writes. We see so much bad news happening every second on multiple platforms, and feel so compelled to stay up on it — and now extra compelled to make sure we show everyone we’re upset — that it’s hard to keep track of what to feel the worst about, much less what to do about it, much less invest in things that affect our personal everyday lives.
What’s more, research finds that the more we immerse ourselves in catastrophe, the more we begin to see our personal tribulations as worse than they are. This all creates uncertainty about the world, Burkeman notes.
Guess what we do to assuage that? We seek out more information about the terrible stuff to make ourselves feel better.
Guess what happens then? We feel worse.
Burkeman and others also argue that, ironically enough, we’re actually living in one of the best periods in all of human history in terms of the major measures like life expectancy, global poverty rates, sanitation, literacy and freedom. But we don’t judge the quality of our lives by the century, nor should we. Still, we shouldn’t do the reverse. Taking every tragedy and injustice everywhere as a personal cross to bear is about as self-absorbed as taking a selfie at Auschwitz. Some things really aren’t about you.
“There’s an understandable argument that it is comically self-absorbed to worry about how the news makes you feel,” Burkeman writes. “Assuming you had no direct connections to those killed in Orlando, say, or to the family of Jo Cox, it is hardly one of the most salient aspects of either story that they caused you to feel depressed.”
No one is suggesting that people aren’t genuinely heartbroken for others when they suffer, or aren’t deeply and compassionately moved to help. But the last place that heartfelt do-gooderism should extend to is policing the degree to which some other person can express having experienced personal joy in spite of the madness.
In reality, instead of playing Happy Police, we should be focused on doing what people have done for all of human history: Living our lives; carving out some kind of personal meaning in this crazy world; aiding those who are suffering, so that we might be aided in our own suffering. This is actually the secret to accepting the world’s never-ending horror show — ask any committed activist who sees the worst of the problem and still gets up every day to try to fix it.
And yet, we should always be trying to have a really fucking great year, too. It’s not a zero-sum game. You can do all those things at the same time — mourn the loss, look into the heart of darkness, help those in need, change the broken system and still see a movie you like tonight. We should consider this among our most natural, inalienable human rights, right alongside excellent memes and affordable internet access.
So if you did have a great year in 2017, you may actually have more company than you realize. If you didn’t, you’re certainly not alone either. But if all you’ve got from this year is laboring over whether someone else is telegraphing the right kind of humility and sadness, maybe make next year’s resolution to go out and get yourself something a lot closer to a life.