The year-end review in review: once again it’s all about me, I mean you

My card.

My card.

Although we don’t have to deal with end-of-the-Mayan-calendar apocalypse nonsense this year, we unfortunately still have an endless number of year-end recaps, highlights, and best-of lists coming out this month, which, as far as I’m concerned, are much worse. I dread all this rehashing, and if you would ask me why I mind the annual ritual so much (it’s all about the media wanting to sell a few tickets to the show, after all, so what else is new), I suppose I’d mention something about the predictability and the sameness of the whole business, the substitution of reflective listmaking for more complex thoughts on our times and the Meaning Of It All, and the general Internet-ready soup mix (microwaved for only 45 seconds, in its own cup) of all these lists and recaps that I find so inevitably depressing.

That, and the another-year-gone stuff on top of it. That, and the fact that nothing much seems to change from one year to another, except that everything gets slightly worse in subtle ways. That, and also because so many people I know on Facebook say the same thing at the end of every December: “This year sucked. I hope next year will be better.” And everyone says Amen, and then the new year ends up sucking just as badly because it’s not really a new year, it’s the same old world continuing as always. And everyone knows this, and yet we still count down the seconds and drink the champagne and hope against hope that this time, it’ll be different.

The thing is, we follow the prompts. In the shops we witness and respond to one holiday following the next, LaborDayBackToSchool then Halloween then ThanksgivingChristmasHanukkahNewYear’s then Valentine’s Day and so on,  with not as much as a day’s break of normalcy in the interstices, any downtime begrudged and in danger of vanishing thanks to the corporate overlords serving us up one bowl of marketing cheer after another.  The round of the year; the wheels clicking into place once again. Buy your greeting cards early.

Then there’s the world of social media, which this year did get noticeably worse. There were fake Twitter feuds with fake enemies, invented by this or that media-savvy trickster to prank everyone, including his fellow media sophisticates (it was funny when Andy Kaufman did it, but somehow this year, it wasn’t). There was much fuss made about cynical waitresses posting restaurant receipts with homophobic insults, since admitted to be fabricated, after thousands of dollars came in to PayPal.  Oh, and whenever a celebrity under the age of 96 dies, it’s a hoax, then it’s not a hoax but it was a hoax two weeks ago, but this time it’s not a hoax and the celebrity isn’t coming back from the dead this time, unless the celebrity is a cartoon character.

To quote an ecard I wrote for some time ago:  I don’t believe anything I read on Facebook, including my own status updates.

I suppose it’s just old human nature in new social media clothes. Social media facilitates our worst instincts along with our best, and maybe it’s just that the worst of it attracts more attention. At least I hope that’s the case. But oh, the narcissism of our age, where everybody is a star, at least on their own page or their own blog (hey, I never claimed to be different, I’m just self-aware).

Kudos to a fellow in Seattle named Marty Perlman, who nearly three years ago wrote the following succinct post in his blog, “Thinking Out Loud,” so I wouldn’t have to:

<<Does anyone remember a classic National Lampoon satire from the ’70s called “Me, the ultimate specialty magazine,” which features the tepid life and mundane times of Walter J. Arnholt of Elkhart, Indiana?
<<EVERYTHING is by and about Walter, including his favorite recipe “Franks and Beans a la Arnholt.” “The secret is the mustard I add to the franks’ water.” His hobby? Growing his matchbook collection. The section’s crossword puzzle, naturally, includes only clues that pertain to Walter and his family.
<<Q: Did National Lampoon anticipate Facebook by 30+ years?>>
 I guess we all know the answer to that one. With the old year fast winding down, and that ubiquitous social media site urging its teeming millions to share their “20 biggest moments on Facebook” for their “Year in Review,” it’s clear that everyone has indeed become the subject of his or her own very own magazine, and no matter how many Facebook friends, or “friends,” one has, the target audience remains one. Or rather, I suspect that we have become, instead, the targets of marketing. Nothing else seems to be new except the sophistication of the marketers, who grow more slick and seamless every year in getting us to give up our souls for a bit of false, easy ego gratification.
I’ve lately been wondering if the demand for superhero movies has a direct relationship to the average person’s own feeling of powerlessness — that is, the less you feel in control of your own destiny, the greater your desire to escape into a fantasy of becoming an all-powerful being with magical powers beyond the laws of physics, whether your choice is Superman, a witch, a vampire, or an alien. And you need go no farther than a Disney Princess or Iron Man Halloween costume or Justin Bieber’s face on your kid’s Christmas stocking to know how early it starts.
But does all this make us happy? Content? If some of us are, I think it’s in spite of all the official Calls To Be Happy All The Time, not, need I say, because of them, because their purpose is not making us, finally, content, but making us believe that we need this new gadget or version or add-on to make us so. I believe you know how the rest of that goes.
Is it still possible for us to imagine a world in which it would not be necessary to dread the day when you have to break the news to your growing children that things are not, indeed, much worse than they’ve been led to believe?
I hope we can all do some serious creative thinking in the weeks to come. And I hope it will all lead to something that can justify us all to really say, happy new something, and mean it.

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