Saturday, December 31, 2011

Annus mirabilis or annus terribilis?

It was no less a sage than Carrie Bradshaw who once mused in Sex And The City: "Maybe the past is like an anchor holding us back. Maybe, you have to let go of who you were to become who you will be." It is perfectly true that looking back, rather than the other direction, only relives troubling memories or revisits those we'd rather resign to the dark coffers of history. That said, the adage that knowing where you've come from helps where you're going also rings true.

The point of all this cod philosophy is that, this being New Year's Eve and all, I feel compelled to cast one final glance over the shoulder of a year which, on a personal level, could at the very least be described as 'odd', and on a global level, be described as relentless. I won't dwell here on the personal stuff, save to say that if 2011's emotional dips, peaks, twists and turns were to be turned into a theme park ride, Health & Safety would close it down in an instant.

The list of world events, however, warrants some reflection. Keeping pace with 'big' news this year has been the current affairs equivalent of running a long, punishing marathon with only a few stops for water and the odd embarrassing Paula Radcliffe roadside evacuation along the way.

In the year in which the world welcomed its seven billionth inhabitant, major news stories seemed to be bigger and more impactful: perhaps it was the way they were reported by the media that engorged them, but from the Arab Awakening and the Fukushima earthquake to Europe's economic disaster, the deaths of Steve Jobs and Osama Bin Laden to the deranged rampage of Anders Brevik, Charlie Sheen's very public meltdown and Amy Winehouse's somewhat inevitable demise to the bizarre case of Dominic Strauss-Kahn, England's summer riots and the Anglo-Saxon media's self-ingestion over phone hacking, there was a never-ending parade of news which just seemed that much bigger than usual.

Of all of them, it is the events that will continue into 2012 that deserve the most attention. Biggest of these is the revolution that swept the Middle East and North Africa. It actually began last December with the self-emoliation of a 26-year-old Tunisian fruit and vegetable seller, Mohammed Bouazizi. His act of fatal desperation lit the fuse of a conflagration that is burning still in Syria and smoldering elsewhere.

If the Vietnam War had been the first television war, the revolution that took hold in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and other countries in the region was the first to be initiated by and spread via social networking. The smartphone, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook became more powerful than any pitchfork or Molatov cocktail in the history of popular uprising, channels for disobedience, for liberty and retribution, conveying both brutal injustice as well as the brutal dispatch of an insane monster like Muammar Gaddafi.

Social networking tools evolved from frivolous platforms for sharing pictures of drunken nights out, commencing and ending relationships and posting inconsequential videos of cats playing musical instruments to outlets for freedom and ingenuity. People found a voice they either didn't have before, or were denied their right to exercise it in the first place.

At the arrival of 2012 nothing is more certain than it was one year ago. Europe continues to heave and groan amid the seismic contractions of its politically complex economy, and the Middle East continues to be a source of social unrest and even the resurgence of the sort of nuclear tension that kept an entire generation awake at night not so long ago.

To add to the uncertainty we have Iran rattling its sabre over oil and its own atomic ambitions and a North Korea run by, it would appear, a pudgy video gamer who has swapped his Xbox controls for a large red button labelled Use only if you wish to hold south-east Asia to ransom. Given that the Mayan calendar doesn't have a lot planned for 2013, there is much to be nervous about as we send fireworks into the night sky tonight.

Happy New Year.

1 comment:

  1. A thoughtful review, Simon. I agree too, that the Arab Spring is one of the most profound bits of world news for years. My thoughts are here: