Arts·Point of View

7 things about 2021 that we hope go away and never come back

From Joe Rogan to NFTs to transphobia in the media, we sound off on what shouldn't follow us into 2022.

From Joe Rogan to NFTs to transphobia in the media, we sound off on what shouldn't follow us into 2022

A person poses in front of a projection of source code during a media preview at Sotheby's on June 24, 2021, in New York, for Sotheby's NFT Auction of Sir Tim Berners-Lee "Source Code for the World Wide Web," which will be offered for sale as an NFT. (Timoth A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

While the team at CBC Arts tried our best to end 2021 on a positive note (we really did, look!), the year hasn't exactly made it easy. Looking back at the last 12 months, it's tough not to think about the many, many things we hope will soon be just a fading memory. So we decided to give our staff and contributors the chance to vent about something they felt was exceptionally unfortunate about this year. See you never, 2021!

NFTs

Of all the press releases waiting in my inbox this morning, here's one that truly nails the surreal mundane nightmare that is 2021: Stan Lee (a man who has been dead for three years) is proud to announce that Chakra the Invincible (an obscure fictional character) will be releasing his own line of NFTs. What is an NFT? I'd break down the acronym for you, but too many people have done it too many times already, and as I learned several months ago (probably while reciting the definition to my mom), the only thing more maddening than explaining what NFTs are is NFTs themselves. But here are some reasons why I wish those three little letters hadn't dominated the news cycle this year: they're environmentally destructive, requiring a massive amount of electricity to create and store. The market would appear to be just one more sphere where those who are already rich can keep getting richer. A few lucky so-and-so's have become millionaire art-stars overnight, suggesting some new utopian art-market reality where there are no institutional gatekeepers and creators can continue earning royalties off secondary sales in perpetuity — but that hasn't protected artists from crooks who feel like right-click-saving somebody else's iPad scribbles, and minting those images for their own fun and profit.

I am, admittedly, an outsider to the whole realm, and I am not passionate about a potential future where a decentralized internet runs on the blockchain. Still, I question why anyone should care if a pop star or an Oscar winner or paintbrush-wielding zoo specimen has added some ephemeral tat to a digital ledger. Because to my understanding, the true value of an NFT is effectively this: you burn a pile of money for the right to brag about doing just that, and the only people who might possibly be impressed have burned their own piles of money for the right to scream about the exact same thing. And that's fine; let them have at it. I'll be over here, not listening to how you flipped a picture of kitten in a cowboy hat into a down payment on a two-bedroom condo. — Leah Collins, senior writer

Transphobia in the media

Margaret Atwood spent far too much time this year defending herself against accusations of being a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). In October, the author tweeted Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno's opinion piece, "Why can't we say 'woman' anymore?", igniting a disturbing trans-exclusionary debate about the linguistics of gender that spread through Canadian media like wildfire. Atwood, it seems, shares DiManno's "concern" that using gender-inclusive language endangers the category of "woman" — despite it actually broadening our understanding of womanhood.

Atwood, who is one of the most well-known authors in Canada, co-signed a dog whistle for transphobic legislation and discourse when she amplified DiManno's piece to her audience of two million on Twitter. Her endorsement of the article, coming shortly after the Netflix staff walkout in response to Dave Chappelle's transphobic comedy special, is not the first time she has revealed her shortcomings as a "feminist" writer. To many of us, Atwood is what it looks like when one desperately clenches onto the mic, becoming incapable of observing their own shortcomings to a larger movement they claim commitment to. — Huda Hassan, writer

The oversaturation of Drag Race

In 2021, the reality TV scientists behind Drag Race began a thorough experiment to pinpoint the exact difference between quality and quantity — and good god, girl, they got it. This year saw a whopping eight seasons across seven franchises (plus a COVID-themed special no one asked for), and watching started to feel more like a chore than anything else. Drag Race viewers had long grit our teeth through the bloated episodes and irritating production choices but still packed into bars week after week to watch together like it was the gay World Cup. But at some point this year, nearly everyone I know stopped even trying to keep up. Wha' ha' happened?

Season 13 of the US edition premiered on New Years Day and set the tone for the rest of the year: it aired for nearly four months and was overstuffed with production and judging decisions that should've gotten the pork chop (of course, "getting the pork chop" turned out to literally mean nothing at all). With the exception of a truly iconic second season of Drag Race UK, the other seasons — at least the ones I had the energy to watch — seemed to follow suit, simply deploying The Drag Race Formula™ across as many avenues as possible and assuming they'd hit gold every time. It wasn't even that everything happening onscreen was necessarily bad — it was just so much. Even with plenty of incredible queens across the various casts, it felt like this was the year that the bubble officially burst, with each new edition more predictable (and often frustrating to watch) than the last.

Older Drag Race episodes are electrifying, but recent seasons have made it clear that you can't manufacture lightning in a bottle. The drama is lifeless; so are the heartfelt moments, which lose almost all sincerity when they're so obviously performed for television. The workroom chats manage to feel so produced that they flatten even the most interesting or moving stories. And even talented, unique queens are uncomfortably boxed into pre-established archetypes and predictably painful challenges that often aren't well suited to their skill sets. It all feels a bit like watching a high school play — there's certainly a script, and there's raw talent to be found among the cast as they dutifully read out their lines, but overall what's happening is not particularly memorable or inspiring.

There's obviously no denying the legacy that Drag Race has cemented and how much love people will always have for this show, myself included. It's just a shame to see them commit the cardinal sin of culture: trying so desperately to make everything iconic that you end up becoming irrelevant. — Eleanor Knowles, producer

Hustle culture

Scrooge McDuck. (Disney)

With the pandemic now gearing up for its second anniversary, few of us need to be told to hustle. We are no longer bosses or CEOs, but mere mortals, simply trying to survive as our brains attempt to compute over one hundred weeks of fear, anxiety, financial strife, and the endless question of when and if we're all going to die. The cries of "you can still be productive" during the first stage of COVID are laughable now, particularly because we've learned that our idea of productivity is a myth; that pouring ourselves into work and the identities we've formed around is has led to burnout, depletion, and the revelations that we've bought into a system that doesn't care about our well-being — no matter how many "rise and grind" mantras we heed. 

Which I consider a welcome exit. To believe that the reason you're not surrounded by Scrooge McDuck-type money piles is because you're not working hard enough is an exhausting and dangerous mindset to carry. To push yourself in fear of being replaced or written off is unhealthy. To aspire to be like various girlbosses or Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos (imagine you wanted to be like Jeff Bezos) is a waste of yourself — someone who is more than enough as the person they are.

So to hustle culture and those who spew it, I say good riddance. Enjoy your 2021 time capsules while the rest of us — struggling and scrounging and simply trying to survive — embrace being real people and looking out for real people. Even if most of that experience right now consists of screaming into the night and stress-eating KD in the confines of one's bedroom. But frankly I would rather do that than suffer inspirational quotes juxtaposed atop dozens of Zoom calls. — Anne T. Donahue, writer

Great movies bombing at the box office

Early on in the pandemic, I bemoaned the loss of a lifelong pastime: checking the movie box office numbers every Sunday. So you'd think that when cinemas began reopening and the box office slowly started coming back to life, I'd find some sweet relief. But alas, that came with a troubling new reality: only a very specific kind of movies seemed capable of succeeding in theatres. Those movies, more or less, were the ones geared toward young people, a.k.a. those least likely to be scared of COVID-19.

There were 13 movies that grossed over $100 million at the North American box office in 2021, and pretty much all of them involved either superheroes, monsters and/or hugely popular existing IP. Which is not to say some of those movies weren't great (a couple were!) but it's just sad that so many great movies didn't join them in attracting audiences to movie theatres. Take In The Heights, which was being talked about as the movie to bring back audiences because of how joyously cinematic it was (it made $29 million). Or Belfast, which won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and had extreme amounts of Oscar buzz (it made $7 million). Or King Richard, which had great reviews, stars arguable the most reliable box office star of the pre-pandemic times (Will Smith) and is about the father of two of the most beloved athletes of all time, the Williams sisters (it made $15 million). Or West Side Story, which I fully expected to finally be the exception given the love of the original, glowing acclaim and the Spielberg of it all ($18 million and counting, but Omicron isn't exactly going to help it get much further). 

These are just four at least 20 examples of movies that deserved big audiences and big box office numbers this year, and yet their totals come to just under $70 million — basically what Spiderman: No Way Home made in the time you'll take to read this article. And while I'm certainly not blaming audiences for being weary of cinemas (especially right now), I hope 2022 brings a time when the cinemas aren't just for superheroes. — Peter Knegt, producer

Billionaires in space

Jeff Bezos, No. 2 richest person in the world, funded his aerospace company with at least $5.5 billion U.S. in personal capital. For this tremendous investment, he spent about four minutes last July on the nearest edge of space. The Amazon founder was actually the second billionaire in as many weeks to experience suborbital flight aboard a private spacecraft, with rival Richard Branson blasting off nine days sooner. The billionaire space race: it was the news story nobody could stomach, even when they strapped Captain Kirk to a rocket for the publicity. It's as if the wealthiest's wildest dreams, manifested and transformed into a tourism industry serving the 1 per cent, is just grossly unrelatable stuff to most other people. Some acknowledged the innovation the missions signalled or the inspiration they brought future generations. But the way I see it, the space adventures of Branson, Bezos and friends is more likely to lead to a future where my great-grandkids are employed mining lithium on the moons of Mars than to a happier, healthier life here on Earth. — Chris Hampton, writer

Joe Rogan

Joe Rogan at UFC 249. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Joe Rogan has been a problem for some time. He insists that he's "just asking questions" and that he's "not a respected source of information" while platforming the likes of Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes and building a business model on people — overwhelmingly young men — listening to him as a respected source of information. But this year, he managed to turn himself from a vague danger into an immediate, obvious danger. A recap of the year in Rogan:

  • In April, he strongly suggested that healthy young people don't need the COVID-19 vaccine. (He later walked that statement back, reminding people that while he's "not a doctor," he is "a fucking moron." His words, not mine.) 

  • In August, he suggested that vaccine passports were the first step in turning the United States into a dictatorship.

  • In September, while on tour in Florida — a state experiencing a massive spike in cases at the time — he somewhat predictably contracted COVID. He described his treatment plan as "I threw the kitchen sink at it." The sink included prednisone and monoclonal antibodies, both of which have a solid track record of aiding COVID recovery, and Ivermectin, which does not. 

  • CNN implied he was taking horse medicine, at which point he forcefully clarified that he took Ivermectin for humans.

  • Rogan's kitchen sink-aided recovery turned him into something of a resource for celebrities who are not full-blown "Plandemic" types, but not quite not that either. NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers talked to Rogan when creating his health protocol, which apparently did not include vaccination. Rogan's sometimes-boss and UFC president Dana White thanked "Dr. Joe Rogan" for recommending the kitchen sink approach when he caught the virus, and claiming that at least 40 other people have tried it, too.

  • In October, Rogan suggested that people should get vaccinated, then actively try to get a breakthrough infection for "extra protection."

Look, I can't prove this, but it's overwhelmingly likely that Rogan's Ivermectin endorsement contributed to a rash of human use of veterinary Ivermectin, because if people will spend $200 USD on a Darth Vader-shaped kettlebell on your say-so, they will definitely eat a couple tablespoons of sheep dip. And this is the thing. Joe preaches "keeping an open mind," but many, many young dudes are out here taking everything he says as gospel. He's not just some wacky comedian with a podcast — he is someone that his audience turns to for guidance. That's why MeUndies and Onnit supplements and those mushroom coffee people pay big bucks to sponsor his show. And he is not being responsible with that power. He never has been. He's a gateway drug to some really dangerous conspiratorial thinking, his open-mindedness is pointedly one-sided, and MeUndies are both overrated and overpriced. But now he's encouraging young men to eat horse medicine (even though, again, he says he himself did not), fear public health measures, and actively chase COVID. That's a new level of danger.

Please let him, and his whole Experience, stay in 2021. — Chris Dart, producer

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