4 Cultural Observations About 2015


1. Us vs. Them Thinking Is Now Quantifiable

It used to be that we just suspected that people secretly thought a certain way, or that more people valued one thing over another. Now, we see proof of this everywhere, from what people shout loud and proud on Facebook to what lurkers anonymously up-vote on Yik Yak. The Internet not only splits the media’s “us vs. them” biases into even finer fractions, but it puts numbers behind them we can see. This year, it’s made us ask some tricky questions, like why so much rage over a lion being killed and so much silence for black lives taken at the hands of police everyday? Same with the numbers of profile pictures changed for Paris but not for the other countries attacked by ISIS. In a changing world, who is us and who is them?

2. Globalization May Be Changing Direction, And People Don’t Want to Put Down Their McRibs without a Fight

The early 2000’s was a time of globalization, if by that word we meant putting McDonald’s, Starbucks and Best Buys on every corner of the planet. But now McDonald’s and Best Buy are struggling, and American culture is becoming a tapestry of new, diverse identities that no corporate research report can keep up with. A quarter of Gen Z is hispanic, and the Donald Trumps of the world are flipping out about Mexicans, Muslims and refugees changing The American Way of Life, Which is Definitely Not a Cultural Melting Pot.

All western countries *built on colonialism* are having their own flip-outs over the refugee crisis, to which the goddess M.I.A.recently responded, “If the West is so deliberate in promoting its brands and is using art and culture to inspire people’s dreams, how can the West then turn people away? You don’t put the borders on Apple, you don’t put borders on YouTube, and you don’t put borders on MTV, so to make the borders even taller when actually what the creative world is doing, or the business world is doing, is actually the opposite, then you’re always going to have this problem.”

So will we start to reform our ways in 2016 and accept that globalization/immigration can change America and the west for the better?  I can’t help but think about the double standard M.I.A. has faced chasing her own version of the pop culture dream. Even though her “Borders” video was met with acclaim, it was only a few years ago that Lynn Hirschberg of the NYT dismissed her whole narrative because she had the nerve to enjoy truffle fries despite being from a WAR-TORN COUNTRY. American culture has a long way to go before it’s enlightened, but maybe our babies’ babies’ babies’ will be cool.

3. From Exploitation to Representation and Back: A Reminder that Renaissance Eras Don’t Always Stick

This year has featured many triumphs in diverse storytelling, like The Carmichael ShowJane the Virgin, Shondaland, TransparentTangerine and Fresh Off the Boat. These have shown that the average Joe story protagonist is no longer just Bradley Cooper. A peek at the #MSWL (manuscript wishlist) proves that agents want stories written by people from with underrepresented points-of-view, and they want them NOW.

But we shouldn’t get too comfortable. Other eras where the cultural narrative blossomed and diverse representation started to rise have happened, and they have passed. Just last year, a study found that, “Moviegoers were almost as likely to see an other-worldly female as they were to see a Latina or Asian female character” in movies. We have to fight to keep this momentum going. The good news is, you can vote with your TV and your Kindle, so do it.

4. Cultural and Media Criticism Don’t Seem to Pay Anymore, Yet They’re Stronger than Ever

This year has featured the sad shutting down of cultural criticism hubs Grantland and The Dissolve. This comes after the shuttering of smaller publications around the country, like the local offices of The Onion’s A.V. Club. Meanwhile, Gawker’s own employees are writing long exposés of their sexist culture on more democratic blogging platform Medium. Despite all of this, it has been an excellent year for cultural dialog, and some of the year’s biggest megastars are people who talk about hard issues, like Ta-Nehisi Coates explaining racism to his son. We’re having lots of hard discussions, and building the platforms as we go.

What will 2016 bring?

Here are some wild guesses:

-More dogs that look like bears

-More podcast criticism rather than just recapping

-A shorter loop between people getting mad about stuff and people going back to sharing guac recipes

-More people afraid of going to the movies and malls

-More telling-it-like it is from new Daily Show host Trevor Noah

-Aziz Ansari will tackle the topic of credit default swaps

-Ariana Grande will become a Kardashian

-We will be able to vote with self-driving cars

A toast to a year that was culturally depressing yet made with good TV/dogs.