2023 Cannot Be Dreamt Away

Three Stills from Planet of the Bass

What a year it was.

I am tired of year end reviews.

Years can suck for the writer of the review or for the world at large, or can be good for the writer of the review (but rarely for the world at large) but 2023 seemed to continue a string of crap that started with the pandemic that refuses to leave (it hasn’t gone anywhere just look at the numbers) and continued on to, oh, the continuing mess in the Ukraine, wars in Burma and Sudan (which, quite possibly, is the world’s worst disaster right now, if we must rank disasters, and probably the most ignored for reasons that are too obvious to mention), and the incredible intractable kerfuffle that is Israel and the Palestinians (not ignored, obviously, but not always for the right reasons) and all the drama and trauma and idiocy and suffering that this latest awful mess is causing both in the vicinity of the conflict but also around the world.

The extremists are winning, in other words. They are always the source of the news. Always. Which is always a surprise.

This was our year. Canada, where I live, feels adrift but this, in hindsight, seems to be its normal vibe. In many ways Canada is not a serious country (and I don’t mean in the right wing pundit talking point kind of way, nor do I mean this in the Quebec separatist kind of way either). It is one that allows you to live and not think about things (and if you do, chances are it is an American thing) and this is a luxury and the result of the privilege of living huddled by the border of a superpower. In Quebec, where I also live, we are led by a party of bureaucrats and careerists who govern by what they think their voters might like, as opposed to leading. So the teachers are on strike, the nurses are on strike, the government promises things no one wants, they go after minorities and/or immigrants because it gets them points in the hinterland, they hate the metropolis because it is so different from the rest of the place. The government in Quebec is the result of a population being tired of politics and personalities and so we are governed by an apolitical bunch that is free of personality. In Montreal, where I live, the city marches on, drifting, with and without momentum, but livable and charming and creative, though that is being challenged as well, by the same problems afflicting other places, namely lack of affordable housing and apartments, NIMBYs moving into condos next to nightclubs and then complaining about the sound at night, and the damned cost of eggs.

The economy is doing not bad. The numbers say so. Inflation is pretty much under control. The numbers say so. Unemployment is very low. The numbers say so. But the people don’t say so. There is a disconnect between reality and what people feel, and unlike the disconnect between, say, crime rates and people convinced “the streets” are more “dangerous,” driven clearly by a media that needs us to feel the “danger” so we stay indoors and consume their media, the economic disconnect is something else. The numbers are good but the feeling that things aren’t is almost universal.

Is it because we consume entertainment that showcases the lives of the ultra-wealthy? (Look, I enjoyed Succession too but that family was miserable and part of the joy of the show was the manner in which that misery would manifest itself.) Is it because we believe that one’s prosperity says something about one’s character? (There are too many examples of people thinking this and being wrong for thinking this to mention but I will give you two words: Elon. Musk.) The world we have built is one that places great truck in personal growth, in “success,” in the linear trajectory our lives might or should take. But whatever the reason, many of us aren’t satisfied with what we have, or what we lack, and many of us are, indeed, not doing well financially, and so while it’s true money can’t buy happiness (see the examples above), some money can sure make one happier.

Is it because of Tik Tok?

I’ve managed to get this far without mentioning AI and this screed about the business of AI (and not the ethical implications of it) sounds good to me. Of course it’s a grift. And the people who will make money off it are not in the business of making things better they’re in the business of making more money. Which is their right. But the cost of their profit will be felt by everyone.

I received an AI-generated Christmas card the other day. Christmas was misspelled. And “Merry” was rendered in a font that was illegible. In other words, I can only assume the word was Merry. The image was glossy, a vintage looking robot placing a wrapped gift under a tree, with that uncanny valley sheen that seems to infect all AI-generated art. It was sent sincerely, so thanks sender, and it was also awful and unintentionally hilarious. I got the laugh out of the way because AI is going to stop being funny soon.

Tech has long been long on promise and short on actual benefits. You might say, wait a minute, the conveniences of tech far outweigh the bad. I think that’s debatable now and perhaps gets more debatable by the day. Tech utopians are simply that, utopians, and utopia is a mere vibe away from dystopia; both are unrealistic but it’s easier to frown than to smile (not everyone agrees with this and I acknowledge the disagreement). Every bit of tech has an outlier but sometimes the harm is built in.

Spotify is a good example. They have built a platform that emphasizes reach over quality (just listen to another streaming service and compare) and have managed to completely fuck up the economic model for musicians. And yet, we all use it. Spotify has flattened the world with their Wrapped feature (which collapses with any kind of scrutiny), which I’m sure started as the answer to a question from a smart marketing person (who simply asked “why are we just sitting on everyone’s data?”) and has become an odd and uncomfortable juggernaut. Again, only if you think about it. And by the way, the place my musical taste is most like is “Brighton.” I’ve been there, it’s lovely and I can see why Spotify thinks my taste aligns with the hip people of Brighton and Hove. It’s reductive and simplistic, sure, but Spotify isn’t creating this “data” to be smart, let’s be clear.

Speaking of streaming, well, I’d rather not, but TV is now streaming and the streamers are becoming….just like yesterday’s tv. What else is an ad on a streaming service? It’s like the tv-tech mash up braintrust thought long and hard, decided what they were doing was not sustainable (or finally realized it because money isn’t magic) and rediscovered advertising. We’re all Bobby Ewing in the shower, man, except we’re not all sleeping with Pam. Or live on a giant ranch funded by greed and fossil fuels.

And speaking of which, I don’t want to talk about the environment. It’s a mess, it’s getting worse, COP was a cop out, a handful of people have decided it’s better to get rich than die (eventually, this cartoon is on point). If you’re not working in the oil industry and still support the oil industry, ask yourself why. Beyond “ideology.” Really really ask yourself this question. Do it in front of a mirror until you are afraid of looking at your own face. Go ahead. What other industry do you support with such passion and…vitriol? Because chances are you are doing the bidding of others.

Look, electric cars are great and don’t use fossil fuels but they’re not, you know, clean. Those batteries are the source of some horrid working conditions. And I think the real menace is plastic, which is everywhere. Never mind the heat (or the humidity) or the dust or the drought. Or the rain. Or the flooding. Or the lack and/or abundance of water. (all of which I’ve written about in a manuscript I’m having trouble placing….speaking of my writing:)

I have a novel coming out in 2024. I wrote more in 2023. I ditched my agent at the end of 2022 and as of this writing am still looking for a new one. But the novel will come out, October 15th, it’s called The Reeds, and so that’s something to look forward to.

My consultancy, like other businesses, has its ups and downs. It’s a new business and that means I could use more money (notwithstanding what I just said). At the start of the year, my son left on some overseas adventures. Midway through the year he returned. Now he is planning another journey. I have travelled enough in my life that his mere planning tires me out though the thought of going somewhere and just enjoying the fuck out of doing nothing exotically has an appeal.

The older I get the more the idea of nothing appeals. Of null. Love, as no points is called in tennis. I look forward to a world that slows down, inexorably ridding itself of humans, waiting for another animal to take over. But that is a long ways away. In the meantime, there is media to consume (and all media, in addition to what I’ve mentioned already is a mess and most everyone knows it). There are books to read. So many books. There is joy. There is good food. There are moments and objects of beauty. There is the hope that people come to their senses, though the evidence generally does not lend itself to hope.

The possibility of beauty, especially when it is improbable, is what keeps us going and that in itself is a beautiful thing.

The video of the year, because the year was so meh, is this one. That it’s smart dumb and dumb smart, all at once, and that the campaign got even smarter (with the simple trick of never changing the vocal track but always changing the actress “singing”) and pointed – and even political in its lowkey way –  is genius. It’s a parody and the joke is on all of us. And it’s catchy. Dumb catchy. (It is, in some ways, the sonic equivalent of watching Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same day, which was a thing.) Planet of the Bass not the song of the year (and I’ve had this verified by my Spotify Wrapped at least – I didn’t listen to it once on Spotify!) but it made its point and perfectly encapsulates how genuinely shitty things feel. Wrapped in a pleasing, even, yes, beautiful, package.

Which leads us to the word of the year: “Enshittification.” A word so perfect, so obvious to anyone that learns of it, one is amazed it is new and not something passed down from violent prehistoric horse-riding tribes wandering the steppes of what is now Ukraine. Where they know a thing or two about enshittification.

Bobby Ewing in the shower, as if nothing happened at all

Maybe it was all a dream, right?

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