It's almost time for the 2022 ToB!

It's almost time for the 2022 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes. Check out the short list today!

Closing the Door

Credit: McKay Savage

The Year That Was and Wasn’t

We asked some of our favorite journalists, writers, and thinkers: What were the most important events of 2019, and what were the least?

Interviews by Hayden Higgins

 

Seyward Darby
None of this bodes well for future crisis response.

Most Important: Impeachment, baby. It’s only happened four times! Even W. wasn’t impeached—I mean, what?! But I don’t think the fact of the proceedings is what matters most. Polls show that impeachment isn’t doing much to change voters’ minds. Reporters have evaluated the relative success of witness testimony based on how entertaining it is, not how damning. Republicans and Fox propagandists wield conspiracy theories as weapons of defense. The democratic process might be functioning in a by-the-book sense, but impeachment as 2019’s Big Event is the apogee of what ails us: corruption, greed, partisanship, grift, fake news, infotainment—I could go on. None of this bodes well for future crisis response. Climate change, anyone?

Least Important: Harvey Weinstein telling the New York Post he did great things for women in entertainment. To quote the great Whoopi Goldberg, “Please stop talking right now.”

Seyward Darby is the editor in chief of The Atavist Magazine and the author of a forthcoming book about women and white nationalism (Little, Brown, 2020).

 

Mallika Rao
Then he drove to a nearby intersection and gave himself up, as if turning in his tools after a job completed.

Most Important: I am biased, as a native of Texas, but to me the August shootout in El Paso ranks as a definitive moment full of meaning. What strikes me is the contrast between the calamitous, destructive energy of the event itself and the seemingly cool placidity of the perpetrator. A 21-year-old white man from a concrete suburban enclave where little of note disturbs daily municipal affairs—Allen, Texas—legally purchased an AK-47. He then drove some 650 miles so as to get to a city full of people with ties to Mexico. In El Paso, he entered a Walmart and killed 22 people, a number that made the event historic, in a twisted sense—“the deadliest anti-Latino attack in modern American history.” Then he drove to a nearby intersection and gave himself up to law enforcement officials, as if turning in his tools after a job completed. The coldbloodedness of the proceedings, the sense of duty that pervades the actions of the man behind the gun, all feel indicative of a new normal.

Least Important: I don’t mean to belittle the event, but the fire at Notre-Dame in Paris feels unimportant in a sense. An energy of continuity spiralled out from it—of life continuing. Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one might know this phenomenon. Those left behind to mourn might think their great loss, the rupture in their reality, should rightly stop time for everyone, yet somehow the seconds march on. The grief-stricken must wake up the next day and make plans to keep going. In the months since the April disaster, the rebuild plans of France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, have proven divisive—his plans veer too far, critics contend, from the original spirit of the structure. Still, his proclamation soon after, issued in radio segments across the world, that the iconic cathedral would simply be made to rise again, wormed its way into my mind as a sort of mantra for how life works. Losses can’t be mourned for so long that action proves out of reach.

Mallika Rao is a writer in Brooklyn.

 

Alissa Walker
Unions! Unions! Unions!

Most Important: Unions. This year saw a massive wave of US workers organizing from every industry, from every background, from every corner of the country—many from jobs that had not traditionally unionized before. We had several major news organizations (including mine) form unions! We had presidential candidates tweeting about supporting unions! As a result of this organizing, tens of thousands of American employees are now being compensated more fairly, receiving better health benefits, and spending more time with their families. Unions! Unions! Unions!

Least Important: The climate crisis, according to our elected officials. This might have been the year of the Green New Deal and student strikes and five million people marching on seven continents demanding action, but this message didn’t seem to reach the people who run our cities, states, and countries, who failed to deliver the dramatic, on-the-ground change required to extricate society from the predatory practices of the fossil-fuel industry. We’ve now wasted yet another year, and emissions are going up, not down. Here’s hoping for the revolution we need in 2020.

Alissa Walker is the urbanism editor at Curbed and the co-host of LA Podcast.

 

Eve Peyser
Soon, it will be impossible to consume any media that isn’t produced by Disney.

Most Important: A decade after Disney acquired Marvel, and seven years after it acquired LucasFilm, the entertainment conglomerate continued its quest for world domination when it acquired 21st Century Fox in March. Soon, it will be impossible to consume any media that isn’t produced by Disney, and nobody seems worried about it.

Least Important: This will be humiliating to look back on if he becomes president, but I’m gonna go with Pete Buttigieg. He wasn’t even this year’s most important computer-generated puppet. (Baby Yoda 2020.)

Eve Peyser is a freelance writer whose work has been published in the New York Times, Vice Magazine, the Guardian, New York Magazine, and Esquire.

 

Sarah Hagi
2019 is the year we hit peak craft video.

Most Important: For some reason, burned in my brain is a culmination of all the craft videos we’ve seen on social media. You know, those two-minute videos of severed hands creating something out of regular household items while royalty-free music plays in the background. While there have been standouts this year, 2019 is the year we hit peak craft video with the egg that is bigger than before. The video features a two-day process of putting an egg in various liquids, only for it to do nothing but get bigger, says more about the state of online content than almost anything else I can think of.

Least Important: Comic book movie discourse. Nerds don’t deserve rights.

Sarah Hagi is a Canadian writer.

 

Credit: McKay Savage

 

Jenny G. Zhang
Perhaps people like you or me will take the maxim “no ethical consumption under capitalism” as nothing more than a fatalistic carte blanche—or, maybe, as the catalyst for imagining How Things Should Work.

Most Important: The truth-turned-truism “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” was thrown into particularly sharp relief this year, as American consumers were forced to view, head on, the inconvenient realities that facilitate the existence of the conveniences sold to us as promises of a more advanced, comfortable, higher quality way of life. Exploitation—of labor, of animals, of the planet—has always been an underpinning of How Things Work, but a more critical press and a growing sense of frustrated urgency among the public have made it impossible to completely ignore what was once easier to put out of sight, out of mind: the human costs of next-day delivery, the ethical and environmental case for not eating meat, the tech companies that preach altruism while doing business with a federal agency that puts children behind bars.

It was as good a time as any to grapple with questions of moral hypocrisy, personal complicity, and individual versus systemic culpability. (I did, and I’m not sure I came out the better for it.) But the real question is: What now? Perhaps people like you or me will take the maxim “no ethical consumption under capitalism” as nothing more than a fatalistic carte blanche—or, maybe, as the catalyst for imagining How Things Should Work. Here’s looking at you, 2020.

Least Important: Game of Thrones, which for so long seemed to swallow the world whole in its pop-culture supremacy, went out with a whisper and one last gasp of content. Can someone please tell me who won the game??

Jenny G. Zhang is a staff writer at Eater and a culture writer more generally.

 

Jacqui Shine
The evangelical movement has been and remains one of the most toxic forces in American life.

Most Important: The persistence of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Least Important: Outgoing editor Mark Galli’s call for impeachment in a Christianity Today editorial—and his justification for doing so, as told to NPR’s Steve Inskeep—is a hollow gesture and utterly damning in its language. He himself admits that American evangelicals have deployed an amoral political calculus in which this president’s anti-abortion politics outweigh the sin of keeping children in cages (or, if you like, keeping other Christians in cages) in order to justify cruelty, indifference, and repeated violations of both democratic norms and the rule of law. The evangelical movement has been and remains one of the most toxic forces in American life. His change of heart on the way out the door changes nothing else.

Jacqui Shine is a writer and historian whose most recent story is about looking for patriotism on the American road trip.

 

Ted Scheinman
Between the tyranny of plutocrats and the mildest expansions of social democracy, the anti-populist liberal will inevitably choose the former.

Most Important: The anti-populist liberals have reminded us that they cannot be trusted.

It’s difficult to watch the election results in the UK without wondering how so many otherwise intelligent liberals succumbed en masse to the notion that between the two main contenders, Boris Johnson—erstwhile collaborator with Taki Theodoracopulos—was a better friend to Jews than Jeremy Corbyn. It’s difficult to read the New York Times’s coverage of recent upheavals in South America without suspecting that Dean Baquet’s team is doing its best to vindicate pretty much everything Noam Chomsky said in the 1980s. And it’s near-impossible to observe liberal responses to right-wing coups without thinking that the bourgeoisie in this country deserves a good deal more than to be merely épatée. The cynical move is to ask how many of these good liberals are looking after their own economic self-interest. (It’s a lot of them!) The more troubling question is how many of them are actually this gullible, and (scarier still) how long the right can continue to guilt these libs into reactionary postures. Between the tyranny of plutocrats and the mildest expansions of social democracy, the anti-populist liberal will inevitably choose the former. Resist, the anti-populist liberal will cry, while mulling a vote for Michael Bloomberg.

Least Important: Michael Bloomberg.

Ted Scheinman is a senior editor at Smithsonian magazine and the author of Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan (FSG Originals, 2018).

 

Aude White


Most Important:

Least Important:

Aude White is a graphic artist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Believer, and more.

 

Tajja Isen
Fact check. Hire people of color. Ask hard questions.

Most Important: 2019 kept reminding us, in painful ways, of the changing role of media. I don’t just mean the shuttering of entire outlets, though that’s part of it—I mean the need to step up how we report on issues like climate (shoutout to Emily Atkin’s fantastic HEATED); the makeup of our mastheads (Justin Trudeau’s blackface photos came to light and Canada’s white newsrooms let out a collective shrug); journalistic standards (Boris Johnson trying to suppress the media from releasing “one of the defining photos of the final week of the campaign”). Fact check. Hire people of color. Ask hard questions.

Least Important: The renaissance of low-rise jeans.

Tajja Isen edits for Catapult and The Walrus, writes for various outlets, and voices many cartoon characters.

 

Credit: McKay Savage

 

Zoé Samudzi
It is demoralizing to witness powerful people trivialize the gravity of her words.

Least Important Worst Thing This Year: Greta Thunberg. The 16-year-old, herself, isn’t bad at all; popular responses to her have been heartbreaking. She is continuously iconized—whether through a massive mural project in San Francisco or her inevitable coronation as Time’s Person of the Year—despite explicitly expressing her desire not to be deified. It is demoralizing to witness powerful people trivialize the gravity of her words (or those of any other teenager) by embracing and celebrating her youthful urgency while simultaneously ignoring what she is saying, just like 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s similarly ignored calls to safeguard young people’s futures at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Youth activism after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting—one rooted in pleas to take seriously children’s health and safety—inflames and breaks the heart in equal measure.

Most Important Most Lifesaving Thing This Year: Black art. And Kamaru Usman breaking Colby Covington’s jaw for being a racist, which was, in itself, Black art.

Zoé Samudzi is a freelance writer, photographer, and doctoral student in sociology.

 

André Natta
I still believe the best days ahead for us globally require us to focus on how we can impact our communities locally.

Most Important: A recognition the reports about the death of local journalism are greatly exaggerated, though the current reality is not one people seeking instant gratification desire. The path forward is long, but the results down the road are exciting, especially as you see efforts like those planned or underway in Akron, Oakland, and beyond (like MLK50) continue to gain momentum.

I still believe the best days ahead for us globally require us to focus on how we can impact our communities locally. These types of efforts and how we work together to leverage their lessons and reach are essential as we continue to rebuild trust—something we’ve tackled for a while now.

Least Important: The jury is still out on Baby Yoda for me. Yep, I’m still not sure if he’s not evil. I’m hoping I’m wrong, but I’m prepared if it turns out to be true. Just saying…

André Natta is the editor for Broke in Philly: a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility, a project of Resolve Philly.

 

Bijan Stephen
We made it, or at least some of us did. We grew. The world changed.

Boy, has it been another year. As the decade draws to its conclusion—and as we reflect, inevitably, on everything that’s happened in the last 10 years—I can’t help but feel an arbitrary sense of relief. We made it, or at least some of us did. We grew. The world changed. But I think I always feel this way in the waning moments of the year; it just means the work is largely done, for the moment. When the clock strikes January 1st of this new decade, I expect the reprieve to end and be replaced by a rising sense of alarm, that old familiar feeling.

It’s hard to say whether things got better. Technology certainly did; but it also destroyed whole industries, and in the cracks a privately owned and operated surveillance state grew. Social media has given a voice to the oppressed people who wouldn’t otherwise have it; and, at the same time, it lubricated the rise of right-wing authoritarian movements across the world, which threaten to further marginalize the same people it empowered. (Every video of a cop killing a black person that circulates on social media is a snuff film, and now I can see people being hurt by their governments and MAGA-fied peers in real time.) The public is now more aware of climate change via regular bouts of natural disaster; but it’s nearly too late to do much about it, and most governments don’t currently seem interested in trying, even though the kids are furious, energized, and have organized in response.

What was most important this year? What was least? I couldn’t say. Personally it felt hard to distinguish things that were important—children being locked in cages and dying, jailed, by a reactionary, quasi-fascist paramilitary organization (ICE), for one—from things that weren’t, because, wow, everything happens so much. I suppose I am admitting defeat. I am anesthetized and terrified; the relentless drumbeat of contemporary life has burned out my neurons, which are, even now, sparking helplessly at the latest dispatches from The News. Anyone else?

Bijan Stephen is a staff writer at The Verge and a music critic at The Nation.

 

Shayne Bushfield
Things really do feel like they suck right now, but there’s a lot to live for.

Most Important: Objectively speaking, the most important thing to happen this year was surely something horrible. Every day there’s something new to anguish over. We’re one year closer to irreversibly making the planet unlivable. Our government operates criminal detention camps on our southern border. We’re losing a hold on truth, and we’re being overtaken by conspiracies and lies. Etc., etc., etc. There’s not enough time to list it all. It’s easy to feel angry all the time, or scared, or despondent.

But despite all of that, to me the most important story is that there is a lot of good, and great, happening in the world every day. For our sanity and well-being, we can’t lose sight of that. We’re closer to functionally curing patients of HIV, more life-changing cancer treatments have been developed, and genetic-based therapies for pain give some hope to curtailing the opioid crisis. Today, the world is less violent than at nearly any other time in human history, and is more interconnected and more democratic than ever. And the volume of art, in all its forms, that was created this year is pretty much incalculable. Things really do feel like they suck right now, but there’s a lot to live for.

Least Important: Can we stop carrying on about someone else not knowing something we know? This is not important. Billie Eilish didn’t know who Van Halen was. Whatever. Probably loads of Van Halen fans (and maybe even Eddie and Alex themselves) don’t know who Billie Eilish is. That’s OK too. It’s fun to learn! And fun to try new stuff. You know everything already? Good for you. You still have a lot to experience? You’re the lucky one! And honestly that’s all of us.

Shayne Bushfield is the founder and commissioner of the online trivia league LearnedLeague, under the pseudonym Thorsten A. Integrity.

 

Ilana Masad
Isn't that belief, that some things and some people are more important than others, precisely how we end up harming one another?

Most Important: Protests. Protests are always happening, of course, but either I’ve been paying more attention to them this year or, if my suspicions are correct, the media has, in 2019, finally begun to take them seriously. We’ve seen a vast array of protests around the world, from the climate change walkouts across several continents to the Hong Kong protests to the Yellow Vest protests in France and more (in Indonesia, Syria, Chile, Israel, etc.). There’s a common narrative of apathy and exhaustion amid so much injustice, but these protests prove that narrative false or, at least, very incomplete.

Least Important: I don’t mean to be difficult, but… Are there things that get covered in the media that I have no interest in? Sure! But they’re important to someone, right? Are there many, many important things (the small ways people resist oppression every day; folks holding their chosen families close; celebrations and art existing in even the most difficult of circumstances) that don’t get media coverage? Absolutely. Is anything unimportant? Isn’t that belief, that some things and some people are more important than others, precisely how we end up harming one another? Everything is important; it’s just context that changes.

Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American fiction writer and book critic whose debut novel, All My Mother’s Lovers, comes out with Dutton in May 2020.

 

Margarita Noriega
Virginia stands to further a century-long movement, and the ERA has found a new generation of supporters.

Most and Least Important: Virginia and the 28th Amendment

It is nearly 100 years since the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced for the first time in the US Congress. I was born a few years after the last major failed attempt to extend the ratification process for it. Since a young age, it was impressed upon me the importance of equality among people; I spent most of my adolescence discovering ever-greater disappointments on this front. The ERA felt like an impossible idea from another time. It never really was, though so many of my history books gave it an early funeral. Virginia stands to further a century-long movement, and the ERA has found a new generation of supporters.

The discussions about what gender equality means have changed dramatically since 1923 and 1977. The interests of its supporters and detractors have, too. There are many things that are related to gender equality that are unresolved: The ERA does not solve for race-based discrimination among women, nor does it address the call for reparations. The ERA, if ratified, must cover a modern and comprehensive understanding of sex and gender. The details need to be examined, this time with the participation of people in my generation and younger. As always, it needs to be done NOW.

Margarita Noriega is currently the editor of Glitch.com and its forthcoming online magazine about internet and culture.

 

Credit: McKay Savage

 

Lucia Graves
On Instagram I photograph the prettiest pink and white seashells from my beach walk, and the blue butterfly that lands in my hair.

Most Important: The average elevation of Key West is less than five feet above sea level, but driving south from Key Largo along the Overseas Highway, the water seems infinitely closer. The same week we visit, local authorities announce what no one wants to admit: As waters rise, already there are flooded stretches where homes cannot be saved. Meanwhile the state’s department of environmental protection is banned from using the words “climate change.” Meanwhile the US is silent on global commitments as it leaves the Paris deal.

Least Important: On Instagram I photograph the prettiest pink and white seashells from my beach walk, and the blue butterfly that lands in my hair. The streets are full of wandering chickens, and I joke about why one’s crossing the road. I smile at the camera impassively, and tell my friends nothing of consequence.

Lucia Graves is a columnist and features writer at the Guardian and other publications.

 

Amy Brady
By changing its style guide, the Guardian gave permission to journalists to use language that better suits the actual emergency we find ourselves in.

Most Important: The Guardian’s decision to update their style guide to replace “climate change” with “climate emergency.” The decision corresponded with other updates at the Guardian: “Global heating” replaced “global warming,” and “wildlife” replaced “biodiversity.” The Guardian made these changes during a year when the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached levels unprecedented in human history, cyclones ravaged southeastern Africa, and wildfires raged across eastern Australia. Around the globe, people were living in literal hells on earth. And yet—so much of the discussion surrounding the climate crisis has presented it as a problem to deal with in the future. By changing its style guide, the Guardian gave permission to journalists to use language that better suits the actual emergency we find ourselves in and to more accurately frame our planetary crisis as a real and present danger.

Least Important: The President of the United States crabbing at 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg that she needed to work on her “anger management problem.” The insecurity and churlishness that fueled the president’s tweet came as no surprise to anyone who hasn’t been unconscious the last three years, and the humor and grace with which Thunberg responded was also roundly expected (and greatly admired). The dismissiveness of those in power cannot diminish the global climate movement.

Amy Brady is the editor-in-chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine.

 

Nushin Rashidian
State leaders considering legalization are now talking, from day one, about communities harmed by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws.

Most Important: In the cannabis world, social equity in the legalization debate. Last year, it looked like business would overshadow justice, but those days, it seems, are over. State leaders considering legalization are now talking, from day one, about communities harmed by the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws. And groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch pushed the House, which had voted on a bill to expand cannabis industry access to financial institutions, to take on the first legalization bill to get a vote in Congress, one with social equity and justice at its core, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act.

Least Important: Drake’s cannabis company in Canada.

Nushin Rashidian is the cofounder of Cannabis Wire and the research lead of the Platforms and Publishers project at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

 

Megha Majumdar
This Citizenship Amendment Act challenges the foundations of India’s secular democracy.

Most Important: The continuing, dangerous rise of Hindu nationalism in India. To provide just one example of what I’m referring to, this month India has made it easier for undocumented immigrants from neighboring countries to gain Indian citizenship—but only if they’re not Muslim. This Citizenship Amendment Act challenges the foundations of India’s secular democracy. Vigorous protests are ongoing as I write this.

Least Important: Remember that odd moment when brands were spilling food on books?

Megha Majumdar is the author of the debut novel A Burning, forthcoming from Knopf in June 2020. She works as an editor at Catapult.

 

Madeline Leung Coleman
I wish that all the nationalists and bankers who are so jazzed about Hong Kong cared half as much about the estimated one million Uighurs and others who have been forced into concentration camps on the mainland.

Most Important: This year, I watched in awe as Hong Kong rose up—and kept it together. The current round of resistance started over a bill that would’ve allowed people in the territory to be extradited to mainland China, but has become a much broader fight for self-determination and against a brutal, abusive police force. It’s now been more than six months since the protests began. As many as 6,000 people have been arrested. Earlier this month, around a million people turned out for a citywide protest. Not all the demonstrators agree on methods or strategies, but, incredibly, the movement survives. Is this really the most important thing that happened this year? No, because it would be impossible to rank, but this is certainly one of the things I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

That being said, I wish that all the nationalists and bankers who are so jazzed about Hong Kong cared half as much about the estimated one million Uighurs and others who have been forced into concentration camps on the mainland. The leaked documents showing just how China has done this might actually be the biggest story of 2019.

Least Important: The impeachment inquiry. Somebody, please, prove me wrong!

Madeline Leung Coleman is a senior editor at The Nation and a writer in New York.

 

Credit: McKay Savage

 

Rose Eveleth
The signals that we tend to dismiss as unimportant often come from young people and women.

I think (hope?) we will look back on 2019 as the year our optimism fully broke. We entered the decade generally upbeat, hopeful, excited about cell phones and the internet and the incredible advancements of science. In December of 2010 we saw the Arab Spring and people thought that social media would be the catalyst for a new era of justice and freedom. We thought a vaccine would rid the world of AIDS and we thought Google was really going to “do no evil.”

This year, Americans went from cheering on tech companies, to warily wondering what they’re up to. In 2018, a PEW survey found that 55 percent of Americans thought that tech companies had too much power and influence. A YouGov poll found that more than two thirds of people don’t trust tech companies to “lawfully manage their data.” In 2015, 71 percent of Americans thought that tech companies were having a positive impact on the country. This year, that number nosedived down to just 50 percent.

Now, all we have to do is channel that distrust into meaningful action that can protect us from the rabid fangs of the hypercapitalist surveillance state.

Least Important: I’m hesitant to ever label anything “least important” for fear of looking especially foolish in the future. The signals that we tend to dismiss as unimportant often come from young people and women. If this list had been written in 2005, someone might have said Courtney Love’s red carpet trash-talking of Harvey Weinstein. Looks a little different now, eh?

Rose Eveleth is the creator of Flash Forward, a podcast that considers possible (and not so possible) future scenarios.

 

Lindelani Mbatha
As science marches forward the definition of death becomes narrower. That is what we’re looking at here.

Most Important: In 2019 human beings managed to re-animate parts of pig’s brains. One source says the procedure performed by researchers from Yale University restored the circulation of blood and oxygen to the dead brains. I will not build suspense by holding out on informing you whether consciousness was restored to the brains or not; it wasn’t. However, as science marches forward the definition of death becomes narrower. That is what we’re looking at here.

As a layman, the finer details of the procedure are lost on me but the essence of it is that a solution is passed through brain tissue; the effect is that circulation is restored to the previously dead (or is it dead still?) brain tissue.

Any of us who’ve lost a loved one know how obscene it feels that life continues as normal when we say goodbye to them. I have experienced this feeling as anger and despair. In the middle of it, death seems unjust and wrong. In the past, it has seemed impossible to challenge it, but heroes wearing lab coats, instead of capes, are dealing deadly blows to the reaper, every year we get closer to victory.

Today it’s pig brains in a lab. Could it be reanimating human brains out of cryogenic chambers tomorrow? It may be.

Least Important: I finally gave up on the idea of free will, it was long overdue. On the surface, this may seem like a significant change but life continues as it was; the only difference is that now I am a puppet “who can see the strings.” The causal chain that leads to my thoughts and actions asks for no input from me.

I realize the weight of the ethical implications of a world without free will. Should we absolve people of responsibility for their actions since they don’t control themselves? I don’t know. I just followed truth to the place where it has led me (and what a strange place it is) but my opinion is that our response to undesirable actions should be corrective rather than punitive.

Lindelani Mbatha is a strategist from Johannesburg and a very hoopy frood.

 

Ernie Smith
Individual creators got more control over their business destiny.

Most Important: Journalism sucks right now, but in 2019, individual creators got more control over their business destiny, thanks to the rise of subscription platforms. Just in time, too, given the poison pills of vulture capital.

As my friend Simon Owens recently noted, Patreon topped a billion dollars in payouts over its history, while platforms like the email tool Substack also enable these sorts of control-over-destiny steps.

We have a way to go. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the way funding platforms are effectively VC-funded walled gardens themselves, and existing platforms still have a lot of power. But this trend gives people a voice and a paycheck, without a loss of integrity.

Least Important: The debate over whether Lil Nas X was country enough to show up on the Billboard country charts made me regret a lot of musical purity debates I’ve gotten into. Congrats on your CMA, Trent Reznor!

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter that hunts for the end of the long tail.

 

Samantha Allen
Let them use our bones to build a more functional world.

Most Important: Generation Z turned 22. I’m not quite ready to channel Whitney Houston and sing that “the children are our future”—but wow, do we need these kids to get older fast for there to even be a future. On key issues like climate change, racism, and LGBTQ equality, Generation Z is in close lockstep with their rapidly aging and prematurely grumpy Millennial older siblings. Only recently, though, have enough of them reached voting age for younger Americans to gain more political power than older ones. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man may still be stuck in high school, but Gen Z is starting to enter adulthood, and not a moment too soon. Let them use our bones to build a more functional world.

Least Important: Any defensive reaction to “OK, Boomer.” (See above.)

Samantha Allen is the author of Real Queer America: LGBT Stories From Red States.

 

Sarah Marshall
Some people wrote some new laws, or changed some old ones, or both, in order to make cruelty safer and empathy a yet more dangerous act.

Most Important: I bought a tomato plant in Pennsylvania this spring and kept it in my car as I traveled around the country, then on a balcony at my parents’ house in Oregon as I spent the summer with them, unpacking 30 years of bitterness and confusion and conflicting memories. When I left town at the end of the summer there was one tiny almost-ripe tomato on the plant. I told my parents to eat it when it was ready, as my gift to them. They made a teeny tiny caprese salad with it, and pronounced it delicious.

Least Important: Some people wrote some new laws, or changed some old ones, or both, in order to make cruelty safer and empathy a yet more dangerous act. These laws are unimportant not because they have no effect on the world—their effects are disastrous—but because they do not alter the fundamental truth of our duty to each other as human beings. We proclaim most loudly what we know to be false.

Sarah Marshall lives in Philadelphia and co-hosts You’re Wrong About, a podcast about misremembered history.

 

Rachel Vorona Cote
This year’s swollen body count, the abiding public health ramifications, and the shooters’ chilling ideological motivations render our circumstances more alarming than ever.

Most Important: I hesitate to call America’s enduring apathy toward the gun violence epidemic the most “important” event of 2019 because it feels incongruous to elevate terrible cowardice and corruption, even in the interest of condemning it. But while our government has long snubbed the possibility of gun reform, this year’s swollen body count, the abiding public health ramifications, and the shooters’ chilling ideological motivations render our circumstances more alarming than ever. By Nov. 14, 2019, there had been 366 mass shootings in the States, more than two dozen taking place at schools, with 53 people killed in the month of August alone. Each time, the response from the Republican-gripped Senate was deflective and milquetoast, and it would be folly to think that Donald Trump paid any attention whatsoever after sending his requisite tone-deaf tweet. As our politicians cower before the NRA—ever prone before these morally vacuous lobbyists—they continue to eschew meaningful gun reform legislation, and what we already know becomes ever clearer: Our current government simply cares more about profit than it does about human lives—and it is unruffled by the rampant bigotry that, paired with grotesquely easy gun access, has transformed 2019 into yet another bloodbath.

Least Important: In August, the New York Times was beset with a bedbug infestation. Upon learning of this, George Washington University professor Dave Karpf tweeted that the pests were “a metaphor” for Times opinion columnist and unrelenting chump Bret Stephens (the nickname “BretBug” was coined immediately and inevitably). Stephens, happy to cast aspersions, but shocked and appalled to receive them, attempted to wield his influence by emailing Karpf, cc’ing his provost, and suggesting that the professor might try calling him a “bedbug” to his face, in front of his children. Stephens then availed himself of his considerable platform to whine extensively on MSNBC as well as in a column where he drew a feeble comparison between Karpf’s joke and Nazism. He also dramatically took his leave of Twitter. Meanwhile, Karpf, inveigled in a truly absurd carnival of wounded male ego, responded elegantly in piece for Esquire. Months later, Stevens and Karpf were scheduled to debate at GWU, but Stevens, ever the champion for free discourse, demanded that the event be closed to the public. He was declined this accommodation and, as a result, refused to participate. What a master class in grace and intellectual generosity!

But however the rest of us may feel, I’m sure Stephens considers this bretbug nonsense the year’s most important event. After all, he summoned every ounce of power bestowed to him, set about trying to destroy someone with far less clout, and failed spectacularly. How chilling that must be for him.

Rachel Vorona Cote is a writer in Takoma Park, Md. Her first book, Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today, is out Feb. 25, 2020, from Grand Central Publishing.

biopic

The Morning News is an online magazine of essays, art, humor, and culture. More by The Morning News