We didn’t see this year coming, but we heard it from all sides. In Signal & Noise 2016, you’ll find the way we made sense out of all of that sound.
In her oft-memed "2016 Resolutions" video, Kylie Jenner, while lolling about in sepia separates on a leather chaise alarmingly close to her fireplace, muses that "every year has a new energy." "I feel like this year is really about, like, the year of just realizing stuff," she says, pulling on her manicured fingers. "Everyone around me, we're just realizing things." As we approach the end of this vengeful epoch, I ask you: Hath truer words e'er been spoken? What has 2016 been, if not a year of realizing stuff? What has this hellish period demonstrated to us, if not the fact that we know absolutely nothing about anything?
I'll tell you what I realized in 2016. As dozens of beloved cultural icons were felled by the cruel hand of fate before my very eyes, as a triple-chinned reality TV host ascended to our nation's highest office, as Tom Hiddleston waded into waist-deep water wearing a homemade tank top, I realized that reality is a construct. I realized that we are all being fucked with by some higher form of intelligence for sport. More significantly, I realized that the computer simulation we recognize as reality is slowly approaching a simulacrum of the apocalypse.
Not convinced that you're just a poorly wrought Sim two mouse clicks away from having her pool ladder removed? Read on — at your own risk! — to review 2016's Top 10 Pop Culture Moments That Made Us Question the Nature of Our Reality.
10. Everybody dying
Everybody good died in 2016. Bowie. Prince. Muhammad Ali. Leonard Cohen. Alan Rickman. Gene Wilder. Gwen Ifill. Phife Dawg. Florence Henderson. Whitney and Michael shuffled off this mortal coil just a few years prior. Is it merely a coincidence that our most cherished cultural figures all exited stage left before the federal government said "whatevs" to clean water, before a Tide To Go pen in radioactive decay tried to make the cast of Hamilton look bad? Or is it unshakeable proof that the diabolical, cosmic lunch ladies serving us millennia of piping hot bullshit practiced favoritism, letting the cool kids out of the cafeteria first before all the meatloaf went bad? Employ your illusory free will and "decide" for "yourself."
9. Lindsay Lohan turning European
Language is the foundation of culture, so it follows that as our culture gently implodes, our grasp on language will crumble alongside it. Just days before the election, at the opening her of new Greek nightclub (also foreboding: Lindsay Lohan owns a Greek nightclub), Lohan spoke to a reporter in what can only be described as "tongues." "I've been learning different languages since I was a child," she told the Daily Mail by way of explaining her spontaneous new voice. "I'm fluent in English and French, can understand Russian, and am learning Turkish, Italian, and Arabic." As it says in John 14:293, "When a child raised in America with English as a first language congratulates herself for being 'fluent in English' while speaking in the totally made-up accent of Satan himself, the crows will descend on Earth and pick out everyone's eyes and sell them for sticks in order to usher in the new, dominant crow economy."
8. Leonardo DiCaprio becoming self-aware
At the very start of 2016, our nation's chillest sexbot Leonardo DiCaprio appeared to be operating according to its set programming: fuck models while wearing headphones, don't win Oscars, ride around on Citi Bikes in ill-fitting cargo shorts, pretend not to be viscerally afraid of Lady Gaga. But on January 10, all that changed. The first hints of chill-sexbot malfunction became apparent when Lady Gaga brushed past Leo during the Golden Globes and his face, briefly unyoking from its strict code of blithe serenity, betrayed his true, abject fear. The glitch sent his entire system into irreparable chaos; by February, Leo had become fully self-aware, breaking through his coded unconsciousness at the DGA Awards to unload his newly discovered truth onto Kathy Griffin: "I am a douchebag." (Leo, not as fluent in English as fellow famous bot Lindsay, conflated the parallel ideas of "sexbot" and "douchebag"; I think we can forgive him this, considering.) Five weeks later, the sexbot had won an Oscar, thus completing his violent break from his code and embarking on a rapid descent into self-conscious madness. By March, drunk with free will, Leo had gone fully rogue, calling Jennifer Lopez "boo boo" and terrifying former friend Jonah Hill in the streets of New York. Leo has Realized Stuff in 2016, namely that we're all just sexbots programmed to dream of heady things but never quite reach them. Why can't you?
7. The window into Kanye West's parallel reality permanently opening
Kanye West, a preternatural genius, has always been painfully aware of the meddlings of our unholy overlords. In response, West created his own alternate dimension, one we've caught regular glimpses into over the years. It's a dimension where everything is green, where Kanye has assumed his rightful place as a king, unsuccessfully ordering rugs with cherub imagery. It's a place where album titles are as evanescent as rainbows, where Bill Cosby is innocent, where "brah" is the girl version of "bruh." But in 2016, the window into West's parallel reality swung wide open and stayed that way, serving us an unending stream of surreality. A few of the Kanye West–related events that flew directly in the face of what we understand to be Real Life: Kim Kardashian West using Snapchat to bury our nation's foremost pop star; models fainting in front of an abandoned smallpox hospital; Kim Kardashian West deleting all of her text messages before she goes to sleep; Blac Chyna's dominion; West retroactively endorsing Donald Trump for president; both Kim and Kanye proving that they're not immune to real, human problems.
6. Sad Affleck
Ben Affleck began his career a breathless 20-year-old Bostonite holding pitch meetings at Denny's, openly rejecting capitalism and weeping upon seeing his first script come to life. By 2016, only 24 years later, Affleck would become a shell of his former self — a divorced, car-vaping nanny-fucker who would, inexplicably, use HBO as a vessel for his own rage. "Deflategate is the ultimate fucking outrage of sports, ever," Affleck would rave, a thin layer of sweat glimmering on his flushed cheeks. "It's so fucking stupid!!!!" What's more likely — that Affleck just became a maroon-faced lunatic out of nowhere, or that he woke up one morning, realized we were all just cogs in Roger Goodell's fantastical machine, and set out to make things right, perhaps in the process accidentally razing his marriage to the ground by fucking a nanny or two? I think you know the answer. Bless his heart.
5. Orlando Bloom’s dick-first paddleboarding
In an age so oversaturated with dating publicity stunts that the "dating publicity stunt" has gone lazily meta, it takes a lot for a fake celebrity couple to be genuinely shocking, to stun the entire global population simultaneously by the mere fact of their brazenly counterfeit courtship. In 2016, Tom Hiddleston and Taylor Swift redefined the showmance by being unapologetically showmantic to the point of parody. (Was it parody? If so, it was poorly communicated, thus negating its parodic intentions.) Hiddleswift made out on a pile of sharp rocks. Hiddleswift made out in the direct eye-line of paparazzi in several countries' worth of tourist hotspots. Hiddleswift took professional photos of themselves barreling down a blow-up water slide. Most hauntingly, though, was the moment when Hiddleston, an Englishman whose portrayal of a Norse comic-book villain did surprisingly little to detract from his British respectability, waded into the rough Rhode Island surf, a wet white tank top clinging to his rippling, whiter flesh. Clearly a DIY iron-on crafted during a late-night, postcoital baking binge — and also clearly an admission of total subservience and surrender to forces much greater than Hiddleston — the tank read only, ominously, "I <3 T.S."
3. Brangelina divorcing
I've already written in great detail about how Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's divorce is an undeniable sign that Brad and Angelina themselves are engineering the matrix that we currently recognize as reality. So as not to upset them further and risk being placed in the alternate reality currently housing Jon Voight, I'll just add that their conscious ("conscious" being the key word!!!) uncoupling is proof that they are preparing to diversify their assets and separately reign over things far more valuable than this earthly prison.
2. Jimmy Fallon ruffling Donald Trump's hair
"Donald, I want to ask you, because the next time I see you, you could be president of the United States — I wanted to know if there's something we could do that's just not presidential, really," said Jimmy Fallon before he reached out and ruffled Donald Trump's hair on national television. The history books — if there are history books in the future, if we're allowed to read history books in the future without fear of being hung upside down over a pit of alligators, if there even is a future, if the future is not just another seductive falsehood that our demonic puppeteers dangle before our eyes like literate humans before snarling alligators — will write of this moment as one of several that made Trump seem normal, harmless, benign enough to lead the free world. But we Reality Truthers know what really happened, don't we? Fallon reached through the invisible wall that had previously separated us from Trump — a mindless machine of destruction sent by aliens that could only knock angrily on the door to our dimension, but not enter it — and permanently tore its fragile fabric. Fallon let the monster in, and now he's never leaving.
1. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard solemnly defending Australian biosecurity laws
In April, Amber Heard looked directly into a camera lens and said, with a straight face, "I am truly sorry that Pistol and Boo were not declared. Protecting Australia is important." Johnny Depp nodded solemnly, opening his mouth, flocks of blackbirds pouring forth, and added, "When you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly." Later, this video would pale in comparison to Heard's allegations of Depp's abuse and to videos showing Depp being a total fucking nightmare in general, but for a brief moment, everything was beautiful. For a brief moment, reality transcended far beyond its previously outlined limits. For a brief moment, Johnny Depp said, "Declare everything when you're going to Australia. Thanks."
Check out more from the year in music, culture, politics, and style in Signal & Noise 2016.