I have a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution if you’re after one. Make 2021 the year that you stop blaming the year when something terrible happens.
Laments of ‘fuck 2020’ or ‘2020, man’ have accompanied the lowlights of the last 12 months. Lose your house to wildfire? Blame 2020. Your favorite celebrity died? 2020 killed them. Confined to a 12 square-foot apartment at the behest of the state? 2020 made them do it! TIME magazine bravely declared 2020 ‘the worst year ever’ on its cover earlier this month. Charlie Brooker’s end-of-year Netflix special is called Death to 2020. People have been complaining about the year they are in since calendar time began. I’m old enough to remember 2016, the last ‘worst year ever’ which rang in the election of Trump, the Brexit vote and ruthlessly slayed the likes of David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali and Alan Rickman. But the habit has, like many human tendencies, become a fetish on social media. It’s like a virus that’s exploded out of Twitter and into real life.
I am not imploring you to take a more optimistic outlook. Several monstrously bad things have happened since the crystal ball last dropped in Times Square. Instead, you should direct your ire better. Any management consultant will tell you that the more specific criticism is, the more helpful it is.
When beloved Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek passed away in November, ‘2020’ was a trending topic on Twitter as people personified the year and blamed it for his death. But 2020 didn’t kill Alex Trebek: cancer did. In the last 12 months, cancer also killed Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton, Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider, director Joel Schumacher, actresses Diana Rigg and Kelly Preston, Eddie Van Halen, and thousands of other less well known but equally important people.
Think of all the energy spent rending garments over 2020, and imagine what would happen if instead the focus of that anger was cancer, if the cancer death toll became the target of national frustration. But no, we blame 2020 instead, as the abstract nature of the year makes it easier for us to absolve ourselves of responsibility.
The misery caused by the COVID-19 pandemic also gets written off as 2020’s fault. I can’t help but think that blaming the Chinese Communist party would be more constructive. After all, this time last year the hospital in Wuhan was already admitting patients for the virus. You could attempt to grapple with this; to revisit the West’s over-friendly relationship with an authoritarian regime for the past 20 years, the crucial moments where the CCP moved to quash the truth rather than be open about the coronavirus. But again, that all sounds pretty hard. ‘2020, man’ is a much less stressful alternative.
We’re probably about to spend the start of next year cooped up inside awaiting a shot in the arm as our businesses die: why not spend that time getting angry at the right people for a change? It’s not like you have anything better to do. Besides, 2021 has done nothing wrong…yet.