The TV networks are hard at work in this last week of the year recapping their best footage to remind us where we've been. Researchers are combing the archives to find the best images for their annual greatest hits "package" which usually ends with a photo-montage driven by music of the politicians, entertainers and personalities who died in 2012.
As we watch, we ooh and ah and remember calamities that struck us like that well-named "Franken (for that movie monster Frankenstein) Storm" Sandy and the shooting of the children at Sandy Hook in Connecticut. They will replay the 2012 presidential elections that bring us to the stalemate we are stuck in, what's been labeled the "fiscal cliff."
Oh, you know what else they will show -- the year of iPhone 5 and iPad 3, the Olympics and Gangnam Style. We will hear about Kate Middleton's rise and Whitney Houston's demise and the ups and downs of the Chinese-American basketball player Jeremy Lin.
When it comes to the world, there will be a reference to the war on Iran that wasn't, and the war that is ripping Syria apart. We may hear about China's new leader, the mess in Mexico and Hugo Chavez's electoral victory and battle with cancer. The deaths in Gaza will be omitted.
What's in and what's out...
There is unlikely to be any mention of the stories chosen by the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer who reminds us of a July 16 news report from Kuala Lumpur that "negotiations for the completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which could become the world's biggest and most ambitious deal of its kind, could be concluded by October 2013." What are its implications? Who stands to benefit? Who will lose? That's not even in the news yet.
All of this was so awful that many of us almost looked forward to those Mayan prophecies of the world ending. Or...
"The November 25 vote in Catalonia, Spain, in which about 70 percent of the people voted for parties that support a referendum for independence of the rich northern Spain region, triggering a chain reaction of secessionist moves in the 27-country European Union. Many fear that if Catalonia secedes from Spain, Corcica and the Basque region may seek independence from France, Scotland may split from Britain and Flanders and Wallonia from Belgium, among others. Economic turmoil could be followed by political chaos in Europe."
Those of us who hoped the Obama re-election might usher in a little more justice and equality remain disappointed. Those of us who longed for a change we could believe in then took to the streets to try to create it, only to confront the power of the police state -- the NYPD, FBI et al. Only now, with the disclosure of new documents, do we have a hint of how we were spied upon and lied to.
All of our "news" deals with specific stories and events -- not trends and less visible forces that drive our economy and political system. We hear about issues, not interests. The newscasts lack context, background, analysis and interpretation. They are there to dumb us down, not smarten us up.
What the big banks do and don't do is treated in terms only of discrete deals, not their role as channels of the influence of the one percent. It's not news when regulators don't regulate or when industries "capture" the officials meant to restrain them.
Guns in America are in the news, but not our vast armament industry that sells weapons, including new drone systems, worldwide. Our country is always pictured domestically as "the homeland," a phrase used first in Germany in the 1930s and in South Africa decades later. We see ourselves a nation while much of the world sees us as an empire.
As for the economy, all the talk of tax and trade policies soar over most people's heads as the business publication Wealth Daily reports a warning that major pay cuts are coming:
"Now that the very basic taxation and revenue proposals are converging in the fiscal cliff talks, politicians are fielding some entitlement programme revisions.
"The changes are seemingly minute. On paper, we're just going to have an even exchange between obscure equations that are basically similar.
"But that's the whole point: If the general public can't understand it, they don't pay attention to it. If they don't pay attention to it, they won't punish politicians for it."
The odds are that that the Libor conspiracy that manipulated trillions will be overlooked. Too hard to explain in 10 seconds!
Political stalemate in Washington
Increasingly, the most important underlying issues are found in the movies, in fiction, not "faction," and certainly not on TV news.
In theatres now, we have a choice between two views of the impact of slavery in America: Spielberg's Lincoln and Tarantino's Django Unchained. One focuses on corrupting the Congress to outlaw slavery and the other on the brutality of slavery on the slaves. The former traces a top-down reform as a matter of Constitutional theory, the latter, shows a bottom-up armed revolt against ugly racism.
The movie version of the musical, Les Miserables, tells the story of the failed French Revolution in song, its barricades, not its values. Argo, meanwhile, briefly cites the reasons for the Iranian revolution but then celebrates the role of the CIA in rescuing Americans from it while reinforcing American hostility.
The film Zero Dark Thirty shows how the CIA tortures far more graphically than TV news ever did, but, then, it turns a pretty CIA analyst obsessed, not with capturing bin Laden but killing him, into a hero.
The movie doesn't have the guts to condemn state-supported death squads and torture explicitly, and may even have got the story wrong because what they call "enhanced interrogation" was not the critical element in finding him according to the CIA itself, US senators and many experts. One interesting casting choice was to have the actor who played Tony Soprano, the mafia boss, on TV, to portray Pentagon chief Leon Panetta.
This holiday season is not a very cheery time in America what with a political stalemate in Washington, parents mourning the deaths of young children slaughtered in their classrooms, storms savaging the Mid-West and East, and the certainty of a less than rosy future awaiting us in the next year where the only option seems to be more austerity at home, more foreign intervention in wars abroad, and talk of a new global recession.
If there is a "zeitgeist," it's not one of optimism. This is an angry and deeply polarized country in a world that seems to be imploding.
Happy News Year.