Auld lang syne: What I learned in 2015

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2015 was a big year. War happened at home and abroad. Groundbreaking pieces of art and culture were made. Politics grew more turbulent, which I didn’t think was even possible. Though this end-of-year wrap-up is by no means an exhaustive list of everything that happened last year, I thought I’d share a few of the biggest happenings of 2015 and the lessons they taught me.

Gay marriage

Also known as the day half your Facebook feed started looking like it was carpet-bombed by Rainbow Brite and the Color Kids. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there is something to be said about this achievement of the LGBT community and those supportive of the cause. This was a major development in American law and public perception of same-sex couples. Whether it’s a change for the better or worse depends on your views, but at the very least should be noted for the historic event that it is.

Isis, Refugee Crisis

With a complicated civil war ravaging Syria and the Radical Islamic militant group ISIS swooping in to take advantage of the unstable situation, displaced civilians have been fleeing to safer harbors in droves. The refugee crisis, still unfolding, is the largest of its kind since the end of World War II. Due to the refugees being from the Middle East, countries across the globe are wary of allowing them into their borders, fearing terrorism from Muslim extremists. This only intensified after ISIS launched a coordinated attack on Paris, involving suicide bombers and mass shootings, killing 130 people and wounding 368 others. In the wake of the attacks, international support grew for solving the ISIS problem. What that solution is remains to be seen.

Even while many have opened their hearts and homes to take in desperate families and individuals fleeing oppression, many continue in paranoia and fear of these poor displaced people on the grounds of their religion and ethnicity. To those people I offer the following: the type of person who becomes a “successful” terrorist is determined and resourceful. If they want to get into the country and cause large-scale havoc, they will do what it takes to make that happen. We might as well allow an oppressed people the chance to have what we hold so dear.

Charleston Church Shooting

In conjunction with many other disheartening events and conversations that have occurred over the past couple years, this act of hate in a place of worship has reignited the national debate on race relations, an argument that many wanted to believe had been settled decades ago. Though blacks and other minorities have always been clued into the environment of prejudice that exists in various forms throughout the country, many whites in less diverse areas were under the impression that racism was defeated by Martin Luther King in the 1960s and that we lived in some post-race utopia of trust and camaraderie. Sadly this is not the case. Though in many cases the race issue has morphed into less outright KKK-style hate—though that does still happen—and more of a country club-style ignorance and cluelessness, there is undoubtedly a need for discussion and healing from the centuries-old wound racism has left on our country and culture.

The Interview

Technically, this controversial film was released Christmas Eve 2014, but the hubbub it caused bled into 2015, so I feel it bears mentioning here.  The film, which centers around two idiot American journalists (played by James Franco and Seth Rogen) who are invited to interview North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Seizing the valuable opportunity, the CIA commissions the naïve reporters to assassinate Kim Jong Un.  The North Korean government, as you might have guessed, was not amused; threatening terrorism if the film was released. For this reason many theatres across the US were hesitant to screen The Interview, but many public figures rallied around the movie and demanded it be released on the grounds of free speech. After the movie’s release in theatres and many online streaming services, with no military retaliation, North Korea’s saber-rattling was once again revealed for the impotent rage it was, presumably leaving the real Kim Jong Un feeling like Katy Perry’s proverbial plastic bag: drifting through the wind and waiting to start again.

Though the movie itself was a crass stoner-comedy that garnered lukewarm reviews, I still view this as an important case study of the power the media has to effect change. You may laugh at my argument that the release of The Interview represents a victory for free speech, but it takes some guts to be directly threatened by the modern Josef Stalin, and then publically proceed to do that thing you were threatened over.