2011 Year in Review: Reality exacts a heavy price
This was the year that the curtain started coming down on denial. This applied not only to the most serious issues facing humanity, but also to some of the more mundane.
In Japan, there was widespread denial that human error can lead to catastrophic results at nuclear-power plants. That was erased in March following a terrifying earthquake and tsunami. Meanwhile, a catastrophe of a different sort—the Stanley Cup riot on June 15—also resulted from denial. City officials believed, probably for the last time, that Vancouverites could gather downtown for the seventh game of the Stanley Cup playoffs without starting a riot.
There was also denial that hockey players smashing each other’s heads into the boards could have long-term consequences. This was obliterated with career-threatening injuries to two of the game’s great superstars, Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger.
Who else tried to deny reality in 2011? Former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner claimed that he didn’t send sexually explicit photos of himself over Twitter. His name provided plenty of fodder for the late-night-TV comedians, guaranteeing that he would throw in the towel after he was proven to be a liar. And who can forget Herman Cain, the Republican king of denial?
Then there was the spectacle of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper executives trying to deny their role in the phone-hacking affair. It didn’t save the job of the flaming redhead Rebekah Brooks or British prime minister David Cameron’s top spin doctor, who used to work for Murdoch. Even Murdoch’s son James had to step down from the Sun and Times newspaper boards—notwithstanding his denials of any involvement in the scandal. He knew nothing about hacking people’s phones. Absolutely nothing!
One of the funniest denials of the year came from actor Ashton Kutcher, who used his Twitter account to deny cheating on Demi Moore. “When you ASSUME to know that which you know nothing of you make an ASS out of U and ME,” Kutcher wrote, demonstrating that he’s no James Joyce. It was a much more entertaining bust-up than the rather boring celebrity divorces of J. Lo and Marc Anthony, and Kim Kardashian and whatshisname.
On a more serious note, there was the ongoing denial of human rights on a grand scale around the world. Historic revolutions toppled ruthless rulers in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. With this came the end of a widespread denial in the West that Arabs were interested in democracy. Meanwhile, in Burma, the generals who rule that country permitted the registration of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, clearing the way for her to run in a by-election next year. It appears that Suu Kyi won’t be denied her rightful place in shaping her nation’s future, just as Nelson Mandela couldn’t be held back in South Africa years ago.
Even in Russia, the seemingly invincible Vladimir Putin faced a popular uprising near the end of the year after voters concluded that his party cheated in the parliamentary elections. Putin tried to deny it, but nobody believed him. And economic turmoil took a heavy toll across Europe, bringing down the leaders of Italy, Spain, and Greece. They couldn’t deny fiscal realities.
A revolutionary spirit also swept across British Columbia, where citizens overturned the harmonized sales tax in an unprecedented referendum. This denied former premier Gordon Campbell one last opportunity to reward his big-business buddies. Of course, he was replaced by Christy Clark, who sank in the polls after Adrian Dix assumed the leadership of the B.C. NDP. By the end of the year, both new leaders were looking over their shoulders at the revived B.C. Conservatives, whose leader, John Cummins, was trying to start a populist uprising. Naturally, Clark denied that Cummins had anything to offer.
The lesson from these revolutions is that voters won’t put up with nearly as much shit as they did in the past. People are better educated and they’re motivated to speak their mind. This was apparent in Vancouver, where citizens started raising hell over the pace of development. Mayor Gregor Robertson came under fire, but he kept power by presenting himself as someone who listens. So even though his party, Vision Vancouver, was approving massive rezonings that enraged community groups, he still cruised to reelection.
The monarchy also got the message that people want to be heard. A poll in 2009 showed that Canadians felt that the Royal Family was outdated. Canadians said that they wanted the Windsors to speak more French and promote the military. So when Will and Kate arrived this year, they kept to the script, dispensing with traditional pomp and ceremony. It seemed to work.
This year also included some very high-profile deaths, including those of former NDP leader Jack Layton, mass murderer Osama bin Laden, computer geek Steve Jobs, former Canucks enforcer Rick Rypien, and one of the greatest deniers of all time, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. His government once claimed that the great leader was so amazing that he didn’t need to urinate or defecate. That’s a denial for the hall of fame.
Unfortunately, not all deniers were forced to face up to the truth in 2011. Even though there’s irrefutable proof that climate change is real—just witness shrinking Arctic ice, disappearing glaciers, rising sea-surface temperatures, and devastating droughts—we still had to endure the nattering of the skeptics on private radio stations and CBC Television, and in the pages of Canada’s national newspapers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if next year, they could all have their James Murdoch moments in front of a parliamentary committee? Environment Minister Peter Kent could take the opportunity to explain, in light of his government’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, why he’s not deserving of Justin Trudeau’s famously calling him a piece of shit. Of course, now that Kent’s boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has neutralized parliamentary committees and introduced closure at every opportunity, there’s not much hope of that ever occurring.
To suggest otherwise would be to deny reality.