This year got off to a weird start when the whole world was suddenly fixated on news from Ottawa — OTTAWA, of all places. No offense to Canadians, but it’s not often we hear of news from the frozen capital of our neighbors to the north.
In January, a convoy of protesters led by truckers opposed to COVID vaccine mandates brought the city to a standstill by occupying city streets in freezing conditions and refusing to budge. The blockade eventually prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to declare a state of emergency, and even inspired copycats from the US to New Zealand, with mixed results.
Then, just as quickly as it began, more than 100 people were arrested and the whole thing collapsed.
Looking back, the Ottawa blockade felt like the last gasp of people raging against pandemic restrictions, most of which were loosened dramatically in the Western world as the year went on. It’s sort of fitting, then, that 2022 closed with almost unprecedented protests sweeping China in response to — what else? — that government’s strict pandemic restrictions.
2. Julia Fox
That a midrange star from the 2019 Adam Sandler movie Uncut Gems (or should I say, “Uncut Jams”) would so fully take over pop culture and the internet’s collective consciousness is a credit both to Julia Fox’s savvy and the power of thick black eyeshadow.
News broke on Jan. 3 that Fox had started dating rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, after his separation from Kim Kardashian. Fox seemed to recognize this was a huge PR opportunity and pretty soon she was everywhere with headlines about her own wardrobe and whether she was copying Kim’s style.
But the whirlwind romance wasn’t to be, and the pair soon split, months before Ye publicly began his descent into antisemitism and scandal.
Fox, though, seems to have emerged unscathed. Thanks to a delightful social media presence, some truly creative fashion, and an apparent penchant for letting the paparazzi know when she’ll be strutting through the streets in lingerie and a denim coat, Fox has won a place in my heart.
3. Will Smith
It was the slap seen around the world.
Will Smith was already reaching peak media saturation as he campaigned for his first Oscar for his role in King Richard as Richard Williams, father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena. Every week it appeared as if we were getting some new revelation from him about his open marriage with Jada Pinkett Smith.
And then, the smack happened, and we got to see what a real Will Smith news cycle looks like.
Sitting in the audience at the Oscars in March, Smith walked onstage and slapped comedian Chris Rock when he made a joke about Pinkett Smith’s hair. While the audio was censored in the US for sensitive ears, I happened to be watching live in Australia, where we heard Smith’s full explicit rant: “KEEP MY WIFE’S NAME OUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!” Smith yelled to shocked audiences in the theater and watching around the world.
Then, in a moment you couldn’t script, Smith somehow wasn’t asked to leave the ceremony and, in fact, went on to win the Best Actor prize, upon which he gave a tearful, rambling speech.
He later called the incident “inexcusable” and apologized to Rock, but the slap shattered Smith’s beloved public persona and led to him being banned from the Oscars for a decade.
Let’s be clear, the war in Ukraine has been a horrifying and deadly spectacle of Russian aggression, but if you’d told me in January the guy from that Donald Trump phone call would be named Time magazine’s Person of the Year I doubt I would have believed you.
Since the invasion began in late February, President Volodymyr Zelensky has served as an inspiring figure not just to his fellow Ukrainians, but to people around the world. This was a man who entered office with zero political experience and was most famous for his comedy and for providing the Ukrainian voice acting for Paddington Bear. He’s since morphed into a symbol of democracy and resistance. Bravo.
Although Ukraine has been a major flashpoint in international geopolitics since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the war this year has plunged Europe into its gravest crisis in decades and drawn the world’s attention to the region in a way like no other. I, too, feel like I know a lot more about Ukrainian geography and culture than I did at the year’s start.
But what felt particularly inspiring to me when things first kicked off was how the West unified against Russia, withdrawing businesses and booting it from everything from Eurovision to the FIFA World Cup. Here’s hoping 2023 brings peace
Call me naive, or simply economically ignorant, but I for one didn’t have “global inflation crisis” on my 2022 bingo card.
I’d love to write more about its causes — the pandemic and the war in Ukraine causing supply chain disruptions, for example — but instead I’m choosing to hope that we’re through the worst of it and that prices might begin to come down soon.
In the summer, some friends and I went to the gay mecca that is Fire Island in New York. Sitting by the pool, we began discussing the pandemic. “Which pandemic?” I asked. “You’ll need to be more specific.”
The fact that after more than two years of COVID I suddenly had to be worried about an outbreak of a new virus felt poised to push me off the deep end. The name “monkeypox” alone also seemed almost like a parody of some horrible virus. I was at my wit's end!! (FWIW, the World Health Organization now wants people to call it “mpox” to reduce stigma, but I fear that ship has well and truly sailed.)
Although the virus was thankfully never categorized as a pandemic, its sudden emergence over the summer in a number of countries, especially among queer men, was deeply worrying. It mainly spread through close physical context (i.e., sex), and although it was nowhere near as fatal as COVID-19, it did cause excruciatingly painful lesions for many of those who contracted it.
Thank god (and scientists) that we already had a vaccine that we could distribute — albeit frustratingly slowly. This, combined with behavioral changes by queer men, meant cases eventually declined drastically, but not completely.
Polio in the US? POLIO?! IN THIS YEAR OF OUR LORD 2022?!?!!
Right as mpox appeared to be starting to ebb, New Yorkers were horrified to learn that the polio virus had been discovered in wastewater, prompting the governor to declare yet another state of emergency.
The virus was traced back to a single man in Rockland County, who became the first known person in the US to contract polio in a decade and the first in New York since 1990.
Unlike most people, the man wasn’t vaccinated against polio, an infectious paralytic disease we mostly associate with the 1940s and '50s, and which has now been almost eradicated thanks to vaccines.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but please get vaccinated against deadly illnesses.
In keeping with the trend of me being exasperated by unwelcome things from the past sticking around, friggin’ Nazis made a couple of appearances this year. This isn’t just because of Vladimir Putin’s paltry “denazification” explanation for invading Ukraine, but rather due to another egomaniac: Kanye West.
Weeks before the rapper now known as Ye explicitly went public with his love for Adolf Hitler, his antisemitic ravings had already found a receptive audience among neo-Nazis. In October, a group of them held up a sign over a Los Angeles freeway reading, “Kanye was right about the Jews,” and raised their hands in a Nazi salute.
Such extreme-right white power movements have been growing across the US in recent years, but it felt especially shocking that one of the country’s most famous Black entertainers allow himself to be associated with them. To help him with his informal 2024 presidential campaign, Ye even hired Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right agitator who once sang karaoke in front of a crowd who raised their hands in Nazi salutes.
It would be great if we coulld leave Nazis in the dustbin of history where they belong.
9. Olivia Wilde
You know that famous meme of the guy from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia looking wide-eyed and conspiracy-minded as he stands in front of a board with red string connecting various documents? That’s how it felt this year to follow the nonstop, revolving behind-the-scenes controversies among the cast of Don’t Worry Darling — a movie I still haven’t seen but about which I could talk for hours.
At the center was director and actor Olivia Wilde, who during an ugly divorce with Ted Lasso star Jason Sudeikis stated dating the movie’s male lead, Harry Styles. The pop star was cast after Wilde said she fired Shia LaBeouf — something LaBeouf later claimed wasn’t true when he released messages from Wilde begging him to stay in the movie.
The controversy PEAKED at the Venice Film Festival — and I’m not even talking about the moment when Styles may or may not have spat on costar Chris Pine. Star Florence Pugh, reportedly feuding with Wilde, arrived late and skipped the press conference. Instead, she filmed a video of her wearing a skimpy purple fit and marching happily toward the camera while holding an Aperol Spritz. Queen shit.
For months now, I’ve been writing about this vile, slanderous, and dangerous political campaign from right-wing actors that seeks to equate the LGBTQ community with people who sexually abuse children, and it’s left me extremely deflated and depressed.
This “grooming” rhetoric, which is based in outdated anti-gay tropes, really kicked into full swing in March when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis realized it could rile up supporters. Perhaps naively, I never expected it to spread this successfully and in so many horrifying ways. Armed militia members have presented themselves at Pride events, gay bars, and local libraries across the country. Trolls have launched coordinated attacks on anti-suicide support services for young queer people. Bomb threats have been called into children’s hospitals that provide care to transgender children. People were killed in a Colorado Springs gay bar.
I like to believe this is the last gasp of a conservative political movement that knows they’ve lost the wider battle for public support to the LGBTQ community. “They can’t call us faggots anymore, so they’re calling us groomers and pedophiles,” RuPaul's Drag Race star Nina West told BuzzFeed News in December.
The truth is, I don’t know where this ugly, hateful campaign leads next, and that has me very scared.
11. Novak Djokovic’s Vaccination Status
I never thought I’d kick off 2022 becoming deeply invested in the ongoing saga around tennis star Novak Djokovic and his apparent refusal to get a COVID vaccine. In January, that opposition led to him being deported from Australia and missing his chance to defend his Aussie Open title and win a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title.
Djokovic had made headlines throughout the pandemic, saying in April 2020 that he was opposed to vaccines. Just months later, he and his wife tested positive for COVID after he played in exhibition matches that flouted social-distancing recommendations.
He did win Wimbledon in July (where he was booed by the crowd during a semifinal), but he ended the year having slid down the ranking of top male tennis players from first to fifth. Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz now sits atop the rankings, having won the US Open this year — a tournament Djokovic had to withdraw from due to — you guessed it — his vaccination status.
12. Elon Musk
Before this year, I probably could have told you very few things about Elon Musk: He owns Tesla and SpaceX, is unimaginably wealthy, and had two kids with Grimes with very unusual names.
But by the end of the year, Musk was inescapable, having taken over Twitter — the website where I and other broken people live — and decided to retool it into a playground for the far right.
It feels like Musk has undergone something of a transformation in recent years from “kooky rich Rocket Man” to wannabe international supervillain. Perhaps radicalized by the pandemic or by his surprise victory in court over a British cave explorer he had called a “pedo guy,” Musk made two things clear this year: first, his extremely online right-wing politics that involve a hatred of liberals, scientists, transgender people, and the media; and second, his desire to control the public conversation, especially when it comes to himself.
That latter part involved first flirting with the idea of buying Twitter at an exorbitant price and then, months later, effectively being put in a legal corner where he had to do so. His tenure as owner has been a clusterfuck, to put it mildly, but has also given rise to a new type of Very Online weird nerd: the Elon Superfan. I expect I’ll get a few emails from them once this article goes live. I’ll share the best ones I receive on Twitter — if the site is still standing.
13. Climate Protesters Attacking Art
Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe scientists who say the world is fucked unless we take radical action to stop climate change. I think most reasonable people do, too. Where I think reasonable people might have conflicting opinions is whether that radical action involves attacking famous artworks.
The environmentalist groups Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil began attracting worldwide media attention this year through stunts that saw demonstrators supergluing themselves to paintings in museums around the world, including artwork by Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci. In one particularly memorable instance, they also threw a can of soup at a painting of sunflowers by van Gogh, which I suppose you might call an act of performance art in itself.
14. Kate Bush
Who had a better year by doing any less than Kate Bush? The English singer, now 64, was effectively living a quiet life in retirement this year when she suddenly found herself atop the global charts. The reason? Netflix’s fourth season of Stranger Things had made heavy use of “Running Up That Hill,” introducing her 1985 song to a whole new generation of fans and making Bush millions in profits on the old track.
“I thought that the track would get some attention, but I just never imagined that it would be anything like this,” Bush told the BBC in June.
Neither did we, to be honest.
15. Liz Truss
Even considering the absolute clown show that has been British politics this past decade, who could possibly have imagined that the Conservative Party would replace the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson as prime minister with someone even more feckless but with none of the charisma?
Liz Truss’s tenure in 10 Downing Street was as unremarkable as it was brief: just 44 days. Certainly, she deserves credit for almost tanking the British economy, but she’ll probably be remembered in history for just two things: for having Queen Elizabeth II die two days after meeting her and for being outlasted in her tenure by a decaying head of lettuce. An iconic inspiration to mediocrity everywhere.
16. The Prime Minister of Finland
When it comes to women prime ministers, I much preferred spending 2022 thinking — somehow rather frequently — about Sanna Marin, the leader of Finland.
Marin had already made headlines in December 2021 for going clubbing when she was supposed to be self-isolating after a COVID exposure (she said she didn’t see the message). But she hit the news again this August when video emerged of her dancing with others at her official residence. She voluntarily took a drug test to clear her name, but her partying was even the subject of an official inquiry in Finland — one that cleared her in November for any wrongdoing or neglect of her duties.
Marin is just 37, though, and deserves to have some fun. As another young woman leader, 42-year-old Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, pointed out last month, the pair have had to deal with a fair amount of sexism. No wonder so many women posted videos of themselves dancing in support of Marin when the dancing scandal first erupted.
So please, if you see the prime minister of Finland out in a nightclub, just buy her a drink and leave her alone!
17. The Barbie Movie
How else could I end this list except with perhaps the only thing which is keeping me going for the summer of 2023: Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie film.
The movie filmed over the summer with stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, and soon enough the internet was flooded with paparazzi photos from the set of the actors dressed as sexy cowboys and vintage '80s rollerbladers. It felt like not since House of Gucci was filmed had paparazzi production photos sparked such intrigue and anticipation.
I have absolutely no idea what this fever dream of a movie will be about, but I’ve spent months wondering — and dyeing my hair blonde in part so I could dress as Gosling’s version of Ken for Halloween.
2023 is looking up!!!