Five Golden…Themes! What We Just Couldn’t Get Enough of in 2012

One of Mockingbird’s most distinctive features is the repetition. Like Christmas itself, we’re trying to […]

One of Mockingbird’s most distinctive features is the repetition. Like Christmas itself, we’re trying to point that one “old, old story,” that ancient theme, as we see it dug up time and again. It’s dug up in all sorts of places, of course, from 18th century poetry archives to slasher films, from church basements to top-tier corporate office towers. But it’s still resonating a singular focus–the Gospel–from these unforeseen, albeit obscure, sources.

Despite the wide-spanning scopes and intentions of some of our favorite “news” sources, the same thing unwittingly tends to happen. After all, reporting the news means telling and retelling the kinds of circuitous things people say and do and think and feel. In short, as much as one gives “just the facts,” the more one stays true to themes of human life–and it’s no less true in 2012. I present here the (admittedly insufficient) five golden-and-not-so-golden themes we came back to, again and again, in 2012, within Mockingbird and beyond. In a year where the top-Googled searches were “Whitney Houston” and “Gangnam Style” and “Hurricane Sandy,” what were we–and I mean humans–talking about? I assume more will come to mind while reading, but here we go… Each theme is provided with at least three must-read articles, and then one of our own, and one from our friends at The Onion.

1) The Gaffe-Attacking, Fact-Checking and Utterly Boring 2012 Election

An election year brings with it new kinds of hopes and expectations, and also all the old kinds of divisions. We saw those divisions take place early on and fossilize in an astounding fashion. We heard our friends talk about Facebook de-friendings (not wanting traces of the Enemy on their Feed), embarrassing amounts of ‘unslanted’ online content become embarrassingly slanted, all in direct proportion to the wave of general political apathy taking foot in place of hoped-for energy. Writer Wendell Berry said in November that “our political dialogue here has given up the obligation to be clearer, and really taken up in earnest the idea of beating your opponent…I would like a few more politicians who were willing to lose even if that were the price of making themselves clearer.” Despite this being on everybody’s mind, the political milieu seems to be the enemy of human honesty, and the leaders stood their corners. Too much to say about the bottomless self-justification connections, but I think our own “Surviving November” series may have been some of the best journalism of the season. Here are some others.

“This Is the Dullest Campaign Ever” by David Brooks at the Post Bulletin.

“Spinning Gaffes into Gags: Live from New York, It’s Debate Night” by Bill Carter at The New York Times.

“You’re Not Moving to Canada: The Psychology of Post-Election Melodrama” by Adam Alter at The Atlantic.

From Mockingbird, start with Part One: “Surviving November: Political Divides, Intuitive Dogs, and Rational Tails”.

And from The Onion: “Entire Nation Now Undecided after 4 Debates


For over a year now, The New York Times has continued their Opinionator segment entitled “Anxiety,” featuring news bits, scientific research, and short fiction, that touch on “America’s favorite ailment.” In 2012, 1 in 5 adults over 18 years old are diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and we at Mockingbird are not the only ones seeing the trend take footing a few levels deeper. Some amazing articles on anxiety’s forebears, namely fear, and this fear the effect of some deeper, unfulfillable laws at work in our world today. We have talked about the law of American happiness and fulfillment, the great saint Kierkegaard–who has a bit of a different take on the condition, and the hope of sombrero-wearing freedom.

“On Being Nothing” by Brian Jay Stanley, New York Times.

“The Snake in the Garden” by Pico Iyer, NYT.

“The Danish Doctor of Dread” by Gordon Marino, NYT.

Mbird-wise: “TransDance California and the Great American Search for Happiness”

From the Onion: “Anxiety-Ridden Man Ashamed of Every Single Thing He Does.”

3) TECHNOLOGY: Connected but Alone

Duh. Ironically half of the articles in our weekenders have to do with this–and it’s hard to talk about the aforementioned anxiety without also talking about its cultural running-mate, social media. And we’re not the only ones who think so. It’s a chicken-egg paradigm, but there’s no doubt from 2012 that we see a correlation. As more and more folks check Facebook on their phones before even getting out of bed, more and more folks siphon off relationships in preference for being alone. We got a ton of startling images: from a long-dead woman’s blue computer screen, to the announced “death of conversation,” to cyberstalking sixth-grade girlfriends, to Second Life weddings, we’re exchanging small bits from the true vulnerability of relationships–and the toll is becoming evident.

The Big Kahuna: “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” by Stephen Marche at the Atlantic.

“Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know” by Pamela Paul at the New York Times.

The Psychology of Constantly Checking Twitter,” by Daniel Lende at Slate.

Mbird: “The Wounded Soul of Social Media = Connected but Alone”

Onion: “Number of Users Who Actually Enjoy Facebook Down to 4”


4) Perfecting the Art of Domestic Independence: In Defense of Single Ladies and Doltish Dudes

The Atlantic‘s Sexes column rode the late-2011 coattails of “What, Me Marry?” and carried it throughout 2012. In the cover piece, Kate Bolick wrote about her arms-up frustration with marriage, when the pickings are so slim in today’s male milieu. This seemed to instigate an array of talk about independent women, particularly in the framework of what it means to live an independently balanced life, something we’ve said before is not possible, nor necessarily desirable. The chief pulse-taker was “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which set off a work-life-balance wildfire of me-toos, including “Work Life Balance as a Men’s Issue, Too,” and “People Who Don’t Have Kids: We Want a Work-Life Balance, Too,” and “Why There’s No Such Thing As Having It All And There Never Will Be.” This year hit a nerve with single folks, too, in regard to what decides “having it all.” Numerous articles hit on the notion that “being single” is not the same as “being alone”–and numerous articles worked to justify the former over against the latter.

“Can Modern Women Have It All?” by Rebecca Traister at Salon.

“America: Single and Loving It” Eric Klinenberg interview at New York Times.

“What to Expect and Up All Night: The Doltish Dad on Screen Is Changing” by Hanna Rosin, Slate.

Mbird: “Have It All, Ladies (and Gents)…Or Else!”

Onion: “Who Will Carry on My Playstation 2 Adventures After I’m Gone?”

5) Paterno, Petraeus, Armstrong and Bond: The Inner Anti-Hero

And finally, after Paterno’s death, after Armstrong’s fall, after Batman and Bond and the Petraeus scandal, 2012 brought us a lot of the not-really-new-found mythology of the fallen hero. In a year when Skyfall took a close note from Nolan’s Batman series, we see legacy heroes dealing with the inner-enemy. This makes sense, and is completely connected to the four themes above, but is also deeply rooted in what became “newsworthy” this year, that some of the most decorated and stalwart protagonists of our day were found in compromisingly human circumstances. The news bites play upon both our expectations for inner-perfection somewhere, and our titanic finger-wagging when it doesn’t happen. But this is a hopeful shift, I think. We are beginning to see the human in the hero, and a little honesty coming into 2013 (or the end of days) is never a bad thing…

Joe Paterno: 1926-2012,” by Michael Weinreb, Grantland.

Legends of the Fall. Lance Armstrong: A Liar, a Cheater, and an Inspiration,” by Brian Phillips, Grantland.

“A Great Deal of Solace” by Roger Ebert, Sun Times.

Mbird: “A Path through Three Prisons: Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, Part 1

Onion: “Dark Knight Rises Opts for Lighthearted, Cartoonish Tone.”

Do these themes tie up in some way? I think they probably do.  What did I miss within these five themes? What other themes sang in 2012?


4 responses to “Five Golden…Themes! What We Just Couldn’t Get Enough of in 2012”

  1. Todd Brewer says:

    ooo, I might add that we also talked a lot about food – from Michelle Obama on school lunches to organic/vegan everything, we seemed to have moved beyond High Fructose Corn Syrup and Food Inc. into uncharted territory!

  2. David Zahl says:

    Ethan, you’ve outdone yourself. Thank you thank you thank you!

  3. ADDIE says:

    Ethan, such a great title for a year end post! Almost as good as your “A Night to Marimba”

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