A week before Christmas, I was out at the Salt Lake Airport waiting to catch a delayed flight to Las Vegas when two tabloids on a gift shop magazine rack caught my eye.
The cover of one read, “It’s Over!” To the right, another read, “It’s On!” The first was referring to the end of Jennifer Aniston’s latest relationship, while the second was touting a new romance between Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Pitt.
I have no idea if either story is true, and I really don’t care. But it did occur to me that there was a deeper meaning behind the juxtaposition of these covers, a meaning that transcended the never-ending machinations of the Jennifers’ love lives.
Standing here at the dawn of 2018, as the contentious choking dust of 2017 finally starts to settle, it’s easy to look back at the last year and exclaim, “It’s over!” Outside of August’s solar eclipse, there wasn’t much to unify us last year aside from a general feeling that 2017 was especially divisive and exhausting.
Our popular culture was a perfect reflection of that division. Punch the words, “pop culture 2017” into Google, and you’ll get numerous lists of highs and lows, usually classified as one or the other depending on the political perspective of the author.
Meryl Streep stirred things up early at the Golden Globes, though Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s best picture gaffe stole the show at the always-political Oscars. And while most critics and fans seemed to love "Wonder Woman" and hate Tom Cruise’s "The Mummy," supposed safe bets like "The Last Jedi" were surprisingly divisive.
In the world of television, the new season of “Stranger Things” united many under the loving umbrella of 1980s nostalgia, and most agreed that Kylie Jenner’s bizarre Pepsi commercial was a tacky way to address race relations. But the heated political stances of late-night talk show hosts like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel were more polarizing.
Beyonce’s pregnancy was big news in the music scene, but the tragic attacks that took place at concerts in London and Las Vegas made that and most everything else feel trivial, at least until something else stole the headlines. We also found out that Apple was deliberately trying to sabotage its old iPhones, and of course, at the center of everything was our brand-new president, whose bizarro fusion of pop culture and politics make the days of The Governator seem quaint.
The intersection between the good and the bad was the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which will hopefully help turn an abusive behind-the-scenes culture into a more ethical post-harassment Hollywood. If 2016 was notorious for the actual deaths of beloved celebrities like David Bowie and Carrie Fisher, 2017 will be remembered for killing off numerous celebrity careers, everywhere from Hollywood (Kevin Spacey) to broadcast journalism (Matt Lauer) to politics (Al Franken).
Good or bad, all the craziness made the rare charming moments — like a toddler’s unexpected visit to her father’s BBC broadcast — feel like tender mercies. Seriously, if you want to feel better about the world, Google “BBC viral interview” and watch the clip about 17 times.
Maybe it’s thanks to those mercies that, even in a traditionally bleak and lifeless January, we still greet the new year with a hopeful, optimistic, “It’s on!”
2017’s big screen offerings may have failed to deliver on a lot of blockbuster promises, but 2018 has a full slate of new contenders — and not all of them will be sequels or reboots (though let’s be honest: “Infinity War” looks fantastic). Amazon and Netflix are churning out so many original movies and TV series that some of them are bound to be good (try “The Toys That Made Us” for some fun '80s nostalgia). Even LPs are making a comeback, and not just for those of us who can grow aggressive hipster beards.
It will take more than pop culture to turn 2017’s divisive lemons into magic 2018 lemonade, but taken with the proper perspective, there’s nothing quite like a dark horse movie or a new song on a late night drive to help you get through those more meaningful frustrations at work, at home or wherever you scroll through a list of fresh headlines on the personal electronic device of your choice.
And even if 2018 also leaves us gratefully exclaiming, “It’s over!” by next December, we’ll just lick our wounds and dig in for 2019. Because if there is one core pop culture truth, it is that Jennifer Aniston will always have new opportunities waiting just around the bend, and thankfully, so will we.