Damage control for 2016: eight ways the year everyone hates can save some face


2016 has an image problem.

Granted, much of it is self-imposed, but 2016 is taking an absolute beating in the court of public opinion. Whether it was the constant strife of the Syrian civil war, the contentious and exhausting U.S. presidential election, the mosquito-borne threat of the Zika virus or a seemingly relentless assault on our most treasured resource (our celebrities), 2016 gave the social media world plenty of reasons to label it “the worst year ever,” equate it to villains like Joffrey from Game of Thrones, and even say their New Year’s Eve plans included “staying up til midnight… just to watch 2016 die.”

Screen Shot 2016-12-29 at 4.01.46 PM

(Image: Onsizzle.com)

But is 2016 really “the worst”? There have always been wars. Bitter political divides are nothing new. And, as long as there have been celebrities, there have been dead celebrities. It’s not like anybody goes around blaming 2008 for the losses of Heath Ledger, George Carlin, Betty Page, Paul Newman, Isaac Hayes, Charleton Heston, Bo Diddley, Arthur C. Clarke, “Santa Baby” singer Eartha Kitt (on Christmas Day, no less!) and Bernie Mac, do they? Add in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts still raging, the bird flu epidemic, the incredibly divisive Obama/McCain election, and an economy on the brink of collapse due to the housing crisis, and 2008 starts to look pretty nefarious. Why did you have it in for us, 2008? What did we ever do to you?

Of course, any year would be hard pressed to come away smelling like roses if all it got credit for was war, plague, strife and death. So, if 2016 is going to blamed for all the bad that it “caused,” it should have a list of its accomplishments at the ready as a rebuttal – in the PR world, we call that “the pivot.” Here are a few pro bono talking points that 2016 can hang its hat on the next time someone accuses it of being written by George R. R. Martin. You’re welcome, 2016.

1. 2016 cured AIDS

Screen Shot 2016-12-29 at 4.00.04 PM

(Image: Pixabay)

Sure, it was just for one guy in Britain. But the combination of antiretroviral drugs with a drug that reactivates dormant HIV cells and a vaccine that stimulates the immune system resulted in no detectable signs of the virus in a 44-year old test subject in the UK. This is the first of a 50 person study, and if the other 49 are this successful, we may look back on 2016 as the year that gave us the cure for HIV, which could ultimately lead to victory in the fight against AIDS.  Sure, taking credit for a full cure for AIDS after the successful test of an HIV cure in one person may be a bit hyperbolic, but these are PR talking points, aren’t they? And in that spirit…

2. 2016 saved the pandas 

Screen Shot 2016-12-29 at 4.00.13 PM

“We’re not endangered! High Five!” (Image: Wired)

That’s right. Giant pandas are no longer endangered, and we have 2016 to thank for it (actually, we have 26 years of conservation work by animal lovers across the globe, but hey – it happened on 2016’s watch).  There are now 2,060 giant pandas in the wild, which means there are more than 2,000 absolutely adorable death machines out there just waiting to maul you. It also means there are at least 2,000 more storylines for Kung Fu Panda sequels, unless 2016 manages to kill Jack Black before Saturday night.

3. 2016 gave us the first solar flight around the globe

Screen Shot 2016-12-29 at 4.02.05 PM

(Image: Solar Impulse)

Bertrand Piccard made aviation (and energy) history in 2016 when he landed his Solar Impulse 2 in Abu Dhabi in July, becoming the first person to fly around the world in a solar powered aircraft. While it was hardly a ride most people would want to go on (according to The Guardian, the plane averaged just 30 mph), it proved that it could be done, and thus, took aviation into the solar age. In an industry as remarkably resistant to change as aviation (most general aviation airplanes still use leaded gasoline), this will be a game changer, and the last leg of it happened in 2016.

4. 2016 won the World Series for the Chicago Cubs

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(Image source: the guardian, photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

A recent AP poll revealed that when it came to memorable moments in 2016 – nothing beat the Cubbies breaking their 108-year World Series drought. It was more memorable than the deaths of Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. It was more memorable than Pokémon Go. It was more memorable than Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in literature. For generations of Cubs fans, it instantly took 2016 from yet another year of disappointment to “the year they won it all.” Despite all the negatives of 2016, when it really got down to it, the thing people remembered most was a moment of jubilation more than a century in the making. Not only that, but it absolutely reinforced the continuing narrative that “Back to the Future II” is actually a documentary.

5. 2016 gave us this spectacular trick shot from the Tower of the Americas

Screen Shot 2016-12-29 at 4.03.29 PM (Image: Youtube)

Nuthin’ but awesome.

6. 2016 taught us to handle the truth – not unfriend it

“Fake news” was a major buzzword in 2016. From allegations of Russian tampering in the 2016 Presidential Election, to both campaigns accusing the other of using fake news sites to discredit their opponents, to major publications getting their predictions on the outcome wrong due to outdated prediction models, to the siloing of social media as people unfriended those with differing views in droves, the 2016 election cycle taught us that the slippery slope that leads to a “post-truth” society is a real one.

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(Image: Pexels)

The corrections stemming from that realization could be massive. Facebook is being put under significant pressure to monitor and take action against “fake news” sites. At the same time, “real” news sites are seeing spikes in interest as consumers clamor for unbiased sources of evidence-based information.  The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Times each reported positive growth in 2016. Propaganda will never go away completely, but 2016 could be seen in the future as the year that reminded us of the value of the fourth estate.

7. 2016 gave us Stranger Things – among other things

Sure, 2016 robbed us of dozens of celebrities who were near and dear to our hearts, but it also gave us an emotionally tortured Wynona Ryder stringing up an alphabet of Christmas lights on her living room wall as she attempts to contact her missing son through electricity. Stranger Things used its blend of ‘80s nostalgia and tight, character-driven storytelling to emerge out of nowhere to become a cultural phenomenon.

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(Image source: Golden Globes, Netflix)

Not only that, but Stranger Things further established streaming services like Netflix as the premiere content creators of their era. Shows like Game of Thrones (HBO), Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon), Transparent (Amazon), Westworld (HBO), The Crown (Netflix), Veep (HBO) and of course, Stranger Things (Netflix) received Golden Globe nominations in 2016, dominating the field. Sure, the real world in 2016 was a nightmarish hellscape of death and destruction – but at least it gave us some great escapism!

8. 2016 gave us Proxima b

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(Image: Pixabay)

It might as well be called Plan b. Proxima b is a rocky planet roughly 1.3 times the size of the Earth and located 4.5 million miles away from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System. What’s really exciting about Proxima b is that it is nestled right smack dab in the middle of Proxima Centauri’s habitable zone, making it an ideal place for liquid water (and thus, life as we know it) to exist on it. So, if 2017 winds up being any worse than 2016, that Starshot project might start to look pretty appealing.

So there you have it – eight reasons to give 2016 a big thank you as we drop the ball on it New Year’s Eve. They may not be enough to make up for Prince, Bowie, Lemmy, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Arnold Palmer, Alan Thicke, Florence Henderson, George Michael, Gene Wilder and all the other wonderful people it took from us, but at least we’ll be able to remember them all on our streaming service providers.

JT Street is communications manager for esd and associates. When he’s not cursing 2016 for taking the guy who played ALF away from us, he’s either helping companies and nonprofits with their PR and social media efforts, or terrorizing the countryside with his drone photography projects. 

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