December is a month of madness. It’s the season of tssk-ing a cocktail in a can at your desk at 2pm. Of pushing through meetings chatting more nonsense than Joe Biden on one of his off days. Of women heaving duffel bags full of ‘party outfits’ into the office so they can get changed in the toilets. It’s around this time that people start fraying at the edges and acting erratic due to the sheer volume of dinners. There’s simply too many gatherings, too many sightings of men dressed like German beer maids making their way to the annual World Darts Championship, too many meals involving heavy cream. And, to make matters more stressful, Wonka is out.
If you’ve attempted to go to the cinema in recent weeks, chances are you have had to navigate around six Wonka screenings per day. Wonka, if you are unfamiliar, is the new cinematic origin story of that man with the chocolate factory. It’s directed by the lads who did Paddington and stars Timothée Chalamet as the titular character, Johnson off Peep Show as his rival Slugworth, and Hugh Grant as an Oompa-Loompa. I haven’t seen it yet but I feel like that’s all the information anyone needs to get a feel for the tone. As evidenced by Hugh Grant’s quotes during the press cycle, which include “je joue le Oompa-Loompa” and putting the little orange workers in the same category as “psychopaths” and “perverts” as far as acting roles go, Wonka is vibrating at the exact right frequency for this time of year. There is a magical dissonance between the tone of the marketing (tagline: “how Willy became Wonka”) and the sincere embrace of the actual film, which has been described by Little White Lies as “the most technically astounding capitalist origin story since Citizen Kane.”
In many ways it’s a fitting end to a chaotic year. A lot has happened in a comparatively short amount of time. ‘Alien bodies’ were presented to the Mexican congress. Twitter became ‘X’, not that anyone has taken any notice. The Succession finale aired in May, which doesn’t feel right at all. Hollywood went on strike for a historic length of time while Barbenheimer single-handedly kept the box office alive for the next five years. Ice Spice, Ozempic, the billionaires in the submarine, Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski trial... January happened, we blinked, and suddenly David Cameron is back in Parliament.
Running alongside this cultural volatility: the horror of it all. Ongoing wars in Ukraine, Yemen, Myanmar, Congo. Desperate humanitarian crises and claims of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Amhara, Sudan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Palestine. Did I miss anywhere? Probably… In every corner of the world there is disaster, violence, and power struggle. That’s always been the case, but this year the devastation has felt colossal. The violence reigning down on Gaza right now is so industrial that words fall short of conveying it accurately – with Palestinians in the West Bank also subject to a huge escalation in IOF and settler violence.
As author Isabella Hammad said recently, the scale of it “brings humanity so close to inhumanity that I think that for many it shakes the very sense of what we, as humans, actually are.” Like a lot of people I’ve been walking around the last few months like the air is made of glue, sickened by images of mass graves and exasperated by the total failure of international powers to produce even the bare minimum of a ceasefire.
When things are this dark it’s hard to find hope, but all the more important to have it. In the spirit of protecting the flame, there have been some small wins along the way these last 12 months. After public pressure, FIFA reversed its sponsorship plans for Saudi Arabia's tourism board to sponsor the Women’s World Cup. Finland took a significant step towards protecting trans rights by introducing a new gender recognition law. Namibia's Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling recognising same-sex marriages contracted abroad. Deforestation is finally slowing in the Amazon. Former UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman got sacked and then tricked into accepting an award for ‘Dick of the Year.’ All good stuff worth celebrating as our many fights carry over into the new year. To return to more of Hammad’s words: “It’s easy to feel useless, and from there it’s a short leap to despair.”
If there’s a kernel of encouragement we can take from 2023, perhaps it’s the emerging atmosphere of solidarity. Whether it’s A-list actors standing with low-wage workers in their industry, the British public siding with striking doctors to protect the NHS, or the millions around the world continuing to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, it does feel like our relationship to injustice is becoming more collective, more solidified, year on year. Perhaps that’s naive of me, but if there’s even a shred of truth in that then it should inspire more action, not less. Any form of progress, any meaningful protection, is a long battle hard won and maintained through vigilance.
See you in 2024,
Emma: I’d be hard pressed to name something that had a bigger impact on me this year than Someone Who Isn’t Me, the debut novel from Thursday and No Devotion frontman Geoff Rickly. Following the narrator’s journey to an Ibogaine clinic in Mexico in a last ditch effort to get clean from heroin, it reads like Dante’s Inferno for people who grew up getting kicked in the head at basement hardcore shows. A feat of literary excellence and a feverish confrontation of the self that can’t help but drag you with it on its journey to learning how to simply be. Buy it instantly from Rose Books and check out our interview with Geoff about the book earlier in the year.
Alex (Senior Editor): OK, I’ll start with an admission: I didn’t discover The Blindboy Podcast in 2023. Not even close. In fact, it’s been my favourite podcast for a couple of years now. Yet, my mind is consistently blown by the breadth of topics our favourite musician/writer/comedian/mental health advocate and plastic-carrier-bag-faced Irishman wades into – all with tons of hilarious and profound insights. Thanks to Blindboy’s podcast, I’ve learned about everything from British colonialism in Ireland and how the Emerald Isle was once covered by a Celtic Rainforest… before the British arrived and chopped down all the trees, to the foreskin of Christ, the interior world of cats and the psychology of creativity. I’m allowing myself the liberty of including his podcast in this end of year list because not only is Blindboy the artist-in-residence in the hot off the press Huck #80 but his new book Topographia Hibernica is out now – and I’m really hoping it’s nestling under my Christmas tree. And then there’s this – just genius!
Ben (Digital Editor): This year I’ve had Romy’s debut record Mid Air on repeat. The second single to drop from the album, ‘Enjoy Your Life,’ was the soundtrack to much of my Spring and Summer. The haunting sample of Beverly Glenn-Copeland, who I was lucky enough to profile for us a few years ago, really resonated with me and I was buzzing to hear Copeland feature on the album in the eponymous track. Been a huge fan of the XX since their formation and it’s been a joy to watch the band's solo endeavours, though I am secretly hoping that 2024 is the year that we see a long awaited reunion…
Josh (Print Editor): Bear with me on this one, but my cultural highlight this year was when I took a trip to Margate, which for those of you not in England is right on the east coast of UK - it’s like 20 miles from France. And because it was December it was raining so I went to… the… Margate Crab Museum. And it’s amazing. There’s a brilliant anti-capitalist undercurrent running through the entire thing. It’s superbly laid out, it’s genuinely interesting, it’s funny, it’s got massive crabs, there’s a picture of a crab standing on a poo which they then label “a crab on a poo,” they have a whole feature which they just made up about a 2.5m crab being caught and kept by a local guy, and the people working there wear these mad crab hats. So in 2023, this nightmare year on top of all the other nightmare years, some humour’s really needed. So you can keep your Tate Modern, Gagosian, MoMa, inaccessible art films and whatnot. It’s all about the Margate Crab Museum for me (you can buy the crab hats on their website).
Isaac (Social Editor & Photography Writer): March 2023 saw De La Soul – perhaps the highest profiled stalwarts of the pre-streaming era – finally cave and put their back catalogue on Spotify, Apple Music, and all the other identikit platforms that have taken over (and arguably killed) the music industry. Anyways, as a sucker for easy-to-reach thrills, I’ve worked my way through it and opened my ears to how deep and varied their discography is. My personal fave: ‘Itzsoweezee (Hot)’ from 1996 album Stakes Is High. The song explores how “money makes a man strange”, over a brooding, stripped-back beat, and given how close to crisis capitalism has felt over the past year, it feels more relevant than ever.