Trying to squeeze some new drop of wisdom from 2016 feels just as exhausting as the year itself did. Yet we’d be remiss not to recall some of the incisive journalism, inspiring criticism, and thoughtful essays The Village Voice published over the past 12 months.
Below are 37 of some (but not all!) of our favorite stories in the Voice this past year, in no particular order.
“We’re human beings,” says Garcia, 55, an immigrant from Mexico who’s frequented the corner for the last four months. “I value myself and I like myself. I won’t work on my knees without a mop.”
The American LGBTQ community seems not to have figured out that we’ve been conscripted into the country’s Middle Eastern wars, thanks to the liberation narrative that’s clotted LGBTQ political narratives in the wake of marriage equality. It did get better — thanks to Uncle Sam — and now, it seems, we owe him.
She’s not a kid (she turned 26 in April), but she is still making movies — a dizzying assortment of them, each one further proof of her fearlessness and infinite talent, and each unleashing all kinds of fantasies from spectators of all genders and sexualities. All ways is the only way we want it.
A Hello to Arms: A New Generation of Steely-Gazed Anarcho-Communists Head Off to Syria / By John Knefel
For starters, Hristo’s parents and sister don’t even know he’s going. Only one of Guy’s sisters does; he’s about to go to Colorado to tell his mom in person. Then there’s the delicate matter of legality. What they’re doing isn’t illegal, exactly, although the law is gray enough that a creative FBI agent and prosecutor could probably find a charge if they wanted to. The State Department has explicitly advised Americans not to fight alongside the YPG, and Guy and Hristo fully expect to be interviewed at the airport by the Department of Homeland Security. Their cover story — if they end up needing one — is that they’re freelance journalists, which has the benefit of being partially true: Although they’ll probably receive weapons training, neither is a soldier; their role will be to create and disseminate pro-Kurdish news and media. “It’s propaganda, but like in the old-school sense,” Guy says. Their main project will be a photo blog similar to Humans of New York called Scenes From Rojava, which they hope to launch within weeks of crossing over.
“It’s a real-time, personalized propaganda engine,” Douglas Rushkoff, a New York–based media theorist and author of the bestselling Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, told the Voice, “a multibillion-dollar manipulation apparatus, customized not to meet our consumer desires, but to overcome our psychic defense mechanisms. And now you want to unleash that on the entire city of New York as a public service? I’m sorry, that’s a deal with the devil we really don’t need.”
The disconnect — between diversity on the page and the lack thereof in writers’ rooms — is a startling one. The page contains infinitudes. “Our special-effects budget is unlimited,” Amanat joked last year to Coates, in a talk available on YouTube. “It’s a pen and paper.” A comic hero can be green and muscly, or brown and gawky. You can’t use that old Hollywood excuse, that stars of color simply don’t exist; they can be drawn.
Yet even as the number of reports of fraud, deceptive marketing practices, and predatory contracts has risen, the state agency designated to protect consumers from precisely this sort of deception has been astonishingly slow on the uptake. Despite highly critical assessments of ESCOs surfacing even from within its own ranks, senior officials at New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) continue to defend the industry. And things seem to be getting worse.
Meet The City Worker Who Fights Inequality With A Tape Measure / By Anita Abedian
“This is definitely not code compliant,” Finkelstein says. “There might as well be ski lift operators at the top of this thing collecting tickets, it’s so steep. No handrails. No landing area. It’d be tough for a person in a wheelchair to get in this place without some help.”
When you walked in the lobby you could hear him sometimes, composing music and trying out lyrics. There was only a thin Sheetrock wall between Dylan’s studio and the lobby, and Dylan had an upright piano right against that wall. I knew this because I had given him a hand moving amps and other equipment in and out of the studio. One day, on my way to work at the Village Voice, I found a folding chair on the street and stashed it under the stairs so I could pull it out and sit there, inches away from Dylan, and listen to him writing at the piano.
“People’s concern and fear is reasonable, but if this man has an ounce of political sense, and that’s a big if, then going after this most sympathetic group of immigrants who were brought here as children through no volition of their own, who have been productive members of society, simply should not be a priority.”
Rogue One moves swiftly enough, so it’s never boring. But why is it all so bloodless, so rote — especially when, visually, its surfaces are so lived-in and alive? The script offers a lot of protestations of feeling, but little actual evidence of such: It all seems rushed, as if speed will help make up for the lack of sincerity.
The Port Authority asked the Environmental Protection Agency, the states of New York and New Jersey, and the truck drivers themselves to share the cost of a fix, but not the shipping companies, which claimed they couldn’t afford it — despite record-setting port traffic last year.
Meanwhile, Garner and her family — as well as the 50,000 other residents in the neighborhood — live in a bowl of smog. “The exhaust gets on our food, everything,” she says, balancing her one-year-old, Chozin, on her knee. “I pray to God every day none of my kids get sick.”
“The incinerator gets so piled up the rats are eating off it,” says Anna Edwards, who’s lived at 2454 Tiebout Avenue in the Bronx for 35 years. The 65-year-old retired housekeeper says she sees the garbage heap in the backyard soar to the first floor. “Last winter was the worst winter I’ve been through since I’ve lived in the city,” says Alfred Amartey, a retired token-booth clerk who immigrated from Ghana in 1970 and has lived at 815 Gerard Avenue for 41 years. The building, a few blocks southeast of Yankee Stadium, went four months without heat or hot water. “We call 311, you get heat for two or three days, then you’re back to square one.”
Collins, born in Jersey City in 1942, was a poetry prodigy as a teenager, class president at Skidmore College by 1959, a voter registration activist in the South in the early Sixties, and, ultimately, a professor of film history and philosophy at the City College of New York. After her life was cut short by breast cancer in 1988, Collins’s creative output — including Losing Ground, her only completed feature — was nearly relegated to the sidelines of history.
In the wake of this tragedy, it’s almost certain that laws will tighten and police will shut down more underground spaces, citing safety concerns. But this is a futile and counterproductive effort. When the government continually closes the few spaces that manage to make it through the labyrinth of bureaucracy to open legally, it provides young people few options but to take matters into their own hands by running illegal spaces. Young people who love music will always find a way: after nearly half a century of repression, dance music culture is arguably stronger and more diverse than ever.
Mayor de Blasio, who won his office decrying New York’s tale of two cities, is now overseeing the creation of two different waterfronts: one in which we soberly address the very real prospect of living with an extra six feet of water by century’s end, and another that cheers the rapacious, anthropogenic boneheadedness that got us into this mess in the first place.
Even after HIV became less of a death sentence, I always viewed it fatalistically. Being positive would make it harder — I always felt — to find love and trust and sex. I had reservations about dating someone who was HIV-positive; I knew that if I were positive others would have the same reservations about me. If there were a pill for my worry, I would take it, a cure not for an infection of the body but for the traumatized mind. I would take this pill now, and I would never stop.
“It depends on what people define as a living,” Linda Oh says. In her experience, a sideman can make $100–$200 a night for a regular gig, depending. (Others told me $50 a night is not uncommon.) But if you’re the leader, you have to see to it that your musicians are paid, even if you get nothing — even if you lose money on the deal. “What I define as a living is not what other people, who earn six figures, do. I have health insurance, but it’s the lowest tier you can get, and I’m still reluctant to even have it.” She laughs. “I don’t have enough money to buy anything. If I choose to have kids, I don’t know how much money I’d have for college. It’s enough to live and be happy and get by…but it’s something I’m really going to have to think about. So much money I save gets invested back in the work.”
Now, as the New York equivalents of Mission techies dread losing the L train, an alliance between several companies that employ them and the developers of the buildings where they live is considering following Google’s lead and introducing large, private shuttle buses to run from Williamsburg and Bushwick into Manhattan. But they are unnecessary: There are the G, J, M, and Z, and the MTA plans to expand service on those lines during the L shutdown. There are also MTA buses that already connect commuters to these lines. The shuttles are being considered not because public transit can’t get people to work, but because young, privileged workers hate the public bus.
When Sarah Siegel, a public defender with the Legal Aid Society, picked up the case this spring, it seemed ordinary enough. Her client, a thirty-year-old black man, was charged with possession of marijuana and handgun ammunition, which police said they had found at his East Flatbush apartment. But deep in the case’s paperwork, something caught Siegel’s attention: an affidavit from a confidential informant — used by police to secure a warrant to search her client’s apartment — and the names of three police officers from Brooklyn’s 67th Precinct: Lieutenant Edward Babington, Sergeant Vassilios Aidiniou, and Officer Jean Galliard. Those names were a clue that this case wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed.
…it is always heartening to hop on the subway, stroll to the Met, and gaze at an incredibly delicate Greek vase, forever fragile but still with us after 2,500 years. And around the world, serendipity often plays a role, as when a farmer plowing his fields or weekenders exploring a cave stumble upon long-forgotten artifacts. We are plain lucky to know something of our kin from more than 30,000 years ago through their ivory carvings and paintings on cavern walls; some, such as the negative handprints created by blowing pigment around outstretched fingers, reveal astounding conceptual leaps. “I was here,” they communicate over the millennia, a gesture acknowledging the hope that there will always be future generations to discover what we have left behind.
The actress’s ability to bring levity to even the most sinister scenarios is crucial to a project as perplexing and unsettling — and funny — as Verhoeven’s Elle, a film that unmoors spectators from the start: After Michèle is violated in her luxe Saint-Germain home, she calmly sweeps up the debris, draws herself a bubble bath, and calls for takeout sushi. When she discovers the identity of her assailant, she pursues him, but in highly unexpected ways.
We got it wrong because we treated a hateful, illiterate, bigoted, stupid oaf as a worthy rival to a capable politician with the experience and commitment to become a successful president. We treated these things with equal weight. We listened to pundits who are still treading the deeply laid track of their own tired rhetoric, talking heads who lack the vocabulary and range of thought to articulate a threat as extraterrestrial as Trump.
We got it wrong because there are people — white male people, specifically — who had beautiful, lofty, reasons for not voting for Clinton, people who can afford to be gamble with the possibility that Roe v. Wade could very well be overturned, that Obamacare will be vanquished, and an entire cornucopia of other horrors we are only beginning to venture to comprehend.
On the surface, Cuomo’s announcement to build a new station using the Farley Post Office building across 8th Avenue looks a lot like his January proposal, but in fact the details have changed significantly. Taxpayers will now be on the hook for at least triple the original $325 million price tag, and in exchange will receive yet another state-funded mall that could end up costing the government billions of dollars in untaxed revenue. The current plan also creates no infrastructure for the upcoming Gateway tunnel project, and does nothing to increase track capacity at Penn Station.
Ramon Martinez, the City Council’s immortal man, has a lesson for the elected officials he out-earns and ultimately outclasses: Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered. Ask for enough and you’ll do fine; ask for too much, and you’ll suffer for your venality.
Black Lives Matter in the Orchestra Pit, Too / By Rajul Punjabi
Pianist Courtney Bryan has, in more than one instance, been called a “gentle soul.” She is affable, even disarming in conversation. But that swiftly melts away when she performs her arrangement of “City Called Heaven,” a negro spiritual that she’s turned into a melodic tribute to freedom fighters. Halfway through the song, Bryan’s vibrant refrain transitions into claps of thunder as she bangs on the keys with her fists. The result is not classical and clean. It’s an expression of the human condition, and more specifically, her experience as a black woman in America.
If anything concerns me at this pivotal moment, it’s not the revolutionary tremors of the youth. Given the Great American Trash Fire we have inherited, this rebellion strikes me as exceedingly reasonable. Pick a crisis, America: Child poverty? Inexcusable. Medical debt? Immoral. For-profit prison? Medieval. Climate change? Apocalyptic. The Middle East is our Vietnam. Flint, the canary in our coal mine. Tamir Rice, our martyred saint. This place is a mess. We’re due for a hard rain.
“With Trump being elected president, we have to look at where we are with race in this country,” Tip says. “Not just a conversation, but actions that are going to instill knowledge and healing. I wish we could be really solutions-oriented in our conversation before there is more bloodshed on the streets.”
The youths in McLaughlin’s court have extra cause for concern. For McLaughlin, who’s 69, with 33 years on the bench, is also known as “the hanging judge.” And while it’s hard to quantify a judicial reputation through any official measure, according to a review by the Voice of hundreds of appeals of cases, McLaughlin’s moniker is well earned.
“We have all these neighborhoods full of Muslims — why is it that we don’t have Muslim schools or mosques as a polling place?” asked Cheikh Ahmed Mbareck, executive director of the Queens-based Majlis Ash-Shura, or Islamic Leadership Council of New York. “It demonstrates the fact that our community is civically behind [other minority groups].”
“We’re not advocating that mixed spaces shouldn’t exist. We’re not saying there’s something wrong with men. We’re just saying there’s something innately awesome about women,” says Wolfe. “This is so punk rock. They’ve had their boys’ club for years — let us have our girl party for once.”
You’ll shake your head. You’ll still struggle to accept that what you saw on that screen actually played in theaters, was funded and approved by distributors, took a month or so of the lives of those extraordinary actors. “Helen Mirren plays the actress who plays Death,” you’ll say. (They won’t believe you.) “And Keira Knightley plays Love.” (That they’ll find plausible.) “But that’s not the weirdest part. The business partners want the Will Smith character to step aside, because their firm is floundering, so they set it up so that he believes that nobody but him can see Death, Time, and Love, even when he’s shouting at them on the streets of Manhattan.”
These targeted and repeated arrests are part of a much larger pattern within the NYPD. From 2012 through 2015, nearly 1,300 individuals were arrested in New York City and charged with loitering for the purposes of prostitution. The vast majority are women. Such arrests are not the result of stings, in which undercover officers attempt to solicit sex for money. Neither are they the result of investigations that produce evidence — emails, text messages, online ads — that the women had intended to sell sex. With a loitering arrest, a woman’s crime need only exist in the arresting officer’s head.
The first lyrics I can remember ever singing came in 1984, when I was six: “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you will never understand.” They were words I practiced into the mirror dozens and dozens of times with a nearly religious dolefulness, as if I were waiting for the Bloody Mary of Gender Identity to show herself.
“I think this is an amazing time to be a Black artist, not just for the reception of the work, but because I didn’t have to look far to find other Black artists to take inspiration from, or to take counsel from. In that way we are working informally together towards — I don’t want to say for common goal — but we’re all adding to the complexity of what it means to be a Black person in America, a Black person in the world. It just feels right to be a part of it.”
On a typical weekday, 7,800 buses jam the Port Authority Bus Terminal with 232,000 passengers, a volume surpassed by only Penn Station. The terminal, already beyond capacity during rush hours, is expecting a 35 to 51 percent increase in passengers by 2040. Adding insult to injury, the Port Authority says the thick concrete slabs in the terminal’s south wing, opened in 1950, will be too old to safely carry buses within 25 years.
There is, in short, a general awareness that “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” wouldn’t exist without George Martin; that, in his absence, it’d be far less accepted or fashionable to consider rock songs in the same high-minded academic mode as the symphonic, orchestral, or jazz music with which he inflected them; and that one can trace a direct line between how recording is done today and how Martin laid that groundwork fifty years ago.
And yet — the job of the producer being what it is — the finer gradations of Martin’s labor now stand in peril of being lost amid these broader brushstrokes; this seems an especial danger today, on the heels of his passing, with the obituarist’s inevitable big-picture-isms now set to spill forth from all corners.
Meet Philly’s ‘Super Commuters’ Who Take the Bus to NYC Every Single Day / Christopher Robbins
Kelley, a landscape architect, is one of the dozen or so daily commuters who take the Megabus from Philly to their jobs in New York City. “New York is just a poster for me,” Kelley says. “I look out the window, I see the skyline, the Empire State Building — cool — then I get back on the bus and go home.”