2016 was quite the year. As the calendar winds down, some people are talking about 2016 as one of the worst years in human history, or at least in recent memory. Indeed, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver captured this popular opinion in the show’s year-end segment, “Fuck 2016.”
2016 produced a Trump presidency and witnessed the rise of the “alt-right” and increasing violence against women, workers, and Indigenous, LGBTQ2, and racialized peoples. 2016 also saw the approval of new pipelines, Brexit, and the deaths of pop culture legends like Prince, Phife Dawg, and David Bowie and revolutionary figures like Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro. In short, 2016 was merciless.
Yet, 2016 also witnessed an impressive array of alternative pop culture that challenged our perspectives, reflected and sustained our activism, and gave voice to our continued demands for justice and revolutionary social change. It is important to take stock of the cultural work that keeps us fighting for a better world, which is why I compile an annual “Alternative Year on Review” of pop culture for Canadian Dimension. See 2014 and 2015.
Most “Year in Review” lists are pretty predictable as they tend to be reflections of what is “popular” as defined by sales and marketing. Indeed, the typical “Year in Review” list highlights highly profitable popular culture.
As one of the pop culture columnists for Canadian Dimension Magazine, I use a different set of criteria to assemble an “alternative” list that accent elements of progressive popular culture from the past year that aim to change the world broadly understood. There are a lot of great socialist, feminist, anti-racist, and decolonial works produced every year – but it is hard to keep track of them all.
As such, I have created the following list by polling CD members as well as supporters on social media to see what they were watching, reading, and listening to in 2016. I have also added my own recommendations. This list is by no means exhaustive. So please contribute to the conversation by adding your own suggestions in the comments and on Twitter @CDN_Dimension.
- Fractured Land
- We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
- Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things
- The Prison in Twelve Landscapes
- Guardians of Eternity
- Colonization Road
- Angry Inuk
- Highway of Tears
- The Mine Wars
- “We the People” by A Tribe Called Quest
- “Freedom” by Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar
- “Meticulous Bird” by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
- “Digging for Windows” by Zack de la Rocha
- “R.E.D” by A Tribe Called Red feat. Yasiin Bey and Narcy
- “The Party’s Over” by Prophets of Rage
- “Indomitable” by DJ Shub feat. Northern Cree Singers
- We Are the Halluci Nation by A Tribe Called Red
- Lemonade by Beyoncé
- F(l)ight by Leanne Simpson
- Trans Day of Revenge by G.L.O.S.S.
- Dystopia by Megadeth
- Psychic Materials by Casey Macija
- Colicky by Self Defense Family
- Retribution by Tania Tagaq
- Hardwired…to Self-Destruct by Metallica
- Hopelessness by Anohni
- PowWowStep by DJ Shub
- Elephants by Mother Tereka and the Rebel Funktion
- “Stadium Pow Wow” by A Tribe Called Red
- “Formation” by Beyoncé
- “How to Steal a Canoe” by Leanne Simpson
- Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel
- Toronto’s Poor: A Rebellious History by Bryan D. Palmer and Gaétan Heroux
- Aqueduct: Colonialism, Resources, and the Histories We Remember by Adele Perry
- What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy by Tom Slee
- Building a Better World: An Introduction to the Labour Movement in Canada (3rd Edition) edited by Stephanie Ross, Larry Savage, Errol Black, and Jim Silver
- Far off Metal River: Inuit Lands, Settler Stories, and the Making of the Contemporary Arctic by Emile Cameron
- Canada Since 1960: A People’s History: A Left Perspective on 50 Years of Politics, Economics, and Culture edited by Cy Gonick
- A Propaganda System: How Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation by Yves Engler
- The Fate of Labour Socialism: The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the Dream of a Working-Class Future by Jim Naylor
- Unsettled Expectations: Uncertainty, Land, and Settler Decolonization by Eva Mackey
- Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki
- Vegetarian by Han Kang
- The Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead
- Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle edited by the Graphic History Collective and Paul Buhle
- James Connolly: A Full Life by Tom Keough and Paul Buhle
- Giger Goodwin: A Worker’s Friend by Laura Ellyn
- Showdown! Making Modern Unions by Rob Kristofferson and Simon Orpana
- Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemier
- Rat Queens
- “For Northern Girls” by Erica Violet Lee
- Totem Poles and Railroads by Janet Rogers
- “She is spitting a mouthful of stars” by Gregory Scofield
- Settler Education by Laurie D. Graham
- “Unceeded Territories” by Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun
- “Draw the Line! Graphic Histories of Work, Struggle and Activism,” Workers Arts and Heritage Centre
- In Defiance by Lindsay Kat Katsitsakatste Delaronde
- “We Come to Witness: Sonny Assu in Dialogue with Emily Carr” by Sonny Assu
Sean Carleton is a member of the CD Coordinating Committee and co-writes The Popular Front column on pop culture with John-Henry Harter.
I would like to thank the following CD collective members, subscribers, readers, and followers for contributing suggestions: Harrison Samphir, Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, David Hugill, Marie-Geneviève Lane, Danielle Lorenz, Scott Price, Lisa Pasoli, Tina Adcock, Kevin Taghabon, David Tough, John-Henry Harter, Chris Parsons, Maddie Knickerbocker, Jonathan Lockyer, Anne Janhunen, Julia Smith, Lisa Smith, Michael Riel Maldove.