The Popular Front: An “Alternative Year in Review” of 2016 Pop Culture

Photo by Geoffrey Gallaway

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.

Movies, Drama

Movies, Documentary

Television

Music

Singles

Albums

Music Videos

Books, Non-Fiction

Books, Fiction

Comics

Poetry

Games

Podcasts

Website

Installations

Art Collectives

Skateboards

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.