Word of 2012

This has been the year which has seen media cannibalism: the Leveson inquiry and all which continues to fall from that, both merely implied and strongly hinted. It’s been a year of trust and mistrust, stretching around the world and filling both television screens and social media feeds.

Twelve months ago my word for the year summarised the prevailing mood of the time – what seems now as more of a flash than a precursor, although continued demonstrations in Greece, Spain, Italy and elsewhere show the natural progression of whatever it was people planted in 2011. That word and its intent has been overtaken by one of its core principles, which is why I’ve chosen the destination as the word of the year, rather than the means by which it is sought.

“Justice” has wrapped itself around this year and continues to direct the news agenda. It’s been the heart of the matter and the guiding principles. On the football pitch (and considerable time spent off it), ‘justice’ has been the heart of the alleged racial abuse between players and amongst rivals. Across social media platforms, most notably Twitter, teenagers have been locked up for abusing celebrities, putting under strain the arguments of ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘democratisation’ which underpins the popularity of new media.

In nations across the world, different definitions of injustice either fill our news pages or are conspicuous in not doing. Israel’s ‘pillar of strength’ operation against Hamas in Gaza is framed by whichever definition of ‘justice’ it is to which you subscribe. In the Australian Parliament, the injustice of sexism was put to the sword by Prime Minster Julia Gillard in the most unexpected viral video of the year. As Conservative MP Nadine Dorries learns the hard way that you can’t talk about politics whilst eating an ostrich’s anus on prime-time ITV, her pet subject of abortion reform was brought into stark focus in Ireland with the death of Savita Halappanavar, lifting even higher the position of justice within that notoriously difficult debate.

Anders Behring Breivik was jailed this year for his mass murder in Oslo and Utøya. His actions – and the sentence he might avoid were he considered unfit for trial – examined what we considered to be rightful justice. In Norway and in the UK, the death penalty argument was brought to light once again, setting against each other what each consider to be rightful justice.

“We need to see that justice is done” is a common politician’s refrain. The on-going MPs expenses scandal brings in questions of justice, certainly when members are arrested (or not) for fraud. The vexed issue of votes for prisoners, and the century-long debate on the injustice of unelected politicos sitting in the House of Lords, questions our nation’s definition of justice. Of course for many Conservative  MPs, the judgements from the European Courts strike at the very heart of British Justice, capital letters underlined in bold, standing proud over the tinier, illegitimate Johnny Foreigner Justice. How Britain deals with people like Abu Qatada – with or without European courts – reflects on how diluted or otherwise our justice system may well be. Parliament discussed the right to live – and the right to be born – as did British Courts.

For the BBC, the ‘justice’ sought by victims of Jimmy Savile and others has been the Corporation’s defining moment, causing again those who want the wholesale abolition of Auntie to take their chance in making the case. Somehow the Savile case has caused ripples across the country into most unexpected areas. I have to be very careful in how I phrase this, as I don’t wish to be sued, so I’ll just say that “People who should not have been accused of wrongdoing were wrong accused of wrongdoing and that was wrong.”

Across Europe the ‘sons of Occupy’ and connected relations continue to push against the economic and political establishment which rule their lives. In Spain, a theatre accepts carrots in lieu of payment, and of course Catalan independence is a drum beaten with the sound of the pursuit of justice. Elections in former Soviet republics, such as Belarus and Ukraine, shake the expected definitions of democratic representation. In Athens, supporters of Golden Dawn reject the establishment for ‘real’ justice as opposed to the establishment oppression (as they see it) in the age of austerity.

Last year, I chose “Occupy”. This year, “Justice”. I notice that the OED and others have considered ‘omnishambles’ to be the defining word of the year, which might be true for a narrowly defined Westminster village version of the ‘national word of our age’, but it doesn’t work as universal. Well, unless Mitt Romney had won, I suppose…

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Word of the Year

End of year summaries and lists are in full frenzy, and if anything uses up space in late December space-fillers, it’s the “Word of the Year”. With this year being particularly cuckoo-bananas, trying to sum up the whole thing in one word is hard. It’s been a good year to disprove the attitude that ideology has died: this year has been, if anything, more polarised than any time in generations. Time-travelling Soviets could zip forward to any point during this year to assume the collapse in respect towards the police and politicians meant they were onto a winner. 
The “Occupy” movement has defined this year, with all the other protests and riots branching off like tree made from malevolence. Although the aims and ambitions of the “Occupy” lot haven’t yet achieved anything, their attitudes and methods dictate and decide the patterns of anti-austerity protests across Europe and the Middle East freedom marches. Each educates each other – methods, slogans, processes. As one “Occupy” movement uses foursquare or Twitter or Google+, so another learns to do the same. The aims may be fuzzy, the ambitions confused, but the methods are unlike anything the Establishment has seen before. This is what happens when the ideology which fed the 60s and 70s teenage marches is super-sized. 
Cynical about the markets and corporatism, comfortable with turning the word “occupy” into a capitalised brand, “Occupy” is the measure of 2011, its skeleton and its organs. Whether you agree with those who camp out fully or not, their actions have redefined the protest movement forever. The word “occupy” has been adapted, redefined, reformed, from something implicated with war and detention to expression and freedom. Suddenly “occupy” can also represent the possibility of change, not a determination to crush the human spirit. “Occupy” protesters are themselves an ill-defined bunch – some are more anarchic than others – though until their own organisation begins to break down they have successfully made an synonym of “organise”. 
Nominations for “word of the year” tend to focus on technology (“check in”, “share”, “Andrioid”) or culture (“hipster”, “chinos”, “pop-up restaurant”).  It seems more important this year to look deeper than material goods. That’s why politics retains its importance and relevance, and how 2012 is already defined by what politics cannot deliver.