Friday. 24/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Netflix

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Greatest hits

Like most people who listen to music on Spotify, I indulged in finding out a bit more about myself earlier this month with the streaming service’s Wrapped function: a neat summary of the songs, artists and genres I’ve had on repeat this year. While many people have enjoyed showcasing their results to prove their impeccable taste, I’ve been less keen to publicise my charts (well, until now). And it’s not because I’m ashamed: I disagree with the idea of “guilty pleasures”, particularly when it comes to music. Mainly, I feel this is a misrepresentation of my cultural highlights from 2021: the things we listen to (or watch, or read) the most aren’t necessarily the most meaningful when it comes to summing up the year.

In 2021 I listened to a lot of the cool electronica of French duo Polo & Pan but if asked to pick my song of the year, I’d probably go for the melancholy calypso of Surfaces’ “So Far Away”, which didn’t appear in my top five but still perfectly sums up my mood in the months past. Similarly, I’ve probably spent more hours watching Masterchef: The Professionals and Schitt’s Creek than any other TV programme – but nothing will stick with me like the latest season of Call My Agent! (pictured). And at the risk of sounding terribly predictable, the film that moved me the most was Oscar contender Minari – even if I only watched it once.

While Spotify is keen to order people’s cultural preferences by volume, other (more journalistically inclined) end-of-year reviews ordered by quality also have their downfall. All too often, they fall into the trap of trying to crown winners that feel intellectually worthy, a bit recherché and all-and-all impressive. Ultimately, it’s the things that meant the most to us that will stick. And if there’s one lesson that we should have learnt in 2021, it’s to embrace the things that really matter to us – and not to fret about the rest.

Image: Getty Images

Health / Global

Positive thinking

As we celebrate the holidays in our homes this season, aware that new restrictions might be coming after Christmas as many nations try to head off the latest coronavirus variant, it’s worth considering what we’ve achieved. “To think, we were celebrating the first vaccine going into the first person – a British woman – right at the start of the year,” says consultant virologist and Monocle’s health and science correspondent Chris Smith. “Now here we are, with half the world population having had at least one dose of the vaccine.” The other lesson of the year? To lean into the uncertainty and accept that, with an evolving virus, circumstances might change. “You can’t be black and white and you cannot substitute maths and formulas for intuition,” Smith adds. “In hospitals we’re trying to create an atmosphere of openness, transparency, reactivity, responsiveness and learning so that we can evolve our practice and become better. Politics needs to do the same.”

Hear more reflections on the year from Chris Smith in today’s special edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Cinema / USA

Little wonder

It’s hard to believe that Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life (pictured) initially bombed at the box office. A staple of festive TV programming since the 1960s, it has become an unlikely seasonal classic – unlikely because it’s a film about bankruptcy, contemplating suicide and dreams smothered by compromise. Yet as it reaches its 75th anniversary this year, its status as a Christmas institution seems unassailable. Revived in cinemas, rereleased on Blu-ray, available for streaming and aired on repeat by TV networks, it continues to resonate with audiences. Perhaps it’s because the film finds heroism in ordinary working people forced to make sacrifices as they face exploitation by a wealthy elite; indeed, the McCarthyite FBI raised concerns that it “maligned the upper class” in a way that was “mean and despicable”. So long as inequalities continue to widen, Capra’s New Deal-inspired protest movie remains as relevant as ever. Let’s hope it doesn’t take an angel’s intervention to make more of life wonderful in reality.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / Estonia

Christmas spirits

A quick look at the Estonian capital Tallinn around the holidays would suggest a typical European town shrouded in traditional Christmas celebrations, with music everywhere and a comically large tree perched in the middle of the city’s acclaimed Christmas market (pictured). But look more closely and you’ll see that there is almost no trace of Christianity in the festive proceedings. Though it is consistently listed among the world's least-religious countries, Estonia does observe the pagan traditions of Jõulupühad (Yuletide), a pagan holiday period that lasts between December 1 and today, culminating with the Winter solstice. Throughout Jõulupühad, Estonians celebrate with a series of spiritual rituals: they organise folk events such as the Wintry Tartu Folk Dance Day, sauna visits to cleanse their bodies from evil and even fortune-telling sessions, while children get a daily visit from little elves that put sweets or small gifts into hanging socks. It marks a rare melting pot of pagan traditions – but don’t be surprised to hear the occasional rendition of “Silent Night”. After a year of enforced distancing, it’s a reminder that traditions of all stripes bring people together at this time of year.

Literature / Brazil

In the good books

For the Brazilian book industry, 2021 proved to be a boom year. By the end of November, the value of sales was already 33 per cent higher than the previous year, a trend that could also be seen elsewhere as many consumers rediscovered a love of literature after the pandemic. So what were Brazilians reading ahead of Christmas? The country’s obsession with psychoanalysis takes pole position: topping the non-fiction chart was a translation of Jungian writer Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s Women Who Run with the Wolves. Other interests are political: the fascination with George Orwell continues and, just ahead of the 2022 elections, titles from two of its main figures are also on the bestseller lists: the autobiography of Sergio Moro, famous for the anti-corruption Operation Car Wash, and the first volume of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s biography. Whatever their prospects, it seems that the book industry has every right to feel confident heading into an electoral year.

Image: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix

M24 / Monocle On Culture

2021 in review

Robert Bound and his guests discuss what has piqued their interest in our one-stop shop for lively reports and in-depth interviews on the newest and finest in art, film, books and the media business.

Monocle Films / Greece

Keeping the faith

In this digital age, do we need more forgiveness and sacrifice in our lives? And where can we look for direction? Monocle Films sits down with Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to find out how the church strives to address contemporary needs and remain relevant.

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