Friday. 31/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Andrew Mueller

Reminder, in brief

It is unlikely that 2021 will, decades from now, be a source of inspiration for nostalgic reveries. For the second year running, almost all of humanity was compelled to adapt to constrained circumstances. There is, to be sure, some satisfaction to be had from doing so successfully – but it isn’t much fun. Nevertheless, there is one reason to think fondly of 2021: a thing that didn’t happen – or perhaps more accurately, stopped happening – rather than a thing that did.

In 2021 there will almost certainly have been days – indeed, weeks, perhaps months – that passed without you being compelled to spare a single thought for the words or deeds of Earth’s most powerful individual. January’s transfer of power from US president Donald Trump to his successor, Joe Biden (pictured), was a blessing that we should not underestimate – not least because of what we have learned since and the efforts that were made to thwart it. President Biden, on form, might not seem destined for an especially lofty plinth in the presidential pantheon but he is neither a lunatic nor a simpleton, and in clearing those two admittedly low bars, he represents a considerable improvement in the quality of global leadership.

If we have learned one thing from the compare-and-contrast exercise that 2021 furnished, it is perhaps that at the apex of political power, policy and ideology are less important than competence and character – and that good outcomes will rarely be wrought by bad people. It would be something, in 2022, to see this lesson cross the Atlantic and reach the UK’s shores.

Listen to Andrew Mueller’s weekly series, ‘What We Learned’, in every Friday’s edition of The Globalist on Monocle 24.

Defence / Russia

Border of magnitude

When Russian forces began gathering on Ukraine’s border in November, many foreign policy experts rejected a state-declared war as an empty threat, a fratricide that Russia could not weather domestically or financially. Still, Vladimir Putin’s increasingly bold moves in 2021 suggest more than just a tactical game to keep Ukraine out of Nato. Thomas Ahrenkiel, former head of the Danish intelligence service, says the threat is real. “Russia sees security as a zero-sum game: they win, we lose and the other way round,” he tells Monocle 24’s The Chiefs. “The more they can weaken the West, the more they can weaken Europe, the better it is for them.” Given that mindset, the lesson for the West heading into a new year is that it needs to be equally firm and clear. “I’m not saying that Russia is going to invade Ukraine,” adds Ahrenkiel. “But it is certainly creating a situation in which they can act at their discretion.”

Ahrenkiel’s look ahead to the world of security premiered this week on Monocle 24, as part of a new series of ‘The Chiefs’ on which leaders in key sectors tell us what they think 2022 could bring.

Image: CENTRE POMPIDOU / Bertrand Prévost

Arts / Global

Redefined palette

While the digitalisation of the art world during the pandemic should be commended for expanding access to those who don’t live in cultural hubs, we’ve learnt that it’s hard to substitute online exhibitions for real-life, in-person experiences. And so it was with great relief that many art institutions tentatively reopened this year. Digital renderings wouldn’t have captured the colour gradients of Mark Rothko’s paintings on paper, which were on display at London’s Pace Gallery in autumn, nor the joy of sitting on a Charlotte Perriand chair (unless you are the lucky owner of an LC1), which was made possible at a retrospective from June to September at the Design Museum.

As we ring in the new year, one can only hope that museums and galleries will keep up the first-class exhibitions. If you’re seeking inspiration over the holidays, try the Georg Baselitz retrospective (pictured) at the Centre Pompidou in Paris or Jennifer Packer’s The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing at the Whitney in New York.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Japan

Podium finish

It was always going to be hard for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (pictured) to compete with the city’s previous Games in 1964. Foisted on a less than enthusiastic public, a year late and in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tough sell. In the end, the spectator-less summer Games – the most expensive in history – went ahead as a television spectacle, as detached from the lives of people in Tokyo as it was for viewers everywhere else. Many venues were dismantled immediately after the Games, while the 1964 sites that had been spruced up for the event continued as before. The $1.6bn (€1.4bn) National Stadium will serve as an occasional sporting venue and might yet host the 2025 World Athletics Championships. One positive lasting memory is the success of Japan’s own athletes, whose gold medal haul (27) was a national record; no surprise then that the Japanese kanji (character) of the year, as voted by the public, is kin or gold. The lesson for future Olympic hosts? Whatever you do, make sure your public is on board with the show.

Business / Germany

In good company

Over the past two years, Germany was hardly the only nation to grapple with how to encourage sceptical citizens to abide by distancing restrictions and get vaccinated – but its marketing campaigns stand out from the rest. Advertisements picturing senior citizens from the future, remarking on the time they played heroic couch potatoes to do their bit for the country, were a highlight of 2020. And this year, one campaign organised by the Berlin-based marketing agency Antoni gets a special mention. More than 1,000 companies have joined the movement and brands including the likes of McDonalds, Adidas and Mercedes-Benz (pictured), as well as family-owned Mittelstand (SME) businesses, have agreed to change their marketing slogans to prompt people to get vaccinated, or impf. Vodafone’s “Together we can” became “Together we impf”. The new versions were run earlier this month across two pages in Germany’s Bild newspaper and mark a rare show of unity among corporations. Chancellor Olaf Scholz called it “an excellent example of social responsibility and private initiative”. Every little nudge helps.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

The best of 2021, part two

In the second part of our favourite interviews of 2021, we hear from Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky on how the turbulence of the pandemic has allowed the California-based company to get back to its roots and focus on being a better partner for cities. Plus: we meet Dr Carmen Hijosa, the founder of Ananas Anam, makers of a leather alternative crafted from pineapple leaf fibres called Piñatex.

Monocle Films / Japan

Japanese food trucks

These design-forward restaurants on wheels are more than just lunch-hour catering for Tokyo’s hardworking crowds. We visit the talented chefs, as well as a technology start-up kicking the “kitchen car” scene into gear.

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