A Few Things Before We Go

Posted December 29, 2017 4:58 p.m. EST

The year was littered with mysteries. Still, we suspected that we knew many of the answers already. Are dogs smarter than cats? Yes and, no offense, but there’s a reason so many anthropomorphized pets are pooches. Did the Pentagon secretly sort of believe in aliens? Fox Mulder made us all want to believe back in the ‘90s. Was Hollywood corrupt? Sure thing! If even more so than we had imagined.

But 2017 also presented questions we just couldn’t yet answer. Who decides what makes a man sexy? Could a total solar eclipse really blind you? Are we all going to die? And where is Kylie Jenner in the Kardashian Christmas card? Here are some of the year’s biggest unsolved mysteries.

How is Colin Kaepernick still a free agent?

A 30-year-old quarterback who once led his team to a Super Bowl would normally be in line for a new contract worth millions of dollars, but with the 2017 season nearing its end, Colin Kaepernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, remains the NFL’s most famous unsigned player — and one of its best-known names after he spurred the #TakeAKnee movement this season.

“I think he should be on a roster right now,” Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told ESPN in August. “I think because of his protests he’s not.”

The best counterargument is that the unemployed quarterback’s blend of running ability and powerful yet inaccurate passing requires a bespoke offensive scheme, which isn’t something a team would orchestrate for a backup.

There is something to this argument, as the quarterback actually lost his starting job with the 49ers before the protests began and only got it back because his replacement was less effective. But that argument ignores the fact that 72 quarterbacks have appeared in a game this season, dozens of whom cannot match his talent in any system.

Did the owners collectively agree not to sign him? Such outright collusion is unlikely. But in a league that has often overlooked domestic violence, animal cruelty, steroid use and vehicular manslaughter all in the name of talent, it is curious that the quarterback was shown the door for a demonstration that did not violate any rules.



Did the Russians influence the election?

The political scientist Emily Thorson used her 2013 dissertation to investigate whether fact-checking was an effective way to combat misinformation. She found that even when readers believed fact checks, they could not banish false information from their minds entirely. The power of fake news, she concluded, incentivized politicians to strategically spread untruths.

Not just U.S. politicians. In January this year, a declassified report informed the public that three U.S. intelligence agencies believed that President Vladimir Putin of Russia had ordered an influence campaign to affect the 2016 presidential election. Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, called posts disseminated by Russians “an insidious attempt to drive people apart.”

So there is little doubt that Russia meddled in the election (though, for the record, President Donald Trump has said Putin denies it). Determining influence is trickier. Did even one person change his or her vote after seeing a mocked-up Facebook advertisement?

Thorson coined the term “belief echoes” for the residue of untruth left behind by misinformation. One experiment tested whether people became besotted by misinformation only when it confirmed their previously held opinions. She found that was not the case. Humans change their minds. They are subject to influence. And when a state actor summons a sonic boom of nonsense and sends it rattling through the largest communication platform ever invented, there’s no telling who might hear the echoes — and maybe even follow that actor’s lead.



Is Lena Dunham a feminist?

Lena Dunham has embraced the feminist mantle with gusto, often posting about gender politics on Twitter, where she has 5.72 million followers; courting thinkers who espouse similar views in her newsletter and on her podcast; and writing about the well-being of women for Glamour magazine, LinkedIn, The New York Times and elsewhere.

What’s a feminist now? And is she one? There’s a joke she once made on her podcast about wishing she had had an abortion. (She later apologized.) Or the time when she compared reading Gawker to “going back to a husband who beat me in the face.” (She later apologized.)

This year, particularly dismaying was Dunham’s statement accusing Aurora Perrineau, an actress, of lying when she filed a police report alleging that Murray Miller, a writer on “Girls,” raped her when she was 17 and he was 35. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Dunham and Jenni Konner, her co-showrunner, wrote that “this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year.”

Believing rather than discrediting assault and rape survivors is a tenet of most feminist philosophies — and a stance Dunham has taken in the past, including in a Twitter post this year: “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape.”

Dunham, once again, apologized. And since mid-November, her Instagram and her Twitter have been silent.



Is wine good or bad for you or what?

Everyone who smokes cigarettes knows that their lungs get a little blacker and death draws a little nearer with each puff. Now those who pour a glass of pinot for pleasure, or to harvest its “medicinal” properties, can’t help but think of cancer, too.

This past fall, the American Society of Clinical Oncology stated that alcohol consumption may slightly raise the risk of breast cancer (also: esophageal, mouth, throat, liver and colorectal cancers). The statement came after years of studies suggesting that drinking red wine (in moderation) lowers the risk of heart disease, reduces the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and improves cholesterol.

To put things in perspective, there are hundreds of known and probable carcinogens, many of which you could certainly find at home and not all of which are strictly bad for you. Moreover, just because we have evidence that alcohol consumption is associated with cancer doesn’t mean we can conclude that the relationship between them is causal.

So, the real question is: Are the effects of wine net positive? Actually, don’t answer that.



Are there any good men left?

Last month in New York magazine, writer Rebecca Traister noted how, in this moment of post-Harvey Weinstein cultural reckoning, her husband had asked, with genuine feeling, “How can you even want to have sex with me at this point?” It’s a question many women I know — those who sleep with men, anyway — have found themselves contemplating, as the list of terrible men doing terrible things seems to metastasize. (And not just terrible men we knew were terrible; terrible men we thought were good guys, in some cases feminists, even.)

But, OK, let’s not get carried away. Statistically speaking, not all men are harassers — most of them aren’t — and there have been plenty of good men who did good things this year. Like Snackman. Remember him? He broke up a fight on a New York City subway by standing in between two people snacking on a tube of Pringles. Or Oscar Gonzales, who saved a bunny from the raging California wildfires.

There were the men of the El Bolillo bakery, who baked pounds and pounds of bread while trapped inside as Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston. (They donated it to evacuees.) And there was salt bae, a Turkish chef by the name of Nusret Gokce, who tickled women and men alike with his flamboyant sprinkling of salt onto a carved steak.

What these men have in common — with, perhaps, the exception of our Turkish chef — is that they were bystanders. Bystanders who jumped in, active in the face of larger events they often couldn’t control. Their participation fits with this particular cultural moment because one of the few agreed upon methods for effectively combating sexual harassment and assault is, in fact, to intervene. If 2017 was the year of bad men falling like dominoes, let’s raise a glass to 2018 as the year that the good ones will stand up for the rest of us.



Was this the Year of Cardi B?

Maybe not officially, but we’re happy to settle the score. Just recall the video of people in New York starting an impromptu dance party to “Bodak Yellow” this month in the Times Square subway station. See how the woman wearing the National Guard jacket transforms within seconds of hearing the beat. The bravado. The debauchery. The absolute lack of concern. In a year of nonstop bad news, Cardi freed us.

Fans who have followed her since she was a stripper in the Bronx named Camilla know that her success didn’t come overnight. She’s been making money moves for years, from her days on VH1’s “Love and Hip-Hop” to her mixtapes which, bafflingly, never took off the way “Bodak” did.

Since June, it’s been nearly impossible to go out or stay in without hearing Cardi’s breakout single, which went triple platinum and earned her two Grammy nominations. The song of summer has staying power. Maybe the real question is: Will Cardi still reign supreme in 2018?



Why aren’t Rachel and Peter together?

Rachel Lindsay, America’s first and maybe last black “Bachelorette,” walked away with a ring at the end of the last season, but it was not presented by American steel-haired ironman heartthrob Peter Kraus, so 7.5 million hearts and brains broke at once. The rule of the “Bachelor” franchise is that we will make sense of the heart. The rules of reality television are that enough editing and music can make us understand anything.

But in this case, producers of Rachel’s season of “The Bachelorette” had to dodge an inexplicable gravity sinkhole in the middle of their universe. They know why Rachel and Peter aren’t together, and they have no way, within their limited palette of reality show hues, to paint us the picture that explains it. No one else involved will or can! They are all too busy doing sponsored content and getting paid. The tabloid universe, which lives by similar rules, can’t execute on this narrative either: They tried “Peter Kraus Reveals Why He Turned Down ‘The Bachelor’: ‘I Was Not Ready,'” and it just smells like smoke-screen spirit.

We will probably never know why Rachel and Peter aren’t together. Their relationship is our Roanoke colonists. What’s left to believe? Who believes Rachel and Bryan Abosolo, aka “Plan Bryan,” are planning their wedding and next dog and/or baby? (No, seriously.) Who is even ready to trust “The Bachelor” again as Season 378 begins shortly? It’s also entirely possible this is 100 percent displaced anxiety about our engagement with the nuclear power of North Korea or maybe even some personal baggage.



And will Issa and Lawrence get back together?

Will they? Who knows. But should they? Probably not, at least not right now. The most recent season of “Insecure” opens with two newly single characters, both so accustomed to the comforts of partnership that navigating the often choppy seas of dating in Los Angeles is naturally a little awkward.

Issa’s attempt at a self-described “hoe-tation,” in which she juggles multiple partners at varying levels of seriousness, only reveals her lack of experience with romantic relationships when boundaries aren’t clearly defined. As for Lawrence, his new and nearly serious relationship highlights just how wounded Issa left him. (Spoiler: In Season 1, Issa cheats on Lawrence with an old flame.)

For many, the ultimate betrayal is finding out the person you’re in a monogamous relationship with has had sex with someone else. But what this season of “Insecure” showed, particularly the heart-tugging finale, was that often both parties have had a hand at the gradual erosion of the union.

It’s clear that Issa and Lawrence love each other. If they even want to entertain the idea of getting back together, though, they’ll need to do some serious self-reflection first.



Is it nuts to start preparing for the apocalypse?

One strange thing about 2017 was that you could talk about preparing for the end of the world and not even have to explain why. The headlines were filled with hellish wildfires, North Korean nuclear threats and melting glaciers. As such, the popular image of the survivalist is changing, from wild-eyed cave dweller in camouflage fatigues, hoarding canned goods, to the mild-mannered executive or lawyer or insurance salesman who lives next door.

In a world where the bombproof bunker has replaced the Tesla as the hot status symbol for young Silicon Valley plutocrats, everyone, it seems, is a “prepper.” What else is on the list of must-have doomsday items? Artfully stocked bug-out bags, folding kayaks, jet packs (yes, they exist) and even condoms — and not just for the expected purpose, although they might come in handy for that, too.