“I am going to make it through this year / If it kills me,” John Darnielle of the indie folk band The Mountain Goats sings in the song “This Year.” It is both a melodic declaration and a wailing promise of survival — one that seems, as do many works of art now, especially poignant in the year 2017.
Darnielle, a musician skilled at blending searching weariness and nostalgic fervor, was not thinking of Trump-era politics when he wrote this song more than a decade ago. Instead, he was grappling with other forms of authority such as violent stepfathers and claustrophobic households. Despite these differences, Darnielle’s survival and survival as we know it today carry similar meanings: the determination to exist in the face of forces that wish otherwise.
“Despite these differences, Darnielle’s survival and survival as we know it today carry similar meanings: the determination to exist in the face of forces that wish otherwise.”
Survival is a topic of great concern this year. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have swept away houses, food, water supplies and horrifically, lives over the past week. On Thursday night, the strongest earthquake in nearly a century struck Mexico. The Trump administration plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have jeopardized the fates of the approximately 800,000 enrollees in the program. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced plans to rewrite Obama-era guidelines for sexual assault accusations, prompting victims rights activists to protest outside the venue where she made the announcement.
Perhaps this is why we keep returning to themes of survival in our media. Resilience, survival — these concepts are not new. Yet survival is at the forefront of our everyday conversations, resurfacing in intriguing ways.
When Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” premiered this year, audiences were fascinated by the way modern debates on reproductive rights were represented in the dystopian series. Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, the show places audiences in a future in which women have no control over their reproductive and sexual actions. Survival becomes an essential question: How can freedom survive in a society that does not value women?
“Yet survival is at the forefront of our everyday conversations, resurfacing in intriguing ways.”
These are not abstract thematic questions. As UC Berkeley students, we too are looking for ways through which our stories and voices can survive as the campus springs once more into national attention for the upcoming Free Speech Week, featuring conservative speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. Bracing for potential violence, campus administration has already announced security plans to create police-enforced perimeters. The survival of our campus and the culture we seek to create seems dangerously in peril.
Yet the campus has been subjected to similar upheavals and survived in the past, most recently in February in the aftermath of Yiannopoulos’ first visit. We have a history of survival. It is in our actions; it is in our media. Metaphor and music do not replace activism and donations, but perhaps they provide the background music — a soundtrack of resilience.