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A Season in Hell

The best dispatches from another grim year

This year brought such a dizzying surplus of depravity—a truly incalculable preponderance of cruelty and braggadocio, vanity and idiocy—that no ledger would suffice. Each week, though, we plumbed the depths of mass media in hopes of surfacing the blackest pearls and the grimmest morsels, which, in a certain light, often appeared so ridiculous as to warrant a dark chuckle. Here, we’ve compiled some of our favorites—from woke chocolate confections to “chief mother clucker” cult leaders.


Change Comes At You Fast, January 21

Subjected as we are to an unending barrage of bad news (Kyrsten Sinema’s latest vote) and vapid content-trash (Charlie Puth’s latest single), it can be difficult to locate, let alone seek solace in, the rare indication that the arc of human history might, actually, bend toward a “more dynamic, progressive world,” which is what Mars, Incorporated, hopes to aid and abet by, uh, redesigning the M&M characters. Indeed, to show the importance of “self-expression and [the] power of community,” the conglomerate has announced that the green M&M will soon ditch her white-heeled go-go boots for “cool, laid-back sneakers to reflect her effortless confidence” and will henceforth be a better friend to the brown M&M, showcasing a “force supporting women.” Together, this dynamic duo of candy-coated chocolate—produced in part by child slaves—will throw “shine and not shade.” While the orange M&M, as the most relatable character to Gen Z, “the most anxious generation,” will finally “embrace his true self, worries and all,” and accept his certain annihilation on a planet increasingly hostile to chocolate confections with aplomb.


Refund the Police, March 4

The president stumbled through his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening and was met at every botched turn with the violent applause of the fervidly do-nothing nationalists we’ve imprudently elected to do little more than clap, clap, clap their wrinkled little hands. Biden received perhaps the biggest round of bipartisan applause when he announced: “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them.” Yes! Thank god the fearless Democrats took one long look at the largest mass movement in American history against police violence and decided the one thing they must do to avert catastrophic defeat in the midterms is to send more money to the police!


Semiotics of the Slap, April 1

Last Sunday evening, Hollywood’s Best and Brightest—swaddled in Versace, dripping in diamonds—gathered once more in the Dolby Theatre to memorialize the bloated, festering corpse of cinema. In hopes of livening up the solemnities, Oscar statuettes were all but launched into the audience with an improvised T-shirt cannon, and eight awards were excised from the telecast so that we, the viewing public, could democratically elect “Flash Entering the Speed Force” in the Snyder cut of Justice League as the single most “cheer-worthy” moment in all of cinematic history. Somewhere in those three hours, thirty-nine minutes of bewildering “entertainment,” Will Smith—perhaps you’ve heard?—slapped Chris Rock, an event of such abounding, world-shattering significance that the scales fell, at once, from our eyes. Yes, as Lewis Wallace writes, “The Slap” revealed, above all else, that Apple absolutely must go back to hosting live events, otherwise its product launches will “drift deeper into the uncanny territory of the overproduced infomercial.” 


Apocalypse Soon, April 15

To the United Kingdom now, where the British Museum, looking to make a quick buck on NFTs before the craze flames out, has minted and listed over two thousand NFTs—a process so carbon-intensive that it could power an average U.S. home for fifty-seven years. Comparisons of this sort are becoming increasingly quaint, based as they are in the assumption that U.S. homes—any of them—will still exist fifty-seven years hence. 2079? Things don’t look good. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicated this week, we may already have—accidentally, of course!—entered a “methane feedback loop” beyond human control, methane being twenty-five times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide, which in turn releases more methane into the atmosphere and on and on until we’re all charred toaster waffles. But anyone who thinks this means we have no fucking choice but to stop drilling for oil right this very goddamn minute, well then, you’ll need to kindly moderate your tone, miss. This whole alienating “stop oil” ballyhoo is “a very complicated discussion to be had, it’s a very complicated thing.”


Back to the Future, May 6

On Monday evening, a draft opinion indicating the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade leaked to the press, leading perennially aggrieved conservatives to celebrate the imminent, altogether assured success of a decades-long campaign to strip women of their bodily autonomy. But their champagne soon went flat, the streamers sagged, and the jubilance drained from the air. By morning, they remembered that the United States remains an exceedingly hostile place for those who want nothing more than to return to a simpler time, when heretics were burned at the stake and birth control was considered witchcraft—so they got back to work. In Louisiana, Republicans advanced legislation that would charge abortion as homicide. In other states, conservatives began to wonder what other exciting regressions could be achieved when Roe falls: We could outlaw contraception! We could end interracial marriage! We could end gay marriage! Hell’s bells, we could recriminalize sodomy! Texas governor Greg Abbott, for instance, would love to see the Supreme Court overturn Plyler v. Doe so that states would no longer be required to provide free public education to children who have not been “legally admitted” into this fucking miserable country.


Soldiers of Tomorrow, May 27

Mere minutes before an eighteen-year-old armed with a weapon optimized for mass slaughter waltzed into an elementary school and murdered nineteen children and two teachers, Reuters shared a heartwarming story of two Ukrainian children—Andrii, age twelve, and Valentyn, age six—who “dream” of becoming soldiers. Alas, these two boys will have to wait a few years before they, too, can be swept up in needless violence. Certainly, there will be no shortage of armed conflicts requiring their sacrifice when they come of age. In the meantime, they’ve taken to digging trenches and building checkpoints in the village where they live, rat-a-tat-a-tatting with their super cute toy guns


Reinventing Anna, June 17

In other news, convicted scam goddess Anna Delvey neé Sorokin has announced she is pivoting away from the “scammer persona” she’s long cultivated and will now be launching a collection of NFTs. The collection of ten NFTs—named “Reinventing Anna,” as a spin on the Netflix series based on the New York magazine article based on Delvey’s time masquerading as a German heiress—will grant holders “exclusive access” ranging from one-on-one phone calls to a basket of “personal items” to the chance to meet the woman who is currently in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. “I’m trying to move away from this, like, quote unquote scammer persona,” Sorokin told NBC from the Orange County Correctional Facility in upstate New York. “This is, like totally, has been pushed upon me by the prosecution and by the following media and by the Netflix show, but I’m trying to move away from that definitely.” Definitely!


Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Zombie, August 5

Death is not the end, nor is disability, injury, or the need to visit the bathroom any excuse to falter in your labor if you happen to be an Amazon warehouse employee. Where there is profit, there is life. In a grim preview of how our corporate masters will jerry-rig our corpses to stuff cartons full of bodice rippers and the meet-cutes of teenage Nosferatu after our expiration, mechanical engineers at Rice University in Houston have begun utilizing the bodies of dead wolf spiders to grip and drag objects with their legs using hydraulic pressure. By inserting an apparatus that secrets air into the deceased arachnids’ heads, the engineers report that they can lift weights more than 130 percent of the spider’s body weight. Wear and tear doesn’t set in until after about one thousand perversions of the cruel claw game called life. Dubbing their unholy defilement of the natural order “necrobotics,” this new cadre of Frankensteins gush that they’ve stumbled upon the “perfect architecture for small scale, naturally-derived grippers” and that the materials are, no kidding, biodegradable. Well, good. We increasingly live in the part before the credits of an apocalyptic monster movie, where the scientists lay the foundations of humanity’s undoing. You know, the boring part. 


Everything You Know Is Wrong, August 5

This week in reeducation, Ron DeSantis’ “civic excellence” initiative was reported to include conferences on how America wasn’t all that into slavery after all and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were opponents of the trade in human beings—neglecting to mention that both men were slaveowners. Florida may not have a monopoly on misinformation in the service of white grievance, but it certainly raises the bar in saving schoolchildren the trouble of education and skipping straight to conspiracy. Dogs flew spaceships! The Aztecs invented the vacation! Our forefathers took drugs! That’s right, everything you know is wrong.


His Dork Materials, August 19

It’s good that, in a world of outrage, a writer of Philip Pullman’s stature can remember to spare some spleen for the present tense, which he blasted on Twitter as an “ABDICATION OF NARRATIVE RESPONSIBILITY.” Also in the arena of things that don’t matter and aren’t real, conspiracy theorists are speculating about what else was buried in Ivana Trump’s casket. Far be it for me to occupy the hallowed office of buzzkill, but in terms of news with actual consequences for living people, a Saudi woman was sentenced to thirty-four years in prison for having a Twitter account; a couple in Maryland have filed a lawsuit after alleging that their home was undervalued by appraisers based on their race; and an eighty-year-old Danish woman was intercepted at Warsaw Chopin Airport with eleven pounds of heroin concealed in a false suitcase bottom. Remember, my friends, events such as these will affect you in the future, and that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.


Bouncing Powder, Ski Equipment, Bolivian Marching Dust . . ., September 2

Given all the despicable policy and crocodile tears Republicans have unloosed on their behalf, it’s about time babies began paying out. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on the Texas-Mexico border seized a tractor-trailer’s shipment of baby wipes, which turned out to conceal 1,532 pounds of cocaine, some $11.8 million worth of powder diamonds, teenager teeth, Belushi, Pescado, Pez—you know, studio fuel, snow cone, Mona Lisa, Serpico, oyster stew, double bubble. (I’ll stop there, but etymologists take note that the DEA recognizes 511 words for snow.) 


Soothsayer Overlooks Liechtenstein, September 2

In the grim prophecy department, another of blind Bulgarian clairvoyant Baba Vanga’s posthumous predictions for 2022 came true last month, the U.S. Sun reports, as torrential downpours hit east Australia and drought southwest England. One thing she did not foresee, however, was that two earthquakes would shake Liechtenstein as the tiny principality’s lawmakers debated earthquake insurance for its thirty-nine thousand citizens. Liechtenstein, famously, last went to war in 1886, when they lent eighty soldiers to the Austro-Prussian conflict and eighty-one came back (they made a friend). So if the past has no answers, surely doomsday predictions have even less. For if you study the logistics and heuristics of the mystics, you will find that their minds rarely move in a line; so it’s much more realistic to abandon such ballistics and resign to be trapped on a leaf in the vine.


Finger Lickin’ God, September 23

Grief is the thing with feathers. Religious fanaticism is the thing plucked, breaded extra-crispy, and preserved with eleven herbs and spices. A Minnesota food truck called Bad Rooster, specializing in decadent chicken sandwiches, has been accused of being a front for a New Age cult operated by a “chief mother clucker” calling herself Soulaire Allerai who also happens to be, allegedly, the vessel of an interdimensional being known only as G. Allerai operates a spiritual group called Soulful Journey, which is suing for defamation after reportedly estranging recruits from their families and brainwashing customers who come for the waffle fries and stay for the charismatic soul-channeling. What is it about chicken restaurants that practice religiously motivated extremism? Are the poultry behind all this? Obviously, the only solution is to obtain the services of a professional de-programmer who sells hamburgers. Where is the beef? The beef is within you. You were the beef all along. What you seek is a bun. 


In the Mouth of McMadness, September 30

For a limited time, McDonald’s will be offering Happy Meals for adults in a transparent monetization of the desperate yearning for the innocence of childhood, as adults are urged to purchase plastic toys in exchange for their last shred of dignity. “One day you ordered a Happy Meal for the last time and you didn’t even know it,” was how the restaurant chain boasted of its hold over the human soul on Facebook, further promising to stave off the colorless years that punctuate our grim vigil over a dying world with tiny hamburgers. The toys to be included in the “Catus Plant Flea Market Meal Box,” a meaningless succession of words appended to sub-gruel imitation food, include figures of Grimace, Birdie, the Hamburglar, and Cactus Buddy—and if you noticed that one of those is an unestablished character they just threw in for no reason and didn’t bother to identify with a food product, it is because you have made poor choices in deciding what to pay attention to. All Happy Meals are the same, but every Unhappy Meal is unhappy in its own way.


Dressed to Shill, November 18

As the holiday season dawns, so, too, does the influx of insufferable “Elf on the Shelf” memes. It’s Scooby on a doobie! It’s Laura Dern on a decorative fern! It’s an armadillo on Don DeLillo! Not content with their 2019 holiday promotion—a sock filled with salad dressing—Hidden Valley has decided to make corporate cute again with their plush “Ranch on a Branch” doll, which comes with a storybook about an animate bottle of ranch dressing that, in a clever détournement of Pinocchio, dreams of being a real condiment. So continues the slow transmogrification of children’s literature into adorable product tie-ins. It’s legerdemain on a brain.