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Goodbye party

Time to lift your gaze to the year ahead: The election, culture, technology, and more

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / January 1, 2012
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Take a deep breath. Better yet, fill your lungs with short, sharp, staccato bursts of oxygen.

If the year that evaporated at midnight was a prelude, you’ll need all the adrenaline you can get as you sprint to keep pace with changes this new year brings, even if you’re starting 2012 sprawled on a sofa, watching a game, idly checking the inbox.

E-mail itself feels quaintly lethargic at a time when history is hastened by 140-character tweets recording the fall of dictators in an Arab Spring that is fast fading into a sticky-hot Arab summer.

As Facebook races toward its billionth member, you’re reaching into a virtual cloud for your family photos and your favorite TV show.

November may turn the next page in politics, but it also brings the final chapter of the “Twilight’’ movie franchise.

The year promises a heady mix of old-made-new and startlingly new turned suddenly old. While 2012 takes its first breaths, pause to consider some of what lies ahead, from culture to politics, technology, the economy, sports, and casinos that may crop up in sight of the city on a hill.


A Boston landmark that feels new each visit celebrates its 100th birthday. Leave behind lamentations about last fall’s Red Sox collapse and buy boxes of candles for Fenway Park.

“A huge reason why the team is preeminent among all the pro clubs in New England is because Fenway Park has been the star of the team for 100 years,’’ said Richard Johnson, curator of The Sports Museum. “It never demands a bigger contract or a trade, and it’s always there to please us.’’

Just as impressive will be the athleticism in the London Summer Olympics, which represent “something that every man and women can relate to a little bit more than professional sports,’’ said Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association.

“Suddenly, someone becomes the center of world attention who was Joe Schmoe before,’’ he said. “We all still have that little thing in the back of our heads that says, ‘That could have been me or my kid.’ But I’m never going to play center field for the Red Sox.’’


You might not ever play for the Sox, Patriots, or Celtics, but it’s a safe bet you’ll play the slots someday in Massachusetts - or that you’ll refuse to ever set foot in a casino. The odds are stacked against holding no opinion about potential tax revenues, or the pitfalls of gambling addictions and choking traffic.

“This is big money,’’ said Stephen Crosby, designated chairman of the state Gaming Commission. “It has enormous potential to have an impact, and we know it can have impacts for ill. How can we maximize the impacts for good?’’

The question, he said, is whether the state can “use the power of this investment and the incentive of the big-profit motive to create some real phenomenal good. . . . If I had my wish, I would wish we could create that kind of conversation about expanding gaming in Massachusetts, rather than merely a brutal argument about I hate it or I love.’’


Not that it’s absent other years, but harsh rhetoric will be in ample supply in national and local elections. Massachusetts gets a double dose, with the US Senate race between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, the presumed Democratic nominee, sure to generate nearly as many acidic ads as the presidential contest.

“Negative advertising is popular among campaign strategists because it works,’’ said Jeffrey Berry, a Tufts University political science professor. “So what it says about us is that we pay attention to it, even as we decry it.’’

We do even though we are facing a critical election and can ill afford business as usual, said Boston College political scientist Dennis Hale. “Every now and then,’’ he said, “the country has to sit back, clear its throat and think, ‘How did we get here and how do we get out? Do we have to do things very differently, or do we need just to tweak things on the margin?’ ’’

The economy

You need not mouth the mantra of elections past to remember the role the economy plays.

“Jobs remains the number one issue in terms of people’s perception of how the economy is doing,’’ said Nigel Gault, chief US economist at IHS Global Insight.

He noted, however, that as calendar pages float away, year-end deadlines approach for extending tax cuts that will affect nearly everyone if they’re allowed to lapse. But election years prompt lawmakers to put off decisions.

“If nothing happens,’’ Gault said, “some very bad things are going to happen at the beginning of 2013.’’

Meanwhile, Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern University economics professor, said that “the largest threats to the state’s economy may be those from Europe.’’

More than a third of Massachusetts’ exports head there, he said, so “if they go into a recession, a decrease in state exports to Europe will have an impact on the state as well.’’

And if the federal budget remains unresolved, the fist of automatic spending cuts could fall with disproportionate force in Massachusetts, given the presence of defense contractors and research and development at universities.

The world

While gazing beyond the state’s borders, keep an eye on the rest of the world. International tumult seemed at times to overshadow last year’s domestic events. Don’t expect a pause, starting with the protests that dethroned leaders.

“The Arab spring is a bit of a misnomer. It’s probably going to be the Arab decade,’’ said Joseph Nye, university distinguished service professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. “We’re not going to know the full outcome of the events of last year soon.’’

Emerging governments in Arab nations bear watching, he said, as do leadership changes in Russia and China, predictable as they may seem. Nye believes the United States focused too much in the past decade on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while “we took our eye off the ball of East Asia and its increased importance.’’

To that list of concerns he added “non-state actors who suddenly play a much greater role in international affairs through cyber power’’ - protesters linked and energized by Twitter and Facebook, and hackers whose full threat to cyber security remains unmeasured.


It’s enough to make you want to forget it all and head to the movies. Do it quick before that technology changes, too.

All content, from photos to films to music, is moving into cloud storage, which is to say online. Many consumers prefer to sample culture on a laptop or handheld device, never buying a movie ticket or owning a CD.

“It will be like TV ‘on demand’ on steroids,’’ said David Friend, chief executive of Boston’s Carbonite Inc., which pioneered online computer backup services.

“You’ll be able to demand anything, anytime, anywhere,’’ he said, adding that “it’s surely going to be different from the days when you had a camcorder and filled up a tape and put it up on a bookshelf. Those days are going to be gone very soon, if they’re not already.’’


How will this affect traditional venues? Hollywood wants to keep filling theater seats, often with multisequel franchises. But box office receipts are slipping, and two of the biggest franchises are at an end. “Harry Potter’’ concluded last year. “Twilight’’ bids adieu in November.

With the music industry even deeper into the throes of declining sales, Madonna plans to visit Boston during her 2012 world tour, nearly three decades and a host of reinventions after her first album.

While her monumental success created a template for successors ranging from pop princesses to Lady Gaga, the outcome of this tour may say as much about us as it does Madonna and the perilous duet of commerce and culture.

“I was thinking about her followers, the Lady Gagas etc.,’’ said Lynne Layton, a psychoanalyst and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School who has taught Madonna as an academic subject.

“Madonna was kind of bad,’’ she said of the performer’s early career. “The girls I taught at Harvard, this wasn’t something they went to see with their mothers. This was rebellious. This was the sexuality of the preteen, which at that point was rebellious.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything bad in culture any more. Now, mothers go to see Lady Gaga. Something’s been tamed down. I want to know if Madonna has been tamed down.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at

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