Updated: Mar 19
As our clock counted the final minutes of 2020, the TV provided Jools Holland’s Annual Hootenanny as a camp backdrop to my family’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. As is tradition, my dad commented that the programme - which annually marks the dawn of a new year at midnight - is ‘shot in April’. Snowballing each 31st, the hyperbole of this joke has all but become the joke itself for my family. I worry we’ll soon accuse Jools of shooting exactly one year before airing. Really, far from April, the Hootenanny is typically shot in early December to secure its star line-up. The revelation of this constructed liveness, in a 2008 BBC confession, seems to have obscured the show’s heart to some. Critic Henry Yates wrote in The Guardian that “They know it’s not real. We know it’s not real. They know that we know it’s not real. But still we go through the ridiculous Hootenanny charade. Enough is enough.” Conversely, the bare-faced lie of the Hootenanny is central to my enjoyment of it. Seeing in the electric moment of the new year’s arrival with the clock ticking over to 00:00, yet alongside a television programme evidently not live queeringly disrupts the narrative of futurity which informs our politics.
This year especially, I think, New Year’s Eve was inevitably positioned as a unique moment of hope: wherein a calendar year of stress and disappointment could give way to an unspoilt, improved 2021. Whilst I found this difficult to subscribe to, offensive even, I watched my family make an effort to be optimistic. New Year’s Eve is universally agreed as being significant, and yet is ostensibly no different to any other moment in the year. We collectively believe that midnight on the 31st December is significant because we require the confirmation of futurity which it brings. In the programme’s playful game (to Yates, “the ridiculous Hootenanny charade”) of singing Auld Lang Syne on a random afternoon in early December, the Hootenanny appears to mimic its own subject matter. I believe people are uncomfortable with the programme’s construction not because it corrupts an intrinsically special moment, but because it exposes that the moment isn’t special at all. New Year’s Eve falsely offers to propel us into a new, better, period of being. It promises us that, after a single moment, everything will begin to make sense. It provides hope and fixed meaning in chaos.
In this sense, my distaste for the New Year symbol reflects Lee Edelman’s polemical attack on the Child figure in No Future. Edelman notes that the Child remains “the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics, the fantasmic beneficiary of every political intervention” (3). The Child blocks us from thinking politically without factoring in our fantasy of what the future should look like (Edelman 11). New Year’s Eve frames our politics by positioning us all in a moment on the edge of something better. Each year we are about to arrive at the starry future (that we also arrived in last year). Therefore in misbehaving with the logic that midnight is inherently significant, the Hootenanny brims with queer potential. Whilst watching, I, like Edelman, refused to let this manufactured moment of hope affirm to me that the world will be a better place in 2021 (Edelman 4). On a very real level, the programme's obvious construction reminded me that the 64,000 Covid-19 deaths which occurred in 2020 would be no different to the deaths in 2021. The progress narrative in the pandemic, punctuated by this insistence of hope on New Year’s Eve, continually allows the government to consign poor decisions to the past, and promise to be better in the future.. As Edelman scathingly notes, “the future is mere repetition and just as lethal as the past” (31). Now, of course, I am not suggesting that Jools Holland’s Annual Hootenanny is responsible for sowing seeds for political revolution.
Although . . .
On that specific evening, the Hootenanny’s fakery offered space for me to reject the hopeful vision of futurity I was sold in this cosy middle-class New Year’s Eve. It reminded me that futurity cannot be the measure of our politics when the image of the future itself is a political construction. Palpably, watching my family celebrate, my queerness demanded for this rosy vision of a better future to “stop here” (Edelman 31).