Things have been going from bad to worse since Kobe Bryant left us.
The internet is full to bursting with conspiracy theories, which anyone who has spent more than three seconds with a search engine already knows.
The Information Age in general, and social media in particular, seem predestined to play host to a sort of speculative online version of telephone, a real-time, large-scale experiment in human crowd psychology and abnormal social behavior.
Conspiracy theories have flourished in this era; it is their ideal growing medium.
Some of these theories are merely odd- like the one about Paul McCartney and Avril Lavigne being replaced with doppelgängers by their respective media companies after an untimely overdose.
Other conspiracy theories are virtual masterpieces of creative and historical fiction. Who hasn’t marveled at the speculations of ancient alien theorists or the intricacies of meticulously-researched tomes about the JFK assassination?
Even those who don’t believe- and unlike Fox Mulder, don’t really care if they believe or not- can appreciate such a body of scientific work and research, however jaundiced or wild the conclusions.
Some conspiracy theories seem to be a sort of fan fiction, written by people who may, at some point, have lost touch with reality. Some are traditional, as old as written history itself.
There are things no one believes, which later turn out to be true- like the finding of the lost city of Troy, previously thought to be an invention of Homer.
Then there are things which many people believe, in spite of knowing them to be untrue. Some are silly and downright hilarious, like the one about the world getting sucked into a black hole in 2012; others might be a bit dangerous.
Some conspiracy theories are widely known, like Area 51; some no one has ever heard of because someone made them up on the spot, like the theory that Sex and the City was really about a single woman with multiple personalities living in New York or that Dumbledore was taking Felix Felicis. (Giddiness, recklessness, dangerous overconfidence; check.)
Conspiracy theories are nebulous, their origins are often obscure. Who knows how these things get started? If you were seeding a conspiracy theory, based on purely hypothetical speculation, and the idea were later to catch on somehow, you might not ever even know it.
All conspiracy theories are, at their heart, an attempt to understand or make sense of the world when other explanations and sources of information have fallen short in ways real or imagined.
And so, Kobe Bryant may have been holding the fabric of the universe together; no one can really prove he wasn’t.
In you happened to be in LA the day NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his young daughter, a promising athletic talent in her own right, lost their lives in a tragic helicopter crash, maybe you felt it, too.
That was late January 2020, right before the Grammy’s, as the very first tinny, faraway reports were starting to trickle in with whispers of unfamiliar words we would soon be hearing only too often: Coronavirus. COVID-19. Pandemic.
Only Kobe Bryant and his daughter, along with several others who perished in the same crash, would never hear those fateful words. They would never see how much the world changed after February of 2020.
How naive we all were then. The crash that killed Kobe Bryant seemed likely to be the greatest tragedy many of us would suffer that year, unless Donald Trump was reelected. Instead, Kobe Bryant died and it was only the beginning of our misfortunes.
Soon after, COVID-19 hit in the states in a major way and we found out just how serious the novel new coronavirus might prove. After all, scientists had been warning something like that might come out of the wet markets and/or institute of virology in Wuhan.
Whatever the case of COVID-19’s origins, no one listened either way.
Two-weeks to slow the spread became a month, which became a year of closures, quarantines, lock-downs, contact tracing, social distancing, masking and other mitigation measures designed to turn human beings, in the eyes of other human beings, into vectors of disease. Then came the second year with more of the same.
It’s taken a toll; one that we are only beginning to see.
After COVID-19 hit, but long before it was done with us, U.S. society endured another knock-out blow. Just when we thought COVID-19 was the worst thing we’d have to suffer in 2020, May rolled around and America met two people who would change the course of all our lives; George Floyd and Derek Chauvin.
As George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin was the first murder many of us had ever witnessed, it made quite an impact. For some, the fallout- from racial justice initiatives to criminal justice reform efforts to a hyper-focus on race-related issues and power differentials- continues to this day.
Watching a murder, as it happens, creates an impression, albeit an impression none of us wanted and many of us didn’t need anyway. The Black community has long been aware of police brutality, racism, and the relationship between the two. For many people though, watching Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd in cold blood was a horrifying revelation.
After that, it must be admitted, things continued to go downhill post-Kobe. Largely peaceful demonstrations for racial justice and equality were soon coopted by anarchists, since rebranded as “Antifa”- along with criminals, troublemakers, looters, arsonists and others bent on using the massive protests as cover for illegal activity.
The resulting crime wave, judging by polls and recent election results, has caused new converts to abandon the cause of criminal justice reform as fast as they’d embraced it. Some of the relics of the summer protests of 2020 remain with us in the form of massive looting operations, brazen smash and grab robberies and stores boarded up for the holidays.
It is our second holiday season without Kobe Bryant, and things look even more dire than ever.
Unemployment is high; higher than it’s been in a long while. The recent jobs report was a bust. Inflation isn’t transitory- like everyone said- but seems to be settling in for good. Everything from gas to groceries to rent to utilities is up. And it’s about to get much worse. Winter heating bills are expected to be much higher than last year.
Tax season is also approaching and anyone not prepared to pay taxes on their government largesse is in for a rude surprise.
There are supply chain issues dogging small businesses, who are already on the edge of collapse after an impossible two years. Looking out over the next month, Americans are looking at the most expensive holiday season they’ve ever had.
Everything from family dinner to toys for the kids is going to be more expensive, and more scarce than in year’s past.
All in all, that hopeful feeling we all had around January 1, 2020, has long since dissipated. COVID-19 is probably never going away. Rather, it will become endemic, with new strains periodically wreaking havoc among vulnerable populations.
Whatever roller-coaster ride of closures, mandates, and other measures are likely to ensue, one thing seems certain: The response to COVID-19 will continue to be a patchwork of false starts, bad guesswork, second-guessing, bitter disagreement and lack of consensus.
Staring resignedly, not into 2021, but now into 2022, something else is clear: Things were much better before Kobe Bryant left us much too soon.
Maybe Kobe wasn’t holding the fabric of the universe together. Maybe this run of bad luck mankind has been experiencing in the many months since that fateful crash in the California hills is pure coincidence.
But in the grand tradition of Big Foot believers and ancient alien theorists, the eternal question of conspiracy theorists everywhere is all it takes to get this one off the ground and give Kobe Bryant the credit he deserves for delivering so many years of relative peace before his untimely demise.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)
*Authors note: This article, intended to be humorous, is also meant to convey the deepest sympathy and respect to Kobe Bryant’s family. While they certainly lost part of the fabric of their universe that terrible day, the world lost a great talent and philanthropist. We are all better off for his leadership and example, and the last near-two years has been darker without it.