From George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence to Top Gear and the Apple Watch: The 14 defining moments of 2014

Four Independent writers discuss the big themes of the year
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The Independent Online

Introducing the panel of Independent thinkers…

John Rentoul is our chief political commentator. You’ll find him (a lot) on Independent Voices.

Alexander Fury is fashion editor.

Ellen E Jones is a cultural critic.

Katy Guest is a columnist and literary editor.

Hacking

31 August

A user posts on an online bulletin board a list of celebrities of whom he or she claims to have explicit photographs and videos. The list comprises mostly female actors, singers and other public figures, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Kirsten Dunst. Soon after, images of Lawrence and others begin circulating on file-sharing sites. The hacker claims to have taken the images from Apple’s iCloud back-up service

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Katy Guest: Just when I thought I couldn't love Jennifer Lawrence any more, her reaction to the theft of her intimate pictures has upped my estimation even further. "I just can't imagine being that detached from humanity" that people could make money from stealing the images, she said. Naturally, some groups of people (idiots) said that women who don't want to be abused online should stop going online, just as women who don't want to be raped should never leave the house. But aren't there rules about handling stolen property? And just how hard can it be to ban the perverts from the internet for good?

Ellen E Jones: The technology may be new, but the victims of society's efforts to shame and control are the same as ever: young women. The best defence against slut-shaming is to be slutty and proud, which is why it's great that Jennifer Lawrence and others spoke out to condemn the hackers, and affirm an individual's right to take and share saucy pics with whomever they please (a group that does not include random internet peeping toms). Still, along with revenge porn, NSA internet surveillance and everyday Facebook violations, this is yet more evidence of how little privacy any of us – famous or otherwise – should expect when we venture online.

John Rentoul: One of the big changes in rich societies is that everyone has a high-quality stills and video camera on them at all times. This makes public behaviour different. The moment anything unusual happens, people fumble for their phones. Instead of holding up lighters at concerts, they hold up phones. And in private, people take pictures of themselves, and each other. Then they upload them to the cloud. If people don't want their pictures made public, there are two stages in that process at which they can prevent it.

Alexander Fury: It could happen to all of us. All of us with naked pictures, anyway. I guess it's increasingly easy to divorce an online persona from real life. You must always ask yourself: what would my mother think if she saw this... along with a few million other people?

Marriage

28 September

The American actor George Clooney marries the British human-rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin in Venice

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JR: I'm supposed to have an opinion on this? She sounds quite clever.

KG: An internationally renowned, multilingual lawyer and author who specialises in international law, criminal law, human rights and extradition and looks really rather nice in posh clothes, announces that she is to marry a well-liked but slightly-past-his-best American actor. The world's media comes back to life, legs it to Venice, bombs around trying to get some up-the-skirt shots then drops dead in amazement.

AF: Man marries woman. I always fail to see why it attracts such attention in certain circumstances.

EJ: I read somewhere that women assess a man's attractiveness not according to his own qualities, but according to the qualities of the other women he has dated. It's true that George Clooney's marriage to the beautiful, high-flying lawyer Amal Alamuddin has raised him in my estimation. But if he had really wanted to impress, Clooney should have pledged his eternal devotion to a pear-shaped woman with a Jaffa Cakes addiction, a talent for telling dirty jokes, and an encyclopedic knowledge of The Wire. That's the kind of woman I like.

Tech

9 September

The Apple Watch launches, in the hope that 'wearable technology' will become commonplace

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EJ: I haven't spent more than £25 on a watch since I was 12, and I don't intend to start now. Unless, of course, Apple's timekeeping device also incorporates a time-travelling app, in which case I would use it to go back and join my Luddite brethren in the 19th century, where I belong.

AF: An expansion of our technological barrage only immediately of interest to geeks who feel the urge to re-enact scenes from Star Trek with working props. Although I have the horrible feeling we'll all be unable to live without them in five years' time.

KG: The watch has a sapphire crystal, a Milanese loop and a high-performance fluoroelastomer, apparently. It's so clever, it may even be able to calculate how much corporation tax Apple pays in the UK.

JR: Not going to catch on.

Referendum

18 September

The Scottish referendum returns a conclusive decision in favour of continuing the union with the United Kingdom: the Yes vote, led by Alex Salmond, polls 45 cent, the No vote 55 per cent

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JR I discovered during the campaign that I really cared about the outcome. Although the Scots have a right to self-determination, and there was no other way of defining those entitled to vote (those who live there), it did seem unfair that one-twelfth of the UK population could decide, on their own, the size and shape of my country.

EJ The "Let's Stay Together" campaign was not only a gruesome spectacle of celebrity condescension and an unforgivable desecration of an Al Green song, it was also a bad analogy. The union is not a marriage; it's an unhappy family in which one sibling had the chance to escape but chose to stay out of a misguided sense of loyalty to the ones left behind. Now we are all stuck here with the abusive parents (Westminster), which is so much more depressing.

AF A collective sigh of relief was breathed across the United Kingdom. Not so much for patriotism, more for the lack of further passport faffing.

KG The Scottish vote was welcome in England in the way that someone threatening to divorce you and then narrowly deciding that they can't be bothered with the cost is welcome, though not exactly reassuring. England fended off the separation by the skin of its teeth by promising to be more thoughtful and always do its share of the washing-up. Promises that one or both parties may live to regret…

Sport

21 November

Sheffield United withdraws its offer to its former player, the convicted rapist Ched Evans, to use its training facilities, following a public backlash against the club

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JR: Sheffield United was going to have to renounce Evans, eventually. His refusal to accept his guilt made rehabilitation impossible. So it would have been better to do it straight away and get some credit, rather than damage the club's reputation even further.

KG: Even the most right-wing government these days agrees that rehabilitation is a priority of the justice system. There's no point withholding jobs from criminals who have served their time if it only makes them more likely to re-offend. However, Ched Evans clearly has not learnt any lessons from his prison sentence for rape, still protests his innocence, and seems sorry only that he was unfaithful to his girlfriend. His employer could have used this as an opportunity to teach him and other players about consent, respect, being a role model and the impact of rape on victims, but instead, it swept the matter under the carpet. In this game, everyone has been a loser.

EJ: Good for Jessica Ennis-Hill and that bloke out of the Housemartins for taking a stand on an important issue. That's how role models are supposed to behave, by the way, in case any Sheffield United fans were wondering. Public statements on rape are important because publicly held rape myths are a key reason for the under-reporting and low conviction rates associated with this particular crime.

AF: I'm always surprised that there has to be a public backlash to let certain institutions know that woefully misguided/plain stupid actions are exactly as they seem. It seems a change.org petition is needed these days to point out the simple mechanics of right and wrong.

Charity

15 July

Chris Kennedy, a golfer from Florida, uploads a video of himself pouring a bucket of icy water over his head, and nominates three friends to undergo the challenge ‘or donate $100 to the ALS Association’. Within weeks, more than $50m is pledged to various motor neurone disease charities, as the craze to emulate Kennedy’s feat goes viral

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KG:

Sometimes wearing a poppy, a ribbon or a wristband just isn't enough, and one needs to go the extra mile to be seen to be raising awareness of oneself – sorry, I mean raising awareness for charity. Funny, though – I can remember quite a few celebrities sitting in the sunshine and prettily drenching themselves for a good cause, but I can't remember what on earth they were supposed to be raising awareness of…

AF: I did one of these. It's not something I'm proud of. They basically ended up as glorified selfies, selfies you were shamed into performing lest you be perceived as a miserable git, and tight to boot. Donating to the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association was the point. I can't help feeling that the charity got lost somewhere in the whole vainglorious thing.

JR: Good cause. Though I didn't like the YouTube video of the chap who was hit on the head by the big plastic bucket from which the ice and water had just been tipped. Grouch alert: there are far too many videos around the internet which viewers seem to find funny but which show people getting badly hurt.

EJ: This one should be filed alongside #NoMakeUpSelfies in the category of attention-seeking altruism. Yes, it's great that you raised money for a good cause (assuming it was money that was raised and not just "awareness"), but when did plastering your mug all over Facebook also become necessary? Remember anonymous donors? They were good.

Royalty

8 September

The Royal Family announces that Kate Middleton and her husband Prince William, Duke of Cambridge are expecting a second child

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AF:

See Clooney's wedding, above. A woman has another baby. Or rather, is going to. I could get the fuss in 18th-century France, but surely we have better things to occupy ourselves? Like Wii.

JR: Which one is she married to, again?

EJ: So she's having another baby, is she? It's not that I'm not interested, it's just that with original reality-soap The Only Way is Essex on such a creative high at the moment, there's little time to keep up with the less inventive storylines on "The Windsors".

KG: A popular and by all accounts perfectly sweet young couple who have been married for three years announce that they are expecting their second child. And, like the Clooney-Alamuddin nuptials, the world's media drops dead in amazement.

Space

12 November

After a 10-year, four billionmile journey, the European Space Agency probe Philae landed on comet 67P. Amid excitement about the apparent success of the mission, attention turns to a British scientist, Dr Matt Taylor, involved in the mission – in particular, his striking shirt depicting scantily clad cartoon women

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EJ: In a field where women have long been made to feel unwelcome, the shirt was ill advised. It's right that people called Dr Matt Taylor out on it and right that he apologised. Unfortunately, social media's tendency to magnify outrage made it much more difficult than it should have been to move on after that apology. The mind-blowing achievement of all the scientists at the European Space Agency– they landed a probe! On a comet! In space! – is much more interesting.

JR: The Philae landing left me cold. Dead-difficult to do and all that, and well done to the people who did it, but we thought that comets were made of ice and rock and we discovered that they are indeed made of ice and rock. Not fizzy sherbet, and not inhabited by unicorns or Clangers. What a disappointment.

KG: On 12 November 2014, it looked as if the answer to at least one question in every Quiz of the Year would be "Comet 67P". As of 14 November, the answer changed to "Dr Matt Taylor". To be fair, the nasty shirt did even more to perpetuate outdated stereotypes about astrophysicists than it did to damage images of women in science, and Dr Taylor's apology should have been enough. Unfortunately, he apologised after being asked a sensible question, by a woman, about science – and then burst into tears. Imagine a female scientist getting away with that… Inevitably, the nasty shirt has sold out.

AF: Mussolini declared that all powers are destined to fall before fashion. As are all distractions, such as galactic space missions.

Television

March, April, October…

First, Jeremy Clarkson uses the term ‘slope’ on ‘Top Gear’ in a context that some believe is racist; a few days later, it emerges that Clarkson, in footage not broadcast, has used the word ‘nigger’ in a nursery rhyme. Finally, in October, he and his ‘Top Gear’ film crew flee an angry crowd in Argentina who believe a licence plate (H982 FKL) on a car used in filming is a reference to the Falklands

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KG:

Jeremy Clarkson Still Not Sacked seemed to be the headline every other week in 2014. Having previously offended Romania, Germany, Mexico, America and India with his unique brand of broadcasting, in October Clarkson had to leg it out of South America, pursued by angry Argentinians. All involved have cried wolf, with Clarkson tweeting petulantly, "For once, we did nothing wrong," while BBC bosses hinted that he will be fired if he makes "one more offensive remark". Can we all hold hands and wish very hard that it will be a different story in 2015?

EJ: If the BBC is Auntie, then Jeremy Clarkson is the embarrassing, bigoted uncle she should have divorced years ago. We can speculate endlessly on why they're still together (my guess is a combination of financial dependence and low self-esteem) but in the meantime there's nothing to be done. We just have to suffer though his rubbish "jokes" at Christmas dinner, in the hope that she'll eventually come to her senses.

AF: I do wonder what Jeremy Clarkson will have to do to finally dislodge the dangling sword of Damocles above his invariably smirking bonce. Choke small animals? Kick old ladies? Indulge in rampant racism and misogyny at the licence-payers' expense? Oh, wait...

JR: Just not interested in the man. If he really has been racist, my BBC money shouldn't be used to employ him, but the Argentinian number-plate imbroglio did not sound so terrible to me. Perhaps I need to refuel at the outrage pump.

Eurovision

10 May

Bearded drag act Conchita Wurst wins the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria with her song ‘Rise Like a Phoenix

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EJ: In a perfect, progressive world, the Austrian diva would be singing the theme for the next Bond film. Unfortunately, we live in this one, where her Eurovision win caused a depressing transphobic backlash. The petitions from Russia might have been expected, but Terry Wogan's "freak show" comment was disappointing. Terry, we thought better of you. Fortunately, Wurst took it all on the (impressively hirsute) chin. "I can live with it," she told Associated Press. "I'm just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard."

JR: Is that a music-based popular entertainment television show?

KG: Much of the pleasure of Wurst's Eurovision entry was in seeing just how wound up some people can get by a singing drag queen with a beard. Religious "leaders" in Russia, Serbia and Montenegro were the most upset, on account of God sending floods to their region to punish the entire continent for the result of a singing competition. The Deputy Prime Minister of Russia was really cross, saying that the result "showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl". Sign him up as Ukip's spokesman, quick.

AF: Most people seemed to conveniently forget that Dana International, an Israeli transsexual, won Eurovision back in 1998. That was before Twitter, and before the thing was live-streamed on the internet, catapulting Conchita to the demi-stardom peculiar to Eurovision. The song was fine. Wasn't massively into the dress, though.

Politics

22 May

In the European Parliament elections, Ukip comes top with 26.5 per cent, Labour polls 24.5 per cent and the Conservatives 23 per cent. The result presages a year of electoral success for Ukip: the party wins two by-elections, at Clacton in Essex and Rochester in Kent

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AF:

My main issue with Ukip – an issue in which I feel partly culpable – is that it is a mythological demon made real by the power of the media. Did the popularity come before the coverage, or vice versa? I can't help but remember the words of the great Wizard of Oz: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

EJ: The reason the main political parties have given up making the case for immigration is not because Ukip's arguments are so devastatingly effective. It's because having a convenient scapegoat suits them too. Blaming the shortage of housing, problems with the NHS and even the epidemic of child sex abuse on immigrants is certainly easier than proposing real solutions. There is no point at which we should begin to "take Ukip seriously", because it is a joke. It's taking Ukip seriously that got us into this mess in the first place.

KG: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the British public, who socked it to nasty politicians by voting for a bunch of nasty politicians who can't seem to agree on any policies except the one about saying the most inappropriate things. Nigel Farage has recently spoken of his three near-misses with death, whereas the brilliant comedian Linda Smith, who once said of (potential Ukip candidate) Neil Hamilton that, "I don't want to give him the oxygen of publicity… I'm not that happy with him having the oxygen of oxygen, actually," was taken from us at 48. Proof that there is no such thing as a benign God.

JR: I was annoyed about this because I said Ukip had peaked in the Wythenshawe by-election in February, when its candidate won only 18 per cent of the vote, a distant second behind Labour on 55 per cent. I thought people would vote Labour in the European elections as an anti-Government protest, but Ukip just beat them in share of the vote. I admitted my mistake and wrote several articles about how the anti-politics mood was stronger than I thought. Good thing we commentators are so humble.

Phone-hacking

24 June

Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of ‘The Sun’ and chief executive of News International, is cleared of all charges related to phone hacking. Her former lover, ex-colleague and one-time Conservative Party director of communications, Andy Coulson, however, is found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones

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EJ: Some of the details that emerged from the phone-hacking scandal are so bizarre I feel I must have dreamt them. David Cameron signed off his texts with a LOL. Tony Blair offered his services to Rebekah Brooke as an adviser. And while Gordon Brown was in power Brooks was a guest at the Chequers "pyjama party" thrown by his wife. These revelations bare repeating because, just like a dream, they seem to have evaporated with the dawn. Never mind what these two executives knew and didn't know, why is no one more outraged by the incestuous relationship between our Government and our media?

JR: Glad she was never my boss. I always remember that poor journalist who had to dress up as Harry Potter at The News of the World. Andy Coulson was hired by David Cameron because he had a priestly knowledge of the sacred mysteries of the tabloid press, and it did neither any good. Greek, the whole story.

KG: This story is the reason I finally cut off my long, curly, fake-red hair after 20 years. Never again can I put up with being mistaken for this woman – even if she is Not Guilty Of All Charges.

AF: Despite the finality, I'm sure this isn't the end of the story.

Fashion

25 June

A shopper who purchased a Primark dress reports to the 'South Wales Evening Post' that a label stitched into the garment stated: ‘Forced to work exhausting hours’. Several similar labels are reported, prompting concerns about conditions for workers in Bangladeshi factories producing items for Primark; the company investigates and concludes that the labels are a ‘hoax

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KG:

Yet another great story was ruined by a little investigation, when people suspicious of the SOS labels pointed out that the written English in them was better than that spoken by most English people. Now, if the hoaxer had added "LOL" to the label, maybe they would have fooled us for a while longer.

JR: I suppose the story drew attention to the question of working conditions for people making products for Western markets, as did the fuss about the £45 "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" T-shirts. But working for Western companies is usually better paid than working for local employers in most of the developing world. Capitalism has reduced world poverty more in the past 40 years than at any other time in history.

AF: A year after the Rana Plaza factory collapse, in which 1,129 garment workers died, the shock this evoked was disheartening. When clothes are that cheap, someone, somewhere, is paying.

EJ: Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, Tesco… the list of everyday brands whose corporate behaviour has resulted in a boycott call is long and ever-growing. The fact that the "cry for help" labels were a probable hoax is neither here nor there; it's clear that consumers want to build a new, fairer relationship with the manufacturers of goods. But is ethical consumerism a realistic goal? Or just another aspirational lifestyle targeted at the wealthy?

Justice

8 January

An inquest jury rules that Mark Duggan, whose death in Tottenham, north London, sparked the August 2011 riots, was lawfully killed by police

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JR:

This is why it was a good thing that the Labour Government banned handguns in 1997. We should never forget how lucky Britain is not to be America, where shootings like Duggan's are so much more common – the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, being only the latest example. And at least we got to an inquest jury. The Michael Brown case was thrown out at the preliminary stage.

KG: Two-and-a-half years, several police departments, one inquest, one trial… and still we don't know what really happened the day that Mark Duggan was shot. Was he holding a gun when he was shot by police? How did the weapon end up on the other side of a fence? How do we make sure this never happens again? A depressing sequence of events, whoever we believe.

EJ: If Duggan was unarmed at the time of death, how could his shooting be "lawful"? Even if you can wrap your head around that, there are still questions to be answered. Why did the Independent Police Complaints Commission make the false suggestion that Duggan had himself fired at police officers? What steps is the Met taking to ensure that the fatal mistakes officers made on this occasion don't happen again? Clearly it is not only in Ferguson that the police can shoot an unarmed black man and get away with it.

AF: Despite the finality, I'm sure this isn't the end of the story.

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