RSS Feed

Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

The Blair Witch Project: Ten Years Later

Posted by film On October - 13 - 2009

blairwitch1 By Sean Kelly

There is currently a lot of buzz going around for the film Paranormal Activity, out now in limited release, which some are pegging as “the next Blair Witch Project”.  It’s kind of congruent, since that film is currently in the midst of celebrating its tenth anniversary (having been released July 16th, 1999).  As a Halloween-related feature for October, I thought I would reminisce on the legacy of The Blair Witch Project and what has made it so successful.

It would probably be agreed that the sensation around The Blair Witch Project was built upon hype.  The directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez created a detailed mythology on the legend of the Blair Witch (you can still read that mythology on the official website) and the film was marketed as being the actual found footage of students that disappeared while making a documentary based on the mythology. Read the rest of this entry »

Toronto’s Project 165 Made a Deal with the Devil

Posted by art On June - 9 - 2009

project-165By Julia Baird

Project 165, hub of the artist collaboration Methinks Presents, is buzzing with activity.  Several people, including Ryan Ringer, the main instigator of Methinks, work on arranging sale items in the front gallery for a fundraiser that’s four days away.  People mill in and out of the artist studios. When I have trouble finding my pen, Ryan hands me one filled with pink ink and explains that he enjoys the invigoration of writing in colours other than blue and black.

Pinpointing the essence of Methinks Presents is a tricky task, but the collective has something to do with all of the following words: surprise, inclusion, action, spontaneity, performance, disruption, sharing, and support.  Ryan explains, “Methinks is about collective action and collaboration. There’s been a lot of play, make-believe, and ongoing narratives.”

Methinks began in 2003 at the Ontario College of Art and Design with Ryan and Kevin Mayo. Eventually Kevin left for his own ventures and Methinks developed into a more collaborative character.  And the name?  As students at OCAD, their schooling was largely “about ideas, conceptually rigorous.  We were always told to be thinking, thinking, thinking about ideas.”  Taking on Methinks (meaning “it seems to me…”) as their brand to the world encompasses both that conceptual focus and the cheeky attitude that resonates throughout the collective.

A poster for a road trip to New York

A poster for a road trip to New York

Reoccurring performances include Free Psychic Reading Series, where “psychics” share their extrasensory wisdom with the public, and Bark News, a “guerilla journalism faction” that enacts playful news-style video documentation of Toronto cultural events.  There are cardboard-box vehicles of various persuasions: a lemonade truck serving lemonade and conversation to Brooklyn residents, a HypeMobile hurling propaganda at passersby through a megaphone and construction vehicles used to create a monument reminiscent of Will Aslop’s “crayons and dice” addition to OCAD.  Recently, a group of Methinks devotees constructed Video Camera mascot heads, in hopes that a crowd of camera-headed people would be able to rush a Google Street View Car as it documented the streets of Toronto.

Soon after its inception, Methinks’ scope spread to other major cities through organizing a series of Roadtrips from Toronto to New York and Montreal.  “The Roadtrips evolved through building community through adventure.”  They encompass a vacation, parties and events, travelling exhibitions, ongoing performance art, networking and cultural exchanges, and a chance for artists from Toronto and the host city to collaborate on art inspired by the trip.

For most of Methinks Presents’ existence, the collective was spurned on by the fertile conditions at OCAD.  The collaborators were immersed in an environment conducive to connecting with like-minded people and the school building supplied the artists with a place to meet and collaborate as a group.  “Once I was out of school, it was difficult.  We had no base,” says Ryan, “In order to go to the next level, there had to be a hub.  There needed to be a physical space.”

This seed at the back of his mind led to a day when Ryan spotted a “For Rent” sign in the window of a storefront space in Kensington Market.  He decided to give the number a call and two weeks later, he found himself agreeing to rent the space at 165 Augusta Avenue.  Project 165 opened in September 2008, featuring a storefront gallery, artist studios and a common area featuring a blossoming library.  “The fact that we have nine studios is a great addition, so it is more than just a place to have shows.  The arena expands and it’s more tangible.”

Aside from the usual goings-on at Project 165, Methinks Presents is also in the midst of planning an ambitious touring art bonanza called “We Made a Deal with the Devil.”  Taking place during the month of August and happening at locales from Toronto to Halifax, the tour will take six Methinks collaborators (who’ve been dubbed “Collective Action Expedition 09″) on the road to connect and collaborate with the do-it-yourself community across Central and Eastern Canada.  “Deal with the Devil” will have a broad scope, incorporating a traveling exhibit of drawings, a zine exchange, guest performance artists, creative events, cultural reciprocation, a tour blog, and documentary, as well as personal ongoing art projects by the six travelers.

lemonadetruck

That lemonade truck serving lemonade that was mentioned earlier.

The theme “We Made a Deal with the Devil” stems from a chance encounter with Maudite beer.  The illustration on the label depicts ‘La chasse-galerie’ (The Flying Canoe), a Quebecois folktale about a group of voyageurs who make a deal with the devil so that they can travel back home on a flying canoe to visit their loved ones on New Year’s Eve.

The Collective Action Six saw a thematic link between the tale and their predicament of putting on such an ambitious project.  “We’ll be six people in a van, camping together for a month.  We’ll also be relying on and working with people we don’t know. It’s a big risk and it’ll be expensive to do, but we decided that we were passionate enough about what we were doing.  We want to find out what other people are doing in other parts of Canada.  So we decided to just do it and the money will follow.  But we felt a bit like we were making a deal with the devil to make the tour happen.”

There are several ways to get involved with We Made a Deal with the Devil (you’ll find full details under ‘Latest News’):

  1. The Collective Action Expedition crew are interested in meeting creative people, so if you have a venue or a friend you’d like to recommend along the route, please let them know.
  2. If you’re going to be near one of the tour stops and you’d like to submit a performance proposal, the deadline for submissions is June 15.
  3. Reserve a spot in the drawing exhibition by email by June 15 (drawings inspired by ‘La chasse-galerie’ are due by July 15).
  4. Donations of zines to take on the tour will be accepted until July 25.
  5. Project 165 will be hosting a garage sale each Kensington Market Pedestrian Sunday (the last Sunday of the month) to fundraise for the tour.  If you have items you’d like to donate to the cause, visit them at 165 Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market on Tuesdays to Saturdays from 12 – 4:00 pm.

And those interested in keeping tabs on upcoming events and projects are welcome to join facebook groups for both Methinks Presents and Project 165.

A Toast to Trains

Posted by lifestyle On March - 13 - 2009

Because sometimes it just needs to be said.

By Leanne Schaeken

Most everyone has a preferred mode of travel, whether it is the classic autobahn, airplane, or boat.  The train-without hesitation or doubt-is my favourite.  Last Friday evening, as I settled in on train 79 from Toronto to Windsor, and the downtown lights blurred past, my fondness for trains, with their steadiness and gentle chug past countrysides, came back to me.  A train will hardly ever lead you toward a great adventure.  Perhaps it will take you to the next city or the next province, to your school or to your home.  It does not have the excitement of a plane or the banality of a bus.  A train ride is, simply, a delight.

I can distinctly remember my first train ride. Shockingly, I was fifteen.  It was an early Sunday morning in March.  The sun had begun to rise, streaking snow-dusted fields with its orange-golden rays.  After a skirt around town, my father parked our van alongside a train shed that had the word “Glencoe” scratched along its side.  We trudged my baggage to the front of the shed and waited for the sound of a whistle to break the cold, dense air. As we were waiting, I desperately ran through the helpful hints my sister had given me. For instance, she told me not to sit down in one of the quad seats because spending an eight-hour trip staring at another person is just plain awkward.  As the train slowed to a stop, I made my way to the opened door with trepidation.  It was my first step, and admittedly it was a step that was well overdue, out and away from home. Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Don’t Like Alan Moore

Posted by Comics On March - 6 - 2009

I have opinions you won’t like

By Miles Baker

  1. Yes, this is directly related to the Watchmen movie coming out in theatres. It’s also a call back to a line in a review I wrote a while ago that people asked for some clarification on.
  2. Yes, I’m serious.
  3. Yes, I disturb shit as a hobby.

I am aware that Watchmen is an intelligent comic. It’s a work of graphic literature. It’s as important as people say it is. It’s complex and layered, and scarily still politically relevant to this day. But there are a few things I can’t get over while I’m reading Watchmen.

  1. That Alan Moore hates every character he’s writing about.
  2. That Sally Jupiter has a kid with the man who tries to rape her and justifies it with something along the lines of “it’s complicated.” I guess she read this.
  3. That Alan Moore hates sentiment and humanity.
  4. The colouring.

Though I’ve heard it can be argued that the colours in Watchmen are supposed to make you want to throw up. And I could buy that. I want to throw up to a lot of it. Particularly my number two there.

Now, I haven’t read every Alan Moore story out there, but, from what I’ve read, he really likes to rape or attempt to rape his female characters. Sometimes, he likes to borrow characters and rape them too, like in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or The Killing Joke. Yes, in cases like From Hell that is clearly justified from the source material, but he really likes to visit that plot device. Like, he really likes it. It’s his thing.

I’ve had many arguments with people about Alan Moore’s misogyny that end up with them saying, “Well, yeah, he’s a misogynist but he’s a really good writer.” And I say fuck that.

Fuck that.

It sucks that for a medium that historically has so very many problems with victimized women that this man is one of the few shots it has at legitimacy. I say we demand better than an elitist magician.

That’s the other thing he is. An elitist. Every character in Watchmen is an ineffectual rube, with the exception of the unfeeling Mr. Manhattan and the mass murdering Veitch. The Owl’s sense of nostalgia is mocked with his impotence, while Rorschach is made to look stupid with his overwrought dialogue and ridiculous sense of justice.

At the end of it, I dislike every character in Watchmen and I think Alan Moore hates them all even more. The whole work is a thesis about how failed and flawed we are and how there is absolutely no hope for us.

Fuck that too.

I do get it, why he’s popular. He’s a smart man. He has challenged the medium. He fights for his creative rights. But, right now, Alan Moore is sitting at his computer thinking of new ways he can hate you with literature.

It’s Too Long! — A Commentary on Epic-Length Films

Posted by film On February - 27 - 2009

By Sean Kelly

Steven Soderbergh’s Che is now playing in Toronto at the AMC Yonge and Dundas. Excited? It’s the full version, running at an astronomical four hours and seventeen minutes. Now, I am interested in checking out the film, but I’m not sure if I am willing to spend an entire afternoon doing so.

This got me thinking about the negative stigma that is often attached to films that go past the traditional run-time of two hours. Most folks just don’t have the patience (or the bladders) to see films of such lengths. I admit that even I have to take a couple washroom breaks during such films.

One argument against epic-length films is that the directors could have easily edited the films down to a more conventional length. Did we really need all two hours and forty-five minutes of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia? There is also the case of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Even though I enjoyed the film, I feel Jackson got a little overzealous when he turned a 100-minute classic from the 1930s into 187 minutes of giant apes fighting dinosaurs.

Then again, Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films were all over three hours long and they were huge hits — people clamored for the extended cuts, even.  James Cameron’s Titanic became the highest grossing film ever at a length of three hours and fourteen minutes (which really limited the amount of times the film could have been shown per day).  Beloved classics, such as The Godfather and Scarface, clock really close to the three hour mark.

I suppose that it all depends on the type of film whether the audience will be invested enough to spend the good part of a day watching it.  I believe people are generally more willing to see a lengthy genre film than a drama of similar length.  A case in point would be the beloved The Dark Knight. That film was two hours and thirty-two minutes.  Not quite epic, but still longer than average.  People flocked to that film, and I am sure that they are going to do the same with Watchmen, which has an even greater length of two hours and forty-three minutes (with reports of a three hour plus director’s cut also coming out).  On the other hand, there are people who accuse the two hour and forty-six minute long Curious Case of Benjamin Button of being a bit of a bore.

One director who’s had many troubles with the lengths of his films is Quentin Tarantino.  The most notorious example is Kill Bill.  The film was so long that Tarantino was forced into releasing the film as two separate volumes.  Tarantino has been promising to release a DVD of the two films conjoined, but that has yet to surface.  Then there was that time Tarantino teamed with Robert Rodriguez for the Grindhouse double-feature.  That film had modest beginnings (both features were originally limited to one hour), but as decisions were made to extend the features and guest directors were brought in to make fake trailers, the whole package ended up tipping the scales at three hours and eleven minutes.  While the result was really fun to watch, I’m sure the length was a factor in preventing the film from being a box-office hit.  I’ve already heard rumblings that there may also be length problems with Inglorious Bastards, but we’ll have to wait and see about that one.

Now we return to Che.  As I said, the complete film is a whopping four hours and seventeen minutes.  The only other film that I can think of that passes the four hour mark is Kenneth Branagh’s full-text adaptation of Hamlet from 1996. Che is so long that the film was actually split into two separate two-hour films (à la Kill Bill) and while some theatres (such as the AMC) will be showing the complete package, most theatres will probably be showing the two films separately.  I do believe that I will watch the film eventually, but I still don’t know whether I will brave the whole package or just see the separate films on separate days.

I’m sure we will never stop seeing those films that break the traditional barriers of run-time.  Some will test our patience and cause us to wonder if the film could’ve been shorter, while others will be wonderful escapist experiences.  It’s up to you to decide which is which.

Lexipoeia: Taxonomy Time! OR Douchebags Defined

Posted by lifestyle On February - 20 - 2009

Answering the questions you purposefully didn’t ask!

By Sam Linton

Every so often, the language-using community gets itself up in a snit over some new issue in our beloved English language making waves in the pools of those who actually take all this seriously. Remember truthiness? That was a good example of what I’m talking about. Anyways, since the English language lacks an “Academie Français”-style central regulating body, these things usually just get tossed around from columnist to columnist until some basic consensus is found. So what’s the hot-button word that has the armchair linguistic community up in a tizzy now? Douchebag! Or, at least, it was several months ago. I tend to be a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to covering these things. But, as the world keeps spinning, I eventually find my way to writing, and the problem with douchebag has not gone away. So what’s the issue? Well, that’s a bit tricky, but it basically boils down to the fact that, while it’s one of the most commonly used insults flying off the tongues today, it has no real “definition,” per se. Ask any average person what constitutes a douchebag, and you’ll get a different response. Go to Urbandictionary.com, and you’ll be swamped with seven pages of differing defs. Even Wikipedia can only offer that douchebag is definitely pejorative, and somewhat associated with arrogance and/or malice. But we can do better! Can’t we? Read the rest of this entry »

Oscar Lead-Up Special: Beware of Dude

Posted by film On February - 17 - 2009

By Shane McNeil

Robert Downey Jr. gets ready for the star-studded event.

Robert Downey Jr. gets ready for the star-studded event.

Before I submit my final Oscar predictions [dropping this Friday, get ready, readers! -ed.], here is a detailed and, many of you will argue, maniacal treatise on why no one should be shocked when Robert Downey Jr. strolls down the aisle on the 22nd to collect the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

I know what you’re saying, and I admit that I have no reason to be so staunch in my beliefs on this. Ledger has won just about everything there is to win in the category this year and there’s seemingly no sentiment to suggest that Ledger is suffering as part of the Dark Knight backlash. I’ll own up to not especially loving The Dark Knight, but point to the fact that that has very little influence on the points I make below.

So, now… Why Downey? or, more importantly, why not Heath? Let’s start with the obvious. There’s only ever been one posthumous Oscar.

Peter Finch "mad as hell" in Network.

Peter Finch "mad as hell" in Network.

That went to Peter Finch for leading Network. A film now widely considered one of the 100 greatest ever made. A film that was nominated in most major categories, beloved by the actors and one of timely resonance, taking on the idle stance of a nation that had so much to be angry about. It was a lead performance and, to boot, he perished just two months before the Academy Awards ceremony. He was a respected actor (already having been nominated for Sunday Bloody Sunday) but won a statue based largely on the strength of that timeless performance and beat out some of cinema’s other classic characters in Rocky Balboa (Stallone in Rocky) and Travis Bickle (DeNiro’s Taxi Driver), in addition to his Network co-star William Holden to claim the award.

The Academy has had the opportunity to crown a young martyr before — twice, in fact. James Dean was denied Best Actor trophies for both Giant and East of Eden posthumously, and you have to assume that in Hollywood lore — while he is highly respected — Heath Ledger will never be looked at as a James Dean. Yes, he has more of a name and more respect than some (Massimo Troisi comes to mind) but not nearly the esteem of others (Spencer Tracy).

Are we finally sick of this sick character?

Are we finally sick of this sick character?

Then there’s the big white elephant in the room. He OD’d. He didn’t die in an accident, he didn’t have cancer, he took a whole whack of pills. This is tragic and I’m not making light of it. It’s claimed many before their time (River Phoenix), but what will that look like in the eyes of voters when he’s up against someone, in Downey, who stared that demon in the face and has now harnessed his supreme talent to come back to the top. If you think Tropic Thunder isn’t Oscar fodder, you’re probably right. However, much like Mickey Rourke, the Academy loves it, loves it, when actors go from the bottom to the top, and between Thunder and Iron Man, that’s where Downey now sits.

But wait, this is about the best performance, not who the Academy likes best, isn’t it? It’s not. Just ask Eddie Murphy. Your persona is as important as, if not moreso than, what you put on screen, and Downey’s triumphant turnaround and likeable personality will seem like a far greater reward to Hollywood and the actors that vote on this award than the still photo of Ledger and the kind thanks of his family more than a year after his unfortunate death.

Another point I want to make is the nature of the Supporting Actor category. Sometimes, it’s locked from the day the nominations are announced. Javier Bardem, Benicio Del Toro, and Chris Cooper recently took the award from wire to wire without much, if any, competition. However, it’s also the place that upsets happen, and respected talents get their due.

So fresh and so clean, clean.

So fresh and so clean, clean.

Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Robin Williams all did excellent work to earn their Oscars, but their previous work and nominations had to have factored in. Upsets, while a factor in every Oscar category, seem rampant in Supporting Actor. Jim Broadbent, Michael Caine, and James Coburn were all unexpected, but came down in the same category.

Final point — I swear. Supporting is where comedy and comedians can shine. Apart from staggering comedic feats, the lead category is for drama and even a nomination is often a lot to ask for a comedian. Supporting, however, is a place for the funny guys to get their due. Alan Arkin, Cuba Gooding Jr. — even reaching all the way back to Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, Supporting is where great comedy can be rewarded. And make no mistake — “the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude” is just that: great comedy.

There you have it. That’s my reasoning. I’m not sure enough of myself to put $100 down on it, but I’d certainly risk being wrong in an Oscar pool over it. Take it as you will. However, should the (virtually) unthinkable happen, consider yourself warned.

Why I Hate The Police

Posted by music On February - 10 - 2009

the_police-the_police-frontalBy John Hastings

The Police are ear-poison and Sting is the creepy British fairy pouring them into your head. I dislike them so much that I’m inspired to pen this piece despite the fact that they are almost completely off the radar at the time of writing. In fact, nothing specific has happened to spark this rant. They don’t have a new album, they aren’t touring, and I didn’t even hear one of their songs on the radio recently. I just woke up today and thought, goddamn it, I fucking hate The Police.

Let’s begin with the basic fact that Sting is a wanker. He’s the bass player, for christ’s sake! Reinventing himself with tribal rhythms every once in a while just makes him that much more of a loser. As my ears will attest, the only honest song this goof has ever coined was “King of Pain”.

I’ll admit that some of the actual music is bearable, even danceable at times, but it’s the drivel The Police try to pass off as lyrics that disgusts me. I’ll also admit that “Roxanne” was enjoyable at one point in my life — in fact, The “Roxanne” Drinking Game was one of my favourites back in university, and the song works well at strip clubs and bachelor parties. But, unlike real artists, The Police weren’t able to write a song about prostitution without blatant statements like “walk the streets for money / you don’t care if it’s wrong or if it’s right.” At least The Animals’ classic “House of the Rising Sun” only inferred the selling of flesh. How stupid do The Police think we are? Must we be force-fed the oh-so-risque meaning? The only red light should be the alarm in your head, warning you that this lazy simplicity is insulting.

Then there’s the ever-popular, always vomit-inducing “Message In a Bottle.” Ostensibly, this song is about a lonely soul who discovers that others are lonely, too. This is the kind of swill that high school students put into their independent study units in an attempt to be deep. I’d have respect for this song if it was about Sting going on a bender lamenting the fact that he’d bottled a dude and banged a hooker, but instead it’s just sentimental tripe. I’m not even going to get started on “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, as every little thing Sting does pisses the shit out of me.

The one that really twists my nibblets, though, is the painfully obvious “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.” I can almost see Sting hunched over his desk by firelight, scribbling furiously about the student who seduces the teacher, and licking his lips at all the money he’ll make off the teenage girls who will lap up this insipid, melodramatic mush.

Nothing speaks louder to the dreadfulness of The Police than their video for the aptly-named song “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.” What the fuck are they doing — skiing? And why hasn’t God brought down the mountain upon them? This is sacreligious at the least, and sanctimonious for sure. How did these clowns ever become superstars?

The list of nonsensical twaddle goes on and on. I couldn’t believe the support The Police got for their reunion tour from some of my friends. I’m sickened to the core that this dribble is regarded as “classic 80s.” It’s the “oh-my-god-I-love-this-song” attitude whenever one of these overplayed Police songs pollutes the airwaves that really gets me. Hopefully, with their reunion tour done, we’ve seen the end — because, with every breath I take, I fucking hate The Police.

Consumer Whore Advocate Pt. 2: On Downloads

Posted by lifestyle On October - 17 - 2008

Giving you moral justification for theft!

By Sam Linton

Let me preface this column by saying that there is a series of ads on the air right now (and by “the air” I mean the radio airwaves. Does anyone out there still listen to radio?) that basically encourages you, Soviet Gulag style, to narc on anyone you know who is pirating software in exchange for CASH PRIZES!!! The Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (whose website ties them in with the Business Software Alliance) would have you believe that piracy is a threat to the entire Canadian commercial way of life on par with global warming, the U.S./global economic meltdown, and Avian Flu, and this per head bounty, rapidly closing the historical gap between software pirates and actual pirates, is meant to show how great a threat they’re treating it as. But it also shows just how weak their position is, to be reducing themselves to such desperate and frankly, totalitarian scare tactics. And weak it pretty much has to be, because in going off against software piracy, it is facing off against the combined forces of both the consumerist drive AND social activism! Allow me to elaborate.

In my previous column in this series, I touched on how the urge to be ethically responsible in a capitalist society is often (most of the time) directly at odds with the instant gratification and leisure that makes capitalist society so attractive in the first place; sure, you COULD buy responsibly, but then you’d have to research your products, go out of your way to find them, and probably end up paying more, too. It’s a hassle, it’s time-consuming, and we only have so much time on this Earth to start with. Something like software piracy, however, complicates this dichotomy (comfort/ease vs. moral prerogative) by being both easy and cost-free to do AND directly taking money out of the pockets of big, faceless conglomerates. It’s like being Robin Hood, without that crap about giving to the poor. I mean, if you want to, I guess you could give the money you conceivably would have spent on media to the homeless or what have you, but that’s really up to you. But the important thing is that you’re stealing from our corporate masters.

Now, in order to combat this appallingly appealing prospect, media conglomerates have used the tactics of fear (the now infamous RIAA single-downloader lawsuits being an example) and increasingly and ironically, appeals to morality; because stealing is wrong. And that’s the area where their whole argument falls apart. Now, as a consumer whore (see title of column for more info), I generally make it a point not to research my purchases or spending habits, but I CAN take it as an article of faith that, generally, large corporations and conglomerates do horrible things. Therefore, without even checking Wikipedia, I can safely conclude that stealing from any media conglomerate is in the best interest of everyone, as the aforementioned conglomerate will have less of my money to do horrible things with. I may have lost a few specifics in my corner-cutting rationale, but the basic truth of the matter is still there (probably). And the various industries can spend money to make video like this, or try to guilt you by showing you the people that they’re going to fire if you keep taking their money, but really, isn’t that just like the Empire telling the rebellion about the hardworking maintenance men on the Death Star and expecting the rebels to not destroy the station? (by the way, I usually try to avoid the Star Wars references, as I’m not a huge fan, but in a discussion about media piracy, it’s just so apropos, and serves as a reminder for people to go download Star Wars, and possibly Clerks.) The simple truth is that there are few, if any, other opportunities in life to be both morally responsible and materially rewarded, so downloading media is an opportunity that one has to grab with both hands!

So what’s the point of this article? Everybody already downloads, and it’s not as though we need a banner to rally around when we do it. Some of us might have balked at the ethics before, but hopefully this article has set them right (I try to do what I can). I guess I was just a little surprised at the blatantly totalitarian approach the industries are taking lately. I’ll admit, it catches me a little off guard when they start snarling, but then I remember that it’s only a caged animal that reacts this way. So don’t let ‘em scare you; we still live in a time of free, ethically responsible entertainment for the masses. Carry on as you were, go about your downloading business, and be merry!

Where It All Went Wrong: The Arts Funding Debate

Posted by art On October - 10 - 2008

By Maegen Black

Since April 2008, the Conservative government has slashed $45 million from federal arts and cultural funding. Every time I write, say or read those words I feel the sting of their fiscal impact on the cultural sector like a slap in the face. These sweeping cuts have impacted artists in every discipline; whether you’re a filmmaker, sculptor, dancer, singer, curator, writer or otherwise — your sector has been affected.

The targeted programs assisted artists and arts organizations with international market expansion and the development of Canadian cultural content here at home. Programs in training, travel, preservation, and production were severely cut or cancelled outright. When asked why the cuts were made, government representatives responded with a mixture of bottom-line budgeting and ideological differences, but the strategic report that lead to the cuts has yet to be released to the public.

Even basic common courtesy was not observed when these cuts were announced. Instead, the cuts were leaked to the media by unnamed Conservative representatives and posted online, buried deep in the web pages of individual Canadian Heritage program sites rather than being officially presented to the public. Adding insult to injury, the cuts were leaked with a tone of disdain for the artists who had received this funding. Recipients were used as scapegoats, and controversy brewed as 3 of about 300 recipients from a single program were labelled as inappropriate. This is where things really started to get messy.

The arts community was not impressed. Not by the cuts themselves, not by the way they were announced, and not by the reasons given for their cancellation. Initially, there was concern that the looming election would overshadow the cuts, and that this loss to the cultural economy would go unnoticed. For whatever reason, be it the lack of an overbearing election issue (other than leadership and the almost infamous sweater-ads) or the ferocious response from the cultural community, the cuts have stayed in the news.

Public figures such as Paul Gross, Naomi Klein, Atom Egoyan, and Margaret Atwood have voiced their concerns about the cuts — drawing coverage. There were lame attempts from the Prime Minister to paint himself as a friend of the arts because he plays piano and fronts an informal band (Stephen and the Firewalls) — drawing coverage. Impressive public rallies and town hall meetings, especially those based in Quebec, have brought audiences of over 2,500 to a single event — also drawing coverage.

For once, federal funding for the arts is getting a lot of attention, which allows Canadian artists the platform to explain its importance, and to clear up some serious misconceptions derived from the manner in which these cuts were revealed. Somehow, almost overnight, the public impression of an artist went from starving to spoiled, and the idea that federal funding allowed a load of ungrateful, lazy artists to live off the teat of government became common. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the response to these cuts has ensured that the public look at the reality of the situation for most artists (poverty), as well as the reality of the cultural economy’s financial return ($84.6 billion in 2007 alone, creating over 1.1 million jobs for Canadians, as reported by the Conference Board of Canada).

But not all of the coverage has been productive. Quotations have been blown out of proportion and statistics have been twisted. Arguments flew back and forth over whether or not the Conservatives actually increased funding to arts and culture, but in a Globe and Mail article by James Bradshaw from September 19, 2008, the raw data shows that funds were “gradually shifted away from arts and culture, and funneled instead into other branches of the Department of Canadian Heritage that focus on the department’s social mandate.” What does that mean? Funds were pulled from the arts to pay for sports.

There is the sense that the groups on either side of this issue are simply stomping their feet, refusing to acknowledge the opinions or rationale of the opposition. In response, the National Director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, Alain Pineau, has put out a public call to capitalize on the current situation. Pineau asks that the arts community and the incoming government work together to strategize a new and equally beneficial plan to develop the creative economy. He points out that “Reverting to hyperbole or stereotypes does not create an atmosphere for the kind of serious national dialogue that must take place on this topic. The current debate must refine both its lexicon and civility.” I couldn’t agree more.

Changes are looming in federal politics whether artists (and the general public) like it or not. Those within the Canadian arts community must work with whoever is in power towards a common goal: the development of an effective system that invests in the arts for a high return. But respect must be paid to the specific intricacies of the creative economy, just as it would when arranging investment in agriculture, manufacturing, or any other sector in Canada. If the old system truly wasn’t working, then let’s work to fix it together rather than casting these important programs aside in the heat of an election campaign.

For a full list of the programs cut, click here.

Advocacy activity is everywhere online. To get involved, check out the Department of Culture and I Vote For Culture. Another great site to check for recent polls in each riding and recommendations on strategic voting, see Vote for Environment.

Maegen Black is an artist, advocate, writer, and arts administrator with a Bachelor of Design from the Ontario College of Art & Design.

Consumer Whore Advocate

Posted by lifestyle On September - 23 - 2008

Turning the tables on those corporate fat cats (when it’s not overly inconvenient or out-of-the-way)!

By Sam Linton

Consumer whore. You don’t need to know exactly what it means to get a general idea of the term. You’ve sold your soul to reap the benefits of capitalism run amok. Nobody likes being a consumer whore, or at least likes being conscious of it. It’s not a great feeling, but it’s one that we all, to a greater or lesser extent, must endure in order to function in Western culture. You may feel dirty, cheap, or even a little used after every purchase you make, knowing that you’ve once again abetted the plundering of the globe by corporate interests for another 30 pieces of silver (metaphorical silver, taking the concrete form of anything from Doritos to Jet-skis). But on the other hand, you can’t stop because it’s just so damned sweet! Doritos are delicious! Jet-Skis are fun! Silver is shiny! So it’s hard to fight rampant corporatism in the day-to-day, because it’s literally everywhere, and it’s just so dang tempting. And even when you do find a tiny space free from corporate control, in art, culture, food, et cetera, you’d better enjoy it while it lasts because once the big sharks find out that they can turn a profit off it, it’s not going to be your space for much longer. They’ll find a way to co-opt it, just as surely as they’ve done with punk rock, healthy foods, and green energy products. (“This year, The Oscars have gone green!” Sound familiar?)

So what can you do to resist? For some of us, we boycott, we research, and we don’t buy anything we find ethically questionable or that has ties to anything we find ethically questionable. We use a strategy of denial and often (let’s face it) self-sacrifice, as we’re missing out on a lot of really cool and/or tasty stuff due to its corporate branding. Others among us try to remain aloof. Once a piece of culture has become “infected” by corporate interest, it’s no longer cutting edge. Then we eschew it, looking towards the next frontier of culture, where interest does not yet fuel the very mechanisms of mundanity built up by rampant capitalism. This option has the drawback of making one into an elitist and, let’s not deny it, kind of a douchebag. And still, there’s that unpleasant business of self-sacrifice: deliberately denying oneself the benefits of corporate production simply because of the horrible cultural and ethical compromises this entails. In reality, most of us (your humble scribe included) are simply too lazy to spend all our time resisting. I mean, a guy’s gotta have some time to himself, right? A gal’s gotta have some time to herself, right? And since it’s just so easy to turn on the TiVo and curl up with some KFC, why not? I’m off the clock.

Despite all this, the lazy can still make a difference. While resisting corporate control may be too damn hard to become a constant theme in one’s life, there are almost always instances of everyday annoyances associated with the products of rampant capitalism that could be taken as a call to action. Sure, maybe you can’t be expected to place every purchase you ever make under the microscope of its macroeconomic impact, but certain things may just stick in your craw enough to make you re-evaluate a purchase. Maybe it’s a cross-promotion with a film you hate, maybe there’s an ad you find personally offensive, or maybe you share my own personal bugbear, “instant win” contests that require you to enter a passcode redeemed from your purchase on their website in order to even participate.* All of these should not be taken only as irritations, but as opportunities! An opportunity to stop buying a product, to say to them, “You know what, NO. This time, you’ve gone too far. That is my limit.” Sure, you may not have the energy or the inclination to keep up an indefinite boycott, but as long as those bastards are going to keep annoying you on a personal level, you can have all the denial power of a very indifferent God! The best part is that, whenever the promotion, ad campaign, et cetera is over, you can claim a personal victory without doing any work (or, if resisting the product in question was hard for you, still very little work)! All the rewards of that self-righteously good feeling of genuine advocacy, with comparatively little self-sacrifice. And for that one brief, shining moment, you scored a personal victory against the system. They can rape the earth, exploit the oppressed, and pollute mass culture, but when they start to annoy you on a personal level, you damn well better believe the buck stops here!

So yes, the system is flawed. Deeply flawed. We all know that (readers who didn’t know that: now you do). But, much as it may trouble us, we might not all want to devote a significant portion of our lives to fighting those flaws. For those of us with the will (and the time, and the means, and the inclination…) to take it on, fighting the good fight can be a full-time (pre)occupation. Those of us who aren’t Champions, meanwhile, can take what little victories we are inclined to take when they fall into our laps. That’s the self-conscious consumer whore way. And if it isn’t, well then by God, maybe it’s time that started being the self-conscious consumer whore way.

*Sub-Column: Why I hate Internet Contests

Honestly, I just loathe these horrible things. Time was, instant win MEANT instant win. You would check under the cap or open the bag or whatever, and if you won, you’d get that oddly satisfying feeling of accomplishment without actually having done anything, and then you’d associate the feeling with the product. It worked out great for all parties, and if you didn’t win, no big deal. Nowadays, the companies expect you to A) remember that you bought some completely disposable product long enough to get to a computer and B) spend valuable minutes from your life that you’re never getting back to go to their websites just to input some stupid code. I mean, I can understand it as a means to artificially inflate traffic to their own websites, but it totally comes at the cost of any good feelings that one used to get out of instant win (and would have subsequently associated with their products). I mean, you’re essentially asking me to put the same amount of energy into promoting your product to myself that I just explained I’m too lazy to put into resisting your product. The whole point of consumer culture is that it works because it’s passive! JESUS!

Sam Linton is, by default, MONDO’s authority on consumer culture. But yeah, he’s no Naomi Klien.

Why I Hate Liz Phair

Posted by music On September - 2 - 2008

By Allana Mayer

The only times I feel like I identify with a feminist standpoint are when I find myself analyzing creative output in separate terms for “what it might mean to a male” and “what it might mean to a female.” This happens to me exclusively when analyzing output from females. Things created by men are created for people at large, whereas female creations often have much different appeals for the male half of the audience than the female half. I get my “Girls Rule” silkscreened thong in a twist because I feel like whatever I might produce might have to take into account these separate appeals purely because of my gender, regardless of my work’s merit.

I mention this because of Liz Phair. Her one good (read: talked-about) contribution to popular culture was Exile in Guyville, a 15-year-old album written when she was a punk kid, and still blogged about to this day (especially the 2008 re-release, with extra liner notes about the nipple she so daringly exposed on the cover). Blogged about by men, I mean — it’s hard to find a lot of women that champion this album. At the time, yes, when Kim Deal had just split from The Pixies and there were no other decent chicks to idolize, girls played the shit out of this cassette. But now?

In the eyes of music geeks (yes, the majority of which are male), it’s got that coveted lo-fi quality and a total lack of musicianship. Bitch can’t sing, at all. Counterintuitive, yes? Still, it makes people’s top 10 lists. So what’s so special about it? It’s a woman singing about things that women her age (26, at the time) don’t usually sing about: divorce, being a good little girl, the entire nuclear family culture from every standpoint. Oh, and blowjobs.

Then again, she’s still singing about things women her age don’t usually sing about: her 2003 self-titled comeback included “Rock Me,” about sleeping with younger guys, and “H.W.C.,” about using semen as anti-aging cream. Okay, I get it, your shtick is saying things that most girls would never say. But it’s not because you’re edgy: it’s because they’re hard to pull off with aplomb and style. Sorry, sweetie, but you failed at that. Any old street-walker could rhyme “Everything I’ll do to you” with “I’ll fuck you ’til your dick is blue” — and probably make it a more appealing prospect. Less baggage.

The rest of Liz’s oeuvre is unanimously considered as unworthy of mention, but Exile is more persistent than a case of the clap. I’ll admit to having a few trustworthy angry-girl albums (Frida Hyvonen’s Until Death Comes, for one), and Exile is nothing like them — Liz is inarticulate, with a voice that has almost no power, and she gives me nothing to admire about her spirit or passion. Yet this album, with little to no appeal to me as a female, strikes me as exactly what guys would think of as “the perfect girl album.” They’ve romanticized the mid-20s aspect of the protagonist, and chalked the brutal honesty up to a biological clock, numerous failed relationships, and late nights alone with bottles of wine. I think most guys want either to be one of the guys Liz sings about or to find a girl like her — desperately upfront, heavy on the desperate.

Repeating “I want a boyfriend” in a monotone on “Fuck And Run,” arguably the best track on Exile in Guyville, has a certain plaintive appeal, surely, but that novelty wears off before the song even ends. “I want all that old shit like letters and sodas” has some base truth in it, but not enough to justify the popularity of this album.

Blame the nipple, I guess.

TAG CLOUD

Sponsors

MONDO is a non-profit, weekly, Toronto-based, online magazine that focuses on arts, culture, and humour. We’re interested in art of all kinds (music, theatre, visual art, film, comics, and video games) and the pop culture that we inhabit.The copyright on all MONDO magazine content belongs to the author. If you would like to pay them for more content, please do. To contact MONDO please email us at editor@mondomagazine.net

Twitter