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Archive for the ‘Sam Linton’ Category

In Memoriam: Captain Britain and MI:13

Posted by Comics On May - 22 - 2009

capbritcovBy Sam Linton

Well, it happened. After much speculation about the fate of the book, writer Paul Cornell announced on his blog this week that Captain Britain and MI:13, his project for thirteen issues so far along with penciller Leonard Kirk, was not being solicited for a 16th issue. That means that after the next two issues hit the shelves, it’s over. Obviously, this is not only disappointing news for Cornell, Kirk, and the rest of the Captain Britain creative team; it’s bad news for everyone, and the comics world is made less special with this book’s passing.

Captain Britain and MI:13 was, and for the next two months, will continue to be without question, the finest of the “big two” monthly comics series I currently read. Better than X-Factor, even. By simple virtue of where it was situated (in Britain, obviously), it avoided all the current Companywide Crossover Massively Multiplayer bullshit every other Marvel title currently seems to find itself suffocating under. Secret Invasion? Captain Britain finished that in four issues, well ahead of its American counterparts and entirely by itself. Dark Reign? Never even heard of it, thank you. This may not seem all that important, but because of this, the book got to grow under its own terms, giving it its own story in and of itself, rather than as a part of whatever batshit bizarre Kudzu plot Marvel is drowning all its other titles in at the moment. And that’s important, dammit. I know that comics are a business, and crossover titles sell, but when I read my comics, I want to feel like I’m reading a story, not a business report. And reading Captain Britain was always an unreserved pleasure.

Because Paul Cornell’s writing on this title was so, so tight. Every character distinct, none seeming flat or dull, not even Captain Britain himself, who has always been a bit of a pompous twit. Established characters like the Black Knight, Blade and Captain Britain mingled with second-stringers like Pete Wisdom, Spitfire and the newly introduced Excalibur, Faiza Hussain. And every one was a delight, coming off the page as real people and, morever, equal partners in the book. It may have been called Captain Britain, but this was the best team book I’d read in a while. But it wasn’t just the characterizations that were tight, it was thematically tight, too. By way of example, observe his last (as of this writing) completed arc, Hell Comes to Birmingham. On my first read, I enjoyed it greatly, as Plokta, a Duke of Hell, takes advantage of a weakening in the fabric of English magic to create a “Dream Corridor” in Birmingham, granting people illusory copies of their fondest desires in exchange for the use of the power of their souls to turn England and, eventually, the world into a giant factory for mindless ones, the Marvel universe’s staple magical foot soldiers. The plot twisted and turned, the characters all had great moments to shine (Blade managing to hurt the incorporeal Duke of Hell by using a paper maché sword made from the pages of holy books, Pete Wisdom’s heart’s desire, etc.) and it resolved in a satisfying way. All in all, a ripping good comics yarn. Then later, the thematics hit me. Birmingham, England, turned into a factory for mindless ones at the cost of its soul? The same Birmingham, England that  served as ground zero for the factories of the industrial revolution that took over England and, eventually, the world? That promised us a shining new future and delivered it with smog-choked skies, colonial oppression and world wars? That’s fun to read and smart. That’s thematic. That’s like… Neil Gaiman/Alan Moore territory, there. At the very least, echoes of Jamie Delano. Maybe not quite there yet, but I was willing to give the book time. Time, alas, that it just doesn’t have.

capbrit13If the last paragraph didn’t make it quite clear, I do tend to focus on writing over art in my comics, but that is not to take away from Leonard Kirk’s excellent penciling. So much of characterization is carried out in the nonverbal areas; expression, body language, the angles of the scenes. I never had any difficulty knowing what the characters were feeling, because it was always as plain as the noses on their faces. Kirk’s pencils complemented Cornell’s writing so well, it was hard to recognize, intellectually at least, that this comic was a collaborative effort. The look on someone’s face when, say, they find out that their father has been abducted by Dracula (that’s right. Dracula.) is so perfect to the situation, I can’t imagine the scene as drawn any other way. The small fill-in sections by other artists in the more recent issues exemplify this; they’re serviceable enough in their own right, and they’re technically very well drafted, but they’re not right. They’re not Kirk.

At this point, you’re probably all tired of my public lamentation, so I’ll cut myself short without going into, say, how great it was to read a book dealing heavily with magic and the supernatural that actually seemed to understand how magic works, and that it actually does need to be explained, albeit in highly metaphysical terms.  Or how wonderfully it managed to at once be heavily tied into some pretty convoluted continuity but required very little in the way of background info to get into. Suffice it to say, it was a good book. It was fun to read, well written, and visually exciting. It was everything a good superhero book ought to be, and now it’s gone. Like I said, the comics world is less special for its passing.

Goodbye, Captain.

You will be missed.

The green symbolizes all the money you'll save.

The green symbolizes all the money you'll save.

Profiting off Pandemic Panic

By Sam Linton

So I was talking to a friend of mine the other day when he dropped a knowledge-bomb on me. Apparently, the Powers That Be are attempting to change the name of current global pandemic media darling Swine Flu into something a bit less descriptive. Why? Because the negative connotations of that name have had a corresponding negative impact on global pork prices. That’s right, it appears that the name “Swine Flu” has turned people off of swine. Whoda thunk? Now, I generally strive to avoid being topical in these Lexipoeia columns (I want them to have a timeless quality), but something like this hits home for me as both a general promoter of the powers of language and as an advocate of opportunistic consumer slacktivism. So when I see them intersecting like this, I know it’s time to come down from my ivory tower and get topical. Read the rest of this entry »

MONDO Lifestyle’s Self-Improvement Workshop

Posted by lifestyle On April - 17 - 2009
poordevil2

Fake British accents optional!

By Sam Linton

You know, we dub ourselves as “Lifestyle” here, but few and far between are the times that we actually step up to direct our readers on how, exactly, they are to style their lives. Well no more! This article kicks off what may well be a multipart series on the styling of lives, giving you, the MONDO readership, the tips, tricks, cheats, and flat-out chicanery necessary to turn your lives completely around. Now, truth be told, I’m not exactly sure what kind of a person reads MONDO, but presumably, it’s someone with a well-rounded interest in the arts, music, film, television, videogames, comic books, and tenuously lifestyle-related miscellanea. And who has an internet connection. However, for a personality with interests as well rounded as these, something has to give, and I suspect that in the MONDO readership, it’s the social graces (I hope my blanket-generalizations aren’t offensive). Well, don’t worry, internet-friends! Because the MONDO Lifestyle section has made it its special mission to take you all from trashy to classy with a simple list of affectations you can use to patch over your social weaknesses and appear in all situations as either the gentleman’s gentleman (which I believe is a polite term for “butler”), or lady’s lady (wet nurse? scullery maid?). So join me, won’t you, as MONDO Lifestyle delves into… Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Coraline Reviewed: An Animated Eye-gasm

Posted by film On February - 6 - 2009

Coraline
Directed by Henry Selick
Laika Entertainment

By Sam Linton

Take THAT, Spike Jonze.

Take THAT, Spike Jonze.

Let me preface this review by admitting that I may be a bit biased in favour of Neil Gaiman. In general, I really enjoy his storytelling, and he has rarely let me down. However, I haven’t read his novella Coraline. Personally, I think that this is a plus, as I walked into the theatre without any extra baggage about how well the movie matched the book. Which is good, because apparently there are some changes. Not major ones, but changes nonetheless. Gaiman himself has likened the process of giving works over to be adapted as “like trying to find a really good babysitter”, and I think it’s clear that when it comes to babysitting others’ stories, director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) is one talented fifteen year-old.

The plot of the filmed version of Coraline is relatively straightforward, if not simple. The eponymous Coraline is a preteen girl who has just moved from Michigan to the outer suburbs of Oregon. Her parents, both writers for a gardening catalogue, are saddled with deadlines and rarely have time for Coraline, whose own friends have been left behind in Michigan. On top of this, the old house her family now sublets is full of weirdoes, from the ancient pair of stage actresses inhabiting the basement to the Russian mouse-training acrobat practicing in the attic. The only nearby person her own age is the landlady’s grandson, Wybourne, who Coraline finds irritatingly chatty. However, her escape from this dreary (and, being the Pacific Northwest, rainy) reality comes when Coraline discovers a tunnel to the other house, where everything seems so much better. In the other house, button-eyed simulacra of her real family, neighbors and friends care only for her and life seems a constant spectacle. Of course, Gaiman being Gaiman and Selick being Selick, there is something terribly amiss, but I won’t spoil it.

Take THAT, Cirque de Soleil.

Take THAT, Cirque de Soleil.

Gaiman’s story provides a great setting, but Coraline is first and foremost animation for people who love animation. Done in classic stop-motion, Coraline is an utter eye-gasm (for the more high-minded: phantasmagoria) of wondrous visual delight. Though most apparent in the purposefully fantastic scenes (the living garden is particularly marvellous), the attention to detail in every shot makes the entire film richly rewarding to watch. Selick’s deeply macabre aesthetic is a perfect match for the story.

In the same vein as the animation, the use of 3D in this movie was particularly skillful, especially the part about not needing prompting of when to put on and when to take off the damned glasses. The way the film incorporates the 3D aspect is quite canny; for the scenes demanding spectacle, such as the aforementioned garden coming to life, or a circus of jumping mice, the audience is treated to a full 3D extravaganza, with mice leaping around in space, flowers blooming all around you, needles popping out to stab you in the eyes, etc. It’s all very thrilling. But what most impressed me was the use of 3D in the downbeat scenes, where it was subtly used to convey a sense of depth, emphasize objects, or transition from Coraline’s “dream world” through the tunnel into reality. If this is a taste of 3D’s real potential, I have no qualms about wearing the silly glasses over my normal ones for the entire time.

Desperate Housewives?

Take THAT, Desperate Housewives.

Of course, for all its visual splendor, Coraline is not a silent movie, and the voice acting must also be acknowledged. Dakota Fanning does a capable job as Coraline and John Hodgman as her father delivers a similar performance. Terri Hatcher, though, delivers an exceptional turn in two roles, playing Coraline’s loving but frayed-to-the-point-of-exasperation mother, and running the gamut of villainy as her button-eyed “other mother”. Rounding out the cast are such talents as Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Keith David, Robert Baily Jr., and Deadwood’s own Ian McShane as the disappointingly non-foul mouthed acrobat Mr. Bobinsky, all giving solid performances.

As a children’s movie, I wouldn’t know how to rate Coraline. What with the Pokémons and the Power Rangers and the Katamari Damacy, I have no idea what the kids today are into. Probably drugs. However, anyone with an interest in phenomenal animation, good storytelling, and what kids these days ought to be into, owes Coraline a look. Preferably in 3D, which would mean within the next three weeks. As Gaiman himself cautions, “you probably have about until The Jonas Brothers’ Movie comes out.”

MONDO Lifestyle’s Two-Fisted Tales

Posted by lifestyle On February - 3 - 2009
That's right, readers: This could be YOU!

That's right, readers: This could be YOU!

There’s fighting, there’s fighting dirty, and then there’s fighting MONDO.

By Jacob Kaufman and Sam Linton. Illustration by Dara Gold

Over the course of the MONDOlifestyle section’s run, we’ve covered many things: love, sex, wordplay, politics, the future, fashion, consumerism, countless gripes, and probably much, much more. But one subject has thus far eluded us: fisticuffs. It’s odd to think, but despite the MONDO contributors’ combined fighting prowess, we’ve never taken the time to reflect on our victories in print. Well, no more! Today, we at MONDOlifestyle will dust off our fighting gloves and reveal our secrets for keeping in our fighting prime, that someday you, The MONDO Reader, will be able to fight at the level of the best MONDO contributors.

Lesson one: It’s all about the fist names.

It’s true; the secret to good fighting is having an hilarious pair of names for your fists. Some say it brings luck, others merely confidence, but studies have shown that people with named fists win more fights. Obviously, therefore, the first step for anyone who wants to succeed in MONDO levels of fighting is to come up with some fist names. Now, we here at MONDO cannot name your fists for you; that’s an entirely personal decision. What we can do, however, is offer some suggestions for you to base a decision off, or at least give you a basic idea behind the philosophies informing the fist naming. In that spirit, we offer the following brief list of good fist name candidates, in hopes of inspiring you, the MONDO readership, to new heights of beatitude.

I’m sorry, that’s “Beat-attitude”, not beatitude. I don’t know how I could have possibly gotten those mixed up.

On with the list! Read the rest of this entry »

Surviving Winter in Five Easy Steps

Posted by lifestyle On January - 16 - 2009

Because suicide is for the weak.
By Sam Linton

The Winter Blahs. They come around every year, crippling people, organizations, and sometimes entire webzine sections with inaction and despair. An incessant, endlessly grey enemy without form , the Blahs (also known, among the less “cutesy” among us, as the Seasonal Blues, the Long Dull, or the Devouring White) remind us daily that our sun has deserted us, and that everything around us is dead or dying. Understandably, this isn’t the easiest time to keep up a positive attitude, or really any attitude whatsoever besides “perma-tired”. But there is hope! In the face of the endless, bleak deathscape that is winter, there are certain strategies — coping mechanisms if you will — that may make the endless months of Winter seem a tiny bit less grim, and a tiny bit more bearable.

1)  Get a sun lamp. You know, the ones that supposedly mimic the natural light of the sun. That way, it’s like it’s not winter at all. In the room where you keep the lamp, that is. And assuming that you have also turned the heat on. Wait, they cost how much? 200 dollars?! Fuck. Okay, how about you… Read the rest of this entry »

MONDOFilm’s Top Five Lists

Posted by film On January - 9 - 2009

We got love for Wall-E.

By Jacob Kaufman, Leo K. Moncel, Sam Linton and Shane McNeil

I think we all had an especially good time at the movies this year. It looks like a couple of us even learned how to sneak into TIFF screenings without being caught. Our top five lists range from the (deservedly) well-travelled to the slightly off road, but generally the films that impressed our crew in 2008 were bold, high-energy, and gutsy.

Jacob Kaufman’s List

5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Dir: Nicholas Stoller)
I probably should have put Milk or Doubt or one of those movies in this slot, but I didn’t see them. Let The Right One In may have Swedish vampires, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall has singing vampire puppets.

4. Iron Man (Dir: Jon Favreau)
Robert Downey Jr. dominates this movie by playing a character like himself, but who also is a billionaire genius-inventor. This movie may not have been as deep as The Dark Knight, but it was far more fun.

3. The Dark Knight (Dir: Christopher Nolan)
This brilliant epic kicks ass while asking serious questions about justice and the nature of society. And, of course, hosannas to Heath Ledger, who made a guy in bad clown make-up genuinely terrifying.

2. Wall-E (Dir: Andrew Stanton)
This movie turns a machine that looks like a box with binoculars into something more human than most people you will ever meet. Its first half is almost a silent film and feels like poetry on the screen.

"Will you come down from that tree!?"

"Will you come down from that tree!?"

1. Burn After Reading (Dir: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
First of all, I don’t think I have ever laughed harder in a theatre (much to the chagrin of my neighbours). The Coen Brothers sketch five original, idiosyncratic main characters with perfect economy. The contrast with, for example, The Ladykillers, shows how the Coen Brothers have recovered their ability to create a comedic storyline that is truly character-driven. Every lead actor has found the pulse of their character, and the humour comes from their commitment to what they’re doing, however absurd. Special credit should go to the scene-stealing performance from J.K. “Juno’s Dad/ Spiderman’s Boss/ Nazi Gang Leader” Simmons as the no-bullshit CIA Director. This comedy does not pander to the audience’s expectations – it ruthlessly subverts them with an ever-rising sense of grimness.

Leo K. Moncel’s List

5. Detroit Metal City (Dir: Toshio Lee)
A gentle, meek young man who writes pop songs about dolphins and picnics must perform as Sir Kaiser, a filth-spewing metalhead monster, to make ends meet. A hilarious send-up on the public/private life divide: so universal, yet so Japanese.

4. Slumdog Millionaire (Dir: Danny Boyle)
Better believe it! This movie’s energetic, panoramic, and totally wild, and yet grounded in the real. The ingenious structure of the screenplay and its fluid handling of compressions of time what was what left me cheering.

3. Wall-E (Dir: Andrew Stanton)
A really impressive example of silent storytelling and character development. The games played with viewer expectations are brilliant. A landmark dystopic film for kids.

2. Food, Inc. (Dir: Robert Kenner)
Oooh, my goodness. Following the work of folks like Michael Pollan, this polished documentary pulls back the curtain on how agribusiness run amok has devastated our food’s quality and safety, not to mention the welfare of our species and planet. Eye-opening, sometimes shocking, yet never dismal.

He had it rough.

He had it rough.

1. The Dark Knight (Dir: Christopher Nolan)
I have to give it to The Dark Knight. This movie is the Taxi Driver of its genre. It is richly complex without being complicated. True, it’s all about The Joker, but The Joker is fascinating not just for Ledger’s performance (though this is every bit as charged and detailed as people insist), but because he proceeds with a very definite thesis. Through all of the apparent chaos, the Joker is really just out to prove that anyone, given the right conditions, is capable of horrific brutality. He is arguing for nurture over nature. His presence therefore implies a sad and terrifying history of mis-nurturing that transformed him into the twisted wreck of a human being before us. It was a bold choice by Nolan and company to plant themselves so deep in the darkness. It’s resulted in a film of rare quality.

Sam Linton’s List

5. Wall-E (Dir: Andrew Stanton)
I love Pixar’s films, and this film had everything that I love them for: memorable characters, jokes not dependant on a steady stream of up-to-the-minute, pop-cultural minutia, and that intangible quality I sometimes hear referred to as “heart.”

4. Iron Man (Dir: Jon Favreau)
This was the movie Marvel fans were waiting for, and the one that finally, after far, far, far too long, washed the putrid taste of X-Men III out of my mouth.

3. Burn After Reading (Dir: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
The main complaint I hear (implicitly) leveled against this movie is that it’s not as thematically heavy as No Country for Old Men. But of course it’s not going to be as “heavy”; it’s a Horatian satire, a light (for the Coen brothers, anyways – the body count does pile) comic exposée on the climate of paranoia running through American society. The perfect 2000s-era comedy.

2. The Dark Knight (Dir: Christopher Nolan)
Yeah, it was pretty obvious this one was coming. The film’s thematically tight (order vs. chaos, to be glib), well-written, and carried by amazing performances from Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, and Gary Oldman. The thinking man’s action movie.

Annyeong haseyo, motherfucker.

Annyeong haseyo, motherfucker.

1. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Dir: Ji-woon Kim)
Surprise! Are you surprised? I sure was! I only got to see this once at TIFF, but it blew me away! A Korean Western set in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation? Lord, yes! Director Ji-woon Kim pulled all the stops out to make a visually thrilling, modern spaghetti Western that seldom disappoints. Did I like this film as much as The Dark Knight? Honestly, no, but I’m throwing the value of the surprise together with the entertainment value of the film to give it a slight edge over its North American rival. I fully expected to like Batman; this movie caught me entirely off guard. Unfortunately, it seems to still be in search of a North American distributor. Hopefully, it will find one soon, so 2009 will be the year to catch the best film of 2008!

Shane McNeil’s List

5. In Bruges (Dir: Martin McDonagh)
“Homage is too strong a word,” says a beautiful European stagehand. Self-aware and entertaining. Gotta love that.

4. Slumdog Millionaire (Dir: Danny Boyle)
You’ll love it, it’s almost unavoidable. Maybe if it had tried a bit less, I’d have loved it more. I still loved it.

3. Let the Right One In (Dir: Tomas Alfredson)
A vampire movie where the vampire herself is the least of the threats to the hero. Sweet and simple.

2. Pontypool (Dir: Bruce McDonald)
Only our Bruce McDonald could have made such an innovative, inexplicable, and wildly original, entertaining mess.

Docusurrealism.

Docusurrealism.

1. Waltz with Bashir (Dir: Ari Folman)
It is unlike any other animated film you have ever seen. Same for the documentary. It probes the soul of a filmmaker to find the one horror he wishes he could forget. It’s stylish, heartbreaking, insightful, and sometimes even funny. It does with drawings what the cinematic eye almost wouldn’t permit with a live camera, and then has the nerve to give us a glimpse of it anyway. Waltz is already receiving recognition as both an animated film and a doc, and that trend could continue well into Oscar season. With all apologies to Wall-E, which almost cracked this list, it is easily the best animated film of the year and perhaps the best animated work I’ve ever seen.

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!

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.

Lexipoeia: Offensive Content?

Posted by lifestyle On July - 29 - 2008

Answering reader mail is so gay, it’s retarded.

By Sam Linton

This week, against my better judgment, I’ll be doing something a little different in Lexipoeia: responding to reader mail. Now as a near omniscient voice of authority in the Lifestyle section (and, frankly, in most aspects of life), I like to believe that I have all the answers. Nevertheless, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have all the questions. Thus, it sometimes falls to me to have you, the readers, tell me what to weigh in on, as in this little gem of a letter I received recently:

Dear Sam “Lexipoeia” Linton,

What is your position on the use of currently re-popularized terms “retarded” and “gay”? My own position is that using the terms is immature and obnoxious. However, I find the terms far more offensive when they are used to prop up old stereotypes — i.e. “Tommy doesn’t play hockey? That’s totally gay,” or, “Catherine failed physics, what a retard.”

How do you feel about the re-popularization of these terms?

Thanks,

Completely Anonymous Reader

Obviously, my first impulse was to fire back a response along the lines of “Hey there ‘friend,’ do see the words ‘write-in’ anywhere on the masthead of this column? If I wanted reader input, I’d ask for it, okay?” Then maybe I’d have the MONDOgoons teach our anonymous reader a little chin music, just to smarten him or her up. (Yes, I’m not afraid to send goons to beat up dames. I’m hardcore that way!) I mean, really, the audacity! Telling ME what to write in MY column?! And that thing with the name of this column as my nickname in quotations? That’s WAY too overly familiar, Completely Anonymous Reader. Over the line. I don’t let just anyone start dropping nicknames on me, okay?

So anyways, after I’d cooled off, done some tai chi, and punched a hole through my drywall (the UNMITIGATED GALL of this person!), I had to admit, the anonymous bastard had a point. This IS, after all, a legitimate area of lexicographical inquiry. So where do I and, by extension, the MONDO Lifestyle section, stand on it?

Conditionally, and independent of their use in stereotype reinforcement (which is a different kettle of fish, as it involves more the content of what the words are expressing than the words themselves being used to express said content), I am pro-”retarded” and anti-”gay” (but not, you know, “anti-gay.” The Lifestyle section supports ALL lifestyles, just like the Beastie Boys). This is not an arbitrary choice, however. As with every decision I have ever made, it is linguistically sound.

What makes the pejorative use of the term “retarded” more acceptable than the same use of “gay”? On the surface, both uses seem to use the further marginalization of already oft-stigmatized groups as a means of mockery. Why would this be okay? As with all questions linguistic, the answer goes back to the roots of the words; in this case, how each came to be applied to each of these marginalized groups.

For the term “gay,” the way by which the word came to be associated with homosexuality was in terms of self-labelling. Traditionally, “gay” was a term reflecting happiness, and not denying their homosexual urges made these “proto-gays” happier than a life of self-flagellation ever could, ergo they adopted the term “gay” to refer to themselves as a newly liberated group. It was a term of self-congratulation. The term “retarded” though, as used to refer to those of poorer-than-average cognitive abilities, has different origins. Originating as a word to apply to anything that has had its development “held back,” retarded as a term was applied to those with sub-mean IQs in the late 19th/early 20th century by proto-eugenicists seeking to isolate the “genetically inferior.” In this sense, one term has been appropriated by a marginalized group to refer to themselves positively (much as the same group would later re-appropriate “queer”), while the other has been imposed on a previously ignored group for the specific purpose of marginalizing it, making each term quite a different kettle of fish.

So why does this make “retarded” the more acceptable term, in a pejorative sense? Simply put, it started out that way. “Retarded” was never used in anything but a negative way, first to label ideas or concepts, then to label those thought deserving of stigmatization by implying that their intellectual development had been hindered, or “retarded,” leaving them in a child-like state. (Linguistic side note: this same process may have helped give the term “cretin” its current negative connotation. Originally, it derived from the French term for “Christian,” implying that, while this person may seem stupid to you, you are both equal in the eyes of the Lord, so watch your mouth, buddy! Later, it got completely turned around.) The term “gay,” on the other hand, is self-applied, and to give it a negative spin is to attempt to completely re-connotate the meaning of the term, to shift the meaning from “something that makes one happy” to “something that effeminizes and/or weakens.” UNACCEPTABLE! To say that an idea or concept (but NOT, as I noted in the intro to this Lexipoeia, a person) is “retarded” is actually to take the term back to its original meaning, which is to say “not fully developed.” And really, is that not the essence of any stupid idea? That it hasn’t been fully thought out? Lots of potentially great ideas are actually stupid, simply because of a neglected detail in the thought process. Is it not right to say that these ideas are “retarded,” in the sense that their development has been impeded by a cruel reality unwilling to acknowledge their potential awesomeness? This is different from pejoratively calling something “gay,” because to do THAT not only completely divorces the word (gay) from its ORIGINAL context, but serves only to stigmatize a group by associating them with a perceivedly negative thing.

To sum up: derogatorily saying something is “retarded” is fine, because it’s actually, in a sense, taking back the original meaning of the term. Derogatorily saying something is “gay” is not fine, as it actively seeks to stigmatize gay culture. Good? Good. Hopefully, this has answered Completely Anonymous Reader’s question, and (s)he will never feel the need to bother me again.

So until next time, remember: it’s a living language, let’s keep it that way.

Just don’t start bothering me about it.

[Do YOU have a linguistic inquiry that needs addressing? Send your letters to "Lexipoeia," c/o Samlinton@MONDOmagazine.net! –ed.]

Myths of the Internet: The Legend of the LOLcats

Posted by lifestyle On June - 27 - 2008

By Sam Linton

LOLcats. Laugh out loud funny, yes? LOLcats are pictures of ordinary housecats with ridiculous captions written in pidgin English, to great humourous effect. To most, they are a simple diversion from the banality of everyday living. But those few of us who know have another name for these sorrowful creatures: “the fallen.” For you see, these “laugh-out-loud cats” were not always figures of ridicule and amusement. In ages past, cats were believed to be amongst the most sagacious of beasts. What brought about their current decline in stature? The answer is to be found here, in yet another installment of…

Myths of the Internet!

Cats. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered as a goddesses. Other cultures also held a special place for felines: in Europe, they were known as witches’ familiars, companions in knowledge that humankind simply was not meant to know. And cats are significant in some Asian cultures as well.

Cats have long fascinated people with their apparent mythic insights into the unknowable. Now they talk in baby voices and ask for “cheezburgers.” How did this happen? And, more importantly, how will future generations recognize this, the moment when cats were robbed of their mythic qualities? That’s where we come in. Those of us belonging to the present must preserve the past for the inhabitants of the future.

Once the Internet inevitably ceases to be, be this through nuclear holocaust, rapture of God, or Avian flu (my money’s on the bird flu), we will have to rely on the tradition of oral storytelling. Thus, as you read this story, try to imagine yourself somewhere other than in front of a radiating computer screen. Imagine the tale as it would be related by a tribal elder or village storyteller, recounting legends of long ago by the light of a dying fire in the twilight of civilization. And now we can begin…

As the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat. At the dawning of the Age of the Internet, this saying proved to be disastrously prophetic. For ages, the cat was known for its mysteriousness, lending to the fabled animal an air of superiority, wisdom, and aristocracy. However, it was the characteristic of curiosity that inevitably led to the downfall of the cat.

Cats were intrigued by the Internet. It seemed to promise global access to information, and the cats’ curiosity was piqued. However, by nature cats are also secretive, and therefore they mistrusted the Internet’s vast gaze. If the cats were able to use the net to sate their curiosity about the world, would not the reverse be true?

But Internet was a crafty foe, and he knew the cats’ one true weakness: vanity. To the cats he proposed that they give themselves over to the Internet’s domain and learn all that they ever needed to know to satisfy their curiosity. In turn they would be presented on the Internet such that the entire globe might bask in their elegant magnificence. To this, the cats readily agreed. After all, cats had been revered in Egyptian and (sort of) revered in European circles since time immemorial. What could be better than an entire globe of worshippers? However, crafty Internet neglected to mention one important detail: total access. By consigning themselves to Internet’s domain, the cats had agreed to abide by Internet’s rules. In so doing, the cats had sealed their own doom, for in the domain of the Internet, everything one does, however embarrassing, foolish, or demeaning, is not only preserved, but popularized (see also: The Legends of the Lightsabre Kid, Leave Britney Alone Guy and Obama Girl). Suddenly, everything that the cats did to sate their curiosity, from sleeping on computer monitors (will this feel comfortable?) to becoming trapped in couch cushions (what’s under here?), was preserved and broadcast for all to see. How can one maintain an aura of mystery under such conditions? Simply put, one cannot. And thus the ancient and noble race of cats were denigrated to the level of the LOLcat, robbed of their intrigue and made into objects of fun by the clever machinations of Internet, king of all tricksters.

The lesson of the LOLcats bears much to think upon and is certainly worth preserving for the future. The twin dangers of curiosity and vanity will no doubt plague our descendants in the robot-ravaged battlegrounds of the future. Will our children’s children succumb to the silver-tongued entreaties of cyborgs? Will they trust every aspect of their lives to increasingly intelligent machines and feel secure in their inherent “mastery” until the day that Skynet kicks in and decides humanity is obsolete? Will the children of the feral bands of future-survivalists allow their own curiosity to overcome them and wander from the safety of their units, only to be consumed by waves of irradiated bird-flu zombies? Not if they heed the lessons of the LOLcats and temper their vanity and curiosity with the instincts of self-preservation. With any luck, the mythologizing of LOLcats could spare the denizens of the future a great deal of harm and heartache.

So remember, please, for the sake of the future, to print these articles off. Hand them down to your children, your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children, that the lessons of our times will not be lost.

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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

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