THE RUN DOWN

One of the things I like to do on this blog sometimes is change the design and template from time to time. I get bored easily when it comes to a number of things in life, but my blog template is at least one thing I can change with relative ease. I have to tweak coding here and there to make it work, but it’s worth it.

A few months ago, an article in the New York Times was posted about how book choices influence your choice in partner. I can’t find the link right now, but it surprisingly spoke to me. I say surprisingly because, really, it smacked of elitist snobbery the moment I caught a whiff of its Upper East Side authorship.

Sometimes, The New York Times, I swear – if it were a person, it would be Scarlett Johansson. One minute, you’re mesmerized by what it/she represents and the infinite possibilities it/she invokes. The other minute, it/she only reminds you of how far away from that world you actually are, here in Beta-Class, Featureless-and-Formless, Passive-Aggressive Toronto.

Anyway, back to the article. Yes, that’s what I thought at first, the article was snobbery Writ Large. But I was wrong. It’s actually true. But not in the way the author intended, methinks.

It’s taken some time to really consider this, but the argument’s basically true for any kind of media a person enjoys. In order for you to really have a meaningful, long-lasting relationship with someone, you can’t connect on just touch or sentiment alone. That’s been understood for eons – the idea of sharing cultural interests to form a solid foundation with someone.

But what’s different about the idea of shared cultural interests now, as opposed to say, even 20 years ago, is the sheer depth and orders of magnitude culture produces now. It’s getting virtually impossible to find a prospective partner who fits your cultural make-up to a tee; nowadays, it’s almost becoming mathematical, even quadratic, in the relationship equation on the subject of culture.

Solve for X:
Me: Non-fiction books + science fiction (politics) = X
You: Fiction books (Reality TV) – horror = X

It’s an unworkable, if perhaps too literal, take on culture in a relationship. You have to almost find a Gladwell-esque Tipping Point in order to balance each other out.

If you really think about it, the more our cultural interests become atomized, self-directed, the harder it becomes to share a common bond with people. Some people might long for a simpler age.

When you’re young, it’s remarkably easy for people to bond on the basis of shared cultural interests. Music’s always the first thing to go when it comes to collective, broad appreciation. Then movies. Then television. And, eventually, books. Obviously it’s not the same formula for everyone. But it does beg some questions.

As the initial thrills of a relationship just blossoming eventually fade, can couples work past the cultural equations based on love alone? You know how relationships and love are about having something from someone that no one else can give you? Well, that may be true – but does it even apply to culture?

IN TREATMENT

I’m going to be honest: last Sunday’s Emmy Awards reminded me of a Woody Allen quote, which is especially apt given Allen would have ample fodder for future films with this year’s Emmys:

“Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”

Truer words have never been spoken – the nominees showed up on Sunday and were infinitely more entertaining, engaging and fun than the actual show. They did their part. Tina Fey, funny and deserving. John Adams, well-deserving. Alec Baldwin, deserving. Mad Men, very deserving.

But not to put too fine a point on it, this year’s Emmys were the all-time worst in Emmys history. It was a sorry excuse for a 60th anniversary show. It was a show remarkably lacking in self-awareness and entertainment value – in short, it was a very clear and present example of what has gone wrong in the American television industry.

After the Dr. Strangelove-esque year the television industry has had – ever-declining network ratings, the non-stop gallows humour that was the WGA strike, et al – it’s understandable, to some extent, that the Emmys would use a variety of Let’s Put On A Show tactics to bring the razzle-dazzle back to a moribund industry. Big, fancy sets that no Canadian TV network would dare shell out for, gigantic, almost-Orwellian video screens – the promise of a halfway decent show was there.

Of course, that didn’t happen. It was shockingly bad. And proof positive, no offense, that Baby Boomers and their older brethren need to get out of producing award shows. Permanently.

While the show’s numerous faults have been listed ad nauseum thus far, I just have to add my .02 here. I can’t resist.

First off, the cynical and ratings-killing choice of having five Situational Reality TV hosts as Emmy hosts. It’s bad enough to see hair-and-teeth types like Ryan Seacrest or Jeff Probst on a normal day; what was the Emmys production team thinking having those guys, plus Howie Mandel, banter on for 12 minutes in a profoundly unfunny opening set? It’s no secret most real television people deeply resent the infusion of reality TV as a legitimate form of programming – now we have to see these deer-caught-in-headlights attempting The Funny? Also, is Heidi Klum actually able to move her jaw?

Secondly, Josh Groban. Oh Josh. Five words: Good Thing You Have Talent. His Emmys “performance” which reeked of self-indulgent Boomer nostalgia was almost tragically surreal. For anyone without his vocal chops or marketability, the Emmys’ medley of TV theme songs – The X-Files? What? – over the past decades could have been a career killer. Thankfully, Groban can get past this, but etched in the memory of millions is this tragi-comic moment that will take awhile for Groban to recover from:

Thirdly, a reunion of the cast of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. I understand this is an anniversary show, which warrants a retrospective into television’s past. I get that. Thing is, however, that re-enacting shows on a stage in front of millions of TV viewers can go one of only two ways: a smirk-inducing, nostalgic reminder of what passed for a moment in time’s entertainment, or a hopelessly dated reminder of why a show was cancelled in the first place. Unfortunately, the Laugh-In segment went with the latter.

Fourthly (almost done, I swear), the haphazard pacing of the show. Because of the Train Wreck-qualities of the five hosts, the show’s marquee award presentations were rushed through. While Jimmy Kimmel, Jeremy Piven and Neil Patrick Harris (!) both managed to put all five of them in their rightful place as the movie Network’s prophecies come to live, how could the Emmys have let categories like Best Drama – of course, the brightest light of the night for me, congrats Matt Weiner and Mad Men! – be rushed?

Finally, the Moments of Seriousness that stunk up the joint as false, preening and self-congratulatory. Nobody doubts the Emmys are largely irrelevant in many respects. The absence of Battlestar Galactica in the Best Drama category proves this point on its own. Yet for a medium largely driven by the potency of immediate gratification, it seems incredibly hypocritical and cowardly for an awards show to mandate No Political Chatter and then turn around and award deserving shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report for their writing. How are we supposed to take an award show even at face value when there’s such blatant two-facedness on the show’s organizers?

After the monstrosity that was this year’s Emmys, I’m finally, completely done with award shows. I believe this image of a protracted, eventually not-so-funny exchange between Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell says it all:

MODERN LOVE

Let me be clear: I am not an unkind man.

I’ve willingly and unwillingly gone to cultural events over the years. Sometimes because I love it, other times just to make someone else happy. That’s just how relationships, friendships, whatever, are – you make compromises sometimes.

But this – oh God, no! – is just way too much. Candace Bushnell is penning a new “teen years” book series on Carrie Bradshaw’s sex life in the 1980s. Great, so what, we get Carrie using legwarmers and perms while she has random sex with Judd Nelson-esque characters in NYC, circa 1984?

Oh God, please no more. As much as Hollywood seems hellbent on convincing the world that Bushnell’s work post-2001 is actually worth paying attention to, why would anyone, anywhere, care about Carrie Bradshaw’s affairs in the 1980s? Who exactly is the target audience here? Teenagers? Please, they’re watching Gossip Girl. Twentysomethings? They’re probably too young to have any kind of cultural relationship with the 1980s, which is really what a show like this is about – crazy, drug-fueled parties at Peter Gaiten’s clubs and other Bret Easton Ellis-esque references to the contradictory, insane Reagan Era. Thirtysomethings? Well, as long as they’re not watching Bones or House or taking care of their kids or rapidly-devalued home in the suburbs.

And in other news, the publishing industry in the U.S. continues its slow, steady move towards congealing into pablum.

THE 21ST CENTURY BEGINS… NOW?

It’s been a few days since I last posted on here, but needless to say it’s been a bit busy as of late.

Before I write about my main topic of interest – the new issue of Esquire – I have to post this poster for Seth Rogen’s new movie Zack and Miri Make A Porno.

See, the moralistic nutjobs at the MPAA decided the old poster of Zack and Miri – which features a barely-there shot of Seth Rogen getting a blow job – was way, way too much for the sensitive child-people of America. So here’s what the cheeky, witty folks behind Kevin Smith’s upcoming ode to amateur pornography did as an alternative:

I love you Seth. I love you Kevin. I love the View Askew.

Anyway, onto the business at hand…

Yesterday I got my new edition of Esquire – it’s the 75th anniversary issue and it’s truly epic in size and scope. The main theme of the issue is, as the august periodical proudly and confidently claims, that the 21st century begins right now.

Sure, it may be a few months still before the next President of the U.S. is elected and a real, clean break with the horrors of the past eight years is finally wrought. Maybe that’s when the 21st century truly begins, who knows.

In any event, Esquire neatly lays out some of the finest journalism I’ve seen in quite sometime with this issue: there are profiles of the 75 most influential people of this coming century, some you know (Barack Obama, Al Gore, et al) and some you’ve never heard of but glad you know of now (Rory Stewart, et al). There’s also articles on Google’s influence, filmmaker P.T. Anderson, new technologies being introduced to help immobilized folks re-gain control over their senses and movements, and a kind of Lessons Learned piece about the Bush Administration. It’s monolithic and truly overwhelming to take in with one sitting, but I can’t recommend the new issue of Esquire enough.

MAD MEN: Wow – I’m really starting to get revved up over where this season is going. Holy crap Don, how does it feel to have Betty go on the attack now? And really, next week looks like the inevitable showdown between Peter and Peggy is finally here. Oh it’s getting very, very good now.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BUSH AND PALIN…

… Lipstick! Good God that’s very, very disturbing. And possibly more accurate than even CNN can deliver on. I mean, consider how much Palin and Bush are similar:

* Both Bush and Palin are Christians.
* Both have Evangelical backgrounds.
* Both use unethical, win-at-all-costs approaches to elections. In Palin’s case, she’s a dangerously unqualified candidate whom has been put on the Republican ticket as a cynical gesture by delusional party insiders who think her possession of breasts is a sure-fire win among female working class voters. In Bush’s case, among other Very Bad Things his administration has done, he’s a dangerously unqualified President who cynically used the racist “Southern Strategy” to ensure his win among delusional Religious Right members.
* Both love their guns.
* Both are pro-life.
* Both stay in shape with near-religious ferocity.
* Both have no idea how federal politics works. Or maybe they do – Karl Rove’s been busy the past eight years.

Ugh.

CANADIAN ELECTION: Oh right! The Canadian election. That little exercise in democracy we call Canada decides on October 14th.

So right now, Harper’s got the lead and Dion’s got a very big, uphill battle ahead of him to get within striking distance. He’s got a lot of challenges he may not be up for:

* The slowing down of the Canadian economy, particularly in Ontario, normally a Liberal stronghold. While the Green Shift is a nice piece of policy with real teeth, no matter how you slice it, offering up a new carbon tax while gas prices soar and manufacturing jobs disappear at an alarming rate will be a very tough sell outside of the cities. Environmentalism only takes you so far when it comes to people deciding between clean air and, you know, a job to feed a family with.

* Dion’s personality. I’ve met Dion a few times, he’s a brilliant guy and of the few senior Liberals who managed to emerge unscathed from the Martin years. But unlike his mentor, Jean Chrétien, Dion’s English is especially weak in public appearances and he does not have the charisma or charm of Chrétien. This will not play well, despite what many Liberals believe. He’s going to have to hit it out of the park in both the TV debates (which, just for the record, the Green Party was once again excluded from today – a solid little anti-democratic move, wouldn’t you say?) and in every public appearance he makes, especially out West and in Quebec.

HIGHER COSTS, HIGHER EDUCATION?

You want to know something crazy? At this time 10 years ago, I was a Gael and an orientation leader at Queen’s. I was in second-year at Queen’s. Man, it’s been a wild decade or so.

Those were almost halcyon days when it came to how much one year of Queen’s cost. Aside from my first year – the most expensive year for any student – it was, all told, a pretty reasonably priced experience.

At least, when you compare it to today’s costs. I have tremendous sympathy to those students going into undergraduate studies nowadays – all the worst fears many folks had about rising costs of university back in my day at Queen’s have come true.

Fast fact: back in 1997 when I was a first-year student, the whole experience – tuition, the student activity fee, residence, computer, travel costs, et al – was roughly about $13,000, give or take a few hundred. After that, costs only went down: the computer lasted for years, rent, utilities and food were significantly cheaper (and better) than in residence and tuition rose roughly at the cost of inflation.

Of course, alarm bells were sounded, I recall, when Queen’s was given permission by the Harris Government to de-regulate Commerce and Engineering.

Now, check these prices out for one year of study at Queen’s. Bear in mind two factors: one, this doesn’t include computer costs, travel costs and recreational spending, and also that real incomes have not risen in any substantive or meaningful fashion now for over twenty years. These figures are from the Queen’s Registrar’s web site and take into account tuition costs, the student activity fee and the Student Assistance Levy.

Applied Science – $8,528.52
Arts and Science – $5,626.64
Commerce – $11,387.83 (!)
Education – $5,537.83
Nursing – $5,670.83
Phys. Ed – $5,630.90

You think those numbers scream “inaccessibility?” Wait for residence…

Single room/meal plan – Main Campus: $9,627.00
Double room/meal plan – Main Campus: $9,527.00 (wow, a difference of a whole $100.00!)
Triple room/meal plan – Main Campus: $8,927.00

So let’s see: you’re a Commerce student coming in front a small Ontario town. Here’s how much you’ll be paying for your first year of study, under the least tolerable triple room plan, and not taking into account your computer you’ll have to have as part of the Commerce program, or any travel costs associated with going home for Thanksgiving or the holidays, or, you know, going out once in a blue moon:

$20,314.83

Wow. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.

This is just horrific. But wait Greg! What about bursaries, loans or grants?

Sure, there’s OSAP and private bank loans alright. And Queen’s, under this deregulation plan, made commitments to “needs-blind” accessibility (God I got so tired of hearing that phrase) that involves earmarking a larger percentage of funds to needy students.

Thing is, and this is the unfortunate down side of de-regulation, those bursaries are largely earmarked for poorer students. The vast, vast, vast majority of Queen’s students (even if some of them pretend to be rich while on campus to keep up with the Leaside-Rosedale-Westmount Crowd) are middle class kids, i.e. unqualified applicants for free money.

I’m not going to wax philosophical about why this is a profoundly lousy system for students entering the system now. The numbers speak for themselves. But it really does feel like even though my generation of Queen’s students did win a few battles against de-regulation, like Arts and Science students taking the administration on through a referendum vote, we really did allow future Commerce and Engineering students to bear a much more serious financial burden than we ever did. Did we fight hard enough?

Maybe the arguments in favour of de-regulation are, in fact, holding true: the higher costs are paying for far, far superior resources and professors than any previous generation of business and engineering students ever had. Maybe that’s true, who knows. It’s really impossible to tell – just because Commerce students have a sweet building in Goodes Hall and Engineering students have resources now that are just plain astounding doesn’t mean they’re getting better or more talented at their chosen fields. People ultimately form the basis of any profession, not what goes into it.

Just something to think about as a new school year starts.

WEAPONIZED POLITICS

- CTV.ca

- CTV.ca

Ugh. Double ugh and a vodka martini on top, thanks.

Last night’s speech by Sarah Palin was political theatre at its most sanctimonious. There’s really no other way to describe it.

It’s bad enough to see Rudy Giuliani speak out on the national stage yet again (talk about repressed memories). Some of the more notable quotes from the man:

“He is the least experienced candidate for president of the United States in at least the last 100 years.”

Sure Rudy. Here’s a list of some of America’s previous Presidents and their “experience” going into office:

Warren Harding – a Lieutenant Governor of Ohio before he became a U.S. Senator.
Herbert Hoover – U.S. Secretary of Commerce before winning the Presidency.
Dwight Eisenhower – U.S. Army Supreme Allied Commander in WW2.
John F. Kennedy – NO previous Executive experience of any kind, U.S. Congressman from 1947 to 1960.

Barack Obama – Teacher of constitutional law for 12 years, community worker and advocate for more than 10 years, state legislator in Illinois from 1997 to 2004, U.S. Senator from 2005 to present.

In other words, while Obama might not be the most Executive-level experienced candidate in U.S. history, it’s a bit petty and hypocritical to say he lacks experience. And since when did “Executive-level experience” even matter? A person doesn’t get to the top of American politics because he or she looks good (well, at least not all the time).

“Not a personal attack, a statement of fact. Barack Obama has never led anything, nothing, nada.”

Wow Rudy, you outright lied on national television. Again. And you managed to look like a jerk in the process. Good for you!

“I’m sorry that Barack Obama feels that her hometown isn’t cosmopolitan enough.”

Well, a town of less than 10,000 people is quite a contrast from 300 million people. Just saying. Oh, nice little subtle jab at Obama’s perceived “elite” qualities by distancing him from small-town, rural America. That’s a nice touch!

Anyway, enough of that. Onto the Palin Express! Here’s some of her more notable quotes:

“Since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”

Right, and all those years in Illinois State Legislature and the U.S. Senate were basically throw-away years for Obama. And as Moby (!) points out, Palin’s approach being a mayor was, well, shall we say, taking her responsibilities a touch too far at times.

“Listening to him speak it’s easy to forget that this is a man who’s authored two memoirs, but not a single major law or even a reform, not even in the state Senate.”

Okay, now this is just insane. Lies, lies and more lies – congrats America, you’re getting a Veep candidate that gets away with outright lies on national television.

Here’s a list of what Obama has done, thanks to various sources tagged via Wikipedia:

– Gained bipartisan support for legislation reforming ethics and health care laws;
– Sponsored a law increasing tax credits for low-income workers, negotiated welfare reform, and promoted increased subsidies for childcare;
– As co-chairman of Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, supported Republican Governor Ryan’s payday loan regulations and mortgage lending regulations aimed at averting home foreclosures;
– In 2003, Obama sponsored and led unanimous, bipartisan passage of legislation to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they detained and legislation making Illinois the first state to mandate videotaping of homicide interrogations;
– The Coburn-Obama Transparency Act in the U.S. Senate;
– Co-sponsor of various laws, including the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, the Secure Fence Act, the Honest Government and Open Leadership Act;
– Introduced the Iraq War De-Escalation Act;
– Numerous assignments on various Senate committees, including Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works and Veterans’ Affairs;

The list keeps going. In other words, don’t believe the hype – Palin and her Republican speechwriters are outright liars.

After all the jabs, personal attacks and lies perpetuated last night, you’d think the major news outlets like CNN would be willing to take Palin to task over her speech. Nope! This is America – the big media outlets have to stay on good terms with the Republicans in the event they win this marathon of hopelessness. So they ducked, blinked and continued the path of self-loathing that is the Beltway Media.

I can’t believe there’s another two months of this nonsense.