Election Day

[I wrote the following as a Facebook post originally, reacting to various things happening around the Toronto mayoral election]

I’m not a fan of the “election as representation of democracy working” idea. Waiting for an election to engage ourselves in the very public workings of our world is like waiting for the fire alarm to let us know when dinner is done.

I’m not writing this as a call to action. Maybe I am, if you see “call to action” as some very simple public awareness of the society we contribute to (and benefit from).

I have been appalled by the emboldened show of racism during this election. I would like to think that it represents – along with the Ford family – the last hurrah of a particularly old-fashioned and repulsive scourge in our society. However, this morning’s Toronto Sun editorial cartoon kind of pushed me over the edge. I can no longer think of “last hurrahs”, I can no longer “like to think” of optimistic horizons (though being white makes that infinitely easy).

I suppose I’m putting this out there to make it known that it’s important to call this stuff out. That it’s important to do more than roll our eyes and say to ourselves “Well, it’s just the Sun”. I’m saying this as someone who voted today, and of the candidates I voted for two out of three have been targeted in a most ugly and public fashion because of their race and/or perceived ethnic background.

There is what you can do on Election Day, and then there is what you can do in-between. We have to do better than this.

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Swirl

I am trying (desperately) to avoid a “boy, it’s been a wacky ride these last few months!” post. It certainly isn’t for lack of things to talk about, news to update you with, opinions to confess/shout.

Thing is, I don’t know who you are. Sure, I know there are some of you who are semi-regular visitors. There are others who happen upon this place by accident (via Blogger or StumbleUpon). There are also those who come here via Google searches, either via my name or – most likely – a book review (which admittedly I haven’t done in, oh, a year or so *). And no, this isn’t going to be a “Matt wittily evading accusations of being a lazy bastard by turning the camera on the reader” post.

I’ve been posting artsy stuff, writerly stuff, industry opinion stuff. I don’t mind the randomness, so long as there’s no fluff. I do mind the lack of output. I wish, for one, that I could post more photographs (which is to say, I wish I had a better selection of photos to post **).

It comes down to the fact that I’ve been working like a dog since May (note: this happens every year that I’m working on a SAW film). When I come out of these periods, I feel like Rip van Winkle: a little dazed, slow on the up-take. Whereas last year this time I started teaching, this time this year I am a student (part-time) †. I have a small (but good) feature and a small (but good and potentially controversial) TV show on my plate from now till February. If funds allow, I also hope to have an editor working with me on my novel, with an eye to approaching a publisher or self-publishing if that doesn’t seem feasible ††. I’m collaborating on a musical.

My plate is full.

– – – 

* which isn’t to say that I’m not reading or that I don’t want to do any more book reviews. I’m reading a lot of non-fiction, thank you. Much of it either out of professional or academic interest. However, if only to improve my Google ranking, here’s a quick book review of Antwerp by Roberto Bolaño: What the fuck was that? (ISBN-13: 978-0811217170)

** another casualty of working so much is my photography. I still have the same roll of film in my camera that I’d loaded in June. I think I’ve only taken 4 exposures since then. Of course, my cellphone camera gets all the fun these days, unfortunately.

† I will be continuing teaching, but for only two terms this year as opposed to three (which was exhausting and… exhausting)

†† It needs a new name, for one thing. And I know this is going to drive me up the wall more than any changes to the actual content of the book.

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Why You Should See "SUCK" (And Why It Shouldn’t Have To Be On DVD)

In 2008/9, I worked on the indie feature, SUCK. It’s a rock-and-roll vampire road-movie comedy directed by Toronto’s Rob Stefaniuk and produced by Capri Films’ Robin Crumley. For a low-budget feature (and I realize that’s not the best way to preface a compliment) SUCK is well-written, well-cast, funny, and in places very funny.

However, despite being well received at both the Toronto International and South-By-Southwest Film Festivals, it was denied any interest in a theatrical release by Canadian distributors. The longer I waited for someone to pick it up, the more I wondered what the problem was. Sure, you could argue that vampire films have saturated the market lately, but that’s seeing things from the late-summer of 2010 (SUCK was completed over a year ago). It was a no-brainer, even for a limited release: who wouldn’t like a rock vampire comedy w/ cameos by Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, and Alex Lifeson (among others)? It’s the sort of smart-but-not-overly-self-conscious effort which seems perfectly balanced for a theatrical audience.

Nothing happened. Well, actually, less-than-nothing happened: a lot of crap was released in Canadian theatres instead. Crap like the widely-released and quickly forgotten Gunless, which begged the question: if nobody is interested in seeing Westerns in theatres, what could possibly have been the selling point of a comedy-romance-Western with (as you might have guessed) no gunfighting? The answer is that it doesn’t matter: this is Canada, and film distributors prefer to release crap like Gunless and GravyTrain than anything which could hold an audience’s sustained interest. Evidently, the point of film distribution in Canada is to go through the motions.

Well, it’s too late for Canada. While SUCK secured a limited theatrical distribution in the U.S., it’s out on DVD here (the US DVD release is September 28th). This means it will only be screened here through niche film festivals. While that’s not a bad thing, it pisses me off that a funny, well-produced film (rare creature that is) should be all but abandoned after a successful festival run. This situation is certainly not helped by SUCK‘s (pardon the pun) anemic website: it makes no mention of any upcoming film screenings, DVD release dates, or even contact information. Who the hell is the site for? This is what happens when you don’t have a distributor to help with publicity. Not even the local indie journals can help: NOW Magazine completely omits any mention of it, as a film or DVD release. How’s that for hometown support? Thankfully, The Toronto Star’s Peter Howell is the only mainstream film critic to put the DVD release of SUCK on public record (in glowing terms no less…and slagging Gunless ).

I want people to see this film. Not because I worked on it, not because I want to punish producers who keep banking on dead-brained populist Paul Gross vehicles, but because this is a worthy film. It’s not Sophie’s Choice, it’s not going to change your life. But you’ll laugh. I just wish it had been allowed the opportunity of a theatrical run, which it so clearly deserved. It works better in a theatre than on DVD: with a pumped-up audience rather than in the controlled confines of your livingroom. That said, I will be pleased if, by my writing about it, one more person will see this movie than if I hadn’t.

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All That Glitters Isn’t Oranje

It should come as no surprise that my postings have been less frequent, in proportion to the success or lack thereof of the Dutch at the World Cup, which has just (mercifully) ended.

First: I’m happy we made it to the Final.

Second: I’m happy we lost (even though I wanted us to win at the time).

Allow me to explain: I will always support Oranje, but that doesn’t mean I have to suspend my critical faculties while doing so. It also doesn’t mean I am living in a nostalgic cloudbank in which Holland must either play soccer like the Kirov ballerinas dance or else they are “cynical” – a word bandied about by once-every-four-years-I-pay-attention-to-soccer pundits.

In case I haven’t beaten this point enough, my Oranje is the team of 1998. It always will be. They were beautiful to watch (take a look at my Ryeberg essay if you haven’t already) and most aficionados consider that squad the greatest team of the competition, regardless that they lost to Brazil in the semi-finals. The thing is, if you accept that, then you must also accept they were the very same team who flamed-out against Italy in Euro 2000 in the quarters, in perhaps one of the most humiliating games I’ve seen us play: same squad, folks. How’s that for beauty?

The toughest question in the world if you are a Dutch international soccer player: What can you do when the public, the pundits, the former stars from the Golden Age all want to see you play ballet if playing ballet doesn’t win anything? Don’t get me wrong: I like the Oranje ballet – I am one of those people who can walk away from a loss, still chuffed that we played “as we should”. I do side with author David Winner’s thoughts about Dutch soccer philosophy, as laid out in his (brilliant) book, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer. But inevitably you want to win something, and the only silverware the Dutch have is the Euro title in 1988.

This brings us to the present. Sadly. Sadly, because for the most part Oranje did not live up to the philosophy we had come to World Cup 2010 expecting. Under the direction of Bert van Marwijk, they took a detour: individual beauty, sure, when necessary, but collectively less a ballet than an assembly line with a very narrow directive: win, above all else. And they did. They were rusty at first and their games, outside of pockets of that ol’ Clockwork Oranje we hoped to see, were not pretty, but they won, and continued to win. Lord, I wanted them to win, too – I was a willing enabler.

When the final against Spain came, I was a nervous wreck. I can only imagine how it must have been in Holland, for those making their way to the Museum Square in Amsterdam where the games were shown for the public. They had come so far, had been through so much, for so many years: 1974, 1978, the glimmer of 1998, the disappointment of missing 2002. So much baggage that you wanted them to win just to shake off the voodoo of the past.

But as I got prepared that morning I visualized what it would be like if we won, if for the first time ever we won the Cup. Instead of tears of joy, I have to tell you, I saw that it would have felt as if we had cheated. As if in winning, we had not done so as ourselves but as a cunning machine, as if someone had invented a “Dutch Soccer Team” to take our place. I cannot describe how difficult it was to deal with that: to stare at a historic vindication within reach of your fingertips, knowing simultaneously there was something inherently inauthentic about it. In fact, had we won, I fear the “victory” would have irrevocably punctured the heart of Dutch soccer, as opposed to the bittersweet reality I live with now: we lost, Dutch soccer is merely dented. Coach van Marwijk’s corporatist approach has been repudiated, that is for sure. What I don’t know is who or what, philosophically speaking, has been vindicated, since we are bridesmaids once again.

Perhaps it is our souls? I can’t speak for yours, but mine is in a better if not exactly comfortable place right now.

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I’ll Show You Stupid

Possibly the worst tactical mistake you can make, politically, is to make fun of an opponent’s lack of intelligence. I say this because not only is there an influx of politically active people on the world stage who fall under the category of “lacking intelligence”, but there is an absence of memory about how publicly scorning such people only empowers them (and, most importantly, voters).

It’s hard. When someone says something completely false – and stupid – the well-educated person’s knee-jerk instinct is to say “You’re an idiot”. Fair enough. But, it’s the taunting that backfires. For example, look at Sarah Palin. I think she represents a necessary evil in American politics: a self-elected Voice of The People who campaigns on the rather wispy argument that the US is run by a bunch of elitists who don’t understand “real Americans”. It’s all a bunch of crap (by elite, do you mean they have an education? don’t you want the people running your country to have an education? to have seen something beyond the borders of your own country for sake of perspective? who the hell are ‘real Americans’? does this imply ‘false Americans’?), but it serves its purpose. And what do her critics – who, to be fair, constitute most of the people on the Earth – do? They make fun of her.

She’s an idiot. A moron.

The problem is, she’s a moron who appeals to a growing number of disenfranchised people who are looking for a proud, politically and morally uncomplicated banner to wave proudly over their heads. And yes, we can argue about why this is and who the supporters are, but – not to say that history is a 1:1 reflection of the future, because it’s not – history has shown that history doesn’t give a shit about those questions. Reflection happens in the future – that is, after we politely chortle to ourselves at all the nonsense of Palin, her “Tea Party”, and her scads of uncivilized minions. That is, after they take the next election.

The elitist/commoner non-argument (it’s a ploy, really) is as old as politics itself. We’ve had something very similar (and thankfully, tamer) happen in Canada. Our current government is a coalition of reformer factions who merged in the late 90s/early 00s to take over the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party (this would be the same as if the current “Tea Party” took over the Republican Party). They removed the word Progressive from the name and lead the country as a minority government. They too campaigned (and still do, whilst in power no less) as the party of the People, as an alternative to whomever stands against their policies (aka “the elites”). It’s old hat.

Before they came into power, they – as the Alliance Party – tried very hard to unseat the ruling Liberal government (tangent: can you imagine if the US had a party called the Liberal Party?). Their leader was a man named Stockwell Day, who rode onto the scene (quite literally) on a Sea Doo. He was all charisma and commonality. But as time wore on, people found that his reformist ideas weren’t very deep and a lot of the people in his party were either yahoos or – elitists? – began distancing themselves away from him. The chrome on his veneer began to chip away and the man became a running gag; the Prime Minister of the day, Jean Chretien, joked openly that he preferred having Day in opposition (as to suggest his chances were that much better to win elections against the Alliance). Long story short, all it took was a few years, a “unite the right” movement, and a new leader who could streamline (that is, squelch) internal strife and you had a winner. That is to say, the toppling of a government.

I suppose what I’m saying is this: making fun of people like Sarah Palin because she doesn’t come across as polished, or sophisticated, or well-educated is ineffective. All you manage to do is inflame the passions of people – many of whom may have been too lethargic or apathetic to vote in the first place – so that they start creating local campaign offices. There is nothing like being intellectually offended to raise someone’s ire – anyone’s, no matter where or how they were raised. Raise the ire, that is, so as to make them active agents on behalf of those scorned by the “elites”. Agents of “change”.

George W. Bush was publicly derided by intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike in almost every conceivable medium and venue, yet he served two four-year terms as President of the US. If you want to take down the likes of Palin, take her down as you would take down Reagan or Thatcher – that is, as an opponent worthy of debate, worthy of your concern. To do less would be to knot your own noose.

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For *’s Sake

It’s been one of those battle-cries of mine the last while. Everything in the world, culturally-speaking (and I don’t necessarily mean high culture) seems to be evaporating into mindless bullshit.

The AV Club – a site I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with already – just posted an interview with actor Paul Giamatti. In the opening summary, the interviewer describes the plot of his latest film, which reads like a counterscript of 1999’s Being John Malkovich and yet there is no mention of this parallel anywhere in the article, something even Entertainment Tonight would do. The interviewer talks about this upcoming film with Giamatti as if it and his role – the John Malkovich role, if it were Being John Malkovich – were just soulless objects to be discussed out of necessity. In other words, it’s just like any other media-junket interview, like something you would read in InStyle or Chatelaine. Not that those examples are b-a-d, but when you pride yourself as better, especially savvy, tongue-in-cheek better, you shouldn’t even be in the same postal code as InStyle or Chatelaine if you want to retain your reputation.

The Motley Fool – again, a site previously known for being savvy, even though they deal with the stock market – now reads like Ain’t It Cool News, complete with arguments which, under rational analysis, seem completely idiotic and antithetical to what one would assume is their mission statement (ie. being different than the rest of those brain-dead-and-short-sighted Money sites).

Oh, and CNN. Not that they’ve ever been more relevant than a Reuters news ticker, but they’ve gone from mediocre to stupid by allowing one of their show hosts, Lou Dobbs, to continuously question the origin of Barack Obama’s citizenship, a paranoid suspicion virulent in the libertarian/right-wing fringe of the U.S. that has been repeatedly disproved (read: he doesn’t want Johnny Foreigner running and ruining the most-possibly-greatest-country-ever-in-the-world).

Now, one of the arguments I can imagine hearing is: well, Matt, in a 24-hour newsday (whether on TV or the Internet) when people expect constant information there inevitably has to be weaker material. To which I say: I understand, but I’d settle for less information over less hours (if need be), if it means the information will be consistent and better. After all, you are what you eat, and in this day and age we feed on media in an astonishingly unconscious and voracious manner.

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Orwell Would Be Proud

See that? It’s a quarter. More specifically a Canadian quarter commemorating those who have served in wars past (for those outside Canada who aren’t familiar with the poppy symbol and how it ties in, check this out). However, according to United States Defence, it could have been a device used for espionage, utilising nanotechnology no less. Yes.

According to this article (and many others) the U.S. Defence Department was so astonished by the poppy design on the quarter (to be honest, I think Canada was one of the first in the world to use this sort of coloured dye on its coins) that it went under intense scrutiny, under the presumption that they could be used for tracing American “contractors” (aka agents – and by the way, when will such linguistically neutered stupidity end? A contractor hires a plumber to fix the kitchen sink, not air-dropped in the desert to create an uprising of local tribesmen) who pocketed them.

This is obviously very, very silly. Worse still, it’s indicative of such a ludicrously paranoid environment that it scares me to think what else has been flagged by the USDD? Migratory birds? Snow? Maple syrup?

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Article/Comment: Watch Your Language

(This post is currently in competition in the Philosophy Blog War. Feel free to cast your vote for it. If you like, you can vote directly by pressing this button.)

I read a very interesting essay on the BBC News website entitled “Chaotic world of climate truth”. It’s written by Mike Hulme, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and in it he criticises the hyperbole which casts a pall on the discussion of global warming.

This is not a partisan piece, in the sense that Mr Hulme is not one of a seeming endless army of paid-for voices in the climate change debate. By virtue of his office and his profession, he makes his argument clear from the outset:

Climate change is a reality, and science confirms that human activities are heavily implicated in this change.

But over the last few years a new environmental phenomenon has been constructed in this country – the phenomenon of “catastrophic” climate change.

It seems that mere “climate change” was not going to be bad enough, and so now it must be “catastrophic” to be worthy of attention.

The increasing use of this pejorative term – and its bedfellow qualifiers “chaotic”, “irreversible”, “rapid” – has altered the public discourse around climate change.

This blog entry isn’t about climate change (notice there are no stock images of ensuing storm clouds and other nature metaphors for imminent disaster). I’m not apathetic to the topic but, reading his essay, Mr. Hulme’s description of how hyperbole cheapens legitimate debate rang very true and has implications outside of the context of this particular subject.

We’re living in an increasingly ideological age. I cannot remember a time (I’m 36, so I gather there are precedents beyond “my years”) when words such as intolerance, fundamentalist, and radical were used so extensively (the trope intolerant fundamentalist radical, for example, is no longer the sole jurisdiction of religious persecution but rather has extended itself to include such diverse groups as environmentalists and, my personal favourite, secular progressives). I’ve written here about the decline of discussion and true debate in N. American society; it’s as if we feel that no one will listen to us unless we raise our voices to the sky and colour our points with invective. Nothing is important anymore: it’s imperative. Nothing is troubling anymore: it’s a crisis.

In exaggerating the situation with alarmist language (which is often disingenuously intended to get attention rather than be realistic/logical) we fall into a trap. Like the boy who cried wolf, if our standard for discussion is hyperbole, then who will truly believe us when there truly is something to be alarmed about?

I see this behaviour not only in the usual suspects (blogs, user groups, forums), but also emanating from supposedly respectable institutions (governments, scientific research institutes, charities). It’s in the newspapers, it’s on television, it’s in our RSS feeds. I suppose it’s the scale of it, and the feeling (or fear) that this is the “new normal” of discourse which concerns me.

The language of catastrophe is not the language of science.

Those words start Mr. Hulme’s summary. In the context of how I feel I would say that “the language of catastrophe is not the language of an evolved society”, but rather one that is becoming more and more tribal and classist.

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