Posts Tagged “Pop Culture”

07w51:2 Mourning the Myth of the Cultural Elite

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An ode to snobs, and a rehashing of the PR of the previous GR:

The death of the cultural elite | Stephen Moss

// Comment: Consider the demographic of people who will read and care about this peice: a self-selecting group who are interested in the High Arts to begin with. And these from the comment thread:

gingerjon Comment No. 841691 December 20 15:5 London/gbr

“Have you ever read The Good Soldier?”


It’s not as good as Seinfeld.


Alarming Comment No. 841856 December 20 17:14 Manchester/gbr

This article would have merit if those who actually created art weren’t influenced by “low” art or vice versa. There’s no barriers except in the eyes of inveterate snobs. I can only assume there’s an episode of “Grumpy Old Men take on Culture” in the offing and the writer is making his bid to be included.

Stephen Moss ends his piece with this: ‘The great majority of popular culture in the UK is worthless, moronic, meretricious, self-serving, anti-democratic, sclerotic garbage: it’s the enemy of thought and change: it should be ignored, marginalised, trashed. There I’ve said it.’

All of those epithets work for me except the ‘anti-democratic’ one. We should distinguish between ‘popular culture’ and ‘broadcast culture’, since the examples of the article come from television, and much of what’s on television (especially those abysmal reality-shows) lives up to those insults. But not ‘anti-democratic’. In fact, they are especially democratic in that they appeal to a wide audience, and the dance and song shows actually encourage people to vote with their cell phones. If anything they represent attempts at cultural democracy. If they fail aesthetically, that may just be because snobs like the author, and other self-identifying elites who are more interested in consuming the pop culture of the previous century (I mean, isn’t Beethoven the Led Zepplin of the 1810s?) have refused to participate in it and bring to it their knowledge and influence it with their taste. What you have instead is the mess of a culture being formed from scratch by people without ‘culture and taste’, making it up as they go along, and over-producing a garbage to be later sifted through an evolutionary selection; what works will survive to become the next century’s classics, while the rest will be lost as it should be.

07w51:1 Myth of a cultural elite

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Myth of a cultural elite — education, social status determine what we attend, listen to and watch

There have been a number of theories put forward to explain how our tastes in cinema, theatre, music and the fine arts relate to our position in society. New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, has concluded that there is little evidence of a ‘cultural elite’ that aspires to ‘high culture’, while turning its back on popular culture.

The research, carried out at the University of Oxford, aimed to determine which theory fits most closely with reality. To ensure the findings applied internationally, survey data was studied from the UK and also from six other countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Findings confirmed that a cultural-elite, linked to social class, does not exist in society.

Researchers sought to refine the differences in the hierarchical arrangement, known as social stratification, of people in society. To achieve this, their work took into account the backgrounds of the people surveyed, including education, income and social class. Previous research in this field had used such factors interchangeably, but this project sought to draw a clear distinction between social class and social status.

Doctor Tak Wing Chan, who conducted the research with his colleague Doctor John Goldthorpe. commented: “Our work has shown that it’s education and social status, not social class that predict cultural consumption in the UK, and broadly comparable results were obtained from other countries in our project too.”

Using terms more familiar to those studying the animal kingdom and, in particular, the eating habits of animals, the researchers identified several different types of groups in society that ‘consume’ culture.

These included:

  • Univores: people who have an interest in popular culture only
  • Ominvores: people who consume the full variety of different types of culture
  • Paucivores: people who consume a limited range of cultural activities
  • Inactives: people who access nothing at all.

In the UK, it turned out that the consumption of culture is very clearly patterned:

  • For theatre, dance and cinema, two types of consumer were identified – univores (62.5% of the sample) and omnivores (37.5%).
  • For music, three types were identified – univores (65.7% of the sample), omnivore listeners only (24%) and omnivores (10.3%).
  • For the visual arts for example, art galleries, festivals, video art presentations, again three types were identified – inactives (58.6% of the sample), paucivores (34.4%) and omnivores (7%).

“There’s little evidence for the existence of a cultural elite who would consume ‘high’ culture while shunning more ‘popular’ cultural forms,” said Doctor Tak Wing Chan, “Furthermore, at least a substantial minority of members of the most advantaged social groups are univores or inactives.”

07w50:7 Excerpt of Carl Wilson's book on Celine Dion

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I’m so looking forward to reading Carl Wilson’s book on Celine Dion. It should be in stores soon, and for those in Toronto, the book launch in January 9th at the Gladstone.

I hate Celine! … Or do I? | Carl Wilson
Link (The Globe & Mail)
“Long disdainful of the diva, critic Carl Wilson travelled to Vegas to check out her show, which ends a four-year run tonight at Caesars Palace. As his new book explains, what came next surprised him”

More on Wilson’s blog here.

07w50:6 A culture saturated in sexism

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A culture saturated in sexism | Johanna Schneller
Link (The Globe & Mail)
“Women’s bodies have always been fodder for jokes, but the envelope keeps getting pushed,” said Jessica Valenti, whose book Full Frontal Feminism came out in March. Young moviegoers expect more and more outrageous humour, so the movies get more risqué. Offscreen, recent tabloids, TV shows and Internet sites raked Tyra Banks and Britney Spears over the coals for gaining weight. Endless unflattering photos of their non-washboard midriffs were displayed and discussed. The fact that Banks was at most a size 12, and that Spears has had two children, didn’t matter: These women didn’t maintain their veneer of perfection. They had failed. A few weeks ago, the nitpickers hit a new low: They targeted Jennifer Love Hewitt, zeroing in on bumps on her bikini-clad bottom and blaring, ‘We know what you ate last summer.’ Now, I try to have a sense of humour about this stuff. But Jennifer Love Hewitt is a freaking Polly Pocket, and obviously fit. Seeing her scorned – for I don’t even know what, having hips? – I can’t help but feel that the volume and ubiquity of this kind of criticism is tipping from humour into something uglier.”

// Comment: In building her argument, Schneller writes “In Knocked Up, which came out in June, hero Ben (Seth Rogen — [is] chubby, which I point out because it’s not an issue for the men)”. Being chubby may not be an issue for men, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t point out the sexism men are subjected to in the media. Either McDreamy handsome or ‘chubby’, they are often depicted as morons who love tools, cars, and meat. I discussed this once with a self-indentifying feminist and she argued that these stereotypes embodied the ‘Everyman’ as if this justified it – an extremely weak argument (imagine it being made for depictions of women in the kitchen, or toward some oppressed minority. Stereotypes never represent the ‘every-stereotype’).

This was somewhat addressed in Goodreads 05w24:2, and especially in this article from, Beauty and the Beast arguing:

In addition to their girth, a signal characteristic of these men is immaturity. Most of them are unable to master the simplest daily tasks. A recent episode of Grounded for Life was propelled by Sean’s inability to take a phone message while a typical King of Queens knee-slapper was fueled by Doug’s inability to keep his hands off a co-worker’s Koosh ball, which he, of course, loses. And virtually every episode of According to Jim is sparked by Jim’s selfishness and impulsiveness—he fights with Santa and the next-door neighbor; he pouts about having to give up his vices so Cheryl can get pregnant.

Indeed, the promixity of these men to their childhood selves is often directly invoked. In a recent episode of King of Queens, for example, Doug’s dad visits for a model train convention, which dredges up bitter memories about how as a child, Doug was not allowed—I am not making this up—to play with his dad’s train. When Dad is called away from the convention and Doug offers to fill in for him, Dad is still reluctant to let his dumb-ass son work the controls. (And when he does, Doug promptly destroys the train set, along with its fake mountain landscape setting. See what happens when you play with Daddy’s train?) Perhaps, then, actors like Mark Addy and Kevin James are best suited for these roles not only because they portray a fantasy life for couch potato male viewers—for a half-hour a week, you can be 300 pounds and still imagine yourself married to Jamie Gertz!—but also because their proportions, with their ample torsos and short and apparently useless limbs, approximate those of babies. [emp mine]

It’s not that there aren’t handsome or sexually desirable men on sitcoms, but these men are typically marked as terminal bachelors, like Ted Danson on Cheers. To the extent they have anything to do with family life, they tend to skulk around its outer margins like coyotes. On Two and Half Men (CBS, Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET), Charlie (Charlie Sheen) is handsome, successful, and wedded to promiscuous bachelorhood, but he gets to enjoy some nourishing familial scraps since his loser brother (Jon Cryer) and scampy nephew moved themselves into his pad. (In keeping with the Maxim ethos of these shows, the brother was abandoned by a woman who thinks she might be a lesbian. It would be emasculating for male viewers to see a man dumped for being completely undesirable, and, besides, lesbians are so hot.) Likewise, on Grounded for Life the schlumpy husband has a smoother bachelor brother, Eddie (Kevin Corrigan), who lurks around the house and functions as a Casanova alter ego. This really works in Grounded for Life, thanks to the slithery Corrigan, who is probably the best thing about any of these shows. (On According to Jim and Still Standing, the single sibling is an attractive but romantically hopeless sister of the wife. That’s the choice: fat guy vs. spinsterhood.)

Here perhaps, a reminder of where the word ‘stereotype’ comes from. Steven Pinker, in The Blank Slate (2002; p. 201) writes:

The word stereotype originally referred to a kind of printing plate. Its current sense as a pejorative and inaccurate image standing for a category of people was introduced in 1922 by the journalist Walter Lippmann. Lippmann was an important public intellectual who, amoung other things, helped to found The New Republic, influenced Woodrow Wilson’s policies at the end of World War I, and wrote some of the first attacks against IQ testing. In his book Public Opinion, [1922], Lippmann fretted about the difficulty of achieving true democracy in an age in which ordinary people could no longer judge public issues rationally because they got their information in what we today call sound bites. As part of this argument, Lippmann proposed that ordinary people’s concepts of social groups were stereotypes:mental pictures that are incomplete, biased, insensitive to variation, and resistant to disconfirming information.

Lippmann had an immediate influence on social science (though the subtleties and qualifications of his original argument were forgotten). Psychologists gave people lists of ethnic groups and lists of traits and asked them to pair them up.

(Pinker references two books in a footnote: Roger Brown’s Social Psychology, (1985) & the paper Stereotype accuracy: Toward appreciating group differences edited YT Lee, LJ Jussum, and CR McCauley, 1995)

The results proved either Lippmann’s thesis, or just highlighted traditional bigotry. It’s hard to say which, now that we live in a media soup – didn’t some people have ideas about spics and wops in the 19th Century, when those insults were common?

Walter Lippmann, btw, is the coiner of the term ‘manufacture of consent‘ which now days is associated with Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s critique of mass media. Pinker’s mention that Lippmann ‘influenced Woodrow Wilson’ sounds great out of context, but within the context reported by Chomsky, his influence was in the way he helped inspire American propaganda. Chomsky, wrote:

The first modern government propaganda operation [was] under the Woodrow Wilson Administration. Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace Without Victory.” That was right in the middle of the First World War. The population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European war. The Wilson Administration was actually committed to war and had to do something about it. They established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission, which succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world. […]

Among those who participated actively and enthusiastically were the progressive intellectuals, people of the John Dewey circle, who took great pride, as you can see from their own writings at the time, in having shown that what they called the “more intelligent members of the community” –namely themselves– were able to drive a reluctant population into a war by terrifying them and eliciting jingoist fanaticism. […]

Another group that was impressed by these successes were liberal Democratic theorists and leading media figures, like, for example, Walter Lippmann, who was the dean of American journalists, a major foreign and domestic policy critic and also a major theorist of liberal democracy. If you take a look at his collected essays, you’ll see that they’re subtitled something like “A Progressive Theory of Liberal Democratic Thought.” Lippmann was involved in these propaganda commissions and recognized their achievements. He argued that what he called a “revolution in the art of democracy,” could be used to manufacture consent, that is, to bring about agreement on the part of the public for things that they didn’t want by the new techniques of propaganda. He also thought that this was a good idea, in fact necessary. It was necessary because, as he put it, “the common interests elude public opinion entirely” and can only be understood and managed by a specialized class of responsible men who are smart enough to figure things out.

This theory asserts that only a small elite, the intellectual community that the Deweyites were talking about, can understand the common interests, what all of us care about, and that these things “elude the general public.” This is a view that goes back hundreds of years. It’s also a typical Leninist view. In fact, it has very close resemblance to the Leninist conception that a vanguard of revolutionary intellectuals take state power, using popular revolutions as the force that brings them to state power, and then drive the stupid masses towards a future that they’re too dumb and incompetent to envision themselves.


Lippmann backed this up by a pretty elaborated theory of progressive democracy. He argued that in a properly-functioning democracy there are classes of citizens. There is first of all the class of citizens who have to take some active role in running general affairs. That’s the specialized class. They are the people who analyze, execute, make decisions, and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems. That’s a small percentage of the population. Naturally, anyone who puts these ideas forth is always part of that small group, and they’re talking about what to do about those others.

Those others, who are out of the small group, the big majority of the population, they are what Lippmann called “the bewildered herd.” We have to protect ourselves from the trampling and rage of the bewildered herd. Now there are two functions in a democracy: The specialized class, the responsible men, carry out the executive function, which means they do the thinking and planning and understand the common interests. Then, there is the bewildered herd, and they have a function in democracy too. Their function in a democracy, he said, is to be spectators, not participants in action. But they have more of a function than that, because it’s a democracy. Occasionally they are allowed to lend their weight to one or another member of the specialized class. In other words, they’re allowed to say, “We want you to be our leader” or “We want you to be our leader.” That’s because it’s a democracy and not a totalitarian state. That’s called an election.

(source; not properly attributed; excerpts of the above found here and here, and sourced to the 2002 book, Media Control, and from the Alternative Press Review, Fall 1993).

Not having read Lippmann’s 1922 book, it seems then that his argument would run something like this: the ‘bewildered herd’ is subject to the distortions of the media, forming stereotypes on the basis of sound-bites, and hence a self-selecting group of elites have the right to shape public opinion through the active manipulation of those stereotypes. Even better, the self-selecting group of intelligentsia should actively seek to distract ‘the bewildered herd’ so that they are out of the way of the decision making process.

Which gets back to Johanna Schneller’s piece: the fucking tabloids and the like pissing us off by unfairly insulting celebrity women while the Earth burns and our governments are doing fuck all about it.

07w49:2 Carl Wilson on Celine Dion

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Taste Test | Vish Khanna
“Noted music critic Carl Wilson raised eyebrows when he announced his first book was about Celine Dion. In his renowned work as an editor and writer at The Globe and Mail, and his popular blog, Wilson champions all manner of counter-culture practitioners and is a great proponent of Toronto’s underground arts community. The notion that he might contribute a volume to the 33 1/3 book series (on specific albums by everyone from the Minutemen to U2) is intriguing, but why focus on a multi-platinum seller like Dion?” // an intro to the  …

“I came to realise that I definitely have been one of those people who’s staked a fair amount of my self-worth on my ability to have an insider’s knowledge of things culturally and felt like that was some kind of social capital for me. What I came to feel as I thought about it and the ways in which those kinds of cultural self-categorisations separate us from people who are unlike us and don’t share that language is that, that’s no longer so interesting for me. The culture and the art still is interesting to me but what that implies about me is not so interesting to me any more. As I get older, I feel like what I’m actually interested in is finding out about people’s experiences that are unlike mine. By having so much at stake in the question of taste, that forms a barrier between yourself and those people because the more unalike your experiences are, the more likely that your tastes are very different. If you feel like that prevents us from having anything in common to talk about, then that’s a way of segregating yourself in a certain way.”

07w42:2 The Rage of the Creative Class

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Everybody Sucks; Gawker and the rage of the creative underclass |
Vanessa Grigoriadis
“To be enticed, as these writers were, by the credentials extended by an old-media publication is a source of hilarity at the Gawker offices, where, beneath a veneer of self-deprecation, the core belief is that bloggers are cutting-edge journalists—the new ‘anti-media.’ No other form has lent itself so perfectly to capturing the current ethos of young New York, which is overwhelmingly tipped toward anger, envy, and resentment at those who control the culture and apartments. ‘New York is a city for the rich by the rich, and all of us work at the mercy of rich people and their projects,’ says Choire Sicha, Gawker’s top editor (he currently employs a staff of five full-time writers). ‘If you work at any publication in this town, you work for a millionaire or billionaire. In some ways, that’s functional, and it works as a feudal society. But what’s happened now, related to that, is that culture has dried up and blown away: The Weimar-resurgence baloney is hideous; the rock-band scene is completely unexciting; the young artists have a little more juice, but they’re just bleak intellectual kids; and I am really dissatisfied with young fiction writers.‘ Sicha, a handsome ex-gallerist who spends his downtime gardening on Fire Island, is generally warm and even-tempered, but on this last point, he looks truly disgusted. ‘Not a week goes by I don’t want to quit this job,” he says, “because staring at New York this way makes me sick.'” [emp mine]

07w40:3 A googolplex of megabytes

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The World of Star Trek: The Next Generation | Patrick Daniel O’Neill
“Perhaps the biggest change on the Enterprise is the sophistication of its computer. It has access to the entire library of recorded human knowledge (probably a googolplex of megabytes) and can present any desired information almost instantly upon request.” [emp mine]

07w11:1 The Fantastics

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The Fantastics of Ignorance

This Goodreads is in part of confession of ignorance, and how wonderful things can be when you don’t have the full picture. Which is to say, they’re fantastic when not dulled by the acquired cynicism of ‘an inside story’. And perhaps it is by coming to the experience initially ignorant, having that wonderful first impression, that the further nuance associated with it doesn’t diminish its glow.

Two of the items discussed here refer to art exhibitions on in Toronto presently, which is to encourage any of you for whom it is possible to visit them.

These four fantastics are presented in the order in which I experienced them.

I. Fantastic One | Darren O’Donnell at CCL1

Darren O’Donnell’s work over the past couple of years has been fantastic. His Suicide Site Guide to the City wowed me when I saw it in 2005, and apparently this was because of the ignorance mentioned above, as Kamal Al-Solaylee wrote in his review at the time ‘…only audiences who haven’t been to the theatre in say, a few decades, are expected to be dazzled by the presentation’. I admitted in my review that I was one of such an audience. Yet, how could we not appreciate Haircuts by Children or Ballroom Dancing for Nuit Blanche?

In an arts scene riven by competition and jealousies, Darren’s work is something that we all seem to appreciate without such pettiness. I recently attended the latest production from his theatre company, Diplomatic Immunities: THE END and was genuinely touched: Ulysses Castellanos singing Queen’s `We are the Champions` at the end of the show almost made me cry. This was the song voted on by children at a local school to be that which they wanted to hear at the End of the World. (My vote at the present time is either The Beatles’ `Tomorrow Never Knows` or `Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)` and as I listen to them nowadays I imagine it playing over the footage of this video.)

But what is it about Darren’s work along these lines that is so generally fantastic? For me it highlights what is perhaps a greater shift in our culture, which is a movement toward an interest in ‘real life’ (and to that end, reality-tv represents this transition, by using non-actors but still tying them to some sort of narrative structure). The work of Darren’s theatre troupe, Mammalian Diving Reflex, forgoes an explicit narrative structure and seemingly let’s that emerge on it’s own.

Here, I’m most inspired by a snippet of dialogue from a Star Trek show. In the Enterprise episode ‘Dear Doctor’ which first aired in January 2002, there’s a scene depicting movie-night on the starship; while watching ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ a 1943 film being shown in that time-frame of 209 years from its creation, the character Ensign Cutler asks the alien Doctor Phlox, ‘They don’t have movies where you come from do they?’ He replied, ‘We had something similar a few hundred years ago, but they lost their appeal when people discovered their real lives were more interesting’.

Now, imagine living on Phlox’s planet during that time of transition, when people were discovering their own lives were more interesting. Wouldn’t that time resemble our own, with diminishing box office returns, reality-tv programing undermining celebrity culture, a global communications network allowing for unedited dialogue within varying degrees of privacy, and the rise of the documentary genre in popularity?

This statement was typed out initially by a scriptwriter in Los Angeles at the beginning of this decade and perhaps was meant both as an inside joke to Star Trek‘s fanbase (Shatner’s ‘Get a Life‘ skit from his 1986 appearance on Saturday Night Live) and reflecting the concern of Hollywood that they would lose their market. Three years later, Enterprise was cancelled, the only franchise since its resurrection twenty years ago to not last through seven seasons.

Leaving DI: The End four weeks ago I was convinced that our own lives were definitely more interesting. The performance incorporated an element of chance in its selection of two audience members during the course of the evening for interviews by the cast and attendees; on the night I was there, I was stunned by the answers given by the second girl chosen, who told us of saving the life of one of her friends during a climbing accident years before. Also, when asked a question along the lines of ‘why are we here’ she gave such an unexpectedly Buddhist/Eastern Tradition answer that I found myself saying ‘wow’.

The point made for me was that this girl, who had simply been someone sitting in the aisle in front of me, had a much more dramatic world inside her than anything I’m ever offered by fictional constructions, and I took this knowledge onto the street, walking with my companion who was someone new in my life and hence still full of mystery, and saw everyone around me with a new appreciation for our variety, our potential, and of the unknown masterpieces of real life.

This past Thursday, I attended Darren’s opening at The Centre of Leisure and Culture No. 1, Video Show for the People of Pakistan and India which consists of an approximately twenty-minute video and chapbooks of the blog Darren kept while on tour in Pakistan and India late last year. I’ve prompted Darren to place this video online eventually, and if and when that happens I’ll follow through with the link.

At the time of Darren’s trip, I was moved to contact CBC’s The Current because I’d recently heard an interview (begins at 7:45min) with the 24 year old Afghani woman Mehria Azizi who was doing a tour through Canada showing a documentary she’d made about women’s lives in her homeland. This had been one of the more insightful things I’d been exposed to with regard to this part of the world. I imagined Anna Maria Tremonti asking Darren about his conversation with Mike the soldier on the plane, or asking for stories from Darren’s experience with the humanity of these people. I figured it would have fit into The Current’s mandate as I understood it: to educate, to inform, to bring us perspective. Darren’s work deserved this national audience. There was a bit of a followup from someone who was going to forward the info to a producer but in the end nothing came of it. Meanwhile, due to the unreliableness of the CBC’s internet stream, and what I see as too much focus on Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan, I’ve avoided listening to The Current at work for the past couple of months, preferring instead France Culture or the BBC. I did catch the broadcast the other day of their self-flagellation on under and mis-reporting the story of Global Warming. Anna Maria was somewhat bothered by a statement of one of the scientists: ‘never underestimate the illiteracy of reporters’.

The following morning, (that of March 9th) the CBC included in its news roundup the visit by Canada’s Governor General to the troops in Afghanistan, and there was something said about ‘putting a human face’ on the story (mov and realmedia). What’s unfortunate is that Michaëlle Jean, who in the past has seemed an intelligent, well informed woman, was responsible for the stupidest statements in the report. ‘There’s no future without women …’. No shit. But perhaps the real fault lies with the editors of the video, or the fact that she used to be a reporter.

The evening before I’d been to Darren’s show to see the Pakistan video, the talk of putting a human face struck me as more this meaningless political rhetoric. Why are all these human faces those from Canada? Where do we ever see the human faces of the people we’re supposedly helping? How is their humanity ever brought to our attention? The fact that Darren could undermine the agenda of Canada’s national broadcaster with a 20 minute video perhaps suggests just how under-served we are by photo-ops, predictable rhetoric, focus on soldiers, and all the other regular bullshit. My understanding of the situation and of the people involved has been greatly enhanced by Darren’s first-person and personal reporting and the fact that the CBC found him fit only for their hipster-oriented Definitely Not the Opera kind of suggests how little they take his work seriously … something silly for the kids right?

II. Fantastic Two | Monks in the lab

I watched/listened to this video on Friday at work, and it was fantastic. I especially liked the idea that the effect of mediation was to practice (and thus grow new neurons) paying attention to autonomic processes, which allows us to have greater awareness of our emotions and perceptions, so that we do not need to find ourselves ‘out of control’ or ‘swept away’ by strong impulses. In my dream of the future, I want children to be taught meditation in kindergarten, as an essential life skill, just as much as doing your physical exercises and learning your maths.

Monks in the Lab | Buddhist

( Real Player Broadband Link)
( Real Player Narrowband Link)
( Windows Media Player)

III. Fantastic Three | Zin Taylor at YYZ

As I’ve noted about Darren’s work, that it seems to miraculously inspire more admiration than jealousy, the work of Zin Taylor could be accused of inspiring more jealousy than admiration. Consider the facts as they appear: part of the Guelph university educated elite clique, he gets to be in show after show in prestigious galleries with work that is sometimes weak (the piece at The Power Plant in 2005 for example) and Taylor’s continual presence in the Toronto art scene PR seems to be attempting to break the record established by Derek Sullivan. Both artists appear to have been elevated to that collection of what seems like the less than ten artists who are overexposed in Toronto and who are continually asked to ‘represent’ this city of millions to others and to itself.

And so it was with ambivalence that I went down to the YYZ opening on Friday night; a chance to drink beer, be social, see some people I like to talk to and consider friends, and be ignored by those who used to say hi to me but now just think I’m an asshole or something. I wasn’t at all expecting Taylor’s video to win me over as it did, and it is now on my highly recommended list.

And yet, my appreciation for this work was based on my ignorance of its subject matter. I recall seeing years ago the call for submissions from the Yukon asking for artists to come on up and be inspired. I also recall hearing that Allyson and Zin, two artists I’d recently met through a friend, had been chosen to go. And so I knew over the past few years that Allyson and Zin had a connection to the Yukon and that they were making work about it.

With Put your eye in your mouth (which a friend suggested meant ‘digest what you see’) Zin has made a sort of fake documentary on a fake thing: Martin Kippenberger’s metro-net station in Dawson City. Now, my ignorance here was based on being familiar with Kippenberger’s name but not his work, so when watching the video, I thought Zin had seen this structure and made up an elaborate history for it, tying it to some art-star’s name in order to get in the trendy props to the masters. Turns out the Metro-Net was legit (also here), and yet this only diminishes by a bit the overall video, which is still fantastic. It is this type of elaborated imagination that I want to experience with art, and in as much that conceptual art usually goes for obscure one-liner cleverness, I hate it for its denial of the imagination. Now, considering Taylor’s background from Canada’s new conceptual It-School, I suppose I can say he’s showing that you can be both conceptual and imaginative, and the product is better for it.

IV. Fantastic Four | Kuchma’s Thrush Holmes reviews

The suspicions I had of Zin Taylor’s elaborate imagining of what could have been ‘the mine-shaft entrance’ follows on January’s suspicions that the opening of Thrush Holmes Empire was part of an elaborate joke.

There’s been talk in the scene of it being some kind of hoax, and personally I thought this was the case. I was trying to keep my mouth shut about it all, not wanting to ruin it, but now that I’ve been assured that this is not a masterpiece-parody on the art world constructed by Jade Rude and Andrew Harwood (the co-directors of the Empire space) (‘they’re not that clever’ I was told), I guess I share my disappointment that this really is the work of a presumptuous and pretentious young man who makes terrible work. As I said at the opening in January, ‘if this work is a parody, it’s a masterpiece, but if it’s legit I feel sorry for the guy’. In other words, in my ignorance, I imagined a fantastic scenario in which Jade and Andrew had collaborated on making quick, easy, and lazy work to fill up wall space in time for the opening, and hired an actor to play Thrush Holmes (which plays too close to the great 90’s indie-rock band Thrush Hermit). No mother names their son Thrush, so whoever this guy is, his wallet certainly doesn’t contain ID linking him closely with Joel Plaskett’s 90s project.

(A Thrush Hermit Aside

Seeing Ian McGettigan cover The Wire’s ‘I am the Fly’ in 1999 was part of the reason I gave up watching live music once I moved to Toronto – nothing would ever top that, and I prefer to have my indie-music memories packaged around my experience in Halifax rather than have continued on with the ringing ears of today’s stuff. Even though that meant I missed out on seeing the shit like this live).

The only person who seems to be addressing this Thrush Holmes issue is Michael Kuchma.

As I mentioned in the last Goodreads, I was part of a panel discussion at Toronto’s Gallery 1313 on art criticism. I had a good time and it was well attended despite being both a Monday and the weather being less than conducive to a social gathering. (The event was recorded and will potentially be made available as a podcast, and if/when that happens I’ll send out a link). During the Q&A, I was asked a question from a fellow in the audience who later identified himself via a comment on the BlogTo blurb writen by fellow panelist Carrie Young the day after.

Michael Kuchma is trying to write some thoughtful criticism about the Toronto scene and I glad that I was able to learn about it through these circumstances. I appreciate his take not only on the Thrush Holmes stuff but also on the Toronto scene in general, and I also appreciate seeing the influence of the panel talk in his writing: I guess it was worth something in in the end.

In the second link (‘why we Should…’) make note of point number 3:

Perhaps some fear that Holmes is orchestrating a brilliant art-stunt, and that passing judgment right now puts one in the vulnerable position of looking stoooopid and hasty on the day when Holmes comes clean with his Machiavellian master plan.

This is pretty much why I’ve kept quiet for this long, not wanting to ruin for everybody, and wanting to see Garry Michael Dault embarrassed for ‘falling for it’ as he had a positive review in the Globe & Mail on the day after the opening. (Why would I like to see Dault with egg on his face? Because Dault’s work as a critic is worthless – his reviews are almost always positive, unless he dares insinuate that someone has skills, at which point they are dismissed as being ‘illustrative’). A hoax or not, Kuchma’s thoughts on the whole matter are the most substantial I’ve come across and I’m glad he’s putting them out there.

Seenster | Michael Kuchma

Thrush Homes Walks a Razor Thin Line | Michael Kuchma (Feb 28 2007)

Why we SHOULD talk about Thrust Holmes | Michael Kuchma (March 7 2007)

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05w21:2 Star Wars

by timothy. 0 Comments

Good Reads Mailing List | episode 2005 week 21 number 2


Star Wars | Wikipedia
“Whereas Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, another science fiction franchise that has enjoyed long-lasting popularity in American popular culture, takes a rational and progressive approach to storytelling, Star Wars has a strong mythic quality. Unlike the heroes of earlier space-set sci-fi film and TV series such as ‘Star Trek’, the heroes of ‘Star Wars’ are not militaristic types but romantic individualists. College literature professors have remarked that the Star Wars saga, with its struggle between good and evil, democracy and empire, can be considered a national epic for the United States. The film has many visual and narrative similarities to John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ that also provides a clue to the relationship between Leia and Luke. The strong human appeal of the Star Wars story probably accounts for its enduring popularity; it has also been postulated that this popularity is based on nostalgia. Many Star Wars fans first saw the films as children, and the revolutionary (for the time) special effects and simple, Manichean story made a profound impact. The Star Wars films show considerable similarity to Asian Wuxia ‘Kung Fu’ films, as well as Roman mythology. Lucas has stated that his intention was to create in Star Wars a modern mythology, based on the studies of his friend and mentor Joseph Campbell.”

Space Case: a review of Ep. III | Anthony Lane
“‘Revenge of the Sith’ is a zoo of rampant storyboards. Why show a pond when C.G.I. can deliver a lake that gleams to the far horizon? Why set a paltry house on fire when you can stage your final showdown on an entire planet that streams with ruddy, gulping lava? Whether the director is aware of John Martin, the Victorian painter who specialized in the cataclysmic, I cannot say, but he has certainly inherited that grand perversity, mobilized it in every frame of the film, and thus produced what I take to be unique: an art of flawless and irredeemable vulgarity. All movies bear a tint of it, in varying degrees, but it takes a vulgarian genius such as Lucas to create a landscape in which actions can carry vast importance but no discernible meaning, in which style is strangled at birth by design, and in which the intimate and the ironic, not the Sith, are the principal foes to be suppressed. It is a vision at once gargantuan and murderously limited, and the profits that await it are unfit for contemplation”

Is new ‘Star Wars’ an anti-Bush diatribe? | CBC
“At a press conference, Lucas said the film does mirror history, but he did not set out to comment on U.S. foreign policy under Bush. ‘As you go through history, I didn’t think it was going to get quite this close. So it’s just one of those recurring things,’ he said. ‘I hope this doesn’t come true in our country. Maybe the film will waken people to the situation,’ Lucas added jokingly. Lucas also said he penned the film long before the U.S. went to war against Iraq. ‘When I wrote it, Iraq didn’t exist,’ the filmmaker said with a laugh. ‘We were just funding Saddam Hussein and giving him weapons of mass destruction. We didn’t think of him as an enemy at that time.’ He added that the ‘parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we’re doing in Iraq now are unbelievable.’ As research for writing the prequel trilogy, Lucas studied how democracies become dictatorships with the consent of the electorate. ‘You sort of see these recurring themes where a democracy turns itself into a dictatorship, and it always seems to happen kind of in the same way, with the same kinds of issues, and threats from the outside, needing more control. A democratic body, a senate, not being able to function properly because everybody’s squabbling, there’s corruption.’ Although his films are not overtly political, Lucas has included some allusions to U.S. politics in previous episodes of Star Wars. In The Phantom Menace he named characters after politicians: Nute Gunray, for instance, was named for Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House. “

Save the Republic! |
“This week, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith opens in theaters nation-wide. And weirdly enough, the plot of what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest films in movie history revolves around a scheming senator who, seduced by visions of absolute power, transforms a democratic republic into an empire. The movie?s opening buzz and its parallel theme to our current judicial fight present a great opportunity to educate the public ? and have some fun. So we?ve put together a flyer that draws on themes from the Revenge of the Sith story to explain the very real threat to democracy posed by the nuclear option.”Note: with a video file

Darth Vader’s Family Values | John Tierney
“The new installment of ‘Star Wars’ has set off the usual dreary red-blue squabble, with liberals using the film to attack Republicans, and some conservatives calling for a boycott. But – and I know this is hard to believe for a movie with characters named General Grievous and Count Dooku – there’s actually a serious bipartisan lesson about the dark side of politics. […]He says he could never betray the Jedi because they’re his family, but then the chancellor puts the family question in perspective: ‘Learn to know the dark side of the Force, Anakin, and you will be able to save your wife from certain death.’ Anakin promptly recognizes the limits of altruism, just as Adam Smith did in the 18th century.”

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 24 May 2005 @ 12:00 PM