Saturday, August 23, 2008


Sorry about these lazy posts...but sometimes other people make for more interesting reading/viewing/listening

Said the Raindrop to the Seed- Jess Chalker (AKA Alleycat82)

EDIT: The internet totally tricked me. For some reason, the video won't play, but it links you to Jess' YouTube Channel. Take the time to listen, she has a really beautiful style. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hip to be Square

I know I've said in past entries that the Beijing Olympics should have been boycotted, and I stand firmly behind that. But can we, just for a second, talk about how brilliant some of the architecture of the venues is? Probably the most recognizable symbol of the games so far is the national stadium, affectionately known as "The Bird's Nest."

I don't have much of academic merit to say about the stadium, other than that it's wicked cool. It's actually a very brave design- turning the skeleton of a building, usually hidden beneath sheet metal and other decoration into something of an abstract sculpture. Perhaps it was meant to suggest some kind of transparency between China and the rest of the world. It literally deconstructs the walls between international competition and the rest of the Chinese culture, possibly in an effort to debunk international criticisms of China's secrecy and notoriously opaque borders. Needless to say, a building that allows the energy of international competition to flow openly to a supposedly closed culture is hardly a solution to China's human rights and freedom of information violations (a very forgiving term). BUT, it does look really beautiful and makes some complex plays on the nature of openness, and what is revealed and hidden in a newly globalized world. 

My favorite venue, though, is the aquatics centre, known as "The Water Cube," pictured here on the left, next to the National Stadium. 

The Water Cube is absolute genius, as far as I'm concerned. The architects, a firm from Australia, in cahoots with National Chinese design bodies  came up with the design in tandem, based off of an image of the structure of soap bubbles if viewed over an infinite array, which is kind of a cute way to think of a building- a big, blocky bubble bath. The exterior and interior walls are actually made of a plastic film which is inflated and continually pumped, creating the "bubble" effect of the walls. What I love so much about the design, though, is the clever plays on solid/fluid, whimsy/order, and the nature of perfection and beauty. The water cube is...well...basically a big blue cube. But within the strict, sharp, geometric boundaries of the cube, the architects are able to achieve a sense of wonder and whimsy. The walls, through the soap bubble pattern appear to be honey-combed quite at random, adding an element of fluidity to the rigidity of the cube shape, and hinting at the physical beauty and artistry that takes place inside. The architects take this sense of fluidity one step further by embedding tens of thousands of tiny LED lights in the frame of the walls, allowing for a constantly shifting exterior presentation. The walls seem to wave and sway and have an almost hypnotic quality to them. In this way, even though the building is just a cube, we are able to experience a sense of fluidity- creation within restriction. Considering the events that take place in this venue, it's hard to think that this juxtaposition between technique and artistry is a mistake. Take diving, for example. While based almost exclusively on strength, perfection of form and replicability, it's impossible to say that there isn't some amount of beauty and magic in the perfect dive. Just like the walls of the cube, sport is an exhibition of the beauty within conformity, individual expression within perfection of form. It's a genius design that deeply destabilizes and pokes fun at the old notions of geometric stoicism and embodies the spirit of sport itself. 

Like I said, pretty buildings don't do much to allay freedom of speech and human rights violations, but they're pretty neat. 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ditches and Hoes

I'm the first to admit that I pretty much despise Top 40 Radio, not just because it's Top 40, but because most of the music on it is genuinely terrible. I also tend to agree that the lyrics in a number of the songs are hugely trashy, mysogynistic, homophobic, racist and demeaning. I think, though, that these mainly hip-hop tracks take an unfair share of the criticism dished out by concerned parents. No one seems to notice that country radio, while sounding bland and inoffensive, is just as guilty of producing and disseminating crude, morally questionable and xenophobic attitudes. 

My sister and mother listen to country radio almost religiously. They adore Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Mark Chestnut, Dierks Bentley and Toby Keith, among others. Just as a note, I'm fairly convinced that all male country singers are the same person. Yet when I listen to some of these songs, I'm just as stunned by some of the lyrics as I am when I hear Akon whine his way through "I Wanna Fuck You." Country music, though, is tricky. It appeals to a sense of Americana, and is musically rooted in a seemingly wholesome tradition of storytelling and history. These impressions are maintained by some of the aesthetic elements of a typical country song- a basic three or four chord structure, lap steel guitar, heavy use of the A and E major chords, liberal references to dead dogs, lost lovers, empty bottles, etc. When we hear the slide of a lap steel, we immediately link it to a sense of nostalgia. Thus country music instantly becomes comforting and soothing and "pure," at least on an aesthetic level. Unfortunately, we rarely look (or listen) beyond the aesthetic level of meaning when we listen to any song, in particular, one that we hear on the radio as part of the background noise of our day. And it's what's under the veneer of American nostalgia that makes country music a little more worthy of criticism than it seems. For example, country singer/songwriter Joe Nichols scored a major radio hit with his most recent single "Let's Get Drunk and Fight." The title doesn't leave much to the imagination, but for the sake of interest, take a look at some of the lyrics: 

Let's get drunk and fight,
We'll keep the neighbors up all night.
Now you can scream at me,
And I'll make you cry.
And when the morning comes,
We'll make some make-up love,
While we apologise.
But tonight, let's get drunk and fight!

What?! While I realize that the song does draw some chuckles, and is written (sort of) in the spirit of comedy, is it any different than a rapper talking about slapping his ho, then having sex with her? If it isn't okay for hip-hop artists to abuse women, why is it any different for country musicians? I have a feeling that it's because of that slick country veneer- I told you, it's sneaky! Hip-hop is a type of music rooted in destitution, struggle and violence, and so is seen by the majority as an inherently threatening force. Any action taken within this culture which transgresses the will of the majority is immediately and severely criminalized. That's not to say that abusing women shouldn't be criminalized anyway, but to understand the double standard, take a look at the Joe Nichols example. The speaker in the Nichols song is an abusive alcoholic who seems to be willing to inseminate his troubles away- arguably, not a great role model. But when it's wrapped in those aesthetic cues mentioned earlier- lap steel, certain chord progressions, etc., it becomes somehow less threatening and less worthy of scorn than it would be when placed over say a drum kit and synths. Rather than Family Action Coalitions and letters of protest, domestic violence in country music draws gentle chuckles from the listener. 

It's not a hard pattern to pick out- "Last Name" by Carrie Underwood recounts a big night for Carrie that ended in her boning and marrying some schlep whom she presumably met at something called a "honky-tonk." And Underwood is America's Sweetheart. "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue" by Toby Keith is less about moral degradation, drinking and sex than the previous examples, but is actually so stunningly awful that it deserves mention. When he performs the song live, Keith begins the song with a preamble about how he wrote this song post-9/11, finally understanding the sacrifices his father had made as a former soldier to secure his freedom. And that's fine. Soldiers are some of the bravest people there are, and appreciating the sacrifices they make is the least we can do to thank them for their services. Unfortunately, Keith's ode to America soon sprials out of control into an all out honky tonkin', face stompin', beer brawlin', Muslim hatin' booze fest: 

Now this nation that I love
Has fallen under attack
A mighty sucker punch came flying in
From somewhere in the back
Soon as we could see clearly
Through our big black eye
Man, we lit up your world
Like the 4th of July

Hey Uncle Sam
Put your name at the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty
Started shaking her fist
And the eagle will fly
And there's gonna be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom
Start ringing her bell
And it'll feel like the whole wide world is raining down on you
Ahhh Brought to you Courtesy of the Red White and Blue

Ohhh Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you'll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass
It's the American way

It's so atrocious it's almost funny, but then you remember that this guy probably really means everything he's singing. Suddenly, not so funny. It makes oblique reference to the carpet bombing of Iraq and paints it as just desserts for the nameless "they" of the song. It celebrates "boot in your ass" diplomacy, blind jingoism, vicious militarism and outrageous Islamophobia, all while being wrapped in the soothing tricks of country music. We hear the four chords, the low, booming bass of Keith's voice, the twanging steel guitar, and we think not of a right wing zealot basically selling hate and blind faith. We think of days back on the farm, the stories our parents used to tell us, the old dirt road where we used to party, and a whole bunch of other shit that probably never happened. 

This is why I hate radio country music. It's basically an attempt at re-writing and re-framing American history and nostalgia in such a way that hate, abuse and zealotry become justified. Spousal abuse and alcoholism? No big deal, that's how my mommy and daddy used to duke it out, and I turned out alright. Banging and marrying some stranger from the bar without ever learning his last name? Totally alright. You only live once, am I right? Hating all Muslims and having blood and fire lust coming out the ass? It's the American way! Pour me a cold one and turn up the Hank! I'm gonna have me some fun tonight!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


So, a little while ago, I posted a YouTube video of a lady named Julia Nunes playing one of her original songs "Balloons." I've been watching Julia's videos for close to a year now, and just recently purchased her self-recorded debut CD "Left Right Wrong" on iTunes. 

Can we just take a minute to recognize how rad that story is? I discovered a new artist, followed her early career, purchased her CD, plan on purchasing her next release...and I've yet to interact with a major label, "marketing" in its traditional sense, or a music store, and she's yet to deal with a label exec, the process of signing and creative control issues. Say WHA?

True story about how the Internet actually does kick a lot of ass. I'm a student of the media, so I'm trained to be skeptical about technology and positive discourse and such, and I'm fully aware that YouTube is part of the massive AOL Time Warner conglomerate. But you know what? On occasion, the whole idea of media democracy genuinely works. Despite being owned by a major corporation, YouTube completely undercuts the traditional corporate structure of the music industry and creates genuine, honest-to-god opportunities for young up and coming artists. That is so cool. Music has been taken out of the studio, out of the perfectionistic impulse, out of the hands of accountants and given back to the home, the individual and the collective. This may seem over-optimistic, but it's been a long time since anyone did anything worth-while with the Internet and to see it truly used how it was meant to be used...that's freaking exciting. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Modest Proposal Part II: In Defense of the Beauty Magazine*

It’s hard to think of any type of periodical that accepts as much scorn these days as does the beauty magazine. We are all familiar with these types of publications- Cosmopolitan, Elle, Vogue. They are the type who churn out 200 secret sex tips per week, contain embarrassing stories which usually relate to masturbation somehow or another, and are so chock-full of advertisements that they would make Chomsky’s blood boil. These are the main whipping posts of the fashion mag- that they are over-commercialized, homogenized, sexualized. Perhaps beyond all of these issues, though, the one that stands paramount above them all is the image of body issue. It is quite obvious that the women we see in beauty magazines are not average. They are perfectly shaded and coiffed, perfectly proportional. Legs from here to Sunday and a waist the diameter of a small child’s arm. The basic argument is that, because these magazines have such massive circulations among teenage (and older) girls, that the pervasiveness of this above-average image of femininity becomes socially normalized. It sets an impossible benchmark for young girls- a tiny waist, broad shoulders and chiseled features cannot be possessed by all. It is an impossibility, a statistical dead-end. For some to look better, others must look "worse." The problem, though, is that these magazine lead us to believe that all people look good all the time, thus distorting the demands of personal presentation. Girls feel compelled to emulate the perfection they see in their magazines, and fall into all kinds of dangerous cycles to achieve that goal- bulimia and anorexia being the most pressing. I feel that these arguments, though, are incomplete and that they overlook crucial details and generalize too quickly regarding the intricacies of a beauty magazine. Here are some of those oft-overlooked details, which may just change the way you think about the beauty magazine.

1) The beauty magazine helps promote gender equality

It is a well known medical fact that when a woman experiences extreme weight loss, she loses some of her secondary sexual characteristics- wider hips, breasts, the ability to menstruate, to name a few. One of the common arguments leveled against beauty magazines, of course is that they encourage diseases such as bulimia and anorexia which tend to lead to the aforementioned symptoms. I choose to see this in a less negative light. By encouraging eating disorders that rob a woman of her ability to bear children, and turning her body from that of a woman into a gaunt, gender-neutral ghost, the beauty industry will have finally achieved a sense of gender equality. No longer will women have to contend with issues of fetishization and objectification! How can a woman be objectified if she looks like a 12 year old boy? It is plain to see, then, that the beauty magazine, by encouraging certain physical practices such as weight-loss and extreme emaciation, also encourages egalitarian gender roles. No more ovulation, no more problems!

2) The beauty magazine encourages a strong work ethic and works to develop efficient routines

Any girl or woman suffering with Bulimia or Anorexia will tell you that it takes an enormous amount of will power to keep up the regimen. In the case of the former, it takes a strict routine of binging and purging, deprivation and indulgence, pleasure and pain to find any kind of balance or satisfaction in your life. Not to mention the effort one has to put in to devising ways of avoiding detection! This kind of dedication and enslavement to irrational, manufactured fears is rare in kids these days. So often we hear complaints of young people slacking off, not following routine or strict order. Manufacture a fear of the natural human form, though, and they’ll be set in their ways like brick in cement. Once a young woman is afraid of her own body, afraid of food, afraid of natural construction, there’s no limit to what she can do. In the case of Anorexia, the same is true. To be able to resist natural urges and physical necessity, to starve yourself night after night, to shun nutrition in the pursuit of a discursively manufactured imaginary ideal? That’s dedication, kids. Nerves of steel. In short, give a kid rules, they’ll laze around, picking and choosing which ones to follow, give a kid an eating disorder, they’ll make their own.

Finally, 3) Beauty magazines and their quest for perfection in the human form fly in the face of postmodern martyrdom and gloom.

It’s just so easy these days to lose sight of beauty- war, famine, disease, global warming, et. al. So can we really look down our noses at beauty magazines for trying to reinvigorate some passion in beauty? Really, aren’t they just trying to make the world more lovely, find the extraordinary beauty in all of us- our inner, air-brushed, sucked, tucked, chiseled and plucked selves? After all, isn’t it just insanely attractive to see a woman starving and ill, slowly killing herself over irrational fears, no self-esteem to speak of? Don’t you just think “beauty” when you see a young model kept thin and gaunt by her agency to mirror a pre-pubescent sense of innocence? Isn’t child-porn chic just so in right now? Don’t blame the beauty magazines for trying to set up impossible standards. They’re just looking for the beauty in this world. And beauty is so clearly in the ribcage of an exploited teenage model and in the sad eyes of a girl who doesn’t think she’s good enough. Beauty magazines know this, and they’re simply sharing their knowledge with the world.

So, next time you go to judge Cosmo for being degrading, or setting impossible standards for young women, just hold your horses and consider the preceding arguments- how rational they were!

*PS, Jonathan Swift, no offence. You rule. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Visit his YouTube Channel here: TheMaxVernon

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I know I wrote an entry like this a little while ago called "Decadence," but after yesterday, I have a renewed passion for the subject of speed. I was coming home from vacation yesterday, the Monday of a long weekend, on an extremely crowded and heavily travelled highway. My minor distaste for speeding and dangerous driving during this trip crossed from distaste into the realm of straight-up disgust. The roads we were travelling, while not terribly dangerous themselves, are nonetheless small mountain  highways with winding passages, making for dangerous passing and turning the annoyance of reckless driving into a serious hazard. I actually could not handle how fast and aggressively people were driving, my own family members included. My family members (with the exception of my grandmother and myself who are afraid of the newfangled automobile, altogether), while uniformly intelligent, drive stupidly fast. I tell them this regularly, but I, to my genuine surprise, am on the outside in this situation. I, being the one who really couldn't care how fast I get somewhere, so long as I get there with my spine, face and spleen in tact, am the one looked at as sort of a cute relic. I'm an icon of good-hearted derision with a touch of pity thrown in for good measure. This is something I just do not understand because I am positive that I am right. 

On three separate occasions during this particular drive, my father and I were almost run off the road by aggressive, reckless, irresponsible driving. And on more than three occasions, I white-knuckled the door handle and closed my eyes as the car I was travelling in pulled out into a passing lane, ripping by cars already going well over the speed limit. I just don't get it! Why were we all going so fast, and more confusingly, why did we keep leapfrogging?! We're all going to the same god damned place! What the fuck?! I tell my family when we get to a rest stop, that this self-defeating, go-nowhere race that we've been in for the last five hours is well on it's way to becoming one of the saddest, most maddening, terrifying spectacles I've ever experienced. They (being the fast-driving leap-froggers) tell me that to drive too cautiously is just as much of a hazard driving recklessly, and that to be able to drive safely in such aggressive traffic, one must themselves become more aggressive, lest that jerk you passed a few miles back gain the upper hand. 

Um...what? That may/may not be the worst logic I've ever heard! It's a classic example of a Hobbesian race to the bottom. We all want to ensure our own individual safety, so we alter our behaviour (Read, drive more aggressively) in order to secure it. What we constantly, tragically and pathetically fail to realize is that, while in pursuit of our own, individual safety, we collectively make the road far less safe for everyone. If everyone drives more aggressively to consistently match or exceed the aggressiveness of other drivers, no one is getting any safer. If anything, we're just moving toward danger at a much greater speed. This is the same self-defeating logic that initiates and sustains arms races and competitive consumption. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again (and possibly again)- slow the fuck down! The time you save (negligible at best) by speeding and driving recklessly on a road trip is nothing compared to the enormous risk that you're putting yourself and other drivers at. Is a 4 minute advantage over another vehicle worth almost killing yourself, the toddler you're driving with, or the parents in the other car that you will eventually hit? If you prioritize a minute victory over a stranger in another car above your own safety and the safety of those you love, then you're fucked. Straight up. Get help. You need it. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Crusades

I am on vacation right now, and thus, have been trying really hard to disengage from any serious points of discussion. Today will be different, as I'm kind of ticked. 

I was in the car today with my family, taking a drive around the area, seeing the sights and such, when we passed a billboard rented by the local Pro-Life association. This particular billboard has been rented out by the same group for years, constantly parading images and messages apocalyptic enough to make your skin crawl. I told my sister the other day that it's the only thing I've ever considered actually vandalizing. And I meant it. I won't, because I have all the courage and bravado of a house cat. But the sentiment is honest, through and through. 

This month, the billboard is parading the message that "abortion stops a beating heart." Under the phrase, there's an image of a heart-monitor line moving from left to right, terminating at the image of a broken heart sitting in a pool of blood. Other displays on this board include one that went up around this time last year. It was a photo of a sullen woman in one corner, and in quotation marks to her right were the words "Why wasn't I told?" Underneath the main image was a URL. It was something to the effect of The implication may seem mirky from my description, but on seeing the image, the intention was clear- having abortions increases your risk of breast cancer. It is a fact that has been concealed from you. Not only have they killed your child, they have knowingly put you in the way of death, as well.

There's a few things in this world that I consider "moral sticking points." We all have them- those little points of ethical/moral contention on which we will not budge. This is one of mine. On the issue of abortion, I am pro-Choice. I have no uterus, and thus have no right to tell women what to do with theirs. Further, it is certainly not within my rights to, through the use of guilt, moral admonishment, derision, scare tactics or otherwise, coerce any woman into making any decision regarding her own reproductive health. To abort or to give birth is an entirely personal choice on which no one but the individual woman herself has any bearing. It is the iconography I described above- that of fear, disgust, murder and gore- which has turned an issue of personal judgement into a question of moral integrity and guilt. It is the manipulative, purely emotive and misleading imagery of hate and murder that have turned women who choose to abort into figures of derision and scorn. They have been cast as deeply disturbed, malleable, blind whores with no regard for the lives of others. It is this profoundly distorted image of women that the fanatical pro-life movement relies on to justify their case. They have resorted to fear in an attempt to legitimate their medically unsound reasoning. The supposed link between breast cancer and abortions is absolutely unsubstantiated, and based on the politics of fear and compliance. This is nothing short of demonization and segregation- a "righteous" versus "evil" battle in which reason, moderation and medical fact have been cast aside in favor of manipulative appeals to visceral emotion.

This is strongly worded, but I feel strongly. The issue of abortion is not black and white. It is not a matter of good, upstanding moral people opposing the sociopathic, emotionally unaffected masses of society. This is not a crusade. A woman's decision to abort is thickly shrouded in shades of grey and is anything but the simple, good vs. bad debate that it has been cast as. The decision to abort is not taken lightly, it is not easy, it is not just a go-to for whores. The fact of the matter is, it is a personal decision, and whatever choice a woman makes does not make her righteous, or evil, a saint or a murderer. It makes her a human, capable of making her own choices, however difficult they may be. A woman understands her body better than anyone else, and to try and impose some sort of puritanical moral code onto that understanding, and criminalizing her based on certain actions is absolutely unacceptable.

Everyone has their moral sticking points. This is one of mine.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Work Harder

Hey, Wendy's Advertising people!

Regarding that commercial you put together for your new salads- you know, "If veggies are good, and chicken is good, then aren't both together...good good?" It blows. Try again.