Monday, September 29, 2008


As I've mentioned before, I'm Canadian, and aggressively so. I believe that this country truly is wonderful and diverse and pluralistic, and doesn't just appear great on paper. As a nation, we posses an incredibly powerful creative impulse that manifests in world class music, art, literature and theatre. I try my absolute best to celebrate, defend and promote these creative pursuits. I listen to Canadian music, read Canadian plays and routinely tell people about how rad institutions like the CBC are. 

At the moment, however, I'm finding it increasingly difficult, as a fan and creator of the Canadian arts, to feel valid in my own nation. Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has already slashed funding to arts programs across the nation, and is campaigning for re-election on the promise of more of the same. When asked how he could justify such a policy, he responded by saying that the arts in Canada were a "niche" interest, and that "ordinary" Canadians don't support arts funding. 

I call bullshit.

I am a student of the arts- I immerse myself in the culture that surrounds us, I analyze, interpret and represent my social world in my own creative efforts in music, writing and social performance. I will make my career in the creative and cultural industries. When I say that art is my life, it's not just a pithy cliche that teenagers use to seem educated. I mean it in a profoundly functional and utilitarian way. The arts ARE my life and will continue to be my life until the last nail has been put into my coffin. 

In these sentiments, I am not alone. My friends, teachers and family embody the creative impulse of Canadians. I know musicians, artists, writers, actors, directors, performance artists, dancers. Every one of them finds their identity and their functional goals in life through artistic endeavors. And rest-assured, they are all normal people. We are not the Gore Vidals or the David Sedarises. We are not the Kidmans or Cruises (thank Christ) or the LuPones. As Margaret Atwood as put it- Canadian artists, at the level I am speaking of, do not stand at gallery openings complaining about their grant money. We live and work at the level of every day interaction. I play music as a part of my day, my friend keeps a journal that she updates every night, her friend doodles in the margins of his notebooks during class and his mother creates elaborate needlepoints before she goes to bed at night. 

This is the Canadian creative class. These are ordinary Canadians, making manifest the creative impulse inherent to all humans in non-institutionalized ways. To cut arts funding based on an assertion that normal people do not care about creativity, and to segregate artistry into the realm of "casual hobby" or "meaningless pasttime" is to declare these creative individuals unfit for participation in the social discourse. By telling us that we are an anomaly, a "niche" or a statistical throw-away, Mr. Harper, you have labelled us as second-class citizens. 

All Canadians are creative. All Canadians are artists. By cutting funding to formal arts programs, you have permanently crippled those grass-roots community organizations which focus on the creative industries. In your mind, you have simply grounded the highest strata of professional artistry, knocking those snobbish, gallery-going creative types down a peg or two. In reality, however, you have disabled and hindered community organizations- small groups of weavers or knitters, volunteer-based community theatre programs, media literacy groups, accessible music education for youth. You have dismembered, based on the opinions of "ordinary" Canadians, the very bonds, institutions and shared experiences that bring together even the most "average" citizens. 

As Canadians, and as innately creative and artistic individuals, we deserve to be heard. We are not second-class citizens, we are not worthless simply because our paintings or songs or plays don't contribute in any appreciable way to the GDP. We are the ordinary, creative and artistic class at the core of Canadian pluralism and diversity. If we are made unimportant, it is only because of false labels, blind ignorance, and eyes shielded from the social worth of creative activity. 

Demand better! Demand to be taken seriously! You are a Canadian with the same rights and freedoms as any "ordinary" person. Recognize the value of your creative efforts and defend them to the ends of the Earth. 

The artists and the creative workers are always the first people silenced by fearful and weak governments. 

Speak up. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Word on the street is that P.E.T.A. wants Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream to switch from using Cow's milk in their product to using human breast milk.

Titty Garcia?

Lactalicious Lemon-Lime?

Mammarific Mocha?

Bosom Berry?


I could go on for days. 

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Some of the best things going for me right now:

"Oh, My My" by Jill Barber from her new CD, Chances

"The Erl King" by Ghost Bees from the CD Tasseomancy

"Still In the Room" by Julia Nunes from the CD Left Right Wrong

"Lucklucky" by Veda Hille from the CD This Riot Life

"At the Bottom of Everything" by Bright Eyes from the CD I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

"Wood Between Worlds" by Laura Barrett 

"Freak Night" by Hot Pink DeLorean

"Never is a Promise" by Fiona Apple from the CD Tidal

"Elephants" by Rachael Yamagata from the CD Teeth Sinking into Heart

"Fernando" by Jenny Lewis from the CD Acid Tongue

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Knowledge is Power?

I am in university, and I love it. Abstract theories, things that can't possibly be proved right or wrong, and discursive semantics are pretty much the shit. That said, academia has its problems, and they're pretty serious. 

In my first year, I arrived at school, pumped on knowledge and the promise of finally being a part of the great liberally intellectual morass of "The Academy." It was a good year, to be sure, but not what I had anticipated. For so long, the university has been painted as an island of intellectual salvation in an ocean of inanity, a fortress against the judgmental, against the exclusive, against the less pleasant vicissitudes of every day life. I pretty much bought it. I came expecting a universalized, liberal education stressing the dismantling of boundaries between knowledge and the people, and was kinda disappointed. What I have discovered is that the university establishes an internal hierarchy which is just as rigid, if not more so, than the social structure of real life which is so thoroughly ripped apart in lectures. It's just sneakier. Rather than badges on a lapel, or some type of uniform (which I would argue actually exist in Universities, but maybe I'll get to that in a bit), rank is clearly deliniated through discourse, articulated through diction. Syke! I'm super guilty of it, too.

What I mean: When I sit down to read an academic article, an essay, or anything "peer reviewed," I do so in the spirit of the university. That is to say, in the pursuit of breaking down boundaries of knowledge, of enlightening myself. Too bad this isn't what happens. I sit in front of that damn article for hours sometimes, struggling just to find where the sentences break, never mind figuring out what it actually means. The knowledge that is supposed to free us from our socially restrictive shackles is bound and chained to the sinking brick of an inflated ego. Any knowledge that could be gleaned gets lost underneath the heavy gloss of academia, of discourse, of "validity." The dialogue between the student and the text becomes irreparably frustrated and we end up reading for its own sake, or perhaps because the syllabus tells us we're supposed to. In either case, the lofty goals of the university crumble under the weight of academic non-sense. Basically, in my experience, the majority of students read something they can't grasp, for reasons they don't understand. Score one for academia!

This frustration of communication between text and student sort of segues into the next problem I've found. The people writing these articles that we can't understand in any event are mostly old white men. Why is this a problem? Well, basically it means that any knowledge that we hope to gain from a university which celebrates pluralism, diversity and equality is encoded and structured and formatted by the hands of the dominant majority. This problem, at first just seems statistically accurate. In Canada in particular, there just simply happens to be a whole lot of old white men, and accordingly, there is a larger proportion of them writing academic articles. It gets sticky, though, when we link the first problem to the second- no one can understand what these guys are writing, and thus very few are capable of challenging them. So we have a "liberal" system in which a dominant majority (and its accompanying ideology) becomes irrefutable and inaccessible. Help? A boundary, then, is clearly placed between the university student, and "the academy." We are kept at an intellectual distance, just struggling to get through another definition of culture or communication, and the old, white, male figureheads of the academic world remain firmly where they are. 

But what about grad students? What about new, young professors? Good point. I have had some wonderful professors who do much to demystify the academic world for me. However, it is still an unfortunate reality that to become that professor, or to become a PhD candidate, you have to be willing to accept the ground rules of academia which have been laid down with some serious conviction by (you guessed it) the old white men. The hegemony of academia, then, isn't just entrenched, it's bacterial. It breeds further domination through forcing new students to simply accept that this is the way it's supposed to be. Want to be a successful PhD? You'd better write like one. Too bad the person you're modeling your writing after has probably written himself so deep into a logical tailspin that to try and fish him out would be fucking impossible. 

And so is the university: An oasis of liberal, pluralistic knowledge, buried under the egos and complications of confused students, WASPy-as-fuck professors, and hopped-up-on-caffeine-pills PhD candidates. What an oasis it is. 

(PS: Not all academics are like those WASPy Chaps. I know some amazing profs and TAs)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Funniest Thing Ever

Seeing Naomi Klein's newest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism on one of those up-sell, impulse buy racks by the till at Wal-Mart. 


(As a close second, AdBuster's last issue was also pretty hilariously awful. The cover carried a message along the lines of "Hipsters: America's Cultural Dead-End." Way to alienate your entire audience, AdBusters.) 

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Secret Lives of Shrimp

So, I don't consider myself an 'environmentalist' in any capacity, really, but I try my best to consider my decisions and carry out my actions in a way that minimizes my environmental impact. That said, It's nearly impossible for me, or anyone else to effectively minimize their ecological footprint. Often, the environmental waste and degradation in which we currently find ourselves, and the environmental crises which we now collectively face, are often linked rather obliquely to the phenomenon of consumerism. Effectively, our disproportionately huge ability to create solid waste, our reliance on huge amounts of space to sustain ourselves, and our toxic methods of production have been blamed for the modern consumer society butting up against the environmental limits of our planet. What is unfortunate about how this relationship is presented, though, is that it often leads to laying guilt on the individual consumer. We come to see ourselves as gluttonous malcontents leeching off a defenseless planet for little or no actual gain. Granted, this is kind of true- we do consumer a whole lot more than we need to, and easily fall hook-line-and-sinker for the process of planned obsolescence.

It's hard to blame our glut on our own nature, though. Everyone, in some capacity, has an environmental conscience (or so I like to believe). We all know to recycle bottles, we know to try and re-use bags and containers, rather than throwing them out. So why, then, is it so hard for us to grab a hold of these feelings of environmentalism and carry them through to some productive end? I believe the problem is disclosure. We simply don't know what they hell we're buying, eating or wearing. The roots of any given product are either directly obscured by the company who sells it, or are simply ignored by individual consumers. I feel that the waste cycle of consumerism is rooted in these two problems: 1) The repression of causal links between source and final product by producers, and 2) The apathetic attitude of consumers toward the source of their products.

It's not super easy to change the first of those problems on an individual basis, but the second is well within our reach as individuals. When you consumer, do it intelligently, do it with some effort, don't simply trust the veneer of consumption. By the way, this is not to say I'm one of those anti-consumer, blow shit up people- I like stuff way too much for that. For example, one of the most environmentally destructive commercial practices is the trawling of ocean floors for marine food supply such as fish, but in particular, shrimp. To commercially harvest shrimp, boats trawl fishing areas. That is to say, they dropped weighted nets to the ocean floor and scrape it clean, gathering their target of shrimp, but also large amounts of "refuse"- other, undesirable creatures, which are killed and thrown back to decompose. This is not to mention the fact that the actual scraping of the land can drastically alter and even destroy the physical geography of marine ecosystems. Now, I like shrimp a whole lot, and I do eat quite a bit of it, as I'm sure many people do. This does not make us bad people. We are not going to hell for having that prawn curry. However, we can demand better. We need to demand full disclosure of certain commercial practices in order to make the best possible choice. When you go to a restaurant, ask them if they can source their produce, meats and fish. Don't be afraid to do so. Often at any decent restaurant, they will be able to let you know where a particular product came from, and how it was harvested. Some systems are already making this an easier process. For example, the Vancouver Aquarium has set up the "OceanWise" seafood rating. Any seafood product on a menu or in a store with the OceanWise seal of approval on it has been sourced and determined to be harvested sustainably. Given the choice between a regular prawn and an OceanWise one, try and pick the latter. 

That said, don't rely on others to source out your food for you- put in some effort. If you can find a market or a grocery store that has a solid system of tracing a product back to its origin, maybe consider switching your routine a bit. It's not a hard thing to do on an individual basis. It takes a bit more effort, and yes, trying to find food that is easily sourced can be frustrating, and even a bit more expensive, but if that's the case, pick a few things that you eat the most of- maybe rice, chicken and fresh fruit, an start with those- demand full disclosure of its roots, and buy your most popular groceries based on that. It's small individual actions and initiative such as these that can really alter a person's ecological footprint. 

Don't feel bad that you eat shrimp, don't get down on yourself because you cook with commercially-produced crops. Just do your homework, and work to reduce your impact on an individual basis. Get enough individuals together, and an action becomes collective and has great power to change the status quo. It sounds idealistic, and it is. But that's the point. It's just an idea, it's our jobs to make the effort to turn it into real, tangible change. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

John Houdini McCain

First things first: I apologize for the unannounced hiatus. I was in the middle of uprooting and moving to another province and starting school and all that jazz. I spent more time in IKEA last week than you can even imagine. As a note, IKEA at back-to-school time is my idea of Hell. 

In other news, John McCain is an abject moron. He recently announced his running-mate and Vice Presidential hopeful, one Sarah Palin. If you're unfamiliar with her political career, don't be afraid. So is everyone, and here's why: She's governor of Alaska. On the surface, not such a bad move on McCain's part. But the operative word in that sentence is "surface." Turns out that Palin is a gun-toting, pro-life, fanatical right wing nut job. And that's only half the problem. McCain has given average voters absolutely no credit and assumed them no smarter than a bag of hammers. Hilary is out, so now there's a whole chunk of Democratic voters presumably up for grabs by either McCain and Obama. So what does Johnny try and pull? He picks a vice-presidential running mate who directly and decisively opposes the values of true Democrats in an obvious attempt to steal that vote away from Obama. Why is this so insulting? Basically, McCain has taken voters to be so blind, lazy and ignorant that he thinks a vagina and a pair of hips will be enough to persuade voters to elect a complete crazy face. He's basically latched onto Palin as a way to say "Hey, look at me, Democrats! I can be forward-thinking, too!" Too bad that in doing so, he's fetishized and objectified women to an absolutely insane degree (even if the woman he's objectifying is nuts), and assumed that the average female democrat will follow wherever their gender leads despite their values or beliefs. 

It's insulting, it's patronizing and it's just plain gimmicky. McCain choosing Palin as his VP is no different than discount stores like "The Brick" or "United Furniture Warehouse" advertising no payments until 2015- what you're getting is pretty much crap, but dress it up enough and your average citizen is too much of a dope to tell the difference. Take a hike, McCain.