Sunday, March 7, 2010

Moving Day

Hi all,

Well I did it! I've set myself up on WordPress. Unfortunately, migrating my old posts from here to the new page didn't go so well. So I'll just be not updating here anymore, keeping my back posts as a kind of archive, and then updating regularly at WordPress. Take a visit!

Man Descending on WordPress.

See you soon!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Post-Games Post-Mort Post

Well, they came and went. Here in Vancouver, the 2010 Winter Olympic Games have come to a close after seven long years of planning, hype, advertising, funding announcements, funding concealments, scandals, missteps, successes, and goofy mascots. The city seems to have settled into a collective state of hangover. Just ten minutes ago I walked down Granville Street to find myself a comfy chair, coffee, and Wi-Fi. Not even a week ago, Granville was essentially a massive frat party- air horns, silly costumes, (occasionally) unwarranted cheering and hooting, all set to the soundtrack of pseudo-comprehensible, multi-lingual renditions of “O Canada” (which is now apparently under review…wtf?). By contrast, this morning Granville was virtually deserted, decorated only by stylish downtowners calmly walking to work, and the scraps of celebrations gone by: half-hung “Go Canada Go” banners, the odd patch of confetti stomped into the pavement, and maple leaves scattered along the storefronts.

Mostly I’m grateful for this moment of reprieve, as it’s given me a chance to finally step back and try to survey what the greatest party even thrown meant for this city, how it felt to witness it, and the potential problems and opportunities that came along with it.

Vancouver over the past few weeks has been like no city I’ve ever been to. As an enthusiastic transplant from the prairies, this city has always seemed part magic to me- something about seeing the ocean, the Burrard Inlet, the soaring North Shore mountains, and Vancouver Island all at once while you sip a boutique coffee or chat over a glass of wine is a luxury that has yet to get old for me. Every time I visit the downtown core, I get off the train with a smile on my face. But when the Olympic hype started building, and the city was populated by enthusiastic helpers in snappy blue coats, tourists and observers from around the world, as well as citizens not knowing what to expect, the laid back, cosmopolitan din that usually hangs in the air here was inflated to a definite buzz. An energy even. Conversations about how the weather would factor in, about the potential for protest and social resistance, about the world media training its eye on the uneasy relationship between “have” and “have not” so powerfully articulated by the Downtown East Side, about how Canada would fare in the medal standings, about what this would mean for the arts and cultural industries in BC at a time when provincial arts funding was to be the subject of 90% cutbacks. If anything, the city became a massive discussion forum, with anti- and pro-Games activists clashing online, on the streets, and in the media, and moderates caught in an ambivalent position where the excess of the games and the very real problems of rampant corporatism, social justice cutbacks, and over security were constantly echoing in the back of their minds, but where the foreground was emphatically occupied by the excitement of the here and now. I spoke about the dialogic, innovative opportunities that the games opened up in a post I wrote following the early clashes between riot police and members of protest groups known as the Black Bloc and Olympic Heart Attack, and so I won’t delve too deeply into the issue of media, discourse, and democracy, but needless to say, the conversations bouncing through the social media networks were fiery, often polarized, and an embodiment of precisely what it means to live in a democratic Canadian culture.

A number of anti-games activists have claimed that the concerns outlined above (social justice, homelessness, poverty, arts funding) were glossed over by the wild popularity of the games as a branding exercise and as a global-scale marquee media event. I beg to differ. Never in my life have I witnessed the critical voice take such defiant charge of its own potential for change. On the Downtown East Side, a massive tent city was established for the second half of the games to draw attention to the rampant homelessness that characterizes the neighbourhood. A non-profit Legal Observer program was established for the duration of the Olympics on the second floor of W2 Culture + Media House as a way of guaranteeing that citizens, activists, and artists had access to information regarding their rights in a city under 24/7 video and police surveillance. Legitimate, peaceful protest groups such as the 2010 Welcoming Committee planned months in advance to have their voices of dissent heard by the world as the games opened, drawing immediate attention to pressing issues in this city that simply cannot be ignored. The list of examples goes on. The alternative, activist voice in this city has never had more opportunities to create change than it does now.

So while the problems persist, and the questions remain largely unanswered (well…some of them. The provincial budget was just released this week, slashing provincial arts funding by an astonishing 50%, down from initial estimates of 90%, conveniently painting the Liberal government as generous in tough economic times), now more than ever is the time where we may find answers and collaborative paths forward. Activating true dialogue, as the games have done, is the first step toward concrete social progress.

Beyond these fascinating developments in community discourse, the Games were also an amazing party. Canadian musicians like Hey Ocean!, Said the Whale, Hey Rosetta, Mother Mother, Dan Mangan, We Are the City, Broken Social Scene, Jill Barber, Kathleen Edwards, The Arkells, and Sam Roberts were among the must-see acts not just for local music fans, but for visitors from around the globe. Having made it to a few of these shows, I can personally attest to how ridiculously fun it is to experience live music for free with thousands of incredibly diverse and enthusiastic guests. I had the immense privilege of being downtown to watch Jennifer Heil medal in moguls, the Hamelins recover from their initial devastating loss with back-to-back golds, Canada play every single hockey game (including the total bummer loss to the US in the second round), and probably most memorable of all, me and a crew of out of town friends staked out a spot at a pub on Granville at 8:30 in the morning last Sunday to watch Canada play for the gold in men’s hockey. When Sidney Crosby scored that game-winning goal in overtime, I kid you not, you could feel the ground in the city rumble. Friends across False Creek from downtown told me that they could hear the cheers explode out of the core the second the puck hit the net. We celebrated with hugs and cheers in the bar, and then spilled out onto the street to celebrate with thousands of others. We weren’t just celebrating that final game, though. We were celebrating a country and a city ignited by Canadian pride, and the ability to finally be a Canadian without feeling the need to blush. We were celebrating the very ability to celebrate, and the apparent growing-out of our bashful national adolescence. It was thrilling, and a story I’m proud to tell. Mind you, I couldn’t tell it for a few days, seeing as how I had absolutely no voice by the end of it. But the magic of the Internet disavows my irresponsibility.

Granville and Robson about 10 minutes after Canada took gold in men's hockey

Granville Street celebrating hockey gold

I don’t think I would have rather been anywhere else in the world than Vancouver during the Olympics. Our city remains locked in intense social justice debates swirling around unresolved questions of power, inequity, and poverty. But for a couple weeks, I saw all of these issues championed and enthusiastically discussed alongside (and as a part of) a national celebration of our identity as a particular people with our own very unique set of characteristics. The games were expensive, challenging, exciting, and problematic, as any major event usually is. Where we struck it lucky, though, is that Canadians seem totally willing to address these issues head-on, and have the discussions that matter when they matter most. Also, they know how to party. In a big way.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Whoa. Whoa.

Biggest two weeks in the history of everything ever. Taking some time downtown tomorrow to catch up on this blogging business. Expect new content soon! Also, I think I'm moving over to WordPress. My friend (find her blog in my "Good Folks" section- Remix our Lives) just made the move and is loving it. So we'll see how ambitious I'm feeling tech-wise come tomorrow morning.

In other news, I am seeing the delightful, marvelous, and always inspiring Basia Bulat live tonight for the very first time! I've been waiting to see her for close to three years now, and couldn't be more excited. Especially when I see things like this:

And this:

I miss the blogosphere! Maybe now that the Olympics are over and I'm not hung over for the first time in 3 weeks, I will be able to make this thing count again.

ALSO: If you tweet, follow me! I'll return the favor! You can track me down under the name Man_Descending. If you don't tweet, it's friends off.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Big Days Coming Up!

Alright friends, I know I have some followers and readers from lands far, far away (read Ontario), however, there's too much cool stuff happening in Vancouver in the next few nights not to mention:

1. Friday Night (Tonight): Head to the Surrey Celebration site this afternoon before 5 PM to catch Peak Performance Project winners We are the City open up an amazing night of music from The Arkells, Sam Roberts, and Dan Mangan (!). I've seen We are the City, and they are unreal! And of course, my love for Dan is old hat at this point. OR if you're not in the Surrey mood this evening, head down to Robson Square to catch Said the Whale and Hey Ocean! for free behind the Vancouver Art Gallery.

2. Saturday: Always the best night to be downtown to watch the games. Gather around the TVs at CTV's broadcast booth on Robson between Burrard and Hornby, head over to Robson Square to watch the massive projection on the side of the Sears building, or get downtown early to snatch a seat at one of the bars or pubs on Granville. Celebrate!

3. Sunday: Canada takes on the United States in men's hockey for the first time in this Olympics! Downtown is sure to be manic, so Commercial might be your best bet to get a seat by a TV and an active beer tap. But if we should win, you're only a few blocks from the train that will get you into the heart of the celebration downtown.

4. Monday: W2 Culture + Media House at 112 West Hastings is hosting the Fresh Media Olympics Conference from 1-7 PM on Monday February 22. This conference will address the question "how has social media changed the Olympics story?" Featuring keynotes and panels led by leading thinkers on the issue of social media and sport, such as Andy Miah, the day promises to be exciting, interactive, and extremely productive. For all those who didn't take a look at my last entry, W2 is a gallery space on the Downtown Eastside that, for the duration of the Olympics, has been transformed into the media centre for unaccredited and citizen journalists who have come to Vancouver to provide a non-commercial, alternative perspective on the games. It's an amazing site, and the Fresh Media conference will be a great showcase of all the amazing work that's happening there. Visit the EventBrite page to reserve your spot!

After you're done at W2, run over to LiveCity Yaletown to catch Canadian jazz songstress Jill Barber, and prepare to swoon over her sweet voice as it curls around her neo-vintage love songs. Followed up by Colin James, and the whole event is, as expected, free!

Hope to see some Blogger friends out and about this weekend. Comment me and tell me where you'll be!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lighting a Different Flame: Media, Discourse, and Democracy at the Games

I have never been more proud to be a Canadian than I am today.

I'm not proud because of our elaborate opening ceremony, nor because of our ability to throw a great global party.

I'm not proud because of the corporate sponsorship or the torch.

I'm proud because today, I truly realize that I live in a democracy. Not just a democracy, but one that people will defend, fight, utilize, question, and protect at a moment's notice.

Some exposition: since September of last year, I have been involved with a community organization in Vancouver, formerly known as W2 Woodwards. Located in the Downtown Eastside, W2 serves as the fulcrum around which Vancouver's media arts and activism scene turns, using the intersection of community, media, creativity, and a spirit of innovation to create positive social change and support activist concerns throughout the city. In anticipation of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, W2 took on a new role. Through tireless planning, promotions, and organizing, this 4-floor gallery space has been transformed into and officially recognized as W2 Culture + Media House. W2 now serves as a media and broadcast centre for unaccredited and citizen journalists who have come to the city to provide and alternative, critical, or celebratory perspective on the games, from beyond the frame of corporate journalism.

I have the immense luxury and privilege to work part time out of a small office at W2, and spend some time with some of the globe's leading independent media innovators. As such, the past two days of my online, mediated life have been explosive. When I arrived at work yesterday and fired up my TweetDeck, I truly felt that something had shifted in the way that we discuss and communicate in this country, and perhaps around the world. And I believe that shift has been for the better.

When the tragic news of the death of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Whistler Sliding Centre broke yesterday morning, the social media networks caught fire. They were on the front lines of the story as it developed throughout the day, and following the initial frenzy, they were among the first to raise concerns over the use of the video as spectacle in mainstream news broadcasts. Even now, I'm receiving updates from critical media watchdogs questioning CTVs gratuitous use of the footage in last night's programming.

In the lead up to the games, social networking platforms such as Twitter and its activist toolkits were used extensively by anti-games protesters to organize demonstrations and pressure action throughout the city. When these protests turned violent this morning on Robson Street, once again, the independent, non-commercial media were the first to catch the story, and the first to turn it over to citizens for comment and discussion.

This is democracy incarnate.

The journalists, bloggers, activists, and critics based at W2, and stationed around the city, on the front lines of breaking stories, have not simply taken it upon themselves to challenge the authority of traditional modes of media distribution, but have also taken what they gather in the field, and turned it over to the population through Flickr pools, blog posts, and a flurry of tweets, where questions are constantly being raised and debates are constantly evolving based on new information pouring in, free of the filter and bureaucratic infrastructure of big media production.

Regardless of what one thinks of the riots this morning, the fact that I am actively engaged in discussions about their legitimacy with people both inside and outside Vancouver, around the globe, pro-Olympic, anti-Olympic, and indifferent is truly one of the most astonishing, invigorating experiences I've had in recent memory. Today has demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that we live in a nation where dissent is the norm, where challenge is almost mundane, and fiery conversation is the hallmark of the every day. The Robson protesters have exercised their right to challenge dominant messages and ideological systems. The people who have critiqued the Robson protesters and their actions have done the same. In no way do I celebrate the acts of violence and vandalism themselves, nor do I subscribe the hurtful, ignorant, reductive slurs being thrown at them by games supporters. What I value and celebrate today is the fact that it happened, and the fact that it has ignited a city and a nation, forcing us into a direct confrontation with our assumptions about how and where we live. This is a revolution that has been bred by passionate individuals utilizing networks of support and innovative approaches to technology that put the power of speech back in the hands of those who value it most- citizens.

This is not an over-statement. This is a change. This is coal-fired discourse.

As the games wear on, I suspect the protests will subside, or at the very least, become more civil, and as the excitement over medal counts, global rivalries, and the amazing cultural events happening throughout the city heats up, the focus of the media coverage of these Olympics may shift. But I will remember today. Today our city changed, and today we have a rare and unique opportunity to step back, and become staggeringly aware of all that we truly have to be proud of.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

One More Reason to go Amish

Logic boards are for chumps, anyways! Hey friends, it's been a while, and I am writing from a rather grimy looking rental computer that has allegedly made the rounds on the DJ circuit, and so I'm likely clacking away through layers of vodka, Red Bull, and sweat, but I soldier on.

I hope your New Years treated you spectacularly well and that you weren't quite so immobilizingly hung over as I was the next morning. I have returned to school to start an 8-month work term as a media educator, working with secondary school students in workshops to raise awareness of media issues, and I cannot wait to get going on it. I couldn't create a more perfect job for myself if I tried.

I just wanted to update a bit, seeing as how I've been quite absent for a while, and leave you with a couple things that might make you smile, such as my new favorite podcast, Popcorn Mafia, an utterly insane hour-and-something program filled with curse words and off-colour jokes, reviewing the newest films in theatres. It's a riot, and you should definitely check it out here and follow them on twitter at popcornmafia. You won't regret it.

Other than that, the sun is shining, the skies are blue, and there's a new decade yawning out before us. Let's make the best of it!