Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Some classic found comedy. For real, a picture of Canadian PM Harper discussing the Bernier-Couillard affair at a press conference:
Labels: Biker chicks rule
posted by Mentok @ 10:42 AM, ,
Monday, May 26, 2008
The Romans pioneered the theory of governance that all you need to keep the common rabble happy is bread and circuses.
This past weekend I saw three circuses - or reasonable facsimiles thereof - so I'm pretty happy, except for having to deal with all the common rabble.
The best show of the weekend for me was Friday's performance of my son's dance troupe, but that's probably my proud-papa bias talking. The performance was on a theme of "Clowns and Gypsies". It was, therefore, a parody of a circus, which is a bit tough to do considering that circuses are already pretty big self-parodies these days. The professional, adult members of sonny-boy's troupe wound up the show with a moonlit flame-dancing act which I'm sure would wow any crowd anywhere in the world.
So far, so good. The dance performances were at a local arts festival, so we were dealing with arty types. Other than tolerating a few hippies and such, there was no down side to the event.
Next, we headed out of town Saturday to catch Walking With the Dinosaurs. It really is the definition of "fun for all ages". Educational, spectacular.... what's not to like about life-sized robot/puppet/mascot dinosaurs?
Well, I can tell you one thing that's not to like: some of the idiots who go to such shows. They made two separate announcements: "No flash photography". The first time, they tried to be nice and make a joke about it: "It might alarm the dinosaurs, which could have terrible consequences." The second time, they were blunt about it: "For the comfort and enjoyment of other patrons... "
Absolutely nobody listened. I had to shield my eyes from the non-stop blaze of camera flashes from beginning to end.
I did my bit to cow the people sitting within earshot of us.
"After 30 years of stand-up comedians mocking them, you'd think people with cameras at stadium events would get it. Flashes don't work much further than six feet in front of you!"
I complained to an usher and asked why more wasn't being done to enforce the rule.
"We tried the first night, but people just got surly and said 'why aren't you stopping that guy over there?' As it is, it's all we can do to keep people from taking video, which legally is our first responsibility," she said.
Oh well. Other than that, it was a well-mannered mob that cheered and clapped loudly at all the right parts and wasn't too pushy to leave when the show was over.
Not so much can be said about the crowd on Sunday, when we went to the Shrine Circus.
First, a funny aside. Outside the circus was the usual crew of animal rights protesters; probably much the same people as were at the arts festival on Friday. In the past, they protested the wild animal acts and I supported that, especially with regards to the elephant acts, which were never anything but a demonstration of human cruelty.
This year, they kicked up their protests a notch. Now, they're not only against wild animal shows but also domesticated animal shows i.e. horses and dogs. OK, that's getting ridiculous. And, as if to underline the ridiculousness, one of the protesters brought his dog along. I suppose he thought it looked poignant but then objectivity has never been a strong suit of the self-righteous.
The circus itself was an unexpected delight. One of the breathless demands of the protesters was that circuses reorient themselves to human acrobatic acts. I don't think they are aware (or care to become aware) that many circuses are doing just that. Even this dinky little one-ring show had some acrobatics that were almost literally heart-stopping. I joined my kids in covering my eyes sometimes when the stunts became just too scary to watch.
But then there's the audience...
Needless to say, the average class of person who picks up a $5 Shriners ticket is going to be a few notches below those who buy a $50 Walking With the Dinosaurs ticket. Few members of the audience seemed to, um, have much experience with live theatre, shall we say.
The second - and I mean the very millisecond - that the ringmaster brought the performers out for the final ovation, over half the audience lept to their feet and rushed for the door. I felt so sorry for the performers, standing there bravely smiling and waving as these boors brushed past them without so much as acknowledging their existence.
My wife, the teacher, wasn't surprised: "That's just the way people are these days. No one thinks the rules apply to them anymore. Common courtesy is becoming rare."
But I live in hope. I remember in the 1980s that the boorish practice of talking out loud in movie theatres was much more common than it is now. Two decades of concerted effort by theatres and society at large has sharply reduced that, at least in my neck of the woods. We are still social animals and I remain convinced that peer pressure will eventually reestablish some level of civility.
What do you think?
posted by Mentok @ 5:08 PM, ,
Thursday, May 22, 2008
If all you ever read of Shakespeare was the plays they teach in high school, you would never have any trouble accepting the assertion that he was an unparalleled genius of the English language.
On the other hand, if you ever took a notion (as I did one summer as a teen) to sit down with one of those thick black Complete Works of Shakespeare collections, you could easily be excused if you were tempted to think that maybe the Bard was just a moderately talented hack who fluked his way into a handful of masterpieces.
Stephen King is no Shakespeare, but he is underrated. His mastery of language and his evocative, sympathetic descriptions of the best aspects of our flawed human nature puts him several notches above some of those other, forgettable novel-writing machines like Grisham or Crichton. Still, literary critics have always sneered long sneers at King, in part because he works in a rather déclassé genre but probably mostly because he is popular. I'm sure, when King's name comes up at hoighty-toighty literary parties, the word "plebian" gets tossed around quite a bit, accompanied no doubt by much snickering laughter.
This is all rather unfair but I think history will sort it all out. There are a few - not many, but a few - of King's works that I think will live on as, shall we say, middle-level classics. I can easily imagine The Stand, for example, sitting alongside Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird in high school English curricula in the not-too-distant future.
And yet, for all that, King is still a hack, just like Shakespeare was.
King himself has talked in interviews about the legends of plot wheels. Reading Duma Key, I really wondered if King used such a device himself. [spoiler warning - although most of the info below is on the cover jacket].
"Main character is a (spin character wheel) construction contractor who (spin event wheel) is in an accident so he moves to (spin location wheel) Florida where he starts to (spin character development wheel) paint and discovers he can (spin plot complication wheel) see the future and he encounters (spin improbable monster wheel) a giant frog. Giant frog? Oh, what the hell. Let's just see where it goes."
A few more character-wheel spins to get the supporting cast and, baboom, ready-made novel, just fill in the blanks.
As I got deeper into the book, I found myself almost unconsciously cataloging all the gimmicks King was reusing. Plot elements from The Dead Zone; concepts from It; imagery from The Shining. Just like that Falstaff / Belch character who keeps popping up in Shakespeare, it seems as though King has a few arrows in his quiver he likes to use over and over again.
Overall, I really wish King would just get out of the horror business. I found that I really enjoyed the underlying story in Duma Key - a previously practical man who uses art to rebuild his life after a terrible accident. I would have been happy to read a story just about that without the psychic powers, giant frogs, mythical monsters, vampires, zombies and all the rest of the gee-gaws he throws into this book.
Maybe he doesn't know how to do it. Maybe King doesn't know how to end a story without throwing in some sort of weird or fantastical element. I hope that's not the case because I think he's capable of more.
posted by Mentok @ 12:46 PM, ,
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I recently attended a business seminar about the changing workforce. Labour shortages, much younger and less experienced workforce, clash of cultures, yada yada. The presenter noted that old Boomer / Gen X employers might have difficulty dealing with the egalitarian attitudes of the so-called Gen Y workers. Gen Y, after all, is the "special" generation: from birth they have been drilled on the mantra that everyone is special, everyone's talents are equally valued and, at the end of the game, everybody gets a trophy for participating.
I saw a particularly painful example of this at my kids' school's annual talent night. It was an inclusive, unauditioned "talent" show that lasted two and a half hours. Fortunately, I had a good excuse not to stay until the end, but what I saw and heard about afterwards was bad enough.
Here are my observations:
- all parents think their kids are extremely talented. That's our job. Objectively, though, it's not true. Today's parents need to get a better grip on reality. Building self-esteem is one thing; building self-delusion is quite another.
- all such shows should come with a violins warning. Amateur violin playing surely must be the music of hell.
- for the record, Tae Kwon Do routines are not a talent.
- air guitar is not a talent.
- if you have a girl in dance classes or such like, go out and rent Little Miss Sunshine. Watch it. Twice. Think about it.
- skipping rope to Hannah Montana music also is not a talent, especially if you're not good at skipping rope. Plus, if there's anything that could give amateur violins a run for their money as the official theme music of hell, it's Hannah Montana music.
- did I mention that air guitar is not a talent?
I could go on, but I'm sure I'm coming across as too much of a bitter killjoy as it is.
posted by Mentok @ 2:25 PM, ,
Monday, May 12, 2008
Used Tilley Donations
The Leader-PostPublished: Monday, May 12, 2008
The Art of Travel is accepting gently used Tilley clothing this week for donation to less-fortunate residents...
Haven't these people suffered enough?
posted by Mentok @ 12:07 PM, ,
Monday, May 05, 2008
Maybe it's due to my life-long affection for comic book culture, but I believe that you can tell a great deal about a civilization from its pop culture.
Way back when, in Film Studies class, they used to tell us that you could track the evolution of the Japanese mind through the Godzilla series. Unlike the American edit of the film (which just came across as campy), the original Japanese version of the first Godzilla film is said to be much more like Cloverfield in that it focused less on the action and violence, more on the shock and despair of the average people. All in all, Godzilla was a pretty transparent symbol of the Japanese nation's horror and humiliation at it's nuclear defeat in WWII. But as the series evolved, Godzilla became more like a superhero, protecting Japan from invaders, thereby symbolizing Japan's growing confidence and economic might.
So much for Godzilla.
On the weekend, my boys and I saw Iron Man. It struck me that there is a distinct trend going on in superhero movies these days. Instead of fighting criminals or terrorists as in the past, America's heroes are fighting evil versions of themselves: Spiderman vs. Venom; Hulk vs. The Abomination; Iron Man vs. Iron Monger.
Yes, there is a terrorism sub-plot in Iron Man, but (without giving anything away) it all turns out to be a smoke-and-mirrors distraction from the main plot.
The implication of these films is that America is a country that feels at war with itself. Certainly, there's lots on CNN to validate this. My sense, as a foreigner, is that the partisan divide has never been greater in the US. On top of that, you have the Democrats squabbling amongst themselves. So is it any wonder that Americans today connect with films about people battling their own demons?
As a foreigner, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it's not so bad to see Americans involved in self-reflection because when Yanks are over-confident they are, well, hard to take, shall we say. On the other hand, there comes a point where self-reflection becomes unproductive navel-gazing.
The Tony Stark character in this movie goes through a similar transformation. Suffering from post-traumatic shock, decadent and self-indulgent, he starts his first few days back from captivity simply rejecting everything in his past life, hiding away, not caring.
But by and by he concludes that his purpose in life is to be a more people-focused superhero.
One last symbolic aspect of this movie stuck in my mind. Stark is a fundamentally lonely guy who has no real friends, only employees. I stand to be corrected, but I'm guessing Americans as a country feel a bit like that too.
Back when the British ran the world, they were arrogant bastards just like the Yanks, but they had (and still have) the benefit of family. They had children, obedient and rebellious, scattered all over the globe who, to this day, pay obeisance to some degree or another to the motherland.
America, on the other hand, has usually been content to live its national life in relative isolation, cultivating allies of convenience but not friends. That's too bad, really, and it's not what the times call for. As our Western world and way of life comes more and more under threat, our countries are going to have to treat one another more like blood-brothers. The Tony Stark character realizes this and makes a few feeble efforts at connecting to the people around him, with some success.
Well, enough pretentious over-analysis, eh? Anyone else have thoughts on the subject?
posted by Mentok @ 9:28 AM, ,