What are we talking about, when we talk about Rob Ford? Class, I think, is always there, as is irony. At their core, the most spectacular Ford stories hinge on a deep mixing: the privileges of white, masculine power with the signifiers of poverty and powerlessness. The big-necked guy in an SUV, straight-talking, hard-drinking—and meanwhile, he’s crushing the union. Arguably, Ford started this himself, running for office on a regular-guy schtick that endeared him to working-class voters in (but mostly around) the GTA. His platform traded in the tropes of honesty and hard work, longstanding blue-collar values that, through another lens, we could understand as stereotypes.
But while Ford expressed certain “positive” blue collar values, anti-Ford media and other critics tarred him with negative stereotypes of working-classness, and thus the irony of Ford took hold. The public image of Ford is pure white trash, in its specific male incarnation. Obesity, bigotry, recklessness, and illiteracy have long been slurs against blue-collar men; Ford checks every box, and those for more recent tropes—DUIs, football, McDonald’s—too. He even fucks up according to white trash script, in an excessive, bodily way: overeating, behaving (what’s been described by witnesses as) shitface-drunk in public, allegedly grabbing a woman’s ass at a fancy party. That Ford rarely apologizes, or even seems aware that he’s offended, makes these scandals seem less like fuck-ups than a certain style of governing: expressions of Ford’s particular power. This is why, occasionally, Ford coverage admits pangs of sympathy, even admiration. White trash is nothing if not audacious.
The United States has been scared for a long time. Not timid, but terrified. There are books to be written on American fear—Gore Vidal wrote a few of them—but to keep it brief: From the antebellum South to McCarthy to Obama, the States has done foolish, stupid, and unforgivable things out of sheer apoplectic terror of race rebellion, communists, socialists and terrorists. So much so, in fact, that their century of aggression begins to look like overcompensation, like Sgt. Benson in Partners or Arnie in Christine.
At least as far back as Vandenburg and Truman, people have realized that fear can be power’s best friend. It became most obvious, at least to me, under Bush.
The other day I got an e-mail from some old school friends inviting my wife and me, as well as some others from that era, over for a little dinner party. This is the invitation and the e-mails that followed.
On Tuesday morning, the New York Times published an essay by Angelina Jolie, where she bluntly described her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. Jolie tested positive for a rare gene, BRAC1, which greatly increases the likelihood that the person with the gene will develop breast and/or ovarian cancer. In addition to making the decision to have the painful surgeries, Jolie also described her choice to publicly discuss her health. Shortly after her piece was published, there was a frenzy of media response pieces, many of which were directed at the distinctly angry public reaction to Jolie’s essay (measured imperfectly through comments, blog posts, and tweets). At Salon, Maria Konnikova made the excellent point that while Jolie was bringing a different kind of awareness to breast cancer prevention, under the current healthcare system in the states her actions and choices are not only widely unavailable to American women, but in fact the broader awareness of genetic testing for BRAC1 may harm some women in material ways. Here in Canada, each province has different levels of coverage (though all provinces cover testing for the BRAC1 and 2 genes, depending on a patient’s medical history), but more options are available to the average Canadian woman when considering her own health.
50. Going to meetings
49. World-class cities
48. Getting down to business
47. Ribs that just fall off the bone
46. Shootin’ hoops
45. That one sauce, what do you call it, starts with an “s”
Loneliness can kill you, and loneliness is on the rise. This week, The New Republic published a report on the dangers of isolation, connecting social stresses with genetic changes in the brain and citing a survey that found that one in three Americans over 45 claimed to be chronically lonely, up from one in 10 just a decade earlier. A New York Times article on the same subject, published the same day, mentioned a strong link between loneliness and dementia. In a May 2012 Atlantic feature, Stephen Marche notes that loneliness is not a function of your relationship status but the quality of your confidants. He also notes that fewer people report having confidants these days: in 2004, 25 percent of Americans said they had no one to talk to, up from just 10 percent in 1985.
I know everyone thinks their dog is the greatest, but you’re all wrong because ours was. When I was growing up we had a yellow Labrador named Sir Lancelot, but he went by Lance because he wasn’t all up in your face about his knighthood. He was a sweet boy, and if you took him swimming in the river you could hold on to his shoulders and he would tow you. When he had to be put down at the age of 15, the vet who came to our house to give him the injection cried.
We think about our dogs a lot, but is it mutual? A new study in the journal Animal Cognition asks whether dogs can see things from our perspective. Apparently, they don’t focus so much on what we’re seeing as on what we’re hearing.
India, if you’ll excuse the pun, cannot seem to get its fill of porn stars. Now that performer Priya Rai is soon to join Canada’s own adult star Sunny Leone in mainstream Bollywood, it appears that Indian film’s tumultuous relationship with sexuality is entering a new phase.
To the outside observer, it can seem like a radical change. Leone rose to fame in India after appearing on reality show Bigg Boss, prompting complaints that the show was promoting pornography. Soon after, however, she was cast in amajor Bollywood picture, which, despite some protests, went on to do well at the box office. For an industry in which many actors still refuse to kiss onscreen, let alone engage in sex scenes, this open embrace of hardcore porn stars can seem stark. While Bollywood’s films have hardly shied away from sexuality, they’ve often come at it obliquely, preferring suggestion over the obvious or explicit. Now, what was once only talked about in private is being spoken of more openly.
This is the situation: I mostly work in here, in the sun room. I'm working on a book on the American South, and I'm growing my plants at the same time. This is my favourite room to read in, and these are the books that I like to have close by, just because I love them. Or the books that I'm reading, working towards what I need to know, researching for my book. And of course, I'm always—every time you think you're closed to finished, you're just not. So you end up buying more books, and having to read more and more. But this is the room where I do my work, I get up in the morning and come here first thing, sit there in the corner by myself and have my tea.
G’day, mates! This week, Culture War is taking a trip across the pond to Great Britain, where things are really shaking on the pop culture front. First off, throw up your devil horns and visit the registrar’s office, ’cause a college in England is offering the world’s first degree in heavy metal. Hopefully this will give metalheads the confidence to drone on endlessly about their favorite bands in a pseudo-intellectual fashion. Metal not your thing? Perhaps you’re more interested in pregnant women you’ve never met? Well, lucky you, because we finally have Kate Middleton’s due date! Get ready to mark it on your calendars, spray paint it on your loved ones, carve it into your foreheads. Now, let’s pit these two stories against each other in a good-natured death match that will leave the Union Flag spattered in the loser’s blood.
Last Tuesday, we heard a thrilling description of how President Barack Obama might close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He has stated his intention to do this for the past five years, and says he’ll proceed even if Congress continues to say no. I hope he acts on it. But, whether this “indefinite detention in an indefinite war with no enemy capable of surrendering” is brought to a speedy halt or not, the facility has been open for more than a decade, and it’s offshore for a reason. These prisoners have been treated in a way that would not be allowed in the United States. And whether we’ll ever know exactly what’s been done to them, and if anyone will ever be held accountable, depends almost entirely on whether any records are being kept, and, if kept, whether they are destroyed before anything can come to light.
This got me thinking about the Mau Mau war, a storehouse near Milton Keynes, email, and the future of what people in the industry call restorative justice.
A list of questions asked in the correspondence between Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, published in Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011.*
How are you?
Whom do men choose as friends?
Does that mean I am hopelessly out of date?
Can men and women be friends?
The question is, what is the something that happened?
So why waste my time slumped in front of a television screen watching young men at play?
Is sport simply like sin: one disapproves of it but one yields because the flesh is weak?
The Syrian Electronic Army has really been making a name for itself lately. This pro-Assad collective of propagandists have hacked into the Twitter accounts of NPR, CBS, AP and the BBC, among others. Their most recent victory was breaking into the account of satirical magazine The Onion, where they tweeted such gems as “UN retracts report of Syrian chemical weapon use: Lab tests confirm it is Jihadi body odor.” It’s almost as if they had Jay Leno writing the jokes himself!
Regardless, hacking Twitter accounts has become the choice technique—a kind of modern graffiti—for anyone looking to make a mark by spreading propaganda, disinformation and a general sense of insecurity throughout the electronic community. The most recent of these attacks took place just a few days ago, when a Cuban organization known as the HB (for Habana Radio) seized control of the NHL Twitter account for nearly six hours. This is remarkable for a number of reasons, the primary one being that the Internet is a rare, unpredictable and still emergent technology in Cuba.
What follows are their tweets, which have since been deleted:
This headline in the Guardian is technically inaccurate, but not exactly misleading: “I was swallowed by a hippo.”
Some trivia to fit this weekend’s theme: The word “mother” is an ultraconserved one, meaning it is about 15,000 years old. Speaking of Mum’s day, here is a lovely photo gallery of grandmothers around the world, and the meals they’ve made for their grandkids.
The website Weird Canada was founded in 2009 in Edmonton, with the purpose of showcasing the obscure, “anomalous,” and experimental music being made across the country. Unexpectedly, in 2011, they were nominated as part of CBC Radio 3’s Searchlight competition for Best Canadian Music Website. The weirdest thing happened—they actually won.
For a site devoted to fringe music (anything from free jazz to lo-fi tropicalia to noise punk) to overcome heavyweight publications like Exclaim! is no mean feat, and the operators of Weird Canada didn’t take the honour lightly. Since winning the contest, Weird Canada has taken its mission statement—“to encourage, connect, and document creative expression across Canada”—and stretched as far as it can reach. In the last year, they’ve registered as a non-profit organization, recruited over 100 volunteers, including the translators necessary to present all the “hyperbolic nonsense” in French and English, and won a $50,000 grant to create a nationwide service called “WYRD DISTRO” that allows music fans everywhere to easily access and purchase physical releases from the bands streaming on the website. It may self-identify as “weird,” but WC has slowly, almost accidentally, become a very serious champion of the musical underdog and patron of open and accessible arts.
The park near my apartment, which one TripAdvisor commenter describes as a “hipster and dog paradise,” used to be full of just friends and friends of friends. If you didn’t know someone you at least knew someone they knew, and they were probably in a band you’d seen one time. If you laid down a towel, chances are you’d run into someone within 20 minutes and they’d sit down and you’d have a drink. Nowadays I make appointments with friends to go work in the park on our laptops. The other day I was trying to transcribe an interview but it was difficult over the hollering of nearby kids who were skinnier and better looking than me. Younger, too. Everyone was younger. And I thought to myself, fuck them. Fuck everyone who’s old enough to drink but younger than me.
The mystical notion of “calling” was initially about finding a relationship with God. People are “called” to the priesthood or the convent. When we use it now in the secular world, it sounds facetious, and needs a sort of prefatory vocal cringe. But as a concept, it’s still a primary driver for people’s decisions about how to create meaningful lives for themselves. The word “vocation” comes from Latin vocare, to call. A guidance counselor with a binder of personality quizzes does his or her best to mimic the burning bush.
A recent study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior discusses what leads up to that struck-by-lightning experience of finding one’s calling—and how that feeling ebbs away over time.
The title of Community’s fourth-season (and probable series) finale, “Advanced Introduction to Finality,” pretty much sums up the absurdity of the show’s last year of existence. Having lost its creator, a notoriously cranky ensemble member and even its original start date, it has muddled its way through a dozen episodes of solid comedy that feel at times like an alternate-universe version of the show, or at least one more concerned with palpability than following its bizarre whims as far as possible.
So if “Introduction to Finality,” the season three closer, was about bidding adieu to the show as creator Dan Harmon conceived it, the fourth season as a whole has often felt like a chance to drift away from the show on the viewer’s own terms—the finality of having something taken away versus the finality of giving it away. This isn’t to say Community has been bad, exactly, but it’s been markedly different: less anarchic, less idiosyncratic, more of a standard sitcom in oddball clothes than a piece of esoteric art snuck through the network’s gate.
Gilbert Hernandez’s graphic semi-memoir Marble Season establishes a mood, a pace, a landscape, an era and a focal point with its very first image: a young boy wandering past new ranch houses and vintage telephone poles, the sky above suggesting clouds by their absence, the pamphlet captivating him semiotically labeled “COMICS.” The setting is an unnamed, racially mixed American suburb of the 1960s (kind of like Oxnard, California, where Hernandez grew up) and the child Huey is a Chicano pulp obsessive (kind of like Hernandez). Our Greek chorus might be the young woman sashaying around in cat’s-eye glasses, or more specifically her radio: “You can’t hurry love / No, you just have to wait…”
When you’re an awkward person, social situations require strategy. One of mine: reading lots online so that I can contribute to conversations, or maybe even offer up an interesting anecdote. The trouble, though, is that given the vast, overwhelming morass of things to read online, how do we know what’s good?
That question has plagued us since Internet media first became popular, and the progression of answers over time is like a series of photos of the ways in which our relationship to the web has changed. First came the search era, in which the Internet was an open treasure trove of information to be actively delved into by the brave and skilled. Then, it was all about aggregation, in which algorithms and sites like the Huffington Post did the sifting for us. Next came the social phase, where the filtering was left to the wisdom and whims of our friends. Now, however, it seems we are finally entering the next stage—and it looks a lot like the revamped Digg, and a newer platform called Medium.