On destruction

"The consumer society needs its objects in order to be. More precisely, it needs to destroy them. The use of objects leads only to their dwindling disappearance. The value created is much more intense in violent loss. This is why destruction remains the fundamental alternative to production: consumption is merely an intermediate term between the two. There is a profound tendency within consumption for it to surpass itself, to transfigure itself into destruction. It is in destruction that it acquires its meaning. Most of the time in daily life today, it remains subordinate – as a managed consumptivity – to the order or productivity. This is why, most of the time, objects are present by their absence, and why their very abundance paradoxically signifies penury. Stock is the excessive expression of lack and a mark of anxiety. Only in destruction are objects there in excess and only then in their disappearance, do they attest to wealth. At any rate, it is clear that destruction, either in its violent and symbolic form (the happening, potlatch, destructive acting-out, both individually and collective) or in its form of systematic and institutional destructiveness, is fated to become of the preponderant functions of post-industrial society."

-- Jean Baudrillard, The Vicious Cycle of Growth

On commemoration

The twentieth century is hardly behind us, but already its quarrels and its dogmas, its ideals and its fears are slipping into the obscurity of mis-memory. Incessantly invoked as 'lessons', they are in reality ignored and untaught. This is not altogether surprising. The recent pas is the hardest to know and understand. [...] Today... we wear the last century rather lightly. To be sure, we have memorialized it everywhere: museums, shrines, inscriptions, 'heritage rites', even historical theme parts are all public reminders of 'the Past'. But there is a strikingly selective quality to the twentieth century that we have chosen to commemorate. The overwhelming majority of places of official twentieth century memory are either avowedly nostalgic – triumphalist – praising famous men and celebrating famous victories – or else, and increasingly, opportunities for the acknowledgment and recollection of selective suffering. In the latter case they are typically the occasion for the teaching of a certain sort of political lesson: about things that were done and should never be forgotten, about mistakes that were made and should not be made again.

The twentieth century is thus on the path to becoming a moral memory place: a pedagogically serviceable Church of Historical Horrors whose way stations are labeled 'Munich' or 'Pearl Harbour', 'Auschwitz' or 'Gulag', 'Armenia' or 'Bosnia' or 'Rwanda', with '9-11' as a sort of supererogatory coda, a bloody postscript for those who would forget the lessons of the century or who never properly learned them. [...]

But such official commemoration, however benign its motives, does not enhance our appreciation and awareness of the past. It serves as a substitute, a surrogate. Instead of teaching children recent history, we walk them through museums and memorials. [...] The past has now no agreed narrative shape of its own. it acquires meaning only by reference to our many and often contrasting concerns.

– Tony Judt, The World We Have Lost

On fatigue

"Fatigue is 'groundless'. It has nothing to do with muscular fatigue or lack of energy. It does not arise from physical exertion. There is, of course, much spontaneous talk of 'nervous strain', of 'depression' and psychosomatic illness. This kind of explanation is now part of mass culture... Everyone can fall back on this, as though it were something that could now be taken for granted, and can hence derive gloomy pleasure from being a martyr to their nerves. Admittedly, this fatigue signifies one thing at least...: this society which claims to be – which regards itself as being – in constant progress towards the abolition of effort, the resolution of tension, greater ease of living and automation, is in fact a society of stress, tension and drug use, in which the overall balance sheet of satisfaction is increasingly in deficit, in which individual and collective equilibrium is being progressively compromised even as the technical conditions for its realization are being increasingly fulfilled. The heroes of consumption are tired."

– Jean Baudrillard, Anomie in the Affluent Society

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The Oscars: A necrospective

And so here we are, ingesting our yearly prescription of celebrity pornography, care of a morally questionable doctor with an attractive smile and soothing voice timber, streamlined for easy consumption by having been boiled down to a two-hour brainless extravaganza of shiny dresses, shiny skin, shiny teeth, shiny jewelry and shiny lives — an emulsified Pabulum hosted by the Good Doctor himself, Ryan Seacrest, a smiling nitwit of the highest order, successful only for being able to turn even the dullest celebrity PR bullshit into the slickest ear-warming babble, designed at its soul to cover the brain in a somastatic, intellectually-limiting poison goo that hardens instantly on contact.

And then, finally, we’re ready for the show: the longest public collective group ego wank on the Planet, designed not so much to get off on art, but the idea of art as an abstracted something, as a means, rather than an end. Rather, that is, than a substantive anything. Art that is often so meaningless, that is so much sign and so little signifier that poor old Walter Benjamin himself would likely quite happily bleed from the ears rather than even have to consider such a sad state of replicated affairs. Just a copy of a copy of a copy on into infinity, xeroxed forever in an endless nothingness of Hollywood atavism and bad, stale ideas regurgitated over and over again to young audiences as something new, and marketed equally ham-fistedly to their parents as some kind of bizarre exercise of socially constructed faux nostalgia. Just a one-note song with nowhere to go except louder, for ever and ever.

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On (re)gaining perspective

It’s getting late, so I doubt this will be very long, just something that was on my mind while I was standing in the foyer of Centre Block, watching some of the thousands who turned up to say a quick goodbye to Jack Layton. It is very easy, particularly in political Ottawa, to lose perspective. It is a goldfish bowl, a bubble, an echo chamber -- whatever. The Hill is a place where the outside world blurs a bit, and eventually you start to wonder whether maybe that other part of the country you used to live in was perhaps just a nice dream where nobody talked about politics, ever, let alone expected you to.

And you sort of start to forget those people in the rush of gathering quotes and speculations and analyses, and refer to them as a shapeless blob: The Voters. And remembering your nice dream, you are convinced that you know them – perhaps better than they know themselves. And so, you think, you are here to help.

But even during an election, when that blob is supposed to take shape because, this being a democracy or whatever, it is about the people, stupid, they still remain on the outside looking in at rhetoric and television soundbites; at a circus of microphones and cameras and staffers and campaign planes and, basically, a bunch of closed doors.

Then, next thing you know, one of those doors opens and a few thousand of them walk in. And then it’s like, “fuck,” because you remember that people took time off work, took the time to bring their kids, took the time to take the time, basically, in the face of all those denied entries, to do something heartfelt and decent and genuine anyway.

And, standing on the other side of the velvet ropes, watching them in their private moment of grief, you sort of realize that maybe you are not helping things as much as you should be.

Audiences feed on information, not meaning

When former News of the World editor Paul McMullan argued with Steve Coogan on Newsnight last week, he pointed out a very important detail: there is an audience that needs to feed on information. The problem is that information has less and less meaning the more it is consumed. As the UK deals with the phone hacking scandal, Canada is also pondering the role of its mass media, thanks to a CTV bureau chief publicly expressing his disgust at the business after he quit his job. The two instances are related because at the heart of both is an audience that devours pure information.

In his blog, Kai Nagata, a former bureau chief for CTV in Quebec, took his profession to task for its superficiality, banality, and corporatization (among other things). His post went viral, thanks to it being forwarded on Twitter countless times, even by revered film critic Roger Ebert.

“When you have to balance the interests of your shareholders against the interests of the viewers you supposedly serve, the firewall between the boardroom and the newsroom becomes a very important bulwark indeed,” Nagata wrote on his site. CTV’s continued desire to focus on “growing eyeballs” left him a little cold.

Without equating the phone hacking and whatever Nagata believes CTV is guilty of, both situations imply a serious problem in the system. Since Nagata’s blog, and with it his disillusionment, has gone viral, many of the commenters on his post have congratulated his tenacity and honesty. Those who normally watch and read have simultaneously lamented what they apparently agree is the degradation of the media.

But certainly, somewhere in all of this, that audience must come into play.

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From Don DeLillo's White Noise:

I told Murray that Albert Seer wanted to build structures that would decay gloriously, impressively, like Roman ruins. No rusty hulks or gnarled steel slums. He knew Hitler would be in favour of anything that might astonish posterity. He did a drawing of a Reich structure that was to be built of special materials, allowing it to crumble romantically – a drawing of fallen walls, half columns furled in wisteria. The ruin is built into the creation, I said, which shows a certain nostalgia behind the power principle, or a tendency to organize the longings of future generations.

Murray said, "I don't trust anybody's nostalgia but my own. Nostalgia is a product of dissatisfaction and rage. It's a settling of grievances between the present and the past. The more powerful the nostalgia, the closer you come to violence. War is the form of nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country."

The insurmountable hurdle

This basically sums up it up. And for whatever reason, it seems applicable today.

Your average working American looks around and sees evidence of government power over his life everywhere. He pays high taxes and can’t sell a house or buy a car without paying all sorts of fees. If he owns a business, inspectors come to his workplace once a year to gouge him for something whether he’s in compliance or not. If he wants to build something in his backyard, he needs a permit from some local thief in the city clerk’s office. [...]

This stuff happens. It’s not paranoia. There are a lot of well-meaning laws that can be manipulated, or go wrong over time, or become captive to corrupt lawyers and bureaucrats who fight not to fix the targeted social problems, but to retain their budgetary turf. Tea Party grievances against these issues are entirely legitimate and shouldn’t be dismissed. The problem is that they think the same dynamic they see locally or in their own lives – an overbearing, interventionist government that seeks to control, tax, and regulate everything it can get its hands on – operates the same everywhere. [...]

The insurmountable hurdle for so-called populist movements is having the nerve to attack the rich instead of the poor. Even after the rich almost destroyed the entire global economy through their sheer unrestrained greed and stupidity, we can’t shake the peasant mentality that says we should go easy on them, because the best hope for our collective prosperity is in them creating wealth for us all. That’s the idea at the core of trickle-down economics and the basis for American economic policy for a generation. The entire premise – that the way society works is for the productive rich to feed the needy poor and that any attempt by the latter to punish the former for their excesses might inspire Atlas to shrug his way out of town and leave the rest of us on our own to starve – should be insulting to people so proud to call themselves the “water carriers”. But in a country where every Joe the Plumber has been hoodwinked into thinking he’s one clogged toilet away from being rich himself, we’re all invested in rigging the system for the rich.

- Matt Taibbi, Griftopia

Political attack ads and our postmodern barbarism

There are probably a lot of reasons why political attack ads work: either because they get attention on their own, or because of the endless discussions that turn the content over and over, rehashing it for the sake of an argument about the debasing of political discussion in Canada. And fair enough, those are valid points. We would be better off without sloganeering that immediately attacks policies at the knees, hacking them down to stump material. But the reason attack ads - and the slogans they trumpet - still work has probably less to do with our general inability to have a substantive discussion on policy, and more to do with the fact that we’ve taught ourselves not to everywhere outside of the realm of political discussion.

The argument that Marshall McLuhan made in Understanding Media - his famous piece on the postmodern condition of electric communication - was about how our mass media affect our societal actions -- that “we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” In that light, we could worry that attack ads could be ultimately change the overall political discourse in Canada. That is, if we were to limit it that much.

However, McLuhan also wrote about our willingness to regress to a form of communication based on abstracted signs, and given that, attack ads exemplify more a symptom of a current, ongoing problem than the potential cause of it.

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Music 2010: The best and the very worst

I'll start off on a positive note because it all gets pretty fucking depressing very quickly on this one, I'm afraid, everyone. Best Music, 2010

1. Foals - Total Life Forever 2. National - High Violet 3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs 4. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record 5. Black Keys - Brothers 6. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms 7. Jonsi - Go 8. Sufjan Stevens - Age of Adz 9. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening 10. Beach House - Teen Dream

Honourable mentions: Maximum Balloon - Maximum Balloon White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights (Live) Girl Talk - All Day

Song you haven’t heard, but should: “Horses” - Yes Nice, Blindfolded

Shit Sandwich Award 2010 (for the Genuine Disappointment of the year): Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown (Seriously, what in the fuck hell was that?)

After the jump, the Suck.

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Nenshi wins (some thoughts on a post-whatever Calgary)

It’s no secret to a lot of people who know me personally that since I first left Calgary eight years ago, I have had a very definite love-hate, on-off relationship with the city. On the one hand, I grew up there, have friends and family there, and still consider it to have been a great place to grow up. But on the other hand, Calgary and I have had a more recent stormy relationship. We are often diametrically opposed organisms, having split somewhere around 2006 - seemingly forever.

To me, the city became a claustrophobic environment of big business and bigger back lawns; a city sprawling outward year after year without taking enough time to look inward, leaving a dead core and deader, emptier suburbs, constructed quickly around snaking tubes of highway where everyone could be sheltered, bubbled, all the way to their attached double garage - a hypocritical city that boasted of its innovation and yet showed little, socially or structurally. And no matter how big it got, it never felt inclusive enough. It seemed a cold city, a  dying city, attached to a dying resource base - Alberta’s feverish Tropic of Capricorn, delusional in its conviction that a new boom is always just around the corner. A city that, despite my personal ties, no longer felt like home, but instead a sunny stucco dungeon of unwanted expectations. I left this place for good, I always thought. And thank God for that.

But. But maybe I was wrong.

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What's wrong with Banksy's Simpsons intro

Like pretty much everyone on Twitter Sunday night, I was excited that Banksy had done an intro for The Simpsons. Given that the show has for the last few years struggled to regain any sense of current cultural legitimacy, involving Banksy - the noted British graffiti artist - seemed like a legitimately cool idea, even if it probably was a couple of years too late. But then I saw it. And, frankly, I don’t get the hype. Here it is, for those who haven’t seen it. Discussion, as usual, after the jump.

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What if Canadian youth actually voted?

The ever-informative Éric Grenier of threehundredeight.com has a very interesting article up today for the Globe and Mail. Grenier analyzed youth voting tendencies in Canada, and came up with this breakdown of how the House of Commons might look if it were up to Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24.

It’s not overly surprising that the Tories would be, as Grenier writes, “decimated,” as in the past youth often tend to be more left-leaning. What is telling, in some ways, is just how important the youth demographic is to the Liberals, and how unimportant it probably is to the Conservatives - it’s clearly not their target audience.

This is good news and bad for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. First, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a popular leader, just that his party’s ideology is tempting - which isn’t exactly something to be wholly dismissed, either.

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