Literacy, ill.

I love words.  I love seeking their origins, working out where they came from and why we use them to say the things we’re trying to say.

I have a fairly developed vocabulary- owing largely to the fact that I read a lot, but also because I know a number of languages, in addition to my mother tongue.  The ancient languages provide a foundation for some of the whys and wherefores, and the modern languages help explain particular usages.  It’s like a big puzzle- the way words connect us.  Words demonstrate the way in which we communicate- across this wide world of ours- and the way we always have done.

‘Newer’ languages borrow words from those that came before- adapting them to seek their particular linguistic needs.  Language is never static- it develops with each passing day.

Literacy- in any and  all languages- is something I regard as supremely important.

Lately there’s been a lot of talk in the news about the ‘words of the year’, according to the Oxford Dictionary– with ‘selfie’ leading the charge as the most popular term.  It’s still new enough that as I typed it, the little red line appeared underneath, letting me know that the spell check hasn’t yet been alerted to its ‘official’ recognition.

If you travel anywhere at all in the world of social media you are aware of the definition of this brave new word.  It is one of the many indicators of the paradigm shift that’s been happening as the interworld becomes increasingly realized as the de rigueur place to hang out.  These days it’s “all about me”.  Everything is geared toward self-glorification and the experience of those moments of fame (or infamy) to which we have been told we are entitled to experience.

For all the new words we create- to describe our increasingly self-absorbed perceptions of life- somehow we have completely lost the plot when it comes to things of real import.  You know, those issues that affect us and that are creating greater and greater divides of opinion and practice as our ‘communication’ allegedly increases?

I love Bill Moyers.  I think I might have mentioned that once or twice before.  Today I saw an excerpted post on his website about this very thing.

Henry Giroux, cultural analyst and foundational theorist in the realm of critical pedagogy, is another voice crying in the wilderness of the institutionalized dumbing-down of society that I have railed about so very many times here in my little corner of the WordPress world.  Although he is an American- and his great body of work generally cites American exemplars- we have been privileged to have him up here in the neighbourhood, as the Global Television Network (I won’t address the irony of that– at the moment, anyway) Chair Professorship in the English and Cultural Studies Department at McMaster University in the Hammer (again, sorry about the Grey Cup loss, Ticats), and is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University, here in the Big Town.

The excerpt from his book, Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism, notes:

‘The collapse of journalistic standards finds its counterpart in the rise of civic illiteracy… a difference species of ignorance and anti-intellectualism… It is a form of illiteracy that points less to the lack of technical skills and the absence of certain competencies than to a deficit in the realms of politics- one that subverts both critical thinking and the notion of literacy as both critical interpretation and the possibility of intervention in the world.  This type of illiteracy is not only incapable of dealing with complex and contested questions, it is also an excuse for glorifying the principle of self-interest as a paradigm for understanding politics.  This is a form of illiteracy marked by the inability to see outside of the realm of the privatized self, an illiteracy in which the act of translation withers, reduced to a relic of another age.  The United States is a country that is increasingly defined by a civic deficit , a chronic and deadly form of civic illiteracy that points to the failure of both its educational system and the growing ability of anti-democratic forces to use the educational force of the culture to promote the new illiteracy.  As this widespread illiteracy has come to dominate American culture, we have moved from a culture of questioning to a culture of shouting and in doing so have restaged politics and power in both unproductive and anti-democratic ways.’

Jebus.

Have you ever felt like you’d like to spend even just one day in someone else’s brain?  I admit that I seem to be feeling that way quite a bit lately- between peeps like Ray and Professor Giroux I admit to something of a sense of comparative inadequacy in my own thought/creative/analytical processes

As one of my very smart and engaged sociologist friends pointed out to me this morning, Professor Giroux could be describing the situation we have here with our now-mayor-in-name-only and his remaining Nation.  To the letter.  (And today additional information was released by the courts.  Yes, there’s more.  Than just the crack smoking.  And obscenities.  And drunken stupors.  Stand by.)

Ack.

The system- including educational, media AND political bodies- encourages the continuance of self-absorption (to a pathological degree, sometimes) so that we remain uninvolved in anything outside of ourselves, engrossed as we are in the minutiae and irrelevancies of cults of celebrity and mindless television/internet programming, rehashed (‘rebooted’) films, and formulaic/manufactured music.

We aren’t challenged in our entertainment- as we use what little leisure time we may be able to access as work days/weeks become longer- since such stimulation might lead to the exercise of unused brain matter that might, in turn, lead to more important evaluations- of society, politics, the imbalance between the super-wealthy and everyone else…

Heavens forfend.

That would certainly interfere with those who hold power- be it politically or economically- maintaining a status quo that is increasingly unfavourable to the rest of us.

WHY are we letting this happen?

(This is not a rhetorical question.  All possible explanations are welcome.)

I realize that many people are facing the sheer exhaustion of day-to-day living- what with un/underemployment, rising utility/housing costs, concerns about access to healthcare (particularly in the States)- and that time has become a precious commodity for more and more of us.  I also understand the need to use what little free time we might have in ways that make the daily grind worthwhile.   Time spent with family and friends, and even a little mindless entertainment is a good thing.  Such things do much to help us get through the day.

But I strongly object to the idea that ALL down time should be used playing Bejewelled or catching up with any freakin Kardashians.  We need to start educating ourselves- and cluing back into the communities in which we live.  If we don’t, these communities will continue their downward slide into political and social apathy as we let big business (pharma, the media, commercial conglomerates and etc.), the 1%, lobbyists and career politicians pad their own financial portfolios on the backs of the rest of us.

There’s this guy- a ‘financial expert’- who is a frequent contributor on the CBC (another precious Canadian commodity that is gradually being phased out by the Federal Conservative government- as we watch it happen and do nothing to stop it.  Farewell Hockey Night in Canada– your days are truly numbered… Sorry.  Got sidetracked.  I’ll defend the CBC another day) for some reason.

Some days- when I’m in a ‘selfie’ kind of mood, I think he’s there for no other reason than to make me see red.  In addition to his own ‘name on the masthead’ show, he is a frequent guest on the morning show.  I have no idea who might make up his appreciative demographic (although I can guess), but he’s obviously a ratings draw.

Anyhoo.  He makes me angry.  And that anger compels me to read up about the stuff he says that makes me angry.  To look at his opinion and the countering views of others.  In this way, I can form a balanced impression about whether or not I am reacting to the fact that I can’t stand HIM, or if I am truly opposed to his take on the ways of the world.

I try not to be knee-jerk about anything.  I fail, sometimes, but I think that I generally take the time- and do the work- required of me, as a fully-functional member of society, to make informed decisions.

I’m starting to feel more and more in the minority, as far as this approach to the world is concerned.  With each passing day/news story/political scandal/new reality tv series.

This new word of ours- ‘selfie’- shares a common linguistic root with ‘selfish’.    Which is defined as being ‘concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, regardless of others; characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself.’ 

We cannot afford to remain a selfie culture.  Shouting- whether in the comment section of online articles, with constant self-promoting pictures, or by actually yelling (and mowing down older women) in council chambers- needs to be replaced by critical examination and reasoned discussion that might lead to answers that will benefit ALL of society.

Everywhere we turn we are encouraged to develop ‘our brand’ through self-promotion and shouting louder than other voices.  We have become a society in which those who yell loudest tend to be the ones who end up as our leaders.

Is this really what we want?  Self-aggrandizing in place of discourse?

Pop songs are increasingly all about self-involvement- about ‘roaring’ and ‘sparkling’ and being a ‘firework’ and the like.  Some may argue that they promote the empowerment of those who feel powerless (particularly the young(er) peeps who can actually listen to Katy Perry et al without breaking out in hives), and maybe they are- on the most simplistic and formulaic of levels.

(I just CAN’T post one of those videos here.  Just.  CanNOT)

I’d argue that they contribute to the persistence of this pervasive solipsism that is making working together to change the world more and more difficult.

Professor Giroux is more emphatic:

‘The raging narcissism that seems to shape every ad, film, television program and appeal now mediated through the power of the corporate state and consumer society is not merely a clinical and individual problem.  It is the basis for a new kind of mass illiteracy that is endlessly reproduced through the venues of a number of anti-democratic institutions and forces that eschew critical debate, self-reflection, critical analysis and certainly modes of dissent that call the totality of society into question.’

‘Raging narcissism’.  Yep.  That sounds about right.

Basically, we don’t want to end up like this:

If I looked all over the world
And there’s every type of girl
But your empty eyes seem to pass me by
And leave me dancing with myself

So let’s sink another drink
‘Cause it’ll give me time to think
If I had a chance, I’d ask the world to dance
And I’d be dancing with myself

That post-apocalyptic imagery strikes me a as being a little bit too possible, these days.

Songs for this long weekend

I realize that it isn’t an official long weekend, but I’m making it one by taking Monday off, so I’m getting a real head start by thinking about its soundtrack.  Got lots going on over the next few days, so I will need some good tunes to keep the energy level high and raring to go.

The temperatures are starting to drop (not that they’ve been all that up there this particular summer) and the evenings and mornings are starting to have the feel of August Camp.  You know, those mornings when you were a camp counsellor and would have to force yourself out of your warm cot and the many layers of clothing you were wearing to avoid hypothermia and go down to the lake to swim laps in order to avoid having to put $2 in the swim jar?  You know what I’m talking about.

Since 1879 the Canadian National Exhibition, on the shores of Lake Ontario, has marked the winding down of summer here in T.O.  When the Ex came to town you knew autumn was just around the very next corner, school was starting soon and it was time for one last piece of Summertime.

There are rides, of course- until the 1990s, visitors would risk life and limb riding the Mighty Flyer (‘rickety’ doesn’t begin to describe it) on Conklin’s Midway and the Polar Express still blasts its rock n’ roll songs (in my memory it was always Aerosmith) as you spin past the big white bears and answer the barker’s call of ‘Are you ready to go backwards?’ with a resounding ‘You betcha!’

The Horticulture Building beckoned, as something slightly more educational/in keeping with the agricultural origins of the Fair, with its wonderful blooms that would make my sinuses close and eyes swell up within a matter of minutes.  That’s actually where I first discovered that I’m pretty violently allergic to lilies.   Good times.  It’s a cheesy, douche-baggy club, now, but the building is still lovely.

Every summer the Princes’ Gates on Strachan Ave. welcome visitors in impressive Beaux-Arts style, with a triumphant Winged Victory atop the main arch.  She holds a maple leaf in one hand to assert her Canadian identity and role as greeter to one of the best traditions of the town.

I won’t make it to the Ex this year- though not because people seem to be getting sick from something they’ve been eating (the cronut burger seems to be the most likely culprit, but nothing definitive has been discovered as of yet).

The Food Building was a dreamy destination back in the day.  Everything was super-cheap and they had treats on offer that we never really saw at other times of year.  Sure, there are still all kinds of crazy varietals of interesting foodstuffs to be had, but they’re no longer cheap.

And some of the offerings are just plain insane.  Deep fried butter was the go-to trendy item a few years ago.  This year the popular ones are (or were- food poisoning fears and all) the cronut burger- approximately a billion calories and a strange (to my mind anyway) combination of savoury and sweet; the peanut and bacon milkshake (when did bacon become the ubiquitous food that everyone insists is their favourite thing in the world?  Not that there’s anything wrong with bacon, I quite like bacon, but it has become an Interworld meme food of choice.  I think the Pig farmers/marketers are behind it all); and the s’mores-covered hotdog.

THIS is a cronut burger.

None of that really appeals, TBH.  Not because I’m a health nut or anything.  I’d just prefer not to harden ALL my arteries in one afternoon at the CNE.

Anyhoo.

The Grandstand (or the Canadian version of the ‘Mistake by the Lake’) was the stomping grounds of the Toronto Argonauts CFL team and the first home of our Toronto Blue Jays before the Big Dome got built.  Our often-intemperate climate made the sports a tad problematic at times (snow on the field during baseball games that had to be cleared by a Zamboni borrowed from the Leafs, for e.g.  Seriously.  That happened) and the wildlife and wind from the lake offered their own share of challenges (Dave Winfield- while with the Yankees- was arrested for killing a seagull with a baseball.  Again, I kid you not).

Most of my associations with the Ex have to do with the Grandstand and the great (and the not-so-great- looking at you Bon Jovi, 1989.  We went because we had free tickets- a guy we knew had bought a whole passel of them because he figured it was the big ticket show that year and that he would make tonnes of cash scalping them to all those unfortunates who didn’t stand in line for them.  Like he did.  Apparently he misjudged the appeal of those particular Jersey Boys, so he ended up giving them away.   We went as a joke, I swear!  Although Skid Row- and taunting the Jon-loving rocker chicks sitting in front of us- and all around us, for that matter- was pretty amusing.  There was A LOT of hairspray and spandex in evidence that night.  Wow, this was a really long tangent.  Getting the train of thought back on track now) shows I saw there over the years.  It was a pretty great outdoor venue, and the tickets were cheapcheap, for the most part.

I saw SO many bands there, and the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon this weekend will be a stroll down memory lane paying tribute to some of those shows played at the grand ol’ Grandstand (whether or not they happened during the Ex proper, the Grandstand was all about the open air and the music by the lake.  Something about great tunes and lake breezes and a sky full of stars.  Heavenly).

September 4, 1983.  Bowie.  Serious Moonlight tour.  Sublime.  That’s all I have to say about that.

September 3, 1987.  Double bill.  Echo and the Bunnymen and New Order (and Gene Loves Jezebel, but I think we got there after their set.  Don’t remember it anyway).  Brit-tastic.

May 26, 1987.  The Cult.  And Billy Idol.  Wow.  The energy could have rendered Toronto Hydro obsolete (except for the electricity needed to power the show, so never mind.  Failed analogy).

October 3, 1987.  U2.  Joshua Tree tour.  This one was extra awesome- we had obstructed 1st-level seats and ended up moved to the floor!  Bono had dislocated his shoulder and performed with a sling.  My friend’s Mum got us the tickets.  You had to get a bracelet one day and go back the next.  One bracelet was good for 6 tickets.  She had her infant daughter in a stroller and someone in line suggested she get a bracelet for baby V.  We ended up with 12 tickets!  Great crowd of us.  Perfect Autumn night.  Although there was a tragic suede cowboy boot/peach schnapps incident, if I remember correctly.  The only fly in the otherwise flawless ointment.

June 9, 1988.  Depeche Mode.  The fourth (?) time I’d seen them.  They thrive in outdoor venues.  They’re at the Amphitheatre next weekend.  Sad I’ll be missing them.

August 6, 1988.  INXS.  Perhaps not quite as special as the show at Massey Hall the week that Kick was released, but Michael Hutchence was always on fire onstage.  An amazing showman.

I’ll finish the playlist with this one:

Thompson Twins Into the Gap tour.  It remains one of my favourite shows, and one of my sentimental favourite songs.  August 24, 1984.  29 years ago tomorrow.

Soundtrack of summers past.

I’m going to make the most of what’s left of this one.

Happy weekend!

“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be” – Part 1

Image result for stone moss stock

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this.

Because (and the list is nowhere near exhaustive):

1) This blog is supposed to be about myth and music and the good stuff that we have to teach each other- and how these things permeate and enrich our world cultures.

2) I’m not from Boston, so I can’t really comprehend the pain in the city and the rawness of the feelings of violation and horror stemming from the act of terror that occurred at an event as historical and important to its identity as the Marathon

3) I don’t personally know anyone whose life was forever altered by the (alleged) heinous actions of the accused and his brother (although I do empathize with the depth of their loss and with the continuing struggles they will face as a result of this act of terror)

N.B.- I use the qualifier ‘alleged’ only because the US justice system (in its holier-than-thou assertions about rights and freedoms) is very big on insisting upon the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing.  And, unless I missed it, there has been no trial as of yet that has resulted in a conviction for the crimes he is accused of committing.

4) I tend to agree that many (too many) journos are all about sensationalism and grabbing readers without any thought given to their subjects’ feelings or, as in this case, the feelings of the victims of the subject(s).

5) Our ‘celebrity culture’ does tend to celebrate BOTH the famous and the infamous- and the ignorant among us (who are, terrifyingly, legion) often have trouble discerning differences between the two designations.

6) Most of me recoils at the thought of doing ANYthing that might be construed as contributing to any sensationalizing- and the infamy- of someone who could do what he did.

7) The cover photo was a really really bad editorial choice.

But that doesn’t mean that the story shouldn’t be told.

Contrary to many of the criticisms that I’ve seen floating around out there, Rolling Stone is NOT ‘just’ a ‘music magazine.’  Since its founding in 1967, it has been known for its political reporting and commentary.  The likes of Hunter S. Thompson produced important political and social commentary for the magazine- that retains it relevance 35+ years later.

Sure, in the 80s and (especially) the 90s the focus shifted to one of more ‘general entertainment’ away from regions of controversy and stories of any great depth.

But it returned to relevance in recent years largely through the work of Michael Hastings (who died in a car accident a little over a month ago) and Matt Taibbi- young journos known and heralded for their hard-hitting exposés of the American military and fraudulent American banking activities, respectively.

Janet Reitman, the author of the article in question, wrote a story uncovering the workings of the Church of Scientology that was nominated for the National Magazine Award and provided the genesis of her book Inside Scientology.  I know from experience what a hard group of nuts those Scientologists can be to crack, and her examination of the cult is both comprehensive and riveting.

The recent products of these three fine journos alone should be demonstration enough that criticising Rolling Stone for publishing an article about something other than music/entertainment is misplaced and ludicrous on its face.   But the mandate of the magazine was never restricted to entertainment.  In its first edition, founder and chief editor Jann Wenner described Rolling Stone as “not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”

If you are one of the incredibly kind readers who has been following my trains of thought over the past few months, you know that I have repeatedly emphasized that our myths and music are, and always have been, fundamentally connected to our societies and cultures and the main indicator of what it is to be human.  Our stories and songs talk about the things that need working out.  Counter-cultural movements have always used music as a means of illustrating inequity and calling for change.

The cover story of the August 1, 2013 Rolling Stone Magazine is very much in keeping with this awareness that myth, music, culture, history and contemporary events/issues/concerns are inextricably linked.

This post is not really meant to be a defence of the magazine.  As I said, I think that the cover photo panders to society’s repugnant need for sensationalism and voyeurism.  It is a magazine that is assumed- rightly or wrongly  to be mainly about music and rock stars, so using a photo that evokes Jim Morrison was both in poor taste and something that, in MHO, warrants some of the critical bombardment that’s out there at the moment.

Using that photo seriously smacks of sensationalism with the ultimate goal to do nothing more than sell magazines.  True journalistic integrity might suggest that the story could have been presented differently- in a way that better acknowledged the sensibilities of the victims and the city of Boston as a whole.

I won’t be buying the magazine, but they’ve hardly lost a customer.

Like most people I know, I rarely buy print magazines or newspapers these days.  I will read engaging and important articles off of interworld sites until the cows come home, and I even like heading to libraries and checking out the microfiche every now and again.

The last time I purchased a Rolling Stone this was the cover:

(okay, that’s a tad hyperbolic, but you get the idea).

Still I firmly believe that this story NEEDS to be told.

There are too many similar tales out there (like this one) and as a society we have to get to the bottom of where these impulses, these examples of radicalization and extremism are being created, nurtured and ultimately facilitated into actions.  Actions that are undeniably terrible and tragic and heartbreaking.  Actions that cannot be swept under rugs of ‘respectability.’

They should be investigated and presented with a clear application of respect and sensitivity.  Did Rolling Stone miss that mark somewhat?  Arguably, yes.  Is the magazine as reprehensible in its pandering to a particular audience and in its thoughtless quest for readers/ratings as other media outlets I could name?  I don’t think so.

Whether or not your personal views dictate that you should/shouldn’t give the article and the magazine any of your time, it has already accomplished something that the most responsible of news stories should do.  There is dialogue happening (even if some of it is admittedly hysterical and reactionary) and informed, well-reasoned discussion is always a good thing in a civilized society.

Next up:  The whys and wherefores regarding the need for the search of root causes (‘committing sociology’, if you will) and an examination the problems associated with ‘making’ monsters/externalizing ‘evil’. 

The former is something we MUST keep doing and the latter is something that HAS to stop…