Feet of Clay

Since, lately, I’ve been dragged in every direction but this little space of the blogosphere, and in keeping with the recycling of older posts as a way of letting peeps know that I’m still around, I reblogged- weeks ago now, it seems- a little bit o’ something about some of the cool things that can be found in the OT Book of Daniel.

At that time, after reading my discussion about disembodied hands and holy graffiti, my blogging buddy Daniel (pay him a visit- you won’t be disappointed) put in a request for some more stuff about the madness of the dream of old Nebuchadnezzar. So, because I always try to accommodate interesting requests, and because I love saying the name Nebuchadnezzar, but mostly because that book about that guy Daniel (the biblical one) is full of  resonant language and enduring concepts, I am happy to oblige.

Interestingly, I didn’t have to wait long for one of those of those images to resonate with contemporary events. And it’s Hallowe’en, so a discussion about a mythological nightmare seems pretty apt…

I don’t usually pay all that much attention to the search terms that bring people to visit me here in my WordPress World. Really, I’m just happy to have people visit and for the chats that might ensue as a result. Every once in a while they sort of jump out at me, though.  Doobster reminded me of this over at his blog, not long ago.

My favourite still has to be about exorcising Pazuzu. I remain at a loss as to who might be looking to get rid of Mesopotamian demons, and I wish them well in that particular research, since I’m pretty sure that my blog post wouldn’t have been much help in that department. (Another of my recent faves asks: ‘is Don Henley a Xian’? Which is interesting. Since I don’t actually know the answer, and wouldn’t presume to ask him, since it matters to me not a whit. He’s awesome, regardless of religious background or belief).

A couple of days ago a search term popped into my settings profile that was timely and somewhat distressing. Just to make sure it wasn’t a weird anomaly, I googled it myself and, sure enough, I was directed here.

Looking at it closely, I realized that the reason the post came up in the search was due to to the proximity of the word ‘dated’ (which I was using as an adjective to mean ‘provided with a date’ with the implication that said date was long ago and that I am, in fact, old) with a reference to his name (not that common) as I described scenes from his recent book.

Contrary to the search term’s implication, I did NOT date Jian.

If you do a search on that selection of words (‘I dated Jian’) ALL kinds of other things will now come up far far ahead of my little post about a trip to the cottage over a year ago. He’s all over the news. Everywhere. He’s knocked our former mayor and the defeat of his brother (Praise Odin and the gods of Valhalla) out of all media coverage. New scandals await our insatiable appetite for the lurid. We are all talking about him- and lines are being drawn all over the place.

Know what? He is a creepy guy. He’s always been a creepy guy. This isn’t news to anyone. Especially not to anyone who has had even passing acquaintance with the tinytiny world that is the Canadian media.

What IS news is that he seems to be more than just creepy. If the women who have come forward since he released his PR-company-driven attempt at playing the victim came out on Sunday are to believed (and why shouldn’t they be believed?), he has a whole lot of issues. A need to exert dominance by beating unwilling women appears to be one of them.

There’s a lot of talk about this going on everywhere. The social media are overwhelmed with the discussions/arguments/attacks about this. Two sides to all stories and that sort of thing. There are experts weighing in- those intimately familiar with BDSM and the negotiated rules that are required to make such relationships work, and legal experts- citing case law that says that assault isn’t something for which people can grant permission, are but a few of the voices we’ve been hearing since Sunday night.

‘Abuse is abuse’, they say. ‘They’ include some who consider the guy in question a friend. Yesterday morning, on The Current, CBC featured an extremely well-put-together interview with one of the accusers- one who wasn’t intimated by the power play and who isn’t afraid of the back-lash that might come from stepping forward to make her voice heard (many kudos to K and the team for an amazing presentation).

By last evening, another woman had come forward, identifying herself and making her accusations- and her reasons for not going to the authorities with the events she recounted- clear. Brave women- speaking on behalf of themselves and those who feel they cannot. For whatever reason (and those reasons are, unfortunately, myriad).

It would hope that it’s obvious on which side of this story I can be found. Abuse of power (abuse of any kind) is not something that is remotely acceptable in my way of viewing the world. Ego (especially when its completely out of proportion to reality) as a primary personality trait is dangerous and something about which to be greatly concerned when it is made manifest- in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships. No matter how much I might enjoy a radio programme.

The fact that people- across the country- immediately leapt to defend the guy says a whole lot about us and the irrational attachments we build with people in the spotlight. And none of what it says is good. Especially since said messages of defence involved few cautions about waiting to hear the whole story. Instead, there was a shocking degree of shameful victim blaming. I saw a bunch of reallyreally bad language being thrown around. And I’m not talking about the sort with four letters.

I’m talking about words like ‘vindictive’ and ‘jilted’ and ‘attention seeking’ and ‘gold-digging’. As people high-jumped to conclusions with an alacrity that is pretty damn stomach turning.

Voices of reason stepped in- to rationally discuss the reasons why liking/admiring a radio host does not automatically make him exempt from having done terrible things, to address the common charge that none of these women filed police reports about the incidents, to inform us about some of the realities of being a woman in our society that many people would rather leave under the rugs where they’ve been swept.

The CBC will survive (provided the leader of Harper’s Conservatives and culturally ignorant individuals (no names mentioned *cough* Christie Blatchford) don’t get their way). I’m old enough to remember the national sense of loss that we felt when Peter Gzowski, long-time host of Morningside, one of CBC’s most distinctive voices, and true National Treasure, died in 2002. His vision continued. In many ways, Jian is one of the heirs of his legacy- and of Peter’s lifelong attempts to identify and express Canada’s cultural identity.

But he’s only one of the heirs. And, really, not necessarily even the best of them (I should note here- for the record- that I’ve always been partial to Strombo).

As guest host Brent Bambury said so eloquently on Monday- while introducing a show that was profoundly under the microscope and likely facing irrevocable change- Q is more than one person. Much more. There are dozens of people who work to make the show what it is. They are still there. And will be, as long as there are listeners who appreciate what Q continues to be about.

Which is a lot of things. The variety, the diversity of subjects and perspectives on art and culture and politics and society is something that has kept me engaged with and enjoying the show for many years.

What it isn’t about, shouldn’t be about, is a cult of personality, created by one individual, that has led to people believing his press releases (figurative and realized), without reflection or analysis, and to blind, reactionary responses that are stomach-turning and, frankly, un-Canadian.

Just last week (was it over a week ago already?) I went on and on and on, to anyone who would listen, about the class with which the CBC (and Peter Mansbridge, in particular) handled the day-long coverage of the terrible events, as they happened, in Ottawa. The difference between that coverage and anything comparable that one might witness on the 24-hour-a-days ‘news’ channels in the US, was a sizable gulf- a fact that gives me great pride.

Which is why the trolls and the misogynists and those who just can’t simply wrap their brains (such as they are) around the potentiality of wrong-doing on the part of a ‘celebrity’ because, well, he’s a celebrity– who is, admittedly, great at his job- makes me want to bite something. But they know him. He’s ‘part of their lives’. And loving/revering/worshiping a public figure means giving them the benefit of every possible doubt. Evidently.

My fave Babylonian king (you know his name. Say it- ‘Nebuchadnezzar’) once had a dream that both baffled and disturbed him. None of his own courtiers or wiseguys were able to interpret the dream for him- since doing so required the input of the gods.  And they didn’t seem to be forthcoming with any guidance- much to the distress of the wiseguys. Distress that grew, quite significantly, when it became clear that Neb was going to execute the bunch of them for their inability to help him sort it all out.

As they were being rounded up (as I re-read the passage I had an image of the Brute Squad clearing out the Thieves’ Forest in The Princess Bride, for some reason), Daniel asked the Captain of the Guard what was up with all this. Once answered, Daniel then asked Arioch to hold off on the whole executing-the-wiseguys thing, and to give him some time to figure out the troublesome nightmare.

Granted the time, Daniel and his Judean buds prayed to their god for mercy, and the meaning of Neb’s dream was revealed to them. Daniel was taken to the king and recounted it fully, before beginning his interpretation- which, he noted, he was able to do because of the guidance of his god. Who was better than Neb’s gods. Just a BTW.

Nebuchadnezzar had dreamt of a great figure- with a head made of gold, upper body of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet made partly of iron and partly of baked clay. A stone- uncut by human hands- came along and smashed the feet of clay, causing the entirety to topple and shatter- with the precious metals being blown away by the winds, as the stone became a mountain which then filled the whole Earth.

Daniel tells Neb that he, the king, is the head of gold. He has been given his dominion by god and is great among men, in his power and glory. After his time, another kingdom will arise- one inferior to his. And then another. And another. Then will arise a kingdom that is divided- and the weakness caused by this division will lead to its downfall- by another kingdom, established by god, that will smash all the others to bits.

Neb was so happy to have his dream interpreted, he made Daniel his chief wiseguy and lavished rewards upon him and his friends (Daniel wasn’t one to forget his buddies…).

There are all kinds of interpretations of this dream and its interpretation. The separate sections of the figure are generally thought to represent specific nations- Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, as one example- and, as such, is more of the same sort of social commentary you find throughout the narrative of the Book of Daniel.

But… as is often the case with such things, strong mythological images develop nuances of their own outside of the context of their creation.

‘Feet of clay’ is colloquially used to reference a character flaw- usually one that is pretty darn significant. The fragility of the feet- the flaw- caused by the hubris or ego of the figure- endangers the whole. Up to and including it’s wondrous head of gold. The (self-) perceived beauty and wisdom and charisma cannot remain standing under its own weight when any sort of stone shows up to smash into that problematic and fragile underpinning.

We invest so much in our public figures- in those personalities who keep us entertained or informed, or those who seek to lead us in our day-to-day lives. When their clay feet are (often inevitably) revealed, we tend to react with either 1) hostile doubt and by lashing out at those stony accusers who dare to imply anything less than golden about the figurehead they love, or 2) with knowing self-assurance that the idol was always destined to be toppled from his lofty height.

Those who make of themselves a cult of personality do so at their own risk. We like them, until we are presented with reasons to despise them- or their behaviours. But sometimes we cling to the illusion, regardless of the weight of evidence, and maintain the defence long past all logic or rationale (I could cite another recent example having something to do with our recent Municipal election, but I’m too pleased by the overall outcome to harp on the idiocy of the remnants of Ford Nation…), hoping that the object of reverence will remember the loyalty when returned to power.

I actually hated this song when it came out. Although, really, that largely had to do with the fact that one of my uni housemates played it All. The. Time. (Until Fletch stormed downstairs and turfed it far out into the snow of the backyard, that is. I think I need to buy him a drink in remembered thankfulness for that…). I’m still not sure I like the song all that much, but its lyrics stand up as well today as they did back in 1988.

Neon lights, Nobel Prize
When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You won’t have to follow me
Only you can set me free

I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your TV
I’m the cult of personality
I exploit you, still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your god’s name
I’m every person you need to be
I’m the cult of personality

And that title.

The song is about psychology and politics. And ‘cult’ is a loaded term that is, generally (i.e not academically), used negatively. A cult of personality happens when a person uses things like the media to construct an idealized image. It is based in charismatic authority and has connections with narcissistic leadership.

So. If the shoe fits…

Perhaps it can be used to cover up those fragile tootsies.

Stories with Stuart

Here in Canada we have a wonderful, and distinctively Canadian, thing called the CBC.  Sure, other countries have public radio/television, and they certainly do tell the stories of their nations in myriad ways, but our CBC radio programming holds a very special place in my heart and mind.  (The television programming is also good, but I admit I spend more time with the radio shows than the tv, generally speaking).

Our current federal government is attempting to dismantle this national treasure a little bit at a time.  But the producers and presenters of our unique (though often very different, regionally speaking) way(s) of looking at our country and the world continue charging forward- and looking back- telling our stories and creating little pieces of wonder as they keep on keeping on.

One of these incredible people is Stuart McLean.  His Vinyl Café stories have been a fixture on CBC radio for close on 20 years.  His variety show highlights Canadian singer-songwriters- artists whose work might otherwise not get a whole lot of airtime- and intermingles music, humour and an almost nostalgic sense of Canada and its people- in all our often-messy glory.

Stuart is a rarity these days.  He’s a born storyteller- his distinctive voice and presence make you feel like you’re sharing a drink with a close friend.  Who just happens to have a never ending supply of amazing tales to recount.  Tales about characters that have grown in familiarity to the extent that they become like members of the family.  Relatives that you are pleased you only have to visit a few times a year, perhaps, but continuing sources of hilarity and well-learned life-lessons.

At the heart of the show is Stuart’s primary literary comic foil- Dave, the owner of an independent record store in Toronto, and the trouble he seems endlessly able to attract.  In abundance.

Dave and his family- his long-suffering wife, Morley, children Sam and Stephanie- along with an incredible cast of neighbours and friends, find themselves in some pretty far out situations.  But no matter the extremity of the circumstance, those of us familiar with Dave and his antics easily, and willingly, suspend our disbelief in our awareness that ‘it’s just Dave.  Of course such things can happen to him.’

Every year the great folks behind the Vinyl Café take their Christmas show on the road and make a stop here at home.  A visit with Stuart and his compatriots has become an annual holiday event for me and some of my peeps.  Friday night they rolled into the Sony Centre and, as usual, had us rolling in the aisles.  My face still hurts from all the laughing.

Audience participation is encouraged, and the way that Stuart feeds off the energy of his audience helps guide the shape of his shows.  He allowed as how they were genuinely happy to be home after 24 days of taking the show across the country (and down into a few select towns in the States)- a sentiment he reinforced when a part of his first story- the part about kindergarden children tumbling off of the stage during the school holiday pageant- brought down the house- anticipatorily.  Apparently that part of the tale was met with shocked silence in more PC towns like Vancouver.

Toronto has a slightly more irreverent sense of humour, it would seem (we must.  Look at our mayor.  HE made it into the show, too.  Not in a flattering light- go figure).  We love the old favourites, but one of the best things about attending the Christmas shows live and in person is hearing the new stories, freshly minted, and Stuart gave us two on Friday.

But we also revisited ‘Morley’s Christmas Concert’ and the discombobulated, but completely intact, tumbling children who were left in the dark when Dave’s sound system took out the school’s power grid.  And after Intermission, Stuart had a sit down with us, and together we remembered the highlights from all our favourite holiday stories.  ‘Dave Cooks the Turkey’, of course.  And ‘Dave on the Roof’– about the perils of the Canadian winter and the ways in which our slightly defiantly perverse instincts can get the best of us.  Despite the fact we know better (DO NOT stick your tongue on anything metal- especially while up on the roof repairing the tv antenna.  Really.  Just don’t.)

The musical guests this year were a wonderful trio of ladies called The Good Lovelies, whose harmonies and hauntingly beautiful rendition of Sara Bareilles’ Winter Song very much reflected the quiet and the melancholy of the snow that had covered the city that day.  Yet we were warm, inside, and with friends, so the plaintiveness of the song could be felt at a remove rather than with its full, sad immediacy.

A night with Vinyl Café is always enjoyable on many levels, but one of the things that makes me most appreciate our annual visits is the fact that so many children are present to participate.  In this day and age.  With all the visual and technological interfaces available to them, the fact that there are children who can still appreciate the wonder and the value of a storyteller, coming to them over the radio (or via a podcast), without anything flashing or shaping their images of the characters or the settings other than Stuart’s description alone.

Every year I applaud those parents who have raised children that can be engaged by the sound of his voice, recounting the most recent adventures of a bunch of crazy Canadians (or flashing back to earlier stories), as they use their own imaginations to fill in the blanks- and people the stories with their own variations and appearances.

Storytelling of this sort is both communal and very personal.  I know what Dave and his family look like to me.  They’ve changed- grown older- as I’ve gotten to know them over the years of listening to their life- often in kitchens, as dinner preparations where underway.  Would I recognize them, if I passed them on the street?  About that, I’m not sure.  But I’d know them by their actions- both the silly antics and the wonderful, well-meaning heart that lies at the centre of all their interactions with their friends, family and neighbours.

They have taught me lessons.  They have made me laugh.  And tear up from time to time, too.  Stuart has made them fully realized.

He ended our evening by returning to the stage with his long-time touring musical director, John Sheard.  Together they sang a song. that John wrote, about the holidays- and what they would really like for Christmas.  This wonderful, wonderful tune contained references to Harper’s prorogation of Parliament, the Senate debacle, Rob Ford, Don Cherry, the federal government’s actions re. the CBC… Straight minutes of nothing other but laughter.  Canadian laugher.  FOR us, BY us.  We were still laughing as we headed out into the cold of Front Street.

I have a whole bunch of podcasts of the show to catch up with.  Somehow there aren’t enough hours in the day to do/read/watch/listen to everything that needs to be done/watched/read/listened to- especially at this time of year.  But the next hour I have free (or make the time to have free), I will decide to just sit, and listen, and fully experience Stuart’s incredible gift with story- its creation and its delivery.  The holidays ARE supposed to be about time spent with friends, after all.

Please allow me to introduce you to my friend, Stuart McLean.  I trust you will get along famously.