Tag Archives: culture

The CBC Bleeds: Life inside the Zeitgeist

As I type this, Canadian’s national broadcaster CBC is bleeding heavily after being gutted by budgeting cuts imposed by a national government that sees no value in Canadians having a free and informed press, and loathes a national culture that often indulges in mockery and satire at our government’s expense.

The CBC will survive today, but at what strength, I don’t know.

Without a real breakdown for me to compare existing jobs versus those that will be cut, and so forth, I’m mostly blowing smoke out of my ass if I speak to numbers or measurable consequence, so I’ll stick to peripherals and ideologies rather than facts. Proof I’m smarter than I look.

This gutting today, the “surgical” cutting of budgets, speaks to Stephen Harper’s government, who’ve shown a disdain for anything based in science, culture, or public interest.

I don’t even want to go there, right now, though.

This moment, here, now, what has me sad is the change to our culture. Whether it’s small theatre or the CBC, Canada has its own bent when it comes to what flies, culturally.

It’s why some American show like Arrested Development might barely get a following in the US but is a runaway hit in Canada — we see things differently from our American friends. We like bleakness. We’re big on books and words, have a great ability to comprehend complicated plots. We’re completely oddball when in comes to humour, proven by ex-pats like SNL’s creator Lorne Michaels, or Jim Carrey, Mike Meyers, and pretty much anyone else who’s made $10 million or more for acting in comedies.

Some question if that weird worldview is borne of our “bi-polar weather” — amazing short summers with endless winters. Maybe it’s the great beer, or the wide open spaces where you get to really be alone with the voices in your head, or the way we’ve always needed community for surviving in the wilds of this Great Northern Land.

There’s something about Canadians that’s just different from Americans, and every effort to encapsulate it falls short.

Nation-wise, we’re often depicted as being the little guy who needs his big strong friend to pick him out of trouble spots.

But like most people with self-esteem issues, the reality is very different from what the perception might be.

We’re not really the ineffective little friend that needs Big Dude’s help.

Instead, we’ve got a crack military force. Our education consistently ranks with considerably higher results than USA’s. We’ve got more natural resources than most countries could ever dream of. We’re the fourth largest oil provider in the world, and one of the best beer providers. We’re funny as fuck and have long been the backbone of the American comedy industry. We once had more writers per capita than anyone in the world, probably still do. We’re polite. We’re a massive country with a little population, and somehow we not only have infrastructure everywhere, but we also have universal healthcare.

Sorry, eh?

Granted, a lot of those places where we rock are places our budgets have been cut, funding slashed, and the glimmers of hope dimmed, but hey. It’s what we are.

So, today, I’m of two minds.

One, I understand why the slashing is happening. I know that, like most public organizations, there are a lot of deadbeat managers and redundant positions, but I also understand that when these cuts happen, it’s not the deadbeat managers who are gutted, and when more and more of the supposedly “redundant” positions are hacked, it starts bleeding into the quality of the overall product.

Take a look at the shitty barely-researched articles offered by so-called “online reporters” for newspapers like The Vancouver Sun these days as an example of what happens when you keep lowering the bar on employees due to this perceived need to have “new news” every moment of the day. I worry that this will be what happens to a once-great CBC. And then Harper will be as happy as a pig in shit.

Two, I know we’re on the cusp of a new time. When printed music first appeared, it changed everything in the world of musicians and concerts. We’re at that point now with digital media. Suddenly, we don’t need newspapers, or record companies, or book publishers. We’re turning into a world much like that of 400 years ago, where artists are back to distributing their own content, and it comes truly down to who’s got the best way with the world instead of who’s standing with the biggest corporation marketing machine behind them.

The CBC, like every other entertainment giant in the world, has got to feel the pinch from the fact that it’s now by ourselves or fancy third-party apps that we aggregate our news, culture, information, and images from a variety of sources. We don’t need reporters or people who were cultivated by a corporation to try and figure out what the hot-new-thing-now is, because we’re better judges than most industry hacks ever could be — we have no advertisers to appease, talking heads to curtail us, or shareholders to satisfy. We just have to find cool shit to watch, read, hear, or circulate, and it doesn’t matter who’s behind it.

How the CBC could escape that changing reality in this modern age, well, that’s entirely beyond my imagination.

It doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t break a little today. It doesn’t mean I wish we could resolve this in a way that doesn’t mean hundreds of jobs vanish, shows go unproduced, and content-creation begins treading even softer so as to avoid becoming a part of the gutting.

The CBC was a huge part of my upbringing back when we got five channels and most of what we watched was on CBC. The CBC was the voice in the night when I moved to the Yukon and had only radio to keep me company before I met any locals. The CBC is, in many ways, synonymous for me in thinking of what “My Canada” means.

So. Yes. We’re at a difficult point, to be sure.

It’s like anything. Some things need to die before others can be born. We’re alive during a drastically changing zeitgeist.

Culturally, the upheaval is incredibly hard to handle.

But, underneath it all, deep down, waiting for its moment, it is truly the time of the Individual. Or: The Viral Age.

It means we’ll have fewer corporations to do us the favour of weeding out the crap. We’ll be subject to more and more mediocrity. But once in a rare while, someone who’s truly unique and has great talent will break free and get noticed in the wide world of the web, and we’ll all share the link.

Or maybe not.

And that’s life in the zeitgeist for you: Everything you love changes; there are no guarantees.

And sometimes it’s really fucking sad to watch that becoming the case.

Bittersweet Beginnings

I know I haven’t been blogging, but I’ve obviously been settling into a new life and don’t feel badly at all that my attentions are otherwise focused.

But I have to drop in for a quick hello, even if I have a busy day ahead. It’s worth commenting on this.

My heart’s breaking as speculation mounts that the Book Warehouse in Vancouver might be closing its four locations, the last indie book chain in town, sounding an almost-imminent death knell for independent bookselling in a city of 2 million.

The Playhouse's last night inspired protests. Photo by Arlen Redekop of the Vancouver Sun.

In the two weeks since I left my hometown, which was a decision two years in the making, the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company has closed down after 49 years, a found 70+year-old “ghost wall” reflecting a time long past, uncovered in a demo, was unceremoniously demolished, and word was announced that the venerable arts-house theatre The Ridge would be shutting down and replaced with, yes, more condos.

I’m broken-hearted for Vancouver, and have been for a long time.

Many of us residents felt it was a joke that the City had so many arts events happening during the Olympics, and we were right, because as soon as the Games left town, so did this newfound arts embrace demonstrated by government.

It seems now the slippery slope of not respecting arts and not playing an active role in finding a way to keep culture alive in Vancouver has resulted in people wondering nationally if Vancouver’s not just a little kid in the sandbox, since the town clearly doesn’t grasp the effect a cultural scene plays in keeping a city vibrant.

And, the thing is, it’s not just about the City Council kicking arts when they’re already down and out, by giving developers carte blanche to go ahead and mow down iconic locations like The Ridge, but it’s the incessant stupidity of continuing to allow foreign investment in Vancouver, when it’s driving rents into ludicrous territory, because there’s no person making under $40,000 who can comfortably live in Vancouver — anywhere — now.

It’s the people who make under $40,000 who answer your phones, serve your coffee, teach your kids, act in the theatre, read poetry in cafes, sell you movie tickets, and more.

And soon none of them will be able to afford Vancouver.

Don’t think I’m the only one who had an exit strategy. That door out of Vancouver’s a revolving one now, man.

There’s no sense living in the world’s most beautiful city if you can’t afford to live there in a way that allows you to enjoy it.

I was born and raised in Vancouver. The Vancouver Playhouse was instrumental in my cultural upbringing. I’ve seen musicals and ballets and murder mysteries there as a youth.

The Ridge Theatre was where I saw my first independent arthouse flick, and turned me onto all things cinematical — from Easy Rider to Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout. From Baraka to Rear Window. I saw ’em all on screen at The Ridge. Across town, The Rio Theatre is fighting to stay alive by trying to become a hip place where you can see live performance, filmed entertainment, and have a drink — but governmental idiocy will likely kill them too.

And, Book Warehouse, well, they were never my cup of tea but they have been an important part of Vancouver’s independent bookselling scene for a long time, and the more informed reader could walk in and score deals on writers that met the returns pile but should be more read here in Canada, like James Kelman, Iain Banks, and Colum McCann.

These aren’t just “businesses.” They’re the soul of a city.

Vancouver is a young town and it disses its heritage, saying “well, it’s only 70/80/90 years old, so…” because other towns have been around for centuries.

But heritage is where we come from, and I don’t give a fuck that Vancouver’s become a city of immigrants. It’s OUR HISTORY.

There’s no cultural soul anymore. It’s tech industry and more.

But here in Victoria, they’ve attracted Microsoft, largely because of the quality of life offered to those living in Victoria. I predict we’ll see more businesses deciding not to open in Vancouver because they know it’ll be too hard to attract entry-level employees making under $50K, who are the backbone of any enterprise.

Soon, Vancouver’ll be a city full of Lululemon pants, people who never say hi to each other, toy dogs, and business folk — no artists, no creatives, no funky people.

And I won’t be there when it is.

Yeah. It breaks my heart. I love Vancouver. I just don’t like what it’s become. Vancouver, to me, is like that girl who was always pretty and fun and great to be around, but didn’t know it — then one day she figures out she’s hot, gets in with the cool kids, stops being a geek, wears high fashion, and loses all the personality that made her great in the first place. Now she’s just another vapid hottie.

Vancouver’s quickly becoming the vapid hottie with no soul, and it never needed to happen. There have long been incredible artistic peoples in Vancouver.

There just won’t be, soon.

And if Vancouverites don’t demand change, if laws around investments don’t alter, if tax credits for artistic societies don’t improve, if housing options for those who aren’t working in big biz don’t improve, then, yeah, expect to see a continuing demise in Vancouver’s arts scene.

Please, don’t let Vancouver become a vapid city. Even from afar, I don’t think my heart can take it.

My Culture of Disconnect

I don’t want to read the news today.

Or have conversations of consequence with friends.

Or watch TV or movies that require braincells.

I sure as hell don’t want to read.

I want to drift away and disconnect. Be anywhere but here.

Heavy shit’s coming down, again. Dad’s lined up for serious surgery three provinces away. For anyone else, it’d be a major-but-fine surgery. For him, much risk comes with.

I mean, hey, cancer, diabetes, heart disease — which one do you think offers the best chance of surgical complications?

Sometimes, there’s only so much space you’ve got for matters outside the personal realm. Sometimes, thinking about things in the world just gets overwhelming in the face of the struggles you’re wading through on a daily basis.

Sometimes.

I don’t think I’m at that point. Not about this. I’ve been to the sick-dad rodeo one time too many. Sad as I am, weary as I am, I’m pretty much prepared for whatever comes.

I fucking hate that I feel that way. But I do. There’s only so many times you can stand peering over the edge and be terrified.

Sooner or later, you just get to knowing what it’s like, and the fear’s there, but it’s a fear you’ve metabolized now.

Sort of where I am with Dad. I’ve metabolized my terror. Don’t tell my shaking leg or queasy stomach that, but it’s true. I’m a pretty passionate girl. This is Stress-For-a-Loved-One Lite™.

Part of that is just me being older, wiser, more worn, jaded, and exposed. I done been around, man. Heart’s been broken more times than I need to count from life and its woes. That’s just my experience on planet earth.

It takes a lot to break me down, now. I take body blows like a heavyweight champ. With that shock-absorbing tendency comes the ability to not react much anymore.

As an example, the other day, this dude keeps cracking his little one liners at a pub. Eventually he’s all flustered because I’m not laughing at his jokes.

Well, I don’t laugh easily. I’m funny as hell, man, but making me laugh takes something unexpected or just flat-out smart. I’m a student of comedy. I’ve heard it ALL. I smile, or grin. Now and then? A full-on laugh.

But just because I don’t “react” doesn’t mean I’m not dialed in. I’m removed, but I’m listening. I’m probably thinking why your joke failed, where you went wrong with timing, or where I’ve heard a variation of it before, but, you know, I’m listening.

And we’re all sort of doing that these days. Most of us, anyhow. Dialed in but not. Listening but disconnected.

We’re sponges. Taking from society but never giving back. Surfacing.

My life of the last decade has been much like that.

One day, I stopped reading my three or so newspapers daily. Eventually, I fell away from reading books.

What came first, the head injury or my apathy? I don’t know, I don’t even remember anymore.

Things have changed.

Apathy isn’t enough. It’s not a meal that’s filling. Its price is too high. All the things it’s cost me, man…

I feel like a spectator in the intellectual world, and I’m more than that. I’m a smart woman with a unique world-view. I can’t just watch and not contribute.

To be a part of it requires I be of it, that I be immersed in it, be surrounded by it.

So, somewhere inside, I feel like the joke has been on me.

Sure, I’ve survived everything I’ve been through. But for what?

I fell out of touch and love with music. I stopped being clued into the political, cultural, and societal happenings, something I’d been very much in tune with since I had my first newspaper addiction at the age of 9. I stopped seeing movies. I mean, I’m the kind of girl who plans the music in advance for roadtrips — what works with what stretches of highway, what tracks tie into what scenery.

Or, I used to be.

What’s the fucking point in surviving if you’re not gonna thrive as who you are, right?

It’s what happens to a lot of us, I guess. I’ve got pretty good excuses, but they’re still just excuses, and I still feel like a cop-out.

It’s like the themes explored in Fight Club and American Beauty, the disappearing of identity and the cover-up of disconnect by way of commercialism and cluelessness.

We think we’re growing up as we fall away from our youthful passions of music and movies, politics and society, growing jaded and distant.

We’re not. We’re not “growing up”. We’re losing our leisure, thus losing our souls, as Virginia Woolf once wrote.

I want the happy medium between my savvy survivalist self, and the jazzed-up involved youth I was.

Some people I know still balance these things well, and maybe if life hadn’t gotten in the way, I might be the poster-girl for being a plugged-in hipster, too.

But I’m not.

I’m a part of the problem. I’ve joined the throngs of the Great Ignoring.

It’s not cool. It’s selfish. It’s not helping.

The disconnect isn’t working anymore. Not for me. Not for you. Sure as shit not for society.

It’s not really about “movies” and “music” and “news”.

It’s our soul as a society. Who are we if we’re just a bubble-gum-chewing collective dying to swallow the next reality show?

Art, culture, it was my soul, it was who I am. At my core, I’m an invested, impassioned, intelligent person, and living any way but that is antithetical to who I need to be.

My father’s disconnect has him at 350 pounds, with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, while awaiting major surgery. I’m pretty sure “disconnect” is not working for him, either.

I imagine my father would approve of my learning this lesson this week. I’m hoping he survives the week so we can have a talk about that.

Either way, it’s time I suck a little more cultural marrow out of life, because what I got ain’t sustaining much.