February 19, 2005

Friends of friends

One of the best ways to measure a person's worth is by examining their friends. Well, I'm pleased to say that the friends of my friends continue to impress. Check out Mr Blink's rant on Ben Affleck and Sisqo.

Unleash the dragon indeed.

February 16, 2005


Sometimes a little says a lot. This link says it all for me today.

Why is 'abbreviation' such a long word?

February 6, 2005

Faux couture

I just read a remarkable lecture that was given in 1954 by the man who would later become the presenter of the BBC series Civilisation. His name was Kenneth Clark, and he's largely considered to have been one of Britain's greatest art historians.

While I am woefully under-read when it comes to poetry, and even less adept in talking painting, I found Clark's take on inspiration, well, inspiring. After defining a moment of vision -- that precise instant when the ordinary, the unimpressive, the common thing we witness every day, suddenly jumps out and demands attention -- he observes,

"The visual experiences of original artists control, to a large extent, not only our imaginations but also our direct perceptions... Even those least responsive to art have at the backs of their minds a large untidy store of pictorial images, and three-quarters of what they call beautiful in nature appeals to them because it is the reflection of some forgotten painting."

I've always thought it interesting that we can hike for days, fording rivers and climbing mountains, and the only way to describe the visual mastery of nature when we return consists of words like picturesque. Pictures are supposed to document reality; call a photograph 'natural', however, and it's hardly a compliment that will make the owner blush. Straddle Black Tusk, and all you can say is, "Well that's as pretty as a postcard." Witness Aphrodite herself walk down Granville Street and you'd swear she was the most 'statuesque' woman you've seen in your life.

Clark continues, hitting on something that surely explains our ridiculous obsession with popular culture: "We hunger for the visible definition of our conceepts, and turn avidly (and rather shamefacedly) to the illustrations of a book. Yet we know that the more convincing they are -- Alice in Wonderland or Sherlock Holmes -- the more closely they confine us."

Okay, Clark was talking about fine art, himself riffing academically on the classic quote that 'every poet is a thief'. But is the current infatuation with faux couture any different? We're trapped in an endless cycle of in-jokes and referential material. How is it possible to keep up with the connections? Once you start, there's no stopping.

In one aside from a second-season episode, Family Guy, a brilliant but frenetic animated comedy built atop the before-its-time sitcom All in the Family, spoofs Seinfeld, which paid homage to Woody Allen, who borrowed from Charlie Chaplin, who owed a great deal to vaudeville, which was borne out of pantomime, which often parodies William Shakespeare, who stole from everyone. The viewer is supposed to get all that from a measly seven seconds of a Seinfeld characature that mysteriously appears behind a closet door.

The references on that show fly at the audience, fast and furiously, sometimes subtly but mostly not. Within a ten-second span, you'll need to access the neurons associated with Star Trek, roller derby, Bill Clinton, Andy Kaufman, Michaelangelo, Creutzfeld-Jacobs (mad cow) disease, and the Old Testament. The speed with which a viewer has to switch gears is astounding. Couch potato, my ass. The pop culture connoisseur must be mentally dextrous in ways that past visionaries never dreamed.

It all begs the question: would Leonardo da Vinci have been that brilliant if he had the theme song to Diff'rent Strokes lodged in his head?

February 4, 2005


I was reading a blog recently which reminded me of a story.

An ex of mine worked at the border between Washington state and British Columbia; she worked on the Canadian side, welcoming a lot of US-born visitors who had little to no knowledge about the country they were about to enter. Case in point:

A normal-looking family drove up, and she asked them the usual questions: Where are you going? How long are you planning to stay? etc. The answers? Alaska, they said. For the day.

They were completely unaware that Alaska lies a good 3,500 kilometres (about 2,200 miles) north of the border. They even offered up their daughter's school atlas, which proudly showed the continental US, with Canada completely obliterated from view -- Alaska sat just north of the Washington border, and Hawaii lay about 100 km (60 miles) off the California shoreline!

My ex suggested they drive to Vancouver, which she suggested was a very nice place to have lunch, as it's only about 40 minutes north of the border crossing. They could buy a city map and perhaps learn a little about their northern neighbours.

Well, the otherwise sane-looking family drove about 30 metres (100 feet) past the booth, and despite the August heat, proceeded to bundle up in parkas and other winter gear. It seems their TV weather station had displayed Fahrenheit temperatures south of the border, and Celsius temperatures north of the border -- because the number for Seattle said "100" and the number less than a 3-hour drive north said "35", they honestly thought the air was going to plunge 70 degrees in a matter of kilometres, so they'd better keep warm to avoid serious illness.

I know there are many, many well-educated, well-travelled and well-read Americans out there. But considering certain election results and the sheer number of incidents which point to cultural isolationism, it's amazing to me that the US is still as powerful around the world as it is.

Can someone explain to me how an entire nation can be so utterly ignorant of its closest neighbour? Sure we've not the biggest population, but our two countries do more trade per day than any other two nations in the world. It's beyond me how Americans could possibly live so close but know so little.