Sunday, December 20, 2015

Vol #2, The Grand Finale: To Err Certainly IS Human

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the human mind is our ability to seemingly rationalize anything. The Holocaust, The Aral Sea, Watergate, Eugenics, Residential Schooling (and believe me folks, I’m just scratching the iceberg here) – they all “seemed” like “good” ideas at the time. Or perhaps, our resistance to change even when slapped in the face with more than compelling objective evidence trumps the former. For example, can anyone sincerely give me a non-bias legitimate reason as to why we re-elected Bush or why many of us continue to stuff our bodies with toxic foods and substances even after we’ve had near brushes with death from doing just that?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m NOT anti-human nor do I think that would even be possible considering I’m too part of this species, genetically-speaking. The problem I have however is that I find it very difficult to swallow the fact that we are supposedly “superior” in terms of our intellectual makeup when time and time again, we not only commit the most preventable (and often plain stupid) of errors, but further we act in ways unquestionably detrimental to our very existence. And for what? A little extra green in the bank? To undermine the work of others in order to get ahead (again read as: money)? To try and combat one’s own personal self-esteem issues and failings through juvenile name-calling and domination tactics? To what end? Why such a need to control? Why such a superiority complex? Why do we go out of our way to live an adversarial existence instead of in harmony with ourselves, our planet, and all of the wonderful things we have to be grateful for?

In the end, it comes down to this: if we still lived in the wild and had to fend for ourselves against the elements and nature’s other inhabitants, as well as gather sustenance through our own accord, I can assure you that it’d be US who were on the verge of extinction. So again I ask you, how is it that we are the more intellectual of creatures? Yes, we’ve created a great number of tools and technological devices to aid in our survival, but in turn we’ve also created diseases, weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation (which WILL kill us off if it’s not culled sooner as opposed to later), HATE, WAR, exploitation, slavery, rape, unwarranted violence (ie: not a means of self-defence), and WORSE many of these aforementioned creations have now become a form of amusement for many through media. For the more sensitive or perhaps apathetic, we’ve also got drugs and mind-numbing entertainment pursuits to escape into our own selfish existences and be blinded from all of the pain, suffering, and agony that we continue to reap onto this world.

On the other side of things, in the animal kingdom and even our own humble beginnings, conflict was/is justifiable: it’s inherently based on limited resources whether we’ve talking food, shelter or mates OR distinctive/outright threat (ie: a means of self/group-preservation). There is a sense of kinship to protect one’s own and a sense of duty and honour to sacrifice oneself if it means it’ll save one’s offspring or “pack”. There is an understanding of living in harmony with the natural world and never taking more than one’s entitled share. There is a deep connection with the forces so that disaster planning and evacuation can be well-executed without privileging certain groups over others; if certain groups appear “privileged”, it’s merely a symptom of natural selection as opposed to the preservation of certain classes, religions, races etc. Every member of a pack is expected to pull its own weight and praise isn’t given to some over others as such a concept would lead to divisiveness and therefore put the health and safety of the group at risk. Because motivation is “other-oriented”, there isn’t time or tolerance for corruption, cheating, lying, stealing or other self-serving malicious intent. There’s no need for an established legal system as society itself is self-monitoring. Actions are primarily based on the simple instinct to survive. One species doesn’t flourish to the detriment of another: there is room for predator and prey, flora and fauna, microscopic and giant.

There is a human social structure equivalent to what I’ve described above and it goes by the “evil” (as propaganda would have you believe) names socialism and/or communism. Call me old-fashioned but I really do believe we could learn a thing or two from our Neanderthal brothers and sisters…not to mention the REAL world. The natural world is after all the only one that truly matters.

Throw away socially-constructed differences. Throw away money. Throw away Ipods. Throw away corporate conglomerates. We can and have in fact survived without all of these things for some time. Throw away oxygen, fresh water, food and shelter – I can’t see us getting very far.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Vol #2, Col #17: No News is Good News

I’m a sucker for a good biopic. Though I can’t quite put my finger on why it’s the case, there’s something just more appealing to me about watching a film that’s based on true events and real life people that once existed.

While it was no grade A cinematic experience (ie: it was a “made-for-tv” movie), the other day I bore witness to “The True Story of Bonnie & Clyde”. Compiled from documents and narratives from those who knew them personally, the aforementioned screenplay detailed the borderline abusive and extremely manipulative relationship that existed between the couple. 

Now, if it weren’t for my chance viewing of this film, I still would very much be under the misconception I’m sure many of you shared with me that both Bonnie and Clyde were equally matched renegades who happened to find each other and spiral madly into a romantic affair based on their shared love of violence and crime. Well my friends, I hate to burst your bubble, but this media spun sensationalistic version of their tale couldn’t be further from the truth. All of this led me to question: “what has the role of the media (moreover “the news media”) become in modern society if recounting stories from purely objective factual stances is clearly no longer their strong suit?”

Now, it’s no new “a-ha moment” that the media (in all of its forms) sadly need to first and foremost appease their corporate sponsors and advertisers as said companies allow them to continue to exist. However, not so long ago I do recall the expression, “freedom of the press” being heralded when a controversial story broke, and investigative journalism being something one aspired to.

These days, on the contrary, the vast majority of Canada’s mainstream media is owned by only a handful of corporate conglomerates that regurgitate the same news items among themselves. Not only does this lead to a skewed perception of reality, but further it censors dissenting thoughts because it’d be “bad business practice” to out the conglomerate(s) responsible for keeping you employed no matter what their other business dealings may reveal.
With the upsurge of citizen journalism (ie: newstelling by the people) because of the blogosphere, camera cell phones, and sites like Youtube, despite its obvious flaw in that it lacks any sense of established “standard”, there was a growing sense of hope that the “news” would revert back to the reporting of factual events and happenings about which the public has a right to know as opposed to sheer propaganda for corporate sponsors. But, it would seem that nothing is sacred as marketers are now locking jaws onto any opportunity they can to promote their products and services on free-to-use social networking and citizen journalism sites.

While one could argue that what I’ve outlined above captures the very rationale behind and need for public government-funded broadcasters, in my experience, I hate to say it, but they typically aren’t much better in terms of business practises. With restrictive broadcasting guidelines and a similar bureaucratic all-seeing eye, the news that passes through filter upon filter upon filter before reaching the public is very much a “whitewashed version”; hardly what we should expect, moreover demand from those who are supposedly the “watchdogs of our nation.” This, of course, makes sense though given that many governments, in recent years, have allowed big businesses to bypass legislation (including laws associated with universal human rights, no joke!) purely to keep their economies a-booming. But I digress…

The point is this: as dictated by several associations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, there exists a code of ethics, akin to the Hippocratic Oath that physicians are to abide by, in order to protect the public and “professionalize” the field. “Truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability” are values that are supposed to be held paramount to all others if one chooses to undertake this line of work.

People make decisions based on the information with which they are provided. Said decisions lead to actions which have real-life consequences. While information is accessible through many outlets in the modern age, many of us still rely heavily on the news media in order to remain informed. If we are supposed to act intelligently as informed citizens, I don’t think it’s too much to ask of our news media to do just that (ie: inform us, NOT selectively and NOT with bias).

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Vol #2, Col #16: Counting…Speech?

In the spirit of the season, last week on that special day on which we traditionally consume copious amounts of turkey (well, tofurky for us vegans), I wanted to publicly display my gratitude…in other words, “give thanks.” As my friends and family are scattered both near and far, it seemed to me that the most obvious way to reach such a dispersed group would be by taking advantage of one of the ever-populating social networking sites, like Facebook.

So there I was composing an epic speech acknowledging that I was appreciative of everything from my man to my cats to the food in my fridge, and just as I went to post it as my status, a nasty little pop-up window appeared informing me that apparently I’m too thankful as I had overshot the character count by some hundred words. Left with no choice, I revised and edited, rephrased and rewrote. By the time I was finally able to post my acclamation, I worried it had both lost its essence and further that people would begin to believe that I was ill-acquainted with the laws of syntax and how they apply to the English language (ie: I had to remove all apostrophes and other proper grammatical markers, as well as use the digital form for all numeric references even if they were below the number ten just to make it fit).

Luckily, my loved ones understood – they’ve always known me to be a verbose creature – but this whole ordeal got me ruminating and I came to the following conclusion (as posted on my wall directly below my FB status, and yes I’m quoting myself): “I suppose it’s a rather sad reflection on modern society if most people CAN compile their complex thoughts into such restrictive word limits OR that further most people WON’T devote time to reading something that exceeds said word limits.”

Now the ironic part about my conception of this conviction is that throughout my highschool academic career (something to which my mom can contest), anytime I could get my hands on Cliffs Notes instead of actually delving into real literature, I would jump on the opportunity; the only exceptions being for works of my lovers from beyond the grave Billy S. and the man who told tales of all-telling hearts (I know, further ironic – these are two authors that most highschoolers can’t stand or understand for that matter.). All of this changed however when I hit college…

Perhaps it was a lack of maturity or just a god awful selection of texts (ie: “Death of a Salesman” anyone?!) or a combination of the two, but I truly didn’t begin to appreciate the written word as a “page turner” (thought I’ve always enjoyed writing) until I embarked on my six year post-secondary stint. But my love for books didn’t originate as a consequence of crime fiction, romances, or poetry (though those are all wicked genres). No, it was the textbook, specifically those of the Social Science variety, and later the autobiography that made me re-think my firmly established hatred of literary scholarship.

So why am I telling you this? Well, for starters, it seems to me that it is a rare person indeed who spends their evenings inside simply cuddled up with good books anymore. Oh, we can devote countless hours of watching reality tv shows or worst viral videos, but to appreciate literature or transcribed life stories, well clearly that’s not as worthy of a time investment (note the sarcasm).

Secondly, even when we read, because we have become so ingrained with a “live fast” mentality AND because so much of the information that we now access is electronic in nature, we tend to skim over a lot necessary detail which results in frequent miscommunications (ie: I’m sure all of you have been in a texting war with someone due to misinterpretation of what was being expressed).

While it’s just speculation at the moment, I recently heard that physical book publishing is increasingly going out of style because of the upsurge of handheld device ownership and internet usage in the classroom. In its place, it’s been suggested that the books of the future will be purely electronic in nature, complete with hypertext systems that allow for easy navigation from section to section.

I don’t know about you, but staring at a computer screen for hours on end personally makes me dizzy. Further, I think it’s a fair statement to suggest that intangible works of art (whether mp3s separated from their albums and their artwork or jpeg renderings of da Vinci’s finest) aren’t as valued. Does this mean that the future of Romeo & Juliet is looking even more grim? I certainly hope not!

The truth of the matter is this: you read more and you read more deeply when you have to caress a book’s physicality, just like you appreciate a marvel of nature more in person than in history books. For your own sake as well as the sake of the amazing array of fine literature and philosophical thought we’ve developed throughout the ages, learn to appreciate the art of reading, and no 140 character word-limit tweets don’t count.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Vol #2, Col: #15: From “We’re All in this Together” to “Every Man, Women AND Child for Themselves”!

I’m 26 years old and I’m a member in a union. No, I’m not a mechanic or a tradesperson, nor is my membership mandatory because of the company with which I’m employed. On the contrary, a great deal of persons (particularly those within my demographic) working within my profession, avoid my union like the plague. But I’m not here to try and sell you on the member benefits of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM, for short) – you can easily peruse said details for yourself by taking a hop, skip and/or jump over to their official website. Rather, I’m here to question why it is exactly that voluntary unionism is on the decline, and what this means for us good old “worker bees” versus “The Queen”.

For those of you who also read my music advice and insight column, “So You Wanna be in a Rock Band?”, in my discussion of legal provisions I feel professional players should become acquainted with, you’ll note that I briefly mentioned how and why unionism first developed back in the mid-1800s.

In a nutshell, as factory work and industrialism began to grow exponentially, instances of worker exploitation and maltreatment (not to mention a lack thereof of any safety or health protocols) become widespread. The solution (for a long time anyhow) was for the proletariat to bind together in their shared “class consciousness” and collectively fight the powers that be (ie: the bourgeois) in order to negotiate better labour conditions. Unsurprisingly, considering that those with the most political bargaining power tend to be high income earners/contributors (a fact still relevant), union formation has been deemed illegal in many territories throughout history. 

We’ve obviously come a long way since industrialism prevailed, as evidenced by the fact that more and more traditional factories are ceasing operations annually. For the few that have managed to stay afloat, the employment of robotic labour forces is becoming an increasingly popular trend. Further, in recent times, abuses of power committed by unions (as opposed to employers) have created cause for concern: our own city’s bus drivers demanding higher wages during a time of economic depression speaks for itself. Understandably then, I can appreciate why unionism has cultivated a bad reputation as of late and why persons, particularly those my age, have become skeptical toward it, along with virtually any other longstanding “traditional” business practise.

But this drive away from uniting in a “fight against the man” toward taking any and all actions (whether honourable or not) in order to ensure that one comes out ahead also has to do with a social mentality shift. The obsession with being incessantly tuned into one’s iPod that appeals to one’s individualistic selective tastes (and therefore tunes OUT everyone and everything else around oneself), just barely begins to scratch the success.   

Think about it, in addition to caring about the livelihood of one’s fellow employees, being a member of the union also stood as a symbol for taking pride in one’s profession and a desire to be part of a movement that could make a difference in the wider social domain. Much like the way of the Dodo, the idea of collectivism, whether we’re talking about joining forces in a fight for the implementation of legislation that encourages environmentalism or simply having the backs of those within one’s immediate vicinity, seems to have, by and large, gone extinct.

I’ll give you that issues of inflation, high taxation rates, and a lack of permanent/stable jobs available on the marketplace are too key contributors. Ironically however, these social dilemmas – the things that have driven us toward this newfound excessive self-focused mentality – are the very SAME things that union supporters and other social collectives sought to prevent.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Vol #2, Col #14: How about a Little Substance Between all that “Fluff”?

I recently found myself quite bored at my day job. Almost always there’s something for me to do to chip away at the old 9-5 (either work-related or personal). But this past Sunday, with no new client inquiries and prime touring season yet to take hold, I found myself in a situation that proves rare in my life: I had TOO MUCH free time! Anticipating that we wouldn’t get hit with a sudden influx of activity (I had worked the day prior and it was much the same), I planned in advance. From a stack that’s been building up since last April (no word of a lie), I gathered some 10 magazines in hope they would provide me with some amusement as a means to pass the time.

Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I’ve even conceived of having a moment to sit back, relax, and delve into something non-academic or career-oriented; given this, I prepared myself for a very different reading experience, prior to cracking open the spines. While I’ve never held delusions that women’s fashion magazines primarily contain in-depth thoughtful analyses of the modern world, at one point in between the hair colour, acne, and jewelry ads, there was room for cheeky editorials, touching personal stories or at least somewhat interesting featurettes…apparently NOT anymore.

Ad after ad after ad followed by thinly veiled “fluff” pieces for companies no doubt contributing to the magazines’ payroll, and yet MORE ads is what I encountered. Christ, I couldn’t even read the sections regarding health advice, without having products pushed in my direction that would no doubt “cure” the very ailments that were being discussed. Coincidental? I think not!

The sections, however, I found most “interesting” (and I use that term loosely) were those of the “readers’ letters” in which women (and I suppose perhaps the occasional man) sent in their praises for their favourite mags and all they have to offer. Seeing as I’ve previously established that beyond being pimps for consumerism and materialism the magazines collectively lacked altogether in the substance department, I came to the conclusion that these so-called “readers” must too either be on the magazines’ payroll, or at the very least work for the companies who got sweet deals on their advertising rates.

A recent attempt at watching a little on the boobtube proved equally disappointing. My viewing experience, one that was sub-par at best (and I’m talking about when the program was actually ON) ended rather abruptly when I just couldn’t deal with being inundated with commercial, after commercial any longer. If there’s anyone out there my age or younger who STILL listens to the radio by CHOICE (ie: NOT because it plays in the background at your workplace), you’ll find much the same: the sheer volume of campaigns for publicity completely overpower any sense of enjoyment and entertainment the media once offered. Ironically, ads that I once upon a time looked forward to taking in (ie: the “coming attractions” and “coming soon to DVD” trailers that previously held homes on movies you rent from the store) have been for all intents and purposes eliminated!

I will give marketers that in today’s oversaturated and over-stimulated world, reaching let alone maintaining the interest of a given target population is proving increasingly difficult (hence, why we are now seeing annoying efforts to have our social networking sites fully infiltrated with promotions for this thing and the next). With that said however, I’d like to point out there are certain products and services that, at this point, really do NOT need to be promoted, even if they’ve undergone “makeovers” or have had “improvements” made to their model. Perhaps advertisers are aware of this fact and simply don’t want to lose their jobs? Let’s take something as common sense as the razor blade:

Frankly, I personally don’t really care if I’m buying “no name” or store brand so long as I’m getting the specifications I desire fulfilled. Price too, weighs heavily into the equation. Do I really need to see yet another Mach Three or Daisy Razor commercial demonstrating their ever expanding razor heads? Not really. I know what works for me. I know what doesn’t. I can’t be the only one.

This trend toward “OVER-advertising” is certainly not helping any, given our current economic state. People are down and out because of money problems, work stresses, and/or familial discord. Consumerism is championed as the cure. Rather than address the TRUE issues that underlie their malaise, people are being taught they can have it all if they continue to spiral into debt by gratifying their needs in an immediate and superficial manner through impulse buying. Need I point out, in the immortal albeit paraphrased words of The Beatles, “you can’t buy me [or anyone else] love.”