Thursday, September 26, 2013

David Gilmour

I see David Gilmour all the time.

He used to host a program on CBC Newsworld called On The Arts.  I used to watch it a lot, in part because it was almost the only thing on TV that had much to do with the arts, even though "arts" usually meant film and literature reviews, and not much music, which was what I was actually interested in.

But I do remember a few things about the show and his attitude, things that stuck with me for some reason. Firstly, he had a really combative interview with Brad Pitt over Fight Club.  It was interesting because everyone was looking at the movie as "culture jamming" and Gilmour was taking him to task because he felt that a big Hollywood production was incapable of culture jamming in the way the marketing of the movie implied.

I liked it because after years of watching these publicity "interviews" I thought it was unusual for the interviewer to actually call a celebrity out on what they thought was bullshit.  It also made me question what Fight Club was about, and made me realise that I had completely bought into the marketing of the film as being equivalent to the effect of the film.

I also remember him often saying that he didn't like Shakespeare because "he's boring".


When I first moved to Toronto, I lived at Bloor and Brunswick, pretty much the heart of the Annex neighborhood here in Toronto.  I saw David Gilmour a lot there.  Then I moved away and didn't see him around much.

When I started doing grad school at the University of Toronto, I started seeing him again.  He's one of those funny people in one's city life where, even though you don't really know him, he always seems to be around the same places as you.  I go to a cheese shop in Kensington, and he's there.  I grab lunch at Victoria College, and he's there.  I can't avoid him.

I don't really know him.  But until yesterday at least, I really quite admired him, mainly because of this article he wrote about Tolstoy.  This is one of my all-time favourite articles about a writer.  I don't know why I liked it so much back in the day, but I did, and it made me go out and buy War and Peace.  And oddly enough, the last time I saw him, which is usually at least once a week, he was going up Yonge street, and I mentioned to my girlfriend that I might go and tell him how much I loved that Tolstoy article in the Walrus.

But now I feel ashamed to admit that.


Why, you are asking, because you do not have an rss feed reader?  Because of this.  He has since kind of apologized, but the thing that really comes out of that interview is the fact that he seems to utterly lack charity.

This is ironic because the Tolstoy article is all about coming around to Tolstoy, about imagining that he would hate it, and then reading it, and realising how wonderful it was.  It was that joy of discovery that really affected me in a positive way, and I can imagine that if he can come across that way in a classroom, it would be very inspiring.

But I cannot help but think now that his Tolstoy article was a work of fiction more than a work of memoir, as he seems completely incapable of understanding how his remarks might be interpreted as deeply, deeply uncharitable to women, or to nearly anyone.  This interview makes his experience of Tolstoy sound impossible.


I want to contrast Gilmour's controversy with the one I wrote last week about Jonathan Franzen.  Both are causing a lot of controversy, but I was surprised by how much of the Franzen controversy surrounded what he wrote about women, and also by how differently I read those passages.

They are both middle-aged white men (I am also perilously close to that demographic) but where I see Gilmour blind to his own uh, blind spots, I read in Franzen a self-deprecating moment that, perhaps having been a young man myself, I could identify with that ingrained youthful sexism where, even if you are a "nice guy", you still somehow believe that your grand gestures should be acknowledged as signs of greatness (and virility), and when they aren't, it really offends your ego.  Never mind that she may have her own feelings and thoughts on this, and have different wants and needs.

And I look back on some of those moments, and I feel badly about them, and I hope to talk to my son about those things in a way where he doesn't find himself in those kinds of situations of being angry with yourself, and with the world, because you cannot control whether or not people are attracted to you or not.  A lot of other critics read him as just being straight up sexist, and I don't agree with that at all.  But then perhaps people will imagine that my saying what I just did is sexist.  And then I suppose it's true that there is no space for conversation on the Internet, and Franzen is right again!

Anyway, I suppose my point is that where I thought many critics were uncharitable to Franzen, it seems pretty clear to me that Gilmour lacks that charity towards others. They are being compared to each other (right now on the Internet!) as symbols for creepy/irrelevant old dude power, when it seems pretty clear to me that, at least from the standpoint of women, they are coming at things from wildly different perspectives. It is also true that they are older white dudes.

But as it stands, I think it will be kind of awkward seeing David Gilmour around (I know I will!) and I don't know if that bizarre familiarity will lead me to feel sorry for him, or kind of pissed off that he managed to poison my nuanced and thoughtful admiration (as you can see from above) of him.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Craig Davidson

One of those lucky few (ha ha) to have a sidebar link from my prestigious blog is the Canadian author Craig Davidson.

I'm not actually sure how I encountered his work, although, I think it was from this, where he savages a review of a book on the old literary site the Danforth Review.  (The exchange is actually kind of funny...)

Anyway, it led me to his blog, which honestly, has been one of the funniest things I've ever read.  If you look watch this recent CBC interview, the interviewer mentions that the men always wound up smelling like doughnuts, and I can't help but think he is referring to an old blog post about his dad working at the Ridpath Sugar Factory, which had me in tears.   It looks like that post has long since vanished, so it will only live in my heart (and mind) as some of the funniest stuff I've ever read.  That being said, he's still very, very funny!

What's great about his blog is how different it is from his work as a novelist, but taken together they show a wonderful and convincing range on his part.  I'm really happy to see that he's doing so well, with one of his books turned into a movie, and the latest one on the Giller longlist.

I actually ran into him once, at a bar called Pauper's here in Toronto, and I (unsuccessfully) tried to get him a job!  That was years ago, but nevertheless I'm going to pick up his book, which will be strange given how much I hate Canadian fiction, but it seems like the least I can do for all the entertainment he has given me over the years.  If nothing else I have a table leg that needs balancing.

Seriously though, I would urge you to check out his blog and buy his book!

Thursday, September 19, 2013


A few weeks ago, via the blog Sounds and Fury, an article on how America’s orchestra’s are in crisis. I have been debating whether or not to write on it, in part because it reads to me like something that is right in the overall conclusion but wrong in the details. So like many articles that come across my virtual desk, I was planning on just ignoring it. Also, is this really a classical music blog? I guess it is, with a smattering of terrible posts on Rob Ford...

Anyway, I was going to ignore it, but then it popped up on Metafilter. And the comments there really annoyed me, as they often do on Metafilter. (I do really like Metafilter, by the way!) Perhaps because so much of the bile directed toward classical music is the same straw man that I have written about many, many times before, that it’s hopelessly elitist and inaccessible to “average” people, and that if only classical music were MARKETED appropriately, we wouldn’t have these problems. I think this is completely wrong.

There are a bunch of insightful comments too, about maybe the fact that it’s become increasingly unaffordable to play or learn classical music, or any music for that matter, as Public schools have increasingly purged their schools of viable arts programs. That might actually be a huge reason for it, but the whole “classical music needs to be accessible, and this elitist jerk just wants to push regular people out of the classical music halls” is something I’ve been accused of a million times.

I am even writing this knowing full well that the very idea of a "crisis" in orchestras has been shown to be a very old trope by classical music bloggers far more involved and insightful than I am.  But hey, no one can stop me!

Perhaps before you read what I write, you should read the New Republic article.

Done? OK.

I’d like to propose the possibility that the article actually does something really good. In looking at outreach as something that has cost a lot of money but yielded almost nothing in return, it has exposed a strain in North American classical music culture that has been there since I got into classical music in the early 90’s.

But hey, while we’re in the 1990’s, how about I describe, for the benefit of my audience, what growing up in Calgary Alberta in the late 80’s and early 90’s felt like from the perspective of a budding classical musician. I don’t really know if there was any outreach or those kinds of things when I was a kid. I never attended a classical music concert until high school, and I never took piano lessons as a kid. So how did I wind up getting a BA in music?


I had taken band throughout junior high, and although I enjoyed it, the idea of becoming a professional music never occurred to me, especially as a tuba player. I enjoyed sitting at the back of the band, playing away, but seriously, who thinks about becoming a professional tuba player?. My first week of high school, that all changed. The high school band had a retreat out at a farm the first weekend of September, and we were treated to a concert by a local brass quintet, followed by a clinic.
So here I met this professional tuba player. And he was perhaps, the most infectiously excited and hilarious person I had ever met in my life. By the end of our lesson with him, I wanted to take tuba lessons, and within a pretty short period of time, say 4 months, I had stopped listening to pop music and was spending most of my time ducking out of school to see free organ concerts and listening to Bach.

But when I look back on this, and I peel away the layers of “my life”, it’s not hard to see that there was a pretty robust infrastructure (sorry, not sure how else to describe it) that supported my ability to pursue classical music.

For example, I rented a brand new professional level Yamaha Bb tuba from the Calgary Board of Education, and I think it cost about $100 per year. Can you imagine? Can you possibly imagine, in this day and age, that not only would a local board of education rent out their own instruments, but that they would heavily subsidize a student’s ability to play it? Here in Toronto, they were talking about getting rid of all the part-time music teachers!


So this New Republic article. Here’s the thing. When I was growing up, in Alberta, it was pretty easy to be a classical musician and not be rich. Yes, there were lots of rich kids doing it too, I met a lot of them, but there were tons of incredibly talented kids who came from relatively poor backgrounds. We all somehow found this music, and we loved it, and we were supported in it. By the government...

Philip Kennicott’s point, at least to me, isn’t that all these pop musicians should get off his lawn, but that the classical music industry one day decided that instead of just being happy with what it had, classical music needed to “grow” its audience. So what does it do? It alienates the very people who paid the bills in the first place, and then blames the decline on some ridiculous notion of inaccessibility.

Pointing to my own education, I never once felt shamed or degraded showing up to a classical music concert as a teenager, dressed rather poorly. In fact, as a student, they had $10 rush tickets in Calgary.

What Philip Kennicott is describing is the same affliction that plagues most non-profit organizations, from hospitals to universities. It’s that they are administered by people who fundamentally believe that the only way in which to gauge the health of any organization is whether or not it’s growing.

In other words, even non-profit organizations must somehow conform to the logic of capital, even if it doesn’t make any sense. They have to find new audiences, but what does even mean? In my case, it was having a school system that made it easy (and cheap) to get really involved in music, and then a broader community that behaved the same way.

I feel as though so much of what one reads about classical music these days is a self-fulfilling prophecy, that we need to find new audiences, when in reality, and this is likely how it’s always been, the audiences will find them.


And I say this having just read Musical Toronto to see that French CBC is replacing their Saturday afternoon opera broadcasts with a pop show.

Anyone familiar with my blog knows how I feel about what happened to CBC Radio 2, and I don't really bother speaking about it anymore because I haven't listened to Radio 2 in nearly 3 years. But what's going on with the CBC is part and parcel of this perverse need to "grow" arts organizations and find new audiences whether they need them or not.

What's especially awful in the classical music realm is that this always seems to be a zero-sum game. At the CBC, they realised that the only way to gain a new audience was by completely destroying their old one. Hiring Ben Heppner to host Saturday Afternoon at the Opera might look like a coup, but when they cannot even afford to record performances of operas in Canada, it smacks more as an attempt to cover up the fact that they've gotten rid of everything else. CBC is now trying to do "outreach" by bringing in a big name in the hopes that it will improve ratings for them.

They are also going to start having ads on Radio 2. What can I say? It just reminds me of that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa sees into the future and Marge is in bed and says "You know, Fox turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn't even notice."


But what do all these digressions have to do with the aforementioned article? Well, I guess I'm trying to get across the idea that there's so much more to the waning popularity of classical music than marketing. How about actually teaching kids music in schools, or making it cheap and easy to learn music in a community? 

And maybe it's going to be really bad for a while, because there's been an entire generation here in North America who have grown up in very different circumstances than I did, and it's entirely possible that for them, none of this is worth saving. But the reality is, it's not their fault, it's ours.

Perhaps this is my concern with where writers like Alex Ross point out that there are far more new music groups out there now than 30 years ago, or Lisa Hirsch suggests that there is likely no crisis in "classical" music, the one thing that is difficult to avoid is that even if there are a lot of ensembles out there, how many of those people are making any money at it, and if they are, is it anywhere near a living wage?  And if we don't teach music to kids anymore, or price it out of their range, who is going to listen to it?

I think I'll end here because this piece is bad and digressive enough as it is!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

One Language to Rule us all!

Here's a depressing (albeit anecdotal) read.  It's about how native English speakers, who also fluently speak another language like German or Korean, have discovered that Germans or Koreans are actually insulted when an English speaker speaks to them in their native language.

As a Canadian, I have become somewhat accustomed to going to Montreal and finding it nearly impossible to speak French with anyone.  I am bilingual, having spent my entire school life in French immersion, but it's obvious that I was not brought up in Quebec, and so I've found it a challenge to speak French in Montreal.

Outside of Montreal it's a completely different story, but it used to really frustrate me to have to speak English to Quebecois who could barely do so, just because they were offended by the fact that I could speak their language, and my French was much better than their English.  This kind of suspicion, I think, is part of what's motivating the PQ's recent decision to ban religious symbols from public spaces.  But this was the mid-1990's, the height of the Separatist fervor and the 1995 referendum, and so I chalked it up to that.

As for Germany, my experience has usually been pretty positive.  People will respond to me in English when I begin speaking with them, but I usually think they are doing this as a courtesy, because when I respond again in German, they respond in German.  Most people I encountered in Germany seemed somewhat relieved that they didn't have to speak English, in part because although nearly everyone speaks it, it's easier (for all of us!) to converse in one's native tongue.  Often people seemed relieved to be able to speak German instead of English.  I might not have felt relieved, but that was my problem!

But there is a larger issue here, one that is raised in the post.  I was speaking to some Medievalist friends yesterday, and they noted that the language requirements in their department have been watered down over the years, because students are not coming to the program with much in the way of foreign languages.  We lament this, but the fact that Universities are closing down their language departments and schools no longer teach Latin means that it's quite likely, even in Canada where everyone "learns" French, to have a student population who has had no meaningful exposure to a second language, where it's messed up their brain a bit and made it soft for learning other languages.

I think this is a really big issue for those of us in the North American Humanities - it's not just that people (maybe) don't want to speak with us in anything but English when we are abroad, it's that really learning a bunch of languages, when you are a native English speaker, is a cost you do not have to bear, because you can always rely on English anyway.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Torched, or, Social Media is a Symptom of Existential Boredom, Not its Cure.

Jonathan Franzen wrote  an article about the Internet last week (on the Internet, oh the hypocrisy, it's like Noam Chomsky owning stocks!) and the Internet is furious ab- no wait, actually, the Internet is rather dismissive of it.  Actually, they focus on the fact that he dislikes Twitter and then reply that other people, even famous authors like Jonathan Franzen, like and use Twitter.

But dear readers, you are sitting there, at your computer (or perhaps you print off everyone of my blog posts to savour them the way they were intended to be read, on paper) and waiting to read my opinion of Jonathan Franzen's opinion of the Internet, by way of an introduction to his translations of Karl Kraus with respect to Kraus' views on Heinrich Heine.

Well, I had intended to reserve judgement, in part because it just so happens that Heine is the subject of my PhD dissertation!  Moreover, I think Kraus' piece on Heine, which had a tremendous (and negative) influence on the subsequent reception on Heine, is a deeply flawed piece, and I suppose I want to give Franzen the benefit of the doubt to see what he takes from Kraus' essay.  And I intended to talk about it later on, when the book is out, if it's worthwhile.

I say if it's worthwhile because, having subscribed to the digitized archive of Kraus' die Fackel years ago and also having read quite a bit of him, I have to say that I don't really get Karl Kraus.  I get that he's angry, and I get how he feels about language, but what he writes does not resonate with me.  So when I read Franzen's piece, beyond the fact that there's a major American author attempting to do something relentlessly uh, highbrow, (an Austrian?) I was genuinely interested to see where he would take this.

But what didn't really occur to me was that the overwhelming response to his taking a dead Austrian misanthrope and bringing him to a wider audience was to dismiss everything he says because he doesn't really like what Twitter or the Internet are doing to us, and that all the people criticizing him are doing so because they like to tweet and use Facebook.  And because he isn't as popular as Norman Mailer.

In fact, it seems that his audience is incredibly hostile to the very idea that Franzen (or Kraus) could have anything of value to say about the Internet, or perhaps anything at all.  I woke up at the start of the week, and looked around the Internet, and Franzen is everywhere on social media. In other words, watching how people are reacting to this on Twitter, or elsewhere, is a case study in exactly what he's getting at.

It's not good.

Some people seem to hate the essay because it's long, as in more than 140 characters (gotcha!), but what's really perverse is just how desperately so many people (as in half the people who write for the New Inquiry) seem to focus on defending the Internet, as though the Internet needs defending.

It reminds me of all the times I've dealt with people who like non-classical music criticize my love of classical music because they reflexively see Beethoven as a kind of existential threat to popular music's existence.  But this fits right into that - note how many articles about this quickly point out that Franzen is an old white dude, who likes old white German dudes!  You cannot get any more elitist than liking old Germans!

But need I remind all of you, the war is over, Rock and the Internet won, young people are our future and they love technology and so you should never listen to old men who have spent 20-30 years reading and thinking about someone and who then use that to criticize your anxious, incessant electronic emissions, except that he's not criticizing your emissions, he's criticizing why everyone finds those emissions so essential to the functioning of modern life.

Or that the Twitter account is modern life, that yes, it's true, it's really true, your tweet is the final word on all that he wrote, 140 characters and a smartphone is all anyone needs to respond to a 5000 word essay.

I think what really bothers (even angers!) Jonathan Franzen is that the latest iteration of modernity (I mean the one since maybe 2006?) is accelerating the replacement of knowledge with reaction which has been a long-standing feature of modernity (I'm thinking of modernity as something invented in 1797 in Jena by some young German dudes).  It's the whole Enlightenment vs. Romanticism thing, again.

I cannot help but agree with him.


I have to confess, I have thought about getting a Twitter account again.  I had one years ago for work reasons, but deleted it because it freaked me out.  Why the hell would these random people want to read my text messages?  But then I have to admit that I really enjoy Teju Cole's twitter feed.

But then, as someone who worked in an environment during the transition from letter mail to e-mail, and watched as people's concerns about political issues moved from having to take the time to write out a letter, and then put a stamp on it, and send it along, to simply sitting down in front of a computer (as I am now) and typing out the first things that come to you when you read/see/hear something, is it really, really crazy to think that there was something better about the long hand-written or typed letter?  That my free blog is perhaps not the best possible way to conduct conversations in the public sphere?

Lately, Franzen (and I) are not alone.  The publisher of Harper's, John R. MacArthur, writes in this month's issue a jeremiad against the publishing industry's race to the bottom, they who, in the spirit of competition, hoped that giving everything away for free would magically produce profits, when all really did was impoverish writers and create the expectation that everything online, including well-written and well-researched writing, should be free.

And recently, Rebecca Solnit had a piece on how our feeling of time changed in the 90's with the advent of e-mail how the acceleration of social media has transformed (not always for the better) our lives in ways that only someone like her, a writer, could meaningfully and cogently articulate.

Is it terribly uncharitable of Franzen to dislike much of what the Internet has simply because lots of other people have Stockholm Syndrome from spending so much time online that they no longer distinguish reflecting on the Internet from being on the Internet?

I quit Facebook about 3 years ago, mainly because, I didn't really like it.  And for the most part, leaving has had no impact on my life.

But it's telling what people say when you tell them you're not on Facebook.  They tell you about how much I am missing out on because I'm not on Facebook, including actual parties.  All I can think to myself is that if people aren't inviting me to parties because I'm not on Facebook, that's probably not a problem, because they probably didn't really want me there anyway.  People who want to see me, or invite me somewhere, have a wide assortment of tools at their disposal with which to communicate with me and invite me to things.

But at the same time, while so many explain to me the necessity of social media, I know very few people who actually like Facebook, or Twitter, as in, they love nothing more than sitting down and using these things.  Rather, it often strikes me as though everyone is consuming some low-protein gruel that they cannot stop eating, but that never fills them up.

All of these technologies are so hungry, for our reactions, for our thoughts, for our time.  And for what?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Nein Quarterly

The biggest problem with being such a terribly inconsistent blogger is that my many plans never come to fruition. Worse, I never even tell anyone about those plans that never come to fruition!

But at one point, I thought to myself, "Hey, I'm a Germanist, getting a PhD at a German department at an actual university!" (In fact, that is how many of you have found me!) Thought continued - "I should strive to become the biggest Germanist in the blogosphere! Yeah, I'm going to focus on that, oh hey look, a dog with a puffy tail! Come here Puff Puff!"

Anyway, as someone who has actually publicly defended Adorno on jazz, all I can say is that I wish I had come up with something like Nein Quarterly because it's both funny and also sounds a lot like this character I do for a very, very, very small group of people...but 36,000 followers for a Germanist making fun of Germans is impressive.

I guess I can give up my dream of being the Fü-, no wait, that's not good, I mean the top Germanist online...

Yes, it is crazy that I'm promoting a twitter feed, but here we are, where blogging is an old-fashioned medium, and twitter is the telegraph of our age. I think it was Hegel who said that the Owl of Minerva, who made it difficult to listen to Beethoven because it would not stop hooting, was the Pudelskern of modernity, but Twitter is something, I think!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sad but True

There was a time when I hoped that this blog, if nothing else, would land me some free review copies of classical CDs/DVDs and books. That really seems insane to me now, not just because I never really put the work into this blog to justify anyone sending me anything, but because I thought that marketing other people's work because they sent it to me for free would be a good thing for me and this blog.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Einbahnstrasse as a Lost Paradigm for Blogging

So I'm re-reading Walter Benjamin's One-Way Street and it occurs to me, as I suspect it occurs to nearly everyone, just how bloggy it is. The discrete sections, seemingly unrelated, yet which nonetheless amount to a whole - could there be a better description of the experience of reading a blog? (It should come as no surprise that there is a One-Way Street blog)

There is a difference between the average blog and Benjamin's Einbahnstrasse - Benjamin intended his bits and pieces to come together, he slaved over their order of presentation (He reminds one of Wittgenstein in this respect).

Wasn't this the great, yet unrealized promise of blogging? That at the end (or along the way) many of them should be turned into a book? Blogging now feels less writing creating a book on the side, and more like maintaining the cork board at a Student Centre, so that the advertising of piano lessons and the selling of bicycles remains a satisfying experience for the student consumer. That being said, I suppose it is some badge of honour that the most regular visitors to my blog are people who come to crib materials for their undergraduate essays on Aristotle. Welcome cheaters! Bask in the illusory authority of the Internet, where what I write looks good, but could be entirely wrong, and all my citations made up just like in Flann O'Brien's The Dalkey Archive.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Kids are learning Socialism instead of Math! Or, why do so many adults hate the fact that we no longer beat children in schools anymore?

I knew I shouldn't have clicked on this Margaret Wente article, about how "the system" is failing Canadian kids at math.

But I did, in part beacuse a) my son has started school again, and b) he seems to have a hell of a lot of math classes! In fact, math seems to squeeze everything else out of his education this year. The fact that Wente claims that math is all but invisible in her column set off my BS-detector because it's the exact opposite of what an actual child in the Canadian school system is actually experiencing.

Maybe it's a trick by the teacher to teach them about the wonders of Stalin and the glories of East Berlin before the fall of the Wall, but I'm going to hedge my bets and say that the schedule is accurate, and that he's spending more time doing math than any other subject, by a considerable margin.

It is true, however, that last year's math test scores in Ontario are a bit lower in Grade 3 and 6 than they have been in the past 5 years. And it's true that there might be a trend there. But the pedagogical "issues" Margaret Wente is describing have been around since I was in school in the very late 1970's.

As always, I both encourage you and discourage you from reading the comments. They are the usual miasma of incohate rage and conjecture about how no longer forcing children to memorize times tables and teaching them creative ways to problem solve is Socialist Liberal Communists ruining our society and "failing our children". Except that it's not true.

I mean, I don't want to say that Margaret Wente is full of shit here, but my own anecdotal evidence is as follows: last year my son learned multiplication tables, as in, he had to memorize them, along with a weekly spelling test where he uh, had to memorize how to spell words correctly. Other kids, not just my son, were also subjected to this kind of rote learning.

He also learned about division and multiplication, and he also learned to add large numbers by stacking them on top of each other. So he, and everyone in his class, learned algoritms and memorized facts at school. Here in Ontario. Last year.

In fact, in what I'm sure would come as a shocking development to Margaret Wente, he was asked to review his multiplication tables over this weekend!

Oddly enough, this is not only how I learned to do math, it's also how my parents learned to do math!

Just a few years ago, I would help my step-daughter with her high school math, and it was all quadratic equations and trigonometry. It was never "Hey, see if you can figure out a cool way to calculate the acceleration of a Care Bear in her Care Car on the way to visit her friend Dora the Explorer in Cuddle Land, if Dora is 3.4 cuddle units from Careland and it takes her 12 love time units to get there? Please tweet your most creative attempt and then like it on Facebook".

So are these people telling us that kids aren't learning to do division or multiplication the old-fashioned way? Yes. Are they completely full of shit for reasons that I do not at all understand? Also yes.

Is the problem here that school is, at least to adults, more enjoyable now? It's as though all these grown ups recall school as being this soul-crushing experience of constantly having to memorize facts and figures, and in true modern Canadian fashion, instead of thinking that there might be a better way, instead believe that this young generation should be subjected to the same things that turned Margaret Wente into Margaret Wente?

Then there's this. Most adults I know are terrible at math, even those who were taught in the good old days back before "student-centred learning" became all the rage. How many of these self-righteous turds could help their children with math past Grade 6?

Perhaps the Ontario government should start measuring that, because I bet the results would shock the same mean-spirited jerks tut-tutting the current state of Canadian education. You who were products of that old system, many of you also suck at math.

By the way, the old system sounds pretty crappy. My parents grew up in the good old days of learning, and do you know what I took away from it listening to their stories as a kid? That most teachers in the old days were masochistic assholes who liked nothing more than to hit kids with straps and to treat kids they didn't really like with utter contempt or disdain.

Do you know what the approach was back in the day if you were bad at math or anything? It was to write you off! "Hey kid, there's always bricklaying or the steno pool! HA HA!"

Margaret Wente pines for the days when the switch was plentiful, and rote memorization was everywhere. This says a lot more about Margaret Wente than it does about what kids are actually taught in Ontario, which, if my son is anyone to go by, is basically the exact same stuff I did, except with more empathy.

If empathy is that bothers you about schools today, then maybe you're the problem.

Friday, September 06, 2013

A Sad Thought

For a few years now, I have been making the rather pessimistic prediction to friends and family that in 10 years, Canada will, in most respects, be to the right politically of the United States. My contention was that it would happen almost happen without a word, and Canadians would only realise it when it was far too late.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Does Anyone Remember John Weinzweig?

Canadian composer John Weinzeig would have turned 100 this year.  The Toronto Star had a nice overview of what's going on in celebration of his life. But before I get back to him I have to ask: Do you remember that whole thing about needing a new Hockey Night in Canada theme song?

What do you say about the winner? I say it's really, really kitschy.

Firstly, Bagpipes? And isn't this really just another David Foster Olympic tune, except without the edge? Or are the bagpipes the edge?

The new hockey song isn't bad. It's just kitschy. Which I suppose means really bad, but it doesn't sound really bad, so does that make it a work of genius?

Perhaps I've been reading too much Kitsch: The World of Bad Taste, a book I picked up at my favourite bookstore.

It's a depressing read. If you take the book's arguments seriously, basically everything around us is kitsch. As some of the Amazon reviews contend, this could be a "hoplessly outdated" high/low view of art, and I suspect most people who read this book will balk at the possibility that there's this much bad taste out there.
Worse, it was written in the 70's, and as far as I can tell, things have gotten much much worse on the kitch front. At least people way back then came by it honestly! (That's a not very obvious joke right there)
I even found myself looking at the book going "Really? That's kitsch too? Crap! I like that"...he has a special dislike for superheroes - one of the captions for some Batman bedroom wallpaper reads: "The idiotic figures of Batman and Robin raised to the level of unsophisticated decorative fetishes." That, my friends, is contempt! but then again, when you think that superheroes are our biggest, fattest Hollywood spectacles, which people watch while eating an artisinal hamburger with artisinal relish and artisinal kraft dinner made by artisinal artisans from the land of Artisinalia...

Also, my son has a pair of Batman pajamas. He hates them. Now I realise why - my son has an innate hatred of kitsch. God bless that little boy!

I the end of this exhausting book, I began to dismiss old Professor Dorfles essays as the sad musings of a modern curmudgeon, musings that sound, ahem, a lot like this blog...but just as you get to the end, he makes a case for Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein as decidedly unkitschy artists. Why? Because they use kitschy elements...the miasma of kitsch is unstoppable.

My theory as to why kitsch is everywhere? Kitsch is the aesthetic form of late, late, late capitalism. I mean, once you've exhausted handbags and diamond encrusted watches as luxury goods, where else is there to go but down? Rich people want to eat terrible food too, but they don't want to pay terrible food prices! and if you think I'm kidding, the latest issue ot Toronto Life has an article on fancy tater tots! you cannot make this stuff up folks!

But what about that hockey song? I listen again to the not-so-new Canada hockey song, and I recall how excited people in Canada get when Tim Horton's offers to slop chili into a bowl made of bread, and it seems that Professor Dorfles worst fears have been realised as Canadian society. We are so deep in kitsch that we know nearly nothing else. This is where Stephen Harper was deeply wrong about ordinary Canadians not caring about the arts - when it comes to kitsch, it seems both Canadian artists and ordinary people can't get enough of it. I should know, I live near Dundas and Ossington, perhaps the epicentre of artsy kitsch.

So what's all this crap about kitsch got to do with the hockey anthem, or the title of my post?

My suggestion for the hockey anthem - John Weinzweig's Hockey Night in Canada. It's resolutely unkitschy, for the same reasons Warhol and Lichtenstein are. You can listen to it here. Stick - Check- Bodycheck. He takes the kitsch and he stabs it to death right in front of you. And as a choral piece, it reminds us that our experience of hockey on television is very much through the colour commentary. The other theme songs are just there to tell you to sit down on the sofa, Weinzweig reminds you that you're there to be part of a sacred ritual in Canadian society - watching grown men skate around on ice and shoot a vulcanized rubber disk at each other in the hopes of hitting it into a net.

I would gladly watch the first four minutes of Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday to hear it. But then I would probably turn it off.