Monday, October 27, 2008

You Have to Fight This City

It is absolutely pouring outside. This is the part of the rain storm that doesn't last. The brief burst where nature turns it on hard to make us little beasts scatter. I'm watching the street corner of College and Huron. Three people are waiting to cross. One of them has an umbrella. The other two are getting soaked. Bone drenched. In a smaller town they would be huddled close together staying dry. But some where along the way the population past that point.

You would imagine that, in a city, if you were carrying your groceries home you would be bombarded with people offering to help carry them. After all, think how many people are traveling in the same direction.

If you want to be a nice person then you have to fight this city. It can be done but the city is working against you. Let's look at what City is saying.

Look how many faces there are. You can not care about all of these people. I dare you to try. What about that driver who cut you off? Can you care about them? Ha! City 1, You 0.

I contain millions of people. Statistically, some of them are bound to be very bad and scary. What if you helped them? You'd end up as another one of my robbed and murdered victims. That happens all the time in me.

You are inside of me, you are very busy. Too busy for this.

You have to fight this city.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trying to be Quotable

No one is as simple as others see them. Nor as complicated as they see themselves.

We look down upon other animals from the heights of civilization but it is we who are not allowed to have sex in the sunlight.

Consumers understand little, contribute nothing and demand more.

Environmentalism is a modern millenarian movement. It will be remembered as a relative of the Christian apocalypse.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Time Goes By

In elementary school I marked my age by grade. Older folk (from High School to parents) were lumped together as "adults" (people who had facial hair and a tame sense of humour). I didn't understand how people could confuse what grade I was in. At the time the distinction between Grade 5s and Grade 4s seemed like night and day. I could tell you the grade of anyone in the schoolyard. It was in the way they ran. Their vocabulary. Their attitude. Now they are all children to me. Currently, my age is marked by other people's kids. I've seen two kids grow from babies to storytellers. And now, my sister has a baby and they plan to record her height in a penciled line on the image of a giraffe. A vague memory of my old house. Old pencil marks on the trim of a doorframe.

When I coached improv I would commonly refer to Jurassic Park. This simple Hollywood film about dinosaurs, made in 1993. This Saturday, when I hold an improv workshop for high school students, some of them will have been born in that year.

I think reading Albert Speer's biography (Sereny's extensive Battle With the Truth) has me thinking a lot about time and memory. Imagine spending twenty years in prison training yourself to regret the greatest time of your life. In Germany, no one dares recall the positive impact of the Nazi party before the war. The Holocaust has left an indelible mark on the world's memory.

As John Toland wrote: "If he [Hitler] had died in 1937, he would undoubtedly have gone down as one of the greatest figures in German history."

In 1984, one passionate member of the Nazi Party, recalling the early contributions, stated,

"I want nothing to do with all those people who now claim they weren't [members of the Nazi Party], that indeed they were resisters. I really sometimes wonder who it was who elected Hitler and fought and won all those battles for him. All of Germany, it now appears, was nothing but anti-Nazis. Disgusting." (pg. 180)

What years? Time is only the quality of your memory. Amnesia means your personality is dead. The endless digital photography of Facebook is a struggle to live. To help the mind remember more life than death. Alternately, Dunbar from Catch-22 tried to live longer by making his life as boring as possible in order to slow time.

In elementary school I used to date each page. They trained us to write the date in the top right corner. How foolish I felt in January when I would catch myself writing the wrong year. It wasn't 1988, it was 1989. Get with the times.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Stacy and the Toxic Zombies

Friend-made gifts are the best. Right now, I'm wearing a shirt Liz made for my birthday from Mary Blair's concept art for Alice in Wonderland. And the shirt that Andy made for me for Christmas with a Julius Nyerere stencil gets a lot of mileage.

One of the best gifts I've ever made was for Stacy. It was a video game featuring our friends as the characters. It was five years ago that I made Stacy and Toxic Zombies (STZ). I was inspired by Andy and Andrew who were dabbling in their own games at the time.

It features:
Stacy wielding a bow while wearing an elf cap.
Raquel and her inability to hackey-sack,
Peter with his large hair and orange Syracuse jersey.
and secret character Ryan wearing treeplant gear, riding a four-wheeler and firing a shotgun.

Oh, and two hundred plus Toxic Zombies.

I thought it was lost but my brother stumbled upon it and I just finished playing. Amateur but entertaining, it makes me want to make more games. I can remember all of the pain and joy of drawing every animation and coding each feature. Not bad for a first try.

-Creative design: neat goal, shooting arrows and having to collect them to fire them again, unlockable character Ryan, multiple (eight) endings
-The nostalgic video game music
-I enjoyed the game's balance. It was difficult enough to require vigilance -things can turn bad in an instant.
-The inside jokes (Raquel's language, Ryan's terms: 'layta!' and 'steez', the term' soak'em' from Newsies)
-Part of Stacy's supercool equipment is a skateboard. But all it does is make anyone who touches it, including Stace, fall.


-Painfully long intro sequence (recalls my frustration as a kid waiting for a game to begin)
-Some text is cut off.
-Difficult for beginners to figure out how to summon the extremely helpful Ryan.

The game ends when you kill 200 hundred zombies. There's no way for Stacy to lose -she can't be harmed by the pushover Zombies. It's simply a matter of how many of her friends she can rescue and which one of the eight different endings you'll see.

Download here.
I think it'll only work on PCs.

Friday, October 17, 2008

And the Winner is...


Here's an interesting question:

Why doesn't the Academy Awards combine the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscar into a single Best Performer category?

They make no gender distinction in the Best Director category so why should they split the Best Performer?

I started boycotting the Oscars after 1997 when Kim Bassinger won an Oscar for her supporting role in LA Confidential. I was shocked to discover that the sexy ingenue/helpless victim with thirty seconds of screen time was considered the best that Hollywood had to offer.

Today, I'm looking for gender bias in the Academy Awards.

Judging an artist's ability to 'act' is clearly subjective. I'll attempt to prove my case by comparing how often the Best Performers were in the film that won Best Picture. Why? I want to show that, even though women are winning awards for their performances, they're seldom in, what the Academy considers to be, the year's best cinema.

It may be an odd approach but the data was interesting. Let's look at the numbers.

It is very common for the winners of Best Actor or Actress to be in a film that was, at the very least, nominated for Best Picture.

1962 to 2008 "Best Picture" Award
In this 54 year span, the winners of the Leading Actress Oscar were in 30 films that had been nominated for the Best Picture. Of those times they were in the Best Picture 7 times (23%). The winners of the Leading Actor Oscar were in 34 films that had been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. This proved to be the leading role in the Best Picture 15 times (44%).

1944-1961 "Best Motion Picture" Award
This is a more dismal era. Nine Leading Men doubled up while no Leading Females were in the Best Picture of the year. I think this clearly demonstrates a history of Hollywood gender bias but it's clear that the situation has improved.

Here's a spreadsheet of my gender analysis of the Academy Awards.
A pale yellow block indicates that the film was nominated for Best Picture.
A bright yellow block indicates that the film won Best Picture.

It's also interesting to point out that the last films to boast the Best Picture with the Best Leading Actress have offered some gender-bending roles (Hilary Swank as a professional boxer, Paltrow as a cross-dressing actor, and Jodie Foster as a star FBI agent).

What do you think of combining the acting awards? What about my wild analysis?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chapter 2 (serialized novel)

“Tell me what you did.” She doesn’t introduce herself. She simply begins.

"At approximately 0300 we detected overlap in the archives,” the cadet hesitates, “on eighty profiles."



"Emergence pattern?"

"Simultaneous." Inspector Tenka smiles and lets out a long, respectful sigh. She’s exhausted and determined not to let it show. The cadet is expressionless. He’s a muscular giant, the product of the academy’s finest bodymods -a curious physique to sit behind a desk. His hands twitch in the small interface boxes.

She looks around the office. Almost everything has changed. Undoubtedly, this young staff is surprised to find that hitting the emergency connect in the middle of the night has summoned this small, elderly figure. The Inspector’s short, bright white hair is the only sign of seniority in the room. Every data officer is pretending to continue their work. They’re watching through their fashionable heterochromic eyes for her reaction. Eighty overlapping profiles is a legitimate emergency but she shows no sign of panic. She is the only one in the branch who has seen the days of seven percent.

“Continue your report.”

“All profiles were replicas of OrMod’s inner council executive Jana Berrin.“ Now she understands the tension in the room. It’s a corporate job.


“The lowest thirty profiles all register at exactly ninety-six point nine.” Tenka bursts into laughter but the thick-necked cadet only tilts his head in confusion. She realizes that the entire staff is starring at her in anxious silence.

“It’s a game,” she tries to explain. “Games within games within games.” Suddenly she feels lonely and nostalgic. Nothing separates veterans from rookies more than sense of humour.

A data officer’s career can be divided into distinct phases. Cadets take everything very seriously. They want to save the world by discovering the formula that eliminates crime. They analyze the archive with a fervor that soon overwhelms them. Eventually, statistical analysis will make them numb. Force them to step back. They will see human beings as groups of numbers. People become disappointing masses of predictable patterns. By the time they’re mid-career they’ll have become cynical critics of human nature, unable to make the world a better place.
Senior Investigators, the final incarnation of data officers, are at peace. They cease desiring change. It becomes clear to them that every civilization has deviant behaviour. The purpose of law enforcement is to ensure that it stays at four percent. In some generations, the criminals have the advantage, in others, the police. Veterans understand that the role of the data officer is not to stop the pendulum, only to slow its momentum.

“We’ve compiled a list of suspects.” The cadet’s voice brings her back. She can detect a trace of pride in his voice. He thinks he’s close.

“How many?”

“Three hundred.”

“Three hundred suspects,” she contemplates the logistics, “at what level?” The cadet moves his hand in the box and more figures begin to appear. “Let me guess, ninety-six point nine?” He stops in frustration. Games within games. “Have you run a subcon?”

The cadet turns to her in embarrassment. Of course. To this generation, a subcon is an outdated method, something they memorize to pass their exams. They have a dangerous faith in the reliability of the archive. Tenka smiles at the situation. Had not she been as young and misguided? It has come full circle. Now it is her turn to educate the next generation.

"Consider an imp who has been posing as five separate individuals.” She doubts that these cadets have seen a single case of imping in the field. Consider the case of LaMarte, an imposter from the early age of the archive.” Tenka slides her hand into the box and calls up the example. Five people are projected before them. “We knew that LaMarte was masquerading as these five profiles. If you correlate ker features you’ll find a ghost print of the original.” The computer merges the five separate faces into one. The resulting image resembles LaMarte. “There. A subcon scan reveals that imps subconsciously adopt their original features.”

“Inspector,” the cadet asks cautiously, “are you suggesting that these three hundred suspects are the work of one imposter?”

“It seems impossible.” She responds with patience. “But tonight you’ve already seen Jana Berrin appear in eighty places at once. You tell me that there are enough correlating tracks in the archive to suggest that this is the work of three hundred suspects. And everything that you uncover verifies at ninety-six point nine percent. Doesn’t that strike anyone as odd?” The answer is obvious. Ninety-seven percent is the minimum requirement for information to be considered reliable. It was as if all of their data was daring them to discard it. “Someone is playing a game with us to show what they can do. We have no information. We have only what they want us to find. Run the subscan.”

The room fills with projected images of three hundred different people. A small, young woman with a sharp nose poses for a picture in a forest, an elderly man laughs as he holds his wig on in a boat, a middle-aged woman selects a new skin color from a catalogue. Tenka’s peripheral vision picks up a tall, red-headed man waving in a sign-off, a woman saluting in uniform, a well-dressed young man rolling dice, flashes of different skin, eye, and hair colour begin to swirl as the cadet runs the subscan. All of the projected people begin to merge into one. Could all of these lives truly be the work of one imposter? Is the pendulum swinging again? The staff stops pretending to work. They’re all watching for the face to emerge from the overlapping profiles. The room is emptying as all of the data is pulled toward the center. Suddenly, it’s complete and the Inspector is looking at an image of herself.

“We’ve been infiltrated. This imp has detailed knowledge of our investigative methods, khe knows I’ve been assigned ker case, and khe has taken the time to masquerade as three hundred different profiles to play a joke. I need an emergency connect to Daria-Zeh Motema. Now.” Despite the severity of the situation she smiles. You could spend your life in the Department and never see an aberration on this scale. It was genius.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Shades and Ol' Lady Violet (who wants yellow)

I just watched the shadiest character in Lillian Smith.

He came up to a guy who was working at a table across from me. Clearly he recognized him because he knew his name but they didn't know each other well. He began asking what the guy was working on, where he was living, etc. Eventually they agreed to hang out but Shady said he lost working guy's home number.
So the guy wrote it down but Shady didn't want it. He glanced at it and claimed he had memorized it. Then he asked if he could come and visit sometime 'y'know, just show up' and the working guy said 'maybe if you call first, I have roommates'. And Shades asked 'what would they do if I just showed up? Without you there? Would they let me stay? Would that be cool?' Working guy insisted that he be contacted first but Shady explained that 'my email is not working'. They parted without clear plans.

(15 minutes later)

Holy shit, you just missed my favourite old woman. Some seniors are here with a chaperon. My favourite was complaining about not wanting to look at children's books because she's seen all of them already. She's awesome at muttering. I just watched her mutter something about how she likes yellow as she proceeded to rip a full page out of a children's book.

Now Shady's back talking about his social workers, seeing psychiatrists and taking meds for his sycophrenia. He's living in a shelter. Poor guy's trying to network.

Oh shit, the chaperon just caught old lady rips-a-lot taking another page. My favourite senior is sticking to her guns, claiming 'she's done it before' as she stuffs the page into her purse. The best part is she looks like a picturesque 'nice old person' complete with cane and full body violet outfit (sweater and pants).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Friday Film blog

I applied to be Shameless magazine's Friday Film blogger (providing Feminist readings of cinema) but I didn't get the gig. The nice feature of the internet is that I can still publish all of the posts that I was planning. So I'm starting a Friday Film column on my blog. For the first installment, here's what I sent them for the application.

Breaking down the Wall-E?

The blogosphere is in love with the gender-bending film Wall-E, Pixar's latest CGI blockbuster. It's a story where a male robot falls in love with a female robot. I know, I know, I was thinking the same thing. Since when do robots need a gender? We all know that Hollywood is obsessed with heterosexual love stories. It would be too scandalous for a movie to show us a toaster in love with a fridge without stressing that they have different hardware. Let's take a closer look at how Pixar chooses to construct their heterosexual robots (Wall-E as male and Eve as female). This week we're asking ourselves:

Does this film break traditional Hollywood portrayals of gender or reinforce them?

It breaks them.
In Wall-E, it is the male who is irrational. Traditionally, Hollywood films show women overcome with emotion but it is Wall-E who makes impulsive decisions for the sake of love. While Eve, the physically stronger of the two, makes rational choices to complete her mission. She's a calm, composed, and fast thinker who takes action when they're in trouble. Eve may be smooth and sleek but she's broad-shouldered and has a gun for a hand -two features that Hollywood usually reserves for males. Eve is never trapped and in need of rescue like a traditional Hollywood action movie where females are typically victims.

It reinforces them.
It's a traditional choice to put the male, in this case Wall-E, at the center (and as the title) of the film. Why do we like Wall-E? Because he's clumsy and rolls around in garbage while Eve's body is clean, sleek, and graceful. This recalls gender rolls from the a 19th century poem where boys are made of "snips and snails and puppy dog tails" and girls are made of "sugar and spice and everything nice". In the end, Eve surrenders to Wall-E's love. She has to change to accommodate him which reinforces the traditional Hollywood perspective that females have to compromise to meet male desire.

I think.
It's great for Pixar to push the gender envelope but it's a shame to see that even they have mainstream limits. Is our culture so homophobic that even our fictional, futuristic, genital-free robots are heterosexual? They score points for broadening Hollywood horizons but, considering we're talking about robots, they could have done a lot more than reinforce the idea of hetero-dominance in the distant future. Read some LeGuin, Pixar.

What do you think?

You might also enjoy Kate Bornstein's excellent analysis.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Reflections on the National Debate

I tried to peer pressure my friends into watching the federal debate by insisting it was their civic duty. I think we'd all like to see a candidate who didn't speak in exaggerated attacks, vague promises, and attempts at coining phrases. It didn't happen this year. Nonetheless, these chumps are the future of Canadian politics.

The most embarrassing part: The discussion about Arts funding. All of the candidates turned this into an awkward "slice of life" answer in which they professed their love of 'culture' and how their kids play clarinet or some shit. I was interested in what specific programs that Harper had cut and why everyone thought that they were worth funding. No one spoke in specifics.

Runnerup embarassment: The sadass at the end who asked: "I haven't voted for ten years, I don't think it matters, why should I vote?" I would have supported any candidate who answered: "wake the fuck up".

Two questions we wanted to ask:

1) Give some respect. What's one idea that one of the other parties created that you wish you had thought of? Don't spin it to take credit.

2) As a voter I know that I'm choosing a government that will have to respond to hundreds of unforeseen issues over the next four years. What guiding principals of your party set you apart from the others?

My review of the candidates:

Voted most likely to be stuffed in a locker. He seems weak, nervous, and verging on insincere. The accent is an unfortunate drawback but his soft tone doesn't help. I found myself tuning him out. I haven't seen any of the hate-ads that try to brand him as an elite academic. I find watching him does that. This was tough for me since I usually choose between the Liberals and NDP. They're Canada's most reasonable party but they seem to be focusing on garnering immediate votes (their switch to environmental concerns) than proposing a unique Liberal vision.

My favourite. Duceppe seems more wild and less polished. And those eyes? He's a living caricature. It's like a cross between a puffer fish, an owl, and a love of Quebec. It's neat to have someone in the debate who can't actually become the PM. I think the sovereignty issue would ruin our friendship. My brother commented that he seems like a veteran who can draw on an extensive history (I was interested in his allegiance to the "manufacturing sector") His hair could stop a bullet.

Voted most likely to conceal a hidden agenda. Unshakable. I think Harper plays politics with a real understanding that it is a performance and that he can't wait to get back to real business -away form cameras. He seems reasonable to me but he's also a privileged white male with different social values. I don't want him to have any more power in Parliament. It was funny how he didn't defend the multiple accusations that his party hasn't revealed a platform. Had he been in power in '03, would this man have partnered with the US and sent troops to Iraq? I think the answer is yes.

Came across as intelligent and prepared -her inclusion was a major victory. However, I despise the thoughtless obsession that my generation is developing for the environment (because I think it's a modern echo of Christian apocalyptic mythology). The Green Party is going to capitalize on this. I've always thought their social views are too far right from my own but they keep them shrouded in mystery. May, to her credit, was the most willing to bring up historical and international context (such as the effect of NAFTA's Chapter 11 suits on Canadian Public Health Care)

Voted most likely to appear at your house and have dinner with your family. Layton played 'the man on the street image' so hard we thought he was going to promise to walk our dog. I want to lean toward the NDP but he was overplaying the 'attack Harper' card. Easy for a small opposition party to promise the world.


I think Harper is going to return as a minority PM. I'd like to see him face a larger NDP component. That would make him angry. I'm not comfortable with a Harper majority able to lock in some sweeping reforms that he hasn't mentioned.