Friday, December 24, 2004

All right, so my family has staged an intervention and they are demanding that I cease blogging until the New Year.
Sounds like a smart idea to me. If I don't stop this silly holiday blogging soon, I'm going to totally post the cat. See you all in 2005.

The Year in Bevilacqua

- Spotlight on 'Acquaman.
- Maurizio Bevilacqua: Master of his own Domain!
- Federal Government Begins Investigation Of [a different] Bevilacqua.

Memoirs of a Cannon Doll

In honour of this festive time, here is my article about appearing in the Nutcracker, from last week's National Post.

When I was asked to be a Cannon Doll in the National Ballet
of Canada's production of The Nutcracker, I was tickled pink. I
figured it was a distinct honour to follow in the footsteps of
Pierre Berton, former mayor Barbara Hall and the National Post's
founding editor-in-chief, Ken Whyte, to name just a few of the
grandees who have appeared in the two-minute cameo.

But then, glancing at this year's guests, it became apparent to me
that -- other than Rick Mercer and Doug Gilmour -- the list was
composed entirely of Toronto arts and entertainment reporters.
Hacks! All of them!

"It's clear that it wasn't my dancing ability they picked me for --
it was because I work in the media," I wrote in a crestfallen e-mail
to Post news reporter Siri Agrell, whom I had asked to accompany me
onstage. "Shock! I feel used!"

But Siri's enthusiasm was undampened. "I want to be a Sugar Plum
Fairy," she wrote back.

Backstage at the Hummingbird Centre last Sunday afternoon, any
qualms I have about making a fool of myself in front of a sold-out
matinee have been replaced by a yearning for that place all
performers (and journalists who have put aside theatrical ambitions
for the lucrative arts-reporting industry) lust for: The Spotlight.
"We're going to be stars," I tell Siri as we wait to be briefed by
Peter Ottmann, the ballet master.

Ottmann, who looks a lot like the guy who played Q on Star Trek:
The Next Generation, shows us a short instructional video: Siri and
I are to walk onstage with dancer Nathaniel Kozlow, who will wheel a
cannon in front of him. Siri will act frightened and try to stop
Nathaniel from firing streamers into the audience, while I will
gleefully urge him on in his pre-emptive strike against the
bourgeoisie. Then we'll turn the cannon on the Evil Rat Czar,
assassinate him and redistribute all the farmland in Nutcrackonia.

Or something like that. I'm a little shaky on the plot.

Back in the dressing room, I have many questions for wardrobe
assistant Grant Heaps as he shows Siri and me our costumes: Did
hockey star Gilmour wear the same pair of clown pants I am now
slipping into? And were they cleaned afterward? Really, thoroughly
dry-cleaned or, preferably, soaked in bleach?

Being backstage with half-dressed ballerinas isn't quite the
titillating thrill I had expected. First of all, there are about 60
children involved in James Kudelka's production. And since it's
sometimes hard to tell them apart from petite, flat-chested
ballerinas, it's best to play it safe and avert your eyes at all

Besides, dancers have a reputation for being bad girlfriend
material. I'm about to ask Nathaniel if he's dated any crazy
ballerinas, when it occurs to me I'm being incredibly presumptuous.
Better to just phrase the question in a sexuality-neutral way in
case he's gay.

"So," I say casually, "I hear that women dancers are ca-raaaazy!"

"My wife used to be a dancer," Kozlow says. Oops.

Luckily, we're about to go onstage. "You know, they don't wash
those costumes, eh?" a stagehand cracks, breaking my concentration.
Thanks. Now all I can think of are Dougie Gilmour's privates.

But these sweaty thoughts evaporate upon contact with The
Spotlight. It's every bit as blissful as I remember from my McGill
Savoy Society days. That moment when you lose yourself in in the
music. The moment: you own it. You better never let it go. You only
get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity
comes once in a lifetime, yo.

It occurs to me that I am audibly rapping that Eminem song from 8
Mile. Thankfully, the orchestra is loud.

After Nathaniel, Siri and I send the Rat Czar scurrying with mime
and karate chops, we reluctantly leave the stage and return to the
dressing room. High-fives all around.

There's only one person whose approval I really need, though. And
there he is.

Ernie Abugov, the company's much-loved stage manager, who has
abided through nearly 30 years of pseudo-celebrity cameos, pops his
head in the door and gives Siri and me the thumbs-up.

"You were great," he says in his favourite-uncle sort of way.

Mission: accomplished. Nuts: cracked!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Nice work if you can get it...

Guests stars are common, but guest writers? Ricky Gervais to pen an entire episode of The Simpsons next season.
'The Perfect Storm' Dying Down

New York Times: Toronto's film and television production fading to black. Looks like it's going to get a lot worse in the new year for a lot of local actors and techies. Hollywood headed back south; Canadian productions headed to Winnipeg...

I wonder why the NYT cares? I guess this is a "good news" story for American film and television production...

(Hey -- that's a National Post picture accompanying the NYT story...)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Untie the Right

Boy, they're really posting the cat over at the Western Standard's Shotgun blog, where theocon Kathy Shaidle and retrocon Norman Spector have been duking it out like two kids in a playground. (Colby Cosh has the background.)

Can't the different colours of the Canadian conservative rainbow debate each other in a friendly fashion like The American Scene kids currently dishing on Andrew Sullivan's blog? Nope. They can't. And that, folks, is the so-called problem with Canadian Conservatism. (Not necessarily one that I am eager to solve or see solved.)

But this flame war is old news in the incestuous CanConBlogosphere... I'm a couple of days behind because I packed up my things and took the VIA train that starts near the glowing Redpath Sugar sign in Toronto and ends near the glowing Farine Five Roses sign in Montreal. Now I can bake a nice holiday cake. (Which I might wash down with the giant Guarantee milk bottle.)

As the holidays are here, I'm trying to post lightly and post light thoughts until 2005 shows its ugly mug. So no deep thoughts for the next couple of weeks, k?
Taking the Christ back out of Christmas...

Russell Smith has a nice (though, as always, a little too much) column about how unChristian Christmas is in today's Globe.

The debate over the word "Christmas" is somewhat similar to that over the word "marriage," I feel. Both are words that mean different things to different people depending on how secular or religious they are. For my historically-Christian family, "Christmas" has always (in my lifetime) meant "the time of year when we have a big meal and decorate a tree and listen to Nat King Cole and exchange gifts with the family." Someone may raise a glass to baby Jesus and wish him a happy birthday, but that's about it.

Usually the different definitions of "Christmas" or "marriage" co-exist peacefully. But then some smart guy draws attention to the discrepancies or launches a court case and everyone gets up in arms, their own personal definitions threatened.

So here's the question: Do religious Christians really want non-religious people to say "Merry Christmas, if what they mean is "Happy holidays!" and not "Enjoy your celebration of the birth of Christ!"? Why not see "Happy Holidays" as "civil unions" to "Christmas"'s "marriage"? Encouraging non-religious or ambiguously-religious people to say "Merry Christmas" is totally gonna backfire...

How about this: You can EITHER complain about Christ being left out of Christmas OR complain about people saying the "politicially correct" Happy Holidays. Anyone caught doing both these things must realise the contradiction and skip Christmas altogether.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Posting the Cat

So, this weekend, I was tooling around the blogosphere, when I landed on Pogge's site and saw that he had put up a picture of a couple of kittens. "Oh no," I thought. "I can't believe Pogge's posted the cat."

And then the little neologism lightbulb in my head went off.

I hereby propose a new expression for that moment when a great blog goes off the tracks: Posting the cat. (Cat bloggers, of course, are excluded from the expression.) It could be the blogosphere's very own Jump the shark.

Here are a couple of usage examples:

- "Man, Andrew Sullivan totally posted the cat after Kerry lost the election and he started droning on about his sleep apnea."
- "Wonkette’s book deal is a sure sign that she’s posted the cat."

And when a blogger abandons his or her blog without saying goodbye, I suggest the expression “eaten by the cats.” For instance:

- "Andrew Coyne had a fine blog until he was eaten by the cats."

Oh, and when someone eats a hamburger too quickly and gets sick, we'll call that a "regurgiburger."

Somebody stop me!


While Pogge has literally posted the cat, he has not metaphorically posted the cat. In fact, he probably has some new readers thanks to a prominent shout-out from media critic Antonia Zerbisias in her Sunday Toronto Star column. Torontoist, the fine group blog where I post about local theatre, got a mention in that article, too.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Haines: Her Way.

haineserLast night, I went to see a solo concert by Emily Haines, the lead singer of Metric. What I love about Haines is that detached voice of hers that encourages listeners to fill in the blanks: P_IN, L__S, S__NES_, _EAL_US_, DE__ES_I__, M__ _A_ LO__, J_Y, D__IR_, AN__R.
In her band Metric, these spaces are filled with a constant beat from the bass, which keeps you going like a clock ticking towards deadline. Any anxiety is plugged with rawk.
When it’s just her and a grand piano and bits of Guy Maddin’s films projected on a screen, however – as it was last night at at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto -- the blanks are all you think about. It’s unsettling. You listen to the gap between her voice and the piano and try to decipher her emotions and, in the process, your own emotions. It’s like trying to see an object behind a column, but you can’t walk around to the other side. It’s like peering over police tape, trying to figure out what happened to that neighbour you knew only in passing, and silently hoping that you don’t end up eaten by your cats, too.
It didn’t soothe any nerves that Haines didn’t say a single word during the show. No hellos, no banter, no goodbyes. A quick bow at the end and that’s it.
Not particularly satisfying or emotionally cathartic, which is what rock concerts and cabarets are supposed to be. It was more like a hollowing out, like we were half a cantaloupe and she was eating us with a spoon.
As an evening of theatre or art or experience, though, it was worthwhile. It wasn’t a smoothly paved road; it was a speedbump. It’s one of those events that your mind wanders during and you have ambiguous feelings about at the end, but the next morning you wake up and feel like that was really something.

The feeling leaving last night was a little bit like the feeling you get after meeting an ex-girlfriend for coffee. An ex-girlfriend with whom you supposedly had a “mutual break-up,” but really it was her that left.
She was as fun as you remembered, but her laughs weren’t as full and her charm was contained. And your conversation was a little bit more about her job and her family and your job and your family and a little less about her or you. And the stories you told her were a little more about the stories and a little less about the way you told them. And you got a warm hug at the end, but you remember warmer warms, different shades of warmth entirely.
She seemed less beautiful, but somehow more real.
And you wonder who this person is, who you thought you knew so well.
Is she seeing someone else? You think: I just want to know. I don’t care. I just want to know.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Another National Post Blogger

Yep. Rock 'n' Roll Nigga now sits 15 feet away from On the Fence.

A question: If Popwherry does indeed sit 50 feet away from Rock 'n' Roll Nigga and the angle formed by the line PW --> RNRN --> OTF is approximately 120 degrees, what is the distance between Popwherry's and On the Fence's cubicles in metres?

First person to answer this mathematical question correctly gets this On The Fence prize: A copy of Lights, Camera, Democracy! Selected essays by Lewis Lapham. (Shipping to anywhere in Canada included.)

And in other blog news...

I'm enjoying this one. And maybe if I post something about it on my blog, I'll remember to add it to my blogroll. Yeah.
Flirty Pretty Thing

My interview with Audrey Tautou -- in which I unapolegetically fawn over the star of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement -- is online at the National Post and free for your online consumption:
[T]iny 26-year-old Tautou, her legs barely touching the ground under her chair, is contemplating the not-entirely-remote possibility of receiving a best-actress Academy Award nomination for A Very Long Engagement, a sweeping First World War epic opening today across Canada that reunites her with Amelie's director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

As with previous questions, Tautou tosses her eyes toward the ceiling of the Toronto hotel room, as if the answer might be hidden up there in the stucco. As she thinks, she emits a "buuuuhh" sound through her pursed lips, the French equivalent of a "hmmmm."

"That, for me, that's Chinese," she says finally, shaking her head. "It's not at all something that I can envisage or find real in any way.

"For me, it is a little bit like as if someone told me, 'Oh, you're going to walk on the moon.' Well, sure, technically, it's possible. You can put me in a rocket, and I can go. But I don't have the training, I'm not the best candidate."
While I had a fine time talking to Ms. Tautou, apparently she wasn't as GGG with all interviewers. In yesterday's Now, Cameron Bailey writes, "Tautou clearly hates interviews." This wasn't clear to me at all.
I suspect Tautou was cheerful because I interviewed her in French and she could dismiss her translator. And so, this seems like a propitious moment to thank Verstehen for getting my very clunky French up to interview levels over the past six months.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Irony Brings Us Together... for the Holidays.

Paul Tuns has some links to extreme right-wing paraphenalia just in time for Christmas. He suggests that you buy something for your favourite liberal-hater, but, ya know, I just can’t see a conservative wearing one of these gawdy t-shirts. After all, conservatives are kind of… conservative. No offence.

I do, however, think that some of these could be the hot ticket item this year for your friendly neighbourhood jaded urban hipster. This "Bush Kills Terrorists Dead" t-shirt? Come on. Some guy in a trucker hat is sitting at the Drake Hotel just waiting to wear it... And the gal next to him is totally slapping herself and wishing she had thought of naming her band I (heart) Halliburton.

And this beer stein with the Statue of Liberty holding up a machine gun? Even I want one of those.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

There will be a hockey season. Ron MacLean guarantees it.

The story today is that the NHL lockout ain't going to end and the players and owners are more divided than ever. But if you're a hockey fan, don't sweat it: There will be a season, says Ron MacLean.

On Monday night at the Gemini Awards, MacLean personally guaranteeed it backstage. Unfortunately, this quote got buried in my National Post article about the Geminis (not online), because, well, it wasn't particularly relevant to what I was writing. I figured I should highlight it here to give hope to the depressed masses:
In a subsequent [Gemini] sketch, out-of-work sportscasters Ron MacLean and Don Cherry from Hockey Night in Canada auditioned to be V.J.s on MuchMusic. MacLean, who picked up the Gemini for best host in a sports program for Hockey Day in Canada, told reporters backstage that the hockey lockout that has kept him off the air will soon be over. "I guarantee you here tonight ... the season will resume late in January, or by Groundhog Day," he said.
So there you have it. Straight from the horse-faced man's mouth.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Shooting the (MSN) Messenger

From today's National Post: Technology spawning teen 'monster parties'.
Cellphones and text messaging are allowing teenagers to quickly spread news of a house part to friends, causing controlled gatherings to explode into "monster parties," according to police.

Toronto officers issued a warning yesterday about out-of-control teenage parties after 18-year-old Tanner Hopkins was stabbed to death on Saturday in the driveway of his family's upscale home.
In other same news, stabbings are the rise:
"I see a trend with young people, I see a trend with weapons being used more often," police Chief Julian Fantino said Monday as he addressed the city's third fatal knifing involving teens this month.

"When you look at how . . . these stabbings occurred, they're really the kind of things that years ago, at most, it would have been a punch-up. Now we seem to be intent on pulling out a knife and plunging it into the heart of a young person."
Yes, two completely different angles on the same police press conference. Which one would you choose?

Monday, December 13, 2004

And the winner is...

...WestJet! Thanks a bunch for the advice, y'all.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival was a good guess Zeke (Free Roadsworth!), but it's a different festival that I'm going to around the same time. First person* to e-mail jkelly -at- with the name of the exciting Winnipeg festival I'm attending in January gets an limited-edition mp3 of my old high school rock band playing "Horses" -- a song about eating horses that was especially funny when I was in Grade 11.

*People who already know (ie. friends, those who approve my travel requests) are not eligible.

Friday, December 10, 2004

How should I fly?

Here's a query that perhaps the blogosphere and its readers might be able to help me with. I'm booking a flight to Winnipeg in January (Whaaa!?! I know.) and Westjet and Jetsgo have return flights available for $230.28 all inclusive, while Air Canada has some for $230.29 all inclusive. I bet if I argued, Air Canada would give me the penny, so it really comes down to quality.

Tooling through the blogosphere I see a number of people have horror stories about JetsGo, and a few have serious vendettas against Air Canada. That makes me think WestJet is the best option. Is that the right choice? What are your experiences?
What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

In today's Globe and Mail, Lorna Dueck admiringly quotes from the book Divorcing Marriage that the advent of same-sex marriage will "deflect... marriage from the support of children to the mere affirmation of sexual commitment between adults." When I read stuff like that I just have to slap myself on the forehead and go, "Dude, where have you been the last fifty years?" There are just certain arguments that social conservatives make where you feel like they must live in a vacuum where they've never heard of divorce or adoption or met a happy gay couple or an unhappy heterosexual couple and there is no access to cable television.

A lot of supporters of gay marriage find social conservatives hateful. I've seen that side. I covered an anti-gay marriage protest last year where one pastor railed against gays and their "AIDS parade" and said that SARS was punishment for Torontonians wicked behaviour. The organizers of the rally were embarrassed by this, but the crowd cheered almost as loudly as they had for the previous speakers.

For the most part, however, I don't it really has to do with hate. I often find them admirable, these modern Don Quixotes. I find all traditionalists touching as they struggle to ressurrect Golden Ages that never existed. I think it's very human.

On the other hand, as a person who grew up in a "non-traditional" home, living mostly with my mother, I find their obsession with "traditional" families a little, well, obsessive. (They remind me a bit of ardent vegans who insist that there is only one ethical and healthy way to eat.) After all, my sister and I turned out quite well. At least I don't think we're any more or less buggered up than the people I know who grew up in nuclear families.

In high school, I'd say about half my friends had divorced parents. I also knew about five kids who had a parent came out of the closet while they were in high school. Seven years on (Good god, has it been seven years?) I can't see any correlation between the parental structure at home and how they turned out. (The people I knew who eventually came out as gay generally came from the more traditional families, now that I think about it.)

In short, I'm not convinced by any of these "But what about the children?" arguments because my first-hand experience has shown them to be pure bunko.

I've always felt that the issue of same-sex marriage was a bit of a funny one for marriage-lovin' conservatives to be opposed to. As a child of divorced parents, I was originally sort of ambivalent about the whole issue of same-sex marriage because I am sort of ambivalent about marriage in general. But to see people fighting for the right to get married – well, it makes the whole concept seem a little more worthwhile. I’m less ambivalent about it today.

Same-sex marriage isn't erosion; it's evolution. To me, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling is the beginning of a rebuilding of an institution (and I'm talking about secular marriage, not religious marriage) that hasn’t made a lot of sense since the 1960s. Because the concept of marriage hadn’t changed with the times, it fell to bits. I grew up in a time when it was cool to say that marriage was bogus and paternalistic. The introduction of same-sex marriage makes the institution relevant again. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I can speak for myself: I will be more likely to get married after same-sex marriage is fully legalized in Canada than I would have been otherwise. Isn't that what social conservatives want?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Cannon fodder

Last year around this time, I went to see National Ballet of Canada's annual production of The Nutcracker for the first time and blogged the following:
It's a tradition to have local celebrities play bit roles in The Nutcracker and James Kudelka's version is no exception. Last night the two cannon dolls -- they stand on either side of a cannon that is wheeled out and fires confetti and streamers into the first few rows -- were The Globe and Mail Review editor Elizabeth Renzetti and her husband reporter Doug Saunders.
Ms. Renzetti's performance, as the stoic cannon doll, was passable, if a bit bland. It was her husband who stole the cameo as the nervous cannon doll. He chewed the scenery like a real pro, ripping into it with his incisors and then chomping on it with his molars until it became indiscernible sludge. He rolled around on the floor silently screeching in staged stage fright. Pure brill. I will never read his weekend column the same way again.
A friend of mine suggested recently that it would be much more entertaining if they actually shot these pseudo-celebs out of the cannon in lieu of streamers. Tsk, tsk...
This just in from the Famous Last Words department: On Sunday I'm going back to see The Nutcracker again, but this time fellow National Post reporter Siri Agrell and I will be the cannon dolls.
On the scale of pseudo-celebrity, I rank well down below Saunders and Renzetti -- I sometimes think of myself as the National Post's Guy Dixon -- so it is only fair that my mockery of those two should be returned to me tenfold.
(I am curious, though, to know if I am the first blogger to guest in The Nutcracker. Obviously, it wasn't for that reason that I was invited, but it still would make for a nice addition to my resumé.)
I should note that Saunders -- still my favourite Globe columnist, by the by -- was a good sport about the kidding, writing: "Though I knew that my status as a local hack would expose me to various pains and humiliations, never did I dream that I would some day suffer the sting of the dance critic upon my own not so well toned skin. Thanks to the magic of the blog, and your own strange obsessions, I can now add this honour to my list of accomplishments. I would never stoop to contesting a critical judgement, but my wife would like it to be known that she considered her performance measured and understated rather than 'bland and passable.'"

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

See the world, promote democracy, eat genuine Chicken Kyiv...

If you'd like to be one of the 1000 Canadian election observers the Ukrainian Canadian Congress hopes to send to Ukraine later this month for the do-over, click here for an application form.

If you'd like to be part of the federal government's official delegation of 500 election observers, click here to apply via CANADEM. Applications are due 5:00 PM, Thursday, December 9.
Downloader's Guilt Assuaged!

PiracyPlopping across the Internet this week, I came across this article about Canadian musicians pressing the federal government to update its copyright laws:
"The current Copyright Act ... damages the industry, the economy and our artists' careers," said [Canadian Recording Industry Association president] Graham Henderson, noting even the Supreme Court of Canada has recommended the federal government update copyright law.

"Downloading, file-swapping, peer-to-peer networks -- these are all euphemisms for piracy, pure and simple. It is devastating to the Canadian music industry."
After reading articles like this, I occasionally get pangs of Downloader's Guilt. So, in this case, the next time I passed HMV I stopped in an picked up a couple of albums that I have been listening to in mp3 format for the past few months: The Arcade Fire -- Funeral and Joanna Newsom -- The Milk-eyed Mender.

This, alas, did not relieve my mental distress. Now I have Buyer's Rage. Over $50 for just two albums? Rifriggindonkulous!Sharing

(The HMV cashier, by the by, a person whose career is presumably in peril because of Internet piracy, laughed at me when I told her I had Downloader's Guilt. "Why?" she asked.)

Anyway, perhaps "file-swapping" and "file-sharing" are euphemisms, but "piracy" is a worse dysphemism. Maybe Blue Rodeo is indeed hurt by downloading, but not in the "Arrrr! I'm goina cut owt yer blood-pumper 'n' steal yer booty!" sort of way. And other musicians owe their success to downloading, including the ones who got but a tiny slice of my $50 since they both have been pushed into renown by several high-profile mp3 blogs...

I realise this is a really stale, crusty debate. But, really, how are you ever going to get people to spend over $50 for two albums again? And is there a way to discuss the issue without -phemism? The entire Internet is a -phemism.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Brecht, Beckett, Bret Hart

You know, I'd love to fill this blog with Nestruckian insight all day long, but there are other things I must tend to from time to time.

There is, for instance, the National Post, where I work as a reporter in the Arts & Life section. My latest contribution -- an interview with wrestler-turned-thespian Bret "The Hitman" Hart -- is online and free!
"Wrestlers might be the very best theatre actors in the world, but never get credit for it," the strongman formerly known to the world as "The Hitman" says, looking rather dapper in a grey sweater with reading glasses hanging from the neck. "I remember I wrestled an hour marathon match for Wrestlemania -- XII, I think it was -- and I would put that match up there with anything Laurence Olivier ever had to remember from Shakespeare or Hamlet or anything."

Five years since retreating from pro wrestling after a career-ending concussion, Hart can still muster up some of the over-the-top bravado of the sports entertainment world; he just expresses it at a lower decibel level now. "To remember when to duck and when to turn around; when someone's diving off the top rope, you have to catch them right on the floor; the importance of protecting your opponent: They're all things that someone like Laurence Olivier would never have to think about," the former World Heavyweight wrestling champion continues in his gentle baritone. "If anything, I'd say that my job that day [at Wrestlemania XII] was certainly maybe magnified, more complex than his by a thousand-fold."
If you happen to come across a Post tomorrow, you'll find my interview with another non-actor-turned-actor: Renegade, Bush-stompin' MP Carolyn Parrish.

Meanwhile, over at Torontoist, there's some new theatre stuff up, featuring Brecht, Beckett, and an e-mail interview with actress Hilary Doyle co-star of Matt & Ben, the twice-extended hit that closes on Sunday. I didn't mention this on Torontoist, but if you go to see Matt & Ben -- which Post theatre critic Robert Cushman calls "still the best in town" -- on Tuesday or Wednesday and say the codeword "hit," you can get tickets for the ridiculously-low price of $10. If you live in the Toronto area and haven't seen it yet, you really should.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Glocal Diet

Riddle me this: Why is it that -- though the Internet allows me to download music from musicians based anywhere in the world -- I have added mostly Canadian bands to my mp3 collection lately? Over the last year, The Unicorns, Metric and The Arcade Fire have been added to my list of top ten favourite bands; these are all Montreal or Toronto groups that I discovered online -- not from local radio or posters on telephone poles.

Riddle me this, as well: Why is it that -- even though the Internet has no national borders -- Canadian bloggers tend to link mainly to other Canadian bloggers? More than three quarters of my blogroll is CanCon.

These are my questions on a Monday morning. Meanwhile, back in the Stone Age, the CRTC has to bribe television stations to run Canadian shows...

Friday, December 03, 2004

P.G. Wodehouse's Hitler Heil-arity

For those of you just joining The Great Laughter Debate now, here’s the sequence of events:
1) Colby Cosh buys a copy of controversial video game JFK Reloaded, writes, “I don't want any angry e-mails unless you can absolutely swear to me that you don't find anything funny about the idea of shooting that god-damned Halston pillbox right off Jackie's head.”
2) Warren Kinsella finds nothing funny about the idea, writes, "A game in which you get to murder John F. Kennedy (or George W. Bush, for that matter) isn't even remotely ‘funny.’ That is so obvious it barely merits saying." Kinsella follows this up by suggesting Cosh be fired from his day job for inappropriate laughter.
3) I read Cosh’s post, find it “funny,” defend Cosh’s dark sense of humour, note that jokes are made about horrible things all the time, particularly among journalists.
4) Kinsella blogs back that he is disappointed in me, notes, "Murder isn't funny, period, and I can't recall ever working in a newsroom where we all sat around and laughed about someone getting killed. Ever."

Now that we’re all up to date, let me make one thing absofrigginlutely clear: I do not find murder funny, nor does anyone else I have ever met on the planet. I do not find the Kennedy Assassination funny, nor do I find the other senseless murders Kinsella lists funny. And I am rather miffed that he has misrepresented what I was saying in this fashion.

First of all, there is a very significant difference between a game and reality, between an image and what that image represents, between fiction and non-fiction. People of a certain age seem to have particular trouble recognizing this when it comes to video games, that most despised of art forms. The very folks who are shocked by JFK Reloaded wouldn’t bat an eye at a bunch of Civil War re-enactors trying out a different version of the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. Nor are they upset that Philip Roth defeats FDR and corrals American Jews into ghettoes in his revisionist novel The Plot Against America.

But let’s leave that contentious issue for a moment and focus on laughing at “jokes” about tragedy or stories/representations of tragedy. While actual murder is emphatically not funny, jokes and silly depictions of real or imagined death often are – it’s the entire basis for the Road Runner cartoon oeuvre for goodness sakes. Representations of actual assassinations are not immune to this. (I direct your attention to David Ives’ very funny one-act play Variations on the Death of Trotsky.)

And now for the ultimate in overused rhetorical flourishes: Consider, if you will, Herr Adolf Hitler.

Making jokes about Hitler and the Nazis has been very popular from Chaplin (The Great Dictator) to Mel Brooks (The Producers) to Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful). Each of these comedians has been attacked, but for the most part the masses have praised their work with gales of laughter. (Or, as a Kinsellian might see it, the insensitive masses have praised their work with gales of scandalous, Holocaust-mocking laughter.)

In short, for Kinsella to say that jokes about murder are never funny... well I sincerely doubt that he has never laughed at a joke in a film or a book that hinges on violence or death. And I still would like to know whether or not he has any "Dead Kennedys" albums, given that the name of that band makes light of not one, two assassinations with a few other tragedies thrown in to boot.

I don't want to be miscontrued as saying that humour is appropriate in all instances. This debate -- and what bugs me about Kinsella isn't that he was offended by Cosh's laughter, but rather his absolutist "I can't believe there can be actual debate about this" stance when the debate over appropriate and inappropriate laughter is age-old -- has made me think quite a bit about humourist P.G. Wodehouse’s run-in with the Nazis, which I recently learned about in Robert McCrum’s very readable Wodehouse: A Life.

During the Second World War, Wodehouse –- the dry British wit behind the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster novels, as well as the book for Cole Porter’s Anything Goes –- was captured by the Nazis in Le Touquet, France, where he was living and writing. Like other male citizens of the U.K. under the age of 60, he was rounded up and put in an internment camp. He kept a low profile, but his fellow inmates eventually figured out exactly who he was. On at least one occasion, he raised the spirits of the men by turning his wry eye to internment camp life.

Shortly before his 60th birthday, Wodehouse was released and -- as he was not allowed to leave the country -- he took up residence in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin.

The Nazis had at this point realised exactly who Wodehouse was and asked him if would like to give a series of radio broadcasts to his fans in the United States, which wasn’t yet at war with Germany. Wodehouse, a political naïf, agreed in order to keep in touch with his fan base and reassure them that he was okay.

His first broadcast in June of 1941 was based on some of the material he had practiced on his fellow internees. (All of his broadcasts are available online here.) Here are a couple of excerpts:
It has been in many ways quite an agreeable experience. There is a good deal to be said for internment. It keeps you out of the saloons and gives you time to catch up with your reading. You also get a lot of sleep. The chief drawback is that it means your being away from home a good deal. It is not pleasant to think that by the time I see my Pekinese again, she will have completely forgotten me and will bite me to the bone - her invariable practice with strangers. And I feel that when I rejoin my wife, I had better take along a letter of introduction, just to be on the safe side....

The only concession I want from Germany is that she gives me a loaf of bread, tells the gentlemen with muskets at the main gate to look the other way, and leaves the rest to me. In return I am prepared to hand over India, an autographed set of my books, and to reveal the secret process of cooking sliced potatoes on a radiator. This offer holds good till Wednesday week.
While similar jokes lightened the mood among internees, Wodehouse’s broadcasts sapped morale back home in Britain. In Parliament and in the newspapers, he was branded a traitor and a Nazi collaborator. Librarians withdrew his books from circulation. Though some like Orwell defended him later, it ruined his reputation after the war.

What I find interesting about this story is that it illustrates perfectly how wildly subjective humour is and how it can be used for just about any purpose. Wodehouse’s stories were very funny to his fellow internees; they were almost a form of resistance. To the folks back home while the war was being waged, they were a Nazi propaganda coup.

Wodehouse’s story is a cautionary tale on the limits of ironic detachment -- and I do worry about that sometimes while enjoying a laugh with my oh-so-cynical peers. There are times when laughter topples dictators and there are times when it feeds them. Sometimes the exact same jokes can be used to both purposes.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Thirty-Two Short Notes about Pierre Berton

1) Here's my article from the National Post today (no subscription necessary), including interviews with Graeme Gibson, Rick Mercer, and Farley Mowat. The most fun to interview was Mowat, who, at 83, is still a really feisty fellow. While talking about his recently-deceased friend, Mowat shamelessly plugged his latest book No Man's Land (his 39th) and asked me if I'd mention it in my article. He also told me that now that Berton's gone, maybe he'll have a fighting chance of catching up to Berton's record of 50 books. (Some say 50, some say 77 with his series of children's paperbacks. I don't know if either of these numbers include Masquerade - 15 Variations on a Theme of Sexual Fantasy, a book Berton wrote under the pseudonym Lisa Kroniuk in 1985.)

2) And here's "an archeological or geological study of Berton’s sideburns" from a 1983 issue of Toronto Life, dug out and posted on Geist publisher Stephen Osborne's

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Nomenclature DIY, and a question

My interview with Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush is online and free on the National Post website. It's an article in which I try to give Rush a nickname: The Biopic Man.

And here's a question for you more technically-proficient bloggers. If I'm using Flickr to host photos, how do I stick them into my blog entries in a way that doesn't require me to post through Flickr? Why can't they just give you a line of code to cut&paste or the image's direct url?