Friday, January 07, 2005

Miserable Miscellany

I don't have time to compose my thoughts sufficiently to create a proper entry, but here is what is on my mind right now:
  • If bad driving were a universe, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada would be the nexus of that universe.
  • You may think that it is other people that have problems driving and talking on their cell phones. You are wrong, it is you. I know. I have seen you.
  • Speaking of cell phones, respect those around you. Nobody else cares about your pathetic life or the lives of your simpleton friends, so keep your conversations brief and quiet. If you have one of those really tiny phones, do yourself and everybody else a favour and get an earpiece. You are irritating enough without the endless, "What? What was that? I didn't hear you..." etc. as you pass the stupid thing back and forth from your mouth to your ear.
  • When you pass through a door in a public place, make at least some tiny effort to hold the door for those behind you.
  • If I hold the door open behind me as I pass through, don't slip in without extending the chain of courtesy to the next person. That's just rude.
  • Public Transit does not employ a maintenance staff to be your personal maid service. Rather, they do, but they shouldn't. Transit is like camping; you pack out what you pack in. This week I saw somebody's McDonald's remnants laid out on the seat as though they had used it as a table. Which they probably did. Which is profoundly disturbing. Oh, and a nearly full Slurpie that was melted. Did they forget their whole Slurpie?
  • When you are waiting for the bus, let those who were there ahead of you board first. Don't try to jam on. It takes longer and, more to the point, makes me angry.
  • The music that you like to listen to sucks. Really bad. So does my music. That's why I listen to it quietly.
  • QuarkXpress vs. InDesign - Very few people care about this stuff, but my studio is switching to InDesign. I don't see it as necessarily bad or good, but I am more familiar and comfortable with Quark and since I work exclusively with printed matter, I don't see any real benefit to the change. Either we embrace the whole Adobe CS package, or slap a Quark6 upgrade in there and keep chugging along. Since my employer is one of the larger ad firms in the world, it is pretty big news.
  • I finally bought Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again in trade paperback. It collects the three graphic novels that formed the follow-up to Miller's (Oh, and Lynn Varley's - sorry!) Batman: The Dark Knight quadrilogy from the eighties. Nice work. Gorgeous. Doesn't hit me like it did back in the day, though. That first miniseries turned the world of conventional comic book work on its ear.
  • Now I wish I could draw comics for a living.
  • I have very nearly almost started getting around to working out the necessary details required to look into the possibility of the potential of my beginning to develop the preliminary aspects of new comic. Maybe. I am thinking four pages. Working title: Someones at the Door. No dialogue, just drawings. Black ink for the drawings with maybe watercolour, maybe Photoshop, maybe both.
  • I am becoming increasingly searchable online, but still not through Google. Odd, but I can find several references to myself with Yahoo, Lycos and whatever Dogpile uses.
  • The best food new food I have tried recently is jalepeno pepper stuffed olives. Yum!
  • I miss having a radio at my desk all the time. My new office is one of these "open concept" things that Hippies like to talk about. I don't like looking at other people working and I think it is safe to say that they don't want to be looking at me.
  • I can't draw really well on the subway or the bus (or at all, sometimes...) so I try to sketch out rough ideas while I am on transit. Now I need to take a sabbatical to try to catch up on the rough sketches I have made.
  • My fantasy: retire to a workshop where I can design, print and bind my own limited edition books. My reality: work until I keel over dead. Better top up that life insurance...
That's about it for now.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

It's About Priorities, People.

It is my intention to use this space as a tool to develop my writing skills. I imagine that if I work to my full potential, I might one day qualify as a kind of a gonzo hack. I am still a long way from reaching that goal. It seems that as of yet, I have succeeded only in creating a long-winded series of whining complaints.
So why stop now?
I have been meaning for the last little while to get around to addressing some statements made by Prince Charles relating to people knowing their place in society. He received a slew of negative press in return and was consistently quoted and paraphrased out of context. My problem is not with the Heir Apparent, but the various media that failed to properly exploit the opportunity for meaningful, constructive introspection.
What Charles said, or rather wrote, in a memo to an aide is this, "What's wrong with everyone nowadays? What is it that makes everyone seem to think that they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities? It's social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially re-engineered to contradict the lessons of history."
He goes on later to suggest that people tend to believe that they can become "pop stars, high court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability."
The media, by which I mean the big "M" Media that are the amalgam of sources making up the amorphous juggernaut that feeds the needs of our modern information age, dropped the ball by failing to explore their role in making themselves the instrument for this aspect of social engineering. Now, naturally, we are the Media and the Media are us, so we are all to blame for fomenting the unrealistic and unattainable ideals that have become so tightly woven into the fabric of our Modern Western Civilisation.
We have made news out of celebrities and celebrities of those who bring us the news. Our culture has largely discarded real experience and replaced it with the vicarious voyeurism of reality television. After the Second World War, it was necessary that we become a disposable plastic society. Mass consumerism drove the economies of the industrialised world from the fifties through the seventies and allowed us to grow healthy and prosperous. Now, entertainment and leisure are the commodities of the new economy and we ship their manufacture overseas. Marketing creates a perceived value in the mind of consumers where none actually exists and the result is the desire to purchase the intangible – lifestyle, peer approval, comfort, status. In short, brands.
We have allowed and encouraged the growth of such brands as Tommy Hilfiger, a company concerned solely with branding. The total square footage of garment manufacturing facilities owned by the Hilfiger label is zero. The entire company exists only to create in consumers like you and me a desire to own clothes, linens, housepaint and other lifestyle elements produced overseas and stamped with a Tommy Hilfiger logo. I don't mean to single out one corporation. This is just the way business is done nowadays.
What does this have to do with what Prince Charles wrote in his memo? Well, it has to do with the fallout of this mass branding culture. In the spirit of Image is Everything, branding ignores quantitative and reinforces qualitative values. It must, or else there is no justification for selling a four dollar t-shirt for thirty-five. To this end, many brands attached themselves to popular figures in music, acting and sports. In turn, many celebrities launched product lines of their own despite having no specific knowledge of, for example, the clothing or perfume industries. The actual commodity retains less actual value as the perceived worth of the brand climbs. We are buying less and less stuff and more and more lifestyle.
Now with the increasing importance of celebrities in our community, the trickle down is that we begin to feel less important because we are not celebrities. Fame gets cheaper as it becomes less enduring. We look up to people on game shows, read about the tiny details of a rapper's life and follow the wedding plans of a talk show host. Gradually, these people become more real than our real life; part of our virtual family. When we watch them so closely and follow news of their fortunes and failings, their spending habits, their personal problems and intimate secrets, the lifestyle of the famous seems so much closer. So much better than what we have to put up with every day. Our culture turns to celebrities with no more authority than you or me for their opinion on politics, the economy, religion and whatever else may come along. They have everything they want and then some. They sure are pretty. Better than going to work at the factory every day.
Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. The fact of the matter, however, is that somebody has to go to the factory. And the coal mine. And the power plant. People need to pave roads, mill lumber and gut fish. That infrastructure is more important and lasting than the music industry, or the movie industry or the fashion industry. These are the trades that have the skills and abilities to move the human race into the future. Not fashion models. Not game show hosts.
I think it is quite telling that the top three searches through Google in 2004 were American Idol, Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson in that order. Not George W. Bush or Osama Bin Laden or, "Hey, where the hell are those weapons of mass destruction anyway and how many more civilians are going to die in Iraq?" Nobody really wants have to think about the tough stuff anymore. That's like high school math. When am I ever going to use that again?
I heard an interesting response to a question about the nature of God the other day. The question was about the message God was trying to send by blasting the coast of the Indian Ocean with a massive tsunami. The answer was that maybe we should look instead at the message we can send through helping our neighbours to recover.
It would be nice to see a period of serious reflection in the wake of the tsunami. We can all benefit by taking time to assess our personal priorities and taking a responsible place in society.

On the Town - with Joshua

Hmmm... Was that Mr. Andrew Krystal having a rather loud cellphone conversation for the benefit of patrons at a coffee shop a safe several blocks from CFRB's Yonge & St. Clair headquarters? Well, whoevever it was, he had some very nice things to say about himself by way of comparison with Mr. Peter Shurman and Mr. John Moore. Perhaps phone guy feels Mr. Krystal's vast talents are being squandered in the Sunday night timeslot gulag? Just speculation, of course.