The Kids Are Alright: Participation Trophies

•August 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Participation trophies have become the hobby horse of choice for armchair sociologists nowadays. Seems like every pseudo-intellectual craving attention (I’m looking at you Simon Sinek) is hand-wringing about how participation trophies are destroying society as we know it and all our kids will grow up to join al qaeda because they don’t have that mamba mentality.

Whenever someone brings participation trophies, my immediate reaction is “Trophies? How much money this kids’ league got?” Those things are expensive, bruh. When I was a competitive swimmer we didn’t even get trophies for coming first; we got ribbons. When I was awarded MVP of my high school rugby team I got a shitty little plaque. How much are these little leagues hitting up parents for anyway??

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How to feel better about yourself: Disparage everyone born the decade after you

What surprises me most about this discussion is that these people seem to be directing their anger at the kids. HURRDURR THIS IS WUTS WRONG WIT MILENNIALS. And I’m thinking, the kids didn’t ask for this. They know the difference. They know these participation trophies–or whatever the fuck they’re getting–are bullshit. Half of them would probably rather be home playing video games or at the skate park (funny how we don’t seem to value competition in these areas as much as organized sports). It’s for the parents. Y’know, those needy, psychotic parents who pick fights with other parents and coaches while their ten-year olds kick around a soccer ball. They’re the ones who need to be validated. And that’s what drives me insane about this debate over participation trophies. It’s all, “milennials are awful b/c they got participation trophies,” when it should be “what is it about boomers and gen x’ers that feel the need to constantly have their poor parenting skills rewarded.”

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I bet whoever made this is a real cool dude

But for the sake of argument, let’s say this thing is as bad as your annoying uncle on Facebook says it is. Is athletic success as a kid really that great an indicator for later success in life? Did all those hot shit jocks you grow up with go on to make the cover of Fortune 500? I’m guessing not. The great young athlete who grows up to be a loser obsessed with the Glory Days is a well-earned stereotype. In fact, I’m pretty sure Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about it…

Then again, Donald Trump, who claims to have been the best baseball player in New York, is now president, so I guess there’s always exceptions. I wonder if it was difficult to play with all those bone spurs?

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that pitch had yuuuge velocity!

With people screaming “if you ain’t first yer last” like Ricky Bobby, you’d think we didn’t value anything in sports beyond who’s the winner and who’s the loser. But that’s not true at all. Look at the backlash guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant faced when they went to better teams to win championships. Or how much people resent Tom Brady and the Pats for perceived cheating.

Yes, that’s right, there’s more to sports than winning and we all know it.

When I think back on playing sports as a kid, I rarely think about whatever games we won or lost, I think about having fun with my friends and all that other corny shit. All this controversy with participation trophies is just more micro-managing bullshit adults fuss over their kids. Even worse, it’s sad pathetic people who feel the need to self-mythologize by putting down the younger generation.

I bet way back in the day, cavemen were standing around like “Ugh this younger generation is so entitled. When we were kids we didn’t have fire or the wheel. All we had were sharp sticks and that’s the way we liked it!”

Cheers,

-b

Paradise Lost: the failure of the new Alien franchise

•May 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

*spoiler warnings for Covenant and Prometheus*

Alien is one of all-time favourite movies, a perfect 10/10. It is the standard by which all other sci-fi horrors are judged. And what’s amazing is that Aliens, the sequel, is nearly just as good. It is another genre standard, this type taking a slight lateral step into sci-fi action/adventure. Every military sci-fi flick borrows something from these movies.

Few franchises can boast such a one-two punch for their first two instalments. Like Star Wars and Nolan’s Batman. Unfortunately, from there the Alien franchise hits a neck-breaking drop-off. Alien 3 is a colossal failure. All the more because it squandered the efforts of a young David Fincher (Fight Club) through studio meddling. Interestingly, Alien: Resurrection also had a promising team of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) directing and Joss Whedon (literally everything) writing. And while it sorta missed the mark, I actually think it’s criminally underrated. But that’s a whole other post.

Therefore, it was cause for excitement when Ridley Scott, original director of Alien, announced that he was returning to the franchise. Prometheus promised to explore the unanswered question of the mysterious giant “space jockey” from the beginning of Alien. Unfortunately, Prometheus was a deeply flawed film. Others have enumerated the flaws (particularly Red Letter Media), and I wrote a post about the failures of Damon Lindelof, the screenwriter, so I won’t bother to get too much into here.

Promising to address the criticisms, Scott followed up with Alien: Covenant. This time we wouldn’t be subjected to frustrating unanswered questions and we’d see what we all wanted to see: Xenomorphs!

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Alas, Covenant is actually worse than Prometheus. It tries to mash together Prometheus and earlier Alien movies and ends up doing a poor job of both. The thing is, I actually enjoy the first 2/3 of Prometheus. It’s beautifully directed with a great cast and an excellent score. It does a great job imbuing that sense of wonder in space travel. And if you can achieve that in a film, particularly sci-fi, then you’ve won half the battle. I really feel like I wanted to explore this world with the characters and share their excitement (well, some) to discover some cool shit in outer space. There are some pretty terrifying sequences, too. I loved the Cesarean section scene. But then the ending totally screwed the pooch. My biggest problem is an issue I have with so many films today: the obsession with building a universe. They keep teasing us with a movie that never comes. The great franchises went for broke on each movie. Look at Star Wars and Nolan’s Batman. Each movie is a contained story. They’re not making empty promises that are meant to be cashed out in future movies.

Covenant can’t deliver on any of this. The first half, like I said, is a Prometheus-esque film. But it doesn’t have that same sense of wonder. Again, there is beautiful direction, but it doesn’t have the same energy. It feels too similar. These people are supposed to be colonists on a new planet yet they don’t seem very interested in it. They’re like yuppies looking for exotic real estate. “Can you picture yourself living here? I think I can…” At least Prometheus tantalized audiences with space travel. Covenant just feels tedious.

The film then pretty abruptly shifts into an Alien film. The xenomorphs just sorta show up. And yeah they’re kinda different, but not different enough to be interesting. And what’s up with the xeno-pods? That seems like a much more efficient and effective dispersal method than the face-huggers. So in what way are the eggs an evolution? And how did David manage to create the eggs without a queen? I like the idea of him experimenting on Shaw’s womb to create the egg, but it seems way too far fetched, even for this kinda movie.

The classic xenomorph design makes its appearance and it’s sorta momentous but the action sequences felt very blah to me. Mostly because I didn’t give a shit about these characters the way I did about Ripley or the marines from Alien and Aliens.

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I think what’s even more frustrating about this new Alien franchise is that Scott has managed to sabotage two other promising films. In order to make Prometheus, Scott used his considerable influence to veto Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” because Prometheus essentially rips off the premise of the story. That’s truly a shame because we have never truly seen a great adaptation of Lovecraft’s work and I know del Toro would’ve put a lot of love into that film. Secondly, to make Covenant Scott effectively kiboshed Neill Blomkamp’s Alien sequel. Blomkamp (District 9) seemed to have an interesting new take on the franchise and could’ve pushed it into new territory. Now it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to see it.

This is the sorta shit that keeps me up at night. Real talk. I really don’t understand how Scott still enjoys the level of influence he does given the number of failures he’s had lately, namely Robin Hood and Exodus. I guess studios still salivate at the possibility of him recapturing the glory of Alien and Gladiator. And they probably don’t wanna make the same mistake they did with Blade Runner. I will admit, though, that The Martian was pretty great.

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So, what would I do differently?

First, let’s go back to Prometheus. Yes, there are lots of minor scrupples, but what sorta major changes can I make. Firstly, simplify. Get rid of all the Space Jesus, 2001 rip-off bullshit. Instead of clumsily shoehorning in glib teleology and philosophy, let’s just say that the team are scientists who found this weapons research planet and wanted to go explore. From there the story plays out much like it does in the film. They find this crazy spacecraft with dead Engineers. However, instead of black goo, they find the classic xenomorph eggs. That was the weapon. Somehow they made a mistake and they got lose. That’s what the Engineers were running from. I mean that would explain why we see a fucking xenomorph mural.

Let me digress a bit on this black goo. A lot of people have taken issue with it, but I have to get my two cents in because I think it’s such a lazy, shitty bit of writing. I don’t need my sci-fi concepts over-explained to me, but I require some kinda logic to it. This black goo does a million different things, depending on what the plot needs. They never bother trying to establish what it actually is. That’s just unforgivable.

So the team shows up and find the room full of eggs. But because they’re intelligent scientists, they know not to fuck with the eggs, and manage to isolate the face-hugger without getting exposed. They examine it, speculate, etc. Meanwhile, David is like, “I wanna see what this fucking thing can do for real.” Maybe he takes a sample of its vector and that’s how he infects Holloway. Now we still get to see the Ceasarian section scene.

Meanwhile, the team continue to explore the ship. They find the remaining Engineer, and Weyland shows up, etc. They discover that the Engineers had wanted to take the payload to earth to wipe out the human race. Why? An experiment. To amass an army of xenomorphs. Who knows. The point is that they are indifferent to us. That’s Lovecraftian horror, baby.

So, David is like well fuck you too and unleashes a facehugger on the Engineer. It bursts from the chest like we saw in Alien, thus fulfilling the promise of the whole fucking movie. What results is a Xenomorph *King*. Wouldn’t that be nuts? Like befitting of a modern Alien sequel. It’d be something we’d never seen before. The rest of the movie is them battling the giant Xenomorph, etc. Shaw and David escape to go to the Engineers’ home planet, because they’re like, “these people are fucked and are a threat. We gotta stop them.” That sets up Covenant.

Covenant begins with the colonists going to the Engineers’ home planet, not knowing the events of Prometheus. They just think it’s a suitable planet for terra-forming. They arrive and set up shop. This time, they’ve brought livestolk, pigs, cows, etc. The colonization is going well, but they have questions. Why does it have earth-like vegetation but no other animals? Teams are assembled to explore the planet.

They discover ruins, dead Engineers and indigenous animals. That’s when David shows up. From here the plot plays out like the film. He lies and says he and Shaw crashed there, found all the Engineers dead, etc. However, the truth is that David unleashed the eggs on the Engineers much like they had planned to do to us. Eventually the xenomorphs run out of food and die off, too. David, now becoming consumed with his mad desire to experiment, starts deploying the facehuggers on the animals, too. He splices the genes with insects, etc. to see what he can discover. And, like the film, he turns his psychotic gaze on Shaw as well.

The colonists give David new subjects to study. He exposes the animals to the facehuggers. We see xenomorph boars, bulls, horses, dogs, all kinds of wild shit. Again, new stuff we’ve never seen before that would warrant a sequel. This was actually an abandoned idea from the Alien 3 drafting stage that I think has been lamentably unexplored.

Some of the colonists escape. They kill David and his xenomorphs. They alert the Weyland-Yutani corp about what happened. That’s when the company decides to go to the planet from Prometheus, which sets up Alien.

From here the franchise could do some more sequels, or something.

So, what did you you think? Did you enjoy Prometheus and/or Covenant? Lemme know.

Cheers,

-b

Byline update: Canadian Encyclopedia

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote about Bannock for Canadian Encylopedia. I tried to untangle the complex web of its history and role in Canada, from the first European colonialists to modern adaptations in today’s First Nations cultures. Here is the link: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/bannock/

Byline update: Canadian Encyclopedia

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote about butter tarts for Canadian Encyclopedia. I focused on their unique role in helping foster an identity for Canadian cuisine. Here’s the link: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/butter-tarts/

Byline update: Canadian Encyclopedia

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote again about Screech for Canadian Encyclopedia. This is a bit more expository in nature than my work for Maisonneuve. It gets a little bit more into the history of it, if the first article piqued your interest. Here is the link: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/screech/

Byline update: Maisonneuve

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote about the Screech-in for Maisonneuve. For those of you who don’t know, it is a kind of initiation ritual we do here in Newfoundland for visitors and newcomers. I explore its history, controversy, and role in Newfoundland identity politics. Here is a sample:

IT’S A FRIDAY NIGHT at Christian’s Pub in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland. The bar is packed for a February. As 11 pm approaches, the crowd is eagerly waiting for Keith Vokey to arrive and perform his famous Screech-In ceremony. The tiny top floor—reserved for Screechers and their guests—fills quickly. The space heats up as everyone orders their pints, still bundled up in their winter coats because there are no more hooks left to hang them on. Rihanna’s “Work” plays on a jukebox in the corner. The tables and chairs have been pushed against the walls to create space in the middle of the room, where about a dozen tourists wait attentively in groups of threes and fours, their friends watching from the sidelines.

Fifteen minutes later, Vokey, dressed in green oilskins, bursts out from a door at the back of the bar, clapping his hand against a wooden oar. His long, curly hair has been tied into a ponytail and tucked into a green fisherman’s hat called a sou’wester, which is proportioned like a mullet—short in the front, long in the back. Small droplets of sweat are already beading in his salt-and-pepper beard. After the jukebox has been turned off, Vokey opens the night with the first verse of the “The Islander” by local favourites Shanneyganock. “I’m a Newfoundlander born and bred and I’ll be one ’til I die,” he sings. “I’m proud to be an islander and here’s the reason why; I’m free as the winds and the waves that wash the sand; there’s no place I’d rather be than here in Newfoundland.” Vokey is a capable singer in his own right—he’s played in a few groups, including a tribute band called The Beach B’ys—but his performance tonight is mostly about volume and theatrics.

Check out the full article here: https://maisonneuve.org/article/2017/01/17/hook-line-and-screecher/

American Psycho: A Survivalist Reading Guide for the Trump Era

•January 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

2016 was the year people started using the word “narrative” to critique certain trains of the thought in the discourse, but yet seemed totally incapable of realizing they were perpetuating it. My favourite couple narratives now are are all the shitty liberals racing to use their personal hobby horses to explain why Donald Trump won.

Obsessing over gender nonsense is why Trump won!

Black Lives Matter! People are sick of being called racist!

Safe spaces! Snowflakes! Political correctness!

Apparently, the “left” forgot about the concerns of the working man, and in their “economic anxiety” America turned to the demagogue. Yeah, man, the GOP really got their fingers on the pulse of the blue collar community. That’s why they’re busy busting unions, dismantling health care, and stripping overtime regulation, while making laws entrenching gendered bathrooms. Let me fill you in on a little secret, the right are just as obsessed, probably more so, with identity politics, they’ve just won the war over semantics.

Yet, Clinton won the popular vote by a huge margin. One of the biggest in history. She got the second amount of votes for any candidate ever, aside from Obama in 2008. Trump won because of a shitty electoral collage, demographics, and James Comey. So, all these #hottakes on why Clinton lost are pretty much bullshit.

And here’s a thought, perhaps Trump’s victory isn’t a failure of the left, but a failure of the right. They’re the ones who put forward this sociopath and got him into office. Suddenly, it’s the other side’s fault for not stopping a huge portion of the population hell bent on driving America into fascism? “Oh, well sure I covered myself in shit, but you should’ve stopped me! It’s your fault!”

Ugh. Then there’s the “both candidates are awful” crowd. You’re all so edgy and individualistic, guys. No way the lamestream media is ever gonna get one over on y’all. Hope you enjoy masturbating in front of a mirror for the next couple years as we get to find out what happens to the world when America is turned into Zimbabwe.

As Trump and his ship of fools continue to demonize the press, I can only wonder when the public book burnings will start. Until then, help yourself to some of these.

George RR Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire

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Everyone’s favourite literary reference for politics these days.

So many people were hoping that Clinton would be Daenerys. Instead, she was more like Little Finger, a conniving technocrat. Which, IMO, isn’t that bad. Instead, we get Joffrey.

Jonathan Franzen – Purity

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I was a little underwhelmed when I first finished Purity, but it’s really stayed with me the past year and I was reminded of it many times during the election. Throughout the novel Franzen considers the concept of purity from a number of angles. Characters become fixated with a particular ideology and become fanatically rigid.

There is one character that was especially pertinent, a hacker named Andreas Wolf. Wolf fervently believes that government secrets must be exposed, but guards many of his own personal secrets. Sound like someone familiar?

While I don’t agree with a lot of what Franzen says, I agree that purity has become a destructive force in our current political discourse. Bernie Bros and Trumpists were obsessed with the untainted quality of their candidates, whereas Clinton was tarnished by her time in office. The notion of being pragmatic and taking the lesser of several evils isn’t doesn’t seem to hold much water anymore. Drain the swamp! Revolution! Blow it up!

Edmund Burke – Reflections on the Revolution in France

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Speaking of revolution, Burke’s treatise on the French revolution is a classic in conservative literature (or at least when conservatism was sensible). Burke is painfully wordy, but he zeros in on a number of important points. He deconstructs the sexy fervour around revolution and emphasises its violent and destructive reality. It is better, he reasons, to pursue slow change, gradual so that the people can adapt and digest these changes. Slavoj Zizek makes a somewhat similar point when he talks about a culture’s failure to imagine an alternate reality after a revolution, in order to avoid the old “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Frankly, the celebration of revolution smacks of privilege. A lot of leftists have gleefully embraced Trump as a potential to burn everything to the ground and start over with a glorious socialist ascension. Maybe that’s true? But it seems to be that a lot of people are gonna get trampled underfoot while we wait for that to play out.

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

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And who are these people that are about to be trampled? Well, women are an immediate target. The GOP have already set their sights on defunding Planet Parenthood. Mike Pence has been particularly zealous in oppressing women, including pursuing a bill that would force would-be mothers to hold funerals for their miscarried children. Yeah. Seriously. Fun fact: the war on abortion is actually a war on affordable abortions for poor women. Rich women have always had access to safe abortions, and conservatives are all too content to let poor women kill themselves with grotesque solutions.

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most fucked up books I’ve ever read. I felt tense the entire time while reading it. It’s a dystopian future where Christian extremists have taken over the United States. Fertility rates are perilous, so fertile women are selected to be “handmaids” to powerful families. Basically, a heifer. Atwood’s description of this perverse threesome is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read.

Albert Speer – Inside the Third Reich

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Trump’s campaign sure had an overt stench of antisemitism. He certainly didn’t go to any lengths to downplay it with the hiring of Bannon. Trump’s embrace of the “alt-right” has catapulted neo-Nazis into the mainstream. Except, shhh. We’re not supposed to call them that. It’s totally just liberal hyperbole to call a group of people who openly flaunt Nazi iconography and xenophobia “Nazis.” Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

Speer, the Third Reich’s official architect and later minister of munitions, details his rise through Hitler’s regime. It’s also a rare document that gives a first-person POV of the social milieu of Germany that lead to the rise of the Third Reich. Most notably for me, is his focus on how Germany disregarded its history and importance of self-reflection. Everything was reduced to utilitarianism, which makes me think our current state.

Ta-Nehisi Coates – “The Case for Reparations”

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Coates has had the Midas touch the last couple years. I love his work in the Atlantic and for Black Panther. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten to Between the World and Me, but its reputation is impressive.

“The Case for Reparations” is one of the best essays I’ve ever read. Coates breaks down the historical circumstances of how White America has been able to build its wealth by plundering Black communities, from Jim Crow laws in the South, to housing schemes in Chicago.

If you’re genuinely curious about the BLM movement, then this is a great place to start.

Thomas Piketty – Capital in the 21st Century

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In case you were wondering how a shithead like Trump managed to make a fortune (the size of which is still very much debatable) then this is an excellent book. Piketty explores the way capital is allowed to flow freely by the wealthy, who in turn drive up the margin of inequality. His main thesis is that that when the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth over the long term, the result is concentration of wealth, which causes social and economic instability. Moreover, this trend towards concentration of wealth is an inherent feature of capitalism (hello there again, Marx), and the only solution is state intervention and progressive taxation.

This obviously a great read after going through the 2008 recession, and with Trump loading up his cabinet with Wall Streeters (so much for draining the swamp) it looks like we’re careening back towards something far worse. It’s fascinating/terrifying to see how Putin is successfully spreading his kleptocracy across the globe.

Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything

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Klein is a tricky figure for me. I think she’s an excellent writer and I agree with much of what she says (however, her praise of Ontario’s green energy plans in this book are cringe-worthy), I’m not such a fan of her activism. She’s very intractable and non-compromising. I mean, she’s probably right. It certainly seems like climate action needs immediate, far-reaching intervention, but unfortunately, for many complex reasons, we’re not there as a population. The best we can muster right now is a modest carbon tax.

But hey, you’re allowed to like a writer without agreeing with %100 of their views, something we’ve seemed to have chosen to jettison.

Aside from being a great primer for climate issues, I think Klein’s best moments are when she delineates how a green energy revolution will fundamentally change capitalism. Green technology has the potential to disrupt the control big energy companies have over the means of production. Yes, this is all very Marxist, which is why it’s awesome. That’s a revolution I can get behind.

A green tech revolution is also likely the best chance we have of underminingthe power a petro state like Russia has.

Edward Said – Orientalism

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I think it’s fair to say Trump comes from the “now is not the time for sociology” school of foreign affairs. If you only read the intro to Orientalism you’ll be all the richer for it. Said delineates the way will to knowledge went hand in hand with colonialism in the “East.” Basically, western powers wanted to plunder eastern wealth so they dispatch scholars to represent these places back to us in ways that subtly justified foreign intervention. Thus we begin to see how the Orient was envisioned as this mysterious, wild frontier, crying out to be brought to bear by western hegemony. They didn’t even understand the wealth they were sitting on!

In a word, be mindful of the gaze in which subjects are rendered.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment

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Had to sneak this one in. A classic from the Russian master about a character who self-righteously commits murder, insisting the end justifies the means.

Likewise, I have a feeling the whole thing about Russian hacking is gonna go from “this is bullshit!” to “Russia was right to infiltrate the election.” Recently, Marine Le Pen visited Trump Tower (which is ominously accruing Sauron vibes), which can only be interpreted as Putin pushing plotting his next move to subvert democracy in Europe. As this plays out, expect a lot of rationalization about how the means of fascism justify the ends.

 

Anyways, I think that should be enough. Enjoy your Three Doors Down concert, losers.

Cheers,

-b