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Archive for the ‘America’ Category

i stole this from a hockey card

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As I was channel surfing between periods or goals scored during game 7 of the Montreal-Boston playoff series on Monday I came across The Hour with your boyfriend, George Stroumboulopoulos. Amoung other things, Strombo was talking to the audience about the significance of that particular day in Canadian and in hockey history. It was April 21, the anniversary of the Leafs Stanley Cup Championship with over the Habs in 1951. There’s nothing too memorable about that particular championship (aside from the fact that it was the team’s fifth win in seven years), but there was definitely something special about the way that it was won. April Twenty-One, Nineteen Hundred and Fifty-One, you remember from your pop-music sensibilities, is that special day in Canadian hockey history when Bill Barilko of the Leafs scored a goal in overtime it undermine the Habs. Barilko would disappear that summer, and so would Maple Leaf hockey championships, until 1961, when his body was found in the bush.

Your boyfriend narrated the events to us by reciting the lyrics to The Tragically Hip’s “50 Mission Cap” to the camera. It was all very cute and endearing, not only because of the anniversary itself, but because, it being spring time, I have found myself as of late pulling out old gems from The Hip catalogue in order to commune with the sun. My pop-musical tastes generally sway toward darker, extended tracks heavy on the synth and light on the guitar. This can be explained away by my arrogance and my pretense, or by my late-teen and early-20s infatuation with ambient and downtempo beats – basically, if its got Brian Eno involved, then I’m keen on it (except for Roxy Music, of course). But when the sun starts shining, I do find myself reaching toward Summertime Festival / Arena Rock. Yay. So Strombo’s timing was incredibly… timely.. given the timing of the sun in these parts this year.

But back to Bill Barilko. I like to think that Gord Downie, in his quest to create a genuine canon of Canadian folklore (in spite of the inherent paradox involved in actively *generating* folklore) reached out to the story of Barilko and hit the mark. Barilko’s story is great for folklore not because of the hockey, not and not because of the stovepipe cup, but because he disappeared and died in a plane crash near Cochrane, Ontario, while en route to somewhere in northern Quebec on a fishing trip. Cochrane is Pretty Far North in Ontario. It’s still on Hwy 11, so its accessible and not “in the boonies”, as they say. But if you are planning on going to “the boonies”, then Cochrane is as good a place to start as any.

When I say, “the boonies”, I betray my upbringing in the comforting, and hollow confines of suburban southern ontario. I may be calling it “the boonies”, but in Downie’s world, on the Canadian Folkloric Map he was sketched out for the past twentyfive years, “the boonies” is where one locates the heart and soul of the nation. Sometimes we call it “the boonies,” but a lot of the time we call it “the north.”

Here in Nova Scotia, I notice that I don’t talk about “the north” anymore. North of me is Cape Breton, and north of that is Newfoundland. And north of Newfoundland (notwithstanding Labrador, a mainland experience of the Rock’s own particular and peculiar folklore) is the North Atlantic. “The North”, from the perspective of Southern Ontario, is where The Ends of the Earth begins. The North is not the Arctic, and its not inaccessible. And neither is it a no man’s land, because Its still part of your province. “Going Up North”, rather, is to go to the fringes of your known space, of your known lands. Going Up North is not to travel to a wasteland, or to a necessarily unknown space, but it is still to travel to a place entirely different from what you known in life thus far. In that space between there and here, that area we have declared to be ours though we do not live in it or experience it, there be monsters.

When I look at old maps of the Atlantic, maps from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I notice that “here be monsters” still can be found on the oceans. Even though the Americas had been discovered (or at least the eastern seaboard has been charted) and sailors and voyagers knew where they’re going and how to get there, that middle space between here and there was still a place to encounter the unreal, the fantastic, the wondrous or the monstrous. The Arctic and the High North (as opposed to the simple North), perhaps because it was a destination and could be marked and located on a map and therefore psychologically “controlled”, does not have monsters. There may be identifiable animals, but one will not find behemoths in the places one travels to. One find monsters only in the space one must travel through to get to where one is going.

The Arctic was still powerful and destructive, but the sublimity of its landscape created there a relationship between man and nature. We were not in control in the Arctic, but we decided to respect the Arctic for a time, so the Arctic respected us in return. Man might be subordinate to the power of nature in the Arctic, but at least man knew where the power was; with knowledge of this structure, it would only be a matter of time before these positions might reverse. Many sketch-drawings of the Sublime in nature feature the Arctic as opposed to the intermediate spaces between there are here. In spite of the power and terror of these cold, barren regions, in spite of that which makes these spaces sublime in the first place, we can moderately tame them with the stroke of a pen. No one draws the fringes and the in-between spaces, though. The fringes remain a true unknown. It is those places we instead draw and insert the fantastic, that we insert the monsters. It is in those spaces that folklore resides.

Cochrane doesn’t have the monsters I see on maps of the north Atlantic. But it is on the fringes of that unknown space that must be travelled before getting to your destination. That’s where Barilko died. Interestingly, Tom Thomson, who Downie recalls in his song “Three Pistols”, also died in these intermediate paces. Thomson disappeared in Algonquin Park while on a canoe trip of one sort or another in 1919. (I don’t know offhand is his body was ever found.) The park is a nature preserve, about a four hour drive from Toronto, or a little more than two hours from Ottawa. Algonquin isn’t nearly as isolated as Cochrane is, but it still represents the beginnings of The North to suburban Ontario. What is so interesting about Algonquin, and other large-scale parks close to urban centres in Canada, however, is that they also represent our attempts to assert sovereignty over these intermediate spaces. The Parks are named and branded and marked by various provincial and national governing bodies, lending to our maps the appearance of dominion over these lands. But what we find when we drive to them to “camp” for the night (i.e. to pretend to be able to commune with nature and the unknown) is that the park wardens and volunteers and representatives of society and the state tell us we can only hike so far and we can only go into the bush for so long before they will give up on our persons and declare us Lost. Implicit in their statements, implicit in the logos, the nature paths, the plaques, the guides and trails, is the fact that we have not tamed this intermediate space. One should stay on the trail, but one should remember that the trail is not a sanctuary from the monsters. The parks aren’t parks after all. They’re not even thrill rides. The parks are not so much santuaries from the monsters, but sanctuaries for the monsters.

Bill Barilko didn’t die on his fishing trip. Barilko died trying to get there. He died in the uncharted space between here and there. That’s why he’s great subject matter for Downie to play with. Had Barilko died on the fishing trip, his body would likely have been found quicker than it was when his plane crashed in the bush. As it stands, his body was found completely by chance, only because the unknown granted it back to us. This would not have happened, and Downie would not have a song, had Barilko got to where he was going.

I actively try not to promote the Canada=Nature trope that has lived in our culture and our psyche for so long, since Canada does not equal nature. “Canada”, rather, equals “Imagining Nature”. Canada equals Living On The Thin Line Between America and Nature. (This is a slight deviation from the Atwood School. It is slight enough for me to harp about it as if its my own yet still have to acknowledge how I’ve come to thinking about it). That’s what Downie is invoking in “50 Mission Cap”. There is hockey and hockey cards and the Leafs and the Canadiens, so it does smack of Canada like America does in a Rockwell painting. But at its heart, I think the song speaks of a non-corporate, non-commercial sense of Candianness (not “Canadiana”) in the way it flutters with the unknown spaces outside many of our doors.


Written by mitchellirons

April 22, 2008 at 12:37 pm

baseball and the human condition

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I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to baseball. The local newspaper tells me that spring is in the air, spring training has begun, spring is in our step, and spring has sprung. All across that great nation which straddles our southern flank, sporting fans are spending their days engrossed in the magic and pathos that is the NCAA Final Four, but know full well that in merely one week’s time, their attentions will, nay must, divert to their National Pastime.

The newspapers (such a term is not soulless, as “the media” is) are reporting on the swings, the hits, the throws and the catches that are cutting through the air of Florida and Arizona with hardly a world devoted to the that post-human struggle: steroids and human growth hormone. We’ll keep those stories for the middle of the season, when the bland All*Star Game offers us a home-run derby to demonstrate the power in the pythons of our heroes. No, for now, we’ll take in baseball as it is every spring: a reconstitution of the human spirit and a recounting of everything that was right, and still is right in America. How nostalgic of us.

The Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, have a new stadium. The inaugural pitch in the park will be thrown by none other than current president George W. Bush. The Papers (I must reinforce their soul if their writers are determined to do the same with America) note that the capital’s former team, the Washington Senators – now the Texas Rangers – once had an inaugural pitch thrown in their own park by the late John F. Kennedy. I’ll leave the politics out of the politics for once, as the importance lies not in any similarity or difference between the two presidents, but in the fact that the newspapers feel obliged to use the president’s pitch as their own “pitch.” One way to reinforce the nostalgia of America’s pastime and of America’s heritage is to constantly reinforce America. Nostalgia’s power lies partly in its circularity.

Many people, or at least many men, own one baseball cap or another. I wear a New York Yankees ballcap from time to time; my friend Will once wore a ([Los Angeles{,}) California] Angels (of Anaheim) ballcap. I wear the Yankees’ cap merely because it looks nice on my head. Will wore the Angels cap, or at least professed to wear it, because the Angels were his team. I haven’t really ever understood the allegiance to teams, especially to teams outside of one’s region, but I haven’t ever questioned it, either. Regardless, The Angels were (or are) his team, but I take on a Yankees logo only for vanity. (I nearly made the switch to Boston, and often almost do, but I always fall back on Steinbrenner’s boys. Or at least Steinbrenner’s logo). I have an utmost respect for Will’s choice in teams without having any idea about his team in the first place. That respect lies in his choosing a team and nothing more. It sounds hollow, and in most ways it probably is, but I do appreciate that at some level he has bought in to this interesting social dynamic when I choose to sit on the sidelines.

That is not to say that I don’t take any interest in “The Game” at all. On the contrary, one of my favourite pastimes involves sitting down and listening to this Great American Game on the radio. There’s nothing like listening to the ballgame on an AM receiver in the late-afternoon sun. In fact, it can only get better with a beer in hand and the odd cicada or lawnmower making noise in the distance. This is a dream-state – the American Dream-state. After a long week of work, one can sit in his back yard and listen to the Great American Game as it is reported in the air from stadia many miles, if not many states away. It speaks of fulfillment and peace. There is nothing left to do in the day but to listen to the reportage of adults playing games. Being able to find peace in a moment such as that requires one to accept the premise that America and the West is not a land of empty promises, but a space to be filled with peace after prosperity, with repose and relaxation after one’s labours are through, and a reward of the simple life for one’s hard efforts.

In spite of my many, many criticisms of America and Late Capital, I still recognize that this premise of ‘peace for one’s hard efforts’, as encapsulated by the American Dream, is not too different from the desires and wishes of some of our earliest thinkers in the west. Lucretius, a Roman philosopher in the 1st century BC(E), wrote a beautiful poem about the natural sciences called de Rerum Natura, or “The Nature of Things” (a title many of you Suzuki fans will recognize). Lucretius’s text, which postulates on the nature of the known world, the universe, and of the atom, ends with the philosopher arguing that regardless of how correct he may be, all his speculations are worthless in the face of a dreamlife of being able to lean back and relax against the trunk of a tree at the end of the day, of having the chance to sit back in quiet, content contemplation after a day of work. What matters is your personal space, how you fill it, and how you will enjoy it.

Now, before you retort that ancient Rome laid the foundation of the western world, realize that (1) you are wrong – the ancient world “link” you are thinking of lies in Greek Philosophy and not in the Roman state, let alone in Roman philosophy (which is but a mere third-rate derivative of the Greeks), and (2), Lucretius wrote his work more than was 2000 years ago, and a lot of stuff has happened since then, especially in the past 150 years, even 30 or so years, to affect our sense of self and our sense of self-in-society. Lucretius was on to something, and whatever it is, the American dream looks for it, too. “Whatever it is” is likely closer to “the human condition” (whatever that is) than Christianity, Capitalism, or The Theatre will ever explain. So I’ll take my yankees cap, and my Olive Grove, thank you very much.

Batter up?

Written by mitchellirons

April 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Mitt Romney, dye-jobs, and authenticity

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I don’t know about most people in the world, but I could never vote for some one who dyes his or her hair. It suggests a persona far too concerned with appearances as opposed to substance.

Mitt Romney Dye Job

It would appear that 2/3s of Florida would agree with me on this one.

(And its a bad dye-job, too!)

Written by mitchellirons

January 30, 2008 at 8:54 am

Ginsberg, Whitman, and America in “A Supermarket in California”

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Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California”.
Berkeley, 1955.

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!-and you, GarcĂ­a Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking the questions of each: who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant staks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasking artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?


disjointed thoughts on Ginsberg, Whitman, and America.

Whitman Ginsberg

I saw you Walt Whitman, in amoung the peaches and penumbras! I was recently re-acquainted with Ginsberg’s “Supermarket”, and was struck once more by the force and authority found in his confrontation of the myth of the American Dream. Invoking for his muse the ghost Walt Whitman, a patriarch of American poetry and the myth of Nation, Ginsberg attacks the Dream as the greatest lost cause of the twentieth century.

There may be some hyperbole contained in that statement – the American Dream as the greatest lost cause – but it is not without merit. Even if the Dream does exist, Ginsberg makes clear how difficult it is to find, let alone it is to achieve, for both middle America and those on its fringe. Thinking about Whitman, the great poet who asserts independence and identity through both sexuality and landscape, Ginsberg questions the value of an “Americanness” based on shopping for mass-produced items in a unnatural, corporate supermarket far removed from a person’s or nation’s soul. Ginsberg’s post-war America is a nation of late-night grocery shoppers who do nothing with their time but consider the ripeness of peaches and avacodos in the neon glow of their local supermarket. Ginsberg is shopping for an image, looking a perfect vignette of what America is, and all he finds are consumers, choosing one peach over the other when both come from the same share-cropped grove. Nature and authenticity are not necessarily effaced in this new America, but are definitely substituted with a different form. There is no natural light in Ginsberg’s America but only a chemical, neon glow.

What makes the poem so interesting is not necessarily Ginsberg’s criticism of the (false) American dream by situating its adherents to a lifestyle full of mass-market grocery stores and the same blue automobile in every garage, but the evocation of Whitman himself. Ginsberg speaks to Walt, and Walt returns by inserting himself into Ginsberg’s thoughts and into the poem, offering us a chance to consider an America defined by its margins. Both Whitman and Ginsberg lived in a sexual penumbra – neither poet allowed their sexuality to either lurk in the shadows, or be fully disclosed and normalized in full light. Ginsberg does, however, find a certain solace walking the neon-lit aisles with Whitman while eyeing the young clerks or considering suggestive foods such as artichokes and bananas. In this neon glare – neither shadow nor real “natural” light – Ginsberg can speak from the outside, from the margins, and declare the American Dream to be lost to those who are literary buying in, in the supermarket. The families shopping in the artifical glow of the supermarket’s lights are no better than the “degenerates” of the Beat Generation. Yet, just as America refuses to acknowledge the simple fact of Whitman’s homosexuality, and its importance to his poetry, the families refuse to acknowledge the artifice and inauthenticity of their national myth.

Disclaimer: These are not your thoughts. And this is not an academic site. Using them for your paper will not only be an instance of plagiarism, but also a moment of shoddy research that would grant you a very low grade if you managed to pass off the work as your own.
Like the rest of America, as Ginsberg caught on to, you are commodified.

Written by mitchellirons

January 20, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Mike Huckabee’s pending theocracy

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Making the internet rounds this week is the January 14, 2008, video clip of GOP Candidate Mike Huckabee stating in Michigan that the American constitution ought to be amended to be more in line with Christian family values.

The clip is embedded below, in the midst of early-in-the-morning jolly-good-times by three idiot American anchors (Forgive them; for they know not what they do). Although this clip gives us the opportunity to observe the sorry state of not only American right-of-centre politics but also of American television news, there is a little soundbite toward the end that perhaps ought to be observed in all those campaigns down south. Listen for Huckabee’s clip at [0:25], and the piece of advice offered at [2:38]:

Those are good, good, Gospel words – a mighty fine piece of cake I’d heartily serve back to the Christian right, if ever they’d give me the opportunity: “Render therefore to Caesar the things which is Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21).

As for Huckabee, his comments are not taken out of context in this clip. As the following clip shows, the GOP candidate reminded America on January 15th, 2008, that his party and his campaign team is “pro-life, pro-family, pro-second amendment” [0:15] (read: anti-choice-for-women, anti-gay, pro-corporate-gun-lobby). He specifically states at [0:45] that his comments are about the Republicans’ “human life amendment” (read: anti-choice-for-women) platform, and, at [1:02], the maintenance of “traditional marriage” (read: anti-gay):

So much for holding certain truths to be self-evident, truths about basic equality under the law for all persons, regardless of sex or sexuality..

You are commodified.
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Written by mitchellirons

January 17, 2008 at 9:28 pm

“Separate But Equal” is not equal.

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In a brave about-face which alludes to race relations (as well as the rights of women) in America and abroad, Jerry Sanders, the Republican Mayor of San Diego, California, publicly announced his support for gay marriage on September 19, 2007. Mr. Sanders admitted that the love between two homosexual partners is not any different from the love he shares with his wife, and that “civil unions” are a political sidestep preventing America’s gays and lesbians from their right to the civil, secular institution enjoyed only by heterosexuals in that country – marriage.

We should applaud Mr. Sanders for taking this stand, as it was clearly a difficult one for him to make – the video will testify to to that.

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Written by mitchellirons

October 10, 2007 at 2:48 pm

The California Green Zone

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It is not without a sense of contentment that I have been living in southern California for the past several weeks. The long days of 30-35 degree weather, in a desert valley-turned-into-a-palm-tree oasis really does change one’s sense of being. California, you may be plastic and fake, but you complete me.

Life in southern California has mostly been a life-of-privilege in a gated community complete with condos, golf courses, tennis courses, heated pools and hot tubs. The gated community in which my hosts live is non-descript relative to its neighbouring communities – there is an iron gate for cars, which protect the denizens of the community from the perils of the world outside. Only Community residents, authorized guests, and the immigrant Mexican landscaping crews are permitted inside.

The community offers not only a sense of neighbourhood (an odd sense, mind you, of too many old retirees and not enough young adults/families), but a sense of protection. The community is an enclosure. Its walls, made of brick, may only stand three-feet tall, but they are subtly landscaped with dense five-feet-tall shrubbery, and large palms every ten feet or so. Those who live on the inside may hear the traffic outside and see the planes overhead, but until they desire/are forced to move beyond the pale, there is nothing to fear; the community protects their interests, for a reasonable monthly condo-fee of course. While not tending to their beautifully manicured lawns, the denizens may go play a round of golf, hit the courts, or just lounge by the pool with their G&Ts. It is warm and inviting. It is the realized American Dream.

Outside the wall, however, things change. What would be an ordinary street in any other community to is 4 1/2 lane expressway, with speed limits traditionally reserved for highways as opposed to municipal thoroughfares. Sidewalks are hard to come by, as are the local grocery stores, corner shops, coffee shops and video stores. Everything is bought in bulk from the local Big Bulk Box Store, conveniently located at the intersection of one highway and another, twenty-five minutes away (free samples of commodified tex-mex inside!) from home. Days are planned around The Trips to the stores, to maximize buying time before the midday sun peels back the skin or turns the asphalt to goo. Get in, get out, hope you don’t have to cross the wire until the next day.

Southern California’s gated communities work, in principle, for those who live on the inside. The personalized green zones do manage to protect the interests of those who are willing, and can afford to pay for the privelege. Those who do pay, however, seem to give little thought to the labourers who serve to make their days better, from the cheap immigrant workers, to the clerks at the Big Bulk Box Stores who check their tags. Thankfully, my hosts have reason enough to understand The Big Picture and acknowledge the economic disparity in their society, and do work to fix it as they can. Its a crying shame that the majority of the green zones inhabitants, however, are too busy looking for the best deals on four quarts of gin in-between their venti mocha lattes and fast-fried-Amero-burritos (“they really do taste like the rural recipes!”) to care.

You are commodified.

Written by mitchellirons

May 3, 2007 at 2:48 am