Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Everything and Anything

I started my Masters in Communication and Culture yesterday, which means my postings will soon be littered with terms such as "recursive" and "hegemony." I mention this because I’m also not sure how often I’ll be able to post. Either more often (I hope) or less often (more likely). Right now, I think that one long post each week is more feasible than shorter posts updated more frequently. It means the material will be less topical, but provide more analysis. Or something. Anyway, enough jaw-boning:

* Over at Slate, Eric Weisbard spoke talks about the new album Blueberry Boat by the Fiery Furnaces:

Sometimes a new album has critics so dazzled that we're forced to recommend it before we're positive we even like it. The Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat is that kind of work.

This is how buzz often gets incorrectly assigned. I prefer the opposite instance: of being forced to dismiss something before even hearing it or reading it. Toward that end, check out this bit of clairvoyance regarding the Globe’s new alt-weekly 7. As for my first impressions: 7 resembles Queue, the Vancouver Sun Thursday supplement, except worse somehow, because the Globe is involved. (This just in: I’m wrong. Here is Edward Greenspon in the September 11/04 Globe discussing the matter: "Going tabloid also provided an opportunity for our in-house designers to let their creative juices flow in making 7 both user-friendly and visually appealling." That is some arid juice, man. And check out the rebel sell in his next sentence: "We wanted to change the look radically because we were changing the content radically." To the barricades, comrade!)

Suggested slogan: Why Waste Your Money Reading a Free Alt-Weekly When 7 Costs Only A Dollar?

* I received a four-page sermon disguised as a subscription plea from the Walrus this week. I realize there is some kind of (dismal) science involved in writing direct mail, but four pages? I find two whiny pages is generally enough. Four went past "methinks he doth protest too much" and lurched into "methinks he doth be pathetic." The funny thing is that the subscription letter focuses on all the success the Walrus has received and lists all the ways in which the magazine has exceeded expectations (gold awards at the NMA, record number of subscribers, etc, etc) and how much good press it has received. But it seems to me that you diminish your confidence if you have to spend page after page describing how great you are. We’re great. Really. No really. Really, really, really, please subscribe to the Walrus. Please.

That said, the Walrus offered to send me an issue absolutely free, so I took them up on the offer. In a related note, I must regretfully admit that the October issue looks decent, save for this. Perhaps things are finally turning around.

* Check out betterlivingcentre courtesy of Marc Weisblott and company. Very thorough and savvy and updated constantly. They even have professional illustrations – I figure they’ll put me out of business within the month.

* The new issue of Saturday Night hit the stands on September 8. If I find the Walrus a touch boring, then how best to describe SN? How about this way:

Bart: Nothing you say can upset us. We're the MTV generation.
Lisa: We feel neither highs or lows.
Homer: Really? What's it like?
Lisa: Ehh. [shrugs]

Anyway, the September issue of Saturday Night (Ehh) contains a kind of article I see every once in awhile in Canadian magazines. It’s by Jay Teitel, who is a very gifted writer. It’s about cellphones and how they’ve "restored the lost art of the social call." In the fifth paragraph, he writes "Formal studies may not exist, but anecdotal evidence abounds." First off (Ehh), here is my new tip – stop reading the next time you see a sentence of this variety. The second thing (and this may seem contradictory) is that the article isn’t bad. In fact, if you judged only the quality of craft, it’s near flawless. The quality of thought is the problem -- the article can make no claim to referring to life outside the borders of the page. Take the article out of the life-support of the magazine however, visit a bar or a cafĂ© and try and spin the same ideas about how the cellphone has altered the way in which we communicate (for the better, no less!) and the delicate lattice-work contained in a sentence like "The cellphone in its most extreme social-call incarnation functions like a modern astrolabe, fixing us in latitude and longitude at any given moment" melts like the word sugar it is. It would have been nice of Teitel to acknowledge that the resurrection of the social call has corresponded with the eradication of civility in public spaces. Or referred to this truly vexing existential problem first raised in Hermenaut:

Forget the brain tumor—did you know that whenever you use a cellular telephone you're destroying your own existence? Convenience dissolves contingency, and as the facts of your current state fade to insignificance you are melting! melting! Who knew you were so soluble?

Some articles try to change our mind about a certain issue using things like "statistics" or "facts," while others prefer to avoid such messy and inconvenient elements of rhetoric and instead impress us with baroque curlicues. It’s something that Saturday Night prides itself on. Hopefully the new editor will reconsider.

* The September/October issue of This contains a smart article by Arthur Johnson about how magazines that actually turn a decent profit in this country use interns as a money-saving device. This is certainly true, but I would have liked to see a reference to the seminal article "Internment Camp: The Intern Economy and the Culture Trust," by Jim Frederick, that first appeared in Baffler #9 (and again in Boob Jubilee, a Baffler anthology that appeared last year.) Frederick offered a devastating bit of class analysis in his piece:

Thanks to those who can afford to win the labor auction with the lowest possible price -- I’ll work for free!– those without outside (read "parental") support are forced to take tremendous real-dollar losses to stay competitive, or they are simply priced out of competition entirely. This ensures that the glamour industries remain the land of the rich and privileged, for they are the only people who can absorb a short-term loss to get an imagined long-term gain.

The Johnson article makes analogies between sweatshops and media interns (a fine idea) but it could have been a feature, instead of a one-pager.

And as much as I agree, a couple of things about being a po’ little intern. You can allow yourself to be exploited, or you can make the most of the situation. Back in the day, Derek Finkle, now the editor of Toro, convinced Toronto Life to create an internship program. A day after he started interning, he asked to cover the trial of Robert Baltovich. Finkle went on to write a cover story for Toronto Life on the topic, and later a book. Plenty of other interns in Canada have used the foot in the door to get promoted past the mailroom (Stuart Berman, the music editor at eye, was once an intern, and there are many other examples).

Which gives me an idea: anyone wish to intern for The Bigge Idea?