Friday, February 27, 2009

Kate “Fuck & Shit” Carraway

Full disclosure: I know Kate Carraway. She gave a great guest talk in one of my journalism classes last year. She’s ambitious, and writes well. She also swears like a longshoreperson. I’m no prude, but I find a little goes a long way. When swearing becomes a predictable tic or habit, it loses a lot of its power to shock or convey tone or style. But that’s just me.

In order to ensure it wasn’t my imagination, I decided to do some content analysis. My friend recently lent me a wide-screen Mac, which makes this kind of thing much faster and convenient. Anyway, as of Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, I found 68 articles written by Carraway on the eye weekly site. Of those, 29 include swearing. Decide for yourself:

* them and us
BY KATE CARRAWAY January 09, 2009 15:01
“the shunned and the shunning, the fucked and the fuckers,”

* 2008 media round-up
BY KATE CARRAWAY December 23, 2008 21:12
“You know who had a fucked-up year? Journalists.”

* A bah! on all your humbugs
BY KATE CARRAWAY December 17, 2008 21:12
“shit didn’t get shate on December 25th”

*A decade of adulthood
BY KATE CARRAWAY January 14, 2009 21:01
“A decade! Surely in a decade you’ve figured some shit out, got some shit done. Once I saw a talk show where the hot and possibly batshit Cameron Diaz”

* Aussie Rules for Canadians
BY KATE CARRAWAY September 11, 2008 13:09
“To an outsider, Aussie rules football is essentially a crazy-violent fucked-up version of rugby,”

* Bonfire of inanities
BY KATE CARRAWAY August 25, 2008 06:08
“Regularly shit on for its Rosedale-coloured glasses”
“It's shit, but fun.”
“Here, we don't value each other's social contribution enough to give half a shit,”

* CanCon 3-D!!!
BY KATE CARRAWAY January 14, 2009 21:01
“will already fuck with your head a little.”

* Duff day afternoon
BY KATE CARRAWAY December 01, 2008 15:12
“Today, the first of December, is not only a day of shitty half-rain made bleaker by the oppressive Mondayness of it all,”

* First past the post
BY KATE CARRAWAY January 28, 2009 20:01
“where anyone who knows anything doesn’t give a shit if you’re Jewish or Indian or whatever.”

* Freeconomics: how to live on $60 a week
BY KATE CARRAWAY January 07, 2009 21:01
“Dizzy shopaholics can fuck off:”
“It’s fucking gnarly.”
“It fucking sucked,” types itself before I think about it.
“Sick of apples and shitty protein bars,”

* Henry Rollins
BY KATE CARRAWAY October 22, 2008 12:10
“I ask Rollins, a committed feminist, what he thinks about the media shitstorm surrounding Sarah Palin.”

* Imperial Tattoo
BY KATE CARRAWAY September 26, 2008 16:09
“Going home on a packed Dufferin bus wearing a ludicrous, borrowed, children's raincoat, I accidentally dropped the splurgey Champagne on the downhill sloping bus floor and chased after it shouting "Shit! Shit!",”

* Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience
BY KATE CARRAWAY February 27, 2009 10:02
“(or maybe Kevin’s? Or Nick’s? I don’t fucking know)”

* Libraries need love
BY KATE CARRAWAY August 18, 2008 07:08
“Renewed, I stuck around to sneak-read some shitty magazines”

* Lustless love affairs
BY KATE CARRAWAY February 11, 2009 21:02
“the richness and radness of no-fucking friend-romances are usually undervalued,”
“Shit is not to be fucked with.”

* Mia's Munky business
BY KATE CARRAWAY December 02, 2008 17:12
“(you know, genocide and shit),”
“(Translation: "Fuck your face, Bolton.")”

* Nuit, Blanched
BY KATE CARRAWAY October 06, 2008 11:10
“It’s a smooshy clusterfuck,”
“Fuck “collective secular prayer,” for now.”
“which is loud as fuck and barred by security personnel”
“1:56: It’s fucking cold.”
“and get the fuck out of there.”
“and lose my shit.”

* Samantha Ronson holds Court
BY KATE CARRAWAY December 04, 2008 16:12
“after a too-long technical fuck-up that stalled her entrance.”

* Social hibernation
BY KATE CARRAWAY January 28, 2009 21:01
“But socialize, in the winter? Fuck it.”

* Taddle Creek tattler
BY KATE CARRAWAY October 24, 2008 13:10
“and several others that I haven't read yet because fuck, this just happened on Wednesday.”

* Ted Rogers' footprint
BY KATE CARRAWAY December 04, 2008 13:12
“Bloor Street's businessy clusterfuck,”

* The Yonge/Bloor disconnect
BY KATE CARRAWAY December 29, 2008 12:12
“north-east corner's pigeon shit-dotted concrete slab”
“where long blue construction fences have been fucking up car and foot traffic for months.”

* The art of Scarborough
BY KATE CARRAWAY December 12, 2008 14:12
“re-purposing our neighbourhood with pranks and fuckery”

* The bonfire rages on
BY KATE CARRAWAY November 03, 2008 16:11
“Modesty can fuck off, basically:”
“a few of my media-savvy friends gave me the “You’ve finally gone and fucked yourself” pity eyes.”
“not for an endlessly brutal, tail-swallowing clusterfuck.”

* The happy hoser
BY KATE CARRAWAY February 25, 2009 21:02
“Pro: Seamed hose are hot as fuck, but subtle.”

* The ladies who breakfast
BY KATE CARRAWAY September 15, 2008 13:09
“Sometimes, when our nights are full of stupid and distracting shit like work and family and relationships,”

* What a Drake it is getting older
BY KATE CARRAWAY February 11, 2009 13:02
“took hold of the city's give-a-shit classes.”
“has hosted a variety of usually shit-on artists and creators”

* What work means now
BY KATE CARRAWAY February 25, 2009 21:02
“and it’s Athenian, biblical, Shakespearean shit.”
“for coffee and cookies and shit-talk.”

* Style tips: Feb. 12
February 11, 2009 21:02
“For a holiday that’s tangentially about fucking,”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why I Think This Commercial Stinks

Occasionally one runs across a piece of analysis so sharp and absolutely correct that it never leaves your brain. This is such an example:

But That '70s Show and That '80s Show are different. Suddenly, you no longer have to remember an era in order to enjoy its revival.
It's ironic that we've chosen our own culture's most fleeting and disposable elements as the touchstones by which we memorialize past eras. For those who actually came of age in one of those decades, these elements endure because they're rooted in a deeper understanding of the time. For example, Wall Street's Gordon Gekko persists as an Eighties-era icon because the character's oversized greed seems emblematic of the decade's Zeitgeist.
On That '70s Show and That '80s Show, however, trends, hairstyles and catchphrases don't represent anything -- they are an end unto themselves. When someone drinks a Fresca on That '70s Show, it's meant to be funny not because Fresca symbolizes something, or even because the viewer might remember drinking Fresca himself. It's funny because, well, people drank Fresca in the Seventies. Get it? The reference alone is the set-up to the joke and the punchline, all rolled into one.
-- Adam Sternbergh, March 9, 2002, Saturday Post, emphasis mine

If you happen to agree with Adam, as I do, then every time you see something like this Virgin Air 25th Anniversary commercial you have a tidy explanation for why you feel so emotionally disinvested. The huge cellphone and the weird hair and the classic videogames in the Virgin ad aren’t even tired jokes – they’re not jokes at all. They’re establishing shots, setting the historical era, but little else. Maybe the ad isn’t supposed to be funny – maybe I’m misunderstanding the commercial. Maybe the brilliance is in its ability to flawlessly evoke the recent past, in the same pornographic exactitude that Mad Men trafficks in.

But if it is meant to be funny, it reminds me of the painfully endless number of advertisements each Christmas that use the inedible nature of fruitcake as a punchline. How many times can we be reasonably expected to laugh at a joke that is premised on the equation:

fruitcake = sucks

Three times in an entire lifespan? Tops?

What was so appealing about the British version of Life on Mars was how it tried to do something clever with the clash between present and the past. My favourite being this little exchange in Season 1, Episode 3:

"Why would anyone turn a factory into a block of flats?"

“It's supposed to look nice.”

"Factories should be factories. Houses should be houses. I mean things are built for a purpose. It's ridiculous."

Monday, February 02, 2009

And, the 2009 Toronto Book Award Should Go To … Girls Fall Down

This posting is meant to heap praise upon Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig. But first, a brief history lesson.

[L]et me describe some recent events in my neighbourhood. They're really incredible. One of the Italian restaurants on my favourite street of crowded Italian restaurants was bombed. The bomb didn't do much damage -- it went off outside, and so only blew the windows out.
There is much gossip about who or what this is all about, and I don't know what's true. [...] Whatever the case, something odd is going on. You'd think it would be rich material for storytellers.
Now here's my point: State, quickly, which Canadian novelist would be most likely to take on this milieu? Quick, now. Name a name. I cannot think of one who would be even interested in weaving fiction out of this event-filled environment. (Except me, of course, but I confess I haven't attempted the world of petty crime yet. I will try.) I can, however, think of a lot of readers who would read such stories.
-- Russell Smith, Dec 11, 2002 Globe column

[R]ussell Smith, the Globe & Mail columnist [...] Not a bad fella, but one who's prone to making some fairly ridiculous Torontocentric pronouncements from time to time.

To wit: After a bomb went off in an Italian restaurant on Toronto's College Street last December, Smith decried -- as he does every couple of months or so -- CanLit's failure to engage with the burning issues of the present day. He accused Canadian writers "of being so lofty-minded that they are unwilling to sully their hands with contact with the corrupt and superficial City." Why, Smith asked (mere days afterward, mind you), had no-one made use of this "overheated and violent and pretty great material? Quick, now. Name a name. I cannot think of one who would be even interested in weaving fiction out of this event-filled environment."

And then, stepping up to the plate, Smith wrote without irony, "Except me, of course, but I confess I haven't attempted the world of petty crime yet. I will try."
-- Noah Richler, Feb 13, 2003 NPost column

Why am I wasting your time with these two clowns, when my main point is to inform you of how blown away I was with Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig? An excellent question. Because while Noah and Russell were swinging dicks, Helwig quietly went off and utilized the raw material discussed above (that being the December 2002 explosion at Coco Lezzone):

On Monday night he was walking west on College, towards his apartment, with his hat pulled down to his eyebrows and his scarf over his nose, and then sirens were coming from all directions at once, and the street became a sea of red light, fire engines and ambulances and police cars all meeting at a point on the north side, a restaurant with a broken window.
Alex didn’t want to know what it was about but he was reaching into his camera bag nevertheless […] and he was packing his camera away when something came towards him out of the dark, shining and unpredictable, a fluttering thing, and before he knew what he was doing he had put out his hand and caught the string of a gold foil balloon in the shape of a star.

Then the whole cluster of balloons tied to the restaurant’s patio fence broke free and were swept up in the wind, into the bare branches of the overhanging trees, into the awnings along the street, a flock of golden stars reaching out of the damage. Alex stood in the street and held on to a string.
“A very miniscule bomb, though,” said Evelyn, poking at the casserole with a knife. “And of poor quality. Nobody was really hurt. They don’t have access to the good explosives at the low end of organized crime.”
-- from the superexcellent novel Girls Fall Down

And there, in microcosm, is a perfect illustration of gender relations: the men argue pointlessly while women actually get things done.

And, in this case, get it done much better than a man might have. Here’s Helwig on the Distillery District:

He stood with Susie in a long channel of mud, under the heavy brown-brick walls of the abandoned Victorian factories, slabs of wood laid over the wet dirt where there would someday be cobbled walkways. The sun came over the high buildings in shards of cold brightness, breaking out from a soft dense sky. It was a good day for light, slightly diffused through cloud, not too harsh.

Here and there, new businesses had already opened – a coffee shop, a microbrewery, a small art gallery. But most of the space was still inchoate, forming itself out of the memories of fallen industry, sweat and dust and darkness.

Here’s Andrew Pyper (The Killing Circle) on the same place:

Takes another turn into the grounds of the old Gooderham & Worts distillery. A few clustered blocks of Dickens’ London shoehorned between the expressway and condo construction sites. Long, Victorian brick barracks with smokestacks at their ends like exclamation points.

The past slows me down. It’s the cobblestone streets that turn anything faster than a walk into a tiptoed dance. During daylight hours, the doors on either side open into galleries and cafes, but they are locked now.

Yawn. Helwig’s version is so superior that further comment demeans us all.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking about fictional representations of Toronto lately, and I read The Killing Circle to see how Pyper would bring Queen and Bathurst and Kensington Market to life. I found his attempts at conjuring place less than successful, whereas Helwig makes the landscape her own. Pyper wrote an article for the Star last year, explaining how magical, important and mysterious his neighbourhood (Queen and Bathurst) is, and why it was the perfect setting for a novel. But like a newlywed, Pyper seems to lack critical distance or perspective about his better half, and is thus unable to articulate the source of his passion for Toronto.

If Helwig doesn’t win the Toronto Book Award for Girls Fall Down, it will be a crime of a far greater magnitude than the homicides committed by the serial killer in The Killing Circle.