Thursday, January 29, 2004

Bigge Thoughts on Small Print

I offer genuine and profuse apologies for not providing actual content and analysis as of late. This intellectual deficit is rectified with today’s entry about:

Off Cut Press, the creation of Toronto’s Josh Thorpe. Very Short Stories , the first book from Off Cut, was launched in December. It takes minimalism past flash fiction and into zap prose territory, with stories containing 100 characters or less. Thus, Dave Dyment offers:

As a child, I painted the sky a thin strip of blue across the top of the page. Today, when I point at the sky, I point up.

And Maggie Helwig gives us:

Walking through miles of suburban parking lots in the freezing rain, feeling like a movie of grief.

In May of last year, Russell Smith wrote about, a website offering tiny text and video content for WAP cell phones. Visit their site and you’ll see dozens of mini stories (50 to 150 words), micro stories (less than 50 words) and short micro stories (150 characters or less).

Some might argue that the-phone-book and Very Short Stories heralds the ultimate erosion of our diminished attention spans, as tolerance for narrative arcs longer than a bendy straw evaporates. But as Russell Smith argues, "The fixed form -- 150 words -- is not unlike any literary fixed form, such as the sonnet or the villanelle; its very limits create inspiration and experimentation."

For once I agree with Russell. Besides, the book is a steal at $5. Best of all:

Off Cut Press prints on paper that would be otherwise wasted; we print on the off-cuts of commercial jobs. This practice makes publishing economically and environmentally sustainable. It also makes our books small.

Economic restrictions do not always create roadblocks in generating important and valuable cultural eruptions. Can’t afford to publish a standard size book? Find a way around the problem. And if you’re really nimble, your solution will be so ingenious you create a new category of literature. Not every innovation should be dictated by lack of funds – over the long term, chronic underfunding can malnourish and discourage. But the occasional spate of desperation-driven creativity is a wonderful thing.

Monday, January 26, 2004

My Demographic is Officially Irrelevant

I had one of those "my life is over" moments upon discovering that there is now a radio format called Classic Alternative. According to Chris Nelson, in the January 12, 2004 New York Times:

Like the classic rock format that started in the mid-1980's to cater to aging baby boomers, classic alternative -- with new songs from retro-alternative bands like the White Stripes and the Strokes thrown into the mix on some stations -- appeals to Generation X'ers who are beginning to show some gray.

The only bright spot in the article was this:

On Dec. 18 at noon, the modern rock station KNDD-FM "the End" announced on the air that it was returning to its roots. Dumped immediately were rap rock and modern metal bands like Limp Bizkit and Puddle of Mudd. They were replaced by familiar voices from the alternative rock explosion of the early 1990's: Nirvana, R.E.M., Weezer and Beck, as well as predecessors like the Clash and Sex Pistols.

Long ago, in the Onion, was the headline U.S. Depart. of Retro Warns: ‘We May Be Running Out of Past.’ According to U.S. Retro Secretary Anson Williams:

"Before long," Williams warned, "the National Retro Clock will hit 1992, and we will witness a massive grunge-retro explosion, which will overlap with the late-period, mainstream-pop remnants of the original grunge movement itself. For the first time in history, a phenomenon and nostalgia for that particular phenomenon will actually meet."

Friday, January 23, 2004

I’d Hire This Guy

Today I spent some time at, the online organ of the Montreal magazine with the same name. I was very impressed with the content, and the website itself is a model of sleekness. There were a number of solid think pieces, but I was most impressed with Mark Toft, who offered a pitch-perfect resume. Some would say it reeks of McSweeney’s, but that is incorrect. It is very funny, and very clever, but so are the early essays of Woody Allen, and guess what? Allen wrote his essays in a pre-McSweeney’s era. Difficult to believe, but true. Here’s one entry from the Toft piece:

Legal Assistant
U.S. Justice Department
January 1994 - January 1995
- Reached level two of Soul Blade. Found that I preferred Voldos bladed finger spin-and-lift maneuver to Rocks war-axe lunge.
- Discovered that as ambition shrinks, time available for reading expands.
- Gladly let the bastards keep me down

In other news, here is a hammer for blue collar hipsters (a.k.a. bipsters). I also learned there is a word for my dietary philosophy: flexitarian, "a nondogmatic vegetarian, one who eats tenderloin at your house and tofu at home." (Boston Globe, Jan. 18 / 04). For those feeling left out, don’t worry. You might be a freegan: "someone who eats only (or mostly) free food, living off the land behind the local supermarket."

Oh, and I learned this week that filmmaker Vincent Gallo is a Republican. And I thought it was impossible for him to be any more of an asshole. Wrong again, Bigge.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Mean Gene

Gene Weingarten, writing for the Sunday Washington Post magazine, performed a clever little twist on product placement – the unwanted variety. I have no idea how long this link will work (at least until next Sunday, methinks) so click quick. While the premise of his article is hardly new (harass corporate types in an oh-so-clever manner), when it works, it’s sublime:

As you know, I have in the past unfairly poked fun at marketing people, merely because so many of them are opportunistic, lying hacks. So I thought for a change I would make amends today by helping them publicly celebrate their great good fortune.

That's why I am talking to Steve Peckham, marketing spokesperson for S.C. Johnson & Son, which makes Raid bug spray.

Me: As you know, a can of Raid was one of the many fine products found in Saddam Hussein's hideout. I was wondering if you guys are planning a marketing campaign around that. You know, maybe, "Raid: The REAL Weapon of Mass Destruction!" Or, "Whether you are vermin, or are just plagued by them . . ."

Steve: We cannot confirm it was our product.

Me: I beg your pardon?

Steve: We are unable to confirm it was our product, so we don't want to discuss the situation.

Me: I'm looking at a photograph of the products, as they were found in Saddam's rat hole. Here it is.

Steve: Without having the can in hand, we cannot confirm it was ours.

Me: Try this view.

Steve: We're not going to talk about the situation.

Me: But . . .

Steve: I'm trying to get ready for a big, huge meeting here

Monday, January 19, 2004

I Think, Therefore…

I one day hope to write as simply and clearly as Malcolm Gladwell. He doesn’t have time for big fancy words, only ideas, and plenty of ‘em. In his New Yorker article about S.U.V.s (Big and Bad, Jan 12/04) he explains that the lack of S.U.V. maneuverability means you’ll survive a crash, sure, but you’re more likely to cause one in the first place:

"Jettas are safe because they make their drivers feel unsafe. S.U.V.s are unsafe because they make their drivers feel safe. That feeling of safety isn’t the solution; it’s the problem."

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Being Creative With the Truth

Dr. Richard Florida has irritated me for a long time. His book, The Rise of the Creative Class, is better than most business books, which isn’t saying much, but something about his Bohemian Index has always irritated me.

In issue #16 of The Baffler, Paul Maliszewski manages to articulate my discomfort regarding Florida’s theories. After pointing out that cities compete for corporations to locate or relocate by offering "the most enticing package of long-term tax breaks, real estate subsidies, and other incentives" Maliszewski goes on to observe that:

In Florida’s world, of course, decisions are never a matter of economics. And in his desperation to deny the most basic facts of the world we live in, he has mistaken the side effects of a booming economy – restaurants serving nouveau cuisine, quirky coffeeshops, art galleries, a vibrant music scene, a movie theater showing old foreign films, Dieselboy – for the causes of growth. His advice to cities is, in effect, to build Potemkin bohemias, complete with authentic edginess, leveraged culture assets, and street-level culture, all prepared for those esteemed dignitaries, the members of the creative class, to arrive.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Stuff You Should Know

  • If you live in Toronto, the following site, filled with photos of abandoned bicycles will be instantly meaningful to you, despite the fact the snaps were taken in New York.

  • Kinnie Starr on living in Las Vegas for six months: "American culture really is different. They have drive-through everything! It's nice to get out of your car sometimes." (Globe and Mail, Jan 13/04)

  • Need some heavenly toner?

  • Already disillusioned hacks will shudder to learn that Lingua Franca, which went broke in 2001, is trying to do the impossible (NYT, Jan 12 / 04 / David Carr):

    The bankruptcy trustee in charge of the case, Robert Geltzer, has served summons to many freelance writers who collected fees from the magazine when it was in its death throes. The demand: If the fees are not returned, he is threatening to sue.

  • Turn your online diary entries into cold hard cash.

  • From the January 11 Chicago Tribune, an article by Susan Chandler and Jim Kirk about Barbara Amiel receiving $276,000 in 2002 from the Chicago Sun-Times despite having not setting foot inside the newspaper offices for the past 4.5 years:

    The dollars involved may be small compared with the millions her husband was pulling out of Hollinger International, but Amiel's behavior fits the same disturbing pattern, according to disgruntled shareholders: treating a publicly held company like a personal bank account.

    "If this was a cow, there wouldn't be an udder that wasn't sore," said Christopher Browne, managing director of Tweedy, Browne Co., a large holder of Hollinger International shares. "Nothing surprises me now."

  • Wednesday, January 14, 2004

    The Grab Garbage Men

    Nathalie Atkinson, a Toronto-based writer and loyal Bigge Idea reader was kind enough to point me to an article by Ian Frazier in last week’s (January 12) New Yorker about rescuing plastic bags from trees. Frazier and a friend named Tim McClelland invented a bag snagger ten years ago and, with the help of Tim’s brother Bill, are fond of beautifying the city whenever possible. Here, Frazier immortalizes his enemy:

    Of course, the basic thing that gets in a New York City tree is the white plastic deli bag. It reaches the tree with the aid of the wind, or (as I sometimes think) by its own power. With its filmy whiteness and its two looped handles, it suggests a self-levitating undershirt; we have named it the undershirt bag. It does not have a soul, but it imitates one, rising and floating on the exhalations of a subway grate like the disembodied spirits that poets used to converse with in Hell.

    As strange as his obsession might be, Frazier and company aren’t alone. Bette Midler is also a bag grabber fan.

    If that weren’t enough to signal that filthy plastic bags are hottest trend of 2004 (any day now anorexic models vamping in dresses made of Safeway bags will appear in the Globe Style section), Zachary Houle, an Ottawa writer I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, informed me that last Thursday, an Ottawa city councilor named Diane Holmes is urging a total ban on plastic grocery bags within three years. I would have excerpted from the relevant Ottawa Citizen article, but you need to be a subscriber to gain web access, an information hairclog that is about to cause an identical blockage at the online version of the National Post in a few weeks. Information no longer wishes to be free, it appears.

    Tuesday, January 13, 2004

    Nine Copies Too Many?

    The Saturday Globe had a short article by Jeff Gray about Elm Street magazine calling it quits. Said story also noted that St. Joseph Media Inc. (publisher of Elm Street) will increase the newsstand frequency of another title:

    The company also announced that the general interest magazine Saturday Night, which it bought two years ago from media giant CanWest Global, will increase to 10 copies a year from the current six.

    Ten copies a year? Methinks Gray means ten issues a year.

    (Everyone is busy these days, so I will spare loyal readers details of my particular variant of hectic, but apologies for the delay in reporting this).

    Monday, January 05, 2004

    The Plastic Hassle

    I live near a mall, although you’d never know it to visit my neighbourhood. It’s as well-hidden as a mall can be, which makes its proximity less onerous somehow. (See also: "Local Hipster Overexplaining Why He Was at the Mall," from The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2002.)

    Anyway, the exterior entrance to No Frills, the discount supermarket that anchors the Dufferin Mall (along with Wal-Mart) is elevated, and thus, trapped within the trees below, are deteriorating plastic bags, beautiful in a horrific kind of way. A few years ago, a one-off Toronto zine called Wi'ndbaegs appeared, a kind of Xeroxed photo-album that documented old plastic bags caught in tree branches. I’ve researched and written about Decay quite extensively, and my fascination with these polyethylene ghosts continues.

    However much I might enjoy the sickly aesthetic of tattered white plastic, eliminating such eyesores would be even better. Two great articles on the topic were published last year. One from the Summer 2003 edition of OnEarth:

    And that's really what I'm reacting to: the ubiquity of the plastic bag. Nothing epitomizes better the mindless profligacy of our consumer culture than these cheap, flimsy, yet depressingly indestructible little bags that get caught in our trees, blow down streets, and wash up on our beaches. Look around -- they're everywhere. Americans throw away one hundred billion polyethylene bags a year. They choke thousands of marine animals annually; the inks used to print all those smiley faces break down in landfills and create a toxic seep. Though plastic bags take up less than four percent of all landfill space (they're easily compressed), estimates on how long they take to decompose range from a hundred years to a thousand, despite what the bag boys at my local supermarket think.


    The United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand are all considering imposing a tax on plastic bags since Ireland instituted a 15 cent per bag tax in March 2002, which has reduced bag use by 90 percent. Grocery stores complained about having to collect the tax, which requires them to ring up bags like additional purchases. But as a spokesman for an Irish supermarket chain explained to the London Independent , "Eventually, most people said, yes, it's the right thing to do. We just needed to be pushed into it."

    The film American Beauty, which features a long, poetic clip of a plastic bag swirling on an eddy of air, snagged five Academy Awards, yet I for one still find it hard to think of plastic bags as things of beauty. But as a product -- as something created and then unleashed to become seamlessly integrated into the lives of millions of people around the world -- there is a strange allure to them, just as a pathologist can admire the structure of a particularly virulent and contagious virus

    The second article on the topic, a hilarious, note-perfect, I-wish-there-was-an-article-like-that-every-week, ran in eye back in October:

    Yesterday I bought a two-litre carton of milk at the corner store: $4.09. The lady pulled open a plastic bag and started to put the milk inside. "That's grand," said I, gripping the carton about the midriff. "I don't need a bag." Yes I could bear this carton the full 50 metres back to my house, without any plastic assistance.

    Who taught me the iron self-discipline necessary to forego a free carrying device? The Irish government did. Last year, I was living in Usher's Island, Dublin, when they introduced a tax on plastic bags, and I witnessed the miracle by which the tariff became part of the national identity.

    Ireland has an ongoing struggle with litter. Before the tax, plastic bags blew around the cul-de-sacs of grey council estates; they knotted about Georgian railings and choked the oily gutters and hung like ragged petrochemical fruit from the branches of sad urban trees

    I urge you to read both articles and consider how taxing sacks is a fantastic idea. Really, sometimes taxes aren’t terrible. Honest. I’m not a Communist. I swear.

    (This is my first posting of 2004.)