December 22, 2007

What a sour pickle political correctness turns out to be. To wit: in a promotion reel CBC TV announces its "holiday" lineup of movies. Of course, every single movie in the clip montage is a Christmas movie. On every news and talk show you'll repeatedly be told "Happy Holidays" by the on-air talent, as they sit on their sets replete with Christmas decorations. As I write this, I am watching CBS 'Early Show' , which is being called a "holidays" edition, and they have a phalanx of special guests singing "holiday music" which all, of course, turn out to be Christmas songs. Now, I am not non-Christian, but if I was I wonder how I would react to all this smoke-and-mirrors. Even as someone raised in the Christian faith, I find this linguistic dance rather disingenuous. If these are truly meant to be so-called "holidays" broadcasts then why aren't there menorahs and kinaras on the sets? Where are the dredles? Why aren't we hearing Haneirot Halulu along with Silent Night? Non-Christian viewers see no representation of their traditions, despite the deceptive "happy holidays" message they keep receiving. How sad to be pandered to in an empty gesture of inclusivity. The truth of the matter is that what is being said and what is meant are not one and the same. Either these networks make these shows genuinely inclusive or honestly label and market them what they really are actually about: Christmas.

December 20, 2007

Destroying New York

It's occured to me more than once the strange phenomenon that is the disaster flick, that popcorn blockbuster, is a very curious beast indeed. Poor New York is by far targeted more than any other city on earth, as the setting for large-scale battles between humans and aliens or superhumans and their foes, as the case may be.
Over the last ten years we have seen icons around Manhattan destroyed in movies such as "Independence Day", and "Godzilla"; the city done in altogether in "The Day After Tomorrow", and badly damaged in this past summer's "Transfomers" and the "Spiderman" franchise. Opening this week is "I am Legend", where the island become home to one last surviving human and overgrown with weeds, and forthcoming is the much-hyped "Cloverfield", in which some unseen nemesis throws the head of Lady Liberty through a few skyscrapers.
How many times did we hear witnesses of September 11 say that the tragic event was like a movie? I found it interesting that Oliver Stone chose not the show the actual collapse in his film "World Trade Center". Instead, he used shadows and mostly sound to cue the audience into the moments we likely have burned into our brain stems forever. In fact, we barely ever see either of the Towers in the movie whatsoever.
Yet in films not about 9/11 we see destruction of New York City of unbelievable scale and intensity, and for some reason we go in vast numbers to see them. Now we had disaster flicks well before 2001 but they appear to have gotten more vivid, more horrific, and more terrifying. I'm not completely sure what explains this phenomenon, so I'll turn to Stephen King's great non-fiction book on horror, Danse Macabre, in which he writes that horror movies show us the miseries of the damned and thus help us to rediscover the smaller, but never petty, joys of our own lives. King argues that such movies aren't a celebration of death, as most assume, but rather a celebration of what it means to be alive in the face of certain death; that when we watch such films we are gathering together to "sing the song we all know in our hearts: time is short, no one is really okay, life is quick and dead is dead".

December 4, 2007

"Bushed"--Notes on a leader

Reporting on Bush in the Washington Post, Allen & Broder (2004) noted that “White House aides describe a president who gathers a small circle of trusted advisers, listens to brief debates and then offers swift, gut-based solutions to problems”. Gergen concurs, writing that Bush “takes a minimalist, big-picture approach to learning about an issue…he [asks] that memos be kept to two pages or less. He has said publicly that he rarely reads newspapers and relies on his staff to summarize the news for him” (2003).

Although Bush has a relatively small set of advisers and any dissenting voices are effectively muffled (Allen & Broder, 2004) Woodward reports that “there is an aspect of baseball-coach, even fraternity-brother urgency in Bush” during potentially divisive meetings of the National Security Council (2002, 261). Writing about President Bush’s leadership style in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Bob Woodward notes that “He wanted action, solution. Once on a course, he directed his energy at forging on, rarely looking back, scoffing at—even ridiculing—doubt and anything less than 100 percent commitment” (2002, 256). This behaviour can achieve great short-term results but can hinder a leader over the long term, as I believe has happened to George W. Bush. As Gergen warns , “closed administrations tend to provide incomplete or misleading information to the public; their accountability suffers” (2003).

Less than a month after the September 11 attacks, Karl Rove, then Senior Adviser to the President, attempted to report to Bush his analysis of the latest polling data, which was showing the President at unprecedented 90-percent approval. Bush retorted, “Don’t waste my time with it…My job is not to worry about the political consequences, and I don’t” (Woodward, 2002, 206). Writing in 2003, Gergen’s assessment of Bush’s leadership was that “it seems doubtful that he will repeat the precipitous, 60-point drop of his father: his conservative base is too strong and loyal for that”. Clearly, Bush should have been more interested: three recent November polls show that his public approval rating sits at roughly 33 percent (Angus Reid Global Monitor, 2007). Surely the Latin expression Vox populi, vox dei was never more ironically prescient.

It is my contention that Mr Bush is doomed to be a poor leader, as he has consistently positioned himself as "the decider" beyond reproach. I believe that having little to no self-awareness and self-correction are signs of a weak leader. While a leader should have a strong will and vision, bravado and machismo are the stuff of despots and b-movie villains.

Mr Bush's actions have reflected an apparent disdain for those he is supposed to lead. He has repeatedly removed members of his inner leadership team who have questioned him or provided alternative points of view. Most damaging, in my assessment, has been his stark, binary view of the complex geopolitical context of his presidency. While propaganda such as "axis of evil" and "you're either with us or against us" was most compelling rhetoric that played well to a citizenry pumped with fear, it has ultimately failed him as a basis for developing his foreign policy, the supposedly golden face of his political leadership coin.

Allen, Mike & Broder, D. (2004). “Bush's Leadership Style: Decisive or Simplistic?”. Retrieved from November 27, 2007.

Angus Reid Global Monitor. (2007).“Most Americans Disapprove of President Bush”. Retrieved from November 27, 2007.

Gergen, David. (2003). “Leadership in the Bush White House”. Retrieved from November 27, 2007.

Woodward, Bob. (2002). Bush at War. Simon & Schuster: New York.

December 2, 2007

[released December 1, 1982]

As some of you may know, I am a December baby, and I distinctly recall my 11th birthday party in 1982 because my aunt Margaret gave me an album with some black fellow reclining in a white suit on the cover. Yes, I typed "album" as it was a vinyl record, one of the few I owned at that time. The others I had plundered from my mom's impressive 70s collection (Styx forever!).

I had no idea who this Michael Jackson character was, and as far as I can remember none of my friends had a copy of what would become a landmark pop culture phenomenon, so I guess for once in my life I was ahead of the curve.

25 years later and I can't help but have a bittersweet reaction to this cover. Michael was a legend and somewhat of a hero to millions of fans. Somewhere along the way he got lost. For the sake of nostalgia, I prefer this youthful and compelling Michael, and just keep in my mind the memory of putting "Thriller" on my turntable for the first time, and listening to the opening of what would become a decade-defining soundscape.