Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

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Profile – Bill Hicks

June 24, 2010

“It’s always funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s just hilarious.”

Our new, long overdue profile is one of those classic examples of an artist completely underrated in his time: Bill Hicks.

It looks like his time has come due; a new documentary called American: The Bill Hicks Story is playing to rave reviews over in the UK and the trailer (below) has me struggling to contain my excitement.

Bill Hicks is not so much a comedian as an orator. His act can be hard to swallow because so much of it, especially later in his career, is designed to upend the status quo regarding politics and media. He attacks these establishments with such precise doses of seething venom that bearing witness to it runs the risk of generating terror instead of laughs. In fact, he delivers very few jokes onstage, instead substituting observations on the evils hiding in plain sight which happen to be hilarious despite their tragic absurdity.

His was a life spent performing; he started in his teens in venues he wasn’t legally allowed to be in, then sharpened his act through experiments with drugs and alcohol. Later he struggled publicly with censorship and cigarettes, and just when it seemed he’d finally cross over to the mainstream audience he was desperate to reach, pancreatic cancer stopped him in his tracks at the painfully young age of 32.

16 years later, as the political/corporate machine rages out of control in large parts of the world and advertising is as ubiquitous as oxygen, Bill Hicks’ ideas stand the test of time and hopefully will be heard by a new generation that sorely needs exposure to them.

If you have a spare hour, this public access interview from his native Texas where Hicks answers caller’s questions and is given carte blanche to say on TV what no mainstream outlet would dare put on the airwaves is a prime example of who he was: abrasive, cynical and an unapologetic thinker.

(Note: David Letterman – who is referred to above by Hicks while recounting how we was excised from the Late Show after recording one of his last bits – did try to make amends five years later, apologizing to Hicks’ mom on the show and airing his full set.)

There is no North American release date for the documentary yet so I suggest you all cozy up with a copy of Rants in E-Minor or Sane Man. Or you could just scour YouTube for gems like the one below.

Enjoy!

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R.I.P. Cable TV – 1948 – 2009

September 2, 2009

On the heels of an announcement earlier this month warning Canadians to prepare for higher monthly cable fees, this week the CRTC has announced that it will no longer limit the amount of advertising networks are allowed to air.

So while the cable industry struggles to compete with online and digital alternatives in the midst of a fragile economy, the CRTC in all its brilliance has decided to authorize providers to charge consumers more for the privilege of watching more ads (a large percentage of which extol American companies that don’t exist here).

Dare I predict the imminent end of cable television?

The irony is that the CRTC is also at the forefront of combating pirated media which is by definition free, available on demand, and contains no advertising. The simple truth is they need a much better game plan if they’re to save an anachronistic method of transmission.

Hint: Wasting people’s time and money ain’t it.

ITunes has already proven along with several other studies that pirates will pay for their media so long as they feel they’re getting value for their dollar. Pirated media is often of questionable quality and harder to find than a competitively priced corporate alternative. And however unlikely, no one wants to be made an example of in a courtroom while politicians try and figure out the legality of p2p software.

So how the CRTC is getting it so completely and utterly wrong remains baffling but in the meantime it’s once again up to consumer ire to send a powerful message by reducing or completely canceling cable packages. My fiancé used to insist we maintain a cable package so she could watch NHL games, however with TSN.ca and CBC.ca showing the majority of Canadian games between them, that argument is no longer valid. Besides that, most networks host their most popular series’ online for free (with a fraction of the advertising content).

Another nail in the cable coffin is the fact that viewing habits have changed with the advent of TV on DVD. Marathon viewings of series is becoming quite the popular form of consumption (who hasn’t taken in a season of 24 in real time or passed out trying at least once?) Furthermore, by not having cable, I only consume what I’m actually interested in watching, rather than mindless channel surfing and background noise. Who knows, the CRTC may end up encouraging me to read more books…

Now’s the time to take bold action, failure to do so will only embolden the CRTC to make more foolish decisions. There’s a difference between ad-supported content that’s free (ie. most legitimate online media) and reckless price-gouging which is what’s happening with cable.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some original programming to take in courtesy of Current.com and fora.tv.

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Review: HOME

June 11, 2009

Ten years. That’s what Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s non-profit documentary HOME wants us to think about; the next ten years and how we behave as a species during them. Glenn Close presents the argument with dramatic narration and details all the things we might lose if we don’t radically alter the way we live. Meanwhile, we’re treated to sweeping, Attenborough-esque shots of melting glaciers and majestic rainforests and reminded that they all have a role to play in the balance of our planet. More significantly, we’re reminded of the changes we’ve already caused in our ecosystem; a gentle admonition that we’ve already overfished most of our oceans (supported by a new study that estimates by 2048 there will be no more seafood), that the tar sands in Canada waste unimaginable amounts of water to feed a stubborn U.S. oil addiction and that our meat-rich diet is causing half the world’s grain to become animal feed while over a billion starve. “Entire forests turned into meat” as the film puts it. As far as simple mathematics is concerned, this arrangement is not sustainable. Common sense however, needs a reminder.

Now, we’ve all seen movies like this before. An Inconvenient Truth brought the message of climate change to an unprecedented number of people and was quickly followed by imitators. So why do we need another one? Well, it’s all to do with human psychology, namely Parkinson’s Law, which states that a workload will adjust based on the amount of time given to complete it. If we have ten years to clean up our act, Parkinson’s Law says we’ll use every second of it. Unfortunately, this probably means debating international trade deals and finger-pointing in politcal theaters for nine years followed by a mad scramble to save our planet at the zero hour. How perfectly Hollywood of us. We need movies like HOME to remind us (again!) that we all need to be aware of what’s happening and not wait for governments to fix it. We need to be propagandized for the cause. It sounds ugly but we’re simply not moving fast enough on our own.  The answer to our global problem will require sacrifice, but the earlier we start, the smaller the sacrifice. There are hundreds of thousands of resources online to help you figure out how to live greener. I, for one, have not owned a car since 2005 and I recycle and yet that’s not enough anymore either. After watching HOME, I’ll be taking my activism to the grocery store and looking for sustainable produce and joining rallies geared towards stopping the Tar Sands Project. I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I was to see a climate documentary finally expose this abominable practice which can now be seen from outer space. Great Canadian North indeed!

HOME is careful not to prognosticate terror and doom if we aren’t successful in reversing our practices. This is not Earth 2100 or some other sensational bit of mockumentary spectacle. Glenn Close simply tells us that science cannot predict the changes that will occur if all the methane living in the ground safely under vast ice sheets is released, if all the fresh water in Greenland melts into the salty sea, if coastal cities see a seven meter rise in water levels. The scariest things are truly what we imagine. Personally, I imagine massive displacement, starvation, water wars and the potential for a huge chunk of our planet to lose its ability to support life. We all know how well people behave during crisis (Katrina anyone?), which leaves me to believe that it’s not our planet that is at stake, but us and our humanity. HOME’s most impressive persuasion comes when it reminds us how little of our planet’s history even involves us and how quickly we can cease to be a part of it. Just like, say, dinosaurs.

I would quickly like to mention the importance of this film being released for free on YouTube until June 14. This film is free. That’s how important it is to the filmmakers that you see it. 217 days of incredibly difficult shooting in 54 countries done just for you to see this film. Surely we all have an hour and a half to reciprocate with. YouTube has taken a huge step towards offering original, feature-length content on your computer, which is what we’ve all known for years would happen. That it starts with this beautiful, thoughtful film is enough to help renew my faith in a global, green revolution. At some point, I will write a post about new models for distribution and why pirates will always be one step ahead but for now I’m just gonna enjoy the baby steps we’re taking towards a brave new world.

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Generation A.D.D. (or how I learned to stop worrying about Fox News)

March 28, 2009

Recently, I engaged in behavior that would’ve normally made me ashamed: I indulged in a bit of online self-righteousness when I ranted about Fox News for some disparaging comments made on one of their late-night genius fests. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing suffice to say that the comments were made about the Canadian military and the clip of it has become one of this week’s YouTube phenomenons. At the time I even posted the link in my Facebook status with a snarky comment designed to incite more self-righteous hatred towards the “Fox fucks” as I was calling them. Even more embarassingly, within 24 hours I had joined and left a “Boycott Fox News” Facebook group which was spewing all sorts of pious comments left and right.

Why is this behavior something to be ashamed of? Mainly because it’s a complete and utter waste of time. Instead of doing something productive with my Wednesday afternoon, I sat glued to my computer stewing in a rage towards people who’ve made absolutely no difference in my life. There I was fantasizing about being locked in a small, windowless room with a bunch of comic hacks who’s message would’ve only been seen by the legions who watch Fox News at 3AM if not for all the internet exposure it picked up later. As I thought about it more, several notions came together and I realized how such wannabe vigilantism can do us great damage in large enough numbers.

When I first read Manufacturing Consent ten years ago as part of a Social Media course, I remember how the concept of 80% of all media being subverted into a source of distraction (including newscasts) struck me as absurd. How could the news be a distraction? Well with time grows the cynic and the cynic-makers and it’s become painfully obvious that organizations like Fox News are only interested in generating controversy and anger. Hype. Hype that I willingly helped create this past week.

Even more disturbing among current trends is that Fox is not simply happy to be a distraction. It’s primary goal seems to be generating rage, something which spreads like wildfire across the blogosphere. I suppose it makes perfect sense from a business point of view, generating controversy after controversy, one free publicity incident after the other. But as a society we should be weary when a network who’s desired outcome is creating anger succeeds as often as Fox News. Hell, Keith Olbermann has practically made a career out of his anger towards Fox News. And while he plays good cop, Fox rolls out an assembly line of jerkoffs to say inciteful things and MSNBC rolls out counterpoint efforts to each one resulting in two cable news networks doing battle on the airwaves whilst trying to spin what’s left of the daily events to their owners’ advantage.

In fact, the networks are so good at reporting only the most knee-jerk, reactionary snippets of the news that entire presidencies filled with unimaginable corruption are not forgiven but instead forgotten because there’s a newer reason to be angry. So not only are we filled with rage all the time, but we’re being robbed of our long-term memory by the sheer volume of crap out there masquerading as important news. The most recent example being AIG bonuses. This is not the most important issue within the global economic crisis. Not by a long shot, and yet because it incites understandable anger, it’s exploited.

Meanwhile attention-deficit-disorder, a term I had always considered as the medical community’s easy answer for troublesome kids, has now become a self-fulfilling affliction in large part because of the way we consume media. Constantly and ubiquitously. And in the end, the genuine threats to our society that require sustained focus go unchecked as we accept small doses of fake justice as part of our news cycle of shock and rage.

So what’s the answer? I mean the volume and intensity of the crap out there is a by-product of the technology that makes thousands of channels available and puts YouTube on your phone. How can we resist becoming victims of our own propaganda? The answer is as simple and clichéd as one you might give to a child struggling with a bully. Ignore it. If Fox wants rage, withhold it. If they want hype, be secretive. Shrug off infantile comments by actors posing as journalists; there only to perpetuate their failed careers. If you hate Fox News then make sure you’re not getting it with your cable package. I sure did. Write letters to advertisers letting them know where you stand. This seems to have worked once already with UPS responding to consumer pressure by saying they won’t advertise on Bill O’Reilly anymore. Believe it or not this type of legitimate, tangible activism makes more of an impact on a network than all the wasteful hate messages on Facebook combined.

And if you really want the news, make the effort to get it from several sources. International sources. It can be as easy as Google News. You’d be amazed how coverage of an incident varies paper to paper, country to country, so polish off your bullshit detectors. It’s an important skill to hone if you really want to be informed.

It may seem pretentious to be giving out such advice on a blog but we all have the potential to be sucked in by such an adept machine specializing in viewer manipulation. I thought I was insulated from such depradation here in Canada where our news is smaller and less sensational, but when you have the internet you’re exposed to everything and when Fox baited me, I went for it hook, line and sinker.

I’d like to think I can break the cycle, at least for myself.

Noam Chomsky excerpt on why propaganda works:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Chomsky criticizes the issue of concision in the US media. Very important in understanding the structure of most news shows and why you may have never heard of him.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Power to the Posters!

November 30, 2008

The past year saw international activism and an explosion of social media combine to dethrone an ailing, evil empire and create staggering global support for long-time underdog, Barack Obama. It’s easy to forget now that the transition is well underway just how unlikely a candidate Obama was when he started his presidential campaign almost two years ago.

I’m not going to get into American race relations, save to say how happy I am that the wheel of progress continues to turn.

The other major, defining issue of the campaign was the internet and how astutely the Obama campaign used it to take grassroots support to unthinkable new highs. The Obama team harnessed the blogosphere to collect record-breaking amounts in donations, debunk a steady barrage of lies and keep the world informed of every highlight along the campaign trail. They also inadvertently inspired a global community of designers to take up arms and create hundreds of iconic images of the young senator. The creative side of the official and unofficial campaigns must not be overlooked as a major factor in bringing in so many young people.

It didn’t hurt that his speeches were sending typographers on a field day and that he’s much better looking than your average politician, especially say, a maniacal septuagenarian.

What a wonderful time it was to be interested in politics. There’s no question a large portion of the blogosphere is suffering from activism withdrawal. A daily sense of additional purpose has been satisfied for many of us. Fortunately, a small vestige of design activism still exists to help fill the void. Power to the Posters is the perfect fix for those of you still feeling the urge to express important messages about social change. The concept is wonderfully simple and will appeal to newbies and seasoned professionals; create and submit a high-quality B&W poster (or just download one from the gallery). Print out a bunch of copies. Post it and wait for the world to change.

Not only is it comforting to see these trends in new media proliferating, but in a more important way, now that Obama has been rightly elected, our focus is free to shift to the abundance of other ills plaguing the planet. What would you like to see different?

Head on over to get involved and check out their amazing posters!

I couldn’t resist. There’s no such thing as ‘honour killings’.

(Submitted earlier today, Justin from PTTP says it should be up soon. You guys get the exclusive!)