Thursday, July 31, 2008


You can make the case that anything can be funny. It doesn’t necessarily mean that anything will be funny. George Carlin suggested that even rape could be funny by imagining Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. Point taken. But try dropping that in the rape crisis centre of your choice and wait for the laugh. Carlin was smart enough not to do that (and wouldn’t condone it), his point was that some kinds of humour hinge upon your response to something grossly absurd or inappropriate.

I can think of a bunch of ways that a Jesus Sucks banner could be funny. Maybe as a throw-away shot in a South Park or Family Guy episode (it doesn’t strike me as a Simpsons gag), or a plot thread in an episode of Seinfeld where you watch the cast either make excuses or simply respond in horror. And so on. The idea might work out. But actually hiring the plane and doing it isn’t playing out as well.

The stunt has outraged the usual suspects – readers are predictably horrified (“…the Lord God Almighty has already cursed Toronto by populating it with Toronto people”) and Torontoist readers have given their 2 cents with some vigour (“Your life must be so unimportant if you get insulted by people mocking two thousand year old fairy tales”).

If Kenny & Spenny’s producers were fighting for free publicity, they’ve won. And if you look at the entire situation and feel like you’ve lost, then they’ve really won. That said, I’m finding it hard to be offended by anything other than the level of attention around it. I’m shrugging this off in the same way that I’ll ignore a 10yr old reciting a dirty Hail Mary (and if my grade school was any indicator, there are a couple of doozies). I’m far more offended by an Evangelist suggesting that Jesus will love me more if I cut his church a cheque.

I’m not going into my personal belief system here. But in the immortal words of the Doobie Brothers, Jesus is alright with me. He never hurt anybody. Encouraged everyone else to follow his example. As for his followers, well, that’s another story that’s not worth getting into in this context. Do you really want to discuss the balance between the beneficial effects of Christianity vs. the Crusades, the Inquisition, and various churches endorsing slavery in the same breath as Kenny vs. Spenny? Be my guest, but do it on your own time.

I don’t watch the show, but I’ve laughed at Jackass a few times. I’ve heard they’re similar. This wouldn’t make me a core audience member, but it puts me in a pleasantly indifferent position towards the whole enterprise. I wouldn’t have sought it out before the Jesus Sucks incident and I’m less likely to now, not out of religious offence but because I think Kenny Hotz is either an idiot or is just insufferably smug and disingenuous for the sake of garnering an audience. The former is something to be pitied or avoided. The latter is something that should really be ignored out of existence as soon as humanly possible.

The National Post has contributed the most space to this, posting the only after-the-fact interview with Hotz that I’ve been able to find online. Read the whole thing here, or choose to agree or disagree with my take on it:

Our show is stupid and we’re stupid

Suggests that everyone’s should learn to take a joke.

and I feel bad if anyone actually got offended
A sign of remorse to avoid taking responsibility for any negative response.

but, I don’t know.
Backing away from the previous two points begins…

I guess it’s freedom of speech.
Changing the topic – it isn’t about his self-described stupid show anymore or his personal bad feelings about offending anyone, or their offence in the first place, it’s about the big issues.

I’m sure people got pissed off,
Skipping the fact that he intiated the whole thing in the first place

but I don’t think it’s offensive.
Finally, a statement. If he’d said it at the start, I’d have no problem with it. Love the joke, stand up beside the joke, be prepared to be shot with the joke and refuse the blindfold. Or back away from it entirely and say you went too far or it just plain-old wasn’t funny. Don’t play the sorta-kinda-maybe card and hope for the best.

…a true Christian would turn the other cheek. I’ve studied the Bible a lot, I’ve done religious studies. So, I think for true Christians, it would only increase their faith.
Jesus Sucks provides an affirmation of faith for the offended? A lesson in humility? Something along the lines of your grade school bully saying “I was tough on ya, but it taught ya the ways of the world and made you strong”? Great.

Hotz’s interview might support my idiot theory, or could blow it out of the water. Steve Martin’s standup persona worked on the idea that he was so totally unfunny that he was funny. It’s possible that Hotz is riffing on an insensitive immature jerk who doesn’t care about collateral damage or understand the possible ramifications of his actions.

One should hope, at least. When you leap from "I didn’t really want to hurt individuals. I just thought it was mean and unlikeable. So I decided I’d just rather piss off large groups of people instead" to "I don’t think Jesus sucks...I really hope nobody takes offense" with no apparent knowledge of the disconnect, it's probably an act.

Then again, "never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity" right?

Either way, wasting anger on cheap jokes is like resenting the calories and sodium in a bucket of fried chicken. It won't change a thing. If you're grinding your teeth at it all, direct that energy elsewhere. Flip fifty bucks to the church or comedy club of your choice and improve the morale of the faithful. If you’re truly horrified on religious or ethical grounds, take the time and earn the right to complain. Money talks. Express your discontent to the network, and especially to the sponsors.

And hey- dying is easy, comedy is hard. Consider those Canadian laffmeisters Tom Green and Mike Bullard, and look where they are (if you can find them). Kenny vs. Spenny too will pass. And you can at least change the channel. There’s got to be something else on TV.

Friday, July 18, 2008


1. To Alex Gibney, director of the Gonzo documentary- the archival stuff is great, but a little greenscreen back projecting goes a long way. The splitscreen Vietnam/Iraq corpses gets its point across the first time (and in half the time allotted). And bringing Jimmy Buffet into it might be historically accurate, but I for one felt kinda dirty.

2. To Steven Page- if you've gotta get stuck allegedly snorting coke on the US side of the border, it's all for the best to allegedly use a rolled up Canadian banknote. It'll get you props for not selling out to the Yanqui dollar in some circles. I hope it's allegedly a fifty.

3. To Michael Coren- keep writing self-righteous mush like this (which is pretty much a given) and you'll waive the whole 'judge not, that ye be not judged' card that you'll pull out at some point in the future after some catastrophe (personal or canonical).

4. If you're the kind of guy to introduce yourself by saying "Everyone calls me Fletch," 23 years after Mr. Chase's magnum opus, you might consider a past-glory-days repositioning.

5. Actually, I never met the guy cited above. He might be a hell of a guy. I'd advise myself not to be so dismissive, but what are the odds of me listening? Especially when I'm at the third-person stage in a narrative? Let's move on.

6. Sensible advice from Travis before heading out for a writing weekend, "Don't try to write anything profound. Just write a nice story." And off we go.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Useful Useless Phrases

I’ve had a few days of hearing third-party stories about somebody being up to their usual rubbish. The somebody in question stretches across several roles (ex-boyfriend, ex-wife, former roommate, recently departed co-worker) but the crux of each story boiled down to the storyteller being immune to the shtick that’s utilized by that certain somebody.

I’ve considered these stories (along with a few past examples of a somebody or two in my own life), and found more than a few common threads between them. These patterns of statement/reality aren’t set in stone of course, and it’s more than possible that if a near and dear friend (or former friend) tries one of these lines on you, they might be utterly sincere. That said, the karmic boomerang is being flung, and here are my recent findings…

Statement: “This might surprise you, but I’ve thought about you a lot lately.”

Reality: I need money/a character witness

Statement: “I’m not afraid to speak my mind.”
Reality: Speaks their mind frequently, but so little is gained by anyone involved.

Statement: “I’m not always polite, but I’m always honest.”
Reality: Never polite, honest only about their own requirements and how these should be put before anybody else’s.

Statement: “Sometimes I think that the world needs more direct people like me.”
Reality: It really doesn’t.

Statement: “Sometimes I’m not so good at listening.”
Reality: They have selective hearing, which inevitably ignores anything they find unpleasant, unflattering, or affecting their wallet.

Statement: “I make as many mistakes as the next guy, but I keep trying.”
Reality: Make more mistakes. Ignores them.

Statement: “I don’t think that some people get my sense of humour.”
Reality: They weren’t funny, or are trying to get out of a situation by claiming their sense of humour was too broad or sophisticated to be truly appreciated by those affected by the comments (the kitten-eater effect)

Statement: “I’ve spent days crying about this.”
Reality: An unverifiable claim. Would be exhausting. The cost in Kleenex alone is prohibitive. Therapy is recommended.

Statement: “I don’t see any point in dwelling on ‘I’m sorry’ when I know it’s more productive to keep going on.”
Reality: Most often said by somebody running away from something.

Statement: “Since this all started, I’ve taken a lot of comfort in my faith.”
Reality: Not worth listening to by anyone who has recently a) pled guilty, b) is clearing out their desk under the watchful eye of security guards, or c) is trying to borrow money.

Statement: “I’m willing to wipe the blackboard clean, and I know you’re mature enough to want the same thing.”
Reality: Check for fresh chalk in their back pockets.

Statement: “I think I’ve learned a lot about myself.”
Reality: They haven’t.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just found in a book

Click to enlarge, if you're bored. I hadn't read The Long Way Out for years.

Fifth Business

" opera, in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe, you must have a prima donna- always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and a tenor who always plays the lover to her; and then you must have a contralto, who is a rival to the soprano, or a sorceress or something; and a basso, who is the villain or the rival or whatever threatens the tenor.

So far, so good. But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death if that is part of the plot."

-From 'Fifth Business' by Robertson Davies.

I'm pushing 40. I'm invisible to a group of teens outside of a Wendy's at Martingrove and Highway 7. There's grey in my beard and I'm driving an old Volvo and have nothing to interest any of them. They're grouped around cars that they probably think are set for street racing, clearly the kind of kids who take great pride in using Armor All on their tires. I never was, never knew, this variety of kid.

I'm at this particular burger stop for lack of anything else to do. My wife is at a wedding factory a few kilometres away, performing at a Persian wedding. I've just come from a barbecue and I'm not dressed inconspicuously enough to wander into the hall and watch her routine (shorts and sandals probably won't do). So I'm at Wendy's to drink coffee and read Salon off my Treo and wait for her to call when she's done. The restaurant is filled around 50/50 with kids who consider it a social event and shift workers just starting out or just ending. I don't fit into either category.

I read tiny pixelated text until my eyes begin to blur, and finally decide to drive back to the hall and watch the crowd smoking at the front door. But first, a trip to the men's room. When I walk in, I see a kid (maybe 20?) at the sink, delicately dabbing a wad of paper towel on a bloodied fat lip. He barely notices me and I walk around him. It's none of my business. After a few seconds, there's a knock on the door and a girl's voice saying "Hello...? Excuse me...?" which is geuninely unexpected.

I wash my hands quickly and open the door a crack. There are three girls, late teens, looking like something. Worried, pissed off or vaguely curious. I can't tell. One says "Sorry, but is there a guy in a yellow soccer shirt in there?"

I say "Let me check," since they probably don't know that the room is no bigger than two urinals, a stall, and two sinks. I close the door and the guy at the mirror looks at me. I sort of point over my shoulder and he sort of shakes his head. It'd be funny if he had fear in his eyes, or embarrassment, or anything, really. But he just sends the international guy-language shrug of "I'm not dealing with this, help me out, okay?" and I give the nod that says "None of my business anyway, gimme a sec," and open the door.

I told the girls that there wasn't anybody in a yellow shirt in with me, but I saw a guy in a yellow shirt across the parking lot at the ice cream place. I don't know if they believed me. I don't know if they gave him the fat lip, or were worried about him, or were about to explain to him that he'd gotten off light. I'm also old enough to have warranted a 'sir' out of one of them ("Thank you, sir") as they left.

I closed the door. He looked at me and mouthed "Thanks." I waved it off and left. A pointless bit of karma from where I stood. But I was just bored enough to wonder what events came together to shape that story, or what's going to come out of it. Probably nothing.

Somebody got hit. Somebody wanted a status report. I wandered in from the periphery and climbed comfortably back into nowhere. Not even Fifth Business to the events. Six point seven-fifth's business at best. I'd appear eighth-billed as 'The guy who gets the girls off the soccer-shirted kid's back for five minutes before he faces the music or shrugs it off in front of them.' Invisibility has its benefits.

Friday, July 04, 2008

This sounds like a line, but...

I haven't had cable for three years. I have a steady supply of DVDs to continue to rot my mind when required, and I'm too cheap to give either Rogers or Bell my money for 57 channels I won't watch. This means that I’ve missed three years of reality TV, so I’m still in a position to be horrified by it.

And this is depressing. Truly, truly depressing. I know it’s a year old or so, but damn.

Look up the term ‘Cougar’ in the Urban Dictionary and you will find 2 classes of definition:

- The punchy, ain’t-we-got-fun variant written by women of a certain age (or who will one day be a certain age) who think the whole idea is cool and kicky, and

- The patronizing, aren’t-they-past-their-prime-and-of-dubious-moral-character dismissals written (presumably) by men who have had bad luck with somebody who matched their definition of cougar

There’s not a lot of dignity to either definition, but the phrase is out there and it’s hard to avoid. I worked at a consulting firm a few years ago, and I’d occasionally prowl around the pricey Bay Street restaurants at lunch. I was looking at the menu of a very expensive Japanese place (where they appeared to want $17.50 for a small bowl of steamed rice with with a piece of fish cut into the shape of a chrysanthemum), when an older woman surprised me by saying “Anything look good?”

She looked to be in her early 50’s, very attractive, expensively but conservatively dressed, looking like an investment counsellor with well-to-do clients. The situation didn't feel weird, I just thought she was just being friendly in a way that you don’t usually encounter at King and Bay.

I said, “It all looks good, but it’s a little rich for my taste.”

She peered at the menu for a moment before saying “Well, it looks great to me. And I’m having a great day. Why don’t I buy you lunch?”

Despite disliking the expression, my first thought was “This can’t be happening. I’m over 35. I’m too old to be cougared.”

I’m not even sure that I was being cougared in the first place. It's possible that she was just an exceptionally nice person who’d had a good day and wanted company for lunch. Regardless of her motivation, I declined the offer. Being happily married and uninterested in getting picked up was the primary reason, along with a gut feeling that she was far more likely to discuss an exciting new investment opportunity or invite me to a bible study group rather than offer an afternoon of erotic bliss. But most of the women I knew (with the pointed exception of my wife) told me that I should have accepted the lunch, found out what she really wanted, excused myself to the bathroom after the last cup of green tea and sneaked out the fire exit to share my story with the universe.

That kind of thing hadn’t happened to me for ages. The last time was when I was in my mid twenties and videotaping string quartets for Mae, a woman who ran a small recording studio in a loft on Queen East. She was in her late 40’s, warm and friendly, and decidedly lived in her own universe. She talked a lot about an upcoming spiritual awakening that related to a Druid prophecy (which alienated a few people 'round the place), but her running narrative was never boring and her cheques always cleared.

I liked Mae. I didn’t think she had any designs on me (other than perhaps raiding my CD collection), until the day I dropped by to deliver a videotape and she came to the door in a towel.

This was unexpected.

I knew she lived at the back of the loft, but it was usually filled with people and I’d never been alone with her before. I apologized for bothering her and offered to come back later, but she insisted on drawing me a cheque as soon as she was done with her shower.

She led me to the back of the loft to her apartment (saying it was more comfortable than the waiting room), and sat me at a table in plain view of her bathroom door, which was pretty much open (to let the steam out, of course). She went back into the shower, and I couldn't help but notice that the curtain was short and was pretty much open as well (I didn’t dwell on it). We carried on a brief conversation about the benefits of goat’s milk soap and salt scrubs as she shampooed, rinsed and repeated.

This might read as an unsubtle exercise on her part, but it didn’t quite play out that way. Mae was the kind of person who wouldn't use 10 words when 100 would do, and she was just as likely to give me a play-by-play of her shower regimen as she was to explain the inspiration for the names of her 4 dogs (Celtic deities, for the record). I honestly had no idea if this was a series of ‘how about it?’ manoeuvres, or if she was just somebody without personal space issues taking a shower. Either way, I wasn’t interested in joining her.

(pause) That’s not quite true.

I was having problems with my girlfriend at the time. I was lonely. And barely-employed. And without direction. And all of the other petty torments of one’s mid-twenties. Even with all carnality aside (yes, please put it aside in its little carnality box), I felt that it would be nice for someone to invite me into a shower right around that time, I just didn’t think that this someone should be an occasional employer with her own reality principle.

She eventually left the shower in as loose a robe as was structurally possible. She wrote my cheque and gave me a cup of hemp tea as we chatted about her dogs and Riz Ortolani and campy Italian film music in general. Then I went home. I continued to videotape her recitals for a few months, but wasn't invited to any further shower confabs. I was, however, treated to a lot of hemp tea and baklava. She was a chatty sort. I looked unhappy. She was trying to be nice.

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