Saturday, October 29, 2011

Uncommon Sense: Beyond Globalization

"Love is an action, never simply a feeling" ~ bell hooks
The occupy movements around the world are providing a real opportunity for reflection and collective action (even in China!). As Slavoj Zizek has said, a crisis in imminent, but we don't need to panic. As I observe my local manifestation here in Edmonton, the benefits of the process - just getting involved - are obvious. It's invigorating and even liberating to attend the rallies, hang out and actively participate in defining a new movement.

Some problems I've noticed involve strategy and outreach. Last week a private company, Melcor, was reported to be ready to ask police to evict the group from the small park on the corner of 102nd St. and Jasper Ave. Occupy Edmonton immediately organized a petition opposing the eviction and within a day the protesters were told it wouldn't happen. Where was Mayor Mandel in this discussion? Has any direct pressure or appeal been made to his office? After all, this is an open space in our city - why should a private company be accepted as the legitimate authority to determine who can stay or not?

Another problem is outreach. I've been to the site, attended a roundtable talk and support the cause, but no attempt has been made to keep me involved. How many others have had a similar experience? There should be someone tasked with approaching newcomers and/or a sign-up sheet provided for those interested in offering contact information. These may seem like minor qualms, but they're essential if the movement is to continue and grow. In the meantime, this guy has an excellent idea - challenge "common sense," think different.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupation Edmonton: What's Next

"It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong" ~ Voltaire
I went downtown to 102nd St. and Jasper Ave. a few days ago, the centre of "Occupy Edmonton," and was impressed by the level of organization and positive messaging. There was a tent where anyone could help themselves to tea, coffee or snacks, another for media with various pamphlets, booklets and phone numbers of people to contact for legal help and a white board displaying the agenda for the daily meeting.

The Women's Caucus was in session nearby and there were about twenty other tents set aside for sleeping. I only saw a handful of people milling around, but more were expected later in the afternoon. This guy was pounding on some plastic buckets and when I asked if he was part of the movement he replied, "I am now."

This is turning into a global response on par with what theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri hoped for in their 2000 book, Empire, which, in the words of philosophical shaman Slavoj Zizek, "sets as its goal, writing the Communist Manifesto for the twenty-first century." My department at the University of Alberta is also getting in on the act and hosting "A Roundtable on the Global Occupation Movement" with such luminaries as Imre Szeman, Nat Hurley and Sourayan Mookerjea. Where does it go next? Onwards and upwards, I suspect, away from financial districts towards government centres like the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Situation: Occupy Wherever

"In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society."
Guy Debord and the Situationists brought game to the spectacle of street protests. It was performance waged with style and subversion that ultimately turned May 1968 into a touchstone for future generations. Did they result in any systemic change? No, but they did cause adjustments and shifts in the system that led to limited forms of progress. Even if this was just an illusion of progress they still raised awareness and opened new ground for future movements to effect change.

So what's going on with the Occupy Wall Street movements flourishing around the globe? First, as should be expected, they're taking on different levels of intensity depending on local or national circumstances. Second, they've crystallized a consensus that is widely shared across a variety of demographics, cultures, political systems and ethnic groups. Third, the potency for change, whether small or large, systemic or not, real or illusory, is still yet to be seen. In the meantime, as Jacques Rancière has suggested, the emancipated spectator is free to find anything valid on his own terms without leaders determining a frame of reference. Be realistic - demand the impossible.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bruce Robinson: A Piece Of Work

Withnail, Robinson and I at Uncle Monty's Cottage, 1969/1986
Bruce Robinson, legendary cult director and honorary member of my personal Gonzo Pantheon, has recently finished directing a new film based on Hunter S. Thompson's novel, The Rum Diary. Starring Johnny Depp and set in Puerto Rico, it's scheduled to be released next month. Robinson isn't the most prolific of directors - he's most well known for Withnail and I (1987) and How To Get Ahead In Advertising (1989), which he also wrote the screenplays for, as well as the Academy Award winner, The Killing Fields (1984).

Robinson started off as an actor, appearing as Benvolio in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. According to a interview with Will Self in the October edition of Esquire (UK version), Robinson had a miserable time fending off Zeffirelli's unwanted advances. He later found revenge by basing Withnail and I's Uncle Monty on the lech.

Robinson as Benvolio, 1968
It's as a screenwriter that Robinson has made his mark. He's a master of existential wit and scathing satire which helped propel his directorial debut, Withnail And I, into the "classic" category. Of course, having the geniuses of Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann along for the ride didn't hurt either.
Withnail and I remains one of my very favourite films - everything from the acting and writing to the settings and the soundtrack, combine to create a seamless, cinematographic masterpiece. Nothing is out of place and after all these years it's still as fucking hilarious as it ever was. Here's the immortal King Curtis on film's opening song, "Whiter Shade of Pale":

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Borderlands: Canada & U.S. Fear

"Homeland Security is a monster that will never die." ~ Derek Lundy
One of the more interesting discoveries I've encountered on my return to Canada (apart from tar sands and the disturbing ubiquity of 80s radio), has been the fact that a significant percent of Americans still believe the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. through Canada. It's a complete lie, but it's gained credence within FOX Nation. The truth is just too much to bear, so when in doubt...Blame Canada!

Derek Lundy's recent book, Borderlands: Riding the Edge of America, is a wake-up call. He warns Canadians that change is coming and if we don't take action to define the debate on our terms we'll be subjected to the same militarization seen on the U.S./Mexico border. Lundy is a Canadian who was born in Northern Ireland so he knows a bit about what he's talking about. Terrorism tends to promote the same ugly fears and obsessions with security wherever it surfaces. For this book, Lundy drove a Kawasaki KLR 650 along the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada to investigate what's been happening in the decade since 9/11.

Lundy confirms that 9/11 changed everything for the U.S. Before, economics trumped security, now it's the other way around and everyone is a suspect. The billions poured into Homeland Security has materialized along both borders as huge slabs of cement walls and Predator drones. Lundy suggests the U.S. is now committed to this reality and if Canada doesn't do something to match it we'll be doomed to bleak days ahead.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Thanksgiving: Give & Take

Garneau, Edmonton (Photos by Yewco)
This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada and it's got me thinking about the nature of giving and taking. Giving requires someone or something to be on the take and that's been me more often than not. I suspect it's not that much different for most others. Miranda July has a great piece on the New Yorker website about shoplifting, the ultimate "take" in a capitalist society:
"I discovered that stealing required a loose, casual energy, a sort of oneness with the environment, like surfing or horse-whispering. And once I knew I could do it I felt strangely obliged to. I remember feeling guilty for not stealing, as though I were wasting money."
That's a true sense of entitlement if there ever was one - the feeling that you're obliged to a rip off despite who or what may be on the other end. It's the feeling that has enabled Wall Street to run the U.S. economy into the ground - capitalism in its purest manifestation.

I went through a phase many moons ago around this time in the fall when I was careless enough to think I could steal and get away with it. I was on my paper route when I got the bright idea of stealing car ornaments like the "VW" and "BMW" logos. Luckily, I was caught by my manager who refrained from calling the cops or even firing me. I had to return everything and soon learned to curb my enthusiasms (not really) and be thankful for small mercies.

A little give & take, Astotin Lake, Elk Island Park, Alberta

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Jonathan Richman: Raw & Wild

Jonathan Richman takes the stage like a precocious kid on the first day of school searching the crowd for a welcoming sign. Clutching his strapless classical guitar and still feeling a little unsure of what he's up against, he launches into a seductive number that soon has the crowd swooning...
Because her beauty is raw and wild
She's at the core of the stars we see
'Cause her beauty is raw and wild
She's at the core of the stars we see
A smile spreads across Jonathan's face as he realizes he's with his kind of folk. He nods to percussionist Tommy Larkins, picks up a bell shaker and waves it over the crowd as though dispensing blessings before beginning to soft-shoe across the stage...

Our crowd at the Starlite Room in Edmonton has now been accepted into the club, not the kind for drinking sips, but the one for shaking hips....

Jojo, as he's known by the aficionados, might be 60, but he's forever young. At the heart of his aesthetic is a joy of being, a celebration of life in its infinite plenitude, screw what anyone else might say.