Good Grief!

Thanks to Boing-Boing, I know that:

As someone commented — who needs The Onion? Reality is weirder!

19 thoughts on “Good Grief!

  1. I wouldn’t necessarily be quite so glib about Canada being an American “wannabe”. If you are a lawyer and you can’t find the case you need in one of the Canadian Reporters, you’ll start looking in one of the American Reporters before you start digging around in one of the other commonwealth countries.

  2. Glib? I was a bit shaken last night, so maybe my tone of frustration and disgust with how Canada’s even worse at following the worst American examples than Korea… or, at least, it was, until the KORUS free trade agreement. IP is going to be absolutely screwed in Korea, with all the restrictions and none of the loopholes or safeguards of American law, or so I’ve read.

  3. Well, if the copyright laws have the effect of opening up the Canadian market I’m all for it. In the past I’ve been unable to watch television shows, movies, or read books because there was no Canadian distributor. Canada is a nation of pirates, in part, because people like myself who want to pay (or in my case had) have no access through legal channels. I wanted to pay to watch the second season of 30 Days, but I couldn’t purchase it on, and didn’t carry it because Rodgers and Global weren’t getting their share of the action. Free markets, free minds!

  4. Perhaps, and I would agree that access should be opened up in Canada, but at the same time, IP laws and copyright laws are almost always for the benefit of whoever has the most money in a court case, such that Fair Use has essentially evaporated, as has the possibility of anything after the 1930s entering the Public Domain in our lifetime.

    Changes in Canada and Korea that benefit both creative workers and consumers would be good; importing the system from the US is actually counterproductive. In Korea, frighteningly so, since they’re bringing in all the restrictions of the US’s IP law, with few to none of the safeguards or limitations.

    Korea is different — it’s a nation of pirates because of an ingrained lack of respect for Rule of Law — but also because access to media is controlled to an extreme degree here, as well. But I don’t think importing brutal copyright law helps anyone but corporate fat cats and the lawyers that profit off bullshit copyright cases.

    Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture — which is available free online, by the way; I like the creative-commons audiobook version the making of which was possible when he released it under a creative commons license — was what opened my eyes about a lot of these issues, because Lessig makes it clear how much of this has precedents, as well as how these laws impact society. Great book!

  5. It was an interesting blurb, but what really interest(ed)s me wasn’t addressed – consumer access. If it allows HBO access to Canada, then I’m all for it, and Canadians get to choose when and where they want to see The Sopranos, I’m all for it. If Rodgers Communications decides when and where Canadians get to see The Sopranos, then I don’t really see the point of the legislation.

    Living in the USA now, access isn’t such an issue anymore, and for better or worse, I feel less passionate about the issue.

  6. What blurb?

    Mmm. I know your concern (at least in respect to Canada) is related to consumer access, but I suspect that (a) this would be resolved with better laws about IP too, and (b) this happens to be a less important issue in the longer run than whether Canada becomes as malformed and anti-consumer/antisocial in its copyright and IP law as the US is, because that impacts innovation, development, and more… whereas better consumer access to TV content is kind of like different brands of alcohol. It impacts, but in a negligible way.

    Which is not to say I wouldn’t be fighting for access if I were in Canada. Canadian content laws need reform badly — the point should be promoting and developing Canadian media domestically (and to the world, as an alternate form of North American content, and potentially a good one) rather than restricting the access Canadians have to alternatives.

    Seriously, I recommend the Lessig book highly. It has a lot to say about how this impacts on the culture industry, too. (More than it says about other issues.)

  7. The blurb I was referring to was the boing boing post you linked to. I clicked on it, and I guess it wasn’t as blurby as I remembered it.

    The Canadian government has been actively susidizing Canadian content for years. I think the American’s understand TV better than Canadians do – which would you honestly rather watch, The Sopranos or DaVinci’s Inquest? Mordecai Richler would have found a home anywhere in North America, but would we really have lost anything if Dennis Cooley didn’t get grants, tenure, and published by House of Anansi Press?

  8. Okay, but you know what? ReGenesis was a really good Canadian TV show. Like, good enough to have actually ended up on sale in the pirated-media bins in Ao Nang, Thailand a couple of years ago. And say what you will, but the Degrassi series is known worldwide — people I work with use it to teach North American anglo culture, as it’s much more realistic than any dramatic representations of teens in American TV.

    (You know something’s hit critical mass when the pirated DVDs are on sale on the street in Thailand, next to copies of full seasons of 24 and The Sopranos, or being aired all across North America even decades later. I have friends who were watching Degrassi in Texas just a few years ago!)

    So I don’t think it’s so much that “Americans get TV better” as much as that there’s a bigger population, and thus more people to contribute, thus a better stable of writers; and more competition, because The Sopranos had to compete to get onto TV, where a lot of Canadian shows have less competition and a smaller pool of potential contributors.

    Plus we were culturally crippled by our intellectuals’ masturbatory obsession with Canadian identity. Thus “prairie” TV shows that bore the piss. (A great idea set in the prairies would be great, mind you; more small town boredom is unlikely to mean anything to anyone.)

    Never heard of Dennis Cooley, but I doubt he’s that big a drain on the Canadian economy; there are Canadian poets whom I, as a writer of verse, consider dreckmasters and poseurs, or just plain incomprehensible (my favorite example is Christian Bök whose book Eunoia I attempted to read once. I got five or six pages in, at most, and renamed the book “Annoya” for its disgusting reduction of poetry to orthographic games… or so is my opinion) — hell, our literary world in Canada is chock full of tubby fish in a very small pond — but I wouldn’t say they have no right to publish, nor would I say the literary grants we give are a waste, even if they go to people I disapprove of personally.

    After all, they’re mostly drops in a bucket, and it’s just uncivilized not to give arts grants. (Though I agree with John Ralston Saul that what’s really needed is to take that grant money and feed it into building arts communities in different centers across Canada, instead of just supporting individuals.)

    As for the tenuring decisions of your alma mater, what has that to do with Canadian content law? :)

    (I’m guessing you met him or took a course with him, and he was, er, disappointing? I’ve never heard of him, and have no idea… but whomever he is, he does seem pretty tangential to whether Canada should emulate the US in copyright law!)

  9. Sorry if I’m drifting a little off the main thread. This is just an observation, but you tend to sprawl, while I tend to laser in on something, so I guess I’m cherry picking which subjects I’m commenting on in this thread. I read some of Christian Bok’s work early in his career, and it was interesting, but not very memorable.

    I’ve also read Dennis Cooley, he was on the faculty at the University of Manitoba, and while I never took a course with him, I did speak to him and he seemed like a nice enough guy. We were talking, and I mentioned that I was going to try and write book reviews for the Globe and Mail. A friend had said it was easier to do then it looked. If you had enough tear sheets, and they liked your stuff, they were eager to get as many non-Ontario reviewers on board to make the book section look “national”. Cooley looked miffed, and said if that were true, why did people in Winnipeg have to go knocking on the Globe’s door, shouldn’t they be knocking on our door? I was young, but something about that statement seemed…adolescent. Did Cooley really want to write, or was he more interested in playing rock star?

    Are government grants for poetry or novels really necessary? At first blush it looks like a very low overhead activity. At one time, poetry was popular. People would get eagerly await new releases. Poets frequently had lives and careers outside of academia and publishing. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive, T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and for Faber & Faber, and Williams Carlos Williams was a doctor. Stephen King and Elmore Leonard (both of whom are held in higher regard now then in the past) held down jobs while working on novels early in their careers, and as far as I know didn’t need any government grants.

    If you really want to write, you get on with it. You know how it is – you would be typing away at your novels and short stories, grants or no grants. I haven’t got a novel in me, but I do feel the need to write, hence the blog. I used to write poems (very lousy ones), have done a lot of journalism and reviews, and now I blog, which seems like the best fit, but hopefully I have a few screenplays in me. One of the best poems I think I ever wrote was my post on Lisa’s engagement ring. O’Rourke read Tom Wolfe’s journalism, and realized that while he could never write a novel, he could bring novelisitic techniques to his jouralism, and Lou Reed says if you took all his song lyrics, it was basically his great American novel. Cooley and other poets getting grants, teaching on campuses, and publishing to shrinking audiences really need to start thinking outside the box and re-examining their priorities.

    I’m not opposed to governments commissioning works of art for public display, but for some artistic endeavours, I think on general principle, even if the amount of money is small it’s a bad investment, and could be used to increase funding for other artistic endeavours.

  10. Well, as I say, I agree with John Ralston Saul that public money is best used helping to establish local artistic communities and helping found scenes, because sometimes that sort of thing needs more startup capital than anyone can come up with. (For example, building a decent live theater venue, or a concert hall suited to classical music performances.)

    Cooley may have been displaying the “big fish/small pond” syndrome, I don’t know. (On the other hand, it is kind of odd that the Globe didn’t seek out reviewers from other regions of Canada, among literati. That is the kind of thing that happens in Canada.)

    I think that government grants for the arts aren’t necessary, but then, the arts aren’t necessary. We won’t die without a film industry, or poetry written by our countrymen, or novels that spring forth from a sensibility more like our own, that represent parts of our nation others may never see; we won’t asphyxiate on bleakness when there are no paintings in our town or city.

    Art is not about necessity, it’s about desirability, pleasure, and joy, and thus it’s must more difficult to put your finger down on an adequate calculus of funding and “investment” — though infinitely reproducible art (novels, films) certainly are more distributable and thus more possibly fit for national funding, though the resulting work should also be released online for free for national consumption.

    It’s increasingly hard for people to produce great work in some genres when they have to hold down a day job. I am not quite convinced poetry is one of those genres, by the way: as the SF author/critic and poetry critic Thomas Disch argued, poets should have day jobs, because after all, in general poets cannot produce heaps of work in a day even if they need to or try hard, and they are more than anyone in danger of losing the sense of the world; they are also, indeed, as he and you both argue, more likely to produce good stuff if they are working — he adds, the further from academia the better.

    But novelists, it’s hard to write a novel when you’re working 9-6 (when did anyone ever work 9-5? I never have!) and it’s hard to produce great film. Maybe painting too, I’m not sure, but filmmakers and novelists simply need time. And yes, one way is that they work dayjobs while they write their first five novels, because the first three never sell much and you never get a good advance till the 4th. But really, if there’s a cheap way to work a shortcut in and get the person bridged over into full-time work on the art, for a while at least, I can’t say I think it’s a bad idea.

    As for the death of poetry, it’s complex, isn’t it? As you and I both know from our predilections watching TV — and by the way, I am indeed enjoying Breaking Bad, so thank you for the recommendation! — more popular doesn’t mean better. Economics will never again reward our best poet even a fraction as powerfully as the market rewards Danielle Steele for each turd she pushes out.

    But I also agree that poetry is in trouble. I suspect education has a lot to do with it, because it is, like math, one of the worst-taught subjects in my experience. It’s all about memorizing, or it’s all about will-nilly interpretation, and none of it is about feeling, about sounds, about self-expression. When I was taught in school to write or read poems, I was to categorize the form (Sonnet! Haiku!) and regurgitate some canned line about what it was about (Love! Hope! War Sucks!). Even the teacher who tried to show how interpretation is more complex than intentionality, by putting one of my poems on the overhead for the class to interpret, had to deal with students who, aside from being able to read the words off the screen, were essentially illiterates, could not verbalize ambiguities, and could not grasp that a text might suggest multiple meanings and contradictory ones. (They were twelfth-graders, so their ability and interest to do so had been well-repressed by experience at that point.)

    I think you’re right that the poetry scene needs to reach out more, but honestly, I don’t know how it can happen.

    By the way, I don’t expect I’ll ever get a grant to finish a novel… I write SF. Maybe if I switch to historical fiction set in the prairie, or something, but nobody will fund me if I admit to writing SF.

  11. Is Danielle Steele really that bad? I’m not trying to be a smartass, but I used to hold her up as an example of how popular tastes could be so very wrong, until I realized I’d never sat down and read one of her novels.

    You can still get good, cutting edge art, or art with a strong national or regional feel, without government grants. The Coen brothers made their first film Blood Simple with money raised from people in Minnesota. Coen brothers films tend to do good box office domestically, but don’t make as much money abroad cause the subtitles are complicated to read. Breaking Bad might not have a lot of viewers now, but that could change once it’s on DVD.

    It would be nice to see more wealthy people step up to the plate in Canada. I can remember the controversy over the Rothko purchase in Canada, and I don’t think it would have been as controversial if some rich yo-yo like Ted Turner had bought the painting and donated it to the government built gallery.

    If you look closely at a lot of the avant guarde stuff in the USA that gets cultural conservatives hopping mad, some of it is funded by the NEA, but you’d be surprised how many rich people are cutting checks for cutting edge art down here.

  12. Danielle Steele is, in my (mercifully brief) experience that bad.

    I agree it’s possible to do without national grants — it’s just harder, and when you’re trying to help bootstrap an arts scene into existence, it takes much longer. Especially when your population is so much smaller, and you’re next to a media giant from whom it’s so much easier to import. (And to which it’s so much easier to emigrate, if you’re a creative person.)

    I forgot about the Rothko thing, but I remember the purchase of the painting Voice of Fire drawing criticism too. Hell, I love the avant garde, but I criticized it too. I’m less sure about the Rothko, but I don’t think artists should push that “paintroller” trick too often. Painting seems to risk going the way of poetry, the more it eschews, well, discernible content of any kind.

    You do have a point that nobody would complain if a rich person donated it, and you’re right that it would be nice if rich people did their bloody part for culture in Canada, but since they’re not, and since we’re taxing them more anyway, we might as well use some of the taxes for art.

    I would feel utterly different, though, if Canada were groping in the dark in other areas. I certainly think that the money that goes to art I could replicate with a paintroller and two tins of paint could certainly go to better sources, like expanding hospital services or job-retraining programs for displaced workers. Then again, even crappy art gets people talking and thinking about art. It’s just not really effective outreach, as it disinclines visitors or museums and galleries.

    I think I will post about Breaking Bad, I just need time to get to it. Glad I inspired more analysis in the Weeds posts. I’m looking forward to the next season.

  13. One of the reasons why I cited the Coen brothers as an example of private sector involvement was because (for the first film anyway) their pool of investors was drawn largely from people in Minnesota, a state not unlike Saskatchewan or Manitoba. The investors weren’t Bill Gates rich, but car dealer rich – they had to worry about taxes, and still had to put in a certain amount of work to keep going. There is no reason why that couldn’t happen in Canada.

  14. Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin (google them) are the hot (relatively) young things at the center of a revival in interest in figurative painting. Barnett and Rothko are so…what 70’s? 60’s?

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