I think we’ll all agree that 2014 was the year Outrage went viral. Everywhere you looked someone was getting angry about something. And it’s not that there weren’t things to get angry about. I won’t go into the sad sordid details of what was terrible about 2014 because you probably lived through it, and the moment I wrote ‘outrage’ your mind flashed to something that may have outraged you. Hell, in the time I started drafting this blog post to actually posting it people got outraged over the Oscar nominations, a female-male rape joke on Broad City and a bunch of other things.
In college I was friendly with a girl. Not romantically, just friendly. Saw her at various shows, saw her around campus. But she always had some cause she was fighting for. Always some injustice to right. And while we could converse about music, and movies, and life stuff she would inevitably steer the conversation around to what she wanted to talk about. Petitions were usually involved, as were invitations to marches and meetings and sit-ins. And while I agreed with her points, and the things she fought for and why she fought for them, it got to the point where I was starting to avoid her because I knew if we crossed paths, and grabbed coffee, soon she would be railing against whatever was outraging her that day. Because her perpetual outrage drove away someone who could have been an ally. It was exhausting to listen to, and probably exhausting to her as well.
Oh, and her outrage? It totally burnt her out. Last I heard she was doing … nothing in particular. Certainly not saving the world.
I *get* that people have things to be outraged about, especially the marginalized. But if all you have is outrage, people will start tuning you out, even if they want to support you, even if they agree with you. Because it’s exhausting for them to always hear your outrage. It’s inevitable – not because people don’t care, but because it’s exhausting hearing someone go on and on endlessly about the things that should make you care.
[Though I will make the somewhat controversial statement that much of the current outrage du jour movement is fueled by narcissism more than any quest for justice; that some people must be a part of the conversation and if that conversation isn’t what they want, will do everything in their power to steer it to territory where they can hold sway]
I call this Outrage fatigue. It’s a very real thing. A self-perpetuating Ouroboros of anger forever swallowing its own tail. It closes down the opportunity to discuss the reasons behind it, and eliminates any chance to change things for the better. I’ve seen innumerable instances where potential allies were turfed out of the cause for making the suggestion that there has to be a better way to solve these problems. I’ve heard people claim that if you’re not as outraged as they are about the cause then you’re on the side of the enemy. That your silence implies consent. Just when a turning point, an understanding could be reached, BOOM. Headshot. Brain matter everywhere.
Comedian Patton Oswalt said something to the effect that the best response to awful things is to not get outraged over them but to laugh at them. To rob them of their power. Naturally he was pilloried for this, because some people take a general observation as a personal attack because they have to remain part of the conversation even when it isn’t about them. But he was 100% right.
To me, the best response to outrage (and in fact a much better use of your energy) is to laugh at it. No matter the righteousness of the cause, no matter how entrenched your opponents are, once you laugh at them you shut them down. Because there’s no response to a good belly laugh. None.
Satire, and humor, can be a much more effective weapon than outrage ever will be. And it can accomplish much more than being angry about things. Because being angry burns you out quicker than anything. I’ve seen people drive themselves to the point of near breakdown because they’re just so tired of being so outraged all the time. They’ve become addicted to the endorphin rush righteous anger delivers. But like any addiction, that “hit” needs to be stronger every time you take it, and soon enough it destroys you. One drink needs to become three, needs to become a dozen. And soon you need that every day.
I’m not saying anger isn’t an appropriate response to bad shit in the world. But what I am saying is that anger has a tendency to drag you down to the level of the people and things you’re angry at. The internet is pretty much fueled by anger and outrage – Salon.com did an Outrage Calendar that detailed on a day-by-day basis what people were getting angry about. There wasn’t a single day that was blank. Every day was outrage. But looking deeper you see how much of that outrage lasted barely a day. Someone tweeted something others took offence at, the pitchforks and torches came out, apologies were made, accounts deleted, and the mob moved on to the next thing.
Quick quiz: what were we all outraged about this day a year ago? Without peeking at that Salon calendar. You can’t do it can you. Because in outrage you sweat everything; small stuff, large stuff, and soon enough you’ve become the Boy (or Girl) who cried I’M OUTRAGED, and everyone else has stopped listening.
To me the best way to bring people together is through laughter. To make someone understand a different POV, is through laughter. Through comedy, through satire – through art. And I speak from experience, as you’ll see with the inevitable anecdote.
Flashback 1990. I’m in High School, living in a small town in Easter Ontario. A small, conservative town in Easter Ontario. So not the most “progressive” of places. Largely white, Anglo-Saxon protestant. It was actually settled largely by United Empire Loyalists, fleeing the aftermath of the American Revolution. And it retains those roots to this day.
But it was, for the most part, a nice, safe place to grow up. Unless you were different. A visible minority. Or gay. Especially the latter. And the honest truth is as a teenager I was probably a little bit homophobic. Not out of any genuine malice, but because that was the environment I was growing up in. Not at home – my parents were and remain quite progressive, having grown up during the Civil Rights era. But in the 80s words like “fag” and “queer” and “homo” and “dyke” were insults. The worst acts I performed would have been using those words in a derisive manner.
The reason was because the world was smaller then, more a greenhouse than a garden. We had no internet, no social media. The next town over might as well have been a million miles away. And that was the environment I grew up in.
So what changed my attitudes? Television, and specifically this show:
And this actor:
Who most famously played this character
I detailed a couple years ago how Kids in the Hall was an important TV series in my life. I trekked all over Toronto one Saturday just to get my hands on a cassette tape from the band who performed the music for it. I taped every episode, and watched every episode multiple times. It was my generation’s Monty Python, and it changed my life in many ways. Particularly one sketch, which you can watch below.
Needless to say I was blown away. Because here was this actor, who made me laugh every week, basically coming out on nation-wide television.
And you know what? I was okay with it. Because it was my favorite show, because Scott was my favorite performer on that show. So yes, in 2014 speak it made me “check my privilege” not by throwing outrage everywhere, but making me laugh at myself and those attitudes I carried. And not two years later I was in university, at a downtown Toronto campus at the edge of the “Gay Village” of Church Street and College. I had classmates who were gay, the security guard at our residence was transgendered. And I was fine with all of it, because the Kids and Scott had opened my eyes to the world, to made me see it in a different light, and to laugh at the absurdity of judging someone because of their race, gender, and orientation. It made me laugh at myself.
Because what Scott taught me was that there was nothing about gay people that I should fear. Because that’s where prejudice comes from – fear. And outrage comes from an inability to control that fear and anger, to make it your weapon, rather than being consumed by it.
Let me go on record now by saying I am pretty much over the whole year-end top 10 list of movies, TV, music, et cetera. They’re cheap, easy things to write and pretty much required for any creative person. Websites are cluttered with them, comments sections are cluttered with disagreements over them, and every year they repeat.
I am so done with them.
So, in the spirit of the season here’s Brad’s Top 5 of 2014, plus runners up which I guess makes this Brad’s Top 10 List. Not necessarily The Best in movies, music, TV, comics, and books, but the ones that most left an impression on me, and will likely remain with me for years to come.
I start with movies because they’re technically my thing. And I really had to make a Sophie’s Choice here because of the movies I did see in 2014 two stood out from the pack for very different reasons, and deciding between them was a monumental chore. And while the year technically isn’t over yet I doubt anything I see in the next two weeks will equal, let alone surpass ..
If I was to make a movie version of Mixtape it would probably be like Boyhood. Not in the sense that we’d film it over a dozen years, but because Boyhood is such a great celebration of the moments you don’t think will amount to anything but in the end realize they’ve had enormous impact on you. For me no sequence captured the power of film than a brief one where young Mason dresses up in a Hogwarts costume to attend a midnight book launch of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with some school friends. These friends only appear in that scene and then we’ve jumped forward another year. We never see these friends again. Their lives are just supporting roles in the life of Mason, just like so many of or friendships are just points on a map. When the book of the first decades of the 21st century are written, Boyhood will surely be a part of it, documenting average, ordinary people moving through life in search of those special moments, only to realize those moments were with them the entire time.
Because I had a big goofy grin on my face throughout it. Beautifully shot, performed, scored, funny, touching and surprisingly sad all at once. It may even be my favorite Wes Anderson film. But what puts it atop my list is that I think The Grand Budapest Hotel, despite its 1930s setting, spoke most poignantly to life in the year 2014. That deep down we’re all decent people struggling to remain so in a world that seems increasingly spun out of control into chaos and darkness.
My wife and I jetted across the Atlantic to Scandinavia back in October. We toured Stockholm, then Oslo, then Copenhagen, and back to Stockholm to make our return flight. On our last day we loaded up on souvenirs – clothes, shoes, and candy, and I grabbed I Never Learn the latest album by Sweden’s Lykke Li. Probably because I’d listened to it on the flight over on Air France’s entertainment service, probably more because I wanted some audio record of our adventures that I could listen to in years to come and remember things like Gamla Stan at night, the train to Oslo, Tivoli Gardens. It’s also a really great album too and I’m glad I discovered her.
I’m a fan of Jack White. I’m a fan of his music, be it with the White Stripes or the raconteurs or the Dead Weather. I really like his solo work, and Lazaretto is as good if not better than his first solo album Blunderbuss. But what I most like about him is he’s been able to carve out his particular niche of music and business of it in an age where everyone and everything is competing for your dollar. That low-fi approach of third man records is a model I wish more creative types emulated. I certainly hope to do so with my work.
2014 was the year I realized television was, for me anyway, the more exciting visual medium. Certainly more so than movies were. It was the year “event” television became the clock around which I organized my free time around. And while I could have gone with Vikings, The Americans, True Detective, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, or Masters of Sex, my favorite TV show kind of snuck up on me.
Because on paper it shouldn’t have worked but it did. There wasn’t a false note in the ten episodes of this twisted, twisty story that more than captures the feel of the Coen brothers’ 1996 classic – it made that film feel like a smaller chapter in a much bigger story. Loaded with memorable performances, particularly Allison Tolman’s crusading cop and Billy Bob Thornton’s malevolent killer, it was the one show that really snuck upon me. And with Season 2 taking place in a different time period with a brand new cast, expect to see more TV like Fargo in the near future.
Set in post WW1 Birmingham as a gangster played by Cillian Murphy attempts to build a criminal empire while still remaining an honorable man in a world without it. Standing in his way; Sam Neil, Noah Taylor, and Tom Hardy. If those names don’t grab you then trust me when I say Peaky Blinders is not the show for you. But if they do chances are you already saw it.
With the release of Mixtape #5 in June and the completion of Vol. 1, I actually had time to get back into comic book reading. Much of that was catch-up with some ongoing series – The Massive, Fables, Astro City – I’ve been reading for some time. And while my choices didn’t technically see their initial release in 2014 I picked them because they grabbed me.
Printed in 2013 but collected in 2014, Jeff Lemire’s endlessly inventive dystopian time travel love story sci-fi epic surprised me with each turn of the page. I want to write volumes about how much I loved it but hate the thought of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t. So let me just say if you did read Trillium you already know why it’s so special, and if you haven’t, here’s your chance (doubly so if you haven’t picked up a comic book in years).
Because Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples’ sci-fi epic is as good as everyone says. Maybe better.
This is a tough one because I only read one book in 2014 that was actually published in 2014, and this is supposed to be a 2014 list. There are 2014 books on my “to read” list but with work reading and writing dominating much of my year I missed out on things like The Bone Clocks, Perfidia, Revival, etc. And if I’ve been a good boy maybe I’ll get some of those for Christmas. But in the meanwhile
technically fiction, even though the characters and situation are all-too real. but the great thing about unsolved mysteries is you’re free to imagine what could have happened, or just chuck it and tell your own white-knuckle story. Published in 2008, I got around to reading it this year, fueled in part by my travels through Scandinavia, and by my ever-present interest in the age of polar exploration. Plus, the fact a scientific team discovered the remains of Erebus at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean this year reignited that interest. And while I have some quibbles about The Terror which I won’t get into because it ventures into spoiler territory, I admire its attention to detail and for putting a desperate bunch of characters into a terrible situation, then having that situation deteriorate even further until you think things can’t get any worse. Then they do. Again, and again. Best read at night while the wind howls outside the window.
It’s rough around the edges and could use a good copy editor, but Keith Sharp’s look back at the rise and fall of Canada’s Music Express Magazine pressed all sorts of nostalgia buttons, even though its heyday was well before I was a big music fan. Maybe because as a Canadian living in America for the last 6 years there’s that need to stay connected and reconnect with your homeland. But more because the book and the Music Express era were a unique time and place for Canada, and for the music industry that most certainly will never come around again.
So that ends my 2014. I hope anyone reading this finds time in the weeks remaining to read, watch, and relax with a good book, a movie, some television, and some music.
My wife was having dinner the other day with a friend, catching up after several months apart. The usual chit-chat developed into the familiar question; “what’s new?”
My wife answered; “Oh you know, this and that. Spent a week in Scandinavia …”
This was news to my wife’s friend, who wanted to know everything. She also expressed surprise that, despite them being Facebook friends, my wife hadn’t mentioned the trip at all. She hadn’t updated her FB page while we were trekking through Stockholm and Oslo and Copenhagen, and hadn’t posted any photos from our vacation, save for changing her profile picture to her in a Copenhagen bar that bore her name.
Oh yeah, we took a lot of photos – well over 200. But on getting back home we decided pretty quickly that we weren’t going to upload them anywhere public. At most we were going to create an album of them here, to sit on our shelves, as memory of what was a fantastic trip. Naturally you’re asking what this has to do with, well, anything.
Then you maybe notice it’s been a while since I updated this website.
I’ve always been what you would call taciturn. I’m not one to offer up information out of the blue. Ask me a question I’ll give you an answer. But in any social situation you’ll find me gravitating to the nearest wall. Some interpret this as me being snobbish or unfriendly. Others figure I’m just an introvert, when the truth is I really just don’t like people or being around people that much.
Okay, that was a joke, but I don’t consider myself an introvert. I like to watch, and listen, not to talk. The world is full of talkers, and some truly have the gift of gab. But the majority of it is a white noise of lip-flap, and eventually it’s just static in search of a signal.
Look, I know how it’s supposed to work. In our hyper-connected world we’re supposed to share our vacations, our family moments, our personal moments with people we barely know. Heck, I even considered doing a post vacation update to this website with some observations on Scandinavia, its people and culture. I even drafted one and was deciding on which pictures to upload when I realized I didn’t want to share those photos, those moments, or those memories with anyone. It was a wonderful vacation – a genuine adventure – but by feeling obligated to share the details of it, I felt I’d only diminish the experience.
I get it. We’re supposed to be linked in, we’re supposed to cultivate our little patch of cyberspace so people know to stop by. What we’re not supposed to do – especially if you’re a creative type – is let that patch of landscape grow neglected and fallow. If you’re a writer you’re supposed to blog constantly, optimise your SEO, contribute guets blogs, direct people to your author page on FB and Goodreads, and constantly pimp out work – available on Kindle for only .99 cents – while you amass tens of thousands of twitter followers (i.e. “buy followers”) and generally puff yourself up to be someone more popular and more important than you really are. because it’s important people know who you are and what you do at all times.
Thing is; all that is, to my mind at least, total bullshit. You don’t need to do any of it – you want to, but you don’t need to. What you need to do is spend less time talking about your work and more time doing that actual work. So that’s where I’ve been the last number of months; I’ve been doing. Hard at work on several projects that I feel no string compulsion to talk about just yet. First off, they’re not anywhere ready to be talked about, and even then, to what end does telling you what I’m working on make any difference whatsoever? They have yet to be produced or broadcast or published; maybe when we get closer to those dates I’ll start promoting them, but for now I’m content for these projects of mine to remaine mine and nobody else’s.
But in this age of connectivity I would like to submit the somewhat radical notion that maybe not constantly talking about or promoting yourself and your work is the new black. Despite your personal feelings on the recent U2 album that magically appeared in your iTunes, you have to admit that it just appearing out of the blue was a bold move. Contrast that with the usual process – announce the project-to-be, drop a trailer or a song and video, get some (hopefully) glowing advance reviews, blitz your media and then hopefully people are lining up for the resulting work. And that approach definitely works.
Until it doesn’t work.
Because sometimes you just get so burned out hearing about something before it’s released, by the time it does appear you’re already well and sick of it. And if the end result underwhelms you’re going to be over it in about a week. Books get read and shelved. Albums uploaded, listened to, and forgotten. Movies watched once, and never more than once. Sometimes talking about a thing can rob it of its power, and its wonder. Sometimes too many samples of it, too many sips or nibbles, and eventually you lose the taste for it. It’s a variation of the advice Charles Beaumont gave to Harlan Ellison on the latter’s arrival in Hollywood. And I paraphrase:
“Achieving success [in Hollywood] is like climbing a mountain of cow shit to pluck the single, solitary rose at its summit. By the time you reach it, you’ve lost the sense of smell.”
So as we close up shop on 2014, I look forward to cocooning a little as I sit out the eye of the storm circling me at present. Catch up on some reading, some movies and TV, and brace myself for 2015. Because I want to keep my sense of smell. Because if I don’t how am I going to appreciate the fragrance of that single solitary rose?
Because 2015? That is going to be quite the year.
And I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Irony of ironies that this blog entry has become one of the most popular I’ve ever done. I should blog about not blogging more often. Or is that less often?
But on a serious note I’m setting the alarm and turning off the lights on 2014. It was a great, albeit frequently exhausting year full of travel and work and adventure and more than its share of surprises, many of which won’t fully raise their heads until 2015. So I’ve earned a break. Catch up on reading. Do family stuff. Oh, and maybe squeeze in some revisions to a TV project I’m planning to send out in the new year.
So if you were living under a rock last month U2 released their new album Songs of Innocence on iTunes for free. And people bitched about it. Let me correct that; people on the internet bitched about it because that’s what people on the internet do. Always needing something to rail against. Even now a month plus out they’re still complaining about it. “Why is this U2 album in my iTunes?” “How do I delete this U2 album?” How do I dress myself?” Et cetera.
How many of them actually listened to the album?
Not many by my guess. Which is too bad because I listened to it and I have to say I like it. I actually think it’s one of their best albums and may be on a level with Achtung Baby and The Joshua Tree – widely recognized as high water marks in the band’s oeuvre (and I promise not to use oeuvre again in this post).
It’s certainly their most personal album, with 11 songs (13 if you include the 2 bonus tracks on the Deluxe Edition CD) all drawn from the same well; dirty, dangerous Dublin of the late 70s. Songs about an IRA bombing – Raised by Wolves — about the sudden death of a parent – Iris (Hold Me Close) – and it opens with a song about how the right song by the right artist can change your life – The Miracle (of Joey Ramone). It’s an album about itself; about songs (no small coincidence one of these songs is called Song For Someone).
And I’m not at all embarrassed to say I like the album. Because it’s easy to hate things and be cynical about everything. It takes bravery to unabashedly like something others do not and will not and I don’t owe any of those people a reason to say I like it. But I’m not here to debate the merits of the album or its controversial release strategy. I’m here to talk about something much bigger than either. But I should point out that track 11 – The Troubles – which features a duet with Swedish singer Lykke Li led me to seek out and purchase her latest album, so the free iTunes release led me to spend money in a physical store. Score one for the good guys.
[Though to be blunt I think their “controversial” release strategy was brilliant. Yes it enraged the same people who are quick to rage about everything anyway, but it became part of the conversation. In a year that as of right now has seen zero platinum albums, that’s an achievement. The top selling album of 2014 remains Coldplay’s Ghost Stories, and that’s barely cracked a million units sold].
To me though the real story about the Songs of Innocence release is how much of my life has changed since I first heard Pride (In The Name Of Love) on a college radio station from Chapel Hill NC where I first heard it. I could tell you exactly where I bought every U2 album I own; what city, what record store, and even wrote a lengthy piece about the day I bought Achtung Baby (which you can find here). Even when my interest in U2 waned they were still contributors to the soundtrack that has been my life. I even reflected, on the release of No Line on the Horizon, that it was the first U2 album I’d bought online, not setting foot in a record store to buy one for the first time since, well, ever. I even wondered if there’d be record stores around by the release of their next album, whenever that would be (more than 5 years later for those counting). And now Songs of Innocence appeared in my iTunes back on September 9, while I was in Toronto pitching a project (that might actually happen), and it became a soundtrack to that week of pounding the pavement, shaking hands, and reciting the same sales pitch over and over again. I walked streets that were both familiar and alien to me as I listened to it; in a town I once thought I’d call home for the rest of my life but was only a dozen years. A dozen years from now when I listen to Songs of Innocence I know I’ll recall that ten-day stretch in Toronto, just like Achtung Baby makes me think of my last year of high school and The Joshua Tree makes me think of my first.
My life is measured in albums by bands like U2, and REM, and The Pixies. Everybody who knows me knows I’ve written about that experience *cough Mixtape cough* but it’s experiences like Songs of Innocence that make me realize just how far we’ve come in relatively short a time, and what we’ve lost in the interim.
Making art is hard. Getting paid to make art is even more hard. I’ve made art for a living the last 15, almost 16 years and it’s never, ever been easy. I dare to say it hasn’t gotten easier either; with the internet touching on every aspect of our lives the doors are wide open. If the internet has a soundtrack I’d imagine it sounds like the trade floor at the NYSE, filled with people holding up pieces of paper and yelling. Everyone has something to sell, or a cause to promote, or an agenda to push. You can buy a song for 99 cents, or an eBook for the same price. You can read comics for free. You can press a button and watch pretty much any movie or TV show you want.
That’s the great thing about the internet and the awful thing about it. There’s so much choice now it’s almost impossible to choose anything. There’s too much TV, too much music, too many movies, too many books to decide what I’m going to spend what precious little free time I have on. I don’t even play video games anymore because of the time suck it entails – and frankly because they’re big wastes of time IMO.
[I know, ooh he said something controversial that I don’t agree with and how dare you. Tell it to the comments. Oh wait, that’s right; there aren’t any. Suck it dweebs]
But what the internet has killed is the ability to take your time to experience something — really experience it. because there’s always The next Thing, the next distraction. Movies released in theaters in May arrive on video three, four months later. Albums are released, make a brief splash but barely a ripple and are forgotten. The reason the book is still my entertainment of choice is the commitment it takes to read one. And by book I mean “print’ not digital — I’m a proud luddite and will remain one.
But that’s why I think the whole Songs of Innocence gamble paid off. It’s become part of the dialogue and the history. years from now people will refer to it as “that damn U2 album Apple forced down our throats”. Because everything has such a short shelf-life now, controversy, art, and creativity are measured in minutes because the next distraction is waiting right around the corner.
And because a month on, people are still complaining they can’t get that damn U2 album out of their iTunes.