Tuesday, 15 May 2012

No News is Good News

It’s official. I’m done with the news.

This has been a long time coming; Five, maybe six, years ago, I remember watching the final segment of the NBC late-night news (it was a lead-in for Conan, I think) where they reported on a brutal assault on an old lady in suburban Detroit: some dirtbag broke into her house, she confronted him, he smashed her in the head and left her on the floor, where a neighbor eventually found her. It’s an all-too-familiar example of just how low people can go.

So, how did NBC follow this terrifying and heartbreaking story? PUPPIES! Yep. A local dog gave birth to a slightly higher than normal number of puppies. Cute, cuddly, roly-poly, and just adorable enough to make viewers in Detroit forget that somewhere in their city there was a scumbag who only hours earlier had broken into an old lady’s house and bashed her in the skull when she tried to stop him from stealing her collection of antique porcelain cats.

This was in no way the first time I’d questioned the validity or intentions of broadcast news. Growing up watching the CBC evening news, you wonder just how many times they can run a story about a housefire back-to-back with this week’s senior citizen birthday greetings.  The NBC story simply stands an example of how legitimate news stories are undermined by their attempts to placate audiences with heartwarming, local interest pieces and nonsense.

Oddly enough, while I’ve continued to notice this trend on virtually every news network, recently I’ve been having the opposite experience.  Between the budding US Presidential race, the corrupt circus that is our current Canadian government, the impending crash of Europe’s economy, and the ever-evolving, alternating tornadoes of war and uprising overseas, there’s just too much negative crap.  No matter how many talking dog YouTube videos they show, they can’t build a levy big enough to withstand the unending wave of doom.  It’s overwhelming. It’s depressing. And it’s ruined too many otherwise cheery mornings or late nights that I could have enjoyed reading a comic book about corrupt governments and impending disasters.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for being well-informed. Between the internet, 24hrs news networks, and literally thousands of print and digital publications, there’s really no excuse to not know what’s happening in around you. Still, in my lifetime, especially during my time spent as a teacher and anytime I’ve found myself interacting with others at various parties, concerts, coffee shops, etc., there have been more than a dozen different occasions when I’ve nearly had a rage blackout upon realizing the level of ignorance among otherwise functioning members of the general public.  Christ, you don’t have to know the seat-by-seat breakdown of Parliament, but at least know that Harper is the first Prime Minister to be made of 28% recycled dishwasher parts (reference needed).

Sadly, though, I’m starting to understand why people choose to be uninformed. It’s not that their lives are really that busy.  Of the thousands of people we meet in our lifetime, maybe 1% of them are really as busy as everyone else claims to be.  Nor is it the fact that nonsense reality TV like Fake-tan Douchenozzle Shore and Intervention are especially interesting, enthralling forms of entertainment. They’re not. At best, they’re distractions; at worst, they become a bloated corpse of a role model for a misguided generation.

That said, as awful as some of these justifications for personal ignorance are, they’re almost a necessity in the increasingly globalized and inconceivably complex world we’re living in.

This brings us back to the news; not just the morning news, or the evening news, or the ‘updates every hour on the hour’ news.  Even hourly updates won’t cut it in this age of disposable information.  With the world at its fingertips, the one hour evening news broadcast has transformed into a 24 news cycle – or, maybe more accurately, a 24 hour recycle.  We supposedly live in the information age, but the information is first boiled down to the most compact, tweet-worthy package possible, then rehashed throughout the day with minor updates revealed by each subsequent anchor. 

As a man who enjoys making up statistics, I can say with absolute certainty that on any given day the news is comprised of approximately 86% negative, terrifying, or depressing content.  Broadcasters have tapped into the only proven form of sustainable energy known to mankind: Anxiety.  Whether it’s the local news warning that drunk driving accidents are up, the national report with Peter Mansbridge simultaneously comforting and scaring the b’jesus out of the country, or international correspondents assuring us that day 73 of civil bloodshed was only slightly more horrifying than the previous 72 days of violence and unrest, the message remains essentially the same: We’re more or less screwed.  

It’s an ingenious form of marketing that we’ve all bought into to some degree or other.  It’s basic human nature to empathize with the suffering of others.  I wish bad things didn’t happen, and I’d love it if the answers to the big problems weren’t so goddamn complex. But the problems seem to be getting bigger and those in charge seem to have resigned themselves to communally ignoring any solutions that might crack the status quo. And while I’ll admit it’s important to acknowledge that we live in an amazing world that allows us to transmit this information across the globe within seconds of the actual events occurring, the news cycle is using a fire hose to fill our cups with information.  

Unfortunately, my mind, and my heart, can’t take it anymore. The tension is too much, so until the captains of the ship decide to right its course, I’m gonna sit back and soak it all up through the most absurd, most ridiculous filter imaginable.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life…. Anyone know if Storage Wars is on?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

An Ill Communication

The world is a little less ill today. 
This past Friday, we lost one-third of one of the most influential hip-hop group in the past thirty years; Adam Yauch, aka MCA of the Beastie Boys, passed away after a three year battle with glandular cancer. 

The Beastie Boys formed as a hardcore punk act in 1979, when – and this is mind-boggling – Yauch was only 15 years old. While they had success opening for Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, and other legendary names from the late-70s punk scene, what would ultimately put them on the map is the eventual melding of that raw punk energy with the multi-layered sampling, heavy beats, and scratchy, high-pitched rapping that became the trademarks of their sound. 

 “Fight for Your Right to Party” was my first introduction to the Beastie Boys.  I have vague memories of seeing the video on my grandmother’s 13-channel, floor model TV when I was a little kid. At the time, being six or seven years old, I probably couldn’t have explained why I liked the song; I’m not even entirely sure I could read the title on Much Music (though, maybe that’s because the TV screen had the resolution of a ‘check engine’ light). But even little kids understand energy; so, when you’re seven-year-old brain hears “Kick it!” and that opening guitar riff, you can’t help but want to throw your arms in the air, shake your head like a wet dog, and jump on the couch until one of your parents yelled at you, or until you fell and cracked your head on the coffee table – and your parents yelled at you while simultaneously trying to scoop your brain off of the living room floor. 

It’s really impossible to overstate just how big a mark Yauch and the rest of the Beasties have made on the musical landscape.  The fact that a group of white kids from Brooklyn could make a splash in a predominantly black genre of music – at a time when hip-hop/rap was still itself in its infancy – was absolutely improbable; but it wasn’t just their convergence of hip hop sounds with punk rock sensibilities. They also integrated science fiction, comedy, geek culture, and nods to retro-cheesiness into their lyrics and videos.  If you’re a part of my generation, you’ve probably shouted along to the chorus of “Fight for Your Right to Party”. Even if you’re not a fan of hip hop or rock, you at least remember the hyper-stylized videos for “Sabotage” – by far the best 4-minute, 70s cop drama ever filmed – and “Intergalactic”, an homage to Japanese monster/robot movies.  

Yauch himself branched out into other forms of the artistic community, directing numerous music videos and independent films under the super-pretentious, tongue in cheek pseudonym “Nathaniel Hornblower”, setting up an independent record label and film company – Oscilloscope Laboratories and Oscilloscope Pictures, respectively. On a personal level, he also harnessed his success to try to enact a positive change in the world. A long-time Buddhist, he helped organize the Tibetan Freedom Concert in the late-90s to promote awareness of the sovereignty and human rights issues surrounding China’s treatment of Tibetan people.  

In April, only three weeks before Yauch passed away, the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, becoming only the third hip-hop group to receive the honour, after Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash.   His death comes a year, almost to the day, after the release of what would be his final album with the Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.  The album itself was delayed several times due to Yauch’s medical problems, but the final product stands as a testament to the band’s style, relevance, and energy. 

After thirty years in the business, the fact that the Beastie Boys showed no sign of slowing down, even in the face of Yauch’s long, arduous, and unfortunately ill-fated battle with cancer, is perhaps the most fitting sign of the legacy he leaves behind.

Adam Yauch, aka MCA, was one of the good ones. He will be missed, but not forgotten.