Thursday, October 28, 2010

I might not know art...

...But I know what I like.

It's the great dilemma of the self-affirmed intellectual: Is it wrong to like low-brow things? Is there something out there that a person can enjoy even if it has little to no artistic or intellectual merit? And then the possible answer comes: "Well, maybe there is art/high ideas to be found even in the low-brow and, in fact, it creators, when confronted, may turn out to be highly intelligent themselves!"

I consider myself something of an intellectual and academic: I have two university degrees, I can understand Joyce's Ulysses (barely), and I can successfully debate just about anything.

But I sure do love me some lowbrow! So today's entry is a discussion of some of my favourite 'non-intellectual' pursuits, and some insight that might reveal why they shouldn't necessarily be thrown in the rubbish bin of cultural examination. Let's say these are so-called 'guilty pleasures' that I feel no guilt about whatsoever.

October 24 2010

1 - Pro Wrestling

Let's start with the guiltiest of all my pleasures: pro wrestling. It was late 1987, I was 13, Hulk Hogan had done the impossible and slammed André the Giant at that year's Wrestlemania and pro wrestling was at the peak of its 'golden age'. Reagan was in the White House and Ah-nuld was going toe-to-toe with the Predator. Not surprisingly, ex-wrestler, current announcer and future Minnesota governor, Jesse 'the Body' Ventura was also featured in said film, spawning two of history's greatest macho one-liners: 1) "This stuff will make you a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus, just like me." and 2) "I ain't got time to bleed.". This was the culture of the day.

Now, everyone and their dog knows about Hulk Hogan and his impact on the zeitgeist. But, personally, my interest in wrestling came in the afterglow of Hogan's peak. I avoided wrestling before then because I thought the main players at the time, Hogan and André the Giant, were kind of slow and boring to watch. But, one afternoon watching the old Maple Leaf Wrestling program on CHRO changed that. Why? Because I got to see Macho Man Randy Savage do his thing. His flying elbow off the top rope was the first of hundreds of "cooooooooooolllll..." moments that wrestling has since provided.

Also, the Ultimate Warrior has just hit the scene and for a comic-book, fantasy crazy pre-teen, he seemed like a real-life Conan the Barbarian, complete with metaphor-laden speeches about tapping into the cosmic energy vortex, or somesuch madness...

So, I started watching 'rasslin' with great relish and fervour every Saturday at noon (much to the chagrin of my sister and mother). Years would go by and Canada finally got coverage of Monday Night Raw in the mid-90s, just in time for the renaissance of its popularity that spanned from 1997 to 2001. Ironically, I had always been a 'out-of-the-closet' wrestling fan, as were my co-workers at the time. People looked at us a bit cock-eyed, but we stood our ground! We even secured tickets to the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal, site of one of the most interesting and pivotal moments in wrestling history:

After '97 and the rise in prominence of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, being a wrestling fan was no longer a taboo. Eventually this second golden age would fade by 2002, but  I was still hooked. I remain so to this day.

Now, the thing about wrestlers and wrestling is that it's not populated by a bunch of blockheads. Just look at Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Here's a smart, funny guy that is, yes, not quite a Shakesperean level thespian, but he's hard not to like. Same with Mick Foley (although Mick is about the polar opposite of the Rock in terms of looks and charm). Not all wrestlers are 'roided-up muscleheads (although a lot of them are). And, certainly, some of the writers can themselves be considered highly intelligent individuals. Paul Heyman is a good example of this.

What really makes wrestling fun for me isn't the promos (basically monologues), it isn't the storylines, it's the actual feats of athleticism performed by those involved. When a 200 pound-plus man takes a flying leap off of a 15 foot ladder, does some kind of somersault and lands on that poor shmuck in the ring, don't tell me you aren't thinking "Holy sh*t!".

If you ever get the chance to suspend your disbelief and watch a match or two purely for the entertainment value, I suggest any or all of the following matches:

- Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind - 1997
- Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart (Submission Match - Wrestlemania 13)- 1997
- Undertaker vs. Jeff Hardy (Ladder Match - Monday Night Raw) - 2002 (not sure exactly when)
- Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels - 2003 (Wrestlemania 19)
- anything from the WCW Cruiserweight division circa 1997-1998
- Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock - 2002 (Wrestlemania 18, which I attended) - I only suggest this one for the crowd dynamic. A fascinating study of how fan loyalty works.

2 - Comic Books

I'm lucky, I'm the youngest of seven children, six of whom are boys. So, I got exposed to a lot of 'boy' central stuff at a very young age. One of these was comic books. When I was 3-4 years old, my older brothers were knee-deep in some of best stuff Marvel's ever issued. Think Chris Claremont/John Byrne's X-Men and Frank Miller's Daredevil (which is often touted as the best comic book run ever produced). The late 70s/early 80s could be considered a peak period in the history of comic books. Somewhere in there their popularity waned as did my interest. By 1987, I started to regain interest after reading an issue of The Avengers at summer camp. Within a matter of months, I was collecting ten or so titles; within a year, dozens. By the time I was 15, I was a full-fledged comic geek.

What really did it for me, what made me realize that the comic book medium speaks truths that other art forms might try to understate or avoid, was a couple of mini-series in the early 90s about a death-obsessed alien pseudo-god named Thanos.

In the Thanos Quest, Thanos decides to prove his loyalty and love to the Marvel Universe's embodiment of Death by seeking objects that will make him all-powerful and fulfill his promise of wiping out half the population of the universe. He finds them and in doing so, becomes more powerful than the object of his affections. In the follow-up series, The Infinity Gauntlet, he acts and with a snap of his fingers, essentially 'unmakes' half the life in the universe. The good guys eventually save the day, but the idea has never left.

This concept made me realize the necessity of a massive die-out if the population of this planet is to remain sustainable. Just think how many of the world's problems would go away if, boom, at random, half the Earth's human and animal population simply vanished?

Anyone who tells you comics are kids' entertainment and not worth taking seriously obviously hasn't been reading. Now, I'm talking PURELY about the superhero comic genre. Obviously titles like 'Maus' are given much more credence than Spider-Man or Green Lantern and are considered high art. And then there's Watchmen, which most critics use as a way of saying "See? We're cool, we think this is ART!". Yeah, that's Alan Moore, he's Odin reincarnated and doesn't count, he wrecks the curve too much.

Seriously, crack open Marvel's Civil War mini-series from 2006-2007, or the Inferno cross-over from the X-Men family of titles from back in 1988. Or anything featuring Venom or the Joker. I challenge anyone to dismiss the value of the superhero comic book completely. You have an argument as to why they aren't worthwhile? I have ten counter-arguments.

I had thousands of comic books at one point, but they've vanished due to my adventures overseas and friends losing track... Luckily, the public library collects a lot of trade paperbacks so I'm kept in the loop. Right now I'm eagerly awaiting last year's Blackest Night series from DC, centering on the Green Lantern characters. Apparently there's a lot of undead supers in it...

Maybe this gripe is outdated. After all, how many top grossing movies of the past 5-6 years are based on comic books?

3 - Cartoons

I've come to an important discovery in the past few years: I really don't like much that's on TV. There's the occasional hockey game (Go Sens GO! Please? For God's sake! FRAKKING GO!), wrestling (see above), the Food Network, Daily Show and Colbert and that's about it (I was addicted to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, but I now have all the DVDs, so I'm kinda set...)

Except for cartoons. And by cartoons, I mean one of two kinds: either the more adult-oriented 'animated series', such as the Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, etc.; OR cartoons featuring super-heroes I grew up with. But even the latter is a once-in-a-while kind of deal.

So, really, I'm mainly talking about the former. Admit it, no matter how snobby you are, you've taken some guilty pleasure in an episode of Family Guy or South Park. The Simpsons is something different and in a category all to itself. Too bad it isn't very funny anymore.

Must-see episodes:

- Simpsons: The one where Homer gets to smoke pot legally. "They call them fingers, but I've never seen them fing. Oh. There they go..."
- South Park: Imaginationland. See it NOW!
- Family Guy: alright, nothing is a 'must-see' from Family Guy, but the 'Bag of Weed' musical number kicks ass!

Recently, a series came out of which I've only seen a couple of episodes, but they were awesome. If you get a chance, check out Ugly Americans.

4 - Zombies

With the TV premiere of "The Walking Dead" coming up on AMC this Sunday at 10 ET and Ottawa's Zombie Walk having just taken place this past Saturday, I might just be in the grips of short-term zombie fever. Add to that the fact that I've fallen for a complete zombophile.

But, in a strange way, no other form of horror staple is as malleable yet simple, straightforward yet allegorical, as our shambling brain-hungry friend, the zombie. But it hasn't been given quite the same reverence as other undead icons. I used to be a HUGE vampire fan, and one could easily consider Dracula a classic novel that anyone should read. It was written in the late 19th Century, but the vampire myth/legend has existed for millenia in numerous cultures (I did a major project on this in high school, so I have some confidence in the topic). Zombies, however, have not been a huge facet of many cultures until the 20th Century (not including cultures that practice voodoo, obviously). That changed with Romero's "...of the Dead" movies and many others (including my favourite, Shaun of the Dead).

But are zombies taken seriously in fiction? Certainly there hasn't been a trend in printed fiction dealing with zombies that rivals the success found in Ann Rice's Vampire Chronicles, or the Twilight series, or the Sookie whatsherface series that inspired True Blood. Curiously though, the comic book genre has taken some fascinating steps with at least two zombie-based series. The first is Marvel Zombies (which I haven't entirely read) and the other is the comic book The Walking Dead upon which the new TV series is based. I've read the first five trade paperbacks and it's BRILLIANCE!

Now, I'm not going to get into the political commentary George Romero was making in Night of the Living Dead or the allegory for mindless subservience that zombies represent. I'm just going to say this to validate them: I'd much rather watch, read or write about people trying to survive hordes of undead corpses trying to eat their brains than see sparkly vampires.

When it comes to monsters, the zombie has come into its own and is the champion of the undead (except liches, but they are barely recognized in pop culture).

5 - Heavy Metal

Is it ironic as I finish discussing zombies that I transition into another form of 'lowbrow' culture where a certain band known as White Zombie might be considered one of the best of their ilk? Interesting... Or maybe I'm just a geek.

I am a die-hard Metalhead, headbanger, horn-throwing hailer of Satan, whatever you wish to call it. And I'm not going to try and bore you with the standard "Oh it's valid music and many of its top performers are classically trained, blah-blah-blah."

The truth is, Metal is music that expresses anger. Punk is as well, but Punk tends to focus on senses of alienation and political issues. Metal touches on these as well, but evokes a nightmarish quality. Metal is about rage. Which is EXACTLY why it's a valid form of music.

Forget about psychotherapy, Prozac, meditation or any 'traditional' panaceas for mental ills, throw on some Slipknot, loosen your neck muscles, and bang your head until it hurts, you'll feel much better. At least it works for me...

There really isn't much I can say about why Metal shouldn't be marginalized that isn't covered in Sam Dunn and Scot MacFadyen's 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. All I can tell you is this: No matter how averse you are to Heavy Metal, listen to Mastodon's Crack the Skye. Trust me.

Here are a few other albums that help cement Metal's awesomeness for me personally:

- Slayer - God Hates Us All
- White Zombie - Astro Creep 2000
- Slipknot - Slipknot
- Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction
- Motorhead - Orgasmatron
- Iron Maiden - Number of the Beast
- Tool - Aenima, Lateralus
- High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine
- Anthrax - Attack of the Killer Bs
- Nailbomb - Point Blank
- Sepultura - Roots
- System of a Down - Toxicity

Monday, October 11, 2010

An Examination of the Qualities that Make One as Good a Person as Possible while Remaining Strong

Two posts in one day? Well, it's kind of linked to what I posted earlier about being thankful. I may be thankful and I may be happy with my life, but I am no means content to sit where I am.

I think we aren't truly content and happy with ourselves until we're comfortable that we've earned our happiness. There's still a part of me that feels a bit confused and incredulous at the luck of almost clumsily stumbling into my current relationship, which has made me happier than I've been in a long time. I feel like someone in an Indiana Jones movie who trips up a secret door, only to have it lead to the lost Aztec City of Gold (or something like that). I hope the metaphor isn't too muddled.

Anyhoo, my point is that it's important to feel like you're working towards being a good person, or at least as good as you can be in order to feel like you truly deserve your happiness. Otherwise, you might not trust it to last.

A few months back I explored the things I thought I needed to 'embiggen' myself, to be the best Nick B. I can be! Upon further examination of these qualities, I realized that these could well apply to a lot of folks out there.

So, consider this a moral PSA. I hope I don't come across as too preachy. Remember: these are mostly for my own consideration and these are qualities I sometimes fear I lack.

October 11 2010

Examination of the Qualities that Make One as Good a Person as Possible while Remaining Strong


- Take a practical approach to Taoist non-action
- Choose to wait for ideal timing rather than rushing
- Learn to want less instant gratification


- Don’t ingest to excess
- Learn to value sensation
- Choose not to overdo it with the good things in life (although occasional lapses are a necessary element of living well) – this includes drink, food, drugs, sex, affection, adrenaline and possessions


- Learn to truly put yourself in another person’s shoes
- Be charitable and give time to the needy and unfortunate, but don’t give money to panhandlers
- Listen to others’ complaints if appropriate
- Dedicate yourself to understanding while respecting privacy
- Learn to tell what’s needed of you in different situations and determine where advice is useful, and when all that’s needed is a hug and a nod of approval


- Learn how know when you need to interject, suggest a course of action, or criticize others – usually it’s NOT a helpful act
- Learn to accept the validity of others’ judgments
- Try to truly be there at the drop of a hat when your loved ones need you
- Learn that your values have little impact on how others resolve their issues
- When your input is needed or sought, always try and express in as loving and positive a way as possible


- Strike while the iron is hot: Don’t hesitate to explore an idea, opportunity or project as soon as you can; procrastination is the enemy of creativity
- Always envision ways to improve
- Try your best even when it hurts
- Look at any dream as being possible to make real
- Kick your own ass and get moving!

Learning/ Brain power

- Never be satisfied with your existing level of knowledge on ANY subject
- Try to know a little bit about everything
- Try to keep your mind busy with crosswords, puzzles, projects, blogs, etc.


- Develop and maintain an interest in all forms of art, especially the effect and value it has for others. This includes art forms that don’t personally interest you (e.g. textile arts)
- Take a chance and dabble with as many different art forms as possible: painting, music, sculpture, sewing, acting, poetry, drawing, cooking, gardening
- Learn more art theory

Courtesy and Manners

- Learn to let go of narcissism and the notion of being a ‘big man’ (but keep your spine!)
- Humility and a gentle nature may not appeal to the masses, but they are still more desirable
- Treat everyone with a base level of respect and try to make that base level as high as possible. Basic respect is freely given, but disrespect can be easily earned.
- Cultivate manners when valuable, don’t follow traditional manners only out of tradition.
- Be as personable and charming as you can.


- Cultivate an active, fitness-friendly lifestyle but do not make it obtrusive to others.
- Fitness is a personal choice in how to live, it isn’t a lifestyle to be advertised or imposed on others.
- Lack of fitness is not cause for lack of respect.


It's Canadian Thanksgiving today and I feel like relating all the things I have to be thankful for in this crazy life I've had the pleasure of living. Since giving thanks, to me, is a very direct and personal exercise, I'm going to be a little more open than usual about specific people and events.

Is it self-indulging? Yeah. Does anyone care what I'm thankful for? Probably not. But we do live in the age of zero privacy, so what the heck...

October 11 2010

Thank you Creator being, for making this utterly wondrous experiment called existence, and occasionally looking over my shoulder and keeping me safe from my own idiocy.

Thanks Mom and Dad for bringing me here despite all good sense.

Thank you Kari/kira_generika/Bean, for being the centre of the sweetest relationship a dunderhead like me was lucky enough to stumble into. You've taught me that being in love need not be a chore and true love is about being happy doing nothing or everything together, as long as you're together. You're my new best friend and your smile is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Thank you JKL, for expanding my horizons in ways I never thought possible. I hope some day you learn as much as you teach.

Thank you Kelly for showing me a bunch of new tricks and letting me show you an old favourite known as skiing!

Thank you Vero/MsHelveticaB for every fun-filled minute we've spent together and for showing me that insecurity is a hurdle that can be overcome through will.

Thank you Julia for being my sounding board on all matters, especially each other!

Thank you Schliep for rescuing our Banff trip from the brink of disaster. Well, unpleasantess.

Thank you Siobhan and Einoch for being my best friends, even after 18 and 15 years, respectively.

Thank you all friends for enduring my silliness. Hail Satan!

Thank you Dominion Tavern for keeping me young.

Thank you Ottawa Public Library for allowing me to reconnect with Green Lantern and Wolverine for free and burn a crapton of tunes onto my computer that I may otherwise not even have noticed.

Thank you Blue Skies for showing me who I can be.

Thank you Food Network for the edible pr0n and making me realize that my future may be in food.

OK, that's about all I have for today.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your feasts!