Friday, December 23, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Chance the Rapper

This time last year, I pulled out the top ten albums on Pitchfork's best of list. I tend to be sort of hit-or-miss with Pitchfork recommendations because they pay a lot closer attention to lyrical content than I do, and put less emphasis on the sound. However, every now and then I line up with their thoughts and the best of list usually helps me to push past some of my musical prejudices. Last year helped me to appreciate Kendrick Lamar more. This year I started listening to Chance the Rapper who I had missed in the noise of the general music press.

I'd love to share Chance with some of the people I talk to. Sometimes when I'm working at youth group I want to put music on, but the problem is that so much of the music I listen to is rooted in exploring loss or injustice or the ugly parts of life or it comes out of a place where there's honest talk about sex, or drugs, or violence, or its just mentioned because that's a part of life. I can't imagine the conversations I'd have to have with parents if they wanted to know where their kids were learning these new words from. There's adults where I have the same problem. I don't know how to articulate something like Chance's album to other people because I see so much depth in it when you go looking, but I don't think most people I interact with on the daily could get past the fact that "this is rap music". I think they'd have the same reaction my Grade 5 teacher had. "Rap music is fast talking over rhythmic music with lots of vulgarity". They don't want to parse curse words into something with more depth they just feel awkward about it.

This has got to be a complete shift in the way that people think about culture and language and I honestly don't know if I'll see it. I know if I have kids or when I talk to kids about music and culture I'll want to talk about it in a way that emphasizes that we look behind what's on the surface to understand the story someone is telling and understanding how some language gets limited to certain spheres and certain people. Maybe after a few generations of that you can get your stodgy uncle listening to "Same Drugs".

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Churchill

"Winston Churchill was a great prime minister. Except then World War 2 ended and he wasn't as great anymore."

Some friends of mine have a lot of respect for Winston Churchill. I guess I do too. World War 2 is such a crystal clear conflict. There were these people who were evil. There were these people who fought those evil people and so they were good. Then there were the Russians. Even World War 2 isn't clear. Winston Churchill seems to have been the perfect man for this time. He kept Britain together during one of its most difficult periods. He cranked out some fantastic quotes. Then the war ended and until recently I heard very little about what he accomplished as the Prime Minister of a peace time nation.

Both wars just seem so crystalline now compared to what we experience on a day to day basis. As we identify people more and more as individuals, I come to realize that I can't say "The Russians" anymore. There is Putin, there are his followers, there are his opponents, there are the people in his country who may or may not care about what he does. Millions of individual people who live in Russia but who can't be grouped as "The Russians". I think someone like Churchill wouldn't do well today. Too much granularity in the political landscape. Too much individuality. No collectivism to rally the Russians against.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Naomi's Road

When I was eight or nine years old my sister gave me a book to read called Naomi's Road. It's about a girl's experience of the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War Two. The book was perfect for me at that time because I understood about as much of what Naomi describes in the book as Naomi did. I finished the book and thought "she had a really strange life during the war. I hope things work out for her."

Today I was reading my twitter feed and was reminded of the Japanese Interment in North America. I think its history is more screwed up in Canada because of all the repossession that happened where the government basically stole the livelihood of all the people interned and left them to their own devices to figure it out. I was reminded of all of this because of a series of photographs by an American photojournalist who took pictures during the war that were locked away because they were viewed as sympathetic toward the Japanese by the American Government at the time. You can see some of those pictures here.

I feel a bit like nine-year old me sometimes. Gloriously oblivious to all of the things happening in the world and leaving situations thinking "I hope it works out for them".

Friday, December 9, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Three Reflexes

*blink*

*puts hands in mouth*

*Ctrl+T*

The * is a useful way to mark actions in internet writing. It tells you that what you're reading isn't a word, but is instead a description of what that person is doing. The three actions I have described above have something in common. They're all reflexes.

The first one is universal. Everyone blinks. You're doing it right now. Now you're trying not to because I'm making you self-conscious. Now you're giving up and doing it anyways. Let's move on. The next one is common but not universal. I stick my fingers in my mouth all the time without thinking. Some of my co-workers bump my elbows when I do it. It doesn't make me stop. It's reflexive. It means I'm stressed. I can't figure out how to stop because I don't even notice when I'm doing it.

The last one is the keyboard shortcut for opening a new tab in your browser. I have done it so much, I don't even have to look down at the keyboard to make it happen. My pinky drops down to ctrl, my index finger flexes out and presses "T" and then I'm punching in the first three letters of a website I've visited a thousand times. The I push the down arrow and start looking to see if there's anything new worth reading. 90% of the time there isn't. Ctrl+T doesn't provide a magical portal to a new word. Yet I'm pushing it hundreds of times a day without even thinking. Where did I even learn this behaviour? I don't know. Like the slap of the elbow, there's no stopping it because I'm not even thinking about it.