Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If this isn't funny, I don't know what is

Who gets blamed more than Mayor Miller? Nobody, says the cast of Second City.

In the company’s most recent show, Shut Up and Show Us Your Tweets, which opened Tuesday, the cast satirizes a summer spent stepping over garbage, watching crazy conservatives south of the border criticize our health care system, and trying to decipher the meaning behind Mr. Miller’s tweets.

Who’s to blame for the bad weather, incessant protests, and dead American celebs? Our politicians, of course. In the show Harper, McGuinty, and Miller are all called out, followed by a laundry list of mistakes made by each.

As a quick preview, here’s a run-down of Miller’s misfortunes:

After being eaten alive for half-baked attempts to fulfill promises like providing green bins, supporting local artists, and preventing a bridge to the island David Miller’s face now seems to be melting into a long, dopey Sesame Bert. And we made him this way, the cast says: aging and grey.

Should we riot through the next 18 months of Miller’s rein? We could, but that would require a permit. Yawn.

Instead, suck it up, says Second City.

After all, the line is delivered: at least we’re not Buffalo.
Summers spent outside of gas stations, sucking on slurpees
*illustration: Stripmalling, idon'

Hey Winnipeg: get ready for the big screen. Jon Paul Fiorentino just sold the rights to Stripmalling, his graphic novel set grimiest of Winnipeg suburbs, Transcona*.

The story’s hero, Jonny, is a drug dealer who dreams of becoming a writer, but is stuck living in his car outside the gas station he works at. Making the working-class neighbourhood his muse, Fiorentino also fictionalized the area in his collection of poems, Transcona Fragments. And when the the borough is re-imagined on film, Fiorentino will co-write the script.

Fiorentino skipped town years ago for greener pastures in Montreal, where he teaches writing at Concordia. But he didn’t leave without causing a bit of a stir on the Winnipeg literary scene.

Back in 2005 Fiorentino called out a couple of other Winnipeg writers in an interview with the city’s alt-weekly, Uptown. Of Chandra Mayor, whose novel Cherry he edited, Fiorentino said, “Chandra’s never given me enough credit…Actually, I wrote Cherry.”

Then he pulled Winnipeg poet and artist Clive Holden into the mud, adding, “Both Chandra and Clive wouldn’t have careers without me.”

No word yet on whether there’s a note of sarcasm we were supposed to catch, or if the film, which was bought by Philms Pictures in Montreal, will be shot in Winnipeg.

But cross you’re fingers Winnipegers.

This could be your close-up.

*Other note-able nobodies from the area include former VJ Bradford How and professional Paris Hilton look-alike Natalie Reid

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Badvertising Bill

Back in 1993 the American public still hadn't heard the name Monica Lewinsky. But Toronto's Mayor Mel had already pegged Bill Clinton as a Bad Boy. Mel Lastman was the first mayor of the amalgamated Toronto, and the owner of a chain of furniture stores called Lastman's Bad Boy, known for its gimmicky ads on local television. 

The best of these is an ad staring a Bill Clinton impersonator named Tim Waters. In the ad, posted above, Bad Boy's Hillary even foreshadows the current health care debate--"Free? They even have free health care! Don't you think that's a good idea??" Hillary exclaims. 

As it turns out, America's not crazy about  health care--or Hillary--and after a blow-job blown out of proportion in 1998, the Bill Clinton brand couldn't even help Lewinsky  sell handbags. It's been a decade since this ad ran and Bad Boy is now in the hands of Lastman's son, Blayne, who recently hired a new ad agency to upscale the brand's image--which means, sadly, no more mock-endorsements. 

Cherish low-budget local ads while they last: with the economy returning to track the budgets for the big name brands will return, and with them national advertiser's monopoly, pushing the little guy's media buy right off the air. That means fewer informercials, less retail-tertainment, and a dwindling number of shots of your local used car hyperventilating in front of the camera. So it goes.

I'll miss the flashy, trashy, over-the-top local ads that characterized the last year of low-brow communication. 

2009, you really were the  Best Recession Ever.

Yours truly,
Russ Martin

*My article on the latest Bad Boy advertising campaign and the brand's new ad agency can be read  here

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Next time you hear a voice, run with it

Douglas Coupland can pinpoint the exact moment he became a writer. The story, as Coupland tells it, is quirky and fantastical—almost like something you’d read in one of his novels. It goes like this:

I was the fall of 1988—the same season he quit smoking. He was leaving the Golden Griddle near Davisville subway station in Toronto just as a storm was ending. The air was cold and wet, but a tangerine orange sunset was lighting up the sky.

It was then Coupland says he heard an external voice that would never return. The voice, Coupland says, told him, “You’re writing now, so you have to put away everything you’ve ever done before and you can’t do it anymore. That’s just the way it is.”

That, Coupland says, is how he moved away from the study of typography and started typing novels of his own. The rest—from art shows to his CBC series—is Canadian pop culture history.

*Douglas Coupland was in town on a tour in support of his latest book, Generation A. Read my news coverage of that here.
The Surreal Life

It was to be a Surrealist Ball, or so the invitation read. But before selecting an outfit for the evening, I thought back to the last time I'd attended a party with a themed devised by Miss Prickett. It was another birthday party, then for Mr. Corsin. The theme, Suicide Idol.

That night, after carefully creating a Hunter S. Thompson costume, I ended up standing at the Beaver in khaki shots, two months too early for spring, with only Sid Vicious to talk to. Luckily, just hours before the ball was scheduled to begin, a message arrived in my inbox reading: "for dress, try to think shocking pink, schiaparelli, lobsters, man ray, trompe l'oeil, and ballets russes. and if you can't dress up, you can still get down."

Translating said message to "attire optional", I put on a navy matador jacket and a striped tie and headed out the door. Blending into a crowd of bunny ears, femme fatales, and birdcage broads, I slipped into the themeatic venue, Salvador Darling. Hours later, after an evening of '90s R&B and disco-pop, I downed one last jack-and-coke, hugged the hostess and hurtled myself into a cab.

Hope you had a surreal birthday, Sarah.

*original outfit follows

Man with moustache, floating through frame
The bottom of the birthday suit: bare feet
Bright young things
The dukes and dames of hazard
Back in black
Look closely for reference points, is all I'm saying
Kavin, getting into trouble
And, of course, the birdcage

Thursday, September 24, 2009

In defense of completely impractical beach wear

If anyone can make the Flinstones high fashion, it's Jeremy Scott. And so he sent neon-neanderthals down the catwalk this week in London, re-imagined in biting bright colours and accessorized with bone-broaches and cartilage-clips. 

Like almost all of Scott's creations, ready-to-wear is code for completely unwearable--appearances on radical red carpets, stages and editorials excluded. Choosing fun over function, Scott stuck to his Stone Age theme through 42 looks of Fred-and-Wilma wear. 

Though the local tabloids are buzzing over the youngest Geldof daughter's  Pixie-gone-Pebbles runway routine, it was the boy's beachwear that caught my eye. Both of the collection's male swim suits feature a purple print: the first extends up the torso and over one arm in true cave-man fashion while the second is a piece of two-tiny fabric tied at the waist.

Though the latter looks unable to withstand a single wave, it's hard not to appreciate Scott sticking a built black model in what looks like a pretty, purple women's one-piece. Matched with his wing-trimmed Adidas, the look is part upside-down urbanwear, part ultimate androgyny. 

Will it sink or swim? We'll know in Spring 2010. Until then, rev up the time machine and head to Jeremy Scott's Stone Age. 

Meet me at the beach?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jammers, skates, blockers and bruises:
why the risks of derby are more than worth it for Toronto's rough-and-tumble roller girls

If feminist punk icons Bikini Kill were a sport - they'd be the new, re-invented, all-girl Roller Derby. And Coldplay would be golf.
-Steven Wells,

Deep in the heart of Downsview park lies a once empty warehouse. Inside light spills through dusty grids of wall size windows onto a black track raised an inch above the floor. This, is where the girl fights take place.

As the clock ticks closer to game time, fans fill into the ten green bleachers surrounding the track and spill onto the concrete, first on lawn chairs and then inching closer, sitting cross-legged on the floor. The beverage of choice is Bud, served from a can. An Elvis Costello look-alike passes out flyers for Toronto's Pillow Fighting Leauge. The merch stand sells fans posters, buttons, stickers and tee-shirts, the concession pizza and beer. Behind a team bench a mother nurses a baby.

This is the Toronto Roller Derby. It's Sunday, September 20, and today the girls are playing in a bit of a grudge match. Both teams have a clean record in the 2009 season, which began in May. The two are already scheduled to play in the finals in November, but one team will leave today with a soiled record, and a loss of bragging rights.

After a country singer belts out the Canadian anthem the action finally begins. First each team skates in, high fiving the opposing skaters, who are kneeling next to the track. One team, the Gore Gore Girls, flys a leopard print flag, fake blood dripping in lipstick-red down their cheeks. The other, the Smoke City Betties, skates in matching blue lame short shorts, finished off with fishnets, bandanas, and other assorted pieces of personal flare. #34, Lacy Brawler, even has a matching blue mouthguard.

In the centre of the room are the referees. One sports a nose ring and a mohawk-mullet, with the moniker "Elvis Reffsley" stitched on the back of his jersey. Another has her dreadlocks tied into two thick pigtails and tucked underneath a black and white helmet that reads "Nicki Nine Lives".

As the speed of the skating quickens the number of crashes quickly increases. Body checks, side glides, full on face plants and the occasional pile-up occur. Elbows are thrown, shoulders tossed, and skirts pulled--all in the pursuit of a 4-wheeled win.

The crowd shouts suggestions, encouragments, and commentary. "Look out behind you!" screams one voice. "Push 'em!", "Common refs!" and "Go Betties!" follow others. In the back row of the bleachers closest to the team benches a middled aged man in a sweatervest bangs his hand against an empty Dasani bottle shouts, "Get mean girls!"

And get mean they do. Co-Captain of the Smoke City Betties, Hot Roller, takes a hit that stops gameplay. A soft cry echoes through the suddenly silent room, and a stretcher systematically makes its way across the track towards the fallen roller girl. A neck brace is placed on Hot Roller, and skaters from both teams help her onto the stretcher as she's pulled away to a poliet applause.

Make no mistake, some of the punk-rock personas, like Demolition Dawn and Motley Cru-ela, stay on the track when the derby girls go back to their nine-to-fives as librarians, hair dressers, bankers and university professors. But all of the toughness is real.

Smoke City Betty's Jewel Kicker says someone breaks a bone or leaves on a stretcher nearly every game, and some never skate again. Kicker knows the risk, but for her it's worth it. It's not a matter of whether you get hurt, she says, it's a matter of when. "We all know that," she says, but adds, "It's a risk we're all willing to accept--for some crazy reason."

More crazy reasons, the end of the game, and the hospital results when my next feature, the story of the Toronto City Roller girls and the spread of roller derby culture, comes out later this week.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

TV (hosts) on the internet

Meet my latest media boldface, Ms. Dana Giesbrecht. While sifting through the web page profiles of the current round of VJ hopefuls in the Much Music VJ search I stumbled across an application posted by a former classmate, Dana. As it turns out, the one-time Carman Collegiate valedictorian is now the face of CJBN in Norcom, Ontario.

Dana now talks about fishing on television, while I write bout VJ hopefuls on the web. Though I couldn’t tweak my first feature for Ryerson’s website to include an interview with Dana, I figured her VJ application deserved a blog post.

Filmed in the best-lit room in her house (the bathroom) Dana’s first YouTube plea explains her trip from Carman to Winnipeg to Norcom, a journey she’ll be documenting in a video not filmed in her bathroom, due out Tuesday. But in my favourite video, which is posted above, Dana lists off the reasons she should be come a VJ.

I’m crossing my fingers this works out for Dana, if only so the national entertainment media will start reporting on more of the CCI alumini.

Below are the reasons Dana lists to prove her case. If you hate her rationale, a Lady Gaga fanatic, a Toronto-based boy-about-town, and an adorable interning-blogger from Ryerson are also applying.

Dana's top five:

1. Dana knows the Winnipeg scene- Though not commonly advertised as such, Winnipeg is Canada’s dirty little secret: a town filled with would-be socialites, DJs, and indie rock stars. If Dana wins, she’ll introduce you to a few of her good friends— bands such as Inward Eye, the Waking Eyes, Boats, and the Nods*.
2. Dana is driven- Dana is the only 21-year-old she knows of that hosts a national TV show (Dana is also the only 21-year-old I know who hosts a national TV show).
3. Dana has experience in the glamorous world of TV- Dana has on-camera experience, and has probably even filmed segments in rubber boots. Also on the CV: Dana and I both wrote for the Carman Valley Leader, the town’s weekly paper. Believe us, the time on the charity tea circuit paid off.
4. Dana is addicted to pop culture- Dana loves gossip-rag blogs. Also a tend spotter, Dana declares weird the new norm.
5. Fishing- Dana reports on north western Ontario’s obsession with fishing, a past time she doubts the other contestants are familiar with. Marc Andrew Smith may be able to introduce you to Stereos, but what does he know about fishing? Jack.

*The Nods- Without question the best band ever to be fronted by a former attendee of Carman Collegiate, Dana’s off-again ex, Mr. Jonathan Broeska
*A piece on social media and the VJ search

Arcade Fridays are kind of a bore.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Classic clothes, fresh faces

On the eve of the last first day of our early academic careers we drank to the death of school days. Dressed dapper like Mr. Draper we caught up on a summer spent apart and swapped schedules to see who would be available for pre-class coffee runs.

The news was mostly good: flights back from world travels landed safely, 40 hour work-weeks provided bank balances reminiscent of pre-OSAP days, and internships are securely in place for fall.

Still convinced entering an empty job market is reason enough to celebrate, we brought out dessert and said to the naysayers: let them eat cake. And at the last minute I stuck a special sparkler into the icing in the shape of an eight.

Eight months to go, eight months to go.

Welcome back, Ryerson.

Making Mr. Draper proud
Black, white, and read all-over?
Cardiganed, pearled, and pencil-skirted to perfection
I will make it through this renovation, if it kills me.

Green paint, blue paint, spray paint; various finishes and hues. Paint in my hair, on my clothes, up my nose. Fall asleep to the sound of a borrowed fan blowing deadly fumes out my too-tiny window. Unplug my carbon monoxide detector, tell my landlord nothing, and hope for the best.

(thanks, Alex)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Close Your Eyes: Winnipeg's watching

Between posting stalker-ish lover letters to Owen Pallett and insisting I be admitted to his secret shows, it has become no secret that I'm deeply engaged in a one-sided love affair with Toronto's favourite indie arts fag. In fact, my love runs so deep that I recently trekked all the way out to the bluffs of Scarberia to see Pallett play in the dark and unknown suburban wilderness. 

I could type out that story, but our adventure has already been documented on Torontoist, by my favourite recently returned Albertan. Read that post, but in the meantime look at these three awkward-awesome photographs from the show. 

Whet this Winnipegger's appetite  on Twitter
The internet terrifies Jade, a fear she developed from living with web hero
Final smirk

Thursday, September 10, 2009

swim into the morning,
then, a trucker's breakfast.

Mountain Dew,
M&M Pancakes.

go to bed with wet hair,
wake up tired.

Monday, September 07, 2009

All we need is (apartment) therapy
All photos from Apartment Therapy

Sundays are best spent sedentary. But with autumn crawling closer I realized today that summer has snuck away before I have had a chance to make to the most of my supposed spare time. And of the many projects that went by the wayside when office work began to pile high this summer, decorating the apartment I moved into back on July 1 has been the most neglected.

Two months too late I trekked towards the closest Canadian tire this morning to pick up paint. Staring at the rainbow of swabs made my mind go numb, but eventually I found a colour both conceptual and complimentary. The can calls it Floating Bubbles, but I prefer to refer to the hue, simply, as blue.

Back at the apartment I realized the walls weren’t ready and had to return for trip two to Canadian Tire to pick up dry wall. A day delayed I’ve been sitting on my bed watching the dry wall dry, wondering when the wall will be ready to have paint applied.

To satisfy my sartorial desires I’ve spent the past few hours on Apartment Therapy, compiling list of Do-It-Yourself projects I’ll never do and fantasizing about luxurious loft spaces and artsy apartments.

My favourites are listed below. Now, it’s time for the first coat of primer, and a promise that Labour Day Monday will be more productive.

Don't Stray, M-A-P-S: An inexpensive addition to an empty wall, maps remind you of the world outside your apartment door. Globes, like the mini-spinner I have sitting on my window-sill, also do the trick.
The Writing's On The Wall: Life is temporary, and so should be decor. Mix it like Martha and you too can create a changeable chalkboard. Reminder: upon completion, chalk over the surface once, and rub away.
Keep it clean: After moving into my latest place, Lauren and I went on a hunt for home furnishings through Parkdale and up Roncesvalles. I found a lovely, ancient army-green trunk to turn into a table, but still wish I had a tub-table like the one found in this Montreal loft.
Plants and Animals: Outdoing every owner of an Ansel Adams, Kim Johnson of Design to Inspire brings the outdoors in with a woodsy photo wall.Too Much Is Never Enough: After seeing the cluster of art above Liza's bed last year I've been curating a small collection of awkward, adorable and too-tacky frames, photos and editorials for my own well-worked wall, like the one above. So far I have ten odd frames sitting against almost-empty white, but these are best built with time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tomorrow's Parents, today

Men may be able to make babies, but we still can’t have them. And for gays, giving birth is admittedly a bit of a barrier when it comes to having children. But thanks to science, surrogate mothers, and increasingly inclusive adoption agencies, that’s beginning to change.

Still, what keeps many queers from having kids has nothing to do with insemination. It’s often that we don’t see ourselves as parental. The nuclear hub we know as the family has always been projected at heterosexual. Even when blended families started to mainstream, the Brady Bunch featured Mike and Carol, not Mike and Carl.

Each network series now seems to have a requisite LGBT character, but most still fill one-dimensional, requisite roles. Television’s gay characters also tend to be young, if not teenaged, making it seem reasonable there are very few fathers.

Luckily, the gays have their own media. Though it's not a heart-felt personal essay about fatherhood, nor a hard pressing feature on bringing PFLAG to the PTA, your boyfriend’s favourite magazine, OUT, recently published a well-styled editorial photo shoot of a series of male models posing with babies.

The magazine’s site lists few details about the concept behind the shoot, but Trend Hunter reported that the babies are the model’s true sons. Though many of the models may be straight, this is OUT, and the omnipresent homo undertones got me thinking.

Could the hordes of mini vans bustling through the suburbs en route to soccer practice one day be driven by dual-dads? Or have the gays tainted the term “daddy” with dominant-submissive sexual practices for too many years?

So when an e-mail showed up in my inbox inviting me to “make my own cover” of Today’s Parent, (as part of an initiative aimed at subscribers and shared with the publisher’s employees) I thought back to the OUT spread. What if I really were in the position to pose? And will that ever happen?

When the photo of Alex and I eventually loaded, I thought: Wow, no .

Or, at least not yet. Maybe one day. We look kind of good, right? Someone toss us a baby, we could use a prop.