Saturday, August 30, 2008

They Don't Write 'em Like That Anymore (Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh)

A poster on a mailing list recently complained that, essentially, they don't make 'em like they used to. He was referring to private eye TV shows in this case, complaining about "a few episodes of BURNT" and wondered aloud "how it ever got produced." It's an old refrain, and a tired one.

Me, I wondered how someone could watch a few episodes of a TV show -- at least a couple of hours of viewing -- and never catch the title, but I digress... He concluded by lamenting "When will TV executives return to shows that tell plotted stories? Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I love a good hardboiled dick drama."

My response was simply to note that it's too bad there have been so few. THE ROCKFORD FILES and HARRY O were generally well done and quite consistent, but a lot of what I used to think of as "classic" private eye shows were-- thanks to the magic of DVDs and once the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia are removed-- revealed to be often uncomfortably shallow and predictable; moments of brilliance surrounded by entire episodes of cud-chewing acting and formulaic writing.

I'm not sure what show he was referring to, but if it's BURN NOTICE, I suggested he give it another shot. It''s certainly no worse than MANNIX or CANNON or PETER GUNN, all above average if not always brilliant shows, and has a far better batting average (and writing, acting and sense of true style) than SIMON & SIMON, MAGNUM P.I. or 77 SUNSET STRIP.

Of course, there was the expected response, like-minded souls lamenting how they just don't make 'em (or any sort of art and entertainment) like that anymore.

Sorry, I just don't get it. Sure, entertainment may be in a transitional mode, at least as far as delivery systems go, but the nature of entertainment and art really hasn't changed all that much. We all still want a good story, a catchy ditty, a pretty picture to rock our world.

And for those of you with open minds and ears and eyes, there doesn't seem to be any dearth of well-written and intelligent art -- the problem is that, thanks to technology and a sense of entitlement, everyone thinks they have something to say that we should all hear. I don't think there's less good stuff, but there is -- admittedly -- a ton more bad stuff out there to weed through. It used to be an artist often suffered for his art -- now, with all these new paradigms of content delivery, there's no need for actual craft or art, but the public is certainly expected to suffer through the results.

It isn't the loss of good art we should be mourning (it IS out there), but the loss of a shared community to enjoy it, and the lack of respect for any sort of critical filter or display of intelligence. We used to be able to gather around a sit-com, a hit movie, a bestseller, a tragedy. The money men and the ideological thugs have destroyed that, and we've been complacent in it. Polarization (the more dumbed down the better) is the new entertainment. The bullshit cultural wars are good for business -- send them your brain NOW!

The retreat into a slack-jawed cultural comfort zone (niche marketing, speciality radio and TV, narrow-casting and reaction quotes instead of actual news) where we seldom know what lies beyond our own little, conceited worldview is the problem. And now we're far enough into it that we have "artists" raised in that sort of closeted milieu who only serve (and can only serve) the narrow little cultural pigeon hole in which they were grew up.

"I only listen to classic rock" is just another word for "Nothing left to lose." Or possibly "I have become my parents."

The baby boomers and the "Greatest Generation" are amazingly similar -- self-mythologized but too often culturally-blind dinosaurs who closed their minds and eyes and ears years ago and have been moping for the "good old days" ever since, idealizing and romanticizing the stupidities and fads and knee-jerk group-think of their respective eras while sneering at everything since.

And, of course, ignoring the fact that the "good old days" were always a dirty lie.

Sure, it's sad that some nineteen year old (or some 73-year old) can't name all the Beatles or Rolling Stones, but it's equally sad that some 48-year old can't name one song by Coldplay or Jay Z.

The pundits have been saying that the world is going to hell. But they've been saying that for 10,000 years.

Rant, rant, rant. Someone stick a fork in me. I'm done.

P.S. If you've never seen BURN NOTICE, you can catch up on it's entire run for free [and legally] at

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Riot of My Own: Montreal is NOT LA... or is it?

Out of the blue, someone hit me with this last night:

"So Montreal is just like Los Angeles now."

I was stunned. I've spent six years occasionally writing about and constantly trying to come to terms with the wild and weird cultural and social discrepancies between the two countries and the two cities and this one really sandbagged me. I muttered some declarative inanity to the effect that "Trust me, Montreal is NOT LA" but now I'm wondering if I was a little too hasty in my response.

Granted, the person who hit me with this one has his own agenda. Although a genial, educated and often charming guy, he's prone to see almost everything wrong with the world in terms of race. Or the Republicans. Or anyone who views the world differently than he does.

So he took no small amount of satisfaction in tossing that little tidbit of pithiness in my face. Or at least that's the way it seemed to me.

He was referring to the recent riots in Montreal North, of course, and he seemed (to me) rather pleased about the whole thing. He knows how disheartened I am about the casual racism (or at least what I see as the casual racism) so prevalent down here, and he loves to provoke people and foster arguments. He routinely dismisses all liberals as ignorant fools, but I'm told I shouldn't take it personally. And, of course, he'll deny to the end of his days that he's racist, but he's not above tossing off the most mean-spirited sweeping generalizations and hurtful epithets about various groups without a second thought. And whatever you do don't get him started on the Jews.

If you don't know about the Montreal riots, there's a good summary on the Canadian Press site. But essentially, the riot erupted after the police shooting of an unarmed kid.

You wanna drag racism into it? The cops were white. The kid was "dusky," to use the euphemism my friend used. Had we not been in mixed company, he might have used a lot stronger word.

The rioters were a mixed lot, but given the neighbourhood, it's a safe bet that plenty of them were "dusky" as well.

The whole shooting thing is now under investigation, so some details are pretty murky, but since it's the Surete, the Quebec provincial police who investigate such shootings, don't expect much. The mutual backscratching between police forces in such investigations has been going on for years.

The Montreal police do have a history of shooting unarmed people, particularly those of the "dusky" persuasion (a memorable incident in Montreal several years ago had them killing a high school teacher). They also have a history of closing ranks after every such incident. In this case, they refused not only to name the two police officers involved (understandable), but didn't even interview them until days after the incident (which certainly ratcheted up the tensions that contributed to the riot). In fact, even two weeks later, they still haven't revealed why the two police officers approached the youth and his friends in the first place.

The police might have been totally in the right; they might have been totally in the wrong, but their secretiveness and evasiveness has once again made matters worse. And now, there's a riot to investigate as well. Once again, that sounds like LA.

Still, there are differences. The Montreal cops are almost totally white and the immigrants in Montreal North are almost all legal (actually, most of them aren't even immigrants, having been born in Canada). The dead kid, though, was an immigrant. Honduran, in fact.

God knows, there is racism in Canada (and Quebec and even Montreal), but I'd like to think most Montrealers would find the casual racism so many Los Angelenos take for granted abhorrent. Or at least I'd like to think so.

This particular riot is probably more in line with the recent ones in Paris, but once the first window is smashed, the first brick is thrown or the first cop opens fire on a crowd, all riots are the same. Stupidity is the great equalizer.

People will always riot, given the right circumstances. And some assholes (no matter what colour) will take advantage of that to let off steam, smash things or line their own pockets. I remember sitting in a sidewalk bar on Crescent Street, nursing a beer, watching a very respectable-looking middle-aged (white) lady running down the street, her arms full of designer dresses, during the 1986 Stanley Cup riot in Montreal.

Injustice, real or imagined, seems to be a common catalyst for riots, but good ol' high spirits seem to suffice as well.

The other notable riots in Montreal history generally have to do with hockey (certainly not a problem in LA), and involve mostly white people. Oh, and then there's probably the most significant one, way back in 1849 or so, when a bunch of disgruntled, anti-Democratic Scotch/Irish/Brits burned down the Parliament Buildings in Montreal.

Which is why Ottawa is the national capital. Damn whitey, always causing trouble.

Here are a few comments worth pondering...

"Montreal is rotten to the core"
-- Lord Elgin (Canadian governor, after the Montreal Parliament Buildings were burned down)

"Montreal is almost as crooked as we are."
-- Raymond Chandler, LA crime writer, in "Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate"

"Stupid nigs and stupid Beaners who should be kicked out of the country because they are all welfare suckers and are a total waste of good air. Until our politicians stop allowing uneducated people from banana Republics this is going to happen more frequently."
-- some good Montreal citizen, about the Montreal north riots

"At least nobody's dragged language into it. Yet."
-- a citizen from Westmount (formerly an Anglo enclave)

"A riot is the language of the unheard."
-- Martin Luther King

Is Montreal the same as LA? I look at the clips of the riots on UTube and read the vitriol being spewed on blogs and in letters to the editors and see the whole charade being played out and I think about how quietly smug we Canadians (including me) can be sometimes, and in my darkest moments of despair wonder if maybe, just maybe, we're not worse.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Ah, Quebec...

Quebec City recently celebrated its 400th anniversary, making it one of the oldest cities in Noth America (and still one of the most beautiful). It was evidently quite a party -- there were tons of special events, including a free concert headlined by Paul McCartney, which a teeny but vocal number of separatist members of the National Assembly opposed. Evidently, the presence of Sir Paul, being British, would evoke "painful memories" of the British conquest. Quel horror!

Evidently, there are many 270 or so- year-old French war vets living in Quebec City, still seething over their defeat by Montcalm's forces in 1749. Who knew?

I mean, get a grip. McCartney man wrote "Ebony and Ivory" and "The Dog Gone Girl is Mine" and they complain about his nationality???

Fortunately, the three members of the Loyal Opposition don't reflect the views of anyone but a few other petty-minded, ethnocentric twerps. Most Quebecers didn't mind Sir Paul being British at all. Something like 270,000 showed up for the show.

And really, the yahoo fringe of the PQ should pick its targets more carefully. McCartney isn't some poor Anglo shopkeeper with an "illegal" sign in his Greenfield Park window that they can bash around or drive into bankruptcy with a barrage of fines -- he's one of the richest men in the world. The PQ should just be grateful that McCartney doesn't buy the entire province and turn Quebec City into a seal sanctuary.

Somewhere, the ghost of Mordecai Richler is laughing his ass off.


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