Monday, March 21, 2011

Losing My Religion Over YouTube

When I was in grade seven, my class, 7C, was given the task of performing a Shabbat themed play for the entire Senior Division (Grades 6-8). At Bialik Hebrew Day School, or Bialkatraz as we liked to call it, each class got to produce one holiday themed play a year. 7B did a Purim play, 5A did a Passover play etc… twas a gay old time.

I have NO idea how these things were randomized, or whether there was a throw-down in the Teacher’s Lounge every September: “Chava you had the Chanukkah play last year, bitch; this year MY class is going to do it and our version of Peter Paul and Mary’s Light One Candle is going to blow yours out of the water.” [RIP Mary] I don't know how, but it happened.

I will also tell you that these plays were a HUGE deal. Like huge… all consuming for at least a month. As students we were so serious about our performances that I actually can’t watch movies like Centre Stage, because I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; people cried over leads, there were costumes and sets and while retrospectively, they all sucked obviously, at the time I think we felt like we were performing at Radio City Music Hall [You know how shit rolls in grade school].

Anyway… so the 7C Shabbat play; the year was 1994, it was springtime for Hitler and for some reason my teacher, a former Israeli military officer, natch, Rivka, decided to assign me a solo.

No one to this day, is sure what possessed her to do this. But what I can tell you is that at some point during rehearsals and again, let me tell you, this shit was rehearsed over and over again, Rivka turned to me, stripped me of my solo and admonished me in front of the entire class declaring: Yonatan (Hebrew for Jonathan) you sing like a goat. Colour me mortified. I also had horrible Harry Pottery Size glasses; something like 10 years before anyone knew who Harry Potter was so clearly Grade 7 was traumatic enough without being name-checked to a bleating mammal.

In turn, at parent teacher night, don’t think that Papa Len and Sim Sim Sima didn't tell Rivka off. Because they did. “Our sweet, sensitive [sensitive is code-word for gay in retrospect] son,” they let Rivka know, “performs better via positive reinforcement.” Now in some ways my parents are right… I do perform better via positive reinforcement, but, to tell you the truth my parents and I weren’t shocked that my solo was taken away; really what came as a surprise was that I was given a solo in the first place.

My entire family KNEW I couldn’t sing. I could never sing and let's call a spade a spade - puberty certainly didn't help matters.

I started thinking about my brief career as a soloist about week ago, but these thoughts were interrupted as I witnessed the world change forever.

Yes there was a major earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan; Libya’s Mohamar Gadaffi continued to bring the cray cray to North Africa and all of this shit that no one understands went down in Ottawa about contempt and the like.

But more importantly the world met a young rapscallion chanteuse extra-ordinaire named Rebecca Black, singer of the saccharinely mindless ditty, Friday. Which is, stop the presses, about the day of the week, colloquially known as Friday. Black's song is an ode to "looking forward to the weekend" from a chick who probably doesn’t know that when I was her age TGIF meant Full House, Family Matters and Step by Step.

Anyway - what hasn’t been said about the 13 year-old Rebecca Black that hasn’t already entered internet meme lore? At this point R. Black may in fact be bigger then Antoine Dodson, he of the “they raypin erybuddy” fame of last summer. My favourite is the Facebook group entitled: That awkward moment when Rebecca Black doesn't know which seat to take.

What I find fascinating, however, is that Rebecca Black, who admitted to Good Morning America that indeed she doesn’t have the best singing voice in the world, somehow convinced her parents to drop $2000 so that she could have her own music video and song.

At what point did Rebecca Black’s parents NOT say, “Look Rebecca, you’re not the very best singer out there but you’re really good at comedy, horse-jumping, poetry… ANYTHING else.” Did Rebecca Black not have a former Israeli military commando teacher tell her that she sings like a goat?

Cause I can tell you if 12 year-old Jonathan was like, "Sim, Papa Len," I want to become a rap star, my parents would have laughed in my face. Unlike Rebecca, I knew I couldn’t sing. I’m what the French call, tone deaf. But heck, I could do other things instead of singing. I could craft stories, make jokes and uhm… to tell you the truth, I recreated the fictional Hardy Boys town of Bayport out of Lego’s in my basement, but sing? Are you kidding me, singing is on my trifecta of things I don’t do, which are: play team sports, sing and have sex with chicks. Anything else I’m game.

I grow concerned that we’ve somehow become a society of people who refuse to admit that they can't actually sing. Somehow because of the internet and shows like American Idol everyone thinks they can become the next Justin Bieber. The weird thing is that Rebecca Black and the like must know that singing isn't their A talent. After-all its not the artistry of music they crave or a strong endeavor to master the craft of singing. It's none of the above. Rebecca Black and the Ark Music Factory is a wannabe fame factor. We don't want laudatory congratulations, we want celebrity. And people somehow expect that they’ll just throw up some videos on the YouTube and BAM! Viral sensation. Click on those for some awkward YouTube isms.

Maybe the new millennium isn’t, as REM declared, about losing our religion, but losing our sense of artistry for the quick soundbyte of fame at whatever cost. And as if to prove some sort of argument – when I typed “Losing My Religion” into Youtube, the Glee version came up first.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Apparently You Nor I Really Care...

I realized the other day that I was behind Bev Oda. I mean I was behind on the Bev Oda affair and not physically behind the Femme Fetale of the Conservative Party of Canada. I saw all of the headlines involving her and some scandal in my morning Globe and Mail, read Rick Mercer’s tweet about it and quickly turn my browser to Gawker.

Certainly if this were the United States we’d have memes celebrating Bev Oda, and someone would re-write the lyrics to Fergie’s song “Fergalicious, so delicious,” to "Odalicious, so fictitious". In the states that shit would go viral; but in Canada, no one really cares.

After Oda I proceeded to miss the whole Jason Kenny imbroglio because truthfully I kinda didn’t care. Sorry, we’re arguing about stationary? I mean I just bought a bunch of really nice French stationary from this paper shop in Yorkville. But sorry… politics and stationary? Who in the what now? I had the same reaction after Rob Ford canceled muffin service at Toronto City council meetings. I’ve also tried to reduce my carb load so I get where he’s coming from, but like… colour me uninterested. So as Harper, Ford, Kenny, Oda and Iggy re-arrange the deck chairs on the good ship Canada – I’m going to be over there, aka get into a lifeboat, but thanks for coming out guys. Let me know how that works for you; maybe someone can send me a postcard?

My political malaise is, to be honest, fairly surprising. I was recently having coffee with a Globe and Mail journo friend lamenting my sudden inability to keep up with political news, when I finally admitted that for whatever reason, whether it was societal, transitional, demo-graphical, or technological, or due to attention deficit disorder, I just could no longer feign interest in broad-based Canadian politics.

This wasn’t always the case; at 22 my life, both personally and professionally revolved around politics. A lot of my friends were politically employed and I assumed that forever bitten by the bug of politics, we’d forever be addicted. A funny thing happened on the way to 30. We all sort of stopped caring.

The lack of interest of course isn’t just voter apathy in the conventional sense, a problem in and of itself, and which campaigns like and Apathy is Boring exist to challenge. Youth apathy is one thing. Complete disengagement, is, however, a different beast.

It would be easy to claim, debt, business school, and careers for this waning interest in all things government. I worry, however, that there is an insidious undercurrent in this generational angst; an undercurrent, which has created an age of mass political indifference.

As Andrew Coyne notes in what I think is a seminal article on politics in Canada: “Politics in this country – federal politics, at least – is in a kind of death spiral, whose terminus is not dictatorship but irrelevance.”

So what causes this death spiral? At root, surely information, or the lack there of. A friend of mine recently started an organization called Samara, whose goal is to strengthen Canada’s democracy. Samara recently released its second report based on interviews with ex-MP’s. In the reports backgrounder Samara lists the 3 official tasks an MP has in our Westminster Parliamentary system. They are: establish policy and pass laws; ensure that the laws are being carried out properly, and that tax dollars are being spent responsibly; and determine the life of the government by voting for things you support, and against things you don’t.

Truthfully, if you asked me what an MP’s job was before I read Samara's report I’d probably yammer on about “Representing riding interests”. And that’s the ironic truth in this age of information, right? We know so little about how our own government works. How many of us understand the nuances of the recent Globalive ruling, can fully articulate the relationship between the CRTC, the cabinet and industry Canada? To misquote Obama: No We Can’t. This morning as I read about Peter Milliken’s ruling that the government is potentially in contempt of I subsequently had to Google what the ramifications of contempt of parliament actually are.

What’s fascinating and potentially very worrisome about this lack of knowledge is that many of the trends facing our democratic system are dangerous. While most of us like to pinpoint Harper’s supposed hidden agenda as a danger… in reality encroaching conservatism is a red herring at best. What Canadians are actually quietly acquiescing to is a fairly frightening concentration of power.

Jim Travers, the recently deceased Toronto Star columnist wrote this in 2009: "Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.”

What Travers wrote in 2009, is probably even more truthful today.

And so the chicken versus egg situation that we are faced with is: is our political leadership taking advantage of us because of citizenship disinterest, or are we disinterested because politics has become a dirty business where power is increasingly centralized?

It sort of doesn't matter. There's still fun to be had over at gawker... right? In today's 5700 channel internet, there's 5700 web pages and no one's able to concentrate on any of them... Pity that. [learning of the day: the saying: 57 channels and nothing on is a Bruce Springsteen lyric... am I stupid for not knowing that?]

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Confessions of a Jewish Mom

I realize, with some sadness, that I’m about 8 weeks past the whole Tiger Mom fiasco. As I write this, the original Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, is probably slinking back into semi-anonymity at Yale, her tiger tail tucked neatly behind her, having been practically eviscerated by the national media.

I assume that Yalies have better things to do with their lives, such as choreograph musicals and or chase James Franco around campus, before wondering what superstar legal professor Amy Chua is up to these days. Its not like one Wall Street Journal article suddenly makes someone the bee’s knees of New Haven now does it?

I will say that being a bit behind my pop culture is a bit unusual for me; I like to think that I am a fairly trendy person and seeing as I don’t do much except cruise in the internet all day I’m not really sure why it took me so long to actually sit down and read the Wall Street Journal excerpt, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, taken from Chua’s forthcoming book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Battle Hymn is a supposed personal memoir on why Chinese moms are better than other North American varietals of mothers.

Truthfully I am disappointed in myself. And more importantly, you know who is even more disappointed in me, my own mother.

So why my avoidance of the Amy Chua brou ha ha? Don’t think I didn’t see all of the incensed mummy headlines and turn the other cheek stat, because I did. Mumery, more like tomfoolery, and China are exactly the sort of clusterfuck combination I tend to avoid. Truthfully I find the topic of child-rearing to be deathly boring. This is probably because I’m not a mother and have many years to go until I have to drop off my adopted children at their after-school skating lessons (my current name du jour is Pippa). Even worse are mom blogs (OMG how boring are all blogs?) which, from my experience, are all sanctimoniously up in your grill about child rearing tactics and the best way to deal with diaper rash; organic, natch… This is also why I’d love my friend Judy to mummy blog. Her answer to most things mumery involves vodka and buying her kids off with Justin Bieber merchandise. That being said her kids are amazingly polite and well raised; the only caveat to this was the time I let it slip that I was distantly related to Amanda Bynes who apparently knows OMG OMG OMG OMG Orlando Bloom. At the time both were actually respectable celebrities so her daughter's excitement made some sense…

Anyway – Amy Chua - there is something we need to talk about. If you think being a Chinese mom is difficult on your children – try having a Jewish mom. In fact, I’m shocked you haven’t asked your Jewish husband about his own experiences being raised by a know-it-all Maven Mom. Chinese moms may rule with an iron fist but Jewish mothers have perfected the art of not just guilt (which has been refined over centuries by the Catholic mother) but of knowing everything and simultaneously expecting everything.

Unlike the Tiger mom a Jewish mom isn’t the drill sergeant Chua extols, the Jewish mother rules her roost by the imbued fear of unmet expectations coupled with infinite disappointment.

Jewish mothers don’t rule not by a fist; they rule by psychological warfare.

Before she left for her recent 4 month long trip through Southeast Asia my mother repeatedly let me know where her jewelry was hidden “just in case” anything happened, and of course, “you’ll have to take care of your sister.” A friends’ Jewish mother regularly receives similar texts from his mother when she boards a plane. One recent one read: “Am boarding a flight, if we crash the money is in Switzerland.”

Having been raised by a Jewish mother every time the phone rings from an unknown number I’m convinced it’s the police telling me that someone I know has died in a horrible accident. Whenever I miss a call from my sister I see the voicemail and think: Naymark, its time to man-up and get into crisis mode.

Jewish mothers rule by expectation, not guilt. Unlike a Tiger Mother, a Jewish mother would never make me play piano until my fingers hurt so I would become the best piano player – they would assume that I am already the best piano player in the world. What is more fascinating is that Jewish mothers don’t order perfection, straight A’s, and medical school, they just expect it. What is most fascinating is that almost all of this is amazingly unstated. Jewish mothers have jedi power so unbelievable powerful they can shame their progeny into becoming an accountant.

What is their secret to their success? I think it is knowledge. Jewish mothers know everything about everything and everyone and they will tell you what they know about everything. It is the subtlety of their opinions, most of which are stated as fact, but with a slight tinge of disappointment that can be the most damaging.

“She’s pretty,” a Jewish mother will say about someone’s fiancĂ©, “If you like people who look like that.”

Or take how my mother questions me every time I buy a new article of clothing. Undoubtedly the following conversation will happen:

“That sweater looks new.”

“It is.”

“Where’s it from.”

“Club Monaco.”
“Do you really need it?”


“I mean… its just, you have that green sweater and that other blue sweater (she will proceed to itemize ALL articles of clothing I own), do you really think you should be buying more clothes?”

“It was on sale.”

“How much? What was the discount? It will probably go down further. You should have waited.”

And so that is why dearest Amy Chua I fear not your Tiger Mom - my mother and any other Jewish mother could judge you alive any day. And they also let me go to sleepover's and be in the school play. So take that!

But where is my dearest and beloved mother? She’s actually in southeast Asia; I’m hoping she doesn’t come back with any Tiger Blood in her. I wouldn’t want it any other way. <3