Thursday, August 25, 2016

Giant Head, No Brain: the Donald Trump Easter Island statue

NEWS FLASH: from The Vintage News!

Actually the giant heads of Easter Island, do have bodies, but landslides have covered them up

The reason people think they are [only] heads is there are about 150 statues buried up to the shoulders on the slope of a volcano, and these are the most famous, most beautiful and most photographed of all the Easter Island statues.

This is just one of those moments of serendipity that makes me want to do the Dippity-Doo.

I was trying to get through the usual abominable trash on The Vintage News (which for some reason keeps dragging me back, though it's about as well-researched and scholarly as Ripley's Believe it or Not) when I came across the beginning of an article on the famed Easter Island statues that was so horribly written, I burst out laughing. I just had to cut and paste the beginning of it, but then, when I went to look for an illustration. . .

It was just too perfect: a giant head that somehow completely lacked a brain.

Fair game: those old family photos on the internet

Blogging is an organic process, like all serious writing. (Serious! As 3/4 of this blog is satire, how can I say that? But satire is perhaps the most serious writing of all). This piece is beginning to evolve from some thoughts I've been having for quite a while now.

In spite of my general disdain for Facebook, there are a few pages that I "visit" regularly (in other words, I look at them, and read them if there's anything to read). One of them is called The Kitsch Bitsch. True to its name, the page posts tacky items, photos and videos and gifs, many of them from the '50s, '60s and '70s. There are certain themes or subjects that come up so often, it almost gets tedious. A few times a week there is a vintage recipe for a jello mold containing all sorts of disgusting "entombed" ingredients such as organ meats and canned fish. Old ads for men's fashions run incessantly, and include long crocheted vests that look like macrame, crimplene jumpsuits, mint-green polyester leisure suits, and bellbottoms that remind me of the fins on a '57 Chevy.

But the favorite is/are old family pictures, cheesy things depicting drunk people, people in wigs, goofy-looking people of all kinds.

You see this all over the place. There are posts at Christmas that show "really lame Christmas photos". High school yearbook photos are a favorite. The common theme is goofiness, awkwardness, ugliness, or the bizarre. Until very recently I was all in, eager to comment on how completely lame these things were.

Then I began to think (never a good idea, but I did): hmmmmm. Where do these things come from?

As with Pinterest, we usually don't know where pictures posted on the internet/social media come from. They just sort of . . . appear. When they do, they're apparently in the public domain and can be passed around freely, and ridiculed even more freely. Some of the comments are quite nasty: swipes, jeers, and groans. Everyone feels entitled to do this - it's a free-for-all, with no holds barred.

But lately, I have started to think: what if someone I knew, someone who used to be a close friend and had a big trove of my personal family photos, had a falling-out with me and decided to get a little revenge? What would it be like to see all my old pictures out there, including the crazy, bizarre ones, duplicated and shared again and again and again, with an ever-longer list of nasty comments appended?

I've never heard anyone say anything about this. These aren't real people! Are they? Are you kidding? Who thinks about that? They're just goofy old photos on the internet, and who knows/cares where they came from. This means they can show
drunk people, out-of-control people, people weeping or hitting each other, people with disabilities - heywaitaminute.

People with disabilities?

Of course we have the thick glasses (and I have tons of those photos - mine were true Coke bottle-bottoms before the plastic variety came along). Thick glasses are ridiculous and stupid and something to be publicly jeered at. Never mind if the person is legally blind or has cataracts or is - OK, should I stop now? Have I suddenly lost my sense of humour?


But I've seen some of those "cheesy" photos - and I think the feeling is "oh, we all have those cheesy family photos so it's OK" - in which it's pretty obvious to me that a child has Down syndrome or some other disability that may be barely visible. It makes the person look "different", thus "goofy" and fair game.


If I suddenly found my family trove on the internet, on Pinterest or Facebook or wherever, I'd probably feel like I had been punched in the stomach. We can't control these things because once a photo is in someone else's hands, it can be "out there" in a nanosecond. WE aren't necessarily in on the joke.

I had another thought - oh God, let me PLEASE stop thinking. What if the image that popped up on Instagram or somewhere else was your deceased Grandma, or your father, or your brother who had been killed in an accident? What if the grief was very fresh - or not so fresh, but still taking up residence in your heart?

We make assumptions on the internet, and one is that goofy-looking things/people can be mocked with impunity.  If these were real people, surely they're all dead by now. Or they don't mind it, it's just as funny to them (no matter how savagely nasty the comments are, including calling a mentally challenged person a "retard").

I don't know about other people because I'm not "other people". But there was a time in my life when, if I had suddenly seen a photo of my father's face  jumping out at me from nowhere, I would have retreated in horror and spent the rest of the day weeping. It took five years of therapy for me to come to terms with the fact that he sexually abused me when I was a child. As a matter of fact, his photo IS on the internet in various places, and (to my horror) I was ambushed by it not long ago.

How did it get there? I don't know. That's another thing. If you are having difficulties with your family and there is a schism, people on the other side of it might start posting pictures -  post them "at" you, I mean, as a form of deliberate violation or revenge. Those pictures can get around like a (real) virus: just hit "share". You're automatically the target for whatever people want to publicly say about you.

At this point, the conversation takes a right turn and people begin to say, "Oh, don't be so sensitive. It's only a picture, It doesn't matter what people think. Just ignore them." So if someone finds and posts a picture of your falling-down-drunk father and the image makes your stomach drop through the floor, it's OK.  Especially the contemptuous hilarity that ensues in the comments section.

A photo means almost nothing now, we take dozens or scores of them a day, but forty or fifty years ago it was an occasion. Families usually posed for them, but the candid shots could be most revealing of what was really going on. People had to develop film then (remember?), and out of a roll of 24 shots, 3 or 4 might be "keepers". But people often kept the rest anyway, afflicted with that ridiculous post-war habit of "waste not, want not".

So how did those outtakes end up on the internet? I don't know, but it's hard for me to believe that the descendents of drunken Aunt Martha gleefully put them out there. Family albums even end up in estate sales when somebody dies. Deaths are messy, detritus abounds, and things like that just get lost in the shuffle.

Is there any way to stop this? Why should we want to stop something that's this much fun? The truth is, it's a blood sport now and part of internet culture. But I wonder if we shouldn't stop, once in a while, and think about those dead people, or perhaps the ones who are still alive and suffering through all those comments.

ADDENDUM. One of, perhaps, many. Or not. Aside from kitsch photos, I used only my own family pictures for this. Because I don't keep weird-looking ones, as a rule, most of them aren't very weird. But all of them have meaning.

Old photos are saturated with meaning. As saturated as the godawful old 1970s Kodachrome colour process in those prints. In gathering up a few images for this thing, I did seriously think of including one of my father, which ambushed me from a Chatham-Kent Facebook page a while ago. In it, he stares into the camera with a shark's dead eyes.

For reasons I can't comprehend, I kept the two photos I found. I just did. I was going to paste them up here, but when I went to open the file, it was like the Wicked Witch of the West trying to get Dorothy's slippers off. A big lightning-bolt shot out at me and I jerked back as if I had been electrocuted.

Not that those pictures mean anything. Why such a big deal?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

See, hear, smell, taste: feel?

Pokemon: should I stay, or should I go?

I barely know anything about Pokemon, except that here I am making gifs out of the characters. I made two, in fact, to try to prove/disprove something.

I recently discovered a trove of Pokemon knitting patterns on Etsy (and I'll give you the link right now: these are just the coolest things! - as well as a link to each individual pattern. Believe me when I say, inventing these was a work of knitting genius, and I never could have done it myself.)

LittleWhitsKnits on Etsy

I have no idea at this point if I am going to make any of these. Right now, I just want to look. I like Pikachu (who could NOT like Pikachu?), and that cat is kind of cool, but I have no idea if my grandkids would go for these. They're getting a little old for any kind of knitted thing.

To me, Pokemon means beat-up old cards that you kept in a book, and traded. Kind of like Beatles bubble-gum cards. Now it means something entirely different: walking around the park, not looking at anything or enjoying anything around you, just looking down, and occasionally falling down a hole or running facelong into a utility pole. Or another person, if you can figure out what THAT is.

But we still have these characters, though I have no idea of their relevance in that game where you walk around.

I was not quite clever enough to get my two gifs to run in order at the same speed. Jesus, people, what do you want?! I was born in 1954! To have gotten this far in technology is something of a miracle. These little slide shows are no small matter to a person who had to learn everything from the ground up. I am still on manual/mono/analogue on most things, including my brain.

So why don't we (Jesus it took all day to get these photos formatted so let's use them) just compare them side-by-side, or not side by side exactly.

Now this ain't bad. This is Meowth, a kind of Unicat or Caticorn. Either that, or he has a bee on his head. But I like his friendly expression. This one I might make.

I am not sure why this character (Bulbasaur)  has a giant clove of garlic on its back, but it does. I am sure the kids would love it, and I would too if I understood it in the least.

This is Eevee, one of the harder-to-translate Pokemons. The original character has a classic anime look with big shiny eyes and huge ears. The bottom one is more like a chihuahua wearing a banana bandanna: but hey, could I do any better? I am sure I could not. Some of these things don't translate as well to the medium of wool.

In the case of Jigglypuff, the opposite is true: the knitted version is far cuter and cuddlier. The original has kind of disturbing, push-button eyes and a thing on its forehead like Dairy Queen Soft Serve. Knitted, the robin's-egg blue eyes with their shiny highlight look downright innocent, if not friendly. 

This is a duck with attitude, and - to be honest - a lot more charm and character than the original. Psyduck even bears a resemblance to a living creature, which isn't true of all of them.

Such as this one. Poliwag is some sort of made-up/cobbled-together thing made from leftover parts from the Jurassic period. The knitted stuffy looks to me like a sweet little bluebird with innocent eyes. 

This guy looks just a little TOO innocent for Pokemon, like something you'd knit for a 3-month-old baby. A nursery toy. But for all I know, Squirtle IS something babies play with, probably on Baby's First iphone.

I wonder if anyone ever designed a Gamera knitting pattern? As in: the Atomic Turtle from Space. Might be in the Godzilla section somewhere.

Oh. . . God. . . how many more?? There must be 500 of these. This is a very nicely-adapted-for-knitting blue radish called Oddish. I've knitted veggies before, but not with eyes.

And this is the last one, I hope. I saved Pikachu 'til last because he is the only one I am even remotely familiar with. This was the one they originally asked for, but it was quite a while ago. And oh God, I just realized I am NOT finished yet, because. . .

. . . there's still Charmander! I'm not sure why I'm not as keen on this one, though the stuffy is perfectly all right and even cute. But I know I'm not going to knit this one, in spite of his jigglypuff-y toes. Maybe I knitted too many dinosaurs for Ryan when he was five. Or I'm just suffering from knitting fatigue.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bill Prouten on sax: memories are made of this

This guy was our choir director for five years, back when I (incredibly, it seems now) attended Eagle Ridge United Church. An amazing talent. He actually wrote things for us to sing, extremely intricate and nearly impossible for a small amateur group, but we somehow did it because we all wanted so much to please him. Though the bar was set very high, we were more than willing to take a run at it and get over it if we could.

I wish I could post some of the stuff he wrote, but it's not in the right format. I have a CD floating around somewhere, but I have no idea how to up/down/sideways-load it into a computer. There probably IS a way. People do it all the time! But I might die of nostalgia anyway, if I listened to it. I try to stay pretty much framed in the day I am in. 

I was much, much younger then, a bit of an idiot in many ways, and very eager and anxious to be liked and accepted, while trying also to be who I really was. Naturally, I went nuts. This all took place a long time ago, and I think Bill left us in 2001, which now seems like approximately one billion years ago! I will continue to try to find a way to convert that CD into something I can put up here.

Now that I dig a bit, I see all sorts of YouTube videos of him that have probably been there for a long time. Ah, helas. . . I don't want to go back, but it does seem, suddenly and alarmingly, that it has gotten awfully late, awfully soon.

(And I did figure out how to embed this video from Facebook, though I can't seem to do it with all of them. Technical miracle for today!)

Laugh? I nearly died

‘Light-hearted’ ads hope to spark rethink on depression and anxiety

New mental health marketing campaign and online quiz hopes to connect British Columbians with help.

By: David P. Ball Metro Published on Mon Aug 22 2016

Is it a problem if you’re so stressed at work that coffee mugs shatter in your hands — or if you burst into tears every morning when the toaster pops?

Probably, according to new ads created by Vancouver’s Rethink Communications for TV and radio.

The spots are part of a marketing campaign the outside-the-box agency created for the Canadian Mental Health Association B.C. division.

The Bounce Back Today campaign’s hope is to spark some chuckles and chats about depression and anxiety around water coolers and kitchen tables — but more importantly, to help people catch “problems” before they worsen, CMHA B.C.’s senior policy and research director said.

“We want to help activate awareness in people about the symptoms of when mood and anxiety might be outside the norm,” Jonny Morris told Metro in a phone interview, “and to seek help.”

The ads were “designed to help people in a playful but not caricatured way,” he explained, and launched thanks to CMHA B.C. winning the BC Broadcasters Association’s Humanitarian Award — valued at $1 million of advertising airtime for a charity.

"We hope that the advertising campaign will connect with those for whom mental health is not even on their radar," said CMHA B.C.'s CEO Bev Gutray in a statement.

While an admittedly “light-hearted” approach to a national crisis such as mental health might seem counter-intuitive — depression affects one in nine British Columbians, and anxiety one in five — Morris said the ad creators were careful to pull off the gags without mockery or stigma.

“The old-school drive-home-a-hard-message advertising isn’t necessarily as effective any more,” he said. “We want to inspire dinner table and kitchen conversations so we struck a light hearted tone, but the actual light-heartedness isn’t directed at mental illness.”

The campaign draws visitors to an online quiz about their mental state, and also offers fact-sheets, tips on maintaining wellness, and encouragement to speak to a doctor for help — part of CMHA’s existing Bounceback initiative, which is funded by the B.C. government.

“Doctors are the gateway or door to the program,” Morris explained.

Rethink Communications’ previous campaigns include anti-oil tanker ads that leeched black ink when it rained, and creating a Canadian passport-activated free beer fridge for Molson that toured Europe in the lead-up to the Olympics in Russia.

For more information, visit the Bounce Back Today campaign's website.

I guess I should give this a chance. But I don't want to.

Don't want to.

This article brings it home to me that our dread of mental illness is still so great, we now have to resort to "gags" to make it palatable. Like whistling in the dark, laughing in the face of dread (or a dreaded, stigmatized illness) is supposed to make us feel better. Or, perhaps, more distanced.

I sense desperation here. Some advertising company was brought in and told, "For God's sake, HELP us make this subject less distasteful to people! Make it so they can at least say the word ment - . Men - men - MENTAL."

So they take (in their words) a "light-hearted" and "playful" approach, depicting mental illness in all sorts of droll, entertaining ways. The misery/hopelessness/grinding anxiety gags are piled on, but it has a weird feeling to it. A "we're not really SERIOUS about this, folks. . . " Because you can't be serious about a thing like mental health. Can you?

The approach is bizarre, kind of like the old "has this ever happened to you?" Ronco infomercials from the '70s. There's something droll about it, all right, kind of like an Allerest commercial where a person streaming with snot is sitting next to a mountain of balled-up tissues. This is "toy" mental illness, obviously, the cartoon/commercial version, because if it was the real thing - well, you'd have to be pretty callous to laugh at someone who's just slashed their wrists. 

Even the name of the campaign, Bounce Back Today, is more reminiscent of a trampoline (or dryer sheets?) than regaining one's mental health, a process which generally speaking is extremely slow and excruciatingly painful. There is no "fun" mental illness, no matter what the ignorant masses claim. But I would imagine someone in a boardroom dreamed up this idea to put a less-horrific or at least less-distasteful face on the Canadian Mental Health Association's dire mandate, a facelift for an agency that has to deal with whack jobs and writeoffs every day.

I don't know, I always get angry when I see a shallow or desperate or overly-corporate-flavoured approach to a serious subject like this one. Yes, people have trouble talking about mental health "around the water cooler" (and never mind that water coolers haven't existed since about 1949). But guffawing around the water cooler doesn't make things much better. 

It's about at this point that the statistics are trotted out. Blah out of every blah Canadians has a serious case of blah. But it's pain we're talking about, the sort we can't even share. Being sick isn't the issue. The right kind of sick (cancer of any variety) automatically makes you a hero, a "warrior". Even garden-variety stuff will elicit sympathy from co-workers: "Ohhhh, you poor thing."

It's still better to tell them you're off with the flu or meningitis or ANYTHING other than depression. Depression will get you ". . . oh." Or silence. Or maybe even a furtively-whispered, "Don't worry. I won't say anything."

So is raucous laughter/"gags" shared around the water cooler meant to improve the situation, or what? I'm not saying "don't run ads". I'm not saying "only run bleak ads that show morbid self-pitying complainers at their gloomy worst". But what about the popular culture's depiction of cancer? Cancer "warriors" are always depicted as courageous, plucky, and full of hope, even with bald heads. A couple of generations ago, they were hiding in the shadows. My mother's generation would not even say the word.

Something changed in the interim, but I never once heard anyone guffawing about it. I never heard anyone even suggest that the "answer" to the stigma around cancer was a humourous ad campaign showing people playing at having cancer in a lighthearted, wacky, fun way. Oh, that chemotherapy: pesky stuff! But say, didn't I save a lot on hair care products this year? (Frenetic dance showing bald people throwing confetti in the air). And by the way, have you seen my colostomy bag? (chicka-boom).

It never occurred to anyone, not even the most hard-boiled, mercenary ad execs, to try to make cancer "cute". And yet, somehow or other, in the past few decades, everything changed. We can not only talk about cancer but marvel at and celebrate the survivors and the warriors and those who saw it through to the end.

Why isn't that happening here, with this issue, now?

This thing filled me with such dismay that I choked on it. I could not even watch the videos right away. I had to work up to it, then it was just as bad as I thought it would be. Worse. I watched one with the sound off and had a helpless, powerless, gutted feeling. I realized we have not made ANY progress at ALL in this area, that we have, in fact, gone backwards and may continue to do so. This is all just so shallow, so trivial, so dismaying! When I realized the agency who made these ads was also responsible for making a free beer fridge for Molson, not to mention some ad campaign about oil tankers, it made me wonder why they don't use human beings for these things. Lots of people are now on the point of wanting to talk about their experiences with mental illness. Why not use them?

Simple. The dread, the abhorrence and even contempt is just too great, though no one will admit it. We would be more honest if we went back to locking people up in wooden cribs like in Amadeus. But hey, there's a national crisis on, and nothing we've tried so far has worked! For some reason, trying to help those poor blighted souls hasn't made much difference, nor are they showing us any gratitude either. A national crisis calls for extreme measures. And when you think about it - or stop thinking about it - or pull back so far that you can barely see it - hey, this issue really IS pretty funny! 

Laugh? I nearly died.

POSTSCRIPT. I did hear back from the good people who waged this unusual, if desperately misguided "mental health awareness" campaign. I won't reproduce their email to me because it is basically party line, and I've heard it all before. But I will share with you my email response.

I do appreciate your prompt and detailed reply. But the ads are just too flip. I don’t think they are going to accomplish the things you’ve talked about here. They seem almost silly and are pretty close to mockery, the kind of thing you’d see on a sitcom. I’m reminded of The Big Bang Theory where Raj broke up with yet another girl friend, and sat there stuffing his face with junk food, not changing his clothes, etc., very much like the man pictured in the depression ad. The audience sure thought it was funny. So what’s the message – if you don’t get help when you’re a little down, soon you’ll be sitting around in your jammies stuffing your face all day, not shaving, fat, with pizza boxes all over the floor? Is this cartoonish image meant to represent serious depression?

I think it would be much more effective to do short spots where people talk about their experiences, how you can live through mental illness and work hard to regain your health and enjoy life once again. It could be lighthearted. I can’t think of anything more lighthearted than a real person talking about regaining their joy. I watched my brother die of schizophrenia (the life force was sucked out of him, then he died in a fire), and the system could not have failed him more catastrophically. There is some sort of huge gulf between “this” and “that”, between a man crying into a pop-up toaster and a man dying in a burning squat. It’s like another planet. I can’t connect the dots at all.


Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I have to say that some of the images in the ads are downright disturbing. You really lost me with the image of the woman peering anxiously through the blinds. Funny? that she’s afraid to leave her house? And if it isn’t that, what is it? And how are we supposed to feel? That idea of “hey, if you’re a LITTLE afraid to go out, that’s fine. But if you’re a LOT afraid to –”. These are very puzzling, even confusing messages for a mental health-improvement or awareness campaign, and I just can’t see where it will add anything significant to the debate/conversation/struggle. “New” or “different” isn’t necessarily “better”, and trying to be a little more hip or catchy can be a disaster. As I said in my blog post, we honour and celebrate cancer survivors, but don’t create “gags” about them because it is the least funny thing in human experience to die before your time, whether of cancer or a gunshot to the head.
So much needs to be done here, but not like this. I am not sure if these ads were tested or not, but they should have been, by a large sample of people who have been in the trenches of experience.  Ask them how it affects them, if it feels authentic and helpful, if it represents what the real concerns are. Often there is this sense that if you “just get people talking about it”, it makes some sort of difference. I can tell you that it does not. People talk about Donald Trump constantly, and it is NOT helping! In fact, it is just helping HIM to gain more of a stranglehold over the media and the public. Talking and enlightenment are very different things.

Though it seemed to take a million years, finally we saw Clara Hughes take matters into her own hands and bike across Canada – alone. She’s the Terry Fox of her times. But where are all the others? The tshirts and walks and public events are very slow to get off the ground, because the public still recoils, or else goes blank and does not see why they should have to care (let alone give money). But this is what we need! Some say the Cancer Society has “played” the public with their slick campaigns which tug on people’s emotions. On the other hand, cancer is permanently out of the closet now, and it will never go back to the way it was. Mental health issues are about where gay issues were in 1970. We haven’t even had our Stonewall yet. Meantime, we get misguided things like this ad campaign. Is it better than nothing? I’m not sure. If people don’t see the relevance, they’ll click it off the way they do with thousands of other distractions.  I do hope you will try something more authentic and less flip in the future. Do something that will really grab people. Don’t go to some slick ad agency – find someone who really knows how to make powerful, effective spots that touch people’s emotions.  I am getting too old to expect to see significant change about this issue in my time, but I will continue to hope for it.