The Week's Conversations: SNL, End of Indie Rock, Free Trade, Speed Sisters, Rachel Notley, Borders, 20th Century Women
A weekly conversation between friends.
- Because [She] Came Out Here to Punch You, In the Face.
- The End of Indie Rock?
- Blame Domestic Policy, Not Trade Deals.
- Speed Sisters is an Essential Documentary.
- Rachel Notley Has Faced 431 Security Threats: Previous Five Premiers Faced 36, Combined.
- Borders (What's Up With That?).
- MOM: 20th Century Women.
- And more.
Because [She] Came Out Here to Punch You, In the Face
In Revisionist History podcast #10, an episode on the art of satire, Malcolm Gladwell asks whether we remember Sarah Palin, herself, or Sarah Palin, as played by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live? If all you can recall of Palin is the quote “I can see Russia from my house,” the answer is clear. Malcolm goes on to claim that Fey’s portrayal actually benefitted Palin and wrongfully humanized her (although I tend to agree with this strong rebuttal). He also argues that The Colbert Report was next to useless since both conservative and liberal viewers found it affirmed their viewpoints (see Jeet Heer’s piece for more commentary on Colbert and Stewart).
The one successful example he holds out is the Israeli show Eretz Nehederet, and, specifically, its sketch on kindergarteners learning about “peace” through recitation of right-wing Israeli rhetoric. The basic conclusion of the podcast is that satire must be extremely risky and uncomfortable to be useful; it is not about laughter, which only distracts us from acknowledging the truth.
Back when I first listened to this podcast, I was fed up by Alec Baldwin’s take on Trump, and sympathetic to Gladwell’s condemnation. President Trump is already a mockery and Baldwin basically just shows up with a wig on; nothing is surprising or particularly damning about the take. I’m not sure precisely why Baldwin’s sketch is a failure: perhaps because his caricature does not pressure us to do any imaginative work. His makeup is shoddy but half the time Trump looks like his makeup is shoddy; he relies on clipped, imperative, ridiculous statements, but this is Trump 100% of the time; he smiles and wants praise for decisions that will fuck over millions of people, and, surprise, this is real life. Baldwin’s takes are played straight to the point of boredom (unless you’re Trump).
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, is an incompetent bully, and I would argue that McCarthy’s impression works because Spicer is relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Like Fey taking on Palin, McCarthy subsumes and elevates a person that would otherwise be lost to history in less than a year after resignation, dismissal or electoral loss. She plays him as larger than life, infallible, a spluttering zealot, incapable of exercising judgment or emotional control.
One would have thought having a woman play Spicer would make the impression more laughably goofy, but in fact it elevates it into something sharper and directly belittling. And this impression could get sharper still. I read one piece that said McCarthy putting a leafblower up a reporter’s skirts was "not so funny." No, it was offensive and biting and exactly in keeping with this administration’s treatment of women and their rights. I hope they go further this week and Spicey uses some dollies to explain the term “cuck,” and why “Justine” Trudeau is one. Let’s all be humiliated by misogynistic abuse.
Yet, SNL squandered an amazing opportunity with the Leslie Jones sketch last night, where she auditioned to play Trump. After she’s done all the prep and gotten her makeup done, Lorne Michaels shuts her down and she attacks him, yelling in his face that she always plays characters that are yelling. That right there is a stereotype of Black women, perpetuated by racists, that would have made her particular portrayal of Trump more belittling and biting to them. Instead of Jones victoriously earning her due, the sketch petered out with Melania picking her up. The whole thing was poorly done and did more harm to women, Jones in particular, than good.
Jones should play him. I don’t know much about comedy, and maybe Black Trump played by a woman hits all the wrong notes for most people, but I 100% would watch her banning blonde barbies and railing on about hordes of Mid-western opioid addicts launching zombie attacks (instead of another tired joke about Chicago). Perhaps Beyoncé can guest star for some therapeutic Mercedes-Benz smashing.
If you’re confused why it makes total sense to me that women would take the lead in satirizing this administration, Lauren Duca, of gaslight fame, wrote a helpful article this week on how “Donald Trump is living out all the ridiculous stereotypes of a female presidency.” Even though SNL has never really been my cup of tea, I’m inspired by the work of McCarthy and Kate McKinnon (who played Jeff Sessions this week). Allowing women to take these lead roles and have uninterrupted air time cuts deeper than anything Baldwin could ever muster, simply because it’s being done by talented, unapologetic women, who are wronged daily by this administration of anti-feminists. McCarthy’s stone-cold, vengeful Spicey is the kind of conscious-altering satire we need more of these days, and please SNL, please, give us Jones as Trump in earnest.
The End of Indie Rock?
Though ‘indie rock’ has seriously floundered in recent years, I’ve remained hopeful for its eventual return to form — and these hopes have been buoyed by recent releases by the likes of Ariel Pink and Weyes Blood and Julie Byrne, and by solid previews of new music by Mac Demarco and Dirty Projectors.
But perhaps I’m being overly optimistic. In an oddly bookish exchange between Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, the two indie-rock titans discuss the lethargy of contemporary indie rock, and pine nostalgically for a return to the good old days of 2009, when the genre reached its peak with the release of the “Bitte Orca / Merriweather / Veckatimest” trifecta.
Also don’t rly know what counts as “indie rock” these days… like, Whitney, Mac DeMarco, Angel Olsen, Car Seat Headrest? Idk if any of that has “cutting edge” written into the M.O., even if it’s fun to listen to. Feel like everything else that gets covered that’s progressive is in other landscapes, either more commercial ones or less commercial ones.
Unsurprisingly, there was a swift push back against these comments, and the played-out trope of two already established musicians in their thirties complaining about how much better music was in their twenties, and yet the conversation provides much to consider.
Longstreth is also correct. The artists currently pushing the boundaries, and those who are creating what seems like vital, and important music, are operating almost exclusively within the boundaries of soul, R&B, and hip-hop.
For example, leading the way in 2017 are two vocalists who, despite their underground ubiquity in recent years, have only just released their debut solo albums.
The first is Sampha, who, with the release of Process — a stunning and emotionally charged debut album — has finally taken center stage after years of toil in the shadows of stars like Drake, Frank Ocean, and the Knowles sisters. “Sampha’s work is a bit gospel, a bit R&B,” writes Carrie Battan. There’s some classic soul, made to feel modern with synthesizers; there’s experimental electronica, made to feel classic through the use of analog instruments and quiet piano interludes. But he is not often concerned with creating a tangible framework or song structure so much as with evoking a vibe. The future of independent music is a place where drums and choruses are deeply out of fashion.”
The second artist is Syd, formerly of The Internet and Odd Future, whose Fin is a chilled-out mixture of R&B and hip-hop grooves, and “baby-making anthems.” Writes Alex Frank: “This is a demonstrably cool album, but it’s hot when it needs to be, and gay listeners (like myself) will be psyched to have songs that are romantic and sexy but do not belabor the fact that they are sung from one woman to another, manifested by an artist who sounds entirely comfortable with her persona and talent.”
All this begs the question: who will save indie rock?
Blame Domestic Policy, Not Trade Deals
My patience is thinning for organizations that protest trade deals like CETA and the TPP, or, in one special case, protest any new trade deals like the aforementioned but also push the government to improve NAFTA if it’s reopened.
When we talk about Brexit and the US election, many of us on the left have empathized with those who have been left behind by globalization, and, to a greater extent, automation and technological advances. We have failed to adequately retrain workers, repurpose capital, and redistribute wealth to compensate and sufficiently make citizens feel secure about themselves and their families.
Too often left-wing advocates (and Bernie Sanders fans) blame trade deals or even globalization itself for unemployment and dying manufacturing. But, as Simon Tilford argues in a recent piece for the Centre for European Reform, this is not a failure of globalization, it is a profound failure of governments and their policies.
The aforementioned advocates claim that globalization leads to job loss, hurts worker rights, increases drug prices, imposes unreasonable intellectual property rules, and introduces opaque legal processes, etc. However — and I know this is basic but seems to endlessly need restating — trade agreements overall have been responsible for raising income levels around the world, reducing hunger, introducing base level environmental and labour standards, and lowering consumer good prices. Eliminating tariff and nontariff barriers results in greater net exports and greater domestic growth, even as some businesses and individuals will suffer. (This is always going to be true of capitalism: it happens when one business finds a more efficient, less expensive way of making a product and puts another firm out of business; some people lose their jobs, but overall the consumer and the market benefits.) We value social safety nets for this reason, as it helps cushion the blow of direct harm in order to bring overall societal benefits.
I tend to agree with Tilford, that it is government policy, or lack thereof, that has led to the economic disparity and fractured communities we face today. Particularly damaging have been policies that have limited tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals, failed to properly regulate the finance industry, and cut social welfare programs. Raising minimum wages remains contentious.
Actually, that’s a good one to discuss, because businesses protest that raising minimum wages forces them to comply even at the risk of damaging their bottom line, shedding workers and reducing competition. But we all know that overall, since everyone must comply, businesses will adjust, and more disposable income will result in more consumption, which will lead to more jobs, etc. We don’t fight increased minimum wages with inflammatory posters about theoretical job losses, that’s what the other side does. So how is it that we can mentally overcome direct harms for diffuse benefits in one situation, but as soon as other countries are involved (with the exception of NAFTA somehow?) we freak out and become irrationally protectionist. Is anti-free trade rhetoric on the left really anything other than thinly disguised nationalism/xenophobia? At the very least, it is a distraction from addressing the real sources of economic disparity and social anxiety: a failure by national governments to implement progressive taxation, corporate governance and social legislation. Nothing to do with trade deals at all.
Speed Sisters is an Essential Documentary
Speed Sisters is a powerful documentary about the first all-female team of race car drivers in the Middle East. The film was directed by Amber Fares, a filmmaker originally from Alberta who spent years in the West Bank capturing the stories of five women of various backgrounds and histories, united by the gritty the world of drag racing in Palestine.
Like any good sports documentary, Speed Sisters contains excitement, intensity, and humor. And yet, set amidst a pervasive backdrop of military checkpoints, armed soldiers, and concrete border walls, the film is also permeated with tragic themes of captivity, and the draining demands of hopefulness.
Though Fares’s story is not explicitly political — the actual conflict between Israel and Palestine are hardly mentioned — her decision to focus on the struggles and adversity faced by her female characters, and their willful determination to overcome them, acts as a powerful critique of the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. In one particularly moving scene, two of the racers leave the West Bank for the first time in their lives. They reach the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, and, overcome by the limitless beauty of the open sea, they dive in, fully clothed but free.
A low-budget, independent film, Speed Sisters was actually released, to limited audiences, back in 2015. Since then, slowly but surely, the film has amassed an impressive array of critical acclaim, and has been screened in theatres across the world since its release. Just this week, it made its way into The New York Times.
In the wake of Trump’s Muslim ban, and what feels like a resurgence of Islamophobia in the West, it feels imperative to listen to the stories of men and especially women in the Middle East, and of people living in marginalized communities here at home. In 2017, Speed Sisters feels essential.
Rachel Notley Has Faced 431 Security Threats: Previous Five Premiers Faced 36, Combined
“The statistics show that from 2003 to 2015, Alberta sheriffs recorded 55 security incidents involving six premiers.
Nineteen of those came in the last half of 2015, which happened to be current Premier Rachel Notley’s first months in office. At least three of those incidents required police intervention.
In 2016, protection services changed its process of reviewing and monitoring security threats, in part to include more surveillance of social media. That year, 412 incidents were reported involving Notley, 26 of which were forwarded to police as they were deemed to have approached a criminal threshold.”
Borders (What's Up With That?)
Guest Post by Aliya Bhatia
One thing I learned from studying history is that the idea of a coherent or static “national identity” does not really exist. Although invoked regularly by politicians, our favourite athletes, and our patriotic parents, the concept of national identity as something that characterizes a country and informs the actions of elected leaders is largely a misconception. In my lifetime alone, I have seen new nations come into existence (South Sudan, Czech Republic), nations overlooked or unrecognized (Palestine), and nations that form new identities (India and maybe even the United States.)
I was really heartened by reading about this when I was younger. As someone who has lived in six cities across four different countries before the age of thirteen, I’ve always been curious about the notion of identity. At my angstiest, I thought it was stupid. Why should I, or anyone for that matter, align my identity to a nation-state whose existence is fickle?
Perhaps the incoherence of national identity has something to do with the arbitrariness of borders. In What Makes a Border Be, Fariha Roisin—a thoughtful writer and one half of the Two Brown Girls podcast — explores the relationship between identity and borders — both constructs, too nebulous to be nailed down or constrained by walls: metaphysical or not.
“What are borders? Who has defined them, and what defines them?” Rosin asks.
“In the West, settler colonies have created them. And these borders aren’t always physical: France has constructed an excoriating border from Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, the Sudanese and Somalis—all those they colonized and bled red of resources. The border is created with a rhetoric of the savagery of Muslims, as well as a furor of anti-blackness and haine de l’Arabe. France’s Islamophobia is masked in a concern for misogyny, in a championing of cacophonous feminism, when it’s really an Orientalist/escapist hatred; a fear of the unknown, of le sauvage, the brutality with which they’ve painted a thick portrait of the other, of us…Borders aren’t just geographic, they’re economic and racialized, too.”
This piece has helped me understand the arbitrariness of President Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” as accounts proliferated on Twitter of individuals who were stopped that were not Muslim but Zoroastrian, born in Tehran. Or had a parent who was born in Yemen, but were not themselves from there. Or weren’t even from one of the seven countries, but from somewhere like Morocco. Or had merely travelled through one of the seven countries. It’s hardly a surprise that border guards, when confronted with an order that conflates national identity with religious identity for political means, would use it to enlarge their powers. In the process they sow fear and entrap innocent Muslims, non-Muslims, people that look Muslim or have Muslim-sounding names, or that have merely travelled to Muslim countries.
The arbitrariness of the seven countries banned is intentional, as Trump is not attempting to guard the US border against these particular nationals, but against Muslims. All Muslims. It’s politically motivated, informed by self-interest and financial reward (President Trump has holdings in both Saudi Arabia and Indonesia), and intentionally xenophobic.
Roisin’s argument is a timely and eloquent reminder of the difficulties of defining and defending borders, and the fluidity of identity. She ends her piece wistfully, but I read it as a call to arms—it serves as a reminder to me, that as easily as we can construct these borders (or walls), we can (attempt to) deconstruct them.
MOM: 20th Century Women
In 20th Century Women, Annette Bening plays a single mom, Dorothy, who had her only son at 40. As she raises her son, she is faced with the question of “How do you be a good man?”
To tackle this question, she calls upon two women, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning), misfit confidantes and housemates for the family. The two girls help to watch over and guide Dorothy’s son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). They do their best, but their own personal baggage and relationships with Jamie complicate the process.
Through carefully carved out slow tracked shots, director Mike Mills establishes his character studies. It’s one of those movies about the messiness and unpredictability of family life.
Although many of the milestones that Jamie goes through were completely unfamiliar to me, including playing the hyperventilation fainting game or running away from home, the overall themes were still relatable.
The movie also challenges traditional roles of parenthood. One of my favourite dialogues in the movie is when Jamie asks her mom “Do you think you’re happy?”
Instead of a generic deflection, Dorothy asks: “Seriously? Look, wondering if you’re happy, it’s a great shortcut to just being depressed.”
This relationship between mother and son is so often unexplored in films. 20th Century Women highlights this relationship in the midst of many transition points. Jamie is finding his own identity as a teen and is no longer relying on his mom. Set in the late 1970s, it’s also a time of political, cultural, and technological change. Dorothy is rediscovering what it means for her to be a single woman in her mid-50s again.
But ultimately, it’s the exploration into the unsaid thoughts and insecurities we have with each other and ourselves that makes this movie great.
Links From This Week's Thread
Slavery in Quebec: “February is Black History Month. In Quebec, most people are unaware of the black and native slavery in their province’s past. And yet, between 1629 and 1833, there were a reported 4,185 slaves here. Many lived in Quebec City, where they were employed in the homes of wealthy and prestigious families.”
A 5 minute video on Bordier Butter, only the best butter in the world.
Most lawyers fighting Trump’s Muslim ban on the ground are women. This is true about pro-bono and public interest legal work generally: women dwarf men when it comes to pursuing public interest legal careers in both in the United States and Canada.
Thanks to a new decision by the Federal Court of Canada, “[T]here is now a road map for the global removal of search results of content that may be factually correct, but which also implicates the privacy rights of individuals.” Here’s a more detailed discussion of the decision from renowned Canadian privacy lawyer David T.S. Fraser.
Also, gear up for a battle to maintain the Net Neutrality rules put in place by the Obama Administration, and which underpin the democratic character of the Internet.
Canada is in the midst of a full-blown drug epidemic. Andrea Woo explores the options available to policy makers to address the crisis.
The Indian state of Punjab held its most competitive elections in recent memory with three major contenders and a host of social issues on the ballot, including addressing the growing drug epidemic impacting predominantly young men. The Caravan has a fantastic run-down of the campaign, which wrapped up on February 4, 2017. Results will be released on March 11, 2017.