Monthly Archives: June 2012

Tea With Chris: Disorienting Pleasures

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Margaux: B.F. Skinner, the villainized behavioral scientist, is the ghost behind the most recent issue of the Atlantic. I pulled B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” years ago from a random bookshelf scan because I thought the title was funny. All I knew about B.F. Skinner was that, as an experiment, he put his young daughter in a box. The title seemed appropriate for such a man. Though when I read the book, it was surprisingly thoughtful and interesting, and B.F. Skinner kind of seemed more like a friend than a comical monster. Since then, I’ve always had warm feelings towards Principal Skinner, the good-intentioned principle on The Simpsons who continuously gets abused.

The Atlantic‘s headlining article “The Perfect Self” by David H. Freedman is about how B.F. Skinner’s behavioral science is in the lead for the  figuring-out-how-to-combat-obesity race. David H. Freedman reminds us that B.F. Skinner was strongly against punishment in the area of behaviorial modification and that, to date, the most sinister manifestation of his findings is Weight Watchers.

B.F. Skinner’s main theory: “All organisms tend to do what the world around them rewards them for doing. When an organism is in some way prompted to perform a certain behaviour, and that behavoir is ‘reinforced’ – with a pat on the back, nourishment, comfort, money – the organism is more likely to repeat the behaviour,” is echoed in other neighboring  articles.

It’s a challenge to make your own positive behavioral boxes or to spot the boxes that others have put you in. The Atlantic explores some of these puzzles with an Editor’s Note from James Bennet, a short story on the evils of good students desperate for the right awards by Molly Patterson, “Honors Track”, and a short text on “Dumb Kids’ Class” by Mark Bowden, who discusses the benefits of being underestimated. Mark Bowden himself bounced back between dumb and smart class as did I and probably lots of kids do around the age of eleven – as you try to work out which is your more advantageous option (or your teachers try to work out which is their more advantageous option).

I always love  dumb or stupidity as a subject. Like in some of John Currin’s work,

or in this this exceedingly pleasing 2003 documentary by Albert Nerenberg, Stupidity. You can see the full documentary here. If I remember correctly the best parts of it were short interviews with the very few acedemics in the world who study stupidity – attempting to talk about it still seems to be a curse or a taboo, something that can get you in all sorts of trouble. During the interviews, when the academics made any mistakes in speaking, they would look around slowly and cautiously as though someone was about to accuse them of being a moron. Such disorienting pleasures!

Speaking of disorienting pleasures, I just went to the contemporary museum in Bentonville, Arkansas that Alice Walton of the Walmart family founded, Crystal Bridges.

Carl: I am going to use Natalie Zina Walschots’ prose-poem-like “Postcards from the Polaris Prize” (parts One and Two) to help me decide how to fill the final space on my ballot, because they’re the best things the Polaris ever made happen except for the prize itself.

Maybe I will vote for Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life, because Natalie wrote: “David fires a rock at the forehead of Goliath. David is seventeen feet tall and made of marble. David is willing to send a soldier to his death after watching a woman bathe. David is an award-winning environmentalist and broadcaster. David is sometimes called Ziggy Stardust, sometimes the Goblin King. David is married to a Spice Girl. David has been frozen, buried, and locked in a plexiglass case suspended above the River Thames.” Or maybe Marie-Pierre Arthur’s record, because Nat says, ” In every movie that ever brushes against the narrative of a young woman coming-of-age, there is a scene is which she is sitting in the passenger seat of a car, the window rolled down, holding her hand out in the wind like it is a smooth bird.” Though I think that might be a very subtle insult.

This week I discovered Jenny Woolworth’s Women in Punk Blog, which only has a post every four or five months, but one of those posts is an 86-page including interviews with Alice Bag and Liliput, and other posts are entire mixtapes. So quit yer complaining. Also, this is a good list. And so is this. And the Supreme Court didn’t strike down health-care reform, so Happy Canada and/or America Day, or neither if you prefer.

Chris: I’m always reticient to link to my B2TW comrades here, because it can seem a little too incestuous, but Margaux’s Paris Review advice column response to the misguided query “What books impress a guy? What should I read to seem cool, sexy, and effortlessly smart?” was so impious and wise: “The only way to be cool, sexy and effortlessly smart without just being seemingly so is to build your own stupid house of books. Feel free to use all the wrong books in all the wrong ways, but the house really has to be real and you need to know why the house is there, in that specific location, in that specific configuration.”

“I am going to write a poem about using Meryl Streep’s laugh as a ringtone. / I’ve bookmarked an LA Times article from 1989 / in which her giggle eruptions are explored with great amazement. / I’ve tweeted extensively on the tone and timbre of/ each particular laugh.”

Up here Canada Day shares its 24 hours with Pride, a happy coincidence indeed. I’ll be at Shame, wearing a Will Munro pin, and this week Sarah Liss explained why.

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A Tribe Called Red, “Look At This”

Final deliberations over the Polaris Prize shortlist continue this week among hundreds of jurors across the land, including tonight in a “Salon” (read panel discussion) at the Drake in Toronto. One of the discoveries the jury pointed me to this year is A Tribe Called Red, who provide the first convincing instance I’ve heard of aboriginal/electronic-dance-music fusion since the pioneering of Tanya Tagaq and before her, Buffy Sainte Marie. It’s always a mystery to me that, for all Canadian musicians’ cosmopolitan explorations, these sounds remain so obscured in our pop traditions. It might be an understandable hesitation towards exploitation and appropriation (even when native people themselves are the agents, as pow wow sounds are often related to sacred traditions). The history of borrowing and recontextualizing cultures in North American pop music is violently troubling, of course. But it’s also the whole history of North American pop music. So Tribe Called Red and others in this vein right now may propose a dare worth doubling.

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Little Boxes #98: Fog on the Moors

(from Master of Kung Fu #120, script by Doug Moench and art by Gene Day, 1983)

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4Minute, “Volume Up” (2012)

by Chris Randle

Last month I moved for the first time in several years, to Toronto’s Koreatown. I did it because a room in a friend’s place opened up, but there were secondary considerations. The neighbourhood is unsurprisingly full of cheap, satisfying Korean food – three locals recently vowed to eat-critique their way through every restaurant on the strip, including its Subway and lone pizza place – and I’ve found myself sampling a lot of it over the past few weeks, because who wants to cook or do anything else that requires sentience when the temperature gets above 30 degrees?

So lately my dinner is often accompanied by Korean music, some of it in styles very different from the K-pop I’ve become so enamoured with. Traditional court music, folk tunes, the proto-K-pop of trot, they’re playing whether I want it or not. Certain restaurants make their own mixes while others seem to be using satellite radio, but in either case it curtails the xenophilic pop fan’s quasi-colonial ability to sequence whichever global jams they like best. That’s a piquant corrective.

When I heard this track over bulgogi, for a moment I forgot that I already knew it. You don’t come across much alto sax in K-pop – it could’ve been the intro to some old trot single, or indeed a Western one. But confounding expectations is what “Volume Up” does. Before now I mostly associated the five-member girl group 4Minute with standardized electrobosh like “Muzik,” and stampeding trance synths do make a return appearance here. Yet they crescendo just as the saxophone does, producing noises not unlike the whine of straining metal. By the almost-end, during the bridge, those horns are little more than a staccato pulse, yoked to the beat. A sonic symbol of “organic” “sophistication” has been made to sound thrillingly synthetic. I want Dan Bejar to hear it.

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Tea With Chris: Awesome-Terrible-Remarkable

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: Jonathan Bogart enlivens the perennial and somewhat contrived search for a “song of the summer” by listening to singles you probably won’t hear through a car stereo, including Lebanese pop, sweetly understated dancehall and Franco-Nigerian R&B.

Carl: I have spent most of my time on the web this week trying to figure out things about New Orleans, where I was visiting. Mainly I learned that in the future I should go to this amazing-sounding museum, but I missed it this time around. However, I did go to this incredible installation, an interactive set of musical shacks, which will some day be a permanent musical house. It’s closed now but when that happens you should go there. (Find out more in this fine NPR piece about it.) And when you do, the new website My Spilt Milk should be your guide, and you should read these two great books by Ned Sublette about the biblically awesome-terrible-remarkable racial and colonial history that makes it a singular cultural crossroads on the North American continent. Also, have a Sazerac.

Otherwise, I have watched Hollywood goofballs parodying The Bachelor and discovered the (I think now defunct) Tumblr Animals Tweeting as Owen Pallett, e.g., two birds of paradise saying, “Whoa I thought I was being progressive with my hair choices and then I saw that Xavier de Rosnay guy has been doing it ‘for years’.” (Xavier de Rosnay is one of the guys in Justice. I looked it up. You’re welcome.)


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(Belated) Tuesday Musics: Iva Bittova, “Proudem mleka” (“Milk Flow”)

The Czech-Moravian marvel Iva Bittova plays Thursday night at the Rivoli in Toronto, and on Saturday at the Jazz Festival in Ottawa. Seeing her has been scientifically proven to add extra days to your life.

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Little Boxes #97: Black Glove

(cover of Thickness #3 by Edie Fake, 2012)

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Filed under chris randle, comics