Tea With Chris: Room Enough

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: Norm MacDonald and The Fantastic Four. Oh my god, this audio clip is so good – especially if you’ve ever had to write a press release with your friends and have gotten into fights over adjectives.  I heard an audio track play while my player was on repeat – so I heard it about 5 times in a row. I’m still happy about that. You can listen here for free here (comes with a video in this version), or buy it here.

Speaking of Norm MacDonald, Amy Lam and Jon McCurley of Life of Craphead made a Rhizome Commision proposal with Steph Davidson, it’s called Mall-Titanic and it’s a finalist! I don’t know if any of those words are real, and there was something about voting that might have passed, but if you need more after the Fantastic Four, head over here straight away.

I don’t know if this is real either.  14-year old-girl refusing to have breast implants. “She works hard at school and dreams of going to university one day”.

Speaking of girls, I was thinking about Lena Dunham’s show Girls because it’s great. But also because I keep hearing people compare her show sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a dueling manner to my friend Sheila Heti’s book How Should a Person Be? I guess because they both have women as main characters and because they take from life (and perhaps too because people sometimes have a hard time grasping an artist’s ability?? a woman’s ability?? to competently cast themselves as their own villains). But to me, it sounds as fruitful as comparing Woody Allen to Kafka. There is room enough in the world for both Woody Allen and Kafka, and room enough for Lena Dunham and Sheila Heti.  Made me think of when Toronto newspapers kept comparing poor old Atom Egoyan to David Cronenberg as though in a deathmatch just because they were the only two big guns in town. There is room enough for two big guns. I just read Lena Dunham’s post in the New Yorker about Nora Ephron and Ephron’s gifts and generosities towards another artist in the director’s last year. Colleagues make the world go around. Would be a lonely (and slightly stupider) business being a lonely gun.

Carl:This being the week of true patriot love on both sides of the border, I can’t help loving the premise of this Tumblr, CanCon: 49th-Parallel Pop, whose mission I think would be best defined as discussing the most essential inessential Canadian music, “the regionally isolated strains of pop created and sustained by the effects of … Canadian content regulations.” So be prepared for the likes of X-Quisite (maple-flavoured Destiny’s Child) and the Moffats (Hanson in toques). The extent to which it is either a critique or a celebration of nationalist cultural regulations is appropriately mysterious.

To give equal time to our American friends, this canon of weirdo heroes inspires a star-spangled sigh or 50.

In a similar vein, the very fine critic Katherine St. Asaph’s summertime Tumblr project is to explore that most baffling and critically overwhelming archive of human creativity, the 45,000-artist Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA), which represents an era of both the Internet and “underground” music that has fallen below the cultural horizon. I’m excited to follow her spelunkings.

One of Katherine’s guidelines for her project is that she will not be doing any negative reviews, because “it’s pretty damn useless to shit on probably-obscure music that’d been all but nonexistent online for years. It is easy not to listen to any of these artists and hard to decide which to listen to.” The Canadian poet, philosopher and critic Jan Zwicky recently made a related argument for never doing any negative reviews, in an essay that has inspired some negative reviews of its own (though none of them good enough to link to, as far as I’ve seen so far). I have some extensive disagreements with that premise – while negativity should never be the goal of a review in itself, restricting the conversation to celebration is to impoverish critical thinking, I’d say. When thinking about poetry (aside from perhaps a few superstars), or the IUMA, Zwicky’s point seems exactly right, but when something is either already highly praised, or part of mass or p­opular culture, there can be a lot of value in disputing over it. That said, her essay is a potent testimony for why to hesitate at that threshold and against the self-flattery of critics who imagine they are somehow the guards against the barbarians at the gate – whenever you begin to imagine that, the odds are the barbarian is you.

Chris: I was moved and heartened this week by a message from the young R&B singer Frank Ocean, its own little declaration of independence. Describing the unrequited love he once had for another man, he declined to identify simply as gay or even bisexual, expressing desires that are, like his best songs, more complicated and mercurial. The measured yet guileless emotion there is beautiful, as is the language that perhaps unconsciously evokes secret queerness of decades past: “a peculiar friendship.” Dream Hampton and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd gave his post the sensitive attention it deserves, and Brad Nelson gave it a kind of soundtrack.

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