Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Sheer Bewilderment of Modern Life

A pal and I recently spent time in the cinema exacerbating our arthritis by gripping our armrests long and hard. Thanks to the magic of 3-D, our senior hearts also got a serious workout courtesy of JJ Abrams’ latest ferociously energetic take on the early days of the crew of the Starship Enterprise in ‘Star Trek, Into the Darkness. In all the excitement I mislaid my eyeglasses, and when I dropped my hearing aid as I put in my ear plugs, I had to ask for the house lights at the movie’s end.

Picking up the cinema's magazine on our eventual way out, I learned that this summer one can choose from about-to-be premiered ‘World War Z(ombie)’, yet another Superman film, Will Smith managing the end of the Earth, and ‘Monsters University’.  As premieres and monsters go, I had already marvelled that day at ‘The Beer Season Premiere, courtesy of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Your Beer Headquarters’, a huge newspaper pullout that gives the term ‘shouting’ a whole new meaning.  I had thought that The Beer Stores in every town were my beer headquarters, but clearly I’m misinformed.

Now that I mention that, I should say I feel a sense of confusion most days around all today’s facts-of-life in entertainment. The leisurely drinkable products of grape and barley, gentle artistic visuals on the big screen and the quiet pleasures of ink on paper between covers, all seem to have become overwhelmed by the blinding white noise of hyperbole. Louder, larger and faster is the norm at a time when many in a steadily aging population are losing the physiological capacity to keep up. The C19th farmer complaining about noisy locomotives spooking his stock, or an early C20th pony and trap owner lambasting the overtaking horseless carriage, would both be struck dumb by the sheer intensity of all that is visible and audible in today’s world. The near-constant sensory overload would soon lead to serious cognitive impairment in any time traveller from even our recent past.

In the near future a provider nearby will bring Google Glass to us all. This computerized eye-wear is already capable of shooting photos, filming video and surfing the internet. Just think, one day in a year or three my friend and I could be watching the Season’s Premiere in the corner of our eyes, as only one of us hangs onto the steering wheel. For once that could be a real advance in entertainment. Those specs should stay on my nose quite nicely…and no doubt Bluetooth the sound direct to my hearing aid.

Monday, June 3, 2013

E Pluribus Unum

All nations seem to have a founding myth.  Sometimes that myth is captured in a national motto. For example, for nations assembled from many tribes, 'Out of many, one people' does for Jamaica and its Latin version 'E pluribus unum', for the US of A. 

Today's Canada has a fairly recently formed national mythology, one created largely by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when in office. It is that we are a multicultural society. Multiculturalism can be defined as: 'The characteristics of a society, city etc. which has many different ethnic or national cultures mingling freely' or as 'political or social policies which support or encourage such coexistence'. A key phrase here is "mingling freely"

In pioneer times, each incoming religious and national group tended to congregate with others of their cohort to clear and farm the wilderness. They wanted to be near a church and later a school that they shared with others of like mind. Each new township contained pockets of one or more of these religious or nationality groups. In the hill country where I live today, it was Presbyterian Scottish Highlanders and Catholic Irish. Today's community names and church denominations often tell us which group settled where. Since these pioneer settlers came mostly from the British Isles or the USA, lifestyle expectations were similar, and, over several generations, formerly important differences in speech, dress and attitude disappeared enough that each group could feel comfortable in the others neighbourhoods. Indeed, they began to 'mingle freely'.
A generation ago it was folk from the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Portugal and Greece, who formed new communities in many of our larger urban centres. Their religion was Christian and, as is typical, these migrants most often came from humble backgrounds. Those that did well emulated the rich back home by building large houses in communities of their own kind. It could take them a lifetime to build and fully furnish their dream. Although their kids may have continued to live at home as grown-ups, as soon as they were married they left the family home, often to live in mainstream society.

In contrast, in our urban areas today most immigration comes from the developing world, especially South and East Asia. The gap between the cultural and religious beliefs of these newcomers and those of the faiths that are already here is much wider than in the settlement period and much of the 20th Century. Those fresh from South Asia usually like to live in multifamily dwellings, for both traditional and economic reasons. What differs from the past is that they often remain that way even when their incomes push them up into the middle-class. In many cases they are buying the over-large houses when the Mediterranean owners sell off, but in large visible minority areas like Brampton down the slope from here, developers are starting to build in multifamily occupancy size and features from the get-go. 

That, and the preference for cultural and religious reasons for these incomers to build and live near a temple of their faith, works against integration and multicultural intermingling with others, especially in non-working hours. Customs differ in more ways than has ever been the case before. Tolerance for littering and noise, differences in recreational and holiday preferences, definitions of what is neighbourly or not, tastes in house and garden decorating, clothing expectations and modes of interpersonal address are just a few. 

Significant cultural difference that endures past the first generation usually changes the surrounding retail environment to serve a customer base that can have needs markedly different from when European immigration was the norm. While Governments today spend a lot of money on integration programmes fostering understanding of Canadian life, at the same time they fund cultural meeting places and ethnic language classes for our many new nationalities. Because it is a relatively recent social policy approach, multiculturalism's success in creating 'one nation out of many' is still moot. We could eventually see 'one nation, many ghettos' where folk in general are not engaging in that intermingling and common viewpoint that would seem essential to the creation of E pluribus unum.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

‘War ina Babylon’ in the Summer of 64

War inna Babylon, tribal war inna Babylon

A wha' you seh, it sipple out deh

So wha' fe do? We slide out deh, oh yeah*

Like most young men of the 20th Century I wanted a motorbike. Shortly after I was born, Ferdinando Innocenti started up a factory in Milan to produce a type of modified motorcycle called a Lambretta motor scooter. By the 1960s the motor scooter had come to be the two-wheeled vehicle of choice for those of us ‘modernist’ European teenagers subscribing to the view of all things cool later typified by the album and film Quadraphenia. My Lambretta-riding buddies and I thought of ourselves as Mods. Mods were into fashion and the new Liverpool Sound, R&B and Soul, along with Ska from Jamaica. When riding we wore parkas with hoods trimmed in ‘wolf’ fur (from a coyote). The side panels of our metal steeds were dipped in silver paint and shiny chrome bars installed with a mass of gleaming mirrors.

This was all to look as different as possible from the other big youth tribe of that time, the much despised Rockers, with their traditional Triumph or BSA motorcycles, old-fashioned black leather outfits, and outdated love of 50s Rock ’n’ Roll. In stark contrast to his rivals’ greasy pompadour, a Mod male had his hair in the close cropped ‘Claude Francois’ style - a precise half inch at the front rising to two inches at the back. He dressed up in suits. His Dolly Bird wore the bowl-shaped coiffure and long dresses of Soul star Cilla Black from Liverpool.   

A good time for us Mods was a ride to one of the seaside towns to meet up with our fellow fashion hounds. I was working one summer at a night club in a popular rental trailer park on the coast at Hastings, when on the August Bank Holiday weekend Rockers chose that town to rendezvous. By late Friday night, bikes by the thousand were spread all across the hilly Downs behind. On the earlier May long weekend that same year, a giant rumble between Mods and Rockers in nearby Brighton had spilled east into what had found infamy as the ‘Second’ Battle of Hastings.

My hairdo and high-fashion clothes would be a dead giveaway. My brother on his Lambretta had barely dodged a pack of bikers determined to take him out. Though tall, I was weedy and so badly frightened. I rushed to hide my Model 150D in a thick hedge, and mussed my expensive coiffure when pulling pints in the bar. By ducking down whenever any longhairs hove into view, and skulking in my trailer when not at work, I managed somehow to stay incognito.

Though the ruckus in Babylon that Summer of 64 was truly scary, the craven among us made it safely through.

*War Ina Babylon by Max Romeo/Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry