A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BOOK:
While a lot of people take it for granted, the book as a proper, commercial item per se is relatively a new thing. A whole host of things contributed to the rarity and scarcity of the book prior to around 1450, almost all of them having to do with the actual creation of the thing. Until moveable type, you essentially just had scribes (typically monks), copying over texts. These were rare and usually only owned by individuals who were rich enough to commission such a thing (imagine today, for example, hiring someone to copy out, illustrate, and bind by hand The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or A Song of Ice and Fire or whatever — that wouldn’t be cheap, even today). In the mid fifteenth century, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized printing with his moveable type — suddenly, printing became, well, easy to do. And while it still wasn’t incredibly cheap, it was possible for less rich and influential people to read their own books. While Gutenberg and the press were met with scorn, it’s hard to deny that he improved the printing world for the better.
THE CHAPTERS EFFECT
With that context, taking a look at the big box book retailers Chapters or Barnes and Noble can be a useful exercise. While book sales saw a dip in the mid 2000’s, the situation was nowhere near as dire as the music industry. With the proliferation of big box retailers, in fact, book sales have gone up. There are two important things to note regarding that, however:
1) Chapters/B&N/etc have caused the shutdown of small bookstores. On the one hand, were you the type to frequent an independent bookstore (unlike myself), and were you the type to get all of your book recommendations there, this is certainly bad.
As a rule, small businesses, though they typically get less revenue than the big ones, tend to pay better and have better benefits for employees. This might be something that’s important to you or might not. The fact is that it’s impossible to deny that smaller retailers are hurt by larger ones. Whether or not you agree with the concept of big box stores itself is another matter, of course. On the one hand, they tend to be great for consumers (better selection, prices) and incredibly lucrative. On the other, they’re bad for employees and death for competition.
2) Chapters/B&N/etc have in some ways hurt publishers. Big box retailers can afford to get books for cheaper from wholesalers (and to, because of their dominant position, force publishers to acquiesce to which they wouldn’t normally), which means per book, the publisher makes less money. Add in the fact that the larger chains can print their own books and not rely on a third party altogether, and you have some upset publishers. While the profits in the book industry the last few years have been going up, the overall percentage going towards publishers has diminished. Considering the fact that authors are typically at the bottom of the totem pole, typically getting shafted in the revenue department, that’s not good for them, either. But, again, given that publishers routinely screw their writers, it’s hard to get upset when their profit margins are down.
THE UPSIDE… AND WHY TWILIGHT IS AWESOME:
Personally, I dislike stores like Chapters and Barnes & Noble. As a book nerd, I don’t like the idea that small, mom and pop bookstores are getting shut down, and the idea that someone named “Heather” down at Chapters HQ is picking out books for the masses gives me an uncomfortableness. It bugs me that I can walk into a Chapters and find a Kids section that rivals a Toys “R” Us or that I can get a Doublemochafrappachinotwopumpcaramelonepumpmintovericeplease (in a venti, which is Italian for twenty, because of how fancy this coffee is) while I’m deciding which piece of gimmicky stationary I want (though, to be honest, I got a bunch of really neat Christmas presents for family there!). But, this is the most important thing in the world to me: these stores get people to read. I’m going to be honest: the staff at the local bookstores I go to are next to useless, are snobby, and typically don’t know what they’re talking about. They seem to see themselves as guardians of an elite font of knowledge, that only the most qualified people should have access to. And it’s bullshit: knowledge should be for everyone. If everybody on the planet was literate and read a book a year, even if it’s Dan Brown or Charlaine Harris or Tom Clancy or J. K. Rowling, the world would be a better place.
Consider this: one out of every three high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, 42% of college graduates never read another book after college, 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year, 70% of US adults have not been inside a bookstore in the last five years, and (the least surprising for me, actually), 57% of new books are never read to completion (see more stats here). With numbers like that, anything that gets people to read more is a positive thing. Which is why booksnobbery is one of the worst things in the world. There is nothing wrong with Twilight. I’ve never read any of the novels and very likely never will, but every single art object has value. Maybe the literary content of Twilight isn’t that great, but surely there is something to be gained, and surely there is some value in just reading for reading’s sake. Say what you will about J. K. Rowling, but she got millions of kids to do something that many hadn’t done unless forced to — she got them to read a book. Booksnobbery, i.e., only reading critically acclaimed books because it makes you feel smarter, isn’t so great. I read often — I wrote my English honours essay on a late-nineteenth / early-twentieth century autobiography, a book that is rarely taught in schools and when it is, usually in the form of a single chapter. Despite that, the last ten or so books I’ve read have either been written by George R. R. Martin, or had “Star Wars” somewhere in the title. Reading for reading’s sake is just good for you, whether it’s “pulp” or literary gold.
Which is what certain publishing houses seem to be catching on to. They release e-books at lower prices than their physical counterparts and make them easy to access. While Amazon/B&N/Chapters etc all have different rules and so on regarding the use of the thing you have bought, it remains pretty similar. The fact is that it is terribly easy to pirate books: find a .torrent, copy and paste onto your device’s drive (this may vary from unit to unit, certainly), and you’re set. But on the other hand, it is incredibly easy to buy them legally, especially when your typical ebook is just a couple of dollars, if that. And people are paying and eReaders are getting more and more popular. Add in self-publishing and the amount of control certain companies (I’m thinking of Amazon) give authors to self-publish, and what you have is a new kind of book industry: the books are all there still, but publishers are being edged out. And this, I think, is where a lot of the opposition to eReaders comes from: the publishing industry industry itself. eReaders edge out the big box retailers (which themselves edged out small bookstores, so it becomes hard to feel sorry for B&N having to close its doors or whatever) and publishers, and put eBook distributors like the kindle store in their place. Good for readers, bad for everyone else, I guess.
THERE ARE BRICKS, BUT NO TEMPLES
Reading is awesome. As someone who reads regularly, there are very few things I find more satisfying. I like it when people read. I don’t care if it’s Stephanie Meyer or Charlaine Harris or Emily Brontë or Oscar Wilde or J. K. Rowling or Stephen King or Chuck Palahnuik or whoever — just as long as they’re reading, I’m happy. Reading is power, after all. Ignoring the fact that Wikipedia is, well, written by a tight-knit group of contentious self-aggrandizing pedants, the core goal of making knowledge accessible to everyone is incredibly noble. Opening up knowledge by making books so very accessible is noble, too. eReaders and their producers aren’t without their faults, of course, and just as how we’re critical with the publishing industry with its price gouging, we should be conscientious about Amazon and remember that even if their goals are altruistic, money — and lots of it — is at stake, and so we should be careful.
At the end of the day, we also have to remember that reading is, at its core, about the reader. One’s reaction to characters in literature, such as Darcy in Pride and Prejudice or Grand Admiral Thrawn in the awesome Thrawn Trilogy set in the Star Wars Universe, is, in a sense, one’s reaction to oneself. Reading is a mostly introspective act: sure, you’re reading something else and maybe you’re talking to other people about it and so on, but at the end of the day reading is an experience or a journey. It’s an act of self-discovery. Sure you learn things about other things, but how you react to what you read is incredibly telling. Reading is always about the reader, and that’s a good thing.
Reading isn’t about the publisher, or the author, or the thing you’re reading on. It really is about the reader. Writing, as a profession, isn’t at risk. While writing is relatively new, storytelling has been around forever. It will always be around. The fearmongering that you hear, that you need to support your local bookstore or that every time you buy a kindle a cat dies, is missing the point, I think. We should be somewhat careful about what we read, of course, and avoid stupid revisionism and egotistical gangsterism, but at the end of the day, reading is about the reader: reading for reading’s sake should be the goal.
As an English major, a writer, and someone who has been reading prodigiously for years, the issue of art and what is art is an issue particularly close to my heart. I’ve found, from my own experience, that the field is wide-open. The simplest explanation, I think, is that when an object is meant to inspire thought (or even lack of thought, I guess), that object can be considered an art object. Clearly what that object can be to be an art object is practically limitless. For example, Seoul’s “The Cloud” can be considered art. It is designed to be functional, certainly, but one cannot deny it holds an aesthetic beauty and inspired considerable philosophical thought from some (and thoughtless outrage from others). It can be ridiculously easy to consider just about anything art, from this perspective. A very simplistic tower, in contrast to The Cloud, could inspire thought about austerity or modernity or even man’s inability to copy nature or whatever. In the visual arts, a happy face on a canvas or a single black line or even a blank canvas can be considered art. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t or can’t judge art (“good” art, “bad” art), but that we should keep in mind both what is art and that very frequently, what we consider to be good or bad art is completely arbitrary. Some of the greatest art from the medieval era of painting, for example, was commissioned by nobility and was described by them to the exact detail: because it is strictly commercial and because what we consider to be creativity isn’t of huge importance, do we not consider it art? Do we only consider it art if x number of dollars have gone into its production, or if the artist spent y hours of time? These are all very important questions, and I guess when it comes to art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I think restricting what is art is negative and leads to elitism of the worst kind.
Given all this, I was pleased to read Tycho’s take on the thing over at Penny-Arcade:
I don’t think I’ve ever read a definition for art that wasn’t stupid. Generally speaking, when a person constructs a thought-machine of this kind, what they’re actually trying to do is determine what isn’t art. I have always been white trash, and will never cease to be so; what that means is that I was raised with an inherent distrust in the Hoity and a base and brutal urge to dismantle the Toity. This is sometimes termed anti-intellectualism, usually by intellectuals, when what it is in truth is an opposition to intellect for intellect’s sake. The reality is that what “is” and “isn’t art” is something we can determine with a slider in our prefrontal cortex.
If this thought-machine had any purpose other than to create a world with less art, I could cut it some slack. But it doesn’t. Its entire purpose is to rarify art, controlling expression thereby. The aperture must be cinched, and quickly, before someone creates a cultural product without elite imprimatur. Its effete and its fucking disgusting.
I would of course argue that art is a thought-machine, itself. Art is, or should, or can, or might, allow us to view the world from a certain perspective (or no perspective at all). Art is, or can be, or might be, an expression of an idea (that idea, at times, being art). Whether or not that idea is beneficial, or useful, or unique, or anything like that, is a different issue (and perhaps not an issue at all). It becomes so hard to draw a dividing line that it is pointless to do so.
One of the biggest drivers seems to me the intentionality and even authenticity of the piece of art. Regarding authenticity (which itself is such a nebulous term, only by taking it at face value with only the most cursory examination is it useful as an adjective), art that is made for the express purpose of making money, for example, is not considered art by some. This would, for those that hold that view, exclude such things as Harlequin romances. By that same token, however, do we then exclude movies and video games and TV shows automatically, or do we take it for granted that the creators are simply trying to tell a story rather than make money, whereas pulp novels written a dime a dozen are less about story and more about dollars. But, given that we know in today’s day and age at the very least anything that is created that can be considered art can be commercialised, where can we even begin to draw the line?
Regarding intentionality, what does it matter what the artist thought? I’m an artist in that what I create is intended to have some aesthetic value and is meant to impart some kind of message and impart some kind of thought. An interpretation of how I write, for example, is useful but why I write it, my intentionality, is much less so. My intentionality is useful in terms of my argument, of course, but in terms of any sort of aesthetic appreciation it becomes next to useless. A great example that always comes to mind is one from an English course I took a year or two ago. Reading Edgar Allan Poe, the issue of intentionality popped up (as it did in a discussion on Henry James some weeks earlier). When the professor asked us what we thought the author thought, I stated that I didn’t care what the author thought and that it doesn’t matter what he thought, what matters is what we think his art is expressing. In this sense, the artist is kind of a hero. He, or of course she, has the potential to harness a brilliant idea and spill it out on canvas or paper fresco or .doc, but once they leave the picture, what they thought ceases to be of great import. They can interpret their own art, and we can take that as being important or relevant or helpful (in that they may be an authority and in that any interpretation can be helpful), but we certainly don’t have to take it for gospel.
I think that when philosophy ceases to be useful for mankind and begins to be useful only for philosophy, we may be missing the point. I don’t mean to be like some douchebag first-year philosophy major who walks into a bar and says what… is? like some pocket Rousseau. Sure, what is is an important question if we’re talking about what it is to be sentient, or to think, or to just be. But the goal should be to come up with a practical set of ground rules, or to at least recognize that we don’t have a practical set of ground rules, and what is and isn’t art varies from day-to-day based on current sociopolitical thought, market trends, education levels, and even the weather. More importantly, I think, we should be more mindful and more critical of thought itself. We should assess and evaluate not just what is art, but why it is art and why we think it is art.
But limiting what is art with bullshit elitism is probably not the way to go.
It’s that time of year. Lights are getting strung up all over town, stores are offering longer and longer hours and ridiculous sales. It means more traffic (and more accidents, naturally), more dollars draining from your account, and more and more of those mall weirdos who spend more time arguing with sales clerks and taking up spots in lines than actually buying things.
It also means more strife between those politically correct folks who insist on “Happy Holidays” (the word “holiday” itself originating as “holy-day”, referring to a religious festival day, from as far back as 950AD [OED]), and those who insist on “Merry Christmas” (or, if you’re a weirdo, “Happy Christmas”), with the Christmas camp often getting as far divided as to argue that “Merry Xmas” is inappropriate (despite “X” being the Greek abbreviation for “Christ” and often appearing in Latin and Greek depictions of Christ).
Myself, as a bit of an agnostic, and am ambivalent about the whole thing. On the one hand, the holiday I am celebrating is Christmas; on the other, I’m also celebrating the New Year, too.
Christmas is, ostensibly, more a cultural celebration than a religious one, especially in certain regions of Canada and the US. Myself, I haven’t stepped foot in a church all year or prayed once, so for me, it’s even further removed from Christianity. For me, Christmastime is spending time with your loved ones, buying them presents, and putting up a tree. Christ never really enters into it. The argument can be made that given the origins of America and Canada, Christmas is an integral part of our history and that is reflected today; that while it is a “religious” celebration, given its cultural importance it is ok for us to get the day off like at Eastertime (even though the state shouldn’t be designating which holy days we get off of work). I mean, the act of buying a tree and giving out presents and cards and so on is hardly mandated in the bible. One only needs to compare Christmas in one part of the world with Christmas in another to see that the way people feel Christmas should be celebrated varies from place to place, making it a distinctly cultural celebration with an obviously strong religious background.
But I do think that is where everything breaks down. Christmas is a non-religious celebration until Christ becomes a central figure in it. When you call for people to “Keep Christ in Christmas”, you are asking them to recognize the birth of the saviour of mankind in your religion.
It is hilarious, then, when people declare that there is a “war on Christmas”. especially when December 25 is a statutory holiday. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, for example, there is a large Hindu population. Yet (no shock), Diwali is not a statuatory holiday. Neither is Hanukkah, Eid Al-Adha, or Festivus. Holidays in Canada vary, but any holidays that do correspond with religious holidays correspond with Christian ones. I mean, we commemorate the birth and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, for crying out loud, and we typically get the day off (or we get paid extra).
So here are the only reasonable courses of action:
- Commemorate other holidays: get a better, more even distribution of religious holidays in the mix.
- Get rid of paid holy days: that’s it.
- Acknowledge that Christmas/Easter/whatever are days that are culturally significant: and allow people to celebrate their day of culture off in whatever fashion they please, even if that means not buying a Christmas tree or presents or going to church.
- Keep Christ in Christmas: and argue that even though it is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the government does have the right to establish a national religion.
Celebrate Christmas however you want… just try not to be a grinch. If you want to go to Church, do it. If you want to buy a tree and put tinsel on it, whatever. If you want to go to work and get extra pay, whatever. But don’t try to press your religion on others by insisting that they celebrate your holiday your way. That’s just not in the spirit of Christmas.
Humble Indie Bundle 4 is out. Do it up, good games, good prices, good charities, etc. Plus, if you’re an awful human being, you can pay like $0.01 or something (or nothing at all!)
Dave Banks AKA GEEK DAD has a humorous post about why Skyrim is ruining the economy. Most of his points are true, and I find it lamentable that aside from Dungeons of Dredmor, which I only play when my girlfriend has stolen Skyrim from me, is the only game other than Skryim I’ve played since, well, Skyrim was released. Read it, laugh, share it, etc.
There’s something you
need to already know. You are the single most important person on the planet. Check this out:
Tell me what you see in that image up there. Almost everybody, it’s some lame quadrangle filled in with grey or some stupid colour. For you, it’s, well, a mirror. And who is in the reflection? You.
I know, I know, you’re smarter, more important, more unique, and probably more attractive than everyone else out there, so this is kind of a waste of time. I’m some halfwit, some rube not worth your time. But please, bear with me. I present to you, oh great one, a list of ways to let everyone in the world know how important you are.
Cut ahead in line:
This, for you, is a no-brainer. Ok, so picture this. You’re waiting in a line, maybe in your car, maybe on foot, whatever. And there’s another line beside the line you want to be in. But that line goes somewhere else. Maybe it’s an actual line for some shitty thing you don’t want (because you’re so smart) or a left turn lane that goes down an alley. Who cares. What matters is this: get in that fucking line, go right to the front, then sneak back into the original line. Everyone would do it if they were as clever as you!
Take up two (or more) seats wherever you are:
Fact: Sitting is great. Other fact: You’re you. Whether you’re waiting at the bank, hospital, or sitting on a bus, make sure to take up more than one seat. Legs tired? Put ’em up (even if your feet are dirty, fuck it). Don’t want to put your bag on the ground (because, fact, floors are dirty)? Put it right beside you. You’re so important that anything you own, by proxy, is only slightly less important than you, making your backpack, purse, iPhone, or shopping bag about ten times more important than the next Steve Jobs were he to be the son of Barack Obama and Pope Benedict. That’s super important.
Don’t smile, say hello to, or even look at strangers:
Fact: you’re awesome. Other fact: that other person isn’t. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is or whatever, anyone who so much as makes eye contact with you is probably a pervert. Don’t say hi or extend any other courtesy. If they’re behind you and you’re going through a door, don’t hold it for them, either. That’ll just encourage them.
You’re always right:
You know that expression, “the customer is always right?” Guess who the customer is. That’s right, you. It doesn’t matter where you are (courthouse, shopping mall, public street), you’re in charge. If some cash register monkey refuses to take your return, tell him to go fuck himself and throw a fit. If you accidentally scratch your phone or whatever days, weeks, shit even months after buying it, call the person you bought it from and tell them it came like that. They’re morons anyway, they’ll probably believe you. If you forget to pay your phone bill or just want a lower rate, call up your provider and tell them what idiots they are. They’re obligated to cut you a deal. You’re you, after all.
CRANK UP THE TUNES:
There are a few things you already know that I should repeat just because it is so very important: wherever you are, make sure you’re there with your music. You have an iPhone for a reason, so make sure you’re pumping the latest Lady Gaga or Katy Perry as loud as you fucking can. If you can override the volume limiter, do it. If you don’t have headphones, don’t be a bitch: just play it through your loudspeaker. Anyone who doesn’t like your music is a clown, and they don’t matter, anyway. Library, bus, public park: the world is your concert hall.
Use language barriers to your advantage:
Pretend you don’t speak the language in your area (bonus points if you don’t actually speak it, and extra bonus points if you have intentionally not bothered to learn the lingua franca because you don’t respect the individuals residing in the place that you are currently in enough to try). Speak slowly, repeat yourself over and over, and be sure to blame any perceived defects in your character on your rich cultural values.
Don’t be a doormat:
There are two kinds of people in this world: doormats and you. A doormat is something you wipe your feet on. Make sure to treat everyone you meet like a doormat. They’re not you, after all.
Cut people off when you’re driving:
This is like the first point, except a little different. You know how when you’re driving and the lane beside you turns into a merge lane? Well fuck that asshole trying to get ahead of you. Cut him off, even if he’s been waiting for awhile. Only morons merge. Conversely, take full advantage of the merge lane. Drive up that fucking thing as far as you can and swerve right into traffic.
Don’t use your turn signal:
What are you, french? Don’t waste your time with that bullshit. Send Miranda that text about how Seamus was being a total dick last night instead.
I know, I know, there are loads of other things I neglected to mention. But as long as you follow this skeleton list of things to do, you should be fine. Because always, always remember:
You’re smarter, more important, and more unique than everyone else — so act like it!
After some conversations with folk online and off, I’ve had some time to think about MVRDV’s “The Cloud” project in Seoul, South Korea. I’d like to come at it with a certain angle, though, so I’ll start with this.
Since the end of World War II, Germans going through school are taught in almost excruciating detail about the Holocaust and Germany’s complicity in it. No one’s feelings are spared, and German students are reminded time and time again, not that “those Nazis” did this (in the way we, as non-Germans are taught that), but that “we” did this. The nation of Germany, which until 1871 wasn’t a nation in any true sense of the word (and after WW2 and until the fall of Berlin wall was again, a fractured nation), has taken full-on responsibility for the Holocaust and are properly commended for this. The victors write history, after all, and in the world’s history books, Germany was most certainly in the wrong.
But within the last generation or so, something interesting has begun to happen in Germany. German students are beginning to openly express frustration over what is still seen as their complicity in the Holocaust. Most superficial scholars of history paint all of Germany in one colour and as the nation that killed six million Jews and was lead blindly by Adolf Hitler in a mad bid to conquer the planet. Now imagine being a young German in Germany today: from a young age until the day you die, you’re constantly reminded of your nation’s shame and constantly told to carry that burden, even though you weren’t around in WW2 and your parents might have even been Holocaust victims themselves. Though my experience clearly pales in comparison to just about anyone else’s tale of discrimination, I have several times in my life been accused of being a Nazi or even Hitler himself on account of my German heritage. The accusation has nothing to do with fact, but it is still one made because of the actions of men long dead who I had nothing to do with.
So it is understandable that Germans want to move on. Every other year it seems there is either another Holocaust movie or a film that jokes about Germany and their complicity in that war. Whether it’s Schindler’s List, Inglorious Basterds, or even that Fawlty Tower’s sketch from so long ago, Germans are constantly reminded that even Oskar Schindler, who is the protagonist and ostensible hero of Schindler’s List, was still a German complicit in the Holocaust and despite what he did for the Jews, there’s always a notion that he could have done more or that he was just motivated by profit. To some extent, Germans deserve to carry the shame of WW2 (as Angela Merkel recently confessed in an address in Israel), and again, to Germany’s credit, they have done a damn fine job of rooting out anti-semitism and racism in Germany to the point that collecting Nazi memorabilia, a social faux pas but source of interest for many enthusiasts in the world, is illegal in Germany, many European countries, and even eBay. And while one could argue that to ban Nazi memorabilia is to pretend it doesn’t exist and to, in a sense, rewrite history, Germany at least deserves a ton of credit for the burden their youth have to carry for the sins of their grandfathers. And while poking fun at Germans for their complicity (and even poking fun at the Holocaust itself) has gotten a bit more in vogue in mainstream culture, for some it remains wildly inappropriate (and, well, fair enough).
I think another example that (perhaps) is closer to home is the subject of Native Americans and colonialism. It goes without saying that in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, etc), Europeans showed up to North America and began killing its inhabitants. I mean, to be frank the destruction caused by the colonization of North America was genocide, whether you’re talking about giving out smallpox-infested blankets or declaring war on them for encroaching on the land you stole from them. I would hate to be a Native American living in North America because of the systematic discrimination you face on a daily basis.”The white man”, to be non-PC, has been raping Native Americans since day one, and government policy to this day still discriminates against Native Americans.
But like young Germans in Germany today, at what point do we say, o”k, we’re sorry, now let’s move on”? I, personally, had nothing to do with the European conquest of North America, and I think very few of my readers did as well. The argument can be made that our presence is just a reminder of that, or we contribute to it daily, or whatever, but I don’t make my living or spend my spare time oppressing Native Americans — but every day, by virtue of my whiteness, I’m reminded of what we did to them. In British Columbia especially, every major public funding announcement or building construction (or even on occasion, university lecture), we begin with the almost cursory declaration that “we acknowledge that we are on Unceded Coast Salish territory“. It is necessary, in BC, for us to begin by acknowledging that the only reason we’re standing where we’re standing is because we stole the ground we’re standing on. It can go beyond that. Take for example the recent Missing Women’s Inquiry here in BC, which was an investigation into why police forces didn’t do more to investigate the disappearance of women, the majority of whom were street people and/or native. The thing began with a prayer from a first nations elder. Sure, it is somewhat appropriate maybe, but they likely would have caught hell if they prayed to Allah or Christ. One just has to Google “unceded coast salish territory” to be bombarded with public shamings, ranging from press releases that begin with “VANCOUVER, Unceded Coast Salish Territory” or speeches from the government recognizing that this bridge/bank/park/convention centre/whatever is on unceded Coast Salish territory. It manifests itself in crazy ways, such as renaming the Queen Charlotte Islands (named after a boat named after Queen Charlotte) the Haida Gwaii or the recent proposal to rename Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC (named after the same Stanley for which the Stanley Cup is named) to Xwayxway. To me, the constant platitudes we lob towards Natives (as though renaming a bunch of islands people fish off of to Haida Gwaii is going to undo centuries of oppression) is insulting to both parties. At some point, whether we’re talking about The Crusades or the Crucifixion of Christ or Japanese internment camps in WW2 or genocide in Germany and in North America or Pearl Harbour or, well, 9/11, eventually we have to forgive and move on, maybe.
My point with “The Cloud” thing was several-fold: firstly, what you see is what you see. Everyone sees something different when they look at the world. Perception is inherently flawed, and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As a mundane example, I have major astigmatism in my left eye and minor in my right. While I can function just fine without glasses, the world does appear to me a bit different without glasses or contacts. You can look at an ink blot and see a man with a knife or look at a cloud and see a bunny: that’s perception. And, when it comes to perception, you can’t be told you’re wrong to some extent. What you see is what you see. If you see a ghost, you might be crazy or you may need to make a phone call, but the undebatable fact is that you saw x. If you look at The Cloud and see the World Trade Centre towers engulfed in flame, that is what you see. That may not be what the designers intended, but that’s what you saw. Language obviously has a huge role in what you see: had I (or anyone else) just posted the picture sans words, you may not have “seen 9/11”. As it stands, I introduced the buildings as having that appearance. It’s like lawyer-speak: the difference between did you see that car? and did you see that blue car run that red light? are two very similar yet very different questions that, by the nature of their formation, imprint information into the mind of the person receiving the question.
My second point was, isn’t it interesting that North Americans instantly see 9/11 in these buildings? I am sure that people from Norway or Spain or Australia or China or South Korea or Zimbabwe or England would be more likely to see something different. As it stands, I think it would be very interesting to take the picture and present it to various people of various ethnicities, living in various jurisdictions, and asking them what they see, because I guarantee you, people from different regions are likely to see different things. My girlfriend (an American) instantly saw the WTC buildings. As a Canadian, I did not instantly see them but after I read an opinion piece saying that’s what they look like (and S. Korea et al were being insensitive, etc), I saw it. And I think by virtue of the fact that 9/11 is a bigger deal in America than it is in Canada (though many in Canada still recognize 9/11 with a moment of silence), and obviously a bigger deal in America than it is in South Korea or Iran or North Korea or Taiwan or the Ukraine, Americans are more likely to see 9/11 than any other nationality. Again, I don’t have any scientific evidence, but to suggest otherwise is to argue that nationality has nothing to do with one’s perception, which seems easily debatable.
Thirdly and finally, and this is why I opened with a thousand or so words talking about tragedy and it’s evolution, at what point can we, as a society, move on? Let’s assume that x% of Americans, when seeing the picture up top, “see 9/11”. In ten years, will that percentage go up and down? In twenty, thiry, forty — when will people not see 9/11? Three weeks after 9/11, Gilbert Gottfried famously complained that he attempted to catch a flight but couldn’t get a direct flight because “they said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” He was heckled, and though he won back the crowd, took a lot of flack for his joke. Holocaust jokes, Nazi jokes, Native jokes, and jokes about 9/11 are OK in some circles, but obviously not in others. I ended on “Too soon?”, if only because, well, when isn’t it too soon?