Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Budweiser and buses

First off, I'd like to comment on the Superbowl ad Budweiser rolled out. Cute flight attendants in short skirts pulling odd stunts like kicking hams and pointing at mannequins wearing pith helmets. OK, fine, boobs sell beer. However, I happen to be a girl who enjoys the occasional beer. And I know a lot of other beer-drinking girls. Budweiser, do you honestly not care about the female market at all? Because you've largely dropped off of our radars, but seeing some shirtless pilots drinking some nice cold Buds might change my mind. Maybe. At least, it would make you appear...what's that trendy word...diverse.

Secondly, public consultations regarding diamond lanes are happening next week. Did you know? If you're like many Winnipeggers, that might come as a surprise to you. Want to find out if your area is affected, or where and when meetings are? All I can recommend at this point is to call your councilor or 311. But do check it out - particularly if you're around Assiniboine.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New View vs. Old View: In the Chamber 2010 (Word Count: 805)

Faint overhead lighting, in the shape of a window silhouette, illuminates a stage populated only by essential bedroom furniture: a bed, a nightstand with a lamp, a small table. Muted birdsong is overtaken by tempestuous music as two barely-seen figures appear to struggle in the bed. After one departs, the other remains to be spotlit and lectured in philosophy by a bodiless voice calling itself 'Zarathustra.'

This is not what Gordon Tanner’s Last Man in Universe Alpha-II, the first of two 50-minute one-man plays put on by Theatre Projects Manitoba, is about.

As viewers discover once 'daylight' makes its way onstage, the play is about a disgruntled former employee of a large agricultural corporation. This employee came to a profoundly disturbing realization while investigating a facility fire at one of the corporation's massive hog barns, and committed a terrible crime after coming to said realization. When we meet him, he is in a hotel room, fearful that the authorities will come to apprehend him, and making a video confession to the owner of the corporation.

In this harried, often-sidetracked confession, our unlikely hero emphasizes the plight of the pigs, the heinous way in which they lived and the horrible way in which they died. He also points to a 'new view' in society, which neither mourns the pigs nor assigns any blame to those who might be responsible for their deaths. This 'new view' simply calls the incinerator that the hog barn became a "systemic accident"; under the old view, such an 'accident' would have cost someone their job, if not the company its licenses.

As the stage lights fade on the final scene, the emotionally exhausted man has completed his confession, and sees little hope in his future, or the future of a society that could callously shrug off such horrors as the deaths of 15,000 hogs.

After a 15-minute intermission, the lights come up on a chic restaurant scene, setting of Steven Ratzlaff's one-man Last Man in Puntarenas. Tables for two or four people surround a table of six, where a single gentleman is in the process of a thank-you speech to the five balloons representing his fellow dinner guests.

It becomes clear that this man is either quitting or retiring from a position he's held for a number of years, and his colleagues are present to pay their respects - which quickly turn to rejection as our main character becomes increasingly inebriated and prone to increasingly crass comments about medical tourism, the Health Sciences Centre's handling of paediatric cardiac surgery debacles in the 1990s, and pregnancy. One by one, his guests leave, until he is left alone to examine his son's premature death, the subsequent breakup of his marriage, and the malpractice suit that left his ex-wife grasping at a straw labelled "Your son didn't have to die."

The kind-hearted waiter (Gordon Tanner) then joins our main character and invites him to finish his speech. Confused and flattered, he tries to do so, but he has lost his stride, and is now filled only with emptiness and questions.

While both "Last Man" plays (the titles seem to evoke T.S. Eliot's "Hollow Men") feature minimal props and, at most, a cast of two, this allows the social commentary to stand out more clearly. Tanner has a bone to pick with big business and its ability to deflect blame onto a faceless 'system' that makes humans its victims and is outside of anyone's control. Ratzlaff's target is a medical system guilty of similar offenses. People die, their livelihoods are lost, they are rendered penniless, empty, and grieving while corporations continue to hire armies of lawyers and make lots of money at their expenses - this is the underlying message of the two main characters, standing alone amidst the wreckage of their lives.

After being wowed by Tanner's intense diatribe against big agribusiness, viewers wander back into the auditorium completely unsure of what will hit them next. Yet Ratzlaff's script does not build gradually into a revelation of the central problem and then a cliff-hanger anticlimax, the way that Tanner's did. Instead, Ratzlaff succeeds in alienating the audience as well as his character succeeded in alienating his. Perhaps this is intentional. Ratzlaff could want to emphasize that his antihero, unlikeable as he is, was once a family man with a loving spouse, who lost everything to an uncaring system - everything including the personality traits that made him likeable. But this protagonist lacks the endearing traits that Tanner's had: stumbling over words, tense and exaggerative in a comical fashion, with an almost manic energy. That energy is missing from the second half of the evening - and beginning late at just after 9:30 p.m., that second half feels twice as long as the first.

Last Man in Universe Alpha-II: ****
Last Man in Puntarenas: **

Friday, January 8, 2010

Thanks, Kanye!

The 2009 Much Video Music Awards have gone down in history for one reason and one reason only: Kanye West's in-character outburst during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for best music video. Forget Lady Gaga's covered-in-blood onstage performance. Forget who else won what other awards. Kanye generated attention for himself, Swift, Beyonce, and the VMAs. All in two minutes.

Discussion of Kanye's tirade hit critical mass instantly. I'm certain that after checking their Twitter, Facebook and even their cellphones, hundreds if not thousands of people who weren't watching the VMAs tuned in to see what all the fuss was about, and to find out how the situation would be resolved. Anyone who wasn't familiar with Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Beyonce or their respective music videos would have hit Google in a minute, to find out more about Kanye or to compare Swift's video to Beyonce's and decide for themselves. If they liked what they heard, albums would have been downloaded or purchased online, creating new fans for the artists involved. And don't forget about Much - they got the ratings they needed on an otherwise lackluster TV evening.

Beyonce got to clear her own name by bringing Swift up onstage again to share the limelight and have her moment. Swift got to be the innocent artists wronged by a bad character, which certainly didn't do anything to tarnish her image. And Kanye? He's already famous for a lot of other outbursts. Fans who stuck with him through rants about how much HE deserved others' awards might actually see this as an improvement, since his outburst was on behalf of someone else this time. In the long run, this move was completely effective because everyone involved was helped, and no one was seriously harmed.

The Coupon Question

This morning, a few classmates and I were discussing coupons.

"Jordan gave me a whole bunch of free cookie coupons [from Subway]," said one. "I thought, 'Don't you want these?'"

Just as inflation can end up decreasing the value of money (was it Argentina where this happened a few years ago, and $1000 bills were worthless?), so an overabundance of coupons lead us to feel that they are of no value. Those DOMO coupons that everyone gets about 10 of in the mail every week come in handy, but what do you do with those Domino's Pizza coupons, or drycleaning coupons? Sure, a coupon is nice to have when you're already a loyal customer and were intending to pay full price anyway, but does the coupon really convince you to buy something you weren't interested in otherwise?

For myself, the answer is often "no." Especially where the 'clip & save' flyers that arrive on Saturday mornings are concerned. Saving $1 off the price of salad dressing means nothing to me when I can't remember what the current price of salad dressing is. If that makes the salad dressing bottle cost $9 instead of $10, I'm still going to look for the $5 bottle. Forget the coupon.

Or better yet, I'll trade it to you for one of those cookie coupons.