Category Archives: Postmodernism

Walmart and McDonald’s Pretend They’re Great Employers!

We need to work harder to ensure everyone earns a living wage!

I love when gross corporations try to spin reality to defend against criticisms.

For instance:

  1. Walmart used to take out dead peasant life insurance on its employees, putting itself in a conflict of interest: do their best to keep employees alive, or cash out on their secret insurance policies.
  2. Walmart gives Americans food stamp applications along with job applications because they pay so little. They depend on the government to feed their employees.

Quickly, some data:

  1. Walmart’s 2011 profit was $15.7 billion. Profit, not revenue. Workers deserve to be treated and compensated better with that kind of gold lying around.
  2. McDonald’s 2010 net income was $4.9 billion. Again, profit, not revenue. Workers deserve to be treated and compensated better with that kind of gold lying around. Are you sensing a theme? Both of these lovely corporations could spend billions more on wages, which is, of course, good for the local economies.

Corporate Fightback:

McDonald’s created a sad website designed to help employees budget for survival. It included this quaint little notion that workers would need a second job to survive. But even then, they neglected some key elements of a budget. Like food. Watch how the folks at re-spun McDonald’s pathetic budget website. Enjoy, then read below for Walmart’s attempt to clear the murky air!

Walmart’s website, sharing with us the “real” Walmart is a dream. My favourite section is call “The Real Facts.” Are non-real facts even facts, at all? [Orwell alert!]

Health care plans are available to eligible hourly associates starting at $17 per pay period.

via The Real Facts

Note well how they decline to mention what percentage of their employees make such huge wages, almost double the average wage at stores all over America!

Sail through the website and you will have a strong sense of peace, unicorns and rainbows. I feel better just writing these sentences about it. Enjoy it too…and wait for someone to re-spin it as happened to McDonald’s budgeting site.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Walmart. There’s even a website that makes fun of people who shop with us. Well, we want you to know the facts — who shops with us and why. Take this opportunity to learn about our associates and the opportunities available to them and their families. Read about how we deliver low prices and the commitment we bring to the communities we serve.

The facts might surprise you.

via Learn Real Facts about Walmart at the Real Walmart –

No, Taylor Swift. No.

[Here is what some of us have been wanting to say about Taylor Swift, but didn’t because A. Lynn did it first, and perhaps best, reposted her with her kind permission. Thanks to Jarrah Hodge for pointing us to this piece of brilliance! Enjoy! – seb]

I’ve been mentally composing this blog for forever and now I’m finally trying to piece it together. Hm. How do I say this?

Y’all…Taylor Swift is the worst.

Whelp. There it is. That’s my thesis and let me now back it up.

I’ve long argued that girl on girl hate is awful and counterproductive so I’m truly trying to stay away from that. This isn’t a complaint about something nit picky like her hair or her clothes or her voice–I could take or leave it all. I mean, it’s true that something just rubs me the wrong way about her but I’m putting all that aside because I really do have legitimate feminist concerns with Swift and her place in pop culture.

1) Swift is peddling dangerous messages to girls.
I’ve written about this before so I’m not sure I need to rehash it all. Basically, the bulk of Swift’s music is focused on boys and them being her Romeo or her knight in shining armor. But Swift’s brand and its messages for girls goes beyond that. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Andrea Lampros detailed her experience at a Swift concert with her children. She said,

If you’re thinking you’ll see a sweet Southern singer/songwriter on stage with her guitar, a few pretty dresses, and simplistic but heartfelt lyrics, you won’t. The overwhelming message of the Swift concert to the sea of girls ages 5 to 55: be pretty, be conventional, be quiet (well, it’s OK to scream for me), and definitely put on some lipstick.

…The scene was sweet until you got to the CoverGirl stands (Swift is a CoverGirl) where girls of all ages sat on stools before stage mirrors to receive makeovers — perhaps selecting the lip and eye colors that Taylor wears.

…The message — you’re not really beautiful until you cake your tiny, pre-pubescent face with makeup — wasn’t the empowering one I had envisioned.

…I didn’t expect Taylor Swift to make any radical, edgy, feminist remarks, but I also didn’t expect Gidget meets the Little Mermaid. What an incredible platform for Swift to say something as simple as “Girls rock!” or something even crazier like “Love yourselves!”
Instead, she finished each song by looking wide-eyed into the crowd and noting how “amazing” it was that so many people came to the show and how “beautiful” everyone looked (incredible how she could see people with all those lights in her eyes).

2) She believes in the post-feminist myth.
Lampros wrote that piece in 2009, and now having heard Swift’s recent comments about feminism, I’m not surprised that her concert in no way challenged the super typical pretty, pretty princess messages that girls receive in their daily lives. When asked about feminism Swift said, “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

This type of post-feminist nonsense is commonly peddled by people who have never really examined gender but who are asked about feminism and taken off guard. I expect that Swift is in that boat. Knowing her songs and persona, it’s no surprise that Swift doesn’t “get” feminism  (It would have been really shocking if she DID, especially given that there are so many voices, specifically other pop singers, disparaging it as well.) Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky pretty nicely summarized my thoughts on Swift’s comments.

Are we surprised that Taylor Swift doesn’t really consider herself a feminist? Not really. But it’s still completely dismaying that “guys versus girls” and that when women don’t succeed it’s because we just didn’t work hard enough is apparently what she thinks feminism is.

And you see, this is but yet another message that Swift is saying to girls…she’s quite literally telling them that she’s not into feminism because it views men as an adversary. It’s absurd. And if you think her audience isn’t listening or paying attention to her every action, you obviously haven’t been around a tween girl lately.

3) Swift is specifically marketed at the youngest girls.
The real kicker as to why I’m worried is because Swift is widely considered a “safe” option for tween girls. There are so few tween-friendly acts that when someone nice and sweet comes around, parents just assume that their girls should be listening to her. I remember when I went to the Miss Representation screening and one of the super concerned parents said something to the effect of, “It just feels like the only singer I can trust is Taylor Swift!”

I almost screamed. Like I mentioned when I blogged about that screening, too many of the parents were looking for ways to shield their kids from everything instead of actually helping their kids become critical consumers of media who analyze and question the messages they receive.

I have a feeling that if more parents actually stopped and thought about what Swift is peddling, they might not like what they’d see (like Lampros.) I remember having a discussion with my friend Myranda the last time I was home in Indy about how we’d take Nicki Minaj over Taylor Swift any day. I know it’s a controversial viewpoint, but it’s not a joke. When I stop and really think about the messages each of them are sending, I do have more concerns with Swift.

And, again, because Swift is specifically marketing at and intended for teen girls, adults far too often give her a pass without actually thinking about what they want for those girls. It’s not OK. Just because something appears innocent or cute, like Swift’s persona, it doesn’t mean that it’s not perpetuating the same sexist BS.

I understand that finding empowering pop role models for girls is nearly impossible, but perhaps we shouldn’t be looking to pop starts to be role models at all. Yes, girls will continue to consume pop music regardless, and that’s why it’s our duty as adults to have actual conversations about it all.

How I Expect Journalists to Behave During #Elxn41

The short answer is: just as they are. I think they’re doing a great job, especially with the kind of contempt Harper has shown them for years.

By the way, #Elxn41 is the Twitter hashtag for Canada’s 41st general election. It is an exciting time as Twitter is redefining the relationships between estates. Candidates, citizens and the media are being forced to redefine their relationship with each other.

Twitter is the catalyst for this democratization of relationships away from strict one-way broadcasting. In the previous two elections it was the existence of blogs, then Facebook that allowed electrons to play an unpredictable hand in the campaigns.

The last few days has seen a number of self-reflexive tweets from mostly journalists discussing/engaging on how the current dynamic exists.

Before examining all this, let me just say a couple things:

  1. Without journalists doing good work, editorialists like me would have very little to go on beyond primary source documents/spin from political actors. So thanks for your work!
  2. With the demise of the CanWest management junta I have noticed a marked increase in the breadth and quality of analysis and political coverage in both the former CanWest properties and their competitors. This is no small element in what I find to be a democratic rebirth of our nation.

So there are a few events that are worth exploring to illuminate Twitter’s role in how politics is in flux.

One of Canada’s journalistic treasures, Terry Milewski has been trying to get a straight answer from Harper on why his Vancouver South candidate got an endorsement from a man linked to the Air India bombing. The party line is that she didn’t know who he was. The Twitterverse has interpreted that as that she’s either lying or incompetent since the person is of some significant notoriety. Milewski explains how at a recent Conservative party rally, the crowd shouted/cheered/clapped/chanted down his attempt to ask Harper a follow-up question, one of only five Harper deigns to receive each day. You can view video of the questioning here.

The analysis here is that outside of traditional media production channels [TV, radio, newspaper articles/stories] journalists are living their vocation live, in real time, in Twitter. Since the Conservative party candidates rarely show up to debates or all-candidates meetings, or take many/any questions, the journalists are left to comment on the process of the campaign. And they do it live.

I think the Conservatives realized years ago that it is better to say nothing or not show up to meetings/debates than to have the general public learn of all their policy ideas. Really, over 60% of Canadians vote against them. Why bother thinking the majority would be in favour of their ideas.

I’m not a very good journalist. If I worked as a journalist I would consider not attending Conservative party campaign events because of the party’s contempt for democracy: 5 questions each day, keeping reporters caged away behind fences, refusing to let candidates show up for debates. If the party is going to be weak on policy and undermine democratic elements of election campaigns, maybe journalists should boycott those events.

But that’s not what journalists ought to do. They need to show up, even if they are going to be used, manipulated, derided, neglected and spun. They’re bright people. They should be able to endure all that.

And in the event of an absence of policy to report on, the journalists can report on how the campaign is going and their experiences if they’re newsworthy, which the Conservatives would still prefer instead of pushing policy.

Here’s how real journalists explored these issues, instead of a boycott, focusing mostly on David Akin as the hub of conversation. For the most part, the tweets speak for themselves.

In reply to the quite reasonable suggestion that journalists protest their dismissive treatment, Akin suggests few would care. Maybe political wonks would, which is a happily increasing number.

Few would care, I’m afraid. RT @jkoblovsky: there’s a story on how the press has been treated through CPC campaign. Use your journo skills to protest. – David Akin

Akin on the role of questioning politicians:

I’m for free speech. Free speech includes reporters — national, local, alternative, I don’t care — asking questions. In 06, Martin shut us down. Harper has always done so .. – David Akin

Regarding the crowd shouting down Milewski:

All the more disappointing to hear PMO staffer Plouffe egging crowd on to drown out journalists as his last job was as a CBC journalist! – David Akin

Regarding whether Harper has had any positive media coverage, Akin questions whether that should even be a premise:

Was there a reason it should have been otherwise? MT @nspector4: don’t think Harper has had 1 day of positive media coverage – David Akin

When Chantal Hebert wrote about how this election has seemed to be about nothing, she may have been talking about how Harper called this an unnecessary election [after all, he was fired by parliament to set it off, so I can understand how he feels it is unnecessary] and how the Conservatives have a mostly substance-free campaign, and how the result may not end up being the status quo, but a profound shift in the balance of power in the House of Commons. Akin agreed.

Agree. Hebert: “An election that has seemed to be about nothing may result in the biggest shift in the federal tectonic plates in two decades.” – David Akin

This agreement does not translate into journalists withholding their services because of an empty campaign, but keenly analyzing the implications of how the campaign is rolling out: something they could not do if they boycott the campaign itself.

Maclean’s Andrew Coyne empathized with the Conservative campaign’s neglect of journalists turning into overt manipulation with a couple comments with that reasonable suggestion that journalists not take manipulation anymore:

@davidakin Seems to me there’s a point at which gallery have to refuse to allow themselves to be used this way, isn’t there? – Andrew Coyne

@davidakin I sympathize with their situation. But we’re now beyond limiting qu’ns, to using media as props for applause lines. – Andrew Coyne

Akin replied with the kind of price that good journalists pay, as opposed to gutless lackeys who are preferred by slippery politicians:

@acoyne Harper PMO has used us props for applause lines for 5 yrs. Tonight was just an exceptional example. – David Akin

In a related crucible of politician-journalist-citizen relationship evolution, Akin retweeted a Ralph Goodale tweet:

RT @RalphGoodale: It’s troubling that Mr Layton is prep’d to compromise Cda’s constitution in effort to get separatist votes for NDP – David Akin

Personally, I am tired of Conservative politicians, and now Liberal politicians, misrepresenting our constitution to undermine a party’s surge. But then, spin is spin. We parse spin. And here is Akin’s response to the some meta-spin critique about whether it is fine for journalists to retweet what politicians tweet:

So journos shouldn’t quote pols in print/TV stories? RT @Albertaardvark: . More troubling: Media RT’ing party candidates tweets. – David Akin

There is nothing troubling about journalists retweeting politicians. Journalists exist as objects of credibility. Exploring their communications to discover bias is more complicated than tracking one-off retweets. It takes concerted study over time to spot journalist bias. And accusations of bias need to be well-founded before being bandied about.

Ultimately, through all these examples of the changing nature of political discourse, I’ll leave the final word to Akin on what we all truly expect, or should be expecting, from the talented journalists monitoring our democracy. In response to Andrew Coyne’s suggestion that the media gallery not tolerate manipulation by the campaign,

@acoyne As frustrating as it is for the individual journo: I believe readers/viewers expect us to keep showing up … – David Akin

And we do.

And when they take one on the chin for doing their job, we should appreciate them more.

And one way to appreciate them is to follow them in Twitter; that also helps you engage in politics more effectively. David Akin has a list of most of the best Canadian journalists in Twitter. Pay attention because as politicians are slow to figure out how to include social media in their public lives, the good journalists are figuring out how the overall relationship is changing. And they discuss how that change is happening while they live it. It’s all very post-modern. Or is it post-post-modern?

And as citizens, we need to recalibrate how we relate to politicians and the media. Twitter can help, but we need to do our part.

Political Leaders Must Be Activists

I’ve been quite disappointed in how President Obama’s relationship with the populace has shifted from being a facilitator of socio-political change with a high social media profile to a typical president who neglects opportunities to fully engage citizen activists with a progressive agenda. His failure to motivate the millions of people whose email addresses he collected, to in turn motivate Congress to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich to expire is a classic example.

A few weeks ago in an interview in the Hindustan Times, Al Gore had a few words about leadership [italics is mine]:

How can individuals contribute to fight the climate change?

Some sensible choices like using more energy efficient light bulbs, more insulation and adopting less carbon consuming technologies can help. But, the bigger change will come at the policy level by the politicians. Leaders will have to become political activists and go at the grass root levels to speed up the process of fighting global warming.

via Need to speed up process of fighting global warming: Al Gore – Hindustan Times.

It’s the part of about leaders being activists that appears ground-breaking, but it’s really not. Movements start by people stepping up to lead, but too often politicians don’t see their role as being movement leaders. Voter turnout dropping below 50% in BC in 2009 demonstrates that people’s expectations of political leaders has evolved.

But will the next generation of political leaders in BC learn truly embrace this new climate?

Gillian Shaw reviewed some core rules for how leadership contenders [but really, any prospective political leader/activist] ought to use social media in motivating their constituency:

  1. Be honest
  2. Social networking is about dialogue
  3. “Not listening to people on Twitter would be like not answering our phone”
  4. Lose the generic website, Facebook and YouTube sites
  5. Go mobile or go home

People seeking leadership or even just policy influence need to understand that social media is not merely another one-way, broadcast advertising platform but a place particularly designed around human engagement. It’s either do social media correctly or skip it entirely, which has its own attached peril because people using social media will correctly conclude that a leader’s absence signals their neglect of that human platform.

So now that the BC NDP and BC Liberal leadership races are on, prospective leaders have the opportunity to put member engagement on the table as something needing a new paradigm compared to old 20th century ways of acknowledging members as people who simply join a political movement only to sub-contract their political activity to the “professionals.” More and more people today are not abrogating that responsibility.

Particularly if the BC NDP, for instance, is to become the electoral wing of a progressive social movement in BC, the party and caucus need to embrace the myriad of ways of facilitating that kind of engagement and inclusion, particularly by focusing on points 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 from my benchmark for evaluating political evolution:

1. We must build a social movement within the party

4. We must empower members and non-members

5. We must improve our relationship with the environment

6. We must improve our relationship with labour and other progressive groups

7. We must build a constructive relationship with progressive businesses

In February and April of next year we’ll see how 21st century BC politics can become.

What Do BC’s Non-Voting Majority Do?

Many have written about the discouraging reality of BC politics that for the first time our voter turnout dropped below 50% in the last provincial election. While there is clearly a massive and currently incomplete flux in how the public views politicians and political parties, there is the constant view out there that people will come back to parties because it is the elected politicians who can actually change things.

People seem to be caring less for that conclusion since most didn’t vote at all 18 months ago.

But what are people actually doing? Not only do 25% of British Columbians consider themselves to be activists, some are taking the position that regardless of party ideology or practice, activists are committing to an issue and pursuing any and all politicians to embrace their issue. That will lead to activist support.

Woe betide a politician who promises support for an issue then doesn’t deliver: responsive democracy.

And if you are looking for a bold example of this theory of what many of the non-voting majority are doing, look at the Common Sense Canadian for an expression of that very thing.

The Common Sense Canadian will support candidates or parties based not on their political philosophy, but on their commitment to saving our environment – not just because it’s beautiful but because to do otherwise is fiscal madness.

via Where We Stand on BC Politics & The Environment.

Saving our environment, to them, means these four demands:

  1. A re-commitment to protecting farmland, a “commitment that commits them to keep to their commitment”.
  2. A closure of all fish farms in our oceans especially near routes of migrating Pacific salmon while encouraging dry land operations.
  3. A commitment to keep our precious coast free of Tar Sands oil supertankers from the proposed Enbridge pipeline and Kinder-Morgan expansion.
  4. A commitment to end all licensing of private power construction, PLUS – and this is critical – making public all private power contracts in existence, coupled with a flat refusal to honour any which are unconscionable.

So if you happen to be one of the one million self-identifying activists in British Columbia, chances are you are thinking far more strategically about pursuing your issues than just joining a political party in hopes of pushing your issues. After all, even a generous estimate of 50,000 members of BC political parties is only 5% of the number of self-identifying activists in BC.

The playing field and rules of engagement are changing in BC. They’ve shifted a dozen times in the last 5 weeks. They will shift again a few times next week with more people declaring that they think they can lead the Liberal party. And they will shift more until February 26, 2011 when we’ll have a new premier, recall campaigns underway, new hints or promises about the HST and its referendum, changes to the minimum wage and a handful of other politically inflammatory policy issues.

Then when our new premier takes over, watch for an election call before 2013, a new throne speech and a new budget.

And that’s just with the Liberal party. The NDP, BC Conservatives, BC First, and various recently dormant political figures will be in play as well.

So if you have an issue, handcuff yourself to it and hop on your political surfboard because the waves will be undulating sometimes wildly in the next three months.

And keep your wits about you, while truly engaging with your instincts. You’ll need them both.

One Million BC Activists Can’t Be Wrong, Aren’t Wrong

The most exciting statistic I have ever seen in BC politics, particularly in regard to the health of our democracy, is that 25% of us self-identify as activists. Anyone who cares about social change at all absolutely must read Evi Mustel’s piece in The Province from Wednesday. This statistic means the entire structure of political, economic and social systems in BC is undergoing a paradigm shift. Here’s why.

Well, it turns out that one in four of us in B.C. actually considers him or herself an “activist.” And activists can cause a lot of distress for politicians — and anyone else who tries to tell them what to do.

via Guest column: Internet has mobilized new wave of activism.

Mustel correctly concludes that opposition to the process of introducing the HST is strong. It actually rivals opposition to the tax itself and spans the political spectrum.

She also notes how the blowback about Vision Vancouver’s Hornby bike lane is linked to the party’s relatively miniscule consultation process compared to the Burrard bike lane project. Despite the opposition to process, the network of bike lanes is really the only great triumph of Vision Vancouver, and future usage statistics will bear that out, but Mustel’s point is still sound.

So what do we have now in BC:

  • a Liberal party that has such low membership numbers distributed around the province that they will need to amend their constitution to ensure democratic representation in their leadership vote; that’s what happens when you ignore member development.
  • an NDP with some party controversies that are very difficult to measure in traditional means by looking at party structures. It’s about a 3:1 count of riding associations supporting to opposing the leader, but that might not measure the nature of how activists and members are really positioned.
  • Voter turnout dropping below 50% for a provincial election for the first time in BC history, reflecting how more than half of eligible voters reject all choices available.

And what do we see across Canada:

  • In early January 2009 a quarter million Canadians joined a Facebook group to oppose Harper’s self-centred prorogation of parliament. Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, which was initially a protest click to join a group, transformed into dozens of protests around the country in late January 2009, then transformed into a movement of movements and Canadians About Political Participation groups in dozens of cities.
  • The anti-constitutional G20 security regime in Toronto last summer reflects a government that is terrified of the tens of thousands of Canadians who have been mobilizing in the streets in the last decade against participation in the neo-conservatives’ Iraqi invasion and occupation and anti-democratic neoliberal economic meetings like the FTAA, WTO, G8/G20 and the SPP.
  • While the Reform Party embraced right-wing populist organizing models on the coattails of American right wing and libertarian organizing before the internet really took off, The Wild Rose Alliance and Rob Ford have inherited the momentum in this internet age, as well as Naheed Nenshi in Calgary with his relative mastery of social networking, thereby not surprisingly demonstrating how engaging with actual people can pay off politically.

All this spells populism.

Not pandering populism, though there is definitely an element of that, but an authentic populist movement of people caring about an issue and seeing avenues to express their policy choices.

Mustel addresses this in her piece by exploring the nature of representative democracy compared to direct democracy:

Concerns about the costs of public consultation has led some to ask: “What happened to the idea of electing leaders to make informed decisions on our behalf?”

Others will argue such consultation keeps public officials in check more than they’ve ever been, and so is worth paying for.

The notion that we elect leaders in a representative democracy to rule until we give them the next mandate is horribly obsolete, particularly when parties lie when leading into an election and opposition parties in majority parliaments have virtually no ability to affect policy. This is part of what is helping Canadians become more enamored with minority parliaments.

Moving out of a strict tradition of representative democracy, people are drifting towards direct democracy: an environment where people have more input and actual authority in between formal elections. This is why the initiative and recall functions are in play right now, with recall campaigns against BC MLAs beginning as early as this month.

People are more engaged politically. They identify themselves as activists. Political, economic and social organizational structures that do not acknowledge and respect that will suffer. Again, the low voter turnout in BC in May 2009 is a testament to that.

[Judy Kirk, a communications veteran who specializes in consultation with the public] correlates increased involvement with higher education rates. “People believe they have a right to be involved in decision making and expect that government will listen,” she says. “People have always had a desire to voice their opinions, but they are now more literate about the ways to be involved,” Kirk says. More than ever, it’s clear, politicians have to listen — or face losing their jobs

Gordon Campbell is now the poster child for what it takes to lose one’s job for not listening. Granted, it’s taken a decade of abusing British Columbians, but in the last month not a cabinet shuffle, TV address, nor a gratuitous tax cut could buy him out of a record-setting 91% disapproval rating.

I became a teacher 17 years ago because I wanted to inspire people to engage in society more effectively. I left to fight back politically when the Liberals’ neoliberal sledgehammer began destroying the education system. Years later, I am starting to see how various elements of society have led to more people declaring their activist identities.

Smart people will begin engaging more with the people right now. Very smart people have been doing so for some time now. But those who continue to ignore the will, power and intent of the people will pay the price because the people have the power and are starting to find more effective ways of wielding it.

In the end, I’m hoping that we can see a flowering of democracy, accountability, transparency and member engagement in political and social organizations. And I’m still working to see the BC NDP become the electoral wing of a progressive social movement in the province.

And with almost a million self-identified activists in BC, it is definitely time for us to organize for a better BC.

Globe and Mail’s Irony: Calling The Yes Men Cynical

The Globe and Mail‘s editorial yesterday calling the Yes Men cynical is a classic example of psychological projection, calling another group cynical when corporate media today cannot likely be any more cynical.

The entire editorial is below, but here are ten comments about how deluded the editorial department at the Globe and Mail is.

  1. We live in a post-modern world, if not a post-post-modern world. Corporate media is modernist by design; its paradigm is authoritatively objective, one-way, profit-driven, broadcast and top-down. That sounds pretty jaded to me. The Yes Men can only be seen as jaded because they no longer recognize the primacy of modernist corporate media as being much of a useful force in society unless it is subverted and manipulated.
  2. Since the medium is the message, increasing proportions of the population are rejecting the message of corporate media’s medium.
  3. The Daily Show and Colbert Report are not anomalies today, but they do threaten corporate media’s monopoly over news/truth/opinion. In fact, just today someone’s again writing about how newspapers could even have a future!
  4. The Globe and Mail got quite badly punked by the Yes Men in Copenhagen in December, as did all other corporate media. In fact, much corporate media in Canada showed themselves with their pants down when they recently reported the death of Gordon Lightfoot while he listened to it all on the radio while in his dentist’s chair. Fact-check much?
  5. Suggesting the Yes Men are the actual threat to the believability of all forms of communication is laughable since corporate mainstream media are constantly guilty of suppressing critically important news while promoting their neoliberal politics and politicians while marketing sensationalism for maximizing their corporate profit.
  6. Suggesting that all forms of communication are threatened by the Yes Men is itself sensationalist, reactionary and further proof that the editorial staff doesn’t really get post-modernism in media…but then how could they, they are the established paradigm.
  7. The first half of the editorial describes the Yes Men antics, thereby demonstrating the potency of their brand of satire with free publicity.
  8. While the Globe editors are correct in describing satire as a “legitimate form of comment,” their demand that there be “sufficient warning for the public” indicates a few things. The Globe editors didn’t get the joke in Copenhagen and feel embarrassed. They think the public is too stupid to get ironic messages. Again, see The Daily Show and Colbert Report. Those in the public who are duped need to learn the lesson that we should question information authorities and verify sources, then compare stated messages with confirmed messages. Then we need to evaluate in our own minds what policies ought to be. This is the point of satire, which the Globe editors are clearly missing.
  9. Their example about no one ever showing up for real free concerts in Missoula is a small risk to society as a whole that is being constantly misinformed by corporate media neglecting its investigatory role.
  10. I refuse to allow the Globe editorial staff to be the ones to inspire me to ask the question of whether anyone believes a message. Corporate media is so compromised when it comes to truth, they have very little standing to even pose that question. That they end their editorial with it, with presumably a straight face, is laughable.
  11. A bonus comment: ultimately, I hope I am being duped by an editorial that is actually ironic in itself. That perhaps the Globe actually welcomes the antics of the Yes Men and their disciples and have written this editorial in an attempt to mock their own paradigm. If so, I will gladly tip my hat to them. But I’m not holding my breath.
May 23, 2010

Say no to the jaded world view of the Yes Men

From Monday’s Globe and Mail

Their ilk threatens the believability of all forms of communications.

Gresham’s Law holds that devalued money eventually drives out good money. The more inferior currency floating around, the harder it is for people to believe in the real thing. The same goes for the news.

Last week, a widely circulated news release claimed, “Shell halts Nigerian offshore drilling in visionary new remediation plan.” The document carried a Shell logo at the top and was distributed via a legitimate-looking website. At the bottom was a media-relations contact number (answered by a real person) and all the standard legal boilerplate. The message: After the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, Shell was halting all its drilling operations in the Niger River delta and embarking on an $8-billion environmental rehabilitation program.

It was, of course, entirely bogus.

A group calling itself the Nigerian Justice League later claimed credit for the ruse, saying they drew their inspiration from the Yes Men, a group of anti-corporate pranksters familiar to Canadians. In December, before the Copenhagen climate change summit, the Yes Men produced a realistic-looking press release purportedly from federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, claiming Canada was adopting strict carbon-emissions targets and donating $13-billion to Africa. It was accompanied by a fake Wall Street Journal article, a fake endorsement from a Ugandan politician and, later, a fake retraction by Mr. Prentice. All this to draw attention to what the Yes Men considered Canada’s lack of commitment on climate change.

Both pranks got enough press coverage to be considered successes by the perpetrators. With the Yes Men now drawing eager imitators, we’ll likely be seeing much more of this sort of thing. And that’s bad news for everyone.

Satire is a legitimate form of comment. But it requires a deft hand; and sufficient warning for the public to get the joke. A recent prank in Missoula, Montana, falsely promoted a free thank-you concert being staged by Smurfit-Stone, a container company, and Macy’s department store, two firms that recently shut operations in the city. But to what greater purpose? It had no discernible impact on the corporations in question. And if Missoula ever hosts a free concert in the future, no one will show up.

The jaded world view of the Yes Men and copycat pranksters threatens the believability of all forms of communications. It could eventually undermine the very kinds of positive achievements the activists claim to demand.

Consider the historic truce last week between environmental groups and the Canadian forestry industry on logging practices. It seems such a surprising and radical departure from both sides’ normal behaviour, after years of animosity, that it might easily be considered a prank. In fact it is very good news. But will anyone believe it?

The BC Government and Social Media: #FAIL!

The BC government, being anti-social with its massive cuts to social and human services, is having a hard time using social media. No surprise.

The provincial government wants to be your friend/follower. In November 2009, its public affairs bureau quietly launched a new social media/online communications unit. The unit – which was formed using existing resources – has eight staffers including a director, a manager, two visual communications officers and four social media/online communications officers.

via Getting friendly – Public Eye Online.

Here is one sad example of the output of the 8-person operation. “It’s about YOU. It’s about US. It’s about B.C.” is about as empty as the BC Liberals’ humanitarian streak.

This Facebook page started with posts for the last few days of March and has a total of one post for April.

It’s visual motif is distinct from both the BC government websites and the BC Liberal party, indicating an attempt to distance the content on that page from the ruling party, at the very least.

The page has only 195 “fans”. That’s crazy low, and it includes a bunch who are ardent fighters of this government, likely using the page to track the government’s spin.

And the page is all about BC boosterism and spin. It’s a transparent, uni-directional, broadcast marketing vehicle to paint a rosy picture. That in itself disrespects the nature of social media: member participation.

I expect more people will become fans, but I don’t expect the page will do anything more than the press releases that become news at corporate media sites.

In the end, this government won’t likely do well in social media essentially because its egalitarian nature is incompatible with the BC Liberals’ draconian agenda.

The Olympics: A Failure of Legitimacy

Samsung Olympic ad on TD building

There are many levels of debate about the value of Olympics: social, economic, cultural, political, etc. But one level seems to undergird them all: moral legitimacy, in which the Olympics is bankrupt.

For me it began crystallizing in late September, 1988. Ben Johnson won Olympic gold in the 100m, then lost it just days later because of the drug thing. After years of national angst over the cost overruns of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, and enduring boycotts in 1980 and 1984, it seemed impossible to have pure sport.

Fast forward to this young year when Mark McGwire quite easily announced he was lying when he said he was drug-free when chasing the home run record years ago. Whatever. Cynicism seems too natural.

While I value competition and, more so, seeking personal bests, I honour athletes who compete. Sadly the context of the Olympics and its corporate and political masters have spoiled the entire concept. Similarly, I have great respect for Canadian troops wherever they are in the world, but supporting the troops does not mean I have to support the politics behind any given mission they are sent on.

What has happened to erode the legitimacy of the Olympics? Simply, neoliberal commodification.

  • corporate endorsements for players to fund their training as government reduce funding
  • the participation of professional athletes to enrich marketing potential
  • exclusive corporate sponsors who have quite effectively lobbied the welcoming IOC for extensive protections
  • exclusive media sponsors impeding information flows outside of their media
  • the IOC as an untouchable international organization that can suborn nations to abandon elements of their constitution as we can’t/won’t stop the IOC from discriminating against female ski jumpers
  • litigious domestic Olympic committees protecting brands of what are already some of the most powerful corporations in the world
  • The Canada Line transit route promoted to encourage an Olympic bid at the expense of the Evergreen line for the northeast suburbs already in the queue, with significant climate implications
  • Lies: the marketing of a tunnel under Cambie Street for the Canada Line that turned into the cheaper cut-and-cover; only $176m pitched for security when previous Olympics security budgets were over $1b

The games are now about corporate marketing.

A core goal of VANOC was to literally monopolize all outdoor advertising during the games to resell to exclusive corporate sponsors. The global recession softened sales. Now the BC government is spending more of our tax dollars to buy up leftover ad space to advertise that BC is a great place. No longer “The Best Place in the World”[tm], mind you.

Here are some other examples of decayed moral legitimacy.

During the last Olympic games, RBC ran ads bragging about how awesome they were in 1948 as they paid for the Canadian men’s hockey team to attend and win Olympic gold. How long before corporations start fielding their own teams instead of nations? A corporation is running for Congress in the USA and in BC, the premier announced last fall that the government is studying allowing non-human corporations to vote in municipal elections.

Last week, after criticism VANOC took down one of its website videos celebrating the torch run across the country. They chose to use Nazi footage from the 1936 games. They felt it might be controversial, so they blurred out the straight arm Nazi salute that is so visually repulsive. Both were horrible decisions. Both reflect a mindset that is so out of touch with standards of moral legitimacy. But I can’t be surprised by all this considering the overall mindset of the Olympics.

The Bay department store ripped off the Cowichan sweater design from the First Nations who “own” it, so it could contract out sweater production.

In Vancouver this week, venues and key sites are under military lock down with layers of concrete barricades and fencing. Military helicopters and jets buzz the skies. Military and private security forces live on cruise ships in East Vancouver. VANOC cars cruise the city, flagrantly violating civic anti-idling by-laws. And in a ecologically symbiotic nod to this illegitimate event, El Nino has produced spring-like temperatures making the Olympic mittens gimmick useless.

Polls in the last few months show around only 9% of Canadians are very excited about the games and recently only half of British Columbians think the Olympics will be good for BC, despite the common sense view that as we get closer people will be more excited.

Another common sense goes like this, the Olympics is a fish bowl of groupthink. Nazi footage in a promotional film? Stealing First Nations craft designs? Erecting ugly prison security around venues? A $10m Canada pavilion that looks like a strong wind could blow it over, when the log structure in Turin in 2006 cost only $6m [and has since become an albatross, itself a telling irony].

Then there is a story in the Globe and Mail the other day about how VANOC has banned athletes from being in advertisements during the games because it compromises the purity of competition. Oh, unless the ads are for the sanctioned corporate sponsors. Or, if in VANOC’s subjective judgement the ad campaign has been around long enough. Tim Horton’s has recently run some ads with Sidney Crosby, but in the article we read they are voluntarily pulling the ads during the Olympics in case VANOC decides to come after them. The chill factor extends to even Tim Hortons!

The best irony of that article, however, exemplifies this whole debacle. The writer characterizes Tim Hortons’ Sidney Crosby campaign as one about patriotism. Tim Hortons is now owned by an American company. Marketing is global now.

Later this morning we will see the beginning of actions leading to a massive convergence of dissent later this week to coincide with the opening of the games. This culture of critique is pervasive.

When the Canucks are in the playoffs, there is a palpable sense of energy around Vancouver. People buy flags to attach to their car windows. There is honking in the streets when Canucks score goals. Even people not too bothered with hockey get excited. This vibe is absent right now.

In the surreal world of neoliberalism, unaccountable international organizations like the IOC, corporate welfare programs and rational and moral contradictions, there is no irony left.

Oh, and a Chicago company got the contract to build the Canada pavilion in Vancouver.

So when we see the pablum, sanitized feel-good corporate media fluff pieces on Vancouver, think about how much packaging has already gone into the big show and how motivated the corporate media sponsors will be to paint this a smiles-only event.

Then we need to think about the athletes afraid to use Twitter, what lack of snow will do to some of them, and let’s think about the social costs of cleaning up the mess of this party.

As it is, no one has done the body count yet. As billions of dollars have been diverted from social programs, health, education, etc., how many people have suffered or died early because money that could have gone into hip replacement surgery or mental health treatment was diverted to a luge track. It’s a ghoulish research project, so it’s one that no one wants to talk about.

All I know is that the police state that is emerging this week will change Vancouver and Whistler and BC and Canada forever. The hands are pretty much dealt now. All that is left is in the playing.

And in a few weeks, we’ll know what kind of symbol the Olympic torch really is.

Logical Absurdities: Only Anti-Government Sentiments Are Political

So, US Iraqi war veterans who oppose the political mission, though presumably they support the troops [themselves, their comrades and friends], aren’t allowed to march in a Veterans Day Parade in Long Beach.

“They do not fit the spirit of the parade,” she said. “The spirit being one of gratitude for what the veterans have done. We do not want groups of a political nature, advocating the troops’ withdrawal from Iraq.” Parade coordinators work hard to keep the event free from politics.

This is the absurd double standard that plagues people cursed with an inability to understand paradoxes.

I remember the early 1990s and how hard it was to make it through the relativist paradox of elements of post-modernism. As an early post-modern zealot, I rejected absolute truths because I rejected any truth as being able to be absolute. I was trying to embrace that concept while rejecting the arguments that have supported the human misery that resulted from absolute truths: white supremacy, genocide in the Americas, heterosexism, two millennia of imperial Christianity.

But at the same time, there is the relativist paradox that rejecting absolutes is itself an absolute.

This inability to contend with the modernist-postmodernist tension shows up in the “support our troops” nonsense, whereby anyone who rejects Canada’s presence in Afghanistan doesn’t support the troops, even though the troops didn’t make the politician send them there.

It also shows up in the more single-minded culture in the USA. If you oppose the government, you are being political. Yet it is not a political act to support it. So a Veterans Day parade is for apolitical people.

It also shows up in this surreal Flickr group, America, America!

It is hard to fathom:

About AMERICA, AMERICA! 1200+ members & growing! **** WE ARE NOW A GROUP OF 1200+ MEMBERS! AWESOME! YAY! WOW!
OUR PERMANENT THREAD IS FLAG DAY, PLEASE ALL MEMBERS POST ALL PHOTOS OF OLD GLORY IN THE “FLAG DAY” THREAD! We are building the biggest best collection of American Flag photos on Flickr!! Let’s do it together!!
Anyone who posts in any thread receives a special award and will be eligible for front page exposure!

GROUP RULES: NEW RULE, POSTING LIMIT IN POOL 1O PER DAY! Any pictures, photoart, digital art that depicts the good and positive things about America or any place that loves freedom! Photos and photoart that depict patriotism, the spirit of America, family life, and that which shows the ways God has Blessed America and the world. Please *NO POLITICS OF ANY KIND*, *NO CAMPAIGN PHOTOS FOR ANY PARTY*! NO AMERICA BASHING, NO rude or BAD LANGUAGE, and NO nudes. This is a wholesome family oriented group about America and the people who make her the greatest nation in the world.
If you have a gripe about something, write a letter to the editor at your local newspaper -THIS is NOT a forum for anger. Thanks and enjoy! Fantartsy AKA JJ

IMPORTANT NOTICE: ANYONE who blocks administrators will be banned from the group and all their photos WILL BE REMOVED!JJ/ administrator

GROUP MOTTO: FOR THOSE WHO LIVE IN OR LOVE THE IDEALS OF FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE FOR WHICH AMERICA STANDS. Thanks to each and every member for making this a great AMERICAN group! JJ and all the administrators and helpers!

Beyond the planes, trains and motor vehicles fossil fuel worshiping, the philosophy of the group is similarly blind to the reality that they themselves are expressing a political view of supporting the government, an act they ban by definition. I remember in the 1980s Bruce Springsteen said blind faith in your leaders or in anything will get you killed.

The good and positive things about America or any place that loves freedom, however that is defined by the group leaders. Patriotism, the spirit of America, family life [defined again I suspect by the group leaders], how God has blessed America and the world [again, defined by the group leaders]. No politics of any kind shows they have no sense that their whole group is a political expression of rigid, uncritical conformity with the government line.

And yes, America is the greatest nation in the world. I’m always wondering what criteria people use to say that. Constant overt and covert invasions and subversion of other countries for over two centuries? Largest military expenditure? Only country to use nuclear weapons on civilians? Economic imperialist supporting multi-national corporations creating global feudalism with half the world’s 6.6 billion people in the world dying on less than $2/day?

Anger and “gripe” belong in newspapers. And while they have the right to have Flickr group that shows blind support of America’s junta, saying they brook nothing political is just silly.

They also say this for a current event:

fantartsy (a group admin) says:
04 Nov 07 – YAY!!1000+ members!!** .VETERANS’ DAY THREAD, open for 2 weeks only! Post a photo of the veteran you want to honor> ANYONE FROM ANY COUNTRY may post in this “special” thread!OPEN NOW! JJ/admns

I suspect that if Iraq Veterans Against the War members try to post pictures of events that are critical of the policy in Iraq, those pictures will be removed.