Friday, February 26, 2010

What the Junk? Censorship in Corporate America

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but my favourite song in the entire world is California, by Phantom Planet. Why?

Well… the lead singer, Alex Greenwald, was featured heavily in the mid nineties Gap “Everybody” campaign. Remember: Everybody in Leather, Everybody in Vests, Everybody in Cords? If that campaign doesn’t turn a frown upside down, then clearly you have no more soul then Angel after he de-virginized Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and apparently I’m still living in 1998.

California was also the theme song to the OC, which was, at least in its first season, an excellent teenage drama.

While dithering around my apartment this afternoon looking for a distraction I ended up YouTubing my way over to Everybody in Vests, which reminded me of my love for California. A quick type into YouTube and soon enough I was quickly “cruising down the 101” reminiscing about Seth Cohen, his bromance with Chino’s favourite son Ryan Atwood and some of the best TV dialogue ever written; how can you forget: “Welcome to the OC bitch; this is how its done in Orange County.”

These days most music video’s on YouTube are hosted via Vevo. Vevo was launched by Sony Music Entertainment as a compiler of music video’s. Vevo is also an act of corporate cooperation; EMI, Universal as well as Google and YouTube have all signed on board the project. Vevo is an attempt by the record industry to counter pirated YouTube music video’s and allow record companies to profit from people viewing music videos online.

Vevo… however, is not your friend. My euphoric moment of OC memory lane-age was quickly destroyed, when Alex sang the second verse of the song: “Hustler grab your guns. Shadow weighs a tonne. Driving down the 101”. On Vevo the word guns is bleeped. Guns. Bleeped in a country that prides itself on the Second Amendment to its Constitution, which states, “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Apparently in America you can bear arms but you just can’t talk about it in song. Not even bothering to get into America’s fucked up gun culture, how does this make any sense?

I had my moment with Vevo on the same day that Apple began removing “suggestive” iphone applications from its App Store. Apple is concerned that the App Store was becoming cluttered with “racy content”. According to the company it was also fending off complaints from customers concerned with sexual applications. According to the NY Times some of the applications that have been removed include: “SlideHer, a puzzle that challenged users to reassemble a photograph of a scantily clad actress and Sexy Scratch Off, an app which depicted a woman whose dress could be whisked away at the swipe of a finger, revealing her undergarments.”

Oh My Gawd. Scantily clad women? Undergarments? Is this seriously what people consider racy? Here’s a little tip: if you have time to call Apple to complain about racy applications you probably need to get laid.

I find it shocking that a scantily clad woman application caused a corporate uproar. I’d like to know if anyone who complained to Apple has ever typed the word “tit” into Google; cause I can tell you, you don’t need to be a computer hacker to see things on the internet that are a lot more sexualized then a woman in her undergarments. I just typed “tit” into google images and saw a lot more then I was expecting. In fact I saw a lot more then I’d ever seen before. And less you think that only app’s which sexualized women were removed; gay-centric app “Hunk du Jour” (which does exactly what you think it does, it sends you a daily picture of a shirtless hunk in undergarments) was also removed from the App Store.

Jesus Christ Corporate America, this is what you’re concerning yourself with? Never mind the Iraqi War, the Country’s massive fiscal deficit, broken revenue models, racial inequality, marriage inequality, health care… you’re busy fucking white washing mildly suggestive content from entertainment properties. (But of course… if you slap a Rated M for Mature on games like Grand Theft Auto, which can be used on the Sony Playstation, then all is ok). Dummbasses.

And this is the greatest problem with America today, the lingering sense of Puritanism that its populace demands and that its corporate leaders are obliged to acquiesce to. Remember how the American public was so scandalized when Janet Jackson accidentally showed her nipple the Super Bowl? Its like corporate America has become afraid of its buying public. Even the Tiger Woods narrative is indicative of this fear; Tiger’s mistake wasn’t that he fucked a bunch of stripper’s, rather his mistake was convincing American’s that he was a perfect family man while he continued to fuck a bunch of stripper’s. But ask yourself this: did Tiger have to sell himself as a perfect family man to solidify his endorsements? What we the public told corporate American is that being a great golfer apparently isn’t good enough. We needed a husband and a father as well as a great golfer. Tiger just tried to give us what we wanted and we wanted wasn’t racy.

Because god-forbid Vevo lets a child somewhere in Illinois here the word gun in a music video and woah nelly – imagine if Apple let a 14 year-old boy download an application that featured a scantily clad women? Or even worse, what if a 14 year-old boy downloaded a Hunk du Jour application and liked it?

One of the reasons that America as we know it has been so successful is because of its corporate culture. Corporate America, and its iconic brands, have defined much of twentieth century mass culture. Corporations have also driven innovation. America is built on the ideology of the private corporation. But this corporate ethos should be about openness, not censorship.

The world already has one superpower that censors the web (hi China!); the world doesn’t need another super power where corporations practice censorship as well.

So grow up corporate America; show us your balls.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Google

I was out with some friends recently when we got onto gossiping about a mutual friend of ours, whom we were all apparently stalking on Facbeook (as if you’re judging us…). One of us, me, was concerned that her new boyfriend was but a year out of high school, while another was convinced that the boyfriend was still in university. Confused, worried and lost, we went straight to Google.

“The Google doesn’t lie.” I declared; and sure enough but five minutes later, the Google let us know, with some relief, that our friends new boyfriend was indeed a community college graduate. Praise be allah.

I’m convinced that people don’t pray to god anymore; people now pray to Google. In fact the search engine and its various appendages (GTalk, GoogleDocs, GChat, Gmail, G-adNauseum) have seemingly more to do with my day-to-day life then my mother, at least with the exception of financial support. For that I still need Sima, although as a blogger – I once made almost $8 from Google ad words. Google only mails checks in installments of hundred dollars so… I guess I’m still waiting for Google Ship to come in.

Anyway, so pervasive is Google that its latest advertisement actually aired during the Superbowl; perhaps the massest mass market marketing festival of our culture. The ad, entitled Parisian Love, is part of the Google Search Story campaign. In a nutshell: the commercial tells the story of someone, presumably male and American, who uses Google’s search engine to look for French exchange programs, Parisian coffee shops, how to impress a French woman, how to deal with long-distance relationships… blah blah blah… until the ad ends with a baby crying as our unknown hero searches for: “how to assemble a crib.” Orangina vomit mouth.

The conceit of Google’s current ad campaign is that Google is essential to your life. Google is now your best friend. But is it?

Thinking that the Google worked out well for our unknown American friend, who moved to Paris, found himself a spouse, taught himself the difference between truffles and Truffaut, I thought I’d try out my own luck with the Google, seeing as I don’t live in Paris (but would like to), I have considered finding myself a spouse (but haven’t been able to), and would also like to know the difference between truffles and Truffaut (so I can impress douchebags at bars). And as June 8th grows closer and closer, ie my convication from RotFunMan, I should probably find out what I’m going to do with myself post MBA.

Looking for love and answers I typed into Google: “Where should I work after my MBA?”

The first thing that Google came up provided no career advice, and in fact served to only make me feel worser about myself.

Someone in cyberspace asked: “Should I add MBA after my name?”

The response: “Unfortunately, there are only a handful of professions in which adding credentials after your name make sense. Having an MBA is certainly not one of them, and there are a host of other abbreviations that are downright pathetic.”

Thanks Google; for $70k I don’t even get to ad something fun to my signature? FML.

Then I tried: “What do I do with an MBA?”

The Google coughed up this: “What you can do with an MBA degree is really up to you and how far you want to go in your career. Graduates of an MBA program can choose to use their skills to help others in a nonprofit or to climb the corporate ladder and reach the upper echelons of management. Regardless of the career path you choose, your return on a MBA is based on how much you want to push yourself to reach your personal and professional goals.”

Realizing that my immediate personal goals should involve doing the dinner dishes I left in the sink, I sensed a feeling of inherent boredom. It was something only that could best be described as ennui, which, when typed into Goolge led me to its official definition: en·nui –noun; a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom: The endless lecture produced an unbearable ennui.

Maybe it was just me, but the Google, which had seemed so reliable only hours earlied, now seemed so unhelpful. Why Google did you forsake me, why?

All of this just goes to show you though, that Google, which is attempting to ingratiate itself into all aspects of my life can’t actually do everything.

So ya know what I did? I called my mother. And ya know what she told me to do? She told me to get off my lazy ass and do the dishes.

Le Sigh.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When in Beijing

I often find myself visiting gay bars when I’m in foreign cities. I guess I do it for the same reason I like to visit synagogues when abroad; while I may not frequent either establishments at home in Toronto, when traveling its nice to know how my peeps like to keep it real (and or kosher) in foreign cities. So just as I found myself getting body checked when visiting the historic Ohel Leah Synagogue in Hong Kong, so too did I find myself getting manhandled at Beijing’s primary gay club, Destination.

As a destination, Destination, is fairly typical for its ilk; think strobe lights, a large dance floor and dark cozy corners. I was dragged to Destination late one Friday night with a fellow Canadian, Chris, a PEI banker who had made Beijing his home. The club was full of what Chinese call tongzhi; in Mandarin tongzhi means comrade, but as of late, the word has been co-opted by China’s slowly emergent LGBT community as self-referential slang. It is both a pun, if you divide the Mandarin characters for tongzhi you get “same-will”, and a subversive joke on comrades obvious communist connotations.

Chris and I had met up at Destination after our plan to attend the first ever Mr. Gay China was foiled by a police raid. The event, affiliated with the international gay pageant movement, had been raided by the Beijing police and shut down due to an “alleged” permit infraction. After two years of living in Beijing Chris was hardly surprised at the evening’s turn of events, “That’s what they do here,” he shrugged his shoulders and downed another drink, “If they don’t like something, they’ll just shut you down.” Chris was weary about his time in Beijing and having made the decision to leave, he was hardly nostalgic, “the things that are unbearable about China and Beijing – like tonight – well you try and overlook when you’re living here; but once you’ve decided to go they really start to really grate on you.”

I expected that there would be outrage about Mr. Gay’s cancellation, but standing in Destination, hours after the police disbanded the event, there was nary of ripple of angst; Lady Gaga was on the loud speaker, there was end of week dancing to do. Plus ca change.

The crowd at Destination may not have cared about the failure to launch of Mr. Gay China, but I could only imagine the scene if anything similar were to happen back home. In Canada, after our Harper government decided to demote a minister for supporting Toronto’s pride parade, the angst amongst both the queer community was palpable. Even my father, a Conservative stalwart, admitted “what Harper did just wasn’t right”.

It is easy to travel through China and see what pundits call “Tier 1 China”, the country of glittering skyscrapers, massive construction sites and marvel at the fact that the Shanghai subway system has built seven new lines in the last ten years, while the TTC dithers over the cost of one. It is not as easy to read between the lines and remember that the country is still a communist relic. It is still the People’s Republic of China after all. But f you listen closely to corporate CEO’s as they talk about the country’s economic miracle you eerily begin to realize that such rampant economic success is not as benevolent as its pro-China hype.

One CEO I met in China admitted cheerfully, that China’s public health care system was partially subsidized by provincial citizenship; payments are only covered if you stay within your home province. From an economic standpoint this is a major no-no as it limits the free movement of population. It also means that China’s healthcare is not like Canada’s, which we pride on being “accessible, portable and comprehensive”. In China such limitations are admitted to rather readily;1.3 billion people seem to acquiesce to things that 33 million Canadians would, for all of our politeness, join a Facebook group and protest over. Oh wait, Facebook is banned in China.

My suspicion of China, or judgyness, isn’t of course a new sentiment. While the world generally has a collective miasma over China and her civil rights violations we do every-so-often collectively remember that all is not well at the end of the Silk Road. Most recently and infamously internet titan Google threatened to leave the world’s emergent super power fearing for government privacy laws.

And yet its hard to stay mad at plucky China, which seems caught between the country we all want it to be and the country it wants to be for itself. Chinese themselves are seemingly happy with the country’s progress and the recurring theme amongst Chinese is that this “Chinese way” is a different but also a successful way to develop economically.

When I asked a Chinese intellectual about the Christmas Day arrest of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobou, my question was patently dismissed.

“The west,” he said, “has a contract, a constitution with its population and that contract is hard to change. How many times gas the American constitution changed since it was written?” he asked me rhetorically. “We have no similar culture here in China. Our constitution with our people is constantly changing, it is under constant refinement and evolution.”

This “evolving contract” allows the government to shut down gay events, arrest dissidents, and execute British drug dealers, all of which occurred in China during my three-week visit. This evolving contract probably ensured that last year’s inaugural Shanghai Pride didn’t feature a public parade for fear of police intervention. But beyond this evolving nature of the politic I wonder if the reticence of China’s gay community to embrace such hallmarks of queer culture, pride and pageantry, is not only about a fear of police retaliation but perhaps a rejection of westernized values as well?

When the state of India decriminalized homosexuality last year, Canadian-Indian author Anand Mahadevan wrote in the Globe and Mail, that Indian gays must “look to their own past,” instead of following a western model, which he feared would “promote a McDonald’s-ization of queer culture.” “The Stonewall riots are not their past, pride marches are not their celebrations,” Mahadevan noted.

The same sentiment can be made about China. Obviously those who were at Destination were not ready to make the police’s reaction to Mr. Gay China their Stonewall. But what will be China’s Stonewall if anything at all? When it comes to queer rights, if China looks neither inward, as Mr. Mahadevan suggests is necessary to develop an indigenous queer culture, nor outward, at Western iconography of queer culture (which China seems to rebuff), then the fight for queer rights in China will stagnate.

This chicken-versus-egg problem of China is that the country is adept at both rejecting the external, in order to promote “the Chinese way”, but the lack of a Chinese political class prevents the country from championing an internal alternative. If this dichotomy continues then the praises that the so-called “Chinese way” receives for ensuring economic expansion will turn to criticisms when it comes to promoting political freedom.

What Toronto Needs is a Mayor Who Can Sext...

Today the municipally inclined world of Torontonian (ie the Centre of Canada) politics was abuzz with Adam Giambrone’s admission of an “inappropriate relationship” with a 19 year-old female. For Canadian (and municipal at that) politics, this Clinton-esque scandal is about as saucy at it gets. The Star’s scoop, written by Linda Diebel, read more like something you’d find on Dlisted and less like your typical Star exclusive report on “Poverty in the GTA!” or “Toronto’s Best Elementary Schools!” Quite frankly it was a fairly tawdry piece of reporting, considering that the 32 year-old mayoral candidate is not married and has no children with his live in girlfriend. Did he lie? Sure. Lapse in judgement? Check. But if we’re gonna fry Giambrone for anything, lets do it for his colossal fuck up as TTC chair and not for sticking his Broner in some 20 year-olds fare slot… BAM!

But anyway… I’m ranting. As with any admission of a politician’s infidelity, the usual debate about whether the press should report on personal lives ensues. For those of the Trudea era, the oft repeated mantra of “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation,” is a rallying cry while those of a different political bent argue that someone with such apparently loose morals and ethics may not be the best choice to lead Canada’s largest city.

Me? I’m not particular concerned about the fact that Giambrone was cheating on his partner; what DOES concern me is that someone who is running to be my mayor can’t write a proper sext. I mean I’m fairly indifferent to someone schtupping another adult on the couch in his crusty office in City Hall, but all I really want is a mayor who can sext. Sexting implies passion and shitty sexting does not exactly exude confidence.

For example, I once wrote a sext to a guy I was seeing. At the time he was doing a fair bit of travel and via sext I suggested some activities I was thinking we could do upon his return. His reply: “yes. That would be nice if we could do that.” I realized then that our relationship was headed to nowheresville fast; if you can’t write a mildly dirty sext, then how passionate can you be in life?

People often say that the eyes are a window to a person’s soul, but what if sexting is a also a window. Think of it this way, do you think George Smitherman would EVER sext his partner something as awful as: "I still think of you when I need ... um ... stimulation." Uhm… what exactly does that mean Adam? I’m willing to be that Smidge hasn’t written a sext that lame in his life. I’d even put money down on the fact that Rocco Rossi could muster up something a bit more sexual then: "I like you because you're smart and interesting. You're also good-looking naked." How exactly does one reply to a sext along those lines? “Thanks. Does that mean we’re still gonna fuck tonight on your couch?” I mean really that’s the notion of the sext. It should be direct, frank, a bit hot and maybe just a bit dirty. If you can’t communicate properly via sext, can you communicate effectively to your bureaucracy? Can you communicate efficiently and effectively to your citizenry?

Before we elect our next mayor, we the people of Toronto deserve to know what we’re getting into; in 2010 I believe the proof is in the sext.