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    Thursday, December 18, 2008

    Christmas doesn't have to suck.

    I do not have many wonderful memories of Christmases past, and I don't think I am alone. To cope with this overblown holiday, here are some strategies.

    1) Do not work in retail. Jobs in retail are no fun at Christmas. If you cannot help working retail, then FORCE yourself to maintain a well-run and organized home life. Do the dishes. Wash your clothes. Put clean sheets on your bed. Do not stress out if you run out of time to buy gifts for people. Simply tell them the truth - your job makes christmas hellish.

    2) Avoid malls. Example of an ad in the subway for one of the local malls: "Discover the real magic of Christmas." Made me immediately want to run home and hide under a copy of Baudrillard.

    3) Avoid spending money you don't have. Just don't do it. Get creative anyway you can, but do not go into debt. Throw a party for your friends and make them all dinner. Bake stuff and package it creatively. Make mixed cds for your parents to play in their cars on the way to work. Write someone a letter and tell them how you love them. Whatever. Just DO NOT GO INTO DEBT. Jesus wouldn't like it.

    4) Don't put up with too much shit from your family.
    I learned this lesson from my schizophrenic step-sister, who is really good at announcing when she has reached her limit: "OK, you guys are starting to make me crazy, so I think I'm going to go home now." She usually lasts about half an hour. I reach my threshhold later, anywhere from three to five hours after arriving at my mother's. Maybe yours is five minutes, or three days. Figure it out, by thinking back on previous holidays. Then plan accordingly.

    5) Look for the good stuff.
    In amongst all the crassness and hyperbole, there are a lot of things to appreciate this time of year. There are usually some very cool concerts or other cultural events taking place. Old friends come into town. People throw parties. In some places, there is snowfall, and it is beautiful and new and fresh, and you are not sick of it yet. Eccentric family traditions come out into the light. There are independent craft shows. There is a lot of booze flowing. Christmas lights, at least the amateurish, goofy kind, are sweet and pretty. The Grinch is on tv. Things could definitely be worse.

    6) If all else fails, boycott.
    Two years ago, M- and I boycotted Christmas, and it was the best. We told friends and family we were taking Christmas off - no presents, no family events. On the day of, we went to see "Manufactured Landscapes" at a French repertory cinema, and then went for Buddha chow mein and ginger crab at our favourite Chinatown diner. Then we went home to our quiet apartment and read to each other and watched snow fall on the city. Perfect.

    Here are some tunes to get you in the mood:

    Thurl Ravenscroft - You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch

    Sufjan Stevens - That Was The Worst Christmas Ever
    Louden Wainwright III - Suddenly It's Christmas

    Monday, March 19, 2007


    Please check this out.

    Friday, February 09, 2007

    what's provocative

    I was just reading a very reasonable opinion piece by Ada Calhoun ("The New Prudishness"), that expresses her scepticism about the supposed "hypersexualization" of our society. Calhoun thinks we are making a whole big deal out of nothing, and I have to agree. I especially like how she ends the piece by pointing out that of course a lot of sex-related behaviour can appear stupid or ridiculous - to expect sex to be tasteful and meaningful all the time is to misunderstand sex itself. Many of the things that make sex exciting - the breaking of taboos, the way passion trumps propriety, the fantasy and role-playing, the physics of the act itself - are ridiculous, looked at in the cold light of reason. But since when has reason had anything to do with sex?

    Calhoun's point, that sexual prudery on the part of academics and feminists actually furthers the ultra conservative agenda, made me think about another issue of prudery and censoriousness. Recently, here in Québec, a small town called Herouxville created a code of conduct that tells people how they ought to behave. The code says things like women shouldn't cover their faces except at Halloween, cannot be beaten to death, or burned alive. It also forbids female genital mutilation.

    Supporters of the code are saying that it is merely a way for the citizens of Herouxville (the white, Québecois citizens, presumably) to assert their system of values. They say there is too much religious and cultural tolerance in Québec and we should start standing up for our "indigenous" (my little joke) moral values. Critics say most of these things are provided for under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that this code is just an expression of xenophobia or, more specifically, Islamophobia.

    So the veil issue. I am not saying I agree with the way women are treated under fanatical Islam. I think the conservative Islamic dress code for women is sexist, even though I have had articulate and intelligent Muslim feminists try to explain to me that is actually a way of freeing the self from the objectification of the body. Screw that, it is sexist: the fact that it does not apply to men equally means it obviously only caters to a male-constructed world where women's desires or jealousies are irrelevant. Furthermore, the veil is basically a form of censorship, that says that a woman's face and hair are too sexually provocative to be made visible in public. If we want to deal with sexuality and the chaos that it brings into our lives, then I think we have lots of evidence that censorship is NOT THE WAY TO GO. Generally, all censorship does is silence healthy public debate while heightening the excitement for all the deviant members of society, encouraging all kinds of weird cruelty. You want to make it less provocative? Bring it out into the open. So...I get what gets people so riled. But let's examine the beam in our own eye for a moment, shall we?

    There are plenty of constraints on the way we expect women to look in Canadian and American culture, and plenty of them are cruel and dehumanizing. Obsessing endlessly over who weighs how much is destructive. Women getting surgery on their breasts and labia to make themselves more sexually desirable - is this so very different from some of the practices we declaim as "genital mutilation"? People argue that the girls who undergo these sorts of procedures in other cultures are coerced or brainwashed - but the women and girls who do these things here in the West are considered cogent enough to determine what happens to their own bodies. Holy hypocrisy, bat girl.

    I think people are really going to have to start actually talking to one another, not just make juvenile codes of conduct to pin up outside the tree-house. Because it seems to me the real problem we are facing is one that affects all our cultures, and that is that sex is being used as an excuse to control how we behave. If I don't necessarily like seeing girls at my university walk by in a niqāb, I also don't enjoy having women thrust their fake-bake cleavage at me, or endlessly draw my attention to their navels or ass-cracks. But I try not to let it bother me. Because, really, that is their prerogative. Just as it is mine to disagree with them and try to express a different notion of femininity altogether, one that does not hinge on the male reaction. Shrill objections to this sort of provocation is just feeding into the idea that how we express our sexuality is somehow more important than all the other things we could be worrying about. It gives sex the kind of power where a woman's hair really can have the volatility to ignite ideological warfare. It's ridiculous. Not sex - sex is grand - but the way we are still so freaking hung up on it. As if we all didn't have bigger things to worry about.