Monthly Archives: November 2006

Watch What You Say; It’s the Digital Age

Michael Richards apologizing on The Late Show.

I’m sure by now everybody has heard about the Michael Richards racism scandal. Everybody seems to have an opinion on it. It’s a curious dilemma; we love Kramer so we want to forgive him, but after seeing the footage its difficult to take his apology seriously. In his own words, “it shocks you, to see what lies beneath.” It’s fairly obvious to me that the guy got busted for being genuinely racist. Peel away all the layers of PR and network censorship, and you get a glimpse of the real attitudes prevalent in Hollywood today. This is certainly not the first example of prejudice and bigotry we’ve seen in the popular culture.

Mugshot taken after arrest on DUI charges

I’m reminded of the Mel Gibson scandal. He was arrested for drinking and driving, and proceeded to make anti-Semitic remarks to the officer who made the arrest. Look just a little further into Gibsons family history, and you’ll discover that his father was a fierce anti-Semite, who has publicly denied that the holocaust occured. All you really need to do is use your imagination: try and imagine what kind of sick egotistical god-complexes these celebrities must have. And it’s coming through like never before… thanks to Internet video. It makes me wonder, had somebody not filmed Kramer’s racist rant, and had it not been posted on video-sites, would anybody have cared? I’d wager that it would have been little more than a headline in an local L.A. newspaper, and Michael Richards might still have had a career. I don’t feel any sympathy for him, or Mel Gibson for that matter. I like to think we live in a world where prejudice is not tolerated by the public, especially among celebrated performers.

You celebs gotta watch out now… careful what you say. Our eyes are everywhere now, and we get a sick thrill out of watching you  people crash and burn.  

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Masterpieces of Persuasion (Part II)

We live in a world of myths – a world of bullshit stories that we like to tell ourselves so we can feel better about the world we actually live in. Our myths usually show us a world that we would like to live in, but in the end it’s all just fantasy. Of course, television commercials are the ultimate myth-tellers today. They are, by their very nature, stories about how things should be, or how things would be in a perfect world. Here is an example of an ad which tells the myth of the war and militarism:

Here we see an elite troupe of multi-cultural freedom fighters displaying qualities of strength and courage. Of course, the US Army has to make militarism appear attractive in order to encourage enlistment, so the ad itself is actually very well done. It’s not that they’re trying outright to decieve people – they’re just doing what good advertisers do. But we must never forget… it is an ad, and therefore mostly bullshit.

It’s like the Charmin bear… the cute animated teddy-bear featured in toilet-paper ads. He’s only there to divert your attention from the grim realities of wiping your ass. Ads like this have the same latent cultural affect – they shield people from the truth about war and militarism by focusing on the cute and cuddly side. Myth is carefully woven into the texture of advertising, to distract us from the real truth in our world… a truth that is utterly shameful:

This is the nature of cultural myth – a story that makes us feel warm and fuzzy, which is only a clever disguise for the kind of shit that really goes on out there in the world. There have been numerous cases of abuse, torture, rape, murder and desertion committed by the US Army in Iraq over the years of occupation – all of which illustrates the glaring injustice of it all. And yes, these are the circumstances of war, and such stories should come as no surprise… I just think it’s important that the people of America see this footage. People need to be exposed to the reality of war in order to make any kind of informed decisions about it.

It raises some serious questions. If the military has such high standards of excellence in their troops, then why are the filming themselves cruelly taunting a group of poor young children? Is that ‘army strength?’… Seeing this footage might make people realize “Holy shit, some of our boys in Iraq are just a bunch of rednecked slack-jawed high-school dropouts who joined the military so they could get paid to get drunk play with firecrackers only to come home with fancy medals and impress the blonde with big tits who lives three trailers down! YEE-HAW!!! Let’s strip them A-rab muther-fuckers naked and let the dogs loose on ’em!! It’s a goddam party!!!”

 No, the real problem is that Iraq is called a ‘war’ but it is not a war at all. It’s just a big goddam mess, and I don’t think it ought to be discussed as a political issue. Taunting children is not a politicy, it’s a crime. There is simply no political position that can defend the actions of these soldiers. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, all you can say is “Those guys shouldn’t be there.” So use your imagination and try to see beyond the myth you see on TV… I’d bet that most of the soldiers over there do shit like that. Some are even so goddam stupid that they film it.

What Demons May Lurk Behind Familiar Faces?

Presented for your amusement, three short articles of writing meant to briefly probe into the history of three of the largest corporations on Earth. I took about ten minutes each to do minimal research and summarize my conclusions. I’m open to debate about any of them.

1. Microsoft: A Dream Struggling to be Realized

This is an early screenshot of Microsoft Windows v1.01. Actually, Windows v1.00 was released prematurely and had to be revised because of a fatal keyboard flaw. As you can see, neither the company nor the program has really changed. Windows is still the same in terms of its fundamental format. All the same file extensions and menus exist today. We’ve come so far in terms of graphics, but aside from the taskbar, little has changed in terms of interface design. Though few people will have ever used it, Windows 1.0 is a poignant reminder of the staggering progress that has been made in Graphical Computing and PC development. But I’ve always believed that herein lies a looming social dilemma.

We are currently baring witness to an ongoing battle for PC supremacy. Although the battle for the PC market (long dominated by Microsoft and Apple) may seem, at the surface to be a battle for business… the truth is that it is completely ideological battle. Each company must win the hearts and minds of techno-consumers in order to make their quarterly targets. This is evident in our tendency to use certain words like “converting” to Apple… or calling the PC boom a “revolution.” There are clearly bigger things at play than the dollar.

I’ve always believed that we are in the process of choosing our technological overlords. The evolution of digital technology has always necessarily entailed convergence, compatibility and interoperability. It should be obvious to anyone that the best thing to do is to have only one operating system. This of course flies in the face of the principles of Adam Smith’s economics. And this is precisely the dilemma: for the first time ever, we have a product that has a negative relationship with the amount of competition in the marketplace. That is to say… the more people make technology, the less the technology works. Sure, there are variances and exceptions, but I think everyone can agree that that is a fair statement, at least in a general sense. Ever had problems running iTunes on Windows? If history is to be considered any kind of indicator, then chances are we will one day live in a world with only one operating system.

Imagine a world where Microsoft, Sony and all the others have gona bankrupt, and Apple runs a complete monopoly on the production of consumer technology. Try to also imagine that we’re 20 years in the future, and every new television, telephone, laptop and video camera is hooked into the same network…. then ask yourself… what is Apple? Are they still just a company that makes computers? Nevermind that… are they still a company? Are they still in the business of earning money? Or is it quite possible that they’ve been in the business of ideology for over 20 years?

2. DeBeers: Reprogramming Culture

The right combination of subterranean thermodynamics and carbon atoms will sometimes result in the creation of unique kind of tetrahedral crystallization. The result is a transparent crystal that is well-known for being the hardest substance on Earth; a diamond. Because of their extreme rarity and unique physical properties, diamonds have become highly valued throughout much of modern history. In 1888, a poor grain farmer named DeBeers discovered diamonds on his farm, and sold it off under his name. The company has since held a near monopoly over the diamond industry. Until the late 1940s, the purchase and possession of diamonds was typically reserved for the wealthy elite. It wasn’t until the post-WWII years that the DeBeers PR agency (Ayer & Son) pioneered a new kind of promotional campaign geared towards re-progamming the cultural significance of diamonds. They began equating diamonds with romantic love; specifically the ritual of marital engagement. Their famous slogan “A diamond is forever” was designed to ensure that diamonds would be cherished as romantic heirlooms, and thus never re-sold in any secondary market. As a matter of fact, the DeBeers company rarely advertised their brand name – instead, they paid Hollywood directors, celebrities and fashion designers to contextualize diamonds in such a manner that they eventually came to represent romance. The linkage between romance, marriage and diamonds was, in fact, entirely contrived by a corporate marketing agency that was ahead of its time. The illusion that diamonds are a traditional symbol for love still persists to this day. In reality, diamonds have only represented romantic love for around 50 or 60 years.

Today, diamonds can be produced in a laboratory. However, DeBeers maintains their position that these manufactured diamonds are “fake,” lacking the genuine authenticity of their unearthed counterparts. After all, the mass-production of diamonds would utterly devalue the market. And a diamond could not symbolize the preciousness of love if it was cut by lasers on an assembly line in Delaware. Apparently though, if it’s hauled out of the Earth along with ten thousand tonnes of toxic ore-trailings, then it means true love. Never-mind the environmental repercussions of such blatantly irresponsible commodification. Fifty years worth of farsighted cross-promotion is enough to convince you that these things will indeed last “forever.”

3. Starbucks: A Glimmer of Hope? Or a Clever Chameleon?

This is the original Starbucks logo, from its original 1971 Seattle location. The first Starbucks was opened by an English teacher, a History teacher, and a writer. It has since evolved into a beloved super-chain of coffee retailers spanning the entire globe. Combining soft jazz instrumentals and a chain-wide theme of soft darks, Starbucks has nestled itself into the metropolitan cityscape, and into the list of multi-national mega-brands attributed with fanning the flames of globalization and cultural imperialism. To their credit, their success has always been a result of their superior products and service. And unlike other huge corporations, they don’t spend a lot on ads. That’s just the thing – they don’t really need to.

It’s kinda funny when you first realize it… that you can’t remember the last time you saw a Starbucks commercial on TV. In their entire history, they’ve only ever done a couple. It’s a peculiar fact that, in an age of unprecedented marketing expenditures, Starbucks’ marketing budget drastically underscores those of other multinationals. Unlike DeBeers, they don’t need to create a market – it’s already there. That’s how capitalist economy is supposed to work.

Having reached their “McDonalds-esque” stature overnight, Starbucks is a good example of how capitalist economy can still work today. If you’ve got a good idea, and if people are willing to pay for it, then you can laugh all the way to the bank. Despite small problems with fair-trade and third-world exploitation, Starbucks has still managed to hold it’s head high and offer a cozy haven for all the young urban professionals and pseudo-intellectuals of the world.

*     *     *

Examples of the kind of interesting stories that corporations tell us, if only we take the time to look just a little bit closer. I implore you to do your own research, draw your own conclusions. It’s staggering how much there is to learn. Corporations seem to want to be our friends, perhaps we should take the time to get to know them.

iPod Generation: Irresponsible Magicians

 Do you remember where you were when you first heard the word “iPod?” Well I certainly don’t. That thing just came outta nowhere, and now it’s such an integral part of our daily lives that it’s bizarre trying to remember the world before them. I guess that’s why they fascinate media-specialists and academics so much. They represent a big question mark… what is their significance? What is their future? And how much smaller can they get before cat’s start choking on them?  

We’re all familiar with the success of the Apple iPod. I think most people either have one, or know somebody who has one. That is the mark of a truly successful product. There are a number of reasons for their success; their minimalist user-interface, their “impossibly” compact design, their non-technical carefree advertising… all good reasons. But ultimately, I think Apple just catered to the needs of a generation of download-happy youngsters who, over years of file-sharing and music-pirating, had amassed enormous banks of digital music files on their PCs in need of organization and mobility (iTunes and iPod respectively). My hat goes off to them for what has clearly been the business success story of the decade… a well executed capitalization and exploitation of the MPEG Audio-Layer 3 generation:

iPod quarterly sales.

Like any hi-tech device, it has its technical shortcomings. For example, Apple claimed that the iPod’s battery life would provide 12 – 14 hours of playback. Anybody who owns an iPod knows that their battery life generally hovers around 8 – 10 hours. Apple has since claimed that its estimates for battery life were not geared towards something they call “real-world use.” Ummm… pray tell; what else is there? Fantasy-world use? For the most part, we have become so seduced by glossy whites and click-wheels that we rarely take this small flaw into consideration. And sure as sugar, worse devices have been made. I’m not here to chastise the iPod, for I believe it to be a marvel of form and function, and truly worthy of it’s staggering success. No, I’m not attacking iPods… all I’m saying is that mine is a useless piece of shit. Let me tell you the story:

I own an iPod Photo, 30GB, purchased sometime in 2005. Since I was spending nearly $400 on it, I let the jackass at Future-Shop coax me into purchasing their “extended warranty.” When it comes to hi-tech devices, those fucking snake-oil salesmen get me every time. I’m usually so skeptical about the product, that I feel I should get a warranty, “just to be safe.” He told me that if I had any problems with the iPod in the next year, Future Shop would replace it for me, no hassle. Well as luck would have it, when I got it home and started using it, the damn thing wouldn’t turn off.

Naturally, I took it back to Future Shop the following day. Seeing that the device was clearly faulty, they gave me a brand new iPod free of charge. I was pretty proud of myself. I thought “Good thing you got that extended warranty Muir, otherwise you woulda been up shit creek without an iPod!” After a few weeks, my new iPod began to have problems of its own. It would sometimes not connect to my computer. The problem persisted until it would only connect very rarely. So, I took it back to Future Shop yet again. But this time they told me my warranty was no good: “You already used your warranty Mr Muir… so kindly go fuck yourself while we go into the stock-room and bathe in your money.”

See, when they’re making the sale they tell you “for the next year.” They refrain from divulging the itty-bitty details like “Oh yeah… and you can only use it once, fuckwad.” I tried arguing with them, I tried yelling at them, and I tried throwing half-drunk bottles of Wildcat at them… but they just wouldn’t listen to reason. And so, for the past year I’ve been using an iPod that only half works. And about two months ago, it stopped plugging into my computer all together. The last time I plugged it in, it wiped all my songs off… so now it’s just a brilliantly-conceived, beautifully-designed, well-marketed piece of dog shit.

And so I find myself in a bit of a dilemma… and this is the crux of this entry: do I buy a new one?

I’ve just expressed disdain for both the producers and retailers of this product. And in some sense, I am dissatisfied with the product itself! After all, I never dropped it… it was just always faulty! Where does the responsibility lie? Obviously, it’s my fault for letting Future Shop get the best of me with their slimy fine-print and hidden loop-holes, but at what point do we hold the makers of these devices responsible for their malfunctions?

Hi-tech products such as the iPod are, in a word, magic. That is to say, nobody really knows how they work, or how to fix them. I mean, I understand that it translates compressed binary codes into an analogue signal, but I couldn’t pop it open and tinker with it. Consumers are essentially at the mercy of the hi-tech industry, and I’ve always resented that. Buying a hi-tech device is always such a gamble, never mind the fact that they are quick to become obsolete. Will there ever come a day when we can invest in technology and have peace of mind at the same time?

It makes me wonder… will there ever be a future where all of our devices will be compatible and interoperable? Will our computers all share the same formats and operating systems? Will they have a common theme, design continuity? Above all, I wonder… who will make these decisions? What a tremendous power they would wield.

Masterpieces of Persuasion (Part I)

What makes a good advertisement? This will be a 3 part series of entries about effective television ads.

Oddly enough, the best ads tell you nothing about the product. Instead, they stir the soul, and make you feel genuine emotion. Employing powerful imagery, moving music and humanistic themes, the makers of this ad have perfectly demonstrated what a good ad should do. It should make you feel a certain way… and then stick you with a brand name at the end. That’s all. This is probably one of the most effective ads I’ve seen in years:

This ad is clearly loaded with heavy ideological messages. But what are they saying? Is technology uniting people? Is it helping us to transcend the various divisions in society? I suppose it doesn’t matter… questions like those are best left for the academics. And yet… one cannot help but feel a strange sense of awe… as if the creators of this ad have not only an insight into our future… but an insight into our sense of purpose. And don’t you dare scoff at it for being advertising a game console… for there are far too many naive little heads out there underestimating the importance of it all… make no mistake about it: the gaming industry today is undeniably the driving force of human innovation, artistry, engineering, design and culture. At least… that’s what I read from this ad.

I try to think of ads on a sort of non-fleeting way. It’s so easy to dismiss them as passing phenomena. That is wrong. Ads bookmark our cultural development. Generations from now, people might watch this ad in an effort to make sense of how we live today, in much the same way we make deductions about history based on classic works of art and literature.

I hear the voices of a great discussion in advertisements like this… a discussion about where we’ve been, where we’re headed. I wish more people would recognize these ads as the modern masterpieces that they are.

On the Obsoletion of the Term “Video Game”

Does anybody remember 1987? That year, home video-game consoles were just beginning to find a market in Japan and North America. A small Japanese company called Squaresoft was going bankrupt, and its last game was to be an adventure game in the fantasy genre, playable on the Famicon (Nintendo in America). As an omage to their fallen company, they named it “Final Fantasy.”

Though the graphics are primitive by today’s standards, the format of the game broke barriers, and brought Squaresoft out of its depression. “Final Fantasy” had become one of the biggest selling games of all time. Of course, Squaresoft immediately began producing more titles for the Final Fantasy franchise, some of which made their way to America.

The idea of the game was very simple: a fellowship of people (often warriors, princesses, mages, archers, etc.) would set out on a quest. Where the quest would lead, the player did not know. The thrill of adventure was irresistible, even with pixelated graphics. The fantasy themes, (mostly drawn from Tolkien and the literary fantasy genre) just helped the player to feel as though they were in another universe.

In 1994, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy 6 in America. For many kids at the time, this game would live on as a legend for being, quite possibly, the greatest adventure game ever produced for the Super Nintendo. Some people today still argue that it is the greatest game ever made. Why, you ask?

ff3.jpg

Well the graphics were greatly improved, but I’ve never believed that was terribly important. The game was different somehow. First of all, the makers of Final Fantasy 6 made an importance decision: they strayed away from the common fantasy themes. Rather than being set in a medieval or mythical setting, the game was now set in a time similar to our first industrial revolution. Steam engines and gunpowder, opera houses and zeppelins, technocratic empires and underground rebellion… all the necessary components for an epic adventure. And they managed all this, mind you, with 16-bit graphics.

It only took three years for the next great advancement. Final Fantasy 7 was released in 1997 along with the Sony Playstation, which signalled the transition from 2-D bit-mapping to beautifully rendered 3-D environments. Suddenly, the player was  immersed in a world that had been painted by hand. There is no other way to describe Final Fantasy 7… for players at the time, it was an astonishing work of art.

As you can see by this screenshot, the game drasticallychanged. The game was no longer produced with any the pretext of traditional fantasy elements. This game was set in a quasi-futuristic setting… a world in which a greedy corporate autocracy is draining the life-force from the planet in order to consolidate its stranglehold on an oppressed city. It doesn’t take an English major to surmise that the common thread of adventure, empire and rebellion is still present. But this game still fascinated me… because I realized video games could be used as a medium to comment on real issues facing humanity. Sure the dialogue was cheesy, and one of the main characters was a 500 year-old talking lion… but that in no way detracted from the seriousness of the game. I played this game when I was 15 years old, and I felt like I was part of the rebellion… I was a 15-year old kid bringing down the empire.

Since then, the advances in graphic technology speak for themselves. I got Final Fantasy 12 about two weeks ago, and it has certainly not disappointed. One only need look at the stunning visuals to appreciate the game:

Now, the games play like an interactive movies. The characters speak and act in an eerily human way. If you scroll up to the first picture in this entry, its amazing to think that it is the same franchise. Though the graphics may change, the story remains the same. Somewhere in all of us there is an urge to fight the empire. Whatever the empire might be, doesn’t really matter. It could be Kefka and his consort of demented followers, it might be Shinra and his army of genetically altered soldiers, it might be Sauron and his leagues of disgruntled orcs. The need for an enemy persists, and so too does the need for a troupe of virtuous heroes to bring him justice.

The need for fantasy will always remain. It makes me wonder what Final Fantasy 17 will look like. What will it be? What kind of people will want to play it? But most of all… it makes me wonder what kind of people will continue ignorantly dismissing them as “video games”… missing out on some of the greatest artistry, music, storytelling, and adventure that the world has ever seen.

A Scepter for the Kings and Queens of the Modern Age

At some point in the 1860s, a brilliant Austrian physicist named Ernst Mach made a few scientific propositions concerning aerodynamics. Thanks to his work, and subsequent developments in engineering and aeronautics, man brokethe sound barrier by 1947. It took nearly a century of human ingenuity to accomplish this feat. As the decades rolled by, more advanced air-crafts were able to double, even triple the sound barrier. Surely, this is one of history’s most marvellous scientific endeavours. But if you look up “Mach 3” in any search engine, this is the kind of science you will find:

We live in a world in which the doctrines of science have been exploited by Wall-Street in order promote irrational consumption habits. Gillete has cleverly disguised the Mach 3 Turbo Razor as some kind of scientific or technological advancement. The product is advertised in such a way that allegorizes it to the ideologues of science and progress. It is aerodynamic and mechanical – a nice combination of form and function. It can even be disassembled, much like an AK-47.

The theme of militarism is obvious. And what else would you expect for a product that is intended to denote male verility? Oddly enough, the very same product can be sold to women simply by changing the colours, using the word ‘moisture,’ and naming after the Roman goddess of love. How can this be? What are we really buying?

And what is the real issue here? Well, what’s happening here is known to contemporary Marxist theorists as “commodity fetishism.” Proponents of Capitalism will tell you that the competitive nature of the capitalist marketplace would neccessarily result in a cyclical race to make better products. Marx would agree… but he would ask “Does the cycle ever get out of control?”

There comes a time when so-called product ‘improvements’ become little more than unnecessary gimmickry. The Mach 3 Turbo Razor is the ultimate example. Even if extraneous blades did enhance comfort, it would not alter the fact that its bombastic design and flashy packaging are, for all practical purposes, superfluous.

Of course, all of this just plays so perfectly into our nature. The human mind doesn’t ask many questions… it just accepts that the contours of the razors handle are elegantly designed… so finely sculpted to fit our hands… serrated for extra grip. We even take a bizarre personal pride in such extravegancies, as if we are blessed to be living in an age where progress has made such regal luxuries common-place. Rarely do we ask why… why is the handle of a relatively disposable razor designed to be so graceful and beautiful? At what cost did this razor come to be?

The real reason for all the showiness is simple: it distinguishes the Mach 3 Turbo Razor from the cheap rudimentary razor blades. In the end, it’s about class distinction. It’s about consuming the idea of progress… the idea that standard razor blades are a thing of the past, and that turbo razors are the way of the future. It’s about knowing that people elsewhere in the world cannot afford Mach 3 Turbo Razors.

In this small example I have shown, I have hoped to demonstrate how deeply rooted the arrogance and hypocrisy of the rich nations of the West can be. Most of us don’t think twice about the Mach 3 Turbo Razor, but it’s a good symbol of what our society has become. Our products must be three-times as big and adorned with gaudy trinkets, just to remind us that we’re rich… while somewhere in the world there are people without the basic amenities of life… some using razors with only one measly blade.

It’s a simple point I’m trying to make here. You see, compared to a standard razor, it takes a lot more money, energy and resources to make a Mach 3 Turbo Razor. As a society, isn’t it about time we reconsider this investment? These ads would lead us to believe these razors are a result of all our progress. Well they don’t fool me, and I don’t think they fool anyone else. Are we really entering a new age of science and technology? I mean… who’d ever heard the name Ernst Mach before?

Ultra Deep Field (For Ultra Deep People)

A lot of people say that the images of the lunar landing are the most important of all in human history. Well… we all know my thoughts on the moon landing, so obviously I don’t agree. However, believe it or not NASA isn’t all lies and conspiracies. Their Hubble Space Telescope has produced some of the most amazing images ever captured by a lens. This lens just happens to be able to pick up light from billions of miles away.

Back in 2004, they pointed the telescope at a randomly selected corner of the night sky… one that was completely dark, showing no signs of activity. They called it “Deep Field.”

Hubble Ultr

What’s profound about this picture? Well it’s quite simple. Those little clusters aren’t stars. Not even solar systems. They are entire galaxies… just like the milky way. It boggles the mind… but there it is. If you ever wondered how big the cosmos really are, just try and imagine the immense dimensions of this single photograph. I believe this photograph is truly one of the greatest scientific accomplishments of all time. It’s a weird fact that so many people on Earth are not familiar with it. I mean… you’d think it would be more of a big deal. Well I think it is.

Certainly a much bigger deal than some jackass pretending to plant an American flag on the moon.

The late cosmologist Carl Sagan famously formulated an equation based on the sheer plentitude of stars in the known universe… it was an equation based on statistics that basically said “Even though the specific circumstances that produce life are infintessimally small, there are so many trillions of stars that, statistically speaking, life almost certainly will have occured somewhere else in the Universe.” I like his reasoning… and he was even being generous, giving the skeptics the benefit of the doubt for every possible variable. And hey… that’s only taking into account our definition of life.

It makes me wonder if our galaxy might be photographed by some orbital telescope belonging to some other distant race of intelligent creatures. And I wonder if, somewhere out there in the vastness of the cosmos, there is another unemployed creature just like me, writing in his alien blog, playing his alien video-games, and living off of frozen alien perogies.

Goodbye to Silvercity

A cautionary note to my readers: if you have not worked at Silvercity Mission, this entry might not interest you. If, however, you have had the pleasure, then another cautionary note: this will be a long nostalgic entry. Now that I’m officially finished there, I can finally write a retrospective. I worked there for 3 years, so forgive me if it is long.

I want to put the whole experience into context. While I was away, I had a lot of time to think, and I often reflected on my Silvercity experience with a sharply contrasting mixture of fondness and disdain. It’s all too often the case with minimum-wage jobs… you love them because they’re easy and they’re fun, but you hate them at the same time because they’re sometimes very demeaning. Did you know that in three years of employment my raise was only increased by a grand total of $0.50?  And that’s after being promoted to a supervisor and being crossed trained as a projectionist. I don’t want to get too much into specifics, but I think this aptly demonstrates how truly ‘low-level’ my employment status has been for the last 3 years. In fact, I’ve had 5 jobs and Silvercity was still the lowest paying job I’ve ever had.

Now that it’s all over, I’d like to use this blog to summarize the experience, as best as can be done in a few paragraphs and photos. Of course, I can never do justice to all that has happened… partly because I don’t remember a lot of it now. So many people have come and gone, it’s hard for me to remember the names and faces I worked with when I first got hired. But I suppose, that’s as good a place as any to begin the story. Welcome to London Avenue.

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The first thing I did in 2003 was go to the French Alps. I lived there for 3 months with my friend Greg, and we worked as bartenders in order to supplement our traveling/snowboarding/living expenses. It was one of the most profound life-experiences I could have had. Trouble is, one day I came home and found myself without a job, lacking direction with school, and generally overwhelmed by other personal issues. I looked for a job for months, and found nothing. Then, I went to Silvercity Mission with my dad to see a movie, and randomly asked for an application at the box office. The girl working at the time (Shanon Rafter) told me to come in the next day for an interview. So I did, much to the surprise of the interviewer (Matt Thomas), who had no idea who I was or why I was there. Luckily, he gave me the job but warned that I was perhaps “a little overqualified.” I took that warning with me for the rest of my Silvercity career. Andrew Muir had officially become a player.

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Much to my dismay, I was put on the concession. They told me everyone had to start that way. So there I was filling large cups of pop and scooping butter-soaked popcorn into large bags for the fat pigs that came to see movies… just months after serving wine to mountaineers in a picturesque alpine village (for twice the money might I add). Needless to say, I hated the job, and everyone who worked there. I thought my supervisor was a whiney bitch, the other employees were all dumbass high-school chicks, and my managers didn’t take the time to learn my name.

However, if your sales on the concession were good enough, they would move you to floor. That was the position I was after. It was clear that all the cool people worked on floor, and that very little work was involved. “That job looks like a breeze” I thought to myself. And so, I figured out a system for cheating the system to make my sales appear much higher than they were. I won’t go into detail, but I basically faked the transactions (took the customers money and gave them change without ringing it in on my computer)… and after doing this three or four times, I would then ring all four transactions in as if they were one… effectively making it look like I’d been upselling my ass off. Employees who had the best “average check” won a prize. This was designed to encourage suggestive selling (Would you like a large for $0.50 extra?)… but in effect it only provided me with a perfect opportunity to escape the concession. It only took me about 3 or 4 days. And to this day my time on the concession remains one of the shortest in the history of the theater.

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Working floor was an absolute thrill. I loved in from the very beginning. The job basically entails ripping tickets, standing around, looking in the theaters, watching trailers, and sweeping popcorn under stuff. Never before in my life had I experienced such easy money. I didn’t care that it was minimum wage… my god, it was like hanging out with friends from 5 to 11. And once I was on floor, that’s when I started meeting cool people.

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I was going to school, and the theater was the perfect “on the side” job. I didn’t even care about the long commute, because I looked forward to going every night. I got to see free movies, go to advanced screenings, and being accepted into the social environment there completely opened me up. Actually, anyone who has worked there can attest that working at Silvercity forces you to have confidence. Nobody was discriminated against. If you wanted to make friends at the theater, it was easy. God only knows how many hilarious break-room ‘conversations’ have been had. That place is always full of characters.

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Of course, relationships came and went. Like an ongoing dance, couples were forged and broken nearly every week, giving everybody sufficient gossip to understand their place and figure out who their friends were. There ain’t no romance like theater romance. I once drew a map of all the people who had made out with people… there was a maximum of three degrees of separation between any two people. But it was all innocent, and hearts were rarely broken.

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After about 6 months on floor, one of the managers (Colin) approached me and told me he would like me to supervise the floor. I couldn’t see any reason not to accept, and it had the added bonus of being trained in the coveted projection booth. I’d wanted to work up there since I was a kid, and that’s no lie. It was a dream come true for me. What I didn’t foresee at the time was that I would have to work at the theater a lot more. From that day forward, the theater became the most prevalent force in my life. Sure I still worked hard in school, but going to work just seemed so much more fulfilling.

I’m sure all of this is quite boring. Actually, my role at the theater is of the least importance to me. The only thing that has meant anything over the years has been the people I’ve become friends with… the game nights at Jenelles, parties at Marks, late nights at BP, and all the random events the came in between.

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How can we forget Hobo-Bonobo? He was a character I created while bored on doorpost, and he exploded into popularity much to my surprise. He was first only published in the breakroom, but went on to be the funniest comic in the SFU newspaper, prompting dolls to be made of him, and even a pumpkin in his likeness carved by Nicole. Here are two of his most popular appearances:

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There have even been a few trips. Perhaps most notably was the “Guy Gettaway of 2005.” That was the beginning of a lot of solid friendships. Then there was the California Road Trip… sometime last year, six of us drove to San Fransisco for the hell of it. And it was a hell of a time. Everything went wrong, but we all had a blast and took with us some good memories.

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It’s a sad fact, that at some point just over a year ago, work at the theater took a serious turn. It’s difficult to say positively, but I have often speculated that this coincided with the sale of the Famous Players chain of theaters to Cineplex Entertainment. Cineplex is owned by a Canadian investment firm called Onex Cortporation, who’s mission statement clearly states their mandate of buying dysfunctional companies and slashing their workforces. Things just slowly turned rotten around our theater. The complaint was not that we got fewer shifts, it was that suddenly there was no surplus of people working. In other words, nobody to hang out with during shift, nobody to talk to while you were on door post, fewer people in the breakroom, and higher levels of stress due to increased pressure to perform. Some of the most foundational members of staff quit to find better jobs. We had lost all of our original managers to promotions, and now the theater was run by mostly young people who, though hard working, lacked the leadership skills of their forebears. From a personal perspective, all I can really say is that I did not enjoy going to work as much as I used to. I think everybody recognized that this was the beginning of the end.

My final year was marked by a serious decline in work ethic. In fact, the entire theater suffered from this, management included. A certain spirit was lost. After all, our company had literally sold us. Where before there was a sense of pride and unity among the team, now there was just $8.00 an hour. The will to exceed disappeared. Managers, becoming increasingly pressured by their superiors to produce better numbers, became short of patience and took it out on the staff through a variety of methods.

I think that through all of this, the people who have suffered most have been the managers themselves. There was a time when Famous Players was a leading force in the exhibition industry. There used to be lots of opportunity and room for upward mobility. Promotions were common. Some people at the theater banked on having a career there. Today, few people have achieved the same level of success at Cineplex. Only one of my friends (Kirk) has been successful within the company, and that’s because he has been dedicated and extremely loyal.

There have been times when I had frustration towards those in charge of the theater. Not because they were bad people… in fact quite the contrary. For the most part they’re smart, young and talented.  My frustration has always been that they get so used by the people who are REALLY in charge, and they just become tools. They get paid peanuts, despite that fact that they work extremely late and have huge responsibilities. What is the result of this injustice? Well, a wise man once said “Shit rolls downhill.” They take their frustration out on the staff. I, like many other people, had to develop my own self-defense system to make sure it didn’t get to me. If a manager ever spoke down to me, I just nodded and continued doing things my way. It was simple and effective, and most of the time it was never about anything real… they just wanted to talk down to me. Once a manager told me to turn the volume down in the lobby. I went into the back, had a drink of water and came back out. “Is that better?” I asked… “Much better Andrew.” Little things like that proved to me that I was gonna get flack anyway, so I might as well just ignore it all.

Anyone who has had to be “managed” knows that you must never underestimate the psychological effects of “casual-dress” uniforms… you know, when people get to wear a shirt instead of a conventional uniform. They can do a lot to make somebody feel like they are in power. It essentially only serves as a system of differentiation among the staff, because if it wasn’t for the shirts there would be no real difference between managers and regular staff. They had similar wages, and the manager’s tasks involved most of the same duties as regular staff (cleaning theaters, dealing with customers, selling tickets, treasury, projection, etc.)… they feel endowed simply because they wear shirts that nobody else can wear (oh… and their name tags are magnetic while everyone else’s has a pin). It’s all a bit silly, and I have always believed it to be a sickness in any job.

Micro-management inevitably produces resentment and animosity. I think anyone who has worked a minimum-wage job can attest to this claim. I always tried my best to just take things in stride, but sometimes it was hard. Often times I would go into the office and observe acts of utter corruption: laziness beyond excuse, disorganization on an entirely unprofessional level, contempt for workers rights, and pathetic personal vendettas. I always tried my best to contain my opinions, but it always came out in some form of insubordination. What some people call being lazy, I call being constructive. I prepared the majority of my thesis while working in the projection booth. I made important personal phone-calls while closing floor. I caught up on reading while it wasn’t busy. One day, somebody will scour the hidden corners of the theater and they will find dozens of makeshift chairs next to old magazines and half-drunk slushies… a self-constructed consolation for those days where I felt particularly abused. When they introduced headsets, mine was actually always plugged into my iPod (one of my best kept secrets). Do I feel ashamed? Not at all. The reason is simple. Because everybody did what I did, in some form or another. In fact, most people did far worse. Theft was rampant, and has gone largely undetected by management for years. I never stole, but how would anyone know? And it’s not like management stuck to the books. I can’t even count the number of manger/player sexual relationships that have transpired… some of which in the theater itself. And they stole from the company too, but they gave themselves moral immunity by calling them “credits.”  I once watched a manager intentionally neglect to pay a member of staff because he didn’t like her. This kind of blatant disregard for responsibility and professionalism slowly drained me of my will to work for these people. Of course in their eyes, I was always to blame for my attitude.

They said I was unmotivated. I used to just agree. There was nothing to motivate me… because they weren’t doing their job properly. It really is that simple, and I can’t believe they never saw it that way.

I don’t feel ashamed… because I still did my job. At the end of the night, everything was done. If it was busy, I was always out there lending a hand, getting organized, and executing things perfectly. I’ll vehemently defend that I was the most competent projectionist they had. They can’t tell me I didn’t contribute, and they can’t tell me I was lazy. All they can say is that I found little ways of justifying my insultingly low wages. If somebody asked me to do something respectfully, I always did it, even if I didn’t want to. I’m proud of the way I handled myself, because I did what I was paid for. No more. Minimum wage buys minimum effort. I’m sorry, that’s just reality, and no amount of managerial doublespeak ever successfully convinced me that I was bad for the theater. The only difference between me and the other members of staff is that I was honest about my low morale. I let it out in the open, and the I guess some people felt threatened by it. It didn’t bother me much.

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I don’t think I fooled anyone. I never tried to deceive people. The managers knew I didn’t go above and beyond, and that was okay. So when the time came and I decided to quit, I had a strong feeling they would not hire me back if it was up to them. I would have liked to come back for a month or two to get back on my feet this month, but it’s probably for the best that I don’t.

As you can tell, I’ve tried to fit my experience at the theater into a little narrative, and it’s obvious now that this story has ended. Most of my friends either don’t work there anymore, or are leaving soon. For that, I am very glad. Because even though we all met through the theater, we don’t need it to stay together. The theater was just a silly job, and I’m glad I’m finally finished there. But it’s important to me that I keep my friends. I’ve met lots of people there that I plan to stay close to for the rest of my life, and they know who they are.

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Of course, there are some people that were of the least importance to me. And you can count on the fact that I won’t be seeing them again… but only about one or two. I’ve had battles with people here and there… but nothing of much importance. I like to think we’re all mature enough to look beyond all that shit. 

I figure that in about a year, there probably won’t be anyone working there that I would care to talk to. Only the theater itself will be worth remembering. The theater is a character herself… in fact one that I love deeply. After all, I used to spend about 2 hours a night just hanging out in the lobby by myself listening to music. I feel a weird familiarity with that place, almost as if it’s mine before anyone else’s. I don’t care who owns the theater on paper, I’ve always felt like that lobby belongs to me. You know… it’s all the little things that make the place so incredibly familiar.

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And now for some real nostalgia. Here’s a list of some of the most memorable moments:

– Playing guitar with Tasha and Gough in the Players Room

– Playing guitar with Damon and Gough in Sun Peaks

– Playing guitar with Jenelle and Gough in the stairwell

– Playing guitar with Mike and Gough at Whiterock

– Nickelback badminton with James

– Scandalous nights at Christine’s cabin

– Drinking at Jenelles

– Hacky sack with Gough, Damon and Kirk on Pier 39

– The lighthouse at Shelter Cove

– Chess with Mike in the projection booth

– Super Nintendo on the big screen with Nikki

– Slackin’ off in general with Natalie

– Scootin’ round the booth with Derek

– Indoor badminton with Nicole

– Cigars and discussing broads with Bailey

– Late-night rendez-vous with Sean

– Sniffin glue with Stacey

– ROBOT HOUSE with Mark

– Throwing unwanted food at the Players Room Wall

– Print-moving gossip with Christine

– Madeleine and Sylvia feeding off each other’s laughter

– Constantly laughing with James

– Good times with Lebuef

– Creepin’ on Lacey

– Discussing political science with Nick

– Swearing around Kelsey A.

– Making fun of Herbert

– Dressing up as Spongebob and molesting Misty

– S with S with Derek

– Keepin’ the world sane with Tubbs

– Cackling with Lara

– Talking trash with Jen G.

– Having nothing to do with Jen P.

– Patting Lily on the head

– Tell me what you see!!!

– Laughing uncontrollably with Damon and Christian

– Driving to Seattle with Gough, Lebeuf and Iserhoff

– When Warren peed on that dog

– James dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow

– Colin molesting the huge inflatable Garfield

– Rachel in general

– Dumping water on Derek

– Closing with Kirk and Steph

– When ***** and ********* made out at the *****

– Driving over the wrong bridge with Katelyn

– The swimming pool at the hotel in Portland

– “Getting lost” with Korryn

– When Lauren quit

– Postal Service with Chris and Mike B

– Brooke’s laugh

– Shanon’s toughness

– H. Sing’s brief stint

– Mandy’s refreshingly natural beauty

– Jessica’s tales of getting so drunk at the Mirage last night

– New years 2006, 2005, and 2004

– Mark’s mom dressed as bunny, molesting Bailey

– Richelle’s contempt for authority

– Westside doorpost with Tasha

– Booth scares

– Krista’s pointless “stories”

– And everything that happened in between…

You know… I used to have to stay by myself until 1 or 2 in the morning most nights. Funny thing is… most nights there were people hanging out with me until I got off…. just to talk, or maybe to hang out afterwards. That’s why I loved the theater. I’ll miss it.

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~MU!R