Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Banana Incident: Perpetuating Racism by Suppressing Satire

A few nights ago, a hockey fan threw a banana at a Wayne Simmonds, a black hockey player, during a game at the John Labatt Centre here in London Ontario. The symbolism of it was probably intentional, and it's a disgusting act of racism. I hope the perpetrator is caught and brought to justice (even if justice is just a mischief charge and humiliation).

But let's put this in perspective: nobody died. No bystanders saw the banana and thought "hey, I never thought of the connection between black people and monkeys! I think I'll become a racist now!" The hockey player himself blew it off as silly. Also: we are having serious discussions about something referred to as the banana incident.

That is hilarious.

Many people see the humour in it. I joked about it with some people on Twitter. In one reply, @famousandfave and I made racist comments about black and white iPhones; I referred to black as the "lesser colour," because my phone is white.

A few hours later, someone saw a snippet of this conversation and retweeted it with the comment "lesser colour? #UNFOLLOW". For good measure, she included London's hash tag, so that the whole city could be informed of my racism. Against black iPhones.

Of course, she failed to even read the context of the conversation, and when people pointed out that I was talking about Apple products and not people, she refused to acknowledge the mistake or apologize for publicly accusing someone of racism due to her failure in reading comprehension. She just called it #notfunny.

Some people share similar sentiments. That nobody should joke about racism, since it's such a serious issue. "Discrimination is not for jest," said one tweeter.

Respecting an issue and being able to joke about it are not mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, often complementary.

I can't believe I'm sucking all humour out of this by explaining it, but here is an example. By sarcastically applying racist stereotypes to iPhone colours, it is humourous, because it is taking a serious human issue and unexpectedly applying it to mundane inanimate objects. But it also serves the purpose of respecting the issue, by demonstrating that discrimination based on phone colours is just as arbitrary as discrimination based on skin colour.

Pointing out the absurdity of racism is both funny and in service of the greater good. This isn't a new idea; satire has been around since we were writing on papyrus (thanks Wikipedia).

Plus, ignoring all that, bananas are funny. They look a bit like weirdly bent dongs, and the word is fun to say ("banananannanaaa" lolz). As Freud would have said, sometimes a banana is just a banana.

If we discourage joking about racism or awkward racist incidents, either by blatantly saying "you shouldn't joke about that" or by failing to appreciate that a joke is a joke, the racists have won. Why? Because intolerance thrives best in the shadows.

Today, that's where racism lives. All decent people (and most people are decent) realize how irrational intolerance is. The remaining bigots, then, must remain hidden to thrive. They weasel around behind the scenes  doing damage when nobody is looking.

We can't let them get away with that.

If we refuse to allow decent people to express themselves about racism—and that expression includes humour, sarcasm and satire—then we're only empowering the racists. We're allowing the dirtbags to keep dinking around in the dark, instead of draggin them into the light, sometimes dressed in a clown costume.

If you don't find something funny, the appropriate response is to not laugh. Telling people what they can or cannot joke about, or trying to publicly shame them, is its own form of intolerance. Meanwhile, the rest of us will continue fighting bigotry while somehow managing to enjoy life along the way.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Food Review: Haggis in a Can

I took a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake recently, and there is a little store there that sells stuff imported from Scotland. In addition to kilts and candy, I found something I knew I had to try: canned Haggis.

It came out of the can looking and smelling just like dog food, right down to the slimy white stuff at the bottom of the can.

The can recommended heating it in the microwave for four minutes, so I did as the can directed. After heating, it was a bit less clumpy, and more appetizing looks-wise. Smell-wise, not so much.

I didn't have a sheep's stomach handy to stuff it in, so I had to go with a non-traditional haggis preparation: haggis on buttered toast, with cheese on top. I broiled it in the oven for a few minutes, until the bread was crispy and the cheese was melty.

I dug in, trying a bit of the hot haggis on its own first. It struck me as very salty, but not terrible. With the cheese and toast mellowing it out, it was actually quite good. The main ingredient is lamb heart, which tastes pretty much like any other lamb muscle.

I recommend trying it if you ever get a chance. After all, yer a long time deid.

P.S. This is the latest link to my blog. Apparently it translates to "sauces shoot because you also want one".

See also:

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Creativity vs. Teamwork

When I was a kid, my report cards would often describe me as "an independent worker."

It's one step above "doesn't play well with others," I suppose, but I wasn't exactly a collaborator. As an adult, I get similar descriptions on my performance evaluations at jobs and grad school.

But see, you know that saying about how if you want something done right? How you do it yourself? That.

Teamwork seems to stymie productivity, and even more so, creativity. A truly creative product is not just several good ideas mashed together. Rather, it's a set of cohesive ideas driven by a focused vision. When several people get involved, with their own mashups of ideas and egos, that focus is often lost.

Look at movies. The best of them are helmed by a single creative force (an auteur, if you wanna get fancy) whose vision bleeds through the necessarily collaborative process of creating a film. Citizen Kane, directed, written and starring Orson Welles, is generally regarded as a better film than the latest summer blockbuster directed by...well, who even pays attention to the director of crappy movies?

Look at music. The best bands usually have an overwhelming personality at the forefront. And if creativity was increased by teamwork, you'd think a supergroup with the best of several bands would dominate. But have any supergroups been better than the bands they were cobbled from? Have you heard that new Mick Jagger / Joss Stone / guy from Eurythmics song on the radio? Exactly.

Look at literature. How many of the greatest novels of all time have more than one author?

Look at technology. Few would argue that Apple's recent success doesn't have something to do with Steve Jobs' consistent and obsessive vision. His insistence on creating products that work and look good together, sometimes going against what a committee conducting a focus group would recommend, has lead to great success despite technology that may not always be the best in its class. I don't think Apple will now fail horribly without Steve, but they will lose something without a single creative force refusing to play well with others.

Teamwork is necessary for all but the smallest projects, and I've grudgingly gotten myself involved with several promising groups of great people lately. However, I think it helps to keep in mind that working as a team is hindering, rather than helping, creativity. A team has to take advantage of the additional time and resources afforded by a group, while fighting against the potential blow to artistry.

The best work tends to pop out after ideas have been bouncing around a single brain.