Culture Before Governance

As I’ve said, I went to Toronto and noticed a few things that are bloggable. One of these is the Ontario Art Gallery. Actually, not the Art Gallery itself, but the community around it. Essentially, if you go to Dundas and McCaul (between Spadina and University) you are in Artsy-fartsy town. The small businesses organized themselves around the concept that you are in a “Art” area of town.

There are similar associations. Dundas and Spadina proper is China Town, for instance. College Street between Bathurst and Ossington is “Little Italy.” There’s a financial district and a fashion district. If you have a cultural interest, you generally know where to satisfy it in Toronto.

I live in Halifax. Halifax is still stuck on the idea that it is a number of small municipalities amalgamated into one. There are alot of different cultures in Halifax, but there is no “China town” or “little Italy.” Basically, you have good quality products and services “on the peninsula” (basically downtown Halifax) with some cultural icons (with broadly cultural names like “Historic Properties” and “The Waterfront”). Everyone else provides a “second tier” of services, struggling to survive.

My view is that a sense of culture in Halifax is being twarted by ties to political boundaries. Dartmouth has a slate of programs that imitates Halifax, but just doesn’t do it as well. Take the popular Natal Day Parade or the Dartmouth Christmas Tree Lighting. These programs are well-attended and good for politicians to show their community that Dartmouth is getting its fair share of tax dollars, but in the end, it’s not very good cultural planning.

Bedford has its comparable festivals and parties. So does just about every community. Politically, every community thinks it needs its own top-notch hospital, library, museum, art gallery, tourist trap, playhouse, heritage house, music hall, design studio, sports stadium, exhibition hall etc. The problem is, these all compete against “big boy” Halifax.

The status quo is that Halifax has the top money-earner; one of the outskirts, usually Dartmouth or Bedford has the second-place service (which sometimes breaks even) and then everyone else struggles to survive. Recently, some industrial parks have overtaken the peninsula business, but let’s not even talk about the sort of cultural offerings the “big box” stores have to offer.

A possible solution in my view is to give the community a heart-to-heart and say — Ok. What is it that Dartmouth does really well? What is the major theme of Dartmouth for which we can build a community on? I think Starr’s Bakery on Portland Street has the right idea. Like Toronto, it has chosen a cultural theme to build its business around, namely that of the Heritage Starr property (and old Skate factory). Today I saw it was selling calendars for the Dartmouth Heritage museum. This is a foundation for a good community theme. Downtown Dartmouth is about remembering old industry. It has the look of something out of A Christmas Carol, so why not? Why not develop community around the theme that Downtown Dartmouth is a Victorian/Georgian Mecca? Why not let Dartmouth handle “Historic Properties” and let Halifax handle the pub-life (like “historic properties already appears to be doing anyway).

Why can’t a place like Bedford be the “Theatre district?” And NorthEnd Halifax be the “home improvement” district.

But more importantly, Haligonians need to re-think their regional allegiances and give up dreaming about the “good ole days” when Halifax was all small municipalities. No way. Halifax is a growing city and it has to start behaving like one. Part of growing up is finding your special interests and establishing an identity out of what you already know and intend to know in the future. I don’t see why a community needs to be any different.

Evaluation and the Tangle Among Aesthetics, Ethics and Science

I just came back from Toronto this weekend. I love Toronto. In fact, there are going to be about 3 or 4 posts coming from ideas I had from my two-day trip. This is the first.

One of the things I got to do from my hotel room is watch cable television. See, I don’t watch much TV other than what’s on the CBC, and even then my watching consists mostly of kids shows like Poko and the occassional episode of the Simpsons. Restricting my cable TV is a good way for me to save money and an even better way for me to keep focussed on the things that really matter to me like my son and the occassional tinkering with Xforms, PHP and the like.

So, with the cable ready and available I watched an episode on Much Music and there was this top ten show about the best choreographed videos of 2006 or something. The winner was a video by the Pussy Cat Dolls, which appeared well-choreographed (for all my knowledge of choreography). But here is the catch. The announcer was praising a belly-dancing scene in the video and claiming that it was so hot that the floor set on fire.

Ok. I’m all for hyperbole, but this irked me. I watched the video and, of course, the floor sets on fire while the Pussy Cat Dolls are doing their belly dance.

Of course there is no cause-effect relationship between the belly-dancing and the fire. The fire was “caused” by a special effects artist putting fire onto the video as the Pussy Cat Dolls did their sexy dance. I was appalled at this ridiculous claim, presumingly added to the transcript of the show to forward a heroic or even mythical status on the artists, as if somehow their dancing skills could provide some enhanced sexual experience compared to that of anyone else.

There is an element of a “so-what” here though, since primarily the critic was making an aesthetic judgement. The critic can be part artist, and why wouldn’t we accept a certain amount of embellishment tied to the music industry. That’s how they make their money afterall, selling an image. And, as far as the audience goes, well, caveat emptor.

But this was not artistry, but straight-forward selling of an image developed by the industry. The critic did not use her own metaphor to describe the situation, but presented a causal link between the choreography of the video and the imaginary effects produced by the video itself. In short, this is a lie, and a malicious one at that.   One can only guess that the authors of this scenario intend to use its audience as a means to create a mythology around their music video stars.

The same cross-connects occur on the web, most obviously with spam.   One wonders how a democratized web can handle the injections of such memes in the wide scope.   We know that people create hoaxes simply to gain attention.   Urban myths spread across the net like wildfire.   Then again, so do the de-bunks, if the myth happens to cross the path of someone with a critical mind and sufficient time to do the proper research.

But with aesthetic questions the critical bar gets raised.   Can an aesthetic judgement outmode an ethical one?   For instance, are Kimbo Slice’s street fights as “amazing” and “awesome” as I’ve heard expressed in discussion groups?  And if they do have aesthetic value coming from its popular base (and perhaps reinforced by “ratings” on the content), can those aesthetic choices be reasonably mediated by the ethical judgement that creating a market for violence is morally wrong?   While many a writer (eg. Joyce Carol Oates, Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer) have provided aesthetic grounds to justify Boxing, Bullfighting and other quite violent sports, are there ethical limits to these decisions?   Can we expect the Kimbo crowd to provide a safe environment for their bare-fisted boxers in perpetuity?   Does the apparent disconnect between the aesthetic value of a youtube video and the reality of a bloody nose provide any help here?

And what about the costs related to the simple idea that fewer and fewer resources that we can truly trust (99.9% of the time) will be available to the masses if we continue on a “popular knowledge” train.

Or maybe internet access is a mediator to the sort of thing I saw on Much Music.   It’s really hard to tell.    There is a study here for some humanist or psychologist.