and I quote

july 2014

click for permalink July 18, 2014

The Vancouver Art Gallery is currently hosting a sprawling exhibition of Douglas Coupland's ironic slogan and Lego-based artwork. While to the rest of the world he's undoubtedly better known as the man who affixed the label to Generation X, Coupland would rather think of himself as a multimedia artist, and in his hometown of Vancouver, he is allowed a great deal of latitude to exercise all those skills he honed in art school (Emily Carr University, to be specific). Walking through the exhibition, which takes up the entire first floor—every room is devoted to a different medium, theme or idea (assignment?), something about it so reminded me of art school, more than any other exhibition I've seen.

Maybe it was the odd "look what I can do" juxtaposition of styles. In one room, a series of paintings in the style of his Alma Mater's namesake; in another room, a trio of papier mache hornets' nests. Or maybe it's just the perpetual evoking of nostalgia that he's so good at, that naturally beams my consciousness back to the early 90s—in other words, art school.

As visually interesting as they were, the rooms full of high-concept found object collages, Lego landscapes and walls patchworked with thought-provoking, acerbic aphorisms only made me wish that the entire show was somehow narrated by Douglas Coupland the author, that you could drift from room to room and hear his voice in your head telling you stories about all the various collections of objects.

You can see the exhibition website here, and the pictures I took here (expressly encouraged by the artist) using my friend's phone (thanks, Alex!).

Coupland turned 52 this year, and as I read the news coverage about his show online, I couldn't help noticing that he's begun to morph into Robert Anton Wilson.

As an interesting astrological aside, they are both Capricorns—and not your ordinary, run of the mill, 8.35% of the world's population Capricorns. No, both of these irascible iconoclasts, social commentator-philosophers with an eloquent, ironic eye on Western society have more than half of their planets in Capricorn. In fact, both appear on Astrotheme's "Capricorn dominant" list. Based on several metrics (e.g. having planets in Capricorn, on the ascendant or midheaven, having planets in the 10th house and many more complicated factors) Astrotheme calculates the percentage of a person's chart influenced by each sign. In astrology there are 12 signs and only 10 planets, so any sign that claims 25% of the chart or more is notable. Douglas Coupland appears near the very top of the list with an astounding 80% of his chart influenced by Capricorn. Robert Anton Wilson clocks in at 52%, which is still a remarkable concentration in any context. So, what does it mean to have 80% of your chart represented by Capricorn? Here's an example, in Coupland's own words:

"I've never taken a holiday. To lie on a beach someplace seems almost sinful. What's the point of being around unless you're working on something?"


Here are all the Douglas Coupland books I've read to date:

Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
In the spring of 1998, between "Tropic of Capricorn" (it sucked but the library was out of "Tropic of Cancer" and I figured how different could it be?) and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (one of the crowning literary achievements of all time), I read "Girlfriend in a Coma," which is kind of Douglas Coupland's answer to "The Stand" by Stephen King—only much, much shorter. (You can listen to an uneven but entertaining BBC Radio 3 adaptation of it here.)

Player One (2010) is probably my favorite, and I have fond memories of listening to it with Mr. Pink in our old new apartment, sitting across from each other on our old twin IKEA couches, both working on our laptops. Mr. Pink had never read any of Coupland's books, and neither of us read very much fiction at all, so it was kind of like binge-watching a new TV series together or like old married couples in the 1930s listening to their favorite radio show together... she with her knitting and he with his... whittling? I don't know. But it was fun. After that we burned through the Dragon Tattoo trilogy—44 CDs of it—over my two-week Christmas break.


JPod (2005) I actually tried to listen to it this very weekend. It's only the second of his audiobooks that I've read, not counting Player One because that was a radio show, which is different—and it was a recording of him doing a live reading in front of an audience, which is very different. Player One worked particularly well because the inflections—or rather, the lack of them—as well as the voices of all the different characters, were his own, which is infinitely preferable to even a great voice actor attempting to render Coupland's dryly irreverent, iconically ironic brand of prose with too much enthusiasm. Or trying to embody a cast of monochromatic characters with vocal modulations. Or delivering their lines in overly emotive tones).

But I digress. One of three things is at play here; either JPod is just a not-all-that-great "reboot" of Microserfs, or this actor's voice is totally ruining it for me, or I am, at long last, getting too old for this shit. Then again... apparently, at the time he was writing JPod, he was also working on a nonfiction biography of Canadian hero Terry Fox and said this of the resulting cognitive dissonance:

"All of my more noble character traits went into [Terry]. There was a tar-pit of ooze left over that wanted to go somewhere. JPod was it."

Well, that was all the justification I needed to turn it off. But it was a relief to know that I probably wasn't getting too old for this shit after all.

Over the years I've come to think of his characteristic style of jaded detachment combined with naive sentimentality as one that is quintessentially Canadian, maybe even quintessentially Vancouverite. Which brings me to...

City of Glass (2000) is one of only two books of his of which I own an actual paper copy. I bought it at a used book store and I'm certain I must have read at least some of it, but the only thing I can remember is the page where he lays out the definitive Vancouver color palette in Pantone swatches. It's things like that—the perfect, self-contained ideas you find sort of floating on the surface throughout his work, these little kernels of brilliance that give you a momentary shock of recognition and then somehow embed themselves into your subconscious as if they'd always sort of been there, only you lacked the specific vocabulary (or Pantone Color System codes) to articulate them.


Hey Nostradamus (2004) Aside from the fact that it was at the time the only Douglas Coupland audiobook available at the Vancouver Public Library (note: they still only have one, but now it's Miss Wyoming), all I can remember is that it was read by three different voice actors, two women and one man, and in the school shooting scene, when the narrator character is hiding under a table in the lunchroom to avoid being shot she says something about how you might have a fantasy about how you would behave if you were in this situation but you're almost certainly wrong. You would inevitably find that you do what everyone else does, which is hold your breath and try to make yourself invisible, and pray (even though you're not religious) that the bullets hit someone—anyone—other than you.


Microserfs (1995) I had just moved to Vancouver in 1996 and my first temporary job was working at an ad agency's interactive department. Between reading at my desk first thing every morning and reading Microserfs over every lunch break, it didn't take long before I had completely brainwashed myself into an unshakable certainty that the tech industry was where I belonged. It never occurred to me—not until much, much later anyway—that where I felt like I belonged was not in any particular type of company, but rather in a Douglas Coupland novel.

There is an encoded binary message on pages 104-105 of Microserfs, adapted from the Rifleman's Creed. According to Wikipedia, this is what it says when decoded:

"I heart Lisa Computers
This is my computer. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My computer is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me, my computer is useless. Without my computer, I am useless. I must use my computer true. I must compute faster than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must outcompute him before he outcomputes me. I will. Before God, I swear this creed. My computer and myself are defenders of this country. We are masters of our enemy. We are the saviours of my life. So be it until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.
Tinned Peaches Yttrium San Fran"


Generation X (1990) When my job at the ad agency interactive department ended in 1997, I went to work in a sterile suburban highrise sprouting up out of a sprawling parking lot-shopping mall compound known as Metrotown. My work-best friend there was a jaded corporate veteran whose seniority and benefits had been decimated in the company's latest merger. She suddenly found herself relegated to temporary status and reduced compensation, occupying an even lower rung on the corporate ladder than actual temps like myself because the management harbored a childish resentment towards the old guard of unionized employees. I realized it was time to read "Generation X" when, after about her third reference to "the VFP" ("my VFP" or "your VFP"), I finally broke down and asked what she meant, and she gave me that look of pity and disgust that people get when they've just realized they're dealing with a substandard intellect. "My veal-fattening pen?" She enunciated carefully. "You know, my cubicle? The place where I sit and pretend to work all day while I'm emailing you?" By the following Monday, I was all up to speed. Veal-Fattening Pen. Just one of Douglas Coupland's many gifts to the English language.

I went through a lot of books while I worked at Metrotown, since it took me half an hour to get there by Sky Train. But after a year of pre-craigslist job hunting, I finally traded in the ol' V.F.P. for a small web design company downtown. You could say they were an early adopter of the "open office plan," 14 desks crammed into a room not much bigger than my living room is now, sharing one mini-fridge and one telephone. It was everything I'd wanted: the nerd bonding rituals, the 5-to-1 boy-girl ratio, the 90% genuine divestment of corporate hierarchy, learning Photoshop, learning how to make websites, learning about these brand new upstarts called Google and Napster before most of the world had heard of them; the free, unlimited, 24-hours a day non-derisive tech support (okay, minimally derisive), eating "family dinners" in the conference room when we had to work late, loading Doom onto the network after work so we could play against each other; sitting at our desks which all faced the wall so our backs were to the room, everyone yelling and swearing and hammering on our keyboards, trying to decipher which of the randomly shifting blobs of pixels was your shitty little 1997-era avatar while running around chaotically shooting at anything that moved...

All the while thinking, wow... if it hadn't been for Microserfs. Most of all, I loved the way all of us became friends more or less automatically by virtue of working in such close quarters. If one of us was having a party, the rest of us knew we were automatically invited. Maybe this is just nostalgia for my 20s talking (we are discussing Douglas Coupland after all), but there's something to be said for not having any secrets from the "team." You know... sometimes. Then again, within my first year working in the fishbowl, I went through a death in the family, a divorce and a mortifyingly public yet mercifully brief single phase, then what must have seemed like the next thing they knew, I met and became almost immediately inseparable from Mr. Pink.

Looking back on it now, I can't even imagine what this period in my life must have looked like from an outside observer's perspective but I certainly didn't care at the time. If they had never been in love like that, I felt sorry for them—and now we've been together 16 years...

Today, as a matter of fact. :)



click for permalink July 12, 2014

When we look back on 2014 many years from now, we may very well remember it as the year we reached Peak Antler. It's hard to know exactly the point at which a cultural phenomenon peaks, but just like Peak Zombie in 2013 and of course, Peak Peak Oil in 2010, it's always very clear in the rearview. Just remember you heard it here first.

We just finished watching two seasons of "Hannibal," an exquisitely art directed series that takes serial killer fetishization to an entirely new level. It also features an unprecedented density of antler iconography, packing more antlers into each episode than has ever been attempted onscreen before.

Right after that we watched "True Detective" and what should we see in the very first episode but another dead girl (well, that goes without saying) decked out in a crown made of antlers...

And that's when I started to see them everywhere.

Of course, antlers have been a staple for a few years now in the dark fantasy/sci-fi/comic surreal iconography of artists like Jason Levesque...

Ruben Ireland...

Chiara Bautista...

For many more examples, just browse through BeautifulBizarre or The Mafu Cage—fair warning, there's a lot of weird art on these sites. You get the feeling everyone involved is suffering from PTSD after years of deeply repressed, shockingly innovative child abuse. Some of the imagery is so creepy you begin to wonder whether it's been expelled in the half-conscious throes of Ayahuasca-assisted depth psychology sessions, or if it's been carefully crafted by Borderline Personality Disordered perma-tweens whose identity formation was arrested in the "Flowers in the Attic" phase when their proto-Freudian body-mod fantasies triggered parent-teacher interventions. Maybe the estranged parents crossed their fingers and paid for art school, only to discover 20 years later that what they thought had been worked out in therapy has now found a niche audience in a post-Twilight/50 Shades world where even Furries and Bronies are no longer considered marginal. is obviously ground zero for weird amateur emo selfies with antlers.

But what exactly are we meant to understand when we see a pair of antlers grafted for artistic purposes onto an otherwise fuckable, living human being? I propose they are a shorthand way of telegraphing:

I'm wild and unbalanced and I can be dangerous. I'll probably hurt you, even if I want you. I'm skittish, untamed and out of my element, majestic, archaic and regal. Untouchable, targeted, tagged and endangered, yet commonplace. I'm troubled. I'm trouble. Heavy and heady, chaotic and decadent; a symbolic, psychotic, impassive anachronism.

In the world of home decorating, antlers have an entirely different cultural thing going on. One blog on the subject of antler deco dates the trend back to 2007, and it's been a hot topic on the fuck your noguchi coffee table tumblr since at least 2012.

Heh... mantlers.

But haters aside, for the moment it looks as though everything goes better with antlers.

And speaking of "True Detective," Last night I came across an article by Cintra Wilson (the first of my favorite online writers). I could just as easily have found this back in March, since it was about this year's Oscars, but as luck would have it, I didn't discover it until after I'd seen "True Detective" when I could fully appreciate the perfection of her insight about Matthew McConaughey:

Ellen's likability was an interesting counterpoint to Matthew McConaughey, whose dunced-out Best Actor acceptance speech was an immediate antidote to all the redeeming humanity accumulating around the great roles he's had lately.  It was a perfect example of the weird ability of actors to portray deeper, smarter, more courageous people than they really are. McConaughey is a human mirage—the roles he's played so well were written by other, better men; the lines he spoke so movingly aren't engraved anywhere in his being. He's a hall of mirrors in which one may occasionally glimpse infinity, but when allowed to be himself, his enormous bobblehead obscures all other reflection." — Cintra Wilson