Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who I am considers who I've been

Today was a nostalgic day in my car: I popped in Audio Adrenaline's premature 2001 greatest hits collection Hit Parade today, and I rocked out but good. It felt oddly reminiscent of the era between 1999 and 2003 when I listened to Audio A and their CCM contemporaries almost exclusively in my discman-tape setup in my Horizon. (An aside: it seems preposterous that portable CD players were in use as recently as a decade ago.) I caught myself singing along with every word in every song, even though I haven't listened to Audio A in several years, and I realized how much their albums Bloom, Some Kind of Zombie, and especially Underdog are ingrained in my subconscious from those formative years of listening. But what struck me today anew was how little irony was present throughout their lyrics. There were a few clever metaphors and allusions ("I'm Not The King", "Some Kind of Zombie"), but songs like "Big House", "Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus", and "Hands and Feet" demonstrate an literal lyrical simplicity that is overwhelmingly cloyingly unironic in both intent and presentation. Audio A, along with their closest contemporaries Newsboys and DC Talk (who were strangely similar not only in thematic content but in sound for the first several years of their careers), as well as later acts like the O.C. Supertones and some albums by Third Day, Jars of Clay, and Skillet, embody a period in my life and faith in which I appreciated and identified closely with that level of discourse. As I listened and genuinely enjoyed the songs on the album, I started wondering when it changed for me; when did I shift from that mindset to where I am now? I realized that I knew the answer, and that it was tied to Audio Adrenaline. The date I can pinpoint was February 21, 2003. It was the day before I was to interview Switchfoot at Briercrest's Youth Quake event, which immediately preceded the release of their much-hyped "mainstream crossover" album The Beautiful Letdown. They sold the album before the release date in the campus bookstore, and I immediately bought it along with another album that was receiving an early release - Audio Adrenaline's Worldwide. Switchfoot's album greatly influenced my life in the intervening years; I barely remember the track listing of Audio A's album. I began a shift out of the immaturity of my worldview into a new understanding of the world around me through my media, and the dichotomy between the two sides was evident in those two albums; they didn't cause it, by any means, but they are emblematic of the "before and after" transformation I endured. Just as I had tastes of the "me" I would be during that phase from 1998-2003 in my selections in media, it took awhile to get out of my system as I made the shift, as evidenced, for example, by the fact that I purchased albums of this ilk through 2005 and into 2006 (and occasionally since then). But here's the key of this whole enterprise as far as I am concerned: although some of these albums (and of course other media and beliefs as represented in this form by this style of music) are anachronistic in my current life, they are part of my past, and I can appreciate them as such even if they don't hit me the same way now. I find that the process is analogous to reading past journal entries or reading notes in my Bible; there's an instant connection with my faith history - joys, struggles, successes, setbacks, and celebrations. For this reason, I find it hard to completely rid myself of those albums or others with which I identified, which range from the aforementioned artists to the Insyderz' Skalleluia albums to Superchic[k] to Tree63 to Ill Harmonics to some Relient K to...well, the list could go on. Any of the albums of which I have been able to divest myself have been albums with which I never closely connected, leaving these remnants and remembrances of who I have been and forcing me to consider the juxtaposition of who I am now with who I was. Like old letters or yearbooks or e-mail conversations, I wouldn't pull them out all the time, but I'm glad I have them for days like today.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Military complex

I finally watched Band of Brothers over the weekend. I have had good intentions of watching it several times over the past decade, but it had never become important enough for me to actually do it. I took a day to watch through the entire series with some friends, and I am glad that I did. The mini-series attempted to portray war on a scale unprecedented in modern pop culture, and it succeeded, with the possible exception of some weak character development in the first few episodes (a minor quibble with the production). It was able to balance presenting a historical account with taking creative liberties in a way that preserved both the tradition and the integrity and flow of the show. It, like its thematic predecessor Saving Private Ryan, has rightfully become the measuring stick against which any future portrayal of war is considered. The second-last episode, in which Easy Company discovers a concentration camp, is one of the most moving hours of television I have ever watched. But I knew all of this before I watched it, so I started wondering why it took me so long to sit down and work my way through it. And then I had a realization: I don't really like war movies and I don't understand the whole military ideal, so I rarely make a priority of watching them. I have watched (and own) a few examples of the genre, but the list of war movies I have not yet seen is far longer, including notable accounts of 20th century wars including: Apocalypse Now, The Bridge Over The River Kwai, Catch-22, The Deer Hunter, Downfall, MASH, Patton, Platoon, Schindler's List, and The Thin Red Line. (A full list is available here; please don't think less of me as a historian or a cinephile as a result of this admission.) They are all on my list to see, and I believe that I will watch them someday, but I actually have to make myself watch them. I know that as a historian that I should be pursuing these stories with more vigor, but I am not, and never really have been, a military historian. I have several friends who can rattle off the specs of every tank used in WWII and the weapons used in almost any conflict and the tactical strategies of any modern general; they could be featured as experts on Deadliest Warrior. I am not one of those people, and I never have been. The whole military mindset eludes me, and I have never been drawn to the idea of the military or war. I am much more interested in the social and cultural realities of war and the effects on people than I am the specifics of the conflicts themselves, and I would much rather spend time teaching students about the political or technological ramifications of war than working through the tactics used to win. I will understand battles inasmuch as they affect the larger contexts of the wars in which they are fought, not for the intricacies of military strategy. It annoys me that some historians and universities focus almost exclusively on armed conflict, and that many accounts of 20th century Europe spend far too much time focussing on the details of WWI and WWII. I think it has taken a couple of years of teaching for me to truly realize this fact about myself, and to further reason that it's okay for me to not focus on that element of history. I know that it's good for me to watch portrayals of different conflicts in order to stretch myself in my knowledge and experience of the field, so I will try to work my way through more examples of the genre.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A senseless season #riders

Ask any Riders fan, and they have an opinion on who's to blame for the teams 1-6 start: offense; defense; coaching; quarterback; it varies from game to game, depending on who the popular goat is at the time. The team has lost some key personnel since last year due to injuries and NFL tryouts, especially in the receiving corps, but their absence does not seem to add up to a 1-6 record, including 0-4 at home. It's a weird season so far, as only one of the losses has been close (a 22-18 loss to Calgary in week 5), and the team's only win was too lucky to be true (a 27-24 win in week 4 over the Alouettes). If the offense is rolling, the defense is porous; even if the defense is stopping everything, they eventually tire out because the offense is leaving them on the field for too long. Durant has moments in which he looks like a master QB and moments when he looks like a lost rookie; even his best receivers alternate between making highlight-reel catches and dropping passes. I think there's something to be said for some key missing players, as well as the coaching change, but even those should not have made as big a difference as they have. And that's when it hit me: this season has not, does not, and will not make sense. It seems equally likely to me that the team will finish 4-14 or 9-9. They could be eliminated from the playoffs in September, or make it to the Grey Cup. It's just one of those weird, senseless seasons where the numbers don't and won't add up, and no amount of rationalizing can make it comprehensible. Call it the law of averages, karma, or whatever, but the Riders have been overdue for a season like this; it's been due to some well-timed luck accenting their skill that they have had such a good run in the past decade. Perhaps this is the kind of adversity that the team needs to push them to the next level and make them hungry for a championship. It might seem out of reach this year, but next year is always a possibility in Rider Nation; after all, it does not take much to turn a team around in the CFL. Last year's doormats, the Blue Bombers and the Eskimos, are leading the league this year, but they have not made huge changes: a few players, a coach or two, but not complete overhauls of their teams. The difference is that the breaks are going their way this year. Winnipeg, who went 4-14 in 2010, lost nine games by four points or fewer (a CFL record) and one other game by a touchdown or less, with their top two quarterbacks each missing the equivalent of half the season, and they still beat the Riders 31-2 in the Banjo Bowl. The Eskimos, who finished 7-11 including two wins over the Riders, won five of their last seven games and almost made the playoffs despite a 2-9 start. The Riders, in contrast, lost four of their last five to finish 10-8 before barely beating Edmonton at home in the final game of the season, outlasting BC in an OT game in the first round, genuinely defeating a superior Calgary team to advance to the Grey Cup, and then bowing to the better Alouettes in the final game. The Riders, in short, did not finish the season like champions, and might easily have lost in the Western Semi-Final rather than the Grey Cup. That Grey Cup appearance obscures what might otherwise have been remembered as a failed season, and led to what now seem to be unreasonably high expectations for this year. And really, who am I to complain? We're in the midst of the Riders' most successful stretch of football since the Lancaster/Reed years, as the team has made the playoffs nine years in a row, advanced to the West Final six of those times, and played in three of the last four Grey Cups. They're the most commercially successful team in the league (and the third best in selling sports merchandise for Canadian teams behind only the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs), and they sell out every game. Even in a losing season, the team is still entertaining, and fans watch each game with unabated passion. Though it is difficult to already feel like giving up on the season before the bye week, I know it's just a senseless season, and I have to be okay with whatever happens - as long as they beat the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Best of Both Worlds

I recently read through the recently-released book Star Wars vs. Star Trek: Could the Empire kick the Federation's Ass? and other galaxy-shaking enigmas by Matt Forbeck. The premise is simple: breaking down the overarching debate into micro-arguments that can be resolved through narrative analysis of hypothetical encounters between the two combatants. The book includes ninety such mini-debates, and both its content and its conclusion is mostly satisfying in an objective sense, even if it was entirely irrelevant to me. I decided the victor of the overall debate twenty years ago, when I was eight years old - well before an episode of Undergrads attempted to settle the score. I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my dad on Friday nights at 10:00 pm; I thought my dad was the coolest person ever, and I really liked being able to enjoy the show with him (and stay up late). We were part of "The Undiscovered Province", the local fan club, including participating in a murder mystery party as Borg (we taped calculators to black t-shirts) and we collected the sets of cards (which I still have) as they were released. I started watching either late in the fourth season or early in the fifth season, but my dad had been taping every episode meticulously on VHS, pausing the recording during commercials, so I remember some afternoons just watching several episodes in a row. The unique characters, the political intrigue, the moral dilemmas (especially "Ethics"), and even the fact that Riker played the trombone (my instrument) all captivated me even at a young age. I didn't quite get it all, but I was bright enough to catch most of it, and I loved the science of it all. I didn't catch onto the three subsequent series (DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise), but I still feel like I could watch them and make a connection. I also remember the first time I watched Star Wars when I was ten years old. I was relatively unimpressed with the movie, including the dialogue and graphics, even at that young of an age. I watched two of the Special Edition bastardizations in theatres, and I even tried to watch Phantom Menace twice in theatres; I fell asleep the first time on opening night, during the CGI droid battle scene. It just wouldn't take for me. It all seemed so forced and inauthentic and fantastical, and it lacked the nuance and deliberation of Trek. I still have not watched Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith, and I really have no desire to do so. It's partially an issue of quality (primarily Lucas' subpar screenwriting and character development), but more an issue of philosophy: I'm not the type of person to whom Star Wars appeals, and I am the type of person who is drawn in by Star Trek. Now I just need to go back and watch the Futurama episode of "Where No Fan Has Gone Before".

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hero of Time

With all of the hoopla surrounding the release of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (OoT) on the 3DS and the 25th anniversary of the release of the original NES game, I decided it was time to replay one of the best games of all time. A friend lent me a copy of the Master Quest disc released for Gamecube, which includes all-new dungeons (which are exponentially more difficult than the original version) but the same fun gameplay in Hyrule. It's fun replaying the game; I remember most of it, so I am seldom frustrated or stuck, but it has been long enough that I don't recall every trick and secret and I can "rediscover" the joys of the game. I still remember the first time I played it: May long weekend, 1999. My parents left for the weekend and I stayed at home. I rented the shiny gold cartridge, plugged it into my cutting-edge N64, and somehow played 50 hours in two-and-a-half days. I made it to the Temple of Time. I bought the game later on and finished it, and then I sold it in the Great Purge of 2002 (after all, it had magic and fortune-telling; sometimes I want to go back in time and punch myself). After I returned to my senses, I repurchased the game and played it through in the summer of 2004, which brings me to my next realization: the last time I played OoT was seven years ago, and the time that elapses between Young Link and Adult Link in the game is...seven years! So as I've played through the game, I've also been reflecting on what it would be like to take me, circa 2004, and compare that person to who I am now, which is made easier through the wonder of the internet and the fact that the summer I started blogging was seven years ago. Throw in the interesting tidbit that I had the chance to reconnect with some people I hadn't seen since that summer, and it's been a fun journey in the past month. It's almost embarrassing to read the jumble of half-developed thoughts, far-too-direct mentions of my personal life, awkward addressings of a non-existent audience, and early inklings of the style I have now developed, but I keep it there as a reminder of where I started (except the first post, which was the silly sort of "Hi, welcome to my blog!" inanity that did not deserve to ever be viewed again). It's fascinating to think about some of the things in my life that I have carried through until now, and which ones remain in the past; it's somewhat analogous to the idea that Link has weapons he can only use as a child that are unusable as an adult. I look at who I thought I was and would be and what was important to me then and how different my current reality is now. It's even more fascinating to consider how I remember or view events that happened then from my current perspective and compare that to my commentary at the time. I won't belabour the point by going into detail, but suffice to say that I thoroughly amuse myself in retrospect. Of course, I'm sure I will go through a similar process in about seven years when I again decide to pick up my Ocarina and become the Hero of Time, but for now I'm content to enjoy the memories and make some new ones along the way. And just wait until I play through Majora's Mask next; that will really mess me up, what with the impending end of the world and repeating days and all. But I might finally finish it after all these years; I've gotten sidetracked partway through several times and just haven't gotten through it, but that will change this time around. And that will be the true mark of my maturity over the past seven years.


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