Category Archives: Canada

On Vigilantes

Snake_bones

Late to the party, but I just learned about Justin Payne’s vigilante channel exposing pedophiles in Toronto. As much as I enjoyed Chris Hansen’s work over ten years ago, I have to be honest that a part of the joy is watching someone get totally humiliated. It’s not so much for the pursuit of justice anymore, but getting high off the humiliation of another human being. Maybe that’s just me, but I suspect that’s what most people watching the show are there for. Chris Hansen for one sure likes to take his sweet time and humiliate perps in front of the camera.

Despite this, I’m a fan of what Justin does. But I’m afraid that he might eventually get hurt or that doing this type of work is just going to permanently damage his psyche. It can’t be healthy talking to several sexual predators all the time, subjecting yourself to their attempts at grooming you. Also, as someone who studied the law, I’m afraid that a lot of what Justin and similar vigilantes do wouldn’t result in criminal charges. They’re often focused on proving mental state which is often the most lurid part that attracts most viewers. But the problem is that they’re not really proving actual criminal conduct. Unfortunately, a crime cannot be committed if they prevented a crime from happening; there is no body. There were (thankfully) no real minors involved, and often no one gets hurt. If anything, these vigilante actions would initially expose the vigilantes to criminal charges or civil damages due to unlawfully taping phone calls, broadcasting without permission, incitement to imminent lawless action, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. I believe this and the fact that some vigilantes entrap their targets are the reasons why most of the people caught by the To Catch a Predator stings were let go.

But this doesn’t take away the fact that people like Justin Payne and these vigilantes are quite courageous for exposing themselves to a number of dangers. They are doing a great service in discouraging pedophiles from preying on minors. I really don’t blame them for taking action, especially if it’s happening in their neighborhoods. It’s sad that some of these potential predator’s lives might end up getting ruined in the process, but it’s even sadder to think what might have happened should they end up meeting real minors instead. It reminds me of Bill Zeller’s suicide note. In any case, I just wish these vigilantes’ approach we geared more toward rehabilitation. After all, the perpetrators’ urges could be considered a mental condition. But on how that could be accomplished, I have no idea.

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The Beauty of Studio Galleries

Moose_funny

My good friend, Jordan Miller, just aired her woes regarding running a studio gallery. I want to reply with my two cents.

First off, for the holidays, I doubt if many people buy art, especially in a city like Winnipeg in this economy. People do love looking at art… they love looking, but not just Winnipeg in particular, but the whole world in general. For someone to actually buy art, they often have to be invested in the piece or the artist already. That or they just have money to throw around at that moment. So yeah, either you have a fan or you’re lucky enough to come across someone truly compelled to buy your work.

And really this holiday, galleries and all other shops are competing against Amazon and Walmart when it comes to shopping for presents. When it comes to compelling imagery, they’re competing against the whole Internet and the world’s ADHD culture. It’s an uphill battle, and it’s a small miracle and badge on the artist every time someone buys art.

This is where I think a studio gallery has to utilize the artists it has. I think many new artists are under the assumption that once they’re in a gallery, it’s the gallery owner or curator’s responsibility to shepherd new audiences to them. To some extent, this is true. Being in a gallery brings about art enthusiasts as well as other gallery owners. But in a generally static market like Winnipeg, artists cannot expect their audience to grow if they keep on showing their stuff at the same studio gallery. To grow an audience, each artist in a collective should be introducing their friends to other artists in the collective, and thus, growing their community and their audiences. So let’s say there’s an open house, each artist in a studio gallery should at least try to invite friends to come over and see their works as well as the other artists’. “Studio artists tell me they want new people in, not just the people they know.” True. So each artist should bring the people they know and maybe they’ll buy their neighbor’s work and vice versa.

Another way to solve the “new people in, not just the people they know” dilemma is for gallery owners and artists to be sharing information regarding calls for submissions. I was once a part of an art collective in South Korea, and one thing I liked about the community is that people were sharing information and leads regarding opportunities. The organizer would encourage members to take part in shows. This encourages artists to be more productive and be part of the community. It also gives them more experience and hopefully leads them to a much better portfolio. Artists don’t have to be limited to their local community. It’s what the Internet is for. And with several eyeballs scouring the Internet for opportunities and sharing them, that should make the world of artists in a studio gallery a little bit bigger.

My friend mentioned that some artists make deals with buyers and sell work to them privately instead of going through the gallery and losing a commission. Now, there really is no way to work around this unless galleries start forcing artists to sign exclusivity contracts. But really, I think this comes down to the artists themselves. Personally, I feel grateful if a gallery hung my work and happened to find a buyer for me. That’s one person who may have never run into my work and I owe it to the gallery for making the connection. I believe artists should do the right thing and make sales through galleries rather than wait for their work to come down. Buyers wouldn’t normally care if the artist loses on commission or not. And artists, despite finances and all, should really be willing to support galleries who gave them a chance in the first place.

Now, with the two things considered: artists wondering why my gallery owner friend is not shepherding in new audiences for them and artists making private sales, I would assume this comes to either selfishness (and laziness) in the artists’ part or a fundamental opportunity missed by everyone. Perhaps the economy is bad that artists cannot afford to be generous to galleries in return, or perhaps the artists don’t realize how a small studio gallery in a city like Winnipeg could work for them.

So there you have it. If you’re an artist in a studio gallery, take advantage of your community and share resources and opportunities. Be more proactive, if not in your local arts community, then at least over the Internet. Maybe I’m biased because Jordan, the gallery owner, is my best friend, but don’t leave everything to the gallery owner or curator. There’s only so much they can do to help you.

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#MeToo on Atwood

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I’ve been watching Margaret Atwood’s ‘Alias Grace.’ It’s a bit of a slow burn, but after some time, it’s turning out to be a compelling horror story. Horror. It’s a horror being a woman in the not-so-distant past, even in a country like Canada. The story is about a white, Irish immigrant accused of murder and the events that led to her supposed crime. A white woman… granted, she’s an Irish immigrant back in the day when the Irish were suffering from discrimination, but imagine how much more horror there would be should the story be about a woman of color, say an Aboriginal woman in Canada.

This reminds me of the Louis CK joke; that time travel is only suited for white males. Women and minorities do not have the luxury of going back through time and not being in danger of being persecuted. History is too often a horror story for us. It can be very risky if not suicidal to revisit the past.

That’s not to say things have changed much in some cases. Minorities still feel the bitter sting of racism, and women are still constantly victimized by powerful (and even not powerful) men. This #MeToo hashtag has prompted public confessions and accusations regarding sexual harassment. Almost every other day, I see another prominent person being accused of being inappropriate. And that’s just the ones making the headlines. There are of course confessions from ordinary people about what happened to them as well. It would seem that the world is still occasionally a horror story for them as well.

The movement started with women speaking out, but it would appear that it’s not so much as women being victims, but about men taking advantage of their power because there have been confessions and accusations regarding men sexually abusing other men. It would seem that people being in power, who are most often men, is the problem. It’s the power. I guess that’s why it’s often said that rape is not really about sex, it’s about exerting power over another person.

This brings me to what happened to me back when I was fifteen. I was working part-time in an office, taking phone calls. After working in an A&W restaurant, I was glad to work in an office environment, even though I was just taking calls for most of the day. Things were going smoothly, and I was starting to really get used to the routine after school when my supervisor, a woman who was roughly twenty years older than me, leaned close and asked if she could sit on my lap while I worked. I just smiled at the suggestion and acted as if it was all a joke. But I never did return to that place. I wouldn’t want to know where that would lead. I was a child, I was fifteen.

I taught fifteen-year-olds before. I taught sixteen, seventeen, eighteen-year-olds before. I would never make such a comment or say anything that would be confused as such.

So, I guess that’s my #MeToo. Nothing really serious happened, so it didn’t bother me much. I remember I was more in disbelief at what actually happened. In any case, I count myself lucky that that’s the “worst” that happened to me at my most vulnerable in the workplace. I’m guessing most women would have a worse story to tell. In some ways, some people still live in Margaret Atwood’s dark imagination.

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The Stone Angel

TravelManitoba

I remember being asked to read The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence back in high school. It was one of the many wonderful books that our English teacher used to try to infuse some humanity into our young minds. I don’t remember the story much, but I do remember the parallels between the old character in the book and the ultimate fate of Margaret Laurence. It’s like she literally became one of the characters she wrote about. I really should look into the Manawaka series again.

Speaking of Manawaka, my works will be displayed in the town it was based on, Neepawa, Manitoba.  When I used to go camping and hiking with my best friend, I remember visiting there once. Here in Asia, when people think of Canada, the first places that come out of people’s mouths are Toronto and Vancouver. But when they describe Canada, they would often imagine a place much closer to towns like Neepawa.

I love big cities like Vancouver and Ottawa, and even smaller ones like Winnipeg, but it is smaller rural towns cradling close to liberated Canadian wilderness that most people here in Asia often imagine. It is in many ways romantic. I guess like me, that image is mostly from the desire to escape from convoluted concrete jungles like Seoul.

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About Innocently Prodding Someone’s Bum

Saint

When it comes to childhood or child-rearing, some things just don’t translate to North America or just 2017 in general. I remember when I first came to South Korea, I was teaching English to young children. Some of the boys would play around shoving their fingers into each other’s bottoms, occasionally including mine. It was playful and not sexual at all, but in order to avoid any confusion, I discouraged it in class. I have my suspicion that it probably originated in some sort of sexual submission/domination dynamics, but I really don’t think the kids were thinking of that. It was horseplay. It was horseplay that was odd, and is probably less common now than it was even ten years ago.

The thing is this isn’t really a Korean thing, shoving things up bottoms as a form of horseplay. It is an Asian thing as far as I can tell. If I grew up in Japan, I probably would’ve had to deal with kancho. In Taiwan or China, I would probably deal with it under a different name. I remember having to deal with it as a young child. It wasn’t amusing back then. If anything, I always thought it was a throwback to when kids and people in general truly didn’t know any better. I didn’t put much malice in it. I just thought that the other person better wash their hands afterwards.

But it really doesn’t translate to North American countries. Not in Canada. Not at all. Kim’s Convenience tried to explain it to mixed results, and as much as I understand the practice and don’t want to be the straight person in the skit, it really does seem like a throwback. Even when the Korean character equated the practice to a wedgie, it didn’t really help the situation. When was the last time you got a wedgie? Even I am too old to experience the hilarity of giving and/or receiving wedgies when I was young. It was outdated back then, and it would be seen as cruel now. In fact, the only person who was interested in shoving things up my bum as a prank was my father, who I imagine used to play around with his peers that way when he was a child back in the 60s. Different environment, uncomfortable to put up with now, but I move on. It’s the same way I saw my young Korean students when they were keen on putting fingers up bums… different environment. I don’t want to be ethnocentric and tell them that it’s wrong or put malice into it; I just discouraged it like every other horseplay.

But in the same spirit of ethnocentrism, in Canada, we don’t shove fingers up children’s bottoms as a form of horseplay. It’s not that there’s malice in it, but it’s best to avoid doing it to prevent confusion. It’s not really wise trying to shoehorn questionable horseplay or pranks from other countries into North America when it could be interpreted differently, especially in this day and age. If an immigrant parent or grandparent does that to a child, and by some miracle, the child is okay with it, the neighbors, friends, or other relatives might not be. It’s best to avoid that confusion. There other aspects to one’s culture that are much better to pass on to the next generation, things that won’t get one suspected or arrested for abuse.

 

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The Fragile Nazi Ego

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If you have never been seen as an outsider, assumed to not belong in your own country, second-guessed for your intelligence, looked at as a criminal for no reason, given less opportunities because of your color, or suffered through other indignities that minorities and women suffer through, then you don’t get to complain about oppression. I miss Canada. I love Canada. But it is not immune to the racial animus that is plaguing the United States. Occasionally, I will be reminded of what exactly I am and how little some people think of me. It sucks. It hurts.

I even get that occasionally even living overseas. Being brown, I’m the less-desirable foreigner. I sometimes even blend in the background and ignored in a country that is homogeneous. Forget the brown guy; there are other people that need attention. Being white is still the gold standard for some people even when overseas. If you’re white, people assume you’re educated, you have money, you speak good English, you’re worldly, and you’ll make cute little children. Doors open just by the virtue of skin color. How do I know? Look at job ads overseas. Look at the foreigners they choose to have on television. Look at the faces of the people as they sometimes struggle with the concept that a brown person is a Canadian.

So it really amazes me that despite all of the advantages given to them by virtue of their birth, some white men in the United States are crying victimhood. They say they’re being oppressed, replaced, wiped out by ethnic and religious minorities. These people have never faced true oppression in their lives. Never. And yet they cry foul at immigrants taking jobs that they have no interest in taking. They protest against people of different races and religions being welcomed in their neighborhoods. They cringe at colored faces on television populating their media and politics. This is their oppression. This is the crime that they are standing up for: being in the presence of someone different, being not sole voice that matters, sharing the rights that they’ve had for so long with others. This is the cringe-worthy delicate ego of these neo-Nazis. The ones that label themselves “alpha male” and yet can’t stand the threat of other people getting the same opportunities they have.

There’s nothing alpha about not being able to compete against more competent workers. There’s nothing alpha about lying to twist facts in order to suit you narrative. I would imagine an alpha would face the truth, change, then come out on top. There’s nothing alpha about following a lying leader. It’s called being a sucker. There’s nothing alpha about complaining about other races and religions mixing with others. It’s called minding your own business. Go find a white woman who will love you. There’s nothing alpha about bitching that your culture is being wiped out when it isn’t. Go watch a Hollywood film. There’s nothing alpha about complaining that white men are losing influence. Go look at the US Senate and the Congress. There’s nothing alpha about listening to conspiracy theorists, thinking about all of these forces coming to get you, and worrying about Armageddon or whatever. Be a person. Don’t be a paranoid squirrel looking at every corner and seeing danger everywhere before foraging for food. There are more real problems in the world.

This is why I love the current effort to expose the people who participated in the Nazi rally in Charlottesville. Not so much for the consequences they suffer after being exposed as the racists that they are, but for the realization that these people never really faced a day of true oppression in their life. Peter Cvjetanovic never faced true oppression. Neither did one of their alt-right heroes, White House staffer Stephen Miller, who famously complained about having to pick up his own garbage. Oh the horrible suffering of the fragile alpha male ego!

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Could be Tomorrow

Lungs

I’m off to Vietnam this week. I don’t know much about the country and its beautiful people, so I’ll talk about The Handmaid’s Tale instead. What a wonderful, wonderful adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s work (a Canadian treasure)! Good job, Hulu! What’s really interesting about the book and the show itself is that if there’s ever a more apt book to adapt for the times, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Being a work of “speculative fiction,” much like books like The Road or Blindness, it doesn’t need much fantasy in order for something to become our reality. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, religion and military dictatorship just needs to marry together, something which humanity has experimented with several times before.

And it’s not like we’re that far off from Ms. Atwood’s fiction. The world is becoming more and more militaristic. Many countries’ police officers are starting to look more like military forces. There’s a loud growing movement of conservatism with their adherence to religious dogma and a distrust of science and news media. And more and more, dictatorial rule seems to be coming back into fashion with many people blindly supporting strong men. Even my father pines for the days of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and praises the likes of Duterte. The show did a great job of incorporating current trends and technology and making it part of the narrative. It almost screams at the viewers, “this could be you! You’d better do something about it” It’s not enough that we trust our collective goodness as a society. Our hubris, our confidence that several others will do good despite of our inaction, will lead to our eventual downfall. I’d like to believe more Americans are sensible, and yet Donald Trump and his ilk run the country. I was impressed at how friendly, welcoming, and seemingly sensible everyone was the last time I visited the Philippines, but they’re the same people who would deny their neighbors are being killed for their vices, even if it happens almost every day. My workplace is surrounded by people who yearn for the days of dictatorial rule in Korea.

It is scary. It really wouldn’t take much.

 

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Not Talking About Suicide

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I used to occasionally go to suicide forums and talk to people… because why not? Like many people who suffer from depression, the thought of suicide has come to my head, but I’m much of a coward to really give it too much serious thought. It was more like, “if I’m going to kill myself, I’d do it this way” or “if this happens, that would be the thing that would make me go ahead and kill myself.” It was a thought experiment more than anything else. But as for the forums, occasionally I would read people’s posts. They were mostly young people, complaining about their lives, or people frustrated by their significant others. It’s rare, but sometimes, I would respond back. Instead of being a community of people seeking help before they do what they shouldn’t, I think it’s really more a community of people just trying to get their voices heard. It’s a place where a person can say their troubles instead of being deconstructed or given solutions to their problems. There was no judgment. It was a place that tells people that they are not insane, nor are they alone. That there’s nothing new under the sun and that they’ll get through whatever it is that’s giving them trouble. I suppose I might be accused of being a tourist for being there, but for a time, it really helped me with my depression. It felt good telling a complete stranger that things we’re going to be alright.

I live in a place where suicide is quite common place. People often regard Japan as one of the suicide capitals of the world, but really, South Korea has it beat. Even the former president committed suicide and in some ways normalized the whole thing. But as horrible as South Korea is when it comes to its suicide statistics and the reasons for why so many people are committing suicide (societal pressures, money troubles, elderly depression, stigma against seeing psychiatric help…) it surprised me to learn that Canada isn’t doing too well when it comes to suicide either.

Canada’s in the thirties when ranked with other countries. But when you look at that ranking, it disguises the fact that some communities are more susceptible to suicide than others. Aboriginal males are six times more likely to commit suicide than non-Aboriginal males. In 2000, out of 100,000 Aboriginal males, 126 committed suicide. For non-Aboriginals, it was 24. If you consider the size disparity between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal communities, the suicide rates affecting small areas in the country is staggering. It’s gigantic compared to the suicide rate in South Korea (27 out of 100,000).

What’s shameful is that with countries like South Korea and Japan are actively doing things to help stop their suicide epidemics in the face of the horrible statistics. The police are patrolling suicide-prone areas, and there are groups which monitor vulnerable people. People are talking about the problem and how to deal with it. And while Canada has been helping some communities deal with depression, addiction, and mental health issues, I’m not sure if we’re doing enough to help prevent the high rates of suicide. I think it’s such a non-issue with the average Canadian that I wouldn’t even be aware of the problem if I didn’t have an interest in it myself. Clearly, present-day efforts are not enough for Aboriginal communities. There are initiatives that help them deal with problems once they are already dealing with them, but I’m not sure if Canada is doing enough to help prevent depression and mental health issues from developing in the first place. Now I’m not saying that South Korea and Japan are doing a lot more than Canada to help their citizens have more fulfilling lives to help prevent suicidal thoughts (I don’t think they are, they’re just doing more to keep people from committing the act), but I think Aboriginal communities are much more susceptible to this problem that it’s something the country should address. After all, much of the First Nations’ woes have been the result of its history with the Canadian government.

 

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Oh Manitoba!

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Thank you Manitoba Arts Network for having my works for their 2017-2018 touring exhibition. It’s always nice to have people appreciate my work, that the works I make are not just for me personally, that they could mean something else to some people as well.

 

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Canada Day

Canada

Happy Canada Day. I love you, Canada. If I could hug you, I would.

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