Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Changing an image will do little to change the reality.

Now to begin, I’ve not seen John Stockwell’s newest horror flick “Turistas go home”(distribution by Fox Atomic - see the trailer). It was just released in the US on Friday, and was shred to sunders by critics the following day – a reaction one would expect for a trashy-teen-oriented slasher-film looking to cash in on the newest blood and guts genre which includes such contemporary classics (cough cough) as “Hostel” and “Saw”.

The film is set in Brazil (off the Rio beaten path to be exact) and after a night of cheap drinky-poos and getting “funky” with the locals, a group of young adventuresome American tourists awake the following day to find that they had all been drugged and robbed and are now left fending for themselves. Needless to say, this is just the beginning of their misadventures and they soon fall prey to a sinister doctor that makes his living in the illegal trade of human organs focusing primarily on Gringos (as revenge for first world meddling in Latin Countries). A must see you’re thinking?

Now, I normally wouldn’t waste time writing a film review, especially having not seen the film, however this is not a review but more of an interesting observation in regards to the reaction of the Brazilian Media, local commentators, and even of the local tourism authority to what most of us would dismiss as just another simple waste of celluloid.

The film has set off a firestorm of controversy in Brazil. Enraged Brazilian bloggers are on the digital-march, and there are even commentaries calling for “Bin Laden to wreak havoc on the US again”; major dailies have jumped all over the story, and there are now calls for a boycott of the film in Brazil. Why? Because people believe the film distorts the image of Brazil and portrays it as a bit (cough) of a lawless nation. For anyone having spent any considerable amount of time in Brazil, such as myself, “falar mal do Brasil” (to speak ill of Brazil), or to even joke, is a “no-no” for gringos on par with “thou shall not have any other gods before me”.

The critique is that the film denigrates the true image of Brazil, one as being a peaceful beautiful country that embraces their tourists (this is PARTLY true), and that the repercussions of this film abroad could affect tourism here (this, is a bit of a stretch). Embratur (the Brazilian tourism association) and the vice-president of the Brazilan Hotel Industry Association have chimed in and are now looking to design campaigns aimed at North Americans to clean the up the country’s image.

However, the attack on this film is misdirected. And the image of Brazil abroad is not based on one film, but on the endless stories of violence, kidnappings and corruption that sadly plague this otherwise lovely nation. Brazil is considered one of the most violent countries on earth. Full stop. Comparisons are constantly made to nations at war by the UN. Gringos ARE in fact robbed and attacked in Brazil frequently, and just last week a group of 18 Brits where robbed leaving the airport by thieves wielding HANDGRANADES.

Months ago the PCC (First Command Capital in English) one of Brazil’s largest and most organized criminal gangs closed down São Paulo for DAYS. São Paulo is the second largest city on earth.

The country is violent, and to turn the attention to Hollywood and blame them for the country’s poor image abroad is pointless and rather childish.

A few years back the producers of the Simpson’s (Praise be Groening) created an episode of the popular American show entitled “Blame it on Lisa” and had the dysfunctional four-digit family head to Rio for a week of frivolity under a mission of finding Lisa’s NGO sponsored orphan. The family upon arrival is swarmed and robbed by children, Homer is kidnapped by a taxi driver and Bart is, well, swallowed by an Anaconda. It was cleverly done and I chuckled myself off the couch.

I laughed equally out loud when Simpson’s family visited my country of origin, the vapid donut consuming nation of Canada. I considered it an honor that the mighty design tables of the Groening geniuses' inked an adventure outside of Springfield and focused on the Great White North, regardless of how silly or disturbingly accurate the stereotypes were.

However, Brazilians didn’t view the Rio de Janeiro episode with as much humor or understanding. The Rio de Janeiro tourism board threatened to sue Fox for financial damages the COMEDY may have caused the tourism industry. Many Brazilians were simply LIVID. It’s not that Brazilian aren’t a risible lot, more than able to role with the punches. Brazilians do spend endless hours berating their homeland, the politics and the way things function, or dare I say, don´t. Yet, it is not the role for outsiders (especially dem dang Merriiikans) to poke fun, or even pine in with an opinion.

On a final note, Brazilian films such as “City of God”, “Carandiru”, “The Redeemer” and the documentary “Bus 174” (One of my favorite docos of all times btw) paint a far more violent image of Brazil than anything Hollywood or the Simpsons could conjure up; and all are praised as works of art here. City of God (based on a true story) was nominated for 4 Oscars in 2004. Set in a favela (shanty town) in Rio de Janeiro the film (shot and edited wonderfully) is about one of the most violent stories you could imagine, where in the poorer hill-side dwellings murderers thrive, the police are all corrupt and there is little to no hope for a future. Again, a film based on real events.

Not all are up in arms about the film, and some are actually using the discussion to shed light on the grave problems facing some of Brazil’s larger cities. On the GLOBO on-line website (one of Brazil’s most respected news agencies) a current blog is underway about the film, and there are a number of individuals that are also perplexed to the nationalistic reaction. As one blogger from Rio De Janeiro put it: “I’m sure the film makes a couple of unfair assumptions about Brazilian culture, however, I bet the film is no where near as frightening than the current reality in this city. To clean up Brazil’s image abroad, Brazil must clean up the country first.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Kramer is DONE. Mad Max would have been too had his vicious rant been caught on tape.

There is no excuse, no rational, no words that can justify Michael Richard’s (AKA Kramer on the Hit NBC series Seinfeld) ignorant and bigoted rant aimed at two hecklers from his Laugh Factory show on November 17th. I won’t waste time reposting his shuddersome remarks here; you can actually SEE his rabid attack on TZM.com, Googlevideo, and of course, the on-line revolutionary video-blog site: Youtube.com.

If you haven’t seen or heard about this story, you must be living on mars.

Further crucifying the 57 year old actor here is pointless – he’s simply an outted-racist whose career is now further spiraling into nonexistence. He’s Done. Caput. The proof being in a 3 minute video that blazed throughout the digital world within hours of his hate-filled vitriol and will remain there, accessible to all, until the end of time. This is the new reality of digital media.

TZM.com notes that the video has been downloaded close to 3 million times (from their site alone) since posted, forcing major news networks like CNN and BBC to pick up the story. Networks, news sites and even the Brazilian News sources here have sunk their talons into this story like a falcon would into the flesh of its prey. It was an international media event probably before Richards awoke the following day.

The actor/stand up comedian did of course later apologize on the Late Night Show with David Letterman under the crafty tutelage of former colleague Jerry Seinfeld – who (nudge nudge wink wink) is just about to release a DVD anniversary edition of the syndicated hit series for the "BUY BIG" holiday season. The pathetic attempt at an apology, which can also be viewed anywhere on-line, did little if anything to ameliorate his berserk outbreak. Why? Because we were able to “bear witness to ignorance” first hand; and those images are now permanently burned into the retina of the public eye.

Words in print do have power; however reading that someone was verbally abusive is not as potent as actually seeing and hearing for one’s self. This is at the base of the Quaker philosophy of “bearing witness”. Once you personally see something wrong, you are then empowered and obliged to do something about it.

Given the immediacy and accessibility of the digital world we were all able to see (up front and personal) Richards' racism, and by doing so, we are now obligated to react. In the case of Michael Richards, this will probably come in the form of a boycott. No one will hire him, and no one will dare pay and see him again. His career is over. How can anyone, ever again, be able to look at that adorably dim-witted and eccentric character “Kramer”, and not think “wow, what an ignorant racist SOB”.

Many in the blog communities are making the comparison with Richard’s to Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic tirade aimed at local police officers while incarcerated for driving pissed months back. Although the Gibson story also sent shock waves around the world, Mel was able to some extent distant himself from his repugnant remarks by blaming alcoholism for the hate filled harangue. As image consultants compare the two events and offer advice to Richards as in how to SPIN his flub and control the damage, what few are considering here is that Mel’s meltdown wasn’t caught on tape.

Would Mel have had his legions of supporters and colleagues pine in on his behalf had they actually seen the drunken actor frothing at the mouth spouting anti-Semitic abuse? Would his public be as willing as they are to give him the benefit of the doubt had his abuse been caught on tape and flooded the net, like has happened Michael Richards?

I think not.

The climate change debate. Tsk tsk Bill Carol

(Originally written November 5th 2006)

I’ve been a talk radio fan for years. I usually work with the computer tuned into a “news and views” station either from Toronto, London or wherehaveyou instead of streaming through my 30 gigs of MP3s. Some musician I am.

Well the other day I happened to be tuned into CFRB and caught the Bill Carol show. Bill (and I do enjoy listening to him), in typical rabid-conservative fashion was frothing at the mouth about a story out of Bangor Maine, where WVII and WVFZ (ABC and Fox TV local TV affiliates, respectively) general manager Michael Palmer memoed his staff advising them to IGNORE all stories about global warming until “Bar Harbor is underwater”.

Completely expecting Carol’s ferocious diatribe to be focused into -- what one would hope from any self respecting broadcaster – an anti-censorship sermon; I was gob-smacked to hear Bill rage against environmentalists, and blame their “the sky is falling” tactics for this completely irresponsible and blatantly partisan editorial decision on the part of Palmer.

Woe’s me.

It seems that there are still many card carrying members of the flat earth society stumbling and bumbling about our ever burdened planet, and some sadly have audiences and use their media pulpits to further obfuscate and confuse an already complicated science, and more ridiculously try to paint some of our planet’s greatest defenders as “media manipulative societal burdens”.

Now in all fairness, Bill didn’t reject out right the concept of climate change; his rant was against environmentalists (those green little anti-capitalists devils) for reportedly supplying the media with manipulative images and apocryphal stories regarding climate change.

Now, I’ve been an environmental television director for decades, I’ve traveled the planet twice over, I’ve produced three documentaries on climate change, and was present in Kyoto in 97 when the historical protocol was created. If I’ve learned anything at all, it is that respected environmentalists -- although they ARE great for soundbites -- are usually a little more reserved and cautious than most give them credit for. It is usually the media that hypes up their campaigns and or gets the facts completely wrong.

Certainly, “eco-crusaders” warn that the world is warming (0.7 degrees Celsius and climbing – this is scientific fact, and not environmental conjecture) and that this warming will in fact cause a series of environmental problems around this globe (the scientific debate splits here in terms of the gravity of these effects).

However, for some reason, environmentalists are always blamed when and if the media gets its facts wrong.

The hurricane season of 2005 is now seen as one of those “ah-ha we gotcha” knee-jerk reactions from the legions of naysayer in the flat Earth Society. However, as they rage and spew bile citing that environmentalists blamed the hurricane season on climate change, few are actually honest about where the error occurred. I know quite well what the environmental movement was saying about the 2005 hurricane season, and NO WHERE did any respected or well known environmental organization draw a simple straight line from climate change to Katrina.

What Environmentalists were actually saying (corroborated by scientists) was that hurricane seasons such as 2005 CAN be a symptom of climate change although it is not conclusive, and a warming of the oceans can be ONE added ingredient in the production of hurricanes and or tropical storms. The Atlantic Ocean is in fact 0.5 degrees WARMER than it was decades ago. As well, scientifically, over the last 30 years (and remember we need to think in long term modeling to truly understand trends) the INTENSITY of hurricanes has increased.

Although you would have been hard pressed to find an environmentalist make a direct correlation between the hurricanes of 2005 and climate change, the media had no problems what so ever in making the case.

Sadly for the typically ill informed flat earth society spokesperson, they’ll look to 2006 and note that there where in fact fewer hurricanes, and so THIS, is IN FACT, PROOF, that the environmental movement, the millions of scientists the world over, and NASA (where in fact they do have ROCKET SCIENTISTS working for them) were all wrong.

Before tuning into CFRB, I had read the BBC’s website. I was looking for Sir Nicholas Stern’s widely anticipated report on the possible “economic” costs of Climate change for us as a planet. For those who are unaware, Sir Stern is a respected former economist from the World Bank. His report, in blatant and alarming language, urges all developed nations to reduce their carbon burden by upwards of 60% to avoid catastrophic economic hardship in the future. His report was launched by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Listening to Bill and a few callers rant about environmentalists and global warming conspiracy theories; I was curious as to whether Bill had actually known that this report was being tabled on the very same day he would lash out at the “greenies”. Minutes into his rant someone handed Mr. Carol a bulletin and immediately, and in a boorish “oh my gawd what´s this trite” tone read off the synopsis of the Stern report on the air.

After what appeared to me as an “oh-oh, place foot in mouth” pregnant pause he recovered and grunted “this is what I mean”. Apparently the apocalyptic language of Stern’s economic analysis (and it is a very scary read) was proof that “environmentalists” go too far in their attempts to alarm the public. Huh?

If you consider a World Bank economist and the Prime Minister of one of the wealthiest nations on earth as “eco crusaders” screaming “chicken little conspiracy theories” then, it is not environmentalists to blame for “irresponsible” discussions on climate change; its those reporting on the issues getting their facts wrong and using argumentative fallacies to take attention away from the science, the much needed debate and what I truly believe, urgent action.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Before one leaps into the icey waters, a test with the toe is highly recommended.