99% Invisible talks to Kate Wagner about just what it is about McMansions that is so grating. There’s a lot of reasons, but I found this one illuminating:
“According to Kate, the age of the McMansion saw the shift of the house from a place that we live in, potentially for the rest of our lives, to an asset that we are decidedly not supposed to live in forever.
“‘People started designing their houses with the notion of selling them in mind. Realtors would advise ‘oh, I wouldn’t buy or do this because then the house isn’t going to sell very well.’
‘So we sort of devised this culture where we thought about selling our houses before we spent one night in them.'”
When I was buying a house the focus seemed to be on potential resell value rather than, you know, what it would be like to actually live there.
As I’ve written before I am a fan of freedom of speech. However I also recognize the damage that can be done when that freedom is abused.
I am also aware of a strain of thought that posits, basically, if people don’t exercise freedom of speech then it doesn’t really exist. They praise those who test its limits by allowing us to re-affirm our collective belief in the need for this freedom.
For a variety of reasons over the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about this argument and determined I don’t agree with it.
Apply the same logic to other values- rule of law, for example. We have rule of law because we believe it to be better than mob justice or allowing whoever happens to be in charge to arbitrarily determine the fate of those who are accused of committing a crime.
Does this mean we should thank and people who commit increasingly heinous crimes because they are testing how far we will let someone go while remaining committed to the belief in rule of law? Should they be praised as “rule of law activists,” willing to push our boundaries? Does rule of law really exist if no one ever makes you use it?
While I do think it’s important to maintain freedom of speech to the fullest extent possible I don’t think it then follows that exercising that freedom is in and of itself a praiseworthy thing. And I’m putting this here as a reference point for the next time a free speech argument inevitably arises.
“We’re calling for a Radio/Podcasting heading in the arts section — including listings of local events — but audio storytelling also demands more. We seek recognition of the Radio/Podcasting genre through thoughtful reviews, criticism, and a deeper examination of styles and trends. Press must move beyond listicles ad infinitum citing the top 10, 20 or 50 podcasts of the week, month, or year. That approach was okay a few years ago — when podcasts were a bit of a mystery — but now it’s time to actually consider the impact of audio storytelling.”
I visited England this year. You know what they had in the newspapers? Reviews of radio programs: Wimbledon coverage, documentaries, interviews.
This should be expanded.
Update: One month after I first wrote this I think I need to add an important caveat. While I think it’s still worth remembering and pointing out that people have always lived in different realities, it is also troubling that people are rejecting verifiable facts and embracing outright falsehoods. I’m not sure if this is true or not but it feels to me as if in the past people were ignorant about major issues because it wasn’t being reported on- it wasn’t easily accessible. Now, it is easily accessibly but people just don’t seem to care or no longer believe sources of facts. So this post still holds true, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think there are some major problems with the way information is consumed and shared.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Once upon a time we all lived in the same world. We watched the same TV shows, listened to the same music, and, crucially, read the same newspapers.
We may have disagreed on some things but we were at least coming at it with the same baseline knowledge: whatever was in the news was what was going on in the world.
Today, we are splintered. No one watches TV news. People get their news from specialized sources with specific angles and Facebook algorithms send us into echo chambers where we only see things we agree with.
We may as well be living in different realities.
* * *
I’ve seen this same basic story told in many different ways. Sometimes people are mourning the death of capital-j Journalism as a time when the News was respected rather than ignored in favour of memes. Some people are mourning the death of a cohesive society altogether.
I have a tough time mourning this because I have spent my entire adult life in the internet age. I can’t say with absolute confidence that things aren’t worse now than they were back then, but I suspect they are not.
I think, for example, of a recent story where a woman was saying there was no racism in America until Obama was elected. This could be used as exhibit A in a series of stories about how we are living in different realities.
Clearly she is being fed this information by some right-wing site attempting to blame all the ills of the world on Democrats rather than a good old-fashioned centrist news source- right?
Except consider how she got here: she would have spent all of her time pre-2008 being completely unaware of racism. All those years of everyone watching the same nightly news and somehow she missed this. Only now has she become aware that racism exists in America. She may be upset about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and think it stupid, but she is aware of it. Unlike every other similar movement that preceded it.
Closer to home, here in Canada, most Canadians spent their time being completely unaware of residential schools. You want different realities? How about one where you could read the papers and watch the nightly news and not be aware of a cultural genocide taking place in your own country?
* * *
These are the sorts of things I ask whenever I read someone mourning for a better-informed, bygone era.
How much journalism was there about Indigenous rights against major infrastructure in the 70s?
How well-examined was policing against people of colour?
How many voices from women, transgender, Muslim people were being heard in media?
I suspect people weren’t better informed in previous times. My guess is the threshold for being well-informed was just lower.
Earlier today I wrote about a question I’ve had for a while: does revealing a tragedy has occurred to an indigenous person make people care more, or less, about the problem?
Unbeknownst to me, that question was being answered by Neil Macdonald in a column entitled, “Why clicking on this story about Indigenous people matters.”
The whole thing is worth reading, but the key revelation for me is what he calls the “Bus Plunge”:
“In choosing stories and laying out pages at newspapers decades ago, I quickly learned that one dead Canadian anywhere (even more so, a white Canadian), equalled two or three dead Americans, which in turn equalled 10 or 15 Brits or West Europeans, which in turn equalled 30 or 40 dead East Europeans, who were probably white and maybe even Christian, but came from unpronounceable places, and so forth.
“At the very end of the list were Africans, or, say, Bangladeshis. They had to perish in very large numbers indeed to merit any notice.
“Then there was the Bus Plunge. The Bus Plunge was usually a two-paragraph brief from somewhere in the Third World where a bus (or train or ferry or any other contrivance) crashed or plunged or exploded, killing a lot of people. The Bus Plunge was terribly useful; it could be used to plug last-minute holes that resulted from poor layout measurements.
“I’m not saying Indigenous issues are a Bus Plunge. But Indigenous people, I’m afraid, haven’t rated very highly on that unspoken hierarchy. Canadians evidently do not consider Indigenous people proximate — and the less proximate the subject, the more indifferent the audience.”
He backs this up by looking at the number of clicks stories about Indigenous people get versus other stories.
The conclusion: in cold, hard numbers, it seems people will pay more attention to the line “missing woman” than “missing indigenous woman”.
When you’re writing news, you want to lead with the strongest line possible.
For radio, that means you want the first sentence to grab the ear and make the listener care.
Online, that means you want a headline that will cause people to click and read on.
So here’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Does the word “Indigenous” (or “Aboriginal” or “First Nation”) make people care more… or less?
If you hear or read, “a thirty-year-old woman has gone missing” does that jar you more, or less, than hearing, “a thirty-year-old Indigenous woman has gone missing”?
I honestly have no idea how the average person would respond.
On the one hand, hearing that the woman is Indigenous ties the story into a larger, ongoing narrative about missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada.
On the other hand, maybe it makes it easier to externalize the story into a part of a problem that is big, but not surprising.
Like yeah, it sucks that there’s people being killed with bullets in the Middle East. But somehow it doesn’t shock us as much as hearing about it happening in Paris.
I suspect there’s a certain portion of the population who hears the word “Indigenous” and, even if they care, tunes out just a little because they are so used to hearing about bad things happening to Indigenous people.
I’d like to imagine that it doesn’t matter. That people would care equally, regardless of identity or race.
But I doubt it.
So how do you lead the story?
I think you can put the election of Trudeau into the same category as the success of Brexit and the rise of Trump.
“Make America Great Again” and “Canada Is Back” have different outcomes, but the sentiment is that of the exceptionalism of each country, and a throwback to the good old days.
Stances on immigrants, relationship to foreign countries, etc are a contrast to Trump and “Leave”, but Canadian nationalism post-WWII IS contrast to American nationalism, and the nationalism in many countries.
The Canadian brand of nationalism that multiple generations of Canadians grew up was largely created by the Pearson/Trudeau era of government: multiculturalism, bilingualism, peacekeeping, the idea being a moral leader on the world stage, the belief that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”
The challenge Harper tried to overcome was this version of Canadian identity that was so tied up to Liberal policies- right down to the national anthem, flag, and charter. It’s why you had Conservative MPs insisting on calling Canada Day “Dominion Day” and so much interest in the War of 1812- it was an attempt to reset or at least nudge the Canadian identity towards something that wasn’t created by the Liberals.
Obviously there are huge differences between Trudeau, and Trump, and Brexit, but they all appeal in part to the belief that things used to better. They appeal to a nostalgia for a version of each country that was stronger, more respected, treated its people better. It’s a promise that things were better, once, and after this vote, they will be again- regardless of whether any of that is true.
For Canada Day, the story of Alex Cuba, a Cuban-Canadian musician living in Smithers who decided to learn some of the indigenous language of Wit’suwet’in so he could sing it when he was invited to perform on Parliament Hill.
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