Friday, September 3, 2010

Book Review- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert


Topping many, if not most, “Most Influential Novels Of All Time” and “Great Literary Feats” lists is Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’. The story, which follows the life of a woman trying to escape her lonely life, is often heralded as written perfection because of Flaubert’s superb use of language, style and syntax. There have been countless adaptations: movies, operas, plays and even Saturday Night Live skits, born from this one story. You cannot claim to have a well rounded education in literature unless you have read it and dissected it over a glass of wine with someone who is wearing a black turtleneck. If you want some serious cred with the litterati, it is a definite bookshelf must-preferably hardcover, preferably from a second hand store.

*aside* If you have to get pretentious about the book before you even read it, that should send up warning flags.*

Sounds easy enough, right? All you have to do is read a classic novel to be able to hold your own at a cocktail party overflowing with book editors and Ph.D. candidates. So obviously you’re going to run out and buy it immediately unless you wish to be sentenced to don a “Ah’ve nevurr red Madam Bovahree” dunce cap before spending eternity in intellectual purgatory. And of course I am going to endorse it because I would never, ever counsel you against reading anything that might help you along in your social-climbing careers, right?

Be surprised. I am about to save you hours and hours of brain torture by telling you straight away not to believe the hype. Madame Bovary is a terrible book. I don’t care how much ejaculatory praise is heaped upon it or how many people far more cultured and educated than I hold it up as the holy grail of written word. Call me coarse, call me misled, call me a filthy, no good, literary blasphemist but just please don’t call me to bookclub night for a reading of Madame Bovary.

I remember being 13 and watching an episode of “Party of Five” where the elder sister, played by canadian Neve Campbell, expressed her tender appreciation of the book her university literature class was assigned to read. That book, predictably, boringly, annoyingly, was Madame Bovary. I can’t remember the exact words she used, but I recall an inspirational monologue, spoken softly over sensitive background music, that regurgitated the same praise that English teachers and book snobs have been heaping on Gustave Flaubert’s oeuvre for nearly two centuries. So, years later, when I was a university undergrad, I just had to read it. I ended up receiving the book as a gift from a friend and I couldn’t have been more excited. Then. I. opened. the. book.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear, I am not disputing Flaubert’s mastery of the French language- there are some stunning turns of phrase.

That is, if you read it in French.

I, like millions of poor, unsuspecting suckers, read it in English. So here I am, getting increasingly disillusioned with this book but forcing myself to soldier on because I know, I just know, that I am going to to fall in love with the narrative at some point. But it never happens, here is what I find instead:

At the beginning, the story focusses on a boring man, Charles Bovary. Later the focus shifts to his ridiculous wife, Emma. He is well-meaning but painfully naive, she is intolerably selfish. I think a good way to explain Emma is to compare her to Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara. Like Emma, Scarlett throws away almost everything that could make her happy for a love that is only real in her head and she is too self-involved to be a good mother. However, unlike Emma, Scarlett is smart, fiery and, most importantly, complex and interesting. Also, Emma has no business saavy, internal drive or survival instincts; she is like that girl you knew in high school who seemed only to care about her nails and what she was going to wear to the dance and really did only care about her nails and what she was going to wear to the dance. She is too inane to elicit sympathy, too vapid to amuse and just so irritating in her self-inflicted pain. In short, I can’t stand her and (however many pages) of her is far too much to ask anyone to endure. The story isn’t even compelling because you are missing out on all the flowery descriptive language (bon mots a-hohn honh honh) that makes the book remarkable, I’ll say it again, IN FRENCH. The story itself is not that interesting.

So, to wrap this up: after a series of failed love affairs, Emma runs up her husband’s credit (because she’s depressed, she starts shopping, which makes her a cliche before the cliche even existed- gross), can’t finagle the money to pay her debts from her ex-lovers, eats arsenic and dies a horrible, undignified death. Her husband dies shortly after, destitute because of Emma’s selfishness and their daughter is sent to live with distant relatives who promptly pack her off to toil in a mill.

Yes, I did just ruin the ending BUT I just saved you a world of unnecessary suffering.

You are welcome.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

B.I.L.F.- Galen Weston, Jr.

Before I begin, I would like to point out that the 'B' in B.I.L.F. stands for 'Brain', not billionaire. I keep getting questions about this from readers and wanted to clear that up before the newest installment. Everyone good? Okay, great, let's get on with it...

There's something about Galen, non?

Admittedly, I have a thing for nerd types, and always have. When I was in grade 12, I had a platonic crush on this beautiful boy with the most perfect skin in the world. He was like a hot male porcelain doll. What?! I know it's weird, but I'm serious. He was this lovely, well-dressed, articulate, sweet, smart person who was just so not homefries. Of course he wore glasses, of course he had a "hair-do" that required gel and patience in the late grunge era when most people were still rolling out of bed and throwing on a flannel shirt and, unlike 90 per cent of boys my age, he had class and believed in chivalry. In my 17 year old opinion, he was pretty damn near perfect husband material, which is exactly the kind of thing you don't appreciate for another ten years or so when you start looking for a man with good genes instead of just a boy with good jeans (most of my girlfriends wanted guys who met the criteria: poor, dirty and can rock). Anyway, homeboy was all kinds of awesome with a metrosexual edge. I guess you could say that he was my original B.I.L.F.

Don't worry, I'm getting to my point: Galen Weston is that guy's less cool, yet much wealthier and media saavy, counterpart. This is hugely significant, particularly from a marketing P.O.V.

The Canadian Encyclopedia had this to say on G:

He prepped for the corporate role he was born to play, earning a B.A. from Harvard and an M.B.A. from Columbia. Known to share his father's flair on the polo field and his people skills, it's unclear yet whether Weston has inherited pater's mercantile touch or knack for spotting talent. He has told friends he has grown to enjoy business, particularly during his stint at President's Choice banking services. Certainly there is little evidence he is conflicted about his destiny. By all reports, he's an impeccably decent guy, with lovely manners and zero social pretension. He dislikes being called Galen Weston Jr., preferring GG or G2, his family nickname (Galen Sr. is G1). Like his famously private father, he avoids media scrutiny, declining a request for interview. When his artfully raw industrial loft in a grungy Toronto neighbourhood was photographed for Toronto Life magazine in 2001, its resident was referred to obliquely as "The Bachelor."

Um, Harvard? Zero social pretension? Corny nickname? RAW INDUSTRIAL LOFT?


And, oh, does he ever have that "mercantile touch". Having inherited, at the tender age of 33, the reins to the empire founded by his great-grandfather in the late 19th century, G2 has managed to take a tired, decidedly uncool brand and thoroughly revitalize it. By 2006, Loblaws (the parent company of President's Choice Brand) had become something of a punch line, having fallen quite a way from the glory days of Galen' s father, who had achieved a major image overhaul of the company in the 1970's. In only four short years, that reality has been turned completely around by new brand Joe Fresh and ambitious "green" initiatives that have turned Superstore into a preferred shopping spot of the trend-loving yet thrifty Gen-X/Y demographic. Recyclable fabric shopping bags? Yes please! IKEA Doppelganger furniture for a fraction of the price? But of course! GAP- quality polo shirts for seven dollars? HELL TO THE YES, GALEN!

And let's be real here- I know I am not the only one who has gotten a serious case of the warm fuzzies while watching the new commercials featuring adorable, sheepish Galen engaging in various down to earth activities with the humble farmers and fisherman that supply the reasonably priced products that stock the shelves of his no-frills grocery stores. Doesn't he remind you of that cute, non-threatening, well brought up boy you used to go to school with? Don't you want to tousle his geeky almost-mullet?

MMMhmm, this B.I.L.F. knows how to capitalize on image. He's done his homework and he's working the weak spots of Canadians A Mari Usque Ad Mare.

I am picking up what he is throwing down. Are you?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Word of the Week- Conurbation


Conurbation (kon-uhr-BAY-shuhn) .n.

A large urban area involving several contiguous communities, formed as a result of expansion of neighboring areas.

[From con- (together, with) + Latin urb- (city) + -ation.]

For example:

With the conurbation of new housing developments spreading in all directions, Edmonton was in danger of becoming Canada's worst example of urban sprawl after Toronto.

Let's talk about... Tiger's Nike ad

Just in case you haven't seen it yet, allow me:

They went for it.
In all fairness, it is Nike and their slogan is "Just Do It" (notice how the slogan was conspicuously missing from the last screen?)

Regretfully, when asked what I thought about it almost a full day after seeing it for the first time, my response was "I have to think about what I think about it." But quickly thereafter I came to my senses.

I keep hearing people say that the ad "crosses the line", but I am going to reject that assertion right off the bat. Why? Because as far as I'm concerned, there is no "line" anymore. Sex is used to sell everything from soccer shoes to appliances. The other day I heard "Shaun from Spence" on the radio using S&M innuendo to sell necklaces FCS. Let's face it, at least half of all ads thesedays are vulgar or disturbing in one way or another. Do we really expect Nike to meet a higher standard when millions of dollars are at stake, when their golden boy is tarnished, when they have to make him immediately palatable to a skeptical public?

Puh- lease.

Let us, for the purpose of this discussion, accept as a given that this ad was born from a reality that team Tiger has finally grasped: Tiger should not speak for himself. Not yet. Maybe not ever. People are not buying it. Even when apologizing, he comes across as insincere. Better to let someone else do the talking for him, especially now that Tiger's scandal does not seem to be abating but rather gaining momentum.

Just this week, a neighbour admitted to having slept with Tiger as a salacious Vanity Fair article detailing his "relationships" with four of his mistresses hit stands. VF may as well have dropped a bomb on what was left of his dignity; the stories are truly disgusting, painting a picture of a selfish, remorseless lecher with little to no sexual self- control. Also not in his favour is the fact that his wife continues to refuse to publicly show signs of forgiving him- she won't wear her wedding rings, move back into their house or accompany him on the golf circuit. His colleagues haven't exactly jumped to his defense, either. His mother has tried to be supportive but, come on, she couldn't even look at him during his "press conference" (scoff) in February.

So who, WHO? I ask, can help absolve Tiger of his sins? Who can give him the wings he so badly needs to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of his self destruction?

Enter his deceased father, the man who knew him best, was by his side through all his biggest triumphs, served as his backbone, his rock and, apparently (conveniently?), his conscience. Anyone who followed Tiger's early career knows that the son leaned heavily on his father both personally and professionally. Tragically, Earl Woods died from cancer in 2006, around the same time that Tiger's reckless behaviour began. Is there a link?

Nike wants you to think so.

Here is the subliminal message of the ad, as far as I'm concerned:

This is a face you know, you have seen it a million times. You used to see it and think of ambition, drive and good sound values. Now you see something different. But while you are thinking of all those other things, remember this: Tiger Woods is a human who has suffered loss and pain, just as you probably have. Imagine trying to navigate the world of celebritywithout your moral compass. You'd be likely to make some mistakes, too. Tiger lost his way because he is human like you, but here is that voice of the past calling him back to the person he was before. He realises this now. Tiger was the person you believed him to be, the person you admired. He can and will be that person again.

So, is it working for you or not? For me, not, but I was never invested in the image side of Tiger.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Your girl Shabs hits the big 3-UH OH.

When I was 15, a friend of my mother's gave me some great advice. The first thing she told me was to lose my habit of chewing the inside of my cheeks because it would give me deep naso-labial folds that would make me look like a crone by my mid-twenties. I didn't listen (no cronage yet, though.) The second piece of advice, however, was something that I carried around in the back of my mind all throughout my 20's.

Here is what she said to me: " Allow yourself to make your mistakes, have your fun and figure out who you are during your twenties. Don't get married and have babies, don't become a slave to work and don't become old before your time. When you make it to the end of that decade in one piece, look back at what really affected you and evaluate. Take stock of your mistakes and resolve not to repeat them. Then, buckle down and get on with adulthood."

Brilliant advice. Thanks, Chrissy.

Last Saturday night, I celebrated my 30th birthday with a group of friends both old and new. The age range was from roughly 24 to 40, and I found it very interesting to note the difference in which both ends of the spectrum approached the evening's festivities. You see, we went to a bar. I know. BUT, in my defense, it was a bar known for it's older and more well-behaved clientele. There were no 18 year olds throwing up in the restrooms, although there was a significant amount of leg humping going on (more on that later). ANYWAY, at the very beginning of the night, one of my friends came up and said in a soothing voice "Don't worry, 30 is the new 20."

My response: "Bitch please, I certainly hope not because I was such an idiot when I was 20."

But you know what? That is not necessarily a bad thing. According to Chrissy, I did everything that I was supposed to do. For your reading enjoyment, I have condensed the top 5 "Things I did wrong but oh-so-right in my 20's" into a comprehensive, but not chronological list:

1. I dated Mr. Wrong. For seven years. I got engaged to him twice. That's right, TWICE. We had nothing in common, fought all the time, disagreed on everything, had none of the same values or priorities (read: my priority was to get a university degree, his was to lift heavy stuff while quaffing whey protein drinks and taunting me about how I thought I was "soooo smuurt"). He abruptly dumped me one night. While it was happening, I was mostly just annoyed that he was talking during Will and Grace. Ah, true love.

2. I was a bar star. It could have been worse, I didn't ever come close to being in rehab or anything of the sort, but I did my fair share of hair-flipping and poutyface dancing while flirting with boys who I couldn't really see in the dark. I made a fool out of myself wayyy more than once but luckily never ended up in really compromising situations (except for the time when I went to grab something from my hotel room during my friend Fraser's wedding reception and had a door kicking spazz because the card wouldn't open the door. Unfortunately, I went down a wrong , yet identical, corridor and there was a family with children huddling terrified in their room while I screamed obscenities at their door thinking it was my empty room that I couldn't access.) I am so grateful that my bar star days were before the advent of camera phones and facebook. Lawwd.

3. I suffered from MPSBC, that is Multiple Personality Syndrome By Choice, meaning I tried on many different roles in order to test out what worked and what didn't. I started off a Mean Girl, then moved on to Diplomat, Over-opinionated Snob, Hippie, Basket Case, Political Activist, Radical Feminist, then Party Girl, then Doormat, then Pseudo-Tame Librarian, then Shabs Warrior Princess, etc. You get the point.

4. I struggled with boundary setting. This was an important one for me. I had to learn how to set my limits and communicate them in a way that didn't unleash the Angry Black Woman that has always lived inside me. I also had to accept that some people couldn't live with my boundaries, which was disappointing but also very freeing. (PS- If I ever start my own PR firm, I think I am going to call it "Angry Black Woman Communications". What do you think?)

5. I worked a bunch of jobs that didn't allow me to use my strengths. Although I did my best at those jobs and leaned a great deal about interpersonal communication as well as professional growth, I knew something was missing. I allowed the jobs to direct me instead of directing myself toward the opportunities that would allow me to put my skills to their best use. Why? Because I didn't yet know what my greatest strengths were. I just knew that people said I was really smart. I thought that would get me through. Ah, grasshoppah- so naive.

I could go on, believe me.

So there I was, at the bar on my birthday (for some reason) looking around at the other people dancing and grouping them by what I thought were their motives. To sum it up, there were the deli dwellers, those who were only there for the "meat", if you catch my drift; the charlottes, girls who are looking for husbands and just seem exhausted from the effort; test drivers, leg humpers who just there to sample the goods and see if they find something that might be a long term fit; the Young MCs, people there to bust a move; and couples, two kinds: jealous and secure. I realised that I have been all of those people over the last ten years and I am happy that I was.

You see, darlings, I feel like I got all of my craziness out of my system and am ready to "buckle down and get on with adulthood". I travelled, finished my education, partied, made a bunch of really stupid mistakes, played with identity, met all kinds of different people, learned about my strengths and weaknesses and how to manage them, met the perfect man, moved back to my home province, set up a nest and am on the cusp of beginning an exciting new career. I followed Chrissy's advice to the letter and am so happy that I did. Now, I am ready to really go for it. I want the kids and the career and the ongoing great partnership with my husband and the evolution of old relationships along with the blossoming of new ones.

See you at the top, bitches.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Resuscitating Tiger

Cansecos? No.
Rodruiguez? Don't care.
Bryant? Whatevs.

Short of "IF THE GLOVE DON'T FIT, YOU MUST ACQUIT!", I have never followed an athlete-related scandal. I'm a girl's girl and therefore couldn't care less about the sleazy shenanigans of self-absorbed, overpaid professional athletes.

HOWEVAH, I am finding the Days of Our Lives-esque salaciousness of the Tiger Woods scandal irresistible. What is not to love?

Tiger's PR is what's not to love. Who is responsible for this mess?!

For those of you who need a refresher, below is a timeline to bring you up to speed. Then we'll discuss.

November 25

The National Enquirer reports that Tiger is having an affair with New York event planner Rachel Uchitel. People don't care until...

November 27

Tiger crashes his Escalade near his Orlando, Florida home. It is reported that Tiger's wife Elin used a golf club to smash a window in order to free her husband from the car. (Allegedly, he was unconscious and bleeding from the mouth when police arrived).

November 28

Woods turns police away from his home and asks them to come back the next day. Rumors swirl that Tiger's injuries resulted from a 9 iron wielding Elin who, according to neighbours, "beat his ass".

November 29

Tiger releases a statement asking for privacy and calling the incident "embarrassing for my family" and again refuses to speak with police regarding the accident.

Later, the 911 call made by a neighbour is released. See above.

Rachel Uchitel, who days earlier had been named as Tiger's mistress, denies any affair.

November 30

Tiger withdraws from the Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club, California due to injuries sustained in the accident.

December 1

Woods is charged with careless driving and given a $164 fine.

December 2

Us Weekly reports that Los Angeles cocktail waitress, Jaimee Grubbs, alleges that she and Tiger had a 31-month affair and posts a voicemail on their website allegedly left by Woods on Grubbs' phone days before the car accident in which he warns that his wife may be calling her.

Apparently, Elin did call and left a voice message that said "You know who this is because you're f***ing my husband." OH SNAP.

Clip below:

That's not all. The same day, the media links a THIRD woman, a Las Vegas club marketer to Tiger.

Tiger releases another statement apologising for his "transgressions". He does not specify just how transgressy he has been.

Transcript of the statement below (from his website):

I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone.

Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. The stories in particular that physical violence played any role in the car accident were utterly false and malicious. Elin has always done more to support our family and shown more grace than anyone could possibly expect.

But no matter how intense curiosity about public figures can be, there is an important and deep principle at stake which is the right to some simple, human measure of privacy. I realize there are some who don't share my view on that. But for me, the virtue of privacy is one that must be protected in matters that are intimate and within one's own family. Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions.

Whatever regrets I have about letting my family down have been shared with and felt by us alone. I have given this a lot of reflection and thought and I believe that there is a point at which I must stick to that principle even though it's difficult.

I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology.

December 3

The media reports that Rachel Uchitel has met with and possibly hired celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred. People freak out.

Uchitel announces her intention to hold a press conference in Los Angeles but cancels shortly before the conference is scheduled to take place.

December 4

Claims emerge that Tiger offered Uchitel $1 million to cancel the press conference. Rumors circulate that Uchitel has gone into hiding because she fears for her safety.

Meanwhile TMZ releases an email exchange between one of Tiger's employees and Uchitel, dated November 9, details plans for the two to meet in Australia.

US Weekly magazine hits news stands featuring an interview with mistress number two, Jamie Grubbs, which clearly exposes her as a Grade A Dipstick. Yes, that's an official title.

December 5

A fourth woman comes forward claiming she had a long-term affair with Woods that began in 2004, the year he married his wife. Allegedly, the woman has hired a lawyer and intends to make a statement to the media. Uh Oh.


OH LAWD! Can't you just see Tiger slinking around his mansion, trying to avoid Elin's angry side eye as she menacingly waves a golf club at him while standing over a burning wastepaper basket containing their now void pre-nuptial agreement?

This is not the point, though.

The point is that Tiger Woods has failed to follow the basic rules of crisis communications as outlined by Vincent Covello, a prominent authority on the subject. According to Covello, the cardinal rules are:

  • Accept and involve the public as a legitimate partner
  • Plan carefully and evaluate your efforts
  • Listen to the public's specific concerns
  • Be honest, frank and open
  • Coordinate and collaborate with other credible sources
  • Meet the needs of the media
  • Speak clearly and with compassion

So, where has he failed?

Tiger is in serious violation of rules number 1, 4 and 7. He has not acknowledged that the public has a right to know anything of substance, which makes him come across as insincere. He is taking for granted that his fundamental right to privacy exempts him from having to offer any direct explanation or sincere apology. He has consistently been standoffish and, in my view, condescending, which has resulted in unflattering reports of his behavior (ie: he is rude to service staff, refuses to give his autograph to eager children and is a poor tipper). Keep in mind that nobody ever talked shit about Tiger before a week ago.

The public feels, on some level, that they have been personally deceived. Here is this person who we put up on a pedestal and he turns out to be no better than a deceitful philanderer.

The fact is, Tiger Woods is not just a man who made (humped) a mistake or four. He is a brand. He is the single highest paid athlete in the world. His squeaky clean image made him an ideal spokesperson for, well, anything really. He has accepted the role of public figure because he has reaped the rewards of that status and therefore he cannot just decide that his fans have no place in his life. The sooner he accepts this, the better.

Tiger is not sorry enough. The public is simply not going to accept his continued silence or inaction on this matter.

Your move, Tiger.