How Mennonites Became Hipsters

When the Mennonites of the Canadian prairies all decided one day in 2004 to become hipsters, they didn’t even have to change their attire. Keep the beard and plaid shirts. Out-of-date sweaters with timberwolves on them? No problem. Hell, the young ladies could even keep on knitting.

Still, this transition from a lifestyle resembling the Amish to something hip and modern might come as a shock to some people. To many, the term Mennonite immediately conjures up images of buggies and bonnets. Today, however, there are increasing numbers of urban — urbane, even — Mennonites. How did this happen?

You might cite Miriam Toews’s character Nomi Nickel as the original Mennonite hipster. Toews’s bestselling novel A Complicated Kindness was set sometime in the 1980s in the fictional Mennonite town of East Village, Manitoba, and featured a sarcastic teenager who smoked pot and was obsessed with Lou Reed. Although the term hipster wasn’t really used in the ’80s, it may have applied pretty well to young Nomi.

Despite the fact that Mennonites are often characterized as rural and conservative, there has always been a strain of rebellion within the group. This has existed from the very beginning. I won’t bore you with a lengthy account of the entire historical context, which you can easily read on Wikipedia or wherever, but the Mennonites began in 16th-century Holland and Switzerland as a Protestant sect that felt Martin Luther just hadn’t taken things quite far enough with this whole Reformation thing. Mennonites baptized adults, refused military service, were chased around Europe for centuries, and later fled to the Americas to be free. But this persecution and isolation caused a number of idiosyncrasies within the group. Wherever they were, Mennonites were always outsiders, never part of mainstream society. Continue Reading →

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The Sun News Network’s Final Minutes

And then there was silence.

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Exploring the Postmodern at Winnipeg’s CMHR

In the sideFor those who love to hate Winnipeg, the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights last fall was yet another reason to despise the frozen Manitoba capital. Why would such an elaborate and expensive museum be placed in such a forlorn and insignificant city? If Canada’s new national museum had to be located outside of Ottawa, it should be somewhere, you know, hip and groovy — a city with an NBA team or something. Still, the museum raises more significant questions than its location. Like any government-supported building project, there were uncertainties about cost, architecture, content, and process. But long after these questions fade, the very substance of the museum will continue to interrogate. Questioning is at the very heart of a post-modern museum like this.

In both its architecture and theme, the museum provides no easy answers. It even eschews the very idea of what a “museum” is. In a traditional museum, the authority (that is, the curator) decides what story to tell and how it should be told; she collects artifacts and presents them to the public. Instead of displaying objects in glass cases (there are some), the Canadian Museum for Human Rights features interactive displays that allow visitors to engage in questions about human rights. This process emphasizes the subjectivity of personal experience in relation to the topics it presents. The museum begins by asking, “What are Human Rights?” and provides suggestions, but leaves the answer to individual visitors. At the same time, it’s clear that human rights, however they are defined, are a process — a process that has not ended with the completion of this building. For the first time in one of Canada’s national museums, the myth of objectivity is officially absent. Continue Reading →

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Let’s Talk About Drugs

Drugs can make you feel great. They can make you care less about hygiene. They can provide a moment of salvation in an unjust world. They can make YouTube videos funnier. They can lead to addiction. They can give you energy in the morning and help you relax at night. They can make friends, family, dentists, and members of the clergy distrust you. They can make you see things you haven’t seen before. They can become an expensive habit. They can precipitate death. They can be fun at parties.

Are things made worse by governments and societies that think some drugs should be illegal? Some people think so. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition thinks so. They’ve got a new campaign going, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Check it out here. Let’s talk about drugs.

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Sun News Discusses the Issue of White Privilege

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Marshall McLuhan: With It, Then and Now

Half a century has passed since the publication of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. It’s a difficult, important book — important yet difficult. Sample chapter titles include: “The Written Word: An Eye for an Ear,” “Ads: Keeping Upset With the Joneses,” “Radio: The Tribal Drum,” “Money: The Poor Man’s Credit Card,” and “The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis.”

Much has changed since the 1960s, McLuhan’s decade of popularity: Two members of the Beatles are dead, the Cold War is over, and television — one of McLuhan’s favorite sparring partners — is no longer the principle medium through which our society sends and receives information. Today, we’re online. We work on the internet, play on the internet, shop on the internet, date on the internet. We are the clickers, swipers, and likers. As Douglas Haddow put it in a recent essay on Adbusters, the world now belongs to the engineers of Silicon Valley — the rest of us are “just supplying the data for it.” Everything is, and always has been, experienced IRL.

And yet McLuhan’s ideas remain as vital as ever, if not more.

While Understanding Media is sometimes hard to understand, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (published 1967) is pretty accessible. According to the McLuhan Estate, the book was supposed to be titled after McLuhan’s most famous aphorism, the medium is the message, but the typesetter made a mistake. McLuhan didn’t mind, though. He said, “Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!” Now, apparently, the title can be interpreted in four (or more!) different ways: The Medium Is the Message, Mess Age, Massage, or Mass Age. Continue Reading →

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In Defence of Haters

Fifty years ago, Bob Dylan told the older generation of the time, “don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” Today, it seems, we are being told not to criticize anything at all.

Taylor Swift’s latest pop anthem, “Shake it Off,” for example, comes prepackaged with the ultimate lyrical shield against the very criticism she knew the song would face. Both its poor quality and the fact it’s a marked departure from the twang that made her famous meant she’d get some flack. Still, it’s a bit of marketing genius, really, to churn out some shitty music but fend off the inevitable and warranted reproach by repeating the line “haters gonna hate.” It was a preemptive strike against all them mean nasty folks who just can’t appreciate a twerkin’ good pop tune when they hear it. To be branded a “hater,” it seems, has become the harshest slight one can bestow in this age of Internet Correctness.

I mean, sure, there are assholes out there and a lot of them live in cyberspace. I certainly wouldn’t condone people, you know, saying mean things about Taylor in the comments below her YouTube videos. Those people are trolls and bullies and superfluous to society.

However, in an effort to rid the world of this sort of scum, we’ve overused the term “hater,” applying it to any and all people who don’t share our particular slant on the world. Taylor Swift is not unique in this. It appears that many people in our culture have become so hypersensitive that critics are universally regarded as “haters.” I would argue that some criticism is warranted; I’d even say it’s essential. Certain songs and movies just plain suck, and if we can’t say that anymore without being branded “haters” then I fear for the future of critical discourse. What will old men talk about in pubs? Continue Reading →

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High School Student Suspended for Selling Pepsi

No, it’s not a Coke-only institution of learning. It’s diet-only. That’s right — only diet colas are allowed on the premises of Winston Churchill High School in Lethbridge. Because children these days need better health.

That’s where Keenan Shaw (Gr. 12) comes in. He was caught selling Pepsi to fellow students, buddies, and pals. He stored the contraband in his locker. Now school authorities have suspended him for two days. Shaw was also told he was operating a business without a licence, and that he shouldn’t do that.

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Are We Atom, or Are We Data?

“…Like everybody else, I was lured into this radical new condition with the feel-good promises of connection, friendship, and self-expression,” writes sometimes Ballast Contributor Douglas Haddow.

What is this so-called radical new condition? It is Life 2.0. It is engagement and shareability and digital identity-creating. It is a “nerd paradise where the only problems that exist are the ones that you’re inspired to solve.” And it is a life that belongs to them — “we’re just supplying the data for it.”

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CRTC Considers Pick-and-Pay Cable TV

From the CBC:

What the CRTC is now suggesting is that consumers pay for the distribution of television, the pipes that bring it to your home, and a few local channels, many of which don’t get fees from subscribers. Everything else would be optional. You would pick and pay for the channels you want.

The question, though, is if all this is coming too late. People are not watching television like they used to. Times are changing. Smartphones, tablets, Netflix, YouTube, etc. The CRTC knows this.

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Stephen Harper Vs. Sociology

According to our Prime Minister, there are good times and bad times to commit sociology. Bad times include April 2013, when authorities accused two men of planning a terrorist attack against a Via Rail passenger train. Another occurred after the Boston Marathon Bombings, when Harper took issue with the idea of investigating the root causes behind the event. Now, while speaking to a crowd at Yukon College in Whitehorse, he said we should not view the many cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women as a “sociological phenomenon.”

In Stephen Harper’s mind, presumably, acts of violence are crimes, and crimes exist outside the realm of spreadsheets and data and general trends that themselves are the result of several knowable factors. Only individuals divorced from all reality but their own commit crimes, and laws are what fix that — not a bunch of sociologists in the library.

On the recent homicide of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose lifeless body was found in Winnipeg’s Red River, Harper said, “Obviously in the particular case … we want to extend all our sympathies to the families and friends. This is a terrible crime, clearly a crime. But first and foremost it is a crime, and the most important thing is to make sure we have a thorough police investigation.”

Earlier this year, a report compiled by the RCMP and Statistics Canada revealed that while aboriginal women account for just 4.3% of Canada’s female population, they compose 16% of the country’s female homicides and 11.3% of the cases for missing women. Other figures from Statistics Canada suggest that aboriginal women are victims of violence at a rate of three and half times more than non-aboriginal women. They’re also seven times more likely to be murdered. But that’s just what the numbers say. Why they’re like that, no one knows. Continue Reading →

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The Day’s Big News

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A List of IPAs Other Than Alexander Keith’s

When Alexander Keith’s concocted the slogan, “Those who like it, like it a lot,” the brewer was implying a couple of things. First, that there was something different about its beer. Second, that only a sophisticated few could appreciate its wondrous bounty.

It’s brilliant marketing, perhaps, but not entirely accurate. Anyone who’s tried Alexander Keith’s signature IPA knows that it’s not nearly as unique as the slogan suggests. And despite pressure from an online petition to change its “India Pale Ale” (IPA) description, the Halifax-based brewer has insisted on retaining the label even though its beer does not meet industry standards for the IPA style. Alexander Keith’s IPA is, by all appearances, a standard blonde ale.

For many, this might not be a big deal — until you try an actual IPA and discover that Alexander Keith’s version has more in common with Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue than it does with a Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic IPA. In simple terms, a real IPA is all about the hops. The style originated when English brewers dramatically increased the amount of hops in their pale ales to survive the long voyage to India. The result was a beer with an amber body and, most importantly, distinct bitterness. The hops also impart flavours and aromas of pine and citrus.

The IPA style has since become one of the most common among craft brewers in North America, and as consumers become more familiar with it, Alexander Keith’s stubbornness to change how it identifies its beer grows more and more absurd. Continue Reading →

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