Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Jeremy Hatt

Generation Text

 I hate my cell phone.  Okay, maybe ‘hate’ is too strong a word, but my complaints are myriad. I hate how quiet the ring is. I hate how, when typing, sometimes I have to press the button once, sometimes twice, in order to create a space. I hate how the money-grubbing phone company charges extra for caller ID, which I declined to pay for, so now when people call and say “Hi, it’s me” I have to wait until I recognize their voice until I say something incriminating.

What it comes down to is that I’m not a cell person. I only use it when I have to and, if I’m not waiting for a specific call, or I’m at a movie theatre or at work or out with friends or on a date, I turn it off. I got into text messaging when I was in Ireland (when I had a much thinner, cooler phone) so I do do that, but I treat it like email: I will reply to a message, but it might take me a little while.

For years I’ve been irritated by people who are obsessed with their phones (we all have friends who will be sitting at the bar with you, texting, or who believe that cell phone technology justifies them arriving late: “I tried calling you. Why didn’t you have your phone on?”) but I didn’t see the full extent of the phenomenon until I began working as an usher escorting teenagers to their seats.

Despite being informed when they enter the theatre, and again by an actor before the play begins, as soon as the house lights dim you will see high schoolers texting in the darkness, their faces illuminated by a ghostly white glow. I am always surprised by their inability to understand how bright their phones glare, allowing me to spot them very easily in the audience, and then how they assume I’m the one who doesn’t understand cellular technology.  

“Please turn off your phone.”

“It is off.”

“Please turn it off.”

Eye roll, “I turned it off!”

“Show it to me.”

The white rectangle shines like a scarlet A.

“Please turn it off.”

Melodramatic sigh, “Fine!”

I try to keep on top of the cell use partly because I’m supposed to but also because of principle: kids should respect the theatre and the actors and be able to turn off their phones for two hours. What kind of crazy ‘Degrassi’ drama do they think they’ll miss which they can’t catch up on the school bus ride home?

Marshall McLuhan said that it is impossible to evaluate a new media if you are steeped in the old media because you can only judge the new media through the prism of the old media’s values.  I’ve come to realize that, despite having less than a decade difference in ages, the high school students and I have fundamentally different ideas about what cell phones are.

I treat my cell like a phone, useful for making and receiving calls but otherwise a kind of annoying intrusion on my day to day life.

For teenagers, cell phones are not simply phones; they are watches, agendas, emails, radios, cameras, the internet, even flashlights, as I discovered one day when a late class were seated in the pitch black and waved around their phones like glow-sticks at a rave, with me scrambling around trying to keep them quiet, get them seats and turn the damned things off.

Cell phones are mentally an extension of their brains and physically a part of their hands. And, as my cousin Breanna just pointed out to me, they don’t remember a time without them.

Who am I (sigh, eye roll) to ask them to turn them off?

And it’s not just teenagers. My friend Jeremy recently spotted a grown man in a movie theatre, texting the entire time. The fact that he spent thirteen dollars to see Ryan Reynolds get all sweaty in a wooden box couldn’t keep him from his text messages. “What’d you think?” his friends asked him afterwards. “Meh. Couldn’t really get into it.”

So maybe I’m an old fogey, a crotchety old crank who’s stubbornly clinging to customs as antiquated as calling cards and chaperones. Maybe the tide is relentlessly and inevitably gushing the other way, and I’m Rachel Weisz in ‘Agora’ as she futilely tries to halt the onslaught of torch-bearing hordes from destroying the classical library of Alexandria. I don’t care. No matter how wittily irreverent you believe your tweet idea is, the human beings around you (be they actors or audience members, friends or dates) deserve more respect than your phone.

Plz turn it off.



The Pilgrimage

Emily Dix and I love Judy Garland. During our second shift together, after learning that she enjoyed classic cinema, I eventually ventured “How do you feel about Meet Me in St. Louis?” We’ve indulged in our obsession ever since. Our coworkers became quickly frustrated with our multiple conversations on the backstage drama of The Wizard of Oz and joked that the first interview question put to potential-hires should be “Do you like Judy Garland?” We took to talking about her furtively, but on closing shifts when it was just the two of us we’d stack the CD player and then drown it out singing along. This also turned out to be the fastest way to empty the store at the end of the night.

So when she found out that the Cinematheque at the AGO was showing A Star is Born, Judy’s melancholy masterpiece, we had to go.

No matter what.

The last time I saw the film was right before I left for Ireland. I spotted a photocopied poster on Queen West with an illustration of Judy doing the famous ‘framing face’ gesture, next to a design for Battleship Potemkin.  Reg Hart, who was described to me, by a member of Team Macho no less, as “prophet without a flock”, was showing the two movies as part of a “GAY FILM MAKERS TRIBUTE FOR PRIDE”. (A Star is Born was made by George Cukor, a great director from the golden age who specialized in ‘women’s pictures’ and was surprisingly open about his homosexuality).

I invited my friend Jeremy and only as we had dinner at Mars diner on College before hand did I tell him that the film wasn’t being shown at a real movie theatre. Rather, Reg Hart shows them on a big screen in his converted living room, with movie posters and bookcases with Edward Gorey memorabilia crowding on each side. He let us bring wine, though: “Pretend you are in Europe” read the poster.

Jeremy is not a huge musical person, and I feel very protective of A Star is Born, so I was nervous. But he liked it, and wrote the whole experience off as a crazy, Toronto night, and we remained friends.

But I was really excited to see it on an actual big screen and with a real audience. Emily and I had planned to go for at least a month, plenty of time for me to come up with an outfit. I ended up wearing a bright red shirt (bold, 1950’s lipstick-red is a thematic colour throughout the entire film) and a twee bow-tie, my version of Judy’s boyish look.

Then, just as they did on the set of that production, things started to go wrong. They switched the schedule at work and Emily discovered that she was supposed to close the store that evening. We both wrote frantic letters to a co-worker (mine went along the lines of “Emily and I are sick, we know, and we’re trying to get help, but our psychologist thinks it would be detrimental to our well-being if…”) and she kindly agreed to switch shifts with Emily.

Then, as I was working on a piece about retro eyeglasses for WORN, basking in my personal air-conditioning, the power went off. This was an hour and a half before I was supposed to meet Emily downtown.

“Is the power off down there?” I asked frantically on the cell.

“No, I think it’s fine,” Emily said.

“Well, I’m coming. The show must go on!” And I slipped my recently-purchased DVD (“Nearly 4 hours of special features!”) into my bag as a back-up plan.

My neighbourhood was all out, but the buses and subway were still running, thank God. My bus driver muttered insults about the other drivers to himself (“Really nice driving there, fella!”) and I wondered if it was too much to ask for the TTC not to employ public servants who act like crazy people. Probably.

Oh, and I walked straight into an old Chinese woman at Spadina station. It was her fault. I was getting off the subway and she was getting on, and left practically no room for me to walk past her, and that to me is breaking the covenant of the TTC, so I just boldly walked forward and ended up pushing her. She let out a loud ‘guffaw!’ and I thought, ‘Well, maybe next time you’ll let the other passengers off first!’

Then I got karmic retribution when I was getting on the streetcar and the doors closed on me.

Also, just before I got off in Chinatown, the streetcar rear-ended the one in front of it. Power was out along Spadina and cops were directly traffic and yelling at old Chinese men and Kensington Market hipsters who crossed whenever they wanted.

Luckily, the power was fine further east and the AC inside the art gallery was nirvanic.

Emily was nine minutes late (“Five on my watch!”) but I forgave her because she was wearing a home-made t-shirt with a young Judy on it, emblazoned with rhinestones.  

“So many things could have prevented us from being here,” I said. “So many things… But we made it!”

And the movie did not disappoint, despite having seen it ten times. It was shot in cinemascope, so it really benefited from the big screen, and having never watched it with an audience before (the viewers were mostly young gay guys, older gay guys and middle-aged AGO members) I learned from their laughter that some scenes are actually quite darkly funny, and during dramatic moments there was perceptible tension in the room.

The movie, which shows the two sides of fame through the rise to stardom of Esther Blodgett (Judy) contrasted with the end of her husband Norman Maine’s (James Mason) career, is meta double tragedy. Despite the sadness of the plot, at least Judy is the winner in it, although biographical ironies abound. It has been suggested that the film is really a portrait of Garland split in two: Esther is the talented one everyone loves, and Norman is the alcoholic bent on self-destruction. “Sometimes I hate him,” cries Judy in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes captured on film. “And I hate me too, because I failed him!” And she points at herself through mascara-smudging tears, a possible clue to the audience about who the scene is really about.

But I called it a double tragedy because, interestingly as a movie about a sudden rise to fame, the film was meant as a grand comeback for Garland, the definitive Hollywood survivor. But it didn’t work. No matter how many suggestive lines they threw into the script (“All they want is more of your pictures,” a producer informs Judy) and how many well-wishing celebrities came to the dazzling opening, the movie had cost too much and the Warner brothers destroyed it through editing. The final straw came when Judy lost the Oscar to Grace Kelly, a pretty but useless actress not dissimilar to the phoney dumb starlets in the movie Norman Main dated before meeting Esther.

Despite making three more movies, A Star is Born signalled the end of Judy’s film career and, in many ways, the end of the big-budget musicals of Old Hollywood.

Perhaps it is all that pathos that led Emily and me to feel that we had to go, braving heat-spells and black-outs, to pay devotional tribute at our musical Mecca.  

Other People: Jeremy Hatt

Jeremy Hatt and I met at the University of Guelph. We both wrote for the student newspaper and our first conversation, whilst munching free pizza at a meeting, was about the Academy Awards. Toronto and I are fortunate that he moved here after graduation. If  friends are determined by how long you can spend talking to them, weaving from politics and environmentalism to reality TV and plastic surgery, without running out of things to say, then Jeremy is one of my best.

MM: Describe growing up on a farm for us Toronto people.

JH: It blows me away every time I visit home just how different it is on the farm than here in the big city. I look at where I am now and sometimes I feel so removed from my childhood. When I was young, our concession was still a dirt road in the country and on an east wind, you could smell the pigs from our next-door neighbour’s house and hear the cows from the farm across the road from them. My Dad still owns a large flock of sheep but we used to raise chickens as well. I was driving a beat up old Ford truck before I could see over the steering wheel and driving tractor at an even younger age.

Through the summer when my friends always seemed to be vacationing, my brothers and I had daily chores to do like hoeing fields, sweeping the shed, bailing hay, feeding the sheep, painting fences, or driving tractor…except for Sundays of course. I always loved winters on the farm, too, when there was so much snow you could play outside for hours and never get bored. It was a lot of hard work and I hated it sometimes but I look back on it now and can’t help miss it. Our farm is getting pretty rundown but every time I go home, I make a point of taking a good long walk around the barns and the fields to remind myself how lucky I am to have grown up there.

MM: What’s it been like as a country boy in the city?

JH: It’s actually only since I moved to Toronto that I really embraced growing up on a farm near Leamington. I spent my years at the University of Guelph silencing the country boy in me. I didn’t even realize I sounded any different from everyone else until someone told me I had a subtle “country accent”, which I guess they equated to bad grammar. That’s when I noticed things in my speech like adding an ‘s’ to ‘all’, like alls I know or using ‘seen’ instead of saw, like I seen that movie. Even pronunciation sometimes: Detro-it. I quickly got rid of the “accent”. I hardly ever talked about living on a farm. I mean, we literally had hayrides at Christmas and I was shovelling manure during the summer breaks between semesters and working in a greenhouse. I used to be so mortified at the thought of people knowing all that.

Guelph was a good stepping stone from the small town life, but Toronto was still hard to catch up to at first and every tall building I walked by I’d crane my neck way back to see to the top and get nervous on the subway and get overwhelmed by the speed of everything. I’m completely comfortable with it all now. Love it, in fact. I don’t talk about the farm much but people seem genuinely interested if they find out that I grew up on one. I think it’s because I tell them with a bit more pride in my voice instead of…well, shame. But there are still those that react with a look of incredulity and reply with something like, “YOU grew on a farm?” And when I visit Leamington, I feel like I almost don’t fit in there cause I’m so much a city boy now, which I find pretty ironic.

MM: What was the most insane thing that ever happened at a past job?

JH: Where to begin? I guess if I had to answer the MOST insane thing, it would be hearing the words “I’m going to bring back a gun and shoot you all!” while I was working at a thrift store on Queen West in Parkdale. A woman had tried to steal a pair of shoes from our store by hiding them in her purse and the assistant manager stopped her as she was leaving to ask if she could see inside her bag. The woman immediately got all defensive so it was obvious she’d taken something. The assistant manager wouldn’t relent and they ended up getting in a tugging match over the purse. The woman then used her teeth in defence and started to bite employees; the assistant manager on the arm, and another co-worker (toothless Eddie was his nickname) on the leg, drawing blood.

While this was happening, I was being yelled at to call 911, which I had never done before. I called and shakily described what was happening in front of me and the next question was the address of our store, which I didn’t know. I actually fumbled around the drawers around the cash register looking for a business card with an address on it and thought how ridiculous all of this was and that when it was over, I was quitting. The woman got away after enough bites and the police got involved and we were all questioned separately and the store was put under lockdown. I quit that day, only to be offered a dollar raise if I stayed. I lasted another two months.

MM: Describe your current job.

JH: That’s a tough one because I’m all over the place. I just finished up an internship with the Canadian Community Economic Development Network, which works to strengthen Canadian communities by providing improved economic opportunities and enhancing environmental and social conditions. I also just finished a short-term contract helping write a funding report to be sent to Citizenship and Immigration Canada and I’m starting another one day a week contract with the Ontario Social Economy Roundtable doing anything from taking minutes in meetings to editing policy reports. Also starting this week I’ll be assisting with species-at-risk research in Six Nations territory for 3-4 days a week doing point counts and finding nests for at-risk birds in the region. I’m really excited for that contract to start.

MM: How and why did you get into bird watching?

JH: I really have to give credit to one of my best friends from back home, Marianne Reid. She was my neighbour and we went to the same church and the same elementary school so it was only natural that we would become close. She’s like a sister to me. She started birding a few years before me and introduced me to the hobby so at 9 years old I borrowed an ancient pair of binoculars from my grandma and went for a walk around the farm. I was immediately impressed by how many different birds I could find just on our property. My parents picked up on the interest and bought me the Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds. Marianne then invited me to Point Pelee National Park during spring migration and I was overwhelmed by the diversity of shapes and colour and sound. I was hooked.

MM: What book should everyone track down and read?

JH: If you haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, you really should read it. I try to read it at least every other year and I experience something completely different with every read. But I can’t answer this question without throwing out a couple authors everyone should read, too. Ian McEwan, John Updike, and Tom Wolfe are all musts.   

MM: You have a lot of fun people on twitter, like Roger Ebert and Sarah Palin. What’s all-time your favourite tweet from someone on your list? 

JH: Right now I’m following 108 people on Twitter so that’s quite a difficult question but I started to follow a woman who Roger Ebert often re-tweets whose account is nancygandhi. Her bio describes herself as a “Paragraphist. Amateur. American, living in India.” She often posts poetry and it’s pretty amazing how much feeling she can get into 140 characters. One of my favourites was, “Rain in the night. The grey stone garden pathways are still gleaming. Greenish-grey leaf-light, soothing on a summer morning.” Oh, another really good one was from a friend who tweeted a link where a baby was given a cochlear implant and they videotaped him hearing for the first time. They turn on the implant and his mother starts talking and the baby’s eyes widen and his mouth opens in a big smile and he just looks at his mom with that big smile on his face. Their eyes never leave each other’s… and that big smile. That really choked me up.

MM: Describe your bedroom.

JH: My rooms have always been plain and my current room is no different. Off-white walls empty of art, white curtains, a small wooden bed that I’ve had since I moved from the crib, a desk passed down from my brother, a dresser that my parents bought when they first married. I spend as little money on my room as possible. It’s a pretty boring room, really. There’s little in it that would reveal it to be my room except for my bookshelf, which is filled with bird guides. 

MM: What would you like to be doing in ten years?

JH: I’m not really a “reach-for-the-skies” kind of guy so I’d be happy with a job that I feel fits my values and morals and that has some kind of positive impact on the world. I want it to be in the non-profit sector and as long as I have the free time to birdwatch, read, write, and spend time with the important people in my life, I think I’ll be happy.

MM: You’re a big movie person. If you had James Cameron-levels of budget and time, what kind of film would you make?

JH: You know, as tempting as the big budget is, I would probably make a small, independent film that deals with gay themes, especially the relationships between gay and straight men and issues of identity. I would want to show the relationships in an honest light: that it’s not always easy for either side involved and how it can sometimes be awkward and all that. And I’m sure the main story would be about unrequited feelings because I feel I have a story to tell there. The movie would probably tank but I would at least make sure that it stars Elizabeth Mitchell so I would get to meet and work with her because I love her.

MM: Describe five movies that you thought were going to be horrible and you ended up kind of loving them.

 JH: This question is actually really hard for me because I try my best to not go into a movie thinking it’s going to suck. That just doesn’t seem nice. I’ll try my best though.

One good one would be She’s the Man. I admit I went in thinking I’d hate the thing but it’s just so darn strange and quirky and Amanda Bynes is so ridiculous and Channing Tatum is so dreamy as the sensitive jock. I ended up loving it. I’ve seen it a million times. Should I be admitting that?

I went into the Devil’s Rejects thinking that if it was anything like Zombie’s first film, House of 1,000 Corpses, I was going to hate it. Anyone who knows me knows that I have an unexpected love of violent, graphic, and transgressive films. Devil’s Rejects certainly fits the bill and I loved it for how deranged and brutal it was without ever apologizing for it. Way better than his directorial debut.

I didn’t think it would be horrible per se but someone did tell me that 2001: A Space Odyssey was one of the most boring films they’d ever seen and I wondered if that would turn out to be true. They were dead wrong and it’s one of my favourite films of all time and one of the best science fictions films of all time.

Another guilty pleasure of mine is Jurassic Park III, which everyone loves to pulverize. I own it and watch it all the time without shame. That Spinosaurus is just so darn cool and you’ve gotta love William H. Macy.

You know what, I think I’ll be a rebel and stop at four.