Salman Rushdie (on whether we circle the drain)

In Canada, we have (steadily more meagre and occasionally even contemptuous) government-funded radio. Alarmists – unlike the always-judicious, ever-moderate me – might call the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation an endangered species. Last Chance to Hear! Broadcasters, Artists and Thinkers in Their Natural Habitat! It’s a pretty pale safari, but I’m on it. The CBC’s a national treasure.

Yesterday I listened to Q, Radio One’s flagship weekday arts ‘n’ culture show. It’s hosted by a grandson of Rwanda, a Canadian-as-socially-conscious-rap MC known as Shad. (By night, he’s a bouncy, smiling hip-hop groove-ster with a real band. By day, he talks to Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood and Darryl McDaniels, the DMC in rap/rockstar band Run DMC. In between, he’s Shadrach Kabango.) Actually, I was re-listening to an extended podcast recording of a conversation I’d heard part of earlier in the week. (I think I was sweeping. Or washing dishes?)

They were talking dystopias, especially regarding Rushdie’s new novel Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights. It’s full of malevolent genies, time travel, a corruption-exposing baby and a whole lot of thinly-disguised Now. It’s also apparently very funny, as Rushdie is no permanent pessimist and wanted to explore the “strangenesses” of our time with some inventive and comic strangeness of his own. He wasn’t trying to outgrim Margaret Atwood, in other words. (Though it must be said that her MaddAddam trilogy is nastily, wryly funny if you can suspend despairing recognition, at least for a moment.)

*Certainly* no pessimist! (This is not his daughter.) Padma Lakshmi was Mr. Rushdie's 4th wife.

*Certainly* no pessimist! (This is not his daughter.) Padma Lakshmi was Mr. Rushdie’s 4th wife.

This was only the first (and then second) time I’d heard Rushdie interviewed, surprisingly, and I found him an engaging and generous interviewee.

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Where No One Has Gone Before?

Every time I do it, I swear it’s the last time. But it only happens every year or two, and I forget. And when, by whim or happenstance, I’m interested in a mass-market film, ain’t no place to go but the Megatastic Carnival of Audiovisual and Commercial Excess. In my town, it’s called Silver City.

Sensory overload. Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Zeal of the misled martyr. Eagerness of lemmings.

Haven from contentment.

Supersaturated solutions to the hungers of mouth and eye.

And loneliness.


Few things have me muttering as angrily (how soon I forget, how furiously I regret  not showing up late) as my voluntary submission to big-screen huckstering, first for ads exclusive to Cineplex Odeon! (oh, we, the favoured ones, the self-selected targets) and then, just when I thought it was safe to watch laugh-out-loud trailers for Michael Bay-ish movies I’ll never have to see – Transformers, my Lord in heaven, what sort of overgrown boyos will watch that while sober! – along came MORE ads that I can at least walk away from when they interrupt the hockey game. I wanted to throw things. I wanted to go all Howard Beale on my new best friends in the theatre. (Wondering: It’s over 30 years since NetworkWould it seem quaint, rather so what’s the point to kiddies raised on televisual brain candy of the 21st century kind?) My bride thoughtfully slapped my thigh and shushed me. I restrained myself.

Finally, when Star Trek came on (Really? We get to watch a MOVIE, too? Oh, boy!), there were improbable Romulan mega-ships and inexplicable time warps and decades-old dialogue (wait for ‘em, Treksters!) and up-to-the-nanosecond CGI spectacle and passable acting (I quite liked Bruce Greenwood and Eric Bana as Secondary Good Guy and Primo Baddie, respectively) and backstories to Kirk and Spok as kiddies and in-joke introductions to the rest of the crew: Scott, Bones, Chekhov, Sulu, Uhuru. The gang’s all here.

And I had a good time, ultimately. It’s a silly thing, and you surely don’t want to think too hard about the space-time scientifishy elements. But There Will Be Sequels. This baby is preset to run for as long as humanity can stand it, and it’s engineered to not only grab the young male crowd but late-Boomers like me who remember Shatner and Nimoy and the first interracial kiss on television. And in between, it also puts a major hustle on the in-between generations, those who, like my sons, grew up on Star Wars; there are numerous fairly obvious reaches for the mysticism of the Jedi. I shouldn’t have liked it so well, but nostalgia is a strong brew and I took a good long gulp. The young feller doing Bones was superb. Uhura was, again, mainly a waste in a great legs! sort of way. Scottie was, as always, a caricature (but I still missed James Doohan). Sulu was, too, but a subtly enjoyable one.

It all comes down to Spok and Kirk, of course. And I haven’t made up my mind on them. By Sequel Three they’ll have grown into their characters more, and then we can begin to judge. Even without the popcorn, though, I have to admit it: I’m a sucker for space opera and the victory of even the most unlikely (and often fairly comical) forms of extraterrestrial nobility.