Category Archives: Comment and Features

Art, Alcohol and Depression


WE ALL KNOW about the somber, yet weirdly attractive, myth associated with art, and artists. The scene is all set. Behind a simple desk, deep into the night, is an open collared, boozy, melancholic painter or novelist, driven slightly out of his mind, in order to produce a luminous piece of art. It’s very tempting to be teleological about it. The idea is ancient. Early Greeks called it entheos when a slight insobriety was sought to provoke inspiration. Though there is some truth in the concept of entheos, the romanticization of the lifestyles of Hemingway or Van Gogh, seems to either avoid or answer cheaply, the question of depression.

Why are some surprised, and even disappointed, when told that Mozart’s mental condition was probably genetic and not induced by musical virtuoso? Well, when applied universally and not only to Mozart, the disappointment arises from two corollary realizations. First, that there is no maddening truth hidden in art. Secondly, it means the abolition of the pornographic wish that someone ought to find that trueness and, preferably, to be maddened by it. By the way, don’t be astonished to find out that this type of cynicism is present wherever there is a mystical or esoteric fantasy. Its not quite the human sacrifice of our ancestors, but the same old wish to see it happen is still there, especially if one could have a disclosure of the occult in return.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, a sense of confusion gripped those who knew the flamboyant, energetic, almost uncontrollable persona of the comedian. That he had such an appreciation of humour and playfulness, yet so tormented with bottomless depression. Sometimes, the hardest thing to spot is that which is staring you right in the face. I realized this half wondering about the contradiction myself and came to remember Richard Pryor and Chris Farley (who became so lonely in his last days that he paid a prostitute to hang out with him. When they began arguing about money, the lady left, with Farley right behind her, begging her to stay. That’s when he collapsed. His final words were “don’t leave me”) and many other troubled comedians. Jason Pargin wrote a brilliant article about the tragedy of humour. In a lethargic, almost aggressive manner, he reflected on how the comical often served as a masquerade for a much darker core: a ruined childhood, a mental disorder. Remember also how much of humour is self-irony. So the trauma starts living off you. Your skin colour if you’re black, your obesity if you’re fat, your foreignness, your mental instability. Pargin put it bluntly, even hauntingly, when he wrote that this was the clown feeding on the human being, and not only that, it was feeding on all the traumas and insecurities of that very being.

I saw the distinction here as well. Sylvia Plath and Mozart could all be very depressive. They articulated this in their craft. Of course, in comedy that would be a complete non-sequitur. When Mozart had an occasional go at humour in his signed letters, it was scatological. And even so, what about the lazy suggestion that humour keeps us sane? The suggestion is lazy, becomes it means nothing, though it sounds like something. Humour is the confirmation of our insanity. Try to picture the vastness of the universe, its chaos, its meaninglessness, its random disposition, its self destruction, and imagine somewhere in all this, certain ingredients of the universe has met to produce conscious mammals, who now sit round a bonfire on a hostile planet, all looking at each other bewildered, finding no other reaction to this absurdity than mere laughter. It seems disarming, though it’s perfectly insane.

The brilliant Ned Vizzini, who committed suicide, wrote about how life was being like a “reverse nightmare” and that it sometimes felt as if he was, not waking up from, but waking into a nightmare. This is painfully revealing. The utter graveness of those words hinted at a chronic twist to his suffering. Nothing is quite like the sight of an expressive mind also being incurably desolate. The most useful literature on depression or bipolar is not in psychiatry or psychology, but happens to be of Sylvia Plath, or Virginia Woolf, or Stephen Fry. Even then, such a compliment can only be pitiful at best. And so, when you need catharsis, art is apathetic. It doesn’t heal you, and even, throuh self-exploration, deepens your wounds. Its a mirror of the self. Perhaps only vaguely, or partly, but always there is a small hint of exposure. Being still magnetized to such fate might at first seem masochistic, but it is true that the manic sometimes can only think through colour, or movement, or note or prose. The true tragedy presents itself when this arousal turns into depression and one can no more see anything but through the lenses of self-pity.

And so people are right to point out that there is a triumvirate here between creativity, intoxication and mental illness, though the circle of cause and effect is much less romantic and more practical than imagined. Those who do have a mental disorder, or a proneness in that direction, are proportionally more allured by art. The implication here is of course more than disturbing. Just as much as the silly clown or the open-collared drunkard feeds of its victim, so does our culture, the viewers, the readers, the onlookers. You and me.

Written by Hanad Ali
Picture Credit: Symphony of Love

‘A mass movement needed to happen’ – Hong Kong’s umbrella revolution

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FROM A CLASS BOYCOTT by student activists, to the sudden kick off of the long awaited Occupy Central Movement, the mass protest started on 28th September in Hong Kong is the biggest in the city since 89 Democracy Movement in 1989. While depicted by international media as the most peaceful revolution, there actually exits very opposite opinions of the movement among citizens.

Conflicts and confrontations between protesters and the police, between pro-occupy and anti-occupy supporters, filled the movement with the unnecessary element of verbal and physical violence. The infiltration of triads and gangs in the protest also questioned the movement’s nature and raises concerns that more violence would be caused.

Entering its third week, the movement appears stagnated: both the government side and the protesters are looking for a direction. Student leaders, scholars and professors know well that Beijing is not going to back down at this stage and give Hong Kong full democracy. C.Y. Leung, a puppet of the Chinese government, is unlikely to step down because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would “lose face” by doing this. In other words, the protest has not achieved and is not likely to achieve anything concrete any time soon.

Many thus blame this on the immature decision of student leaders and the youth. Because of their blind impulse, Hong Kong has been paralyzed and the daily life of general public is disturbed. School has to be suspended; shops in central areas are forced to close; traffic, business is interrupted, all in exchange for a movement where no significant achievement is foreseeable.

However,  the mass protest is needed and is a milestone for the future of Hong Kong, politically and socially.

The lack of confidence in the government is hindering the city’s development

In the past few years, Hong Kong citizens have lost confidence in the government. In a survey conducted by Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, ratings of the current governor C.Y. Leung has constantly been below 50, which – among previous governors – is a failed performance. As a result of the lack of trust, members of the Legislative Council (Legco) – half being elected by eligible voters and thus representing the will of the public – hardly agreed on any budget plan, public expenditure or law proposed. From 2012 to 2014, radicals from the opposition camps have staged filibusters four times, as a way to prevent votes on several proposals they were against, and as a gesture to show their dissatisfaction of the governor. Legco is an important body in enacting, amending and repealing law, also in examining and approving budgets, taxation and public expenditure. If Legco is not functioning, Hong Kong cannot move forward.

The lack of trust in the governor, to a very large extent, is because he is not elected with the system of universal suffrage. He was appointed by the CCP. He is not legitimated to represent the people and whatever he does, the public interprets as Chinese agenda – to tighten its political control over the city. This civil disobedience, as how the student leaders call it, is a fight to accomplish full democracy, which is actually fundamental for the city to move forward.

A public lecture for the HongKongese

The Occupy Movement is not merely a protest, which the anti-occupy supporters argue just causes public disorder, but a very important lesson for the 7 million inhabitants to stop and think about what they really want from the government, and how they want their city to develop.

It is also literally a lesson because along the occupied areas, professors and scholars have been constantly giving public lectures about democracy, social movements and current political issues. It also provides a platform for discussion between citizens with different political orientations, which is quite rare among the politically silent Hongkongese. The city dwellers have a reputation of being politically apathetic and ignorant. This mass movement has taught them that it is not a privilege to practice political freedom. It is instead the basic right that should be enjoyed by people in a civilized city, and it is also their responsibility to participate in every political decision.

Beside the poorly functioning government that hinders the city from moving forward, the atmosphere of the society has been grim and tense in recent years. This is not entirely but to a large extent because of the increasing number of mainland Chinese moving to, traveling, or doing business in Hong Kong

A cultural difference between mainland Chinese and HongKongese has to be addressed

SARS in 2003 brought an economic depression to Hong Kong. The by then governor C.H. Tung carried out Individual Visit Scheme, which allows easy access for mainland Chinese to visit Hong Kong. From then on, various kinds of social problems have emerged: Chinese pregnant women travel to Hong Kong and give birth in order to obtain Hong Kong citizenship; the speculation of milk powder products that drove up the price of milk powders; of Chinese tourists eating, drinking, littering and even defecating in public transports outraged the local citizens. These are just some of many examples.

Though these public behavior problems seem minor and trivial, they actually disturb the harmonious order and daily life of the locals. Criticism from the locals against the mainland Chinese has gone from objective to subjective, from reasonable to radical, from fair comments to personal attack. It is an inevitable product when two very different cultures are put to live under the same roof. It is the result of the accumulated daily clashes.

Needless to say, Chinese tourists have helped boost the economy of the city, but the cultural clash in the society cannot go on any longer. Hatred, discrimination, and binary divisions would only deteriorate the relationship between Hong Kong and China. This protest represents the fundamental ideology shared by Hong Kongese but not with mainland Chinese because of historical context – the thirst for freedom and democracy.

By the time this article is published, the police will have launched again another round of eviction in the occupied area. Anti-occupy protestors, at the same time, tried to clear out roadblocks surrounding the occupied zone and suppress the pro-occupy supporters. Triads and gangs, who it is  suspected were sent by the government or anti-occupy group to create disorder and chaos, were also trying to confront and provoke the police, creating unnecessary violence.

It is important that at this stage of the movement, protestors do not forget the major purpose that drove them to take to the street in the first place. Their attention should not to be diverted by ingenuine gangs who are trying to disunite the peaceful public.

As the old saying goes, it takes more than one day to establish a full democratic system. But in any case, this mass movement has taught the Hong Kong public the power of collective efforts and has changed the city’s culture of being politically passive. It is one of the most revolutionary events that has happened, and there is still a long way to go.

Written by Cheuk Yin Chan
Images taken from Instagram 

“A peaceful protest?” The other side of the coin in Hong Kong

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THE PAST TWO weeks of turmoil and instability to hit Hong Kong has been a saddening sight. Whilst I am happy to see my generation in Hong Kong have such a deep interest in politics and fight so peacefully for the democracy they wish to obtain, it is nonetheless alarming and saddening to see how the younger generation’s true and honest original political aspirations have been distorted by the Occupy Central campaign.  What has my hometown become?

As a Japanese and Chinese national who was born and raised here in Hong Kong, I have always been aware of the long standing tensions between Hong Kong people and the Chinese people. Since repatriation of Hong Kong into China as a Special Administration Region (SAR), the cultural and ideological divide between us, the people of Hong Kong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has only increased.

However, we have enjoyed economic growth and stability during this period of time, thanks to China’s enormous population and its purchasing power. The events of the past fortnight have quickly made it apparent to me that we seem to have forgotten where our food, resources and finally economic stability come from.  It’s true, we are perfectly entitled to take to the streets and protest our discontent towards the government. Still, I question whether this was the only viable option of discourse that we, the people of Hong Kong, had at our disposal.

 

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Suffrage or Suffering? 

While one may have the right to protest, what gives the right to put all 7 million lives within Hong Kong at risk for your political cause?  The answer is nothing. What started as a peaceful student movement quickly escalated into a city-wide riot, the Hong Kong Police’s unexpectedly violent response towards the protesters led to the massive increase in the numbers of people on the streets. While the international community has been led to believe that everyone on the streets was protesting for universal suffrage, the reality was far more multifaceted, with many people taking to the streets instead to condemn the police force’s actions.

“Last night can be best summed up as a mob mentality with those people involved in the observations above (not the protesters as a whole.) It was a sort of social contagion where a concept or idea (in this case about the police) spread like wildfire once it had been stated.” – Ulf Olufsson, resident of Hong Kong.

The above quote taken from the following article written by a resident of Hong Kong whilst may not be definitive proof, it is definitely enough to demonstrate that the mob of protesters were not entirely united and fighting for the same political aspirations. Some people were merely on the streets because they disagreed with the police’s violent reaction.  There is no justification for this; the police force were forced into action by the behavior of the protesters. Charging at the police with your arms held up is not a definition of peaceful protesting, and to have 50,000 people take to the streets because eighty seven tear gas grenades were used to disperse the crowd is to me a ridiculous overreaction. Where were these 50,000 people when ISIS was beheading innocent women and children in Syria?

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Not so peaceful 

Further, I question whether this was a “peaceful” protest and the right of the protesters to take authorities into their own hands.  The protesters barricaded specific MTR exits in order to cause the greatest disturbance to the general public, hindering the morning commuter’s abilities to get to work to maintain their lives.

They searched police lunchboxes and vehicles in efforts to prevent them from transporting ammunition and supplies. They barricaded streets and refused to allow commuters through. Their actions alienated many citizens who didn’t support their cause, whilst continuously asking for the peoples’ understanding. Though claiming to be peaceful, these protestors did nothing but violate the lives of the Hong Kong people. Income and revenue were lost and, in one extreme case, a family was unable to reach their relative during her final moments due to the unexpected traffic standstill caused by the protest.

The protest has divided the city at every level. Multiple organizations in Hong Kong have split divisions due to the split opinions on the protest. The emergence of the Pro-Beijing/Hong Kong Police Force ‘blue ribbon’ supporters and anti-occupation citizen mobs is equally disturbing, as they took matters into their own hands and attempted to clear the streets themselves.

The result was painful to watch on the news, as I witnessed many violent and underhanded tactics used against the protestors by these “anti-occupation mobs”; skulls were bashed, students were beaten and girls were openly sexually harassed. This sort of behavior should not be tolerated.

Nonetheless, I can understand the feelings of anger towards the protesters. Why should 6 million people suffer for the political aspirations of a confused minority within our population? Those who have taken to the streets have claimed they are fighting for a brighter future. Yet I believe they have been incredibly short sighted in their vision for their fight for democracy.

The discord and chaos created by the protest is enough evidence for me to personally condemn these demonstrations, and feel pity for those who have been persuaded onto the streets without clearly understanding the situation.

Without a doubt there is a minority group of protesters out there fighting for “universal suffrage” and nothing else. But my own personal experience with some of these “Yellow ribbon” supporters has confirmed my theory that many of them are merely bandwagoning on to the protest because they dislike the CCP rather than because they have a thirst for democracy.

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Fight the long fight 

I believe that if our generation is really so passionate about the fight for democracy, then we should realize that the fight for democracy against communism is a long one. Although it may seem like all hope is lost, we MUST look BEYOND our own futures and look towards the generations down the line. The CCP may not be ready to give us democracy now, but who knows what would happen in 50 years? I firmly believe that the only course of action we should take is to negotiate with China to extend the existence of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region beyond 2047, if we do not obtain an extension whatever political concessions we obtain during this time could prove to be useless. As China would still have the executive power to tear down all that we have built in 2047.

The extension of the HKSAR beyond 2047 is paramount: once HKSAR is dissolved it will be assimilated into China. All that once made us stand out to international businesses and investors will disappear, we will become “another” city in China and fail to compete with the power of Beijing and Shanghai. This is why I urge all of you who are protesting on the streets to look beyond our life times and fight for the future of our children. If we continue to occupy the streets and undermine our government, China will have the perfect excuse to take back what it wants, rather than patiently wait out the 50-year transition period we managed to obtain back in 1997.

Without any raw military power or natural resources, the reality is that our government is powerless against the might of the CCP. Our food, our energy supply, our materials and resources for production are all from China. The reality is China doesn’t need to invade or break international law to hurt us. They can just cut off the power and leave us to it.

We are destined to lose the war for democracy as long as the HKSAR has an expiration date. Rather than infuriate China through grassroots movements that have done nothing but divided our city at every level, we must recognize the situation and regroup for a new direction.

Written by Takashi Nakamura
Images taken from Instagram

 

A SIMPLE TRUTH: BRANDING (IN) BOSTON

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NOT LIKE THE MOVIES

IN A GLOBALIZED world, image is everything. When communicating across national lines and language barriers, imagery plays a crucial role in ensuring said communication is successful. Various forms of media—from advertising to entertainment, film to photography— and the visuals they present provide their consumers with material to develop a frame of reference on a particular product: whether the product is a household good, a new rock band, a university, or an entire geographic region.

Ben Affleck’s The Town and Christian Bale’s The Fighter (2010 films with eight Academy Award nominations between them) painted an image of a gritty, vulnerable city suffering from high levels of corruption and inhabited by a stoic, jaded populace. After a 10 month stint in the ‘happiest country on the planet’, yours truly was excited by the prospect of spending the summer in an underdog city, immersed in a sea of unsung heroes.

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With the next few months of my life designated to being an intern at Proverb, a branding and marketing agency in Boston’s South End neighbourhood, this author was ready for an adventure of Boston Legal proportions.

I was in for a rude awakening upon my arrival to The Cradle of Liberty. The first shock was that the people I encountered within the first few hours were surprisingly upbeat (taking into account that my flight landed at 12:30 am). The second was that you could walk fifty paces in any direction and end up in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts (seriously). With the MIT and Harvard campuses being only a ten minute subway ride from downtown Boston in the neighbouring city of Cambridge, it seemed as if every other young person was doing more in a week than I had done over the past year. Realizing my summer wouldn’t play out like a Martin Scorsese script, I readjusted my expectations and began my marketing and branding apprenticeship.

 

A MODERN RENAISSANCEIMG_20140707_100731

The city of Boston is currently experiencing what can best be described as a renaissance; culturally, economically, socially and spatially. From the historic Old State House in the city’s financial district to the futuristic, fifteen acre Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston’s quiet rebirth is slowly but surely re-establishing the city as an equal to the United States political, economic, and cultural heavyweights (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C. come to mind).

The city’s brain-gain of recent Ivy League graduates, financial industry explants, and artsy types whose natural instincts sensed the city’s reawakening—harmoniously living and working in the same spaces creates an authentically progressive, smart energy that is both infectious and inspiring. The aforementioned energy could not be any more apparent than within the Proverb office.

IMG_20140703_182758With less than fifteen full-time staff members from varying backgrounds, the open floor plan, multiple bookshelves, and strategically placed pieces of modern art accomplishes the rare feat of producing an environment in which one can breeze through a full-day’s work and leave the office with enough energy to make it home without collapsing on the subway platform.

Sarah Ali, a graphic designer from Karachi, joined the Proverb team this past April. Citing design’s powerful ability to influence people and “make a difference in the world”, Ali refocused her energy on branding and design instead of advertising—her previous field of study before graduating from university in 2007.

“I love it”, Ali said when speaking of her time at Proverb, “There’s a perfect mix of different kinds of projects, and I’m never bored. A lot of our projects are meaningful, too.” One meaningful project that Ali specifically mentions is Proverb’s current branding of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), a rapidly growing faith organization with its main headquarters in Boston. With a diversified arsenal of experience that is constantly expanding and evolving, Proverb is a microcosm of the transformative current that has engulfed the city of Boston.

 

A CITY OF PARADOXES

As revolutionary these sweeping changes may be, Boston is not without its failings.IMG_20140705_171321 The Boston Foundation, a manager of charitable assets and the primary philanthropic organization for the city of Boston, has dedicated the last 100 years towards bettering Boston and the lives of the people that call the greater region home. “Boston is a city of paradoxes— left and right”, says the Foundation’s Vice President for Program, Travis McCready.

Referencing the city’s rebellious beginnings, McCready coolly states that he doesn’t feel there is “a very high threshold [for ethnic diversity and political change] in Boston”. “By and large, the universities are doing what we ask them to do, which is educate high numbers of people of colour. Those people then leave the city. This city. They leave and go someplace else…That is significant in terms of wealth creation. This isn’t just brain drain; this is brain drain within a very narrow population.” Once more mentioning Boston’s beginnings, McCready posits that

the absence of a civically active group of educated minorities, in conjunction with a lack of distributed governance, is a major hindrance towards the region’s development. However, he is optimistic that the city’s younger residents have what it takes to look within and do what is necessary to usher in a new era for Boston.

ONE DAY AT A TIME

IMG_20140711_185325Whether it’s a day in the Proverb office, a weekend trip into the city with my eclectic roommates, or the gradual transition from vegetarianism to full-fledged carnivorism with my FIRST.BURGER.EVER, I am currently learning to love Boston for what it is: a city that deserves better than conjuring images of gangsters, guns, and misery. To be fair, I did confuse the Boston Massacre with the Boston Bombing, but history was never really a strong point of mine.

Boston has what it takes to be great. The past, the present, and the people have fused together, creating a trinity and inspiring all who believe in the city’s future. The foundation has been set, the materials are on hand, and people are eager to build—all that is needed is a bit of guidance; and with the way things are headed, it’s due to arrive at any moment.

                                                        Grae Minors