made-up words

Being a journalist, words are important to me.  They are my tool to describe an issue, an event or an opinion.  The choice of words we all use can convey different meaning, feeling and point of view.  And not just in writing is this important.  Politicians, sports figures, celebrities, sales people (and the list can go on and on) choose their words carefully to convey a certain message.  PR people spend their lives selling their client in the best possible light with the best choice of vocabulary.

It seems words are becoming more important nowadays, when people are less trusting (for good reason – see my last post regarding web 2.0 problems for an example) and exploitation of our feeling and emotions is acceptable if put in context of a cause (also see my previous post regarding the theatricality of the speeches in the American election campaign).

I just recently read an article in Online Opinion about the English language and whether it is acceptable to use your own made-up vocabulary.  “Chillax”, “funner” and “relationshippy” were some of many words used as examples.  Are these acceptable in our speech and our writing, or should we be sticking to the Oxford English Dictionary as a guide?  And if the words are understood, than why should they be prefaced with a disclaimer “I know it’s not a real word…” when used?  Erin McKean thinks there doesn’t need to be any apologies – all words should be acceptable, even if you have made them up, as long as you get your point across of what they are supposed to mean.  

I tend to agree to a point.  In our shift towards a more relaxed, accepting language and (hopefully) society, it seems only fair that we should be able to create our own realities.  The limits on creative description are expanding.  The craft of accurate expression has more and more to work with.  And for those people attempting to sell a car, or an ideal, or a personality, they can manipulate this to their advantage.

I do believe this, but why it is that when I see a word I am unfamiliar with do I get uncomfortable?  And if I did see the word “chillax” or “relationshippy” in a quality piece of writing, why would I feel angry that it could pass as appropriate in that context?

I suppose the key part of this argument comes down to the right place and time, and the configuring of words to create the best possible outcome.  Perhaps the best guide is whether the people reading or buying what you are selling will understand and feel at home with the prose.  

We do have to always be aware of the power of words and proceed with caution.

A side note: unfortunately, every time a new word is added to the language it makes it more difficult for those people trying to learn English.


September 7, 2008 at 9:56 am 2 comments

web 2.0 problems

First, I’d just like to vent my outrage.  It will be a sad day if a Christian evangelist, member of the National Rifle Association, pro-lifer, anti same sex marriage, believer in creationism theory over evolution (and thinks creationism should be taught in every school) woman becomes Vice President of the world’s (perhaps floundering, but that’s beside the point) super power!

Now that I have that out of my system.  There seems to have been a bit of a controversy in the States over Sarah Palin’s (John McCain’s running mate) Wikipedia entry.  It seems a user, YoungTrigg, who had just signed up, made a large amount of positive changes to her entry on the day before it was announced Palin would be running for Vice President.  (Iain Simons has written a very good blog entry on The New Statesman if you’d like more details)

I realise she can probably use all the help she can get to win over those Hilary Clinton supporters as suggested the reason for her being chosen by some political analysts (not sure why someone would vote for Palin and her party just because she’s a woman – and besides Clinton and Palin are very different kinds of women with very different political views).  But, I’m not sure Wikipedia is the best way to go about it.  

There are so many issues with user-generated information sites – they are only as strong as their weakest link.  And sometimes their weakest link could be someone trying to change the information to suit their own needs.  It amuses and scares me how many people take what these kinds of sites like Wikipedia say for absolute truth.  They are great tools, but not the gospel.

It seems Wikipedia has become so much a part of our culture it has become an easy tool for those evil doers to attempt to brainwash our innocent minds.  Ok, yes I’m being a bit over dramatic.  But it is still frightening that because Wikipedia is considered truth, and a person can set up an account and change information for their own purposes without anyone every knowing who they are, they can effectively change our view of reality.  

I suppose the positive side to this story is the other editors noticed there was something amiss and reported it.

September 2, 2008 at 2:20 pm 6 comments

politics as art

In my first post I discussed how political art can be.  The opposite is also true.  I caught the end of a replay of the speech Michelle Obama gave at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver Monday night.  It was extremely theatrical – the script; the dramatic pauses in the speech; the connection with the audience; the set; the costume; the music (Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely”).  Every single detail was staged.

Even the commentary written about the speech was similar to a theatre review.  Take the article in by Rebecca Traister: she refers to Obama’s dress as “a peacock green frock that was surely the hottest dress ever seen on a convention floor”; the supporting characters (her mother and brother, two daughters, and Senator Obama); the plot and how each act was played out; and the audience reaction.  

The whole speech was a production aimed to deliver specific messages.  Michelle Obama is an approachable woman; comes from a working-class background; is a kindhearted, warm individual who is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a caregiver.  It was trying to entice those voters on the fence.  It was trying to make the audience fall in love with her.  

And I think it worked.  It was dramatic and full of obvious pressure points (including references to women’s suffrage and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.).  She is a charismatic women, who is passionate, attractive and intelligent.  The production was geared at showcasing her talents.  And all the production elements helped tell her story.

The camera panned the audience frequently to show those people listening intently, tears in their eyes.  There are so many people in America and the world ready for a change and the Obamas seem like the regular, down-to-earth people to help this change.  Unfortunately, despite all the theatrics and my new appreciation for Michelle Obama, I suppose the question is still in our minds: will this actually change anything or is it just a new face with the same old American political bullshit?

Watch a clip of her speech on You Tube: 

August 26, 2008 at 1:23 pm 3 comments

modern art and God

“It is no wonder, then, that many artists are agonised and their art so lacking in beauty because they are trapped in their own egos. Their work is marked by imposition rather than response, a desire to create out of nothing rather than to be obedient to the demands of truth and beauty, they desire to make their mark and that is their undoing.”

“Secularisation has removed from us the Greek notion of Truth, Beauty and Goodness… This is why exhibitions of contemporary art have become so pretentious and boring.”

“Any art that faithfully portrays the deep truths of existence are Christian just as any science that accurately describes the physical world is Christian.”

Just a few quotes from University of Western Australia Research Officer and Deacon Associate at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Peter Sellick, from his article in On Line Opinion about modern art.

I find it very interesting how much religion, faith and belief still play such a strong role in our increasingly secular society.  I am not religious, although was christened Anglican as a baby and have attended church on numerous occasions to please my grandmother.  

Peter Sellick believes that modern art does not have the power and beauty that art made for God, and with the belief in God, does.  He doesn’t understand or want to have to take time to understand what he refers to as “an idea and the arrangement of junk”.  He can’t see the beauty in the simplicity or the quirks in the eccentricity.  

Some of my favourite museums are those of modern art – the Tate Modern in London topping the list.  For me, they represent my generation, my world.  Some make statements about climate change or family or health.  And some are just art for art’s sake.  

And there are some pieces I just don’t understand at all – such as how a blue canvas with one red stripe down the middle can be bought for $1.8 million in 1990 by the National Gallery of Canada (Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire – caused a lot of controversy over its simplicity and cost).

I do love religious art as well.  Some of the most amazing architecture is done in the name of God.  But who is to say this is better than Sam Jinks’ amazing wax sculptures I recently saw at the Melbourne Art Fair (over 900 living artists all exhibiting works at the Royal Exhibition Building at the beginning of this past month).

Isn’t this why religion causes so many wars and disputes and animosity – because it has to be one or the other, right or wrong?  If it’s not God, then it’s trapped in our own egos.  If the artist isn’t making it for God, then he is being pretentious and selfish.  You can only understand true existence if you believe in God?

I am not angered by what Peter Sellick has to say.  I am more sadden by it.  I believe in truth, beauty and goodness, even if I don’t believe in Mr. Sellick’s idea of The Almighty.  And I see truth, beauty and goodness in the strangest places.  That is what modern art is to me – finding beauty from within and everywhere.

August 18, 2008 at 2:58 pm 6 comments

street art


Fitzroy street art

Fitzroy street art

When I first arrived in Melbourne I was obsessed with the street art.  I even paid a friend of a friend in beer to take me on a tour of his favourite Fitzroy graffiti.  I love the ever-changing nature of the art form – how one piece will cover the next.  A stencil could be covered by a tag one day, then completely painted over the next.  It is a reflection of the time it was made – an impression of the moment.

I am shocked and appalled by the recent laws the Victorian government has passed.  It is ridiculous that a person can end up with an on-the-spot fine of $550 just for possessing a spray paint can or be searched without a warrant for spray paint cans if that person is on or near public transport.

Melbourne is known as one of the best places in the world for stencil art.  It is a major tourist attraction.  There are books and films about the scene.  The Melbourne Stencil Festival which ran August 1-10 attracted international artists from Germany, Iran and the United States.  The 2007 Festival attracted more than 4,000 visitors.  

A1one, stencil artist from Iran, told The Age: “I do street art and keep away from galleries because of the censorship.”  Graffiti art is a way for many artists to express themselves freely and show the world their view without having to deal with the monetary and political boundaries of galleries.

Worldwide the streets are used as a tool to make a statement politically and artistically.  Cafe Babel reports on a group of artists called Third Wave in Poland, whose “aim is to awaken the public from indifference…Graffiti and posters push for freedom in Tibet, Chechnya or Birma, as well as against issues such as drug abuse or McDonaldisation of culture.”

Why is the government attempting to stifle this process in Melbourne?  Isn’t Australia supposed to be part of the free-thinking world where there is freedom of speech (although, I realise, not constitutionally like in the US)?  Shouldn’t the government be encouraging this kind of art in our laneways – not only for tourism, but also for allowing us all a voice?

August 11, 2008 at 2:46 pm 4 comments

art as politics

Olympic Art

Beijing Olympic Art - Reuters


The Economist‘s recent article on art in Beijing both commissioned and present for the Olympic Games supports my idea of just how political art can be.  Art can be used by government bodies to exert power – in this instance, according to The Economist, a “hastily commissioned” collection of paintings depicting the Chinese soldiers as heros responding to the earthquake in Sichaun Province this year and an attempt to control what art is being show not only in the endorsed galleries but also in the more edgy 798 district.  It seems apt the article finishes with a quote from Ai Weiwei, one of China’s most famous artists: “The party is completely distrustful of art.”  

Historically art has been used as a catalyst for social change.  As Christopher Scanlon said in his recent lecture, art frequently flies under the radar; it can push the boundaries more than something more overtly political.  Many people aren’t aware a film, song, play, or art piece is making a political statement because of how it is packaged.  Scanlon gave the example of many of George Clooney’s films.  There are many musicians and filmmakers who push their political views through their medium.  

So-called “high art” is no exception.  My favourite theatre pieces have always been those that have made me think about perhaps a different point of view, or make a political statement.  When we can’t overtly speak our views, we have the ability as a species to show it other ways.

The Economist does give an example in Beijing of the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art who are currently showing a vagina-like installation piece by Chinese artist Yin Xiuzhen.  They are attempting to show something a little outside of their government’s comfort zone.  I hope Beijing will see more artists and galleries push the boundaries a bit and be political, even if they aren’t overt about it.

August 7, 2008 at 10:35 am 2 comments


Welcome to my commentary on arts and culture from the perspective of a Canadian lady living in Australia.  Perhaps the best way for you to enjoy and participate in my writing (and I hope you do comment) is to get an idea of where I’m coming from.  

I am a graduate journalism student at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.   I completed my Honours Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Theatre, 5 years ago in Toronto.  I am an active fan of theatre, dance, fine art, film, and literature.  I have just started writing arts reviews for a new online magazine in Melbourne: Laneway Magazine.  My goal is to keep learning and growing.  

For one of my classes this year I am required to write a political blog.  As my experience is in the arts, I am going to focus on exploring the culture sections of the online publications I have listed in my “Links” section and hopefully start a discussion on these issues raised.  I hope you can join in on the discussion.

August 5, 2008 at 12:33 pm 1 comment

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