Archive for December, 2011

George Strait has more Number One singles than any other artist across all genres.

One night I did an experiment.  I sat in the Arts and Humanities Students’ Council Office and blared country music as loud as the crappy speakers on the council computer would let me.  I cranked up some Brantley Gilbert songs about partying in the woods and running moonshine.  I cranked up some George Strait tear-jerkers.  I jammed to some Zac Brown folk-soul-country.  I played modern country and I played old-school country.  I played up-tempo foot stompers and slow, old bar-room ballads.  But the result of the experiment would only ever be one thing.

I got the dirtiest looks from the people who walked by that office.  It was almost as if they were offended to be graced by the wholesome sounds of country music.  One girl, on her way to the bathroom, stopped for a second and just stared, with eyes ablaze like some spawn of Satan wishing death upon all things happy and breathing.  It was safe to say that country music was not her cup of tea.

Based on the reactions I got, and the accumulated data of four years at this school, it is readily apparent that people at Western do not like country music.  And, even though doing so will get me absolutely nowhere, I have to ask why?

I know that I derive my pleasure from country music in a way best described by Trace Adkins:

I met a guy on the red eye.
He spotted my guitar
and said what do you do?
I said, ‘I sing for a living,
Country music mixed with
a little rock and a little blues.’
He said, ‘I’m sorry,
but I’ve never been crazy
’bout that twang and trains and hillbilly thing.
What ever made you want to sing stuff like that?’
I just looked at him and laughed and said,

‘Cause they’re songs about me
and who I am.’

Many of the stereotypes that others point out in country music were a reality of my childhood.  I grew up on this type of music and in this type of culture.  Every morning when I woke up, the radio would be tuned to the local country station, where the sounds of Paul Brandt’s Small Towns and Big Dreams would describe our little section of farm town life as if he wrote it while driving down Ridge Road past the feed mill and the covered bridge.  From this point of view there is a certain romantic beauty to country music.  It takes the hard work of the everyday man and glorifies it; it makes the farmer growing your crops or the mason building your house into the heroes that they are.  It lays bare the soul of the world in a way that perhaps no other music can match.

But that’s my point of view.  That’s what drives my desire to know why country music is such an anathema to the population of this school.

The one point that jumps out at me is that not everyone comes into this school from the same background and the same values that I do.  There are as many daddy’s-credit-card-wielding, grew-up-in-a-rich-neighbourhood-in-Oakville people at this school as there are proud-to-be-called-such hicks.  There are as many people from small towns that just wanted to get away as there are people who can’t wait to go back.  The music they grew up with and that they treasure is something else.  They just can’t relate to songs about your pickup truck breaking down on some old gravel road or partying in some big ol’ field with a bonfire reminiscent of the one that resulted from a certain burning of alcohol-soaked couches.  And that’s fine, I can understand that.

The picture says it all...

What I can’t understand is the animosity.  There is a significant population that degrades country music based on the twanginess of the signing or the stereotypes present in the lyrics, but you can always say similar things about any other type of music.  For example, you might look at the distinctive vocal styles of auto-tuned pop and rap music or the angsty cry of the indie rocker.  Each genre has its own distinctive style that the majority of its artists follow and that designates it as that given style of music; that’s simply the way genres work.  Whether it is good or not is a matter of personal preference and is really nothing to get antagonistic over.  The same kind of thought can be applied to the stereotypes of given musical styles.  The emo sound, for instance, is characterized by a heavy reliance on emotional tropes, in particular sadness or angst.  Rap, as I’ve jokingly said before, can be broken down into songs about “capping a bitch,” doing drugs, or throwing money around.  Even heavy metal can be broken down into the stereotypes of death, destruction, and epic fantasy.  On one hand these stereotypes fit the bill, where in such a case it comes back to a matter of preference.  On the other they are but Wikipedia summaries of rich musical genres with large quantities of subject matter.

In any case there is no cause for animosity.  The beauty of music as a whole is that it can appeal to anyone in any situation.  I have yet to meet the person that says they don’t listen to music at all.  This beauty is also the reason why we have so many different kinds of artists and why we have genres.  Different artists and genres identify specific areas that people like.  This is as true of country as it is for rock and roll.  Yet people don’t hate rock and roll.  They don’t approach it with the same look of disgust on their faces as they do country.

The one solace that I can take from this entire thing is the way certain elements of country music—family, friends, and growing up—can speak to us all.  There is, at the end of the day, a certain universality about country music that isn’t as present in other forms of music.  These concepts that I listed above apply to all of us equally.  We all have some sense of family, friendship, and life.  Even if we’re separated from our family, have few friends, or have had a rough time in life we still have common ground in talking about them.  I think Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owens put it best in their song “Very Last Country Song.”  The lyrics in the chorus describe perfectly this commonality:

"Very Last Country Song" singers Sugarland.

But if life stayed the way it was
And lovers never fell out of love
If memories didn’t last so long
If nobody did nobody wrong
If we knew what we had before it was gone
If every road led back home
This would be the very last country song

These things—that happen so often in everyday life—are what make up the majority of country music.  All the things that happen to us that have meaning—that stick with us emotionally—are captured in country music.  In order for country music to become irrelevant things would have to stay the same, people would not be left broken-hearted, we would forget about everything bad that ever happened, and we would have the foresight to avoid anything bad that came our way.  But that’s not possible.  Life as we know it would cease to exist.

So the next time you seek to degrade country music, think about how it relates to you and your life (because I guarantee that it will).  If you do that I suspect your mind will change faster than it takes Colt Ford to down a bucket of fried chicken.

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When an athlete walks off the field (or skates off the ice) for the last time the first question on everyone’s lips is “what’s next?”

Depending on the player the options could be endless.  Some like to take a few years off to recover from the beating their bodies have taken over years of gruelling training and ritual poundings.  Others have an exit strategy lined up and waiting as a product of smart thinking while still an active player.

But perhaps one of the most common career paths for a retired player is coaching.

The Great One while coaching the Phoenix Coyotes

Picture it: the old, grizzled veteran who has hung up his skates for good coming back to the team he loves and teaching the next generation of players how to be great.  It’s the image we first had of Wayne Gretzky when he stepped behind the bench for the Phoenix Coyotes.  Here was the Great One arrived to teach the Blake Wheelers, Kyle Turrises, and Peter Muellers of the hockey world how it is done.  It’s the image that Dale Hunter has honed for years with the London Knights before making the jump to the NHL with the Washington Capitals.

However, as Gretzky’s failure to turn Phoenix into a contender will attest to, making the transition from player to coach is best attempted by a certain breed of player.  Players like Gretzky, to whom the game came easily, aren’t as well equipped to teach young players the ropes as those who fought tooth and nail to climb to whatever heights they did.  To make a long story short: greatness does not translate, but hard work does.

It was with these things in mind that I stepped behind the bench to coach Men’s Rec League hockey in September.  A friend had invited me to play, but I didn’t have my equipment with me so he told me I could coach.  At first I expected to be a glorified cheerleader, especially given that all the players save one were older than me.  But for some reason the players actually listened when I told them to do something.

Now, I was never the greatest hockey player.  I didn’t win a lot of awards or play on many great teams.  I certainly never played with anyone who ever made it past Junior ‘C.’  Further, back in my playing days I was a goalie, alone in my own little world.  It didn’t really matter what my teammates did so long as they didn’t give up breakaways or shoot the puck at me.  It didn’t matter what system they played so long as the puck got out of the zone at the first time of asking.

The 1-3-1 is hockey's version of the 3-man midfield in soccer.

As far as strategy goes I am a novice.  You’re never going to see me scribbling complex systems on a white board while channelling my inner Guy Boucher.  You’re never going to see me counter a devious defensive system such as the 1-3-1 by telling my players to not attack a la Peter Laviolette.  I was taught the basics, so I teach the basics.

As I mentioned, most of the players on the team I’m coaching are older than me.  They forked over $250 and their Friday nights to have a good time shooting the puck around.  I can see a lot of reasons why they wouldn’t want a coach and very few, apart from wanting to win games, why they would.  That’s why it was such a surprise that in my first game one of the players looked up at me as I stood on the bench and asked what he could be doing better.

In the beginning, the team could only be called a team in a very loose sense.  Some of the players had played together before while others were completely new.  While it certainly wasn’t a blow out, that game would not have been anybody’s pick for prettiest game of hockey ever to be played.  The defensive zone coverage was loose and the attack uncoordinated.

But with each game that I’ve been behind the bench these things have changed.  The defensive zone coverage, while not perfect, actually has some shape to it.  The breakout makes it out of the zone more often than not.  And when the puck gets into the offensive zone the players are on the same page with how to attack instead of just flinging the puck at the net and hoping to get lucky.  The calibre of hockey still isn’t going to wow anyone, but the progress is definitely there to be seen.

Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence that my coaching is having an effect is what happens when the coach isn’t there.  As a full-time student, member of student government, and active fraternity member I have various responsibilities that have gotten in the way of being at every game.  But, apparently, when I’m not there the team reverts to the team that played in that first game.  The moral: hockey players respond to authority.

If I am allowed to hypothesize for a moment I would say that having a coach is built into the psyche of the hockey player from a very young age.  Even when you learn to skate you have someone, even if it’s only your mother or father, teaching you how to do it; you have someone who knows better than you telling you how to do it properly.  The same extends to when you start playing hockey, no matter what level you start at.  You always have a coach and that coach always attempts to teach you to be better, both as an individual player and as a team.

In light of this, not having a coach may seem unnatural.  One might even go so far as to say that the unifying force that makes a team something more than a loose collection of individual players is lost without a coach.  Gone is the mentor who keeps the game on track and teaches players to be better and a vacuum of leadership is left in his wake.  The question is then who is going to fill it?  From there everything degenerates as everyone starts to play their own way and it takes an actual authority figure to rectify the situation.

Scotty Bowman has coached more Stanley Cup-winning teams than any other coach.

It is in light of this that I find my experience in coaching to be so interesting.  I am consistently amazed that players look to me, a former goalie with nothing in the way of proper training, as an authority figure.  When you look at the coaches that are so respected around hockey, whether it be your Scotty Bowmans or your friend’s dad, they all have one thing in common and that is that they know their hockey inside and out.  They command authority not because they stand behind the bench and wave their arms about, but rather because they know how the game is played better than anyone around them.

Perhaps why I’m so amazed stems from the aura we build around coaches as being the untouchable fountains of hockey knowledge.  A good coach commands respect and awe.  Just like the first-grader looking up at the grade-eights it’s hard to envision oneself as being in the same position as those who hold such an elevated place in your personal pantheon.  It’s like wearing the ‘C’ for the Montreal Canadiens and having to live up to the reputations of the greats who came before such as Newsy Lalonde, Toe Blake, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, or Yvon Cournoyer.

The other thing is that, unlike other hockey players, I didn’t plan to coach hockey when I stopped playing competitively.  I didn’t plan on being back on a bench any time soon.  I didn’t plan on being the next Kirk Muller.

For better or worse though, now I know that it’s there if I ever need a career to fall back on.

Right now the cynical part of me wants to say that television today sucks.  I want to say that the shows on television not only can’t compare to the shows of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but also can’t even compare with themselves a couple of seasons ago.

However, despite my waning opinion of most of the shows that I have enjoyed over the past few years, there are still enough bright spots left to make the sweeping generalization that television sucks seem fallacious.  These are the shows that, in the face of declining fortunes across the board, help me keep faith in television.

It sounds weird to say that one has faith in television, doesn’t it?  But think about it.  Television is reliable: our favourite shows come on at the same time each week and we could set our internal clocks by them if we so chose.  Television gives us joy: it can pick us up when we are feeling down or just ease the stress of a tiring day.  Television requires talent: to keep shows going for seasons can re-affirm our belief that hard work and talent will someday get us somewhere.

Given that, losing our faith in television is kind of a big deal and to think of that fate being dependent on a few shows is kind of scary.  What will happen if every show worth watching is suddenly cancelled?  Where will our faith be then?

30 Rock? Community is the best comedy currently on television (or not).

Luckily for me, NBC didn’t go the whole nine yards when pulling Community from its midseason lineup, assuring viewers that it was only on hiatus and not cancelled completely.  Despite being left like J.K. Rowling’s Nearly-Headless Nick insofar as it’s neither cancelled nor on-air, Community is still one of television’s bright spots.  I recently re-watched most of the first season and the third season—the current one—still compares favourably even though the first six to ten episodes of Community are among my favourite of all time.

Case in point, let’s look at Community’s offering from two weeks ago: “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux.”  On the surface this episode had the makings of a flop: re-treading already worn conceptual territory (see Episodes 205 and 216), an uninspiring synopsis, and being broadcast in the harsh light of NBC’s hiatus announcement.  But somehow, and saving the fat from the fire has become a recurring theme with Community’s writers and producers, the episode pulled through.  While the episode mainly focused on the trials and tribulations of Dean Craig Pelton, the writers were able to create stakes for all the other characters and, unlike a lot of other shows, created an environment in which the actors could show the full range of their talent (see Joel McHale’s Dean Pelton impersonation).  There were also enough funny moments to remind us that while Community is smart and dramatic it is still primarily a comedy series.  Add in to this the continued ability to weave storylines over multiple episodes and you have to wonder why NBC would want anything else on the air…ever?

It might be animated and it might be vulgar, but ignore it at your peril.

Another bright spot on the television radar is South Park.  Yes, South Park, the same South Park who debuted in 1997 with the poignancy of a poorly-timed fart.  Despite the early seasons being marked by vulgarity and jokes about the American Civil War, South Park—now in its fifteenth season—has evolved into the smartest show on television and Trey Parker and Matt Stone into screenwriting geniuses.  See, somewhere in between season three’s “World Wide Recorder Concert” (317) and season six’s “Jared Has Aides” (601) the show stopped being about how to get the entire third grade class of the United States to poop their pants and became a striking social commentary, always on the lookout for something in society to wholeheartedly mock.

But let’s fast forward to the South Park of today, because Messrs. Parker and Stone would be the first to take anyone who rests on their laurels down a peg or three.  The fifteenth season of South Park was marked by a rather mediocre series of episodes including “Crack Baby Athletic Association” (1505), “City Sushi” (1506), and “The Last of the Meheecans” (1509) before redeeming itself in the closing three episodes.  It is this redemption that makes it one of television’s bright spots; that the show can still produce relevant and enjoyable content after fifteen seasons lends it a certain Simpsons-esque quality.

Of particular note is the episode titled “1%” (1512).  I should preface this by saying the following: over the last month I have heard way too many ‘Occupy’ jokes.  They have ranged from the mildly tolerable to the completely dreadful.  Saying that, South Park actually managed to do something original with the Occupy Wall Street movement in this episode where so many have failed before.  The show managed to poke fun at the movement by comparing it to a grade-school fitness test while making smart social commentary with the episode’s conclusion.  Too few shows today manage to do this: they either stray too far towards the commentary side to stick the punch line or lose their social voice by making too many jokes.  South Park walks a fine line and after fifteen seasons is yet to fall off.

They drink in the afternoon. On the job. How can they get any more awesome?

I would be remiss in my coverage of what shows are left to save our faith in television if I didn’t mention Mad Men.  It, like Community, is currently on hiatus (there seems to be a pattern there).  However, showrunner Matthew Weiner is signed on for at least three more seasons, ensuring that television’s premier drama is set to continue for the foreseeable future (three years is a long time in the television world).  ‘But what sets Mad Men apart?’ you might ask.  Simply put, in the plainest way I can manage, there is no point during an episode of Mad Men where the viewer stops and says, ‘What?’  Everything, dialogue, acting, sets, costumes, concepts, everything is done flawlessly.  As a viewer I never question the way the show is run, shot, or written and that is the mark of a truly good series.  Contrast this with a show such as Breaking Bad, where I have to stop every few seconds and ask how people don’t notice that a high school chemistry teacher spends his entire week cooking methamphetamine in a multi-million-dollar bunker when he should be teaching classes, and you can understand why Mad Men is so brilliant, especially when casting itself as a period drama instead of being set in the present day.

Time will only tell though whether these shows can reach the heights of such television giants as Friends, The Simpsons, or The Sopranos.  But the fact of the matter is that of everything on television at the moment, these three shows have the best shot.

Whether any of them will challenge Due South as the greatest television show of all time is a completely different question though…

Isn't the maple leaf supposed to be red?

So, at the risk of jinxing it (here’s hoping), how about those Maple Leafs?

Traditionally at this point in the season I am breaking out the Leafs jokes such as “What is the difference between the Toronto Maple Leafs and a triangle? (A: A triangle has three points.)” or “What do the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Titanic have in common? (A: They both look good until they hit the ice.)”

However, the Maple Leafs have ignored the usual script so far this season and actually find themselves in playoff position heading into December.  And I’m completely in the dark as to the reason why.

On paper this Maple Leafs outfit doesn’t look much different than the one that once again managed to cause hearts to flutter up until the final week of last season in the latest instalment in the will-they-or-won’t-they saga better known as the Maple Leafs’ playoff fortunes.  The usual suspects are still there eating up inordinate amounts of salary cap space: Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, and Mike Komisarek.  Add in the newly acquired duo of Tim Connolly and John-Michael Liles and you’re halfway to the salary cap already, which is the exact same position that the Maple Leafs have been in for the past few seasons.  The management is the same too, with the crotchety duo of Brian Burke and Ron Wilson still holding onto jobs many thought they would have lost years ago.

So, in this top-heavy world of underachievers and unwanted All-Stars, what has changed between this season and last for the team known as the Blue and White?

Well, it certainly isn’t goaltending.  Toronto’s goalies have allowed 80 goals (this number does not account for empty net goals) in 26 games thus far, which is just over three goals per game.  Add in the all-important save percentage stat that reads at a rather pedestrian .901 and it’s easy to see that there certainly aren’t miracles being worked in between the Leafs’ pipes.  It’s not as though their goalies are seeing a disproportionately low number of shots either.  James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, and Jonas Gustavsson have faced on average 31.2 shots per game, which is around or above the NHL average.  They can’t make the same excuse as Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and say that his defence just doesn’t give up many shots to begin with.

Phaneuf is finally regaining some of the form that made him such a hit in Calgary.

If it’s not the goaltending causing MLSE CEO Richard Peddie to get excited for the first time in a decade, maybe it’s the defence.  Maybe the Leafs have become stingier in their own zone than those great, snore-inducing New Jersey teams of the late ‘90s.  Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the answer either as they’ve managed to give up a 26th-best total of 85 goals against in 26 games.  Of the teams currently in the top eight of their respective conferences Chicago is the only other team to have allowed more than 80 goals, with seven teams conceding fewer than 60 up to this point in the season.  This defensive frailty is hard to believe when you consider that the Maple Leafs defence core consists of a top four of Phaneuf, Komisarek, Liles, and Luke Schenn and up-and-comers in the form of Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, and Keith Aulie, the latter two being stars for Canada’s World Junior team in recent years.  Gone is the mistake better known as Jeff Finger, but the Leafs’ defensive woes still continue.

That leaves us with what I like to call the Washington Capitals Syndrome (WCS): play a firewagon brand of hockey and score more goals than the opposition to cover up defensive frailties.  Washington has used this method to great effect to not only gain regular season success, but also get their coach fired because it is totally ineffective in the playoffs.

However, as I mentioned previously, Ron Wilson still has his job and I think a lot of the credit for that has been the emergence of Joffrey Lupul as a legitimate partner for Phil Kessel on the Leafs’ top line.  Lupul has been the Robin to Kessel’s Batman this season, matching Kessel stride-for-stride in the points scoring race while playing legitimate first line minutes.  As such it is no coincidence that the Maple Leafs also find themselves amongst the league leaders in goals for with 83 goals to their tally thus far.  Unsurprisingly, if we are continuing with the WCS hypothesis, the Maple Leafs are also getting great offensive contributions from their defence with Phaneuf and Liles racking up 18 and 16 points respectively.

While I term this the Washington Capitals Syndrome and am highly skeptical of its suitableness to playoff hockey, no one can deny that it is effective over the course of a regular season.  Washington has used it to great effect over the past few seasons, winning a President’s Trophy in the process.  Of course, the Capitals have a relatively more talented than Toronto’s current outfit.  Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, no matter how good they have started the season, are not Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.  Nor are Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles in the same offensive category as Mike Green.

Mike Komisarek could be the key that allows Toronto to play sound defensive hockey.

What the Maple Leafs do have in their advantage over the Washington teams of recent memory is the personnel to play a more defensive-oriented game.  Washington was forced into playing a run-and-gun style because they lacked true talent on the blueline.  They lacked a true shut-down unit that could effectively combat opposing teams and such was their downfall when the opposition stopped theirs.  The Leafs have such a combo waiting in Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn.  Whether or not such a partnership will develop is another story though.  It will take time, especially since Komisarek is just getting back into his stride as an NHL defenceman.  If such a pairing ever coalesces into something more than a pipe dream the Leafs might be a greater contender than you’d think.

Whether or not the Maple Leafs can emulate Washington’s success in playing offensively-charged, but defensively-irresponsible hockey is one of the reasons to keep watching the Maple Leafs intently.  If they continue at the same pace it is very possible that Leafs fans will see their team in the playoffs, but it is also possible that they will crash and burn as their opponents learn to shut down the Kessel-Lupul tandem.

But that’s the danger of firewagon hockey.  You might win a lot of games 5-3, 6-5, or 7-4, but you can lose just as many 5-2, 6-1, or 4-0.  A hot goalie or tight checking can be your undoing just as easily as 4-on-2 rushes can be your saving grace.

Either way, the Maple Leafs just made the hockey season interesting, and not only because I might have to wait a little longer before breaking out my best Leafs jokes.

All statistics from www.tsn.ca as of December 4, 2011.

All salary cap numbers from www.capgeek.com as of December 4, 2011.

So, Adrian Grenier came to Western.  From the reaction it got on Twitter you would have thought it to be the second coming of Jesus Christ and not a brief appearance by a C-List actor known only for his role on TV’s Entourage.

Entourage star Adrian Grenier came to the Western campus in September.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Entourage is a great show and it’s sad to see it end its run.  And Grenier’s Vincent Chase is a great character who has come on in leaps and bounds from his humble beginnings in the first few seasons.  But I don’t understand why people flocked to see him like he has done something more meaningful with his life than filling up half an hour of our Sunday nights?

Today’s society puts celebrities, even minor ones – **cough** Jersey Shore **cough** – on a pedestal.  We raise them up to such deific heights that we forget that they are real people with different personalities than we see on their various movies, shows, or records.  And, unlike real life where we don’t like certain people for their personalities, we expect every celebrity to be a perfect model of friendliness and humility.

But I don’t want to question why we put celebrities on pedestals – that’s a question that probably could never be answered satisfactorily, but rather what we really hope to get out of meeting them in person?  What do we really expect from that meeting?  What kind of value do we expect for sometimes exorbitant fees and hour-long waits in line?

I suppose that everyone hopes to forge some kind of connection with a celebrity, whether just as a quick conversation or as a more long-term sharing of interests.  Is that actually going to legitimately happen though?  You might exchange some pleasantries while he or she makes out a semi-personal stock message on your dime-a-dozen album, DVD, or book created by that celebrity, but nothing meaningful is likely to occur.  However, when you do share a heart-to-heart with Justin Bieber be sure to let me know.

The fact is that we fall in love with the characters a celebrity acts, the music they play, or the characters they create as writers.  We don’t fall in love with celebrities unless their out-of-spotlight persona is larger than their in-spotlight persona, and that is very rare.  Bono is one celebrity that managed to pull it off, but he’s a piece of shit.  Let’s take Adrian Grenier for an example.  I bet maybe only five out of every one hundred people could tell you anything about Adrian Grenier other than what roles he has played and a large number of those will only be familiar with him from Entourage.  We don’t love Adrian Grenier as much as we love Vince Chase and that’s who we really want to see.  We don’t want to see Grenier sign autograph after autograph or talk about other projects; we want Vincent Chase.

Now, we can easily get Vincent Chase by pulling up an old episode of Entourage and throwing it on.  We don’t need to pay money to see the actor who plays him, doing so is likely to lead to disappointment when we see Adrian Grenier the real person and not in character as Vinny Chase.

By all accounts Adrian Grenier was a stand-up guy, the kind you wouldn’t mind being friends with.  But that raises another point against the deification of celebrities: you wouldn’t pay money to hang out with your friends.  It is a simple fact that one isn’t going to spend hard-earned money to simply sit and talk with one’s friend.  One might spend money on going to an event with a friend or for the dinner they eat while they talk, but never just for the privilege of talking to them.  That’s not what being a friend is all about.  Furthermore, in any celebrity encounter, as noted above, you’re never really getting a friend no matter how friendly the celebrity may seem.  You are just another gratification-hungry individual with some story about how much they love the celebrity in question.  If we’re going on the assumption that celebrities are real people just like you and me, then I bet they get pretty tired of the constant badgering and faux-adoration of the unwashed masses.  Sure, they make money out of pleasing the masses, but it’s a job for them.  It is not who they are.  They get paid because we like them.  If my livelihood was based on the whims of thousands of moody pre-teens I would put on the biggest fake smile you’ve ever seen and kiss so much ass that my face smells like fecal matter just like celebrities do…

These people provide you something tangible, unlike celebrities.

So, after all of this, why do we still partly define ourselves by which celebrities we meet?  It’s not like they’re meaningful encounters that have any true impact on who we are…  Why do we make a big deal out of serving Ryan Gosling coffee at a Starbucks – as one of my classmates did on WebCT?  He likes coffee just as much as 75% of the western hemisphere population…  Why is it a big deal that Paul Davenport and Shooter McGavin – another example of how we really only care about the characters played and not the person themselves – are Kappa Alpha alumni or that Alan Thicke burned down the original lodge?  They’re great people, but Kappa Alpha is so much more than how many column inches have been devoted to your praise…

In my opinion, there’s no rational reason.  I refuse to believe that celebrities are anything more than regular people who happen to make a living entertaining others.  And entertaining is far from the most essential or prestigious profession.  What of the farmer who grows your food?  What of the construction worker who built the house you live in?  If we’re going to idolize someone it might as well be someone who does something essential for our way of life and not someone who provides a secondary service that is only really used as a distraction from the stress of our everyday lives.

So, we need to stop treating celebrities like they are God.  As some militant atheists might tell you, God doesn’t actually exist…

As a university student at a school that is at least fifteen times the size of Stirling, I can get rather bullish about my pride in my hometown and the people in it.  Stirling has shaped who I am and what I believe in, and a lot of that can be attributed back to my experiences at the Stirling Arena.

I grew up only a few doors down from the Blues Barn on West Front Street.  A well-stuck golf shot from my front yard would have put a dent in the old steel siding of the building.  The arena was there when I was born and I still go back there to watch games whenever I’m home from university.  It is an ever-lasting monument to what a community should be.

I remember the first time I stepped onto the ice at the arena.  I must have been somewhere between three and five years old (I’m not too sure on the exact dates) and I wasn’t wearing hockey equipment, but rather just a pair of skates and a bike helmet.  It was public skating.  I remember my Mom and Dad leading me around the ice and teaching me how to skate.  It didn’t seem like it would be the start of the building of a mystique that would last up to this very day, but I guess that when you’re that young and had never played hockey before, it is easy to see the arena as just another building.

I started playing hockey at around eight years old, fresh from watching Dominik Hasek steal gold for the Czech Republic at the Nagano Olympics.  From that moment, the Buffalo Sabres, home of our very own Rob Ray, became my favourite team and hockey officially—in Canada it’s only a matter of acknowledging it—my favourite sport.

My hockey career didn’t get off to a very auspicious start.  I remember that one of my teammates in Novice house league managed to convince me that a defenceman could go offside at his own blueline if he went into his own zone before the puck.  I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t spend long as a defenceman: I spent maybe half a season as an out player before trading in the shin pads, shoulder pads, and gloves for a set of goalie equipment that was rented out from the SDMHA.  I remember that the SDMHA had just purchased a new VIC black, green, and maroon blocker and trapper and at the start of each season I would make sure to be the first in line to claim them for the upcoming season.

Buffalo Sabres hero and my all-time favourite player, Dominik Hasek.

Eventually I graduated to my own equipment and the local glory that is rep hockey.  I was following in the footsteps of my hero, Hasek, although the goalie school I attended for a couple summers swiftly disabused me of the notion that Hasek’s belly-flop style was something to be emulated.  I can’t say that I was ever the greatest hockey player, but in Stirling hockey isn’t measured by skill alone, but rather by how hard you work for yourself, for your team, and for the emblem on the front of the jersey.

It is these things that growing up and playing hockey in Stirling taught me.  We took pride in how well we played and how well we comported ourselves as a team.  The community supported us no matter what, and any playoff game that we played in the Blues Barn was jam-packed with most of the town, not just our families and close friends.  We would take heart from this: why else do you think that our teams always seemed to win those home playoff games?

A big part of this was the recently passed Barry Wilson.  I have a special place in my heart for Barry and his family after years of being babysat by his wife, Kathy.  I remember the ever-constant face of Barry being there whenever I came over to the rink, whether immediately after school or early in the morning for practice, or late on a Saturday night for a league game.  Having that familiar face there all the time was something special in itself and Barry will be greatly missed by the Stirling community.

In short, and I probably could have saved everyone a bit of time if I had said this at the beginning, hockey in Stirling is a religion.  And, like the best religions, it leaves its believers stronger in heart, in mind, and in spirit.  I can say that of Stirling Minor hockey and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  Thousands of kids have passed through the system over the years and each one has participated in one of the best hockey programs around; there’s a very good reason why we played against teams from much larger centers than our own and did well.  The entire town, the kids, the parents, the people like Doug Fleming who stick around and coach teams even when their kids have long moved on are all to thank for their contributions to the SDMHA and their efforts in general.

At the end of the day, while I hope that my hometown can pull it out like so many overtime playoff games before and win the Kraft Hockeyville competition, I could really care less about whether the competition is won or lost because this town and its people are already winners on so many levels.  When I introduce myself to people I always have and always will introduce myself as being from Stirling, because being from Stirling is something to be proud of.

Let’s be honest, Western is a school of entitlement.  There are those here that think that Daddy’s credit card should be enough to get them an A+ average and their pick of jobs upon graduation.  Those are the same people who believe that Richmond Row is a good place to spend both their Tuesday nights and that $2000 that just magically appeared in their bank account.  The trend is that they expect something to be given to them on a platter just because they have the money to pay for it.

Yes, I graduated. Now give me a job.

But let’s get back to education.  What do we expect out of the money we put into this university?  I think it is fairly safe to say that most university students look to their university career to prepare them for a real career after graduation.  The expectation being that they will graduate with the requisite skills necessary to enter their chosen profession, or at least with the skills to get into a professional or graduate school.  The next question then is how do we determine that we’ve actually got those skills?  I mean, sure, your diploma technically states that you possess the required skills, but anyone with an ounce of intelligence will tell you that a diploma is given out to all students who meet a bare minimum standard of competence.  Another astute observer might note that some graduates who wave their diploma around like it’s a Nobel Peace Prize are actually as dumb as the proverbial door knob that they can’t quite figure out how to operate.  What we’re left with is that darling of graduate admissions officers everywhere, the transcript.  Yes, the transcript that holds record of what mark the professor has given us.  It is possibly the truest reflection, other than being able to actually demonstrate knowledge in practice, of what we have taken out of our university experience.

So, let’s adjust our expectations based on this reality.  Initially our expectation was to graduate with adequate preparation for whatever society-mandated slavery we choose to sell ourselves into.  If we can only judge that preparation by grades, our expectation then becomes that we get high grades out of university.  To put it in different words, we expect that upon graduation our transcripts will be a flawless run of A-pluses.  This twisted logic is given some much needed justification when we consider that we pay over $5000 in tuition every year for the privilege of having stuffy old men pound things into our skulls for at least fifteen hours a week.  Essentially, we pay the university for a service, that being preparing us for real life, and we expect them to deliver to the tune of a glittering transcript that even God might be proud of; it is a trade of money for grades.

This is the face of entitlement. Be scared.

Now, this smacks of the kind of entitlement usually reserved for hotel heiresses with daddy issues and that usually results in multiple failed TV shows that cumulatively had less viewers than that night-vision sex tape that was “leaked” on the internet.  This places the onus on the university to try and teach someone skills that they will be able to apply to the real world even if said student spends the entirety of their time trying to destroy their brain cells with alcohol, pot, and other recreational drugs.  This viewpoint completely ignores the necessity of hard work.  Ironically, the people upholding this viewpoint are likely ignoring hard work in reality too, not just in theory.

In reality, all our tuition is buying us is access to top-quality professors and resources.  For our parent’s or OSAP’s hard-earned money we get to come to campus, use the library, and study with distinguished individuals in their respective fields.  And what we take out of it is up to us.  We can spend that time learning skills that might someday make us slightly wealthier than the Joneses, we can get a Masters in English and not get hired by Wal-mart, or we can completely waste our time fist-pumping at Jack’s on a Monday night.  What we get out of these resources is entirely up to how much effort we put in…that and our respective mental capacities.

However, there is one thing that we can safely feel a sense of entitlement towards in our university careers: we have the right to have our hard work recognized.  We have the right for professors, TAs, and other beings shackled with the ball and chain of paper marking to give us credit for completing the assignment even if we don’t complete it well.  Essentially, we have the right to hand in a paper addressing the question and not receive a mark of zero in return.  No matter what is put on the paper, the act of completing the assignment is worth at least some marks.  By all means, fail a student because they did not argue well, make a point, or are just generally inept at writing a paper, but students are entitled to having their hard work recognized.  For example, if the essay question asks the student why the sky is blue, then the student should get credit if their paper tackles that question in some manner, even if it is completely wrong.

Now, before you point out that this is essentially giving students marks for free, remember what it is that we expect out of university.  We expect university to prepare us in some way for our chosen career.  We expect university to give us a true evaluation of whether we are prepared for the real world.  Now, are you so naive to think that hard work isn’t necessary in the real world?  Because the fact of the matter is that being a lazy dirtbag like you were in high school isn’t going to get you far when mommy and daddy kick you out on your ass.  You will be forced to work hard.  You will be forced to give your interpretations and answers to questions.  What giving these “free” marks does is act as positive reinforcement in the breeding of skills that are going to benefit you in real life situations.  These marks are saying that if you work hard you will get farther than someone who doesn’t put any effort in at all.  They are saying that it is better to try and possibly be wrong than to not do anything at all.  These are valuable lessons that people can take on board for their futures.  Not teaching them this just breeds the next generation of people who think that they are too good to wait in line at the bar or should get free drinks while inside because they once said hello to the bartender when they passed him on the sidewalk.

The long and short of it is that money doesn’t entitle us to squat.  It enables us to take part in the wonderful world of higher education—sometimes even when we’re so dumb that if we took a standard admissions test we’d be sent back to grade five—and potentially reap its rewards.  But like the farmer who reaps his crop, we must work hard for that reward.  Thinking otherwise only entitles us to failure.