Arts and Culture

The Subban Effect

He’s the most exciting black player in NHL history, and its number one punching bag

By: James Di Fiore

Before the playoffs began, in a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators, Habs coach Michel Therrien showed PK Subban how much he respects him. Subban was caught out of position a couple times, not uncommon for any aggressive defenseman, and these errors contributed to one goal by the Sens. In Coach Therrien’s world, this was enough to bench Subban for close to an entire period even though he averages the most minutes on the team. Therrien has been pretty consistent all season long regarding his lack of respect towards his star defenseman, but with one series under their belt in this post season, a series where Subban’s contributions have been front and center, Therrien may want to reexamine his attitude towards hockey’s most exciting black player.

It’s worth pointing out that Subban’s errors are not always the sole contributors to opposition goals, and there are other players, most notably Habs captain Brian Gionta whose mental errors are as bad or sometimes worse than Subban’s.

However, when Subban made an error in the regular season, he was either benched, ridiculed, intentionally embarrassed or exhaustingly lectured during practice or when Therrien is speaking to the media. No other player who has made an error on the ice – and every last player has made a few errors – receives this kind of relentless badgering. And I would wager no Norris trophy winner in NHL history was treated like a rookie after they won the hardware.

So, contrary to hockey pundits and their politically correct sensibilities, the reason for all the negative attention and overly critical reporting is, wait for it, because PK Subban is black. It isn’t overt racism, but it is nestled inside a common problem many institutions have; the tendency to be more critical of people who are not typical representatives of the institution but still make mistakes like everyone else.

An enormous amount of ink has been spilled deconstructing the identity of PK Subban. The critics line up around the block and methodically take their turns bashing his attitude, slamming his unforced errors and claiming his antics rally the opposing teams. Duncan Keith, a star defenseman known for dirty plays, diving and being cocky, still manages to get the ‘hard worker’ moniker from analysts and sports writers. Not PK though. He’s no Duncan Keith, after all.

With the exception of Montreal fans, nobody talks about PK’s enormous contribution to the NHL itself. If the critics, writers and pundits do heap any praise, repetitive analysis criticizing PK’s swagger and mental game usually surround it. But take a step in the opposite direction – make PK Subban a brand for the NHL to encourage young black hockey players to strive for greatness – and all of a sudden the impetuous, cocky black kid becomes a marketing tool, like the Yao Ming of the NHL. Why not? It’s better than being everybody’s whipping boy, no?

Well, it is not a very popular thing to say, but Subban’s critics are not constantly bashing him because he’s the league’s new Sean Avery. It is worth repeating, they are bashing him because he’s a black hockey star who isn’t conservative, reserved or cut from the same cloth as Bobby Orr. Only, he is cut from that same cloth. So far in these playoffs Subban has stepped up his game at both ends, and may have quarterbacked the best play we have seen in the post season thus far. Greatness isn’t measured by a missed assignment in the regular season, but by taking your game to another level in the playoffs. On the latter, Subban is clearly one of the league’s greatest players.

Just an aside here; what history does Subban have with Tampa Bay or their fans? He is booed every time he touches the puck by Floridians, but this kind of reaction is usually reserved for ex players, or players who have had bad blood with the home team. Not so in PK’s case.

Hmm…what could it be? Perhaps Tampa Bay fans are merely standing their hockey ground, who knows?

Fans aside, the critics don’t believe they are treating Subban differently. They are merely calling it like they see it. In fact, I bet Subban would be the first to say he isn’t being judged by the colour of his skin. He would certainly never say that about his coach, but if the rumours of a Subban-Therrien feud are true, the Canadiens organization may have to choose between their coach and their star player. And if they choose the coach, they’ve shortchanged the franchise and the Montreal fans for years to come.

However unintentional, the constant criticism of this young black hockey player is unparalleled. He dives once in a while, acts a little cocky after a goal here and there, and he makes a few mistakes that result in opposition goals, but just the fact that I can rattle off so many of his apparent shortcomings should be evidence that I know too much about one particular player.

We all do.

Miss Italy Visits Toronto…and Rob Ford

Screenshot 2014-04-09 07.22.12

Giulia Arena Visits Mayor Rob Ford at City Hall, Says She Did Not Know About Scandals

By: James Di Fiore

Several photographers were pointing their lenses at one woman on the south foyer of City Hall. I had just finished interviewing Councillor Doug Ford, tv host Ezra Levant and pundit Mark Steyn, a trio of lumpy conservatism and bombastic key messages, so I was ready to head home.

But when I found out it was Miss Italy, I decided to stick around for one last interview.

It’s not terribly compelling, but she was both beautiful and the complete opposite of how my day had gone until that moment.

To The Tree – The Baseball Diaries

I was a hellion as a kid growing up, just ask my former baseball coach. That’s the word he used to describe me not too long ago, and I agree with him completely.

By: James Di Fiore

I used to have this fear of being seen as needlessly controversial. And it was for that exact reason I always felt like I had perfectly good excuses to open my mouth. Coach had a very big job: keep Jamie in line and properly discipline him if he isn’t. For me, Coach’s stamp of approval was equal to his clear disappointment whenever I would act out, mouth off or get tossed from a game. He had the same role as my father, acting as the catalyst for that stinging feeling in my stomach simply by tossing a look or saying my name in a certain way. Along with my father, who I haven’t spoken to in years, he was likely the second most influential male figure during my teenage years. I just didn’t know it til years later.

I do have a few memories that have nothing to do with arguing with umpires or making my teammates feel edgy. One day my team had a 1pm game against Peterborough, our fiercest league rivals. Peterborough had a hellion of their own, a precocious lad named Jimmy, and one of us was usually given a verbal warning from the umpire or a scolding from one of the coaches. I’ll be honest, I fed off games like this. I needed to win, sporting the on-field demeanor of baseball’s Claude Lemieux, meaning I had skills but also wanted to get inside the heads of the other players. Many times I would merely mouth off for the sake of it. The adrenaline would manifest itself through stolen bases, a thrown bat, a strong throw or a profanity-laced strikeout. It all came from the same place, but Peterborough games were in a class of their own. These games were ceremoniously circled on the schedule and the date that morning was no different. It was July 9th, 1987 – my eleventh birthday.

That morning I woke up to the smell of ham and eggs, a pre-game ritual on the weekend. I had an extra spring of excitement in my charge down the staircase. Childhoods are made with those kinds of mornings. I took my ball and glove to the kitchen, rested them on the table and started to eat. My mother walked by the table and without stopping snatched the glove and ball, handed them to me, and asked me nicely not to use the the kitchen table as my personal locker. Baseball umpires may have been fair game for back-talk, but it was years later before I tried to pull that with my mother. I smiled at her as she brushed her hand through my hair and answered the phone.

My mother took the phone into the other room as I cleaned my plate. It was only 10am and we weren’t scheduled to be at the diamond for another couple hours. I was always so anxious on game day. I would pace the hallway and toss the ball into my glove and imagine throwing a runner out from center field or hitting a ball to the gap for a double. Time would just crawl by it seemed.

And then, sometimes, time can stand perfectly still. My mother walked back into the family room and sat beside me. I could feel her trying to find the words.

“Jamie…that was your grandmother. Your grandfather just passed away.”

My grandfather was my favourite person. There are not enough words, really, except to say that my childhood changed that day. When your favourite person dies on your birthday it can mess with the mind. A few minutes later I saw my father cry for the first and only time. A couple hours later I quietly slipped into my baseball uniform. My mother asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to play that day. In my mind it was never up for discussion.

I arrived at the ballpark. My teammates and coaches were already made aware of my grandfather’s death when it was decided my birthday party would be canceled that night. My mother telephoned all of my friends to tell them ‘there was a sadness in the family’. I was sullen.

The baseball diamond was perfect. The grass was cut, the lines were chalked and the wind made the tall willow trees dance at Peel Park. I said nothing except for a few thank yous during warm up as every teammate expressed their condolences.

Coach wore his sympathy for me on his bearded face when we sat down by the tree for our pre-game pep talk. My coach would yell “To the tree boys!” and we would jog over. Any walking would result in that look only a baseball coach or father can give. The tree was significant too. It represented comradery, strategy and the end of waiting for the game to start. Coach, like my mother, asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to play. I remember sitting with the team by the tree, looking at him and thinking about my father and what I had seen that morning. He probably didn’t know it at the time, but I had transferred my tendency to feel proud or ashamed based on his reactions to my behaviour, and that day I just wanted to make both of them proud. At the end of the pep talk he said “Ok boys, today let’s go out there and win this one for Jamie.” It was exactly what I needed. I was the last to leave the area near the tree, trying to steal a moment I think. I still have that moment, so I guess in a way it worked. I was eleven, wasn’t sure about god or what the right thing to feel was, but I looked up at the sky and imagined my grandfather watching me play baseball.

Memories are funny. At first it is photographic, then it becomes nuanced and filtered through the person you have become. I remember being choked up but have no memory if any tears left my eyes. And for once I wasn’t acting like a hellion on the diamond. I was humbled, went 2 for 3 with 2 doubles and threw a guy out trying to stretch a double into a triple. I sat the final inning.

I’m 37 years old. It’s been 26 years since my grandfather died, since I saw my father cry and when I first realized the importance of outside role models and teachers. I didn’t always show it, but that sting in my stomach never went away when I played for Coach. My attitude got worse, he stayed the same and it would be years until I would fully realize his role in my inner development. Sometimes I wish I had understood the importance of learning lessons as an eleven year old, but only a few get to hear the echoes of those lessons decades later. Fewer actually listen. I can still hear that afternoon quite well. Sitting with me beside that tree are my father, my grandfather and my baseball coach. Call it an omni present pre-game pep talk.

To the tree, boys. 

Who Shot Ya?

A one on one interview with legendary hip hop chronicler, Ernie Paniccioli

By: James Di Fiore
















He may not be a household name, but Ernie Paniccioli may be the most prolific figure in hip hop history. In a scene wrought with complexities, simplicities and an ongoing battle of Real Vs Fake, there are very few true ambassadors who have been there since the genesis of hip hop. There are even fewer who are essentially front-proof, meaning they have been able to remain relevant despite both the pitfalls and advancements within the schizophrenic hubris of hip hop lifestyles. Old School vs New School – Playa vs Hater, Gangsta vs Emo…and the list goes on. But Ernie is beyond those superficial battles and has earned his spot as the night watchman of hip hop, capturing the history and the nuances through the lens of his camera.

Before we met in person, Ernie and I actually got into a heated exchange online regarding race and religion. I will spare you the details except to say that when the dust settled we were able to put those differences aside and come together through mutual respect and a common held passion – hip hop culture. Below is the result of what happens when two men from completely different walks of life recognize the importance of communication.  If you are a hip hop historian of sorts you will be both impressed and envious at Ernie’s life experience, and if you are a youngster still sifting through the crates please take heed and pay close attention…you just might learn something.

If Wyclef Were President

Haiti is a place where the rule of law is consistently trumped by the rule of foreign economic influence. Even former President Bill Clinton, when pressed to talk about some of his regrets during his time in office, named Haiti policy as his number one regret.

“It was a mistake … I was a party to … I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did – nobody else,” Clinton said to the US Foreign Relations Committee back in April.

While there is nothing too surprising about a former world leader taking some responsibility when it is far too late (still waiting on Bush Jr. to own up for some of his colossal blunders), it would be nice if a leader would take responsibility while still in power. Or better yet, not create detrimental policy to begin with.

So when Wyclef announced his intention to run as President of his native country, many began to question his qualifications as a world leader. His charity’s financial irregularities became the rebuttal to his political aspirations, and this might be the most valuable timing since Laryn Hill’s verse on ‘How Many Mics.’

“If you make a mistake you have to admit that it’s a mistake. The taxes weren’t filed on time, so what do I do? I said, find me the best accountant because this foundation is going to the next level. So we brought in RSM McGladrey, and now everything is being filed on time.” Jean gets to answer for his mistakes before the election, rather than pontificating on them after he leaves office, provided he wins of course.

And if Arnold Schwarzeneggar can be a governor and Al Franken can be a senator, there is no reason why a hip hop icon can’t be President.

If Wyclef was President…..who knows? Is he a socialist? In Haiti, hopefully. The last thing that country needs is a capitalist who panders to the whim of foreign powers. (cue the right wing scoffing).

Let’s hope his track “If I Was President” isn’t prophetic.

Tiger Woods Apology Falls Flat

Prepared statement manufactured from PR playbook

Tiger Woods may have a long, professional golf career ahead of him, but as an actor he is still a rank amateur. Woods began a one-way news conference sounding out the words scribed on paper in front of him in a manufactured public relations event. His delivery fell short of authentic, deliberately looking into the camera as he communicated his apology in a poorly rehearsed spectacle reeking of self-indulgence.

It was a typical display of a PR-orchestrated event, complete with his mommy sitting in the front row with arms folded and a stone cold expression on her face. In fact, Mrs. Woods may have been the only actor not following the script as her demeanor looked more like the image of embarrassment, rather than support for her embattled son.

In listening to the media’s reaction to the news conference you would think the apology was the equivalent to an ace on the 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass where the statement took place. CTV, who covered the new conference in between their sub-par Olympic coverage, fawned over Tiger’s apology as if it were Wayne Gretzky crying about betraying Mark Messier. The subsequent conversation featured empty-headed Ben Mulroney insisting that a billion dollar man needs a public relations plan to issue an apology. In other words, manufacturing an apology is fine and dandy as long as it is ultimately delivered.

Our media driven society need to realize what apologies like this achieve. Instead of an honest, unscripted statement, we get a highly produced, controlled script meant to win over the public and valuable sponsors – and for some reason this is acceptable. The bigger question of why we care to begin with is also a stain on what makes us tick and how the media can create intrigue in an otherwise meaningless situation. To be blunt, the only people who watched Tiger deliver his monotone speech and thought it was authentic are those who likely wear a helmet whenever they leave the house.

The other supportive group are those who think like PR people, but this is merely an industry-minded opinion and says nothing for the underlying issue – brutal dishonesty and manufacturing public support is at the heart of what’s wrong with celebrity and corporate culture. One of the most condescending aspects to this particular scandal was watching entertainment shows discuss what Tiger needed to say leading up to this morning’s speech. In a perfect example of systemic patronizing, co-hosts would pontificate on how Tiger really needs to take responsibility in a somber tone so that the public will forgive him. On the surface it sounds lovely, but using terms like “give the public the impression” or “win the public over” speaks volumes to the illusion of honesty. Even more ridiculous, these co-hosts are being watched by the same audience the PR scam is directed towards.

That’s right folks, the media will talk about what Tiger should do to get the public on his side, even if it is orchestrated, all while broadcasting for that same public, who are apparently too stupid to realize they are being ridiculed.

But, let’s not forget Mommy Woods. Through her deeply troubled presence we see a glimmer of hope. It isn’t shared by most sheeple in today’s world, but it is a glimmer nonetheless.

Michael Jackson Painting Causing Firestorm

Controversial artwork depicts Jackson as Michelangelo’s David, with a twist

by: James Di Fiore

The last word on Michael Jackson’s controversial relationship with children may be the painting that once adorned his wall at Neverland. Artist David Nordahl’s ‘Michael’ portrays the King of Pop as Michelangelo’s David,  wearing nothing but a white sheaf hanging across his waist and surrounded by Putto angels – Greek mythological, naked child-angels who traditionally appear with gods of love, poetry and music.

There is an aroma of cheap irony in the context of the painting and why it is being released. The work itself is not impressive, a mediocre attempt at presenting the pop icon as immortal and flanked by the precise symbols of his life’s most damaging chapter. Nordahl told the New York Post that Jackson approved the piece. “(he) thought it was great with a little ‘tongue-in-cheek’ flavor,” said Nordahl. Apart from the unlettered play on words in his quote, the overriding consensus is that this is the latest in a long line of commercial vampires looking to cash in on Michael’s death. For some, the art will add to the mystery of Michael’s private lifestyle and outlook on children and himself.

The discussion concerning Jackson’s lifestyle polarizes pop culture, creating two differing camps of perfectly irrational individuals. The first camp consists of dogmatic worshippers, incapable of seeing Jackson as a possible pedophile and determined to set the record straight. They saw him is as a man with arrested development, unable to act like an adult and acting out by having platonic sleepovers with kids. The second group is comprised of pure haters, unable to see Michael Jackson as anything other than an unpunished pedophile, receiving a free ride due to his unparalleled celebrity status. Both think they have a point, and this latest representation of Jackson serves as a tacky, ironic hybrid of both those groups, each battling for an unrivalled position of being the authority over Michael’s overall persona.

Yet the painting was an intentional, commissioned piece financed by Michael himself, possibly one of the most egomaniacal self tributes by an artist not born in ancient times, if you include all of the previous iconic pieces the artist had accumulated over the years. Still, if the piece was intended to show Jackson as a man with an affinity with children, I think he more than missed the mark. If anything, this painting will further erode the King of Pop’s reputation and pit both camps against each other for generations to come.

Theater Review – August: Osage County

augustosageOccasionally a play hits Broadway that gets the critics and audiences into an uproar of uniform praise and downright worship. I’ve never seen one of those plays before. Truth be told, I have only seen a handful in my day. The last was a brilliant one man act called ‘Barrymore‘ starring Christopher Plummer in 1998. Jesus, it’s been 11 years since I have tried to broaden my culture and take in a live performance; and after seeing August: Osage County I dare say I will be heading to the theater more regularly.

The play gets points right off the bat for NOT being a musical. One of the factors preventing me from going to the theater was my incorrigible hatred of musicals. Osage County is no musical. It had been described to me by an old woman outside the Princess of Wales Theater as a ‘splendid story of family, alcoholism, drugs and betrayal’.

I bought two tickets immediately.

The story is set in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, 60 miles northwest of Tulsa. The dark, comedic theme was established from the opening scene as Beverly Weston (Jon De Vries) interviews eventual housekeeper, Johnna (Delanna Studi), a Cheyenne Indian. Beverly Weston is the patriarch of the Weston family – an alcoholic poet who had once been praised for his prose but who now lives a life in an inebriated darkness with his prescription drug addict wife, Violet (Estelle Parsons).

Act 1 introduces most of the Weston family. The eldest daughter, Barbara (Shannon Cochran) has been recently separated from her husband, Bill (Jeff Still) and navigating through her own inner demons while trying to win the affection of her 14 year old daughter, Jean (Emily Kinney). Ivy Weston (Angelica Torn) is the middle child who took the role of pseudo caregiver for her parents who were too busy self medicating to be trusted to take care of their own affairs.

The story begins to take shape when Beverly goes missing for 5 days and is eventually found dead in an apparent suicide. His death brings the rest of the Weston clan back to the estate where individual frailness and a catacomb of closeted skeletons seems to haunt each individual family member. There are so many tributaries, sub plots and circumstances that listing them would turn this review into a novella (the play itself was over 3 hours long); but the authenticity displayed by the actors, especially Parsons and Fordham, afforded no worries about the time elapsed. A keen, witty and often unpredictable dialog created one of the funniest and heart wrenching stories I have ever seen or read, typified by the relentless audience laughter heard throughout the performance. The rapid fire punch lines are balanced with tragic and sometimes evil revelations, such as the youngest Weston daughter’s fiancée and his advances on their 14 year old niece, or the apparent substance abuse problem Barbara inherited from both her parents.

August: Osage County is a testament to the individual darkness that surfaces during a time of tragedy; a forcing-your-hand environment and a catalogue of weaknesses hidden in plain sight. To borrow a line from the play, “It isn’t that I am proud of myself, or that I won’t do things in the future I won’t be proud of – it’s just that all of us live somewhere in the middle.”

I’ll drink to that.