Myths trace human migration

 

Ever since we came out of Africa, humans have carried myths to every corner of the globe. Cultural anthropologist Julien d’Huy traces their journey.

Cosmic Hunt as drawn 6,000 years ago in Spain

One myth, which d’Huy calls the Cosmic Hunt tells of a hunter who pursues an animal, which then turns into a constellation.

“As the Iroquois of the northeastern U.S. tell it, three hunters pursue a bear; the blood of the wounded animal colors the leaves of the autumnal forest. The bear then climbs a mountain and leaps into the sky. The hunters and the animal become the constellation Ursa Major. Among the Chukchi, a Siberian people, the constellation Orion is a hunter who pursues a reindeer, Cassiopeia. Among the Finno-Ugric tribes of Siberia, the pursued animal is an elk and takes the form of Ursa Major (Scientific American, December, 2016).”

Early humans from Asia carried the myth of the Cosmic Hunt across the Bering Strait to North America 28,000 and 13,000 years ago.

In turn, Asians got the myth from Europeans. In the cave paintings of Lascaux, France, a bison appears to be rising into the heavens. Black stains on the ground under the bison suggest the bloodstained autumn leaves of the hunted animal.

From Europe, the Cosmic Hunt traces back to Africa. While the story line is the same, the animal changes. In some parts of Africa it is a camel; in other parts a zebra, pig, or ungulate.

In another, the Polyphemus myth, a man gets trapped in a monster’s cave and escapes by hiding among the monster’s herd of animals.

In Homer’s Odyssey, the monster of the Polyphemus myth is one-eyed. Odysseus and his men are trapped in a cave by the monster and escape by clinging to the underbellies of the monster’s sheep which the monster has let out of the cave to graze.

The Polyphemus myth even traces the transition of humans to an agricultural way of life. Hunter-gatherers of Europe told the Polyphemus myth as a one-eyed dwarf monster, the master of beasts on a mountain.  After the ice age pushed humans into the Mediterranean 21,000 years ago, the one-eyed monster now lives in a shelter rather than in the wild.

In another French cave, the Polyphemus myth looks like humans are escaping the monster by hiding the anus of a bison rather than clinging to its underbelly. This is a similar version of the myth as told by some North American indigenous people.

I can’t help but wonder what myths survived from my indigenous European ancestors. Perhaps it’s this:

In the Greek telling of yet another cultural myth, Pygmalion makes an ivory statue of a woman and dresses her in fancy clothes and jewellery. After praying at the temple of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, he returns home to find that his ideal mate has been brought to life.

On CBC Radio’s Spark, Matt McMullen explained how his company is making hyper-realistic, anatomically-correct, poseable silicone sex dolls. Sexy robots have been turning up in our pop-culture, from Ex-Machina to Blade Runner, The Stepford Wives, and the HBO series Westworld.

The myth of an ideal mate, crafted to specification by men and made possible by technology, persists.

 

 

 

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Fiction is not cultural appropriation

The fires of cultural appropriation were fanned recently when the editor of a small magazine published by The Writers’ Union of Canada wrote “I don’t believe in cultural appropriation.” Then he poured gasoline on the fire by promoting a “Cultural Appropriation Contest” in which the winner would the writer who appropriates culture the most: “. . . the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.” He was forced to resign.

Credit: Illustration by Jon Foster

Fiction is not cultural appropriation because storytelling is not the property of any one culture. Fictional characters are, by nature, inventions of the storyteller. Writers may invent talking animals (Animal Farm) or wizards and magic (Harry Potter). In all cases they are fabrications, not cultural appropriations.

Cultural appropriation is not fiction. It is real. Grey Owl (aka Archibald Belaney) didn’t just write stories about indigenous North Americans –he completely assumed their identity. The British-born Belaney fabricated his persona after arriving in Canada in 1906. In 1925, he married a Mohawk Iroquois woman, 19-year-old Gertrude Bernard (aka Anahareo), who later encouraged him to write about his experiences.

Some indigenous writers claim that only they can fictionalize indigenous characters. But to what extent should a writer be indigenous? Prize-winning Canadian novelist Joseph Boyden wrote extensively about the indigenous experience. Boyden is primarily of Irish and Scottish ancestry but also claims Nipmuc and Ojibway heritage. How pure should an indigenous writer’s linage be to qualify?

A writer for APTN National News called out Boyden for faking his indigenous roots. I can understand calling out an author for not portraying authentic fictional characters. However, Boyden’s characters are authentic. I his novel, Three Day Road, he tells the story of two Cree soldiers serving in World War I, inspired by an Ojibwa sniper. Would Boyden’s story be more authentic if his pedigree were more indigenous?

Cultural appropriation is layered. An art gallery in Toronto recently cancelled an exhibit by a non-indigenous artist Amanda PL because her paintings carried elements of the indigenous artist Norval Morriseau. PL made no pretence at being indigenous. However, Morriseau himself has been accused of appropriating Christian symbols in his work. Author André Alexis finds a certain irony in the layers of appropriation upon appropriation:

“There are levels of irony at play in all this. To begin with Norval Morriseau was criticized for using sacred symbols in his work. He was accused of debasing them. There is a consistency, here, but how strange that some of the condemnation of PL would be a condemnation of Morriseau, too (Globe and Mail, May 14, 2017).”

If anything is appropriated, it is the entire volume of human storytelling from when early humans looked up at the constellations of the night sky and told of Ursa Major, or “great bear”. These tales are so ingrained that they can be used to trace ancient migrations of humans across the globe. Julien d’Huy explains in Scientific American:

“This research provides compelling new evidence that myths and folktales follow the movement of people around the globe. It reveals that certain tales probably date back to the Paleolithic period, when humans developed primitive stone tools, and spread together with early waves of migration out of Africa (September, 2016).”

Local content on the new aether

Medieval scientists believed that radio waves were carried through a medium they called the aether. Seems sensible. If sound waves require a medium, why not radio waves? It turns out that radio doesn’t need a medium; a vacuum will do nicely.

radio

     radio waves

The internet is the new aether. The “network of networks” depends on wires and optical fibers to carry signals. The internet wouldn’t exist without it (Wifi is radio but it’s just a connection to the internet).

We straddle both worlds –ethereal radio waves surround us while the internet remains wired. If I put up an antenna, I can receive CFJC TV for free. I chose to pay Shaw cable to have the station delivered to my house.

The internet is as disruptive as early radio and TV was and its role is still being defined. Is the internet a broadcaster? If CFJC is a broadcaster and if I can receive the same station over the internet, it would seem like it.

Not so. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments from program producers that cable companies were broadcasters. The court agreed with cable companies that they were not.

It’s not trivial matter. If traditional TV stations are broadcasters and cable companies are, then the cost of production local shows and news has to be paid for by the TV stations –they receive nothing for the signals that cable carries.

It’s a problem in small cities like Kamloops because local news and programming is expensive to produce and ad revenue is not as high as large cities.

In the past, cable and satellite companies have grudgingly paid into temporary funds to support local programming but it’s a constant battle. This has left small markets scrambling to make ends meet.

Local news is vital. It not only informs the community it serves, reflects its values, and is vital in emergencies. Rick Arnish, Chair of the Small Market Independent Television Stations Coalition (SMITS), was a strong advocate of local TV before retiring. He also supported free over-the-air TV for people who can’t afford cable. He made that clear in his letter to the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission in 2015:

“Over 95% of the participants who posted comments on the topic of over-the-air television in the online consultation held during Phase 3 referred to the importance and value of the ability to receive television programs inexpensively over the air and opposed proposals to shut down transmitters. Canadians value local news, with a CRTC commissioned poll putting the number who consider it ‘important’ at 81%.”

Arnish also made clear that cable companies should share the cost of local TV if small stations are to survive.

“Moreover, all things being equal, with the phase out of LPIF [Local Programming Improvement Fund] now complete, the SMITS Coalition stations as a group will be in the red this broadcast year, given the loss of the $5.4 million contributed by LPIF last year.”

Before retiring last year, Arnish was Program Director at CFJC TV and General Manager of Broadcast Centre and later President of the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.

The internet transmits the content from traditional sources without paying for its creation. Unlike the old aether which radiated local programming, the new aether sucks the life from local TV.

The trouble with Steven Galloway

Award-winning Kamloops author Steven Galloway has problems of his own making. They could have been avoided.

Penguin Speakers' Bureau

Penguin Speakers’ Bureau

Galloway was raised in Kamloops and attended the University College of the Cariboo in the 1990s before it became Thompson Rivers University; where I taught for twenty years.

Galloway is best known for his 2008 novel The Cellist of Sarajevo which sold 700,000 copies, was translated into twenty languages, and had film options. His career took off and he became chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia on July 1, 2015.

A year ago, Professor Galloway was dismissed from the writing program and has since been fired by UBC, which cited “a record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of the trust placed in faculty members.”

His firing set off a storm in Canadian literary circles. University of Victoria faculty of the Writing department signed a letter critical of the firing process, a letter also signed by literary heavyweights such as Margaret Atwood. UBC’s faculty association said it has serious concerns with the administration’s “misleading public and private comments regarding Professor Galloway.”

Former students don’t see it that way. They say he fostered a sexualized atmosphere, drank regularly with students and played favourites –bringing some students into his inner circle while casting others out.

Reporter Kerry Gold investigated some of those misadventures in her feature-length article in The Walrus (December, 2016). Galloway would convene Thursday-night sessions in a local canteen known as the Legion with up to ten students. “The group would stay late, consuming alcohol at a pace that made some uncomfortable,” says Gold.

Galloway’s former teaching assistant, Erin Flegg, says the sessions became an informal part of the curriculum. Participants would vie for Galloway’s approval and the rewards it could bring: references, teaching positions, introductions to agents and publishers.

One night in 2012 was particularly rowdy when they met after graduation. It wasn’t late but Galloway had quite a lot to drink, a witness told Gold. “It’s time,” Galloway said, as he got up and slapped the face of a female student next to him. It was revenge for what she had said in class –that she didn’t like Galloway’s writing. Galloway then responded that he would like to slap her face but that he would wait until she was no longer a student.

Partying with students is a bad idea. As a high school teacher and later an instructor at TRU, my policy was never to date or revel with students. The obvious problem is the power differential. Teachers have the power to promote students and advance their careers.

Another student hoped to get into Galloway’s writing class and was drawn into to the struggle for his attention. “He invited her to come drinking,” says Flegg, “That’s how the relationship began. The power dynamics were there from the start.” The two had a relationship for three years.

Intimate relationships are a temptation for teachers. For me, I only had to remind myself that I had been placed in a position of trust: the betrayal of which would diminish me and my profession, and would harm my students.

What is my Art Worth?

What are my paintings worth? That’s the question I tried to resolve during my first art show in 2012 at Red Beard Roasters on Tranquille.

One way would be to let the market decide. After all, isn’t that the way of the world? If you want to know what anything is worth, offer it for sale and see what people will pay.

artprice

While the marketplace is effective in pricing widgets it excludes a lot of what it means to be human says Phillip Roscoe, professor of management and author of I Spend Therefore I am. Small economic calculations have a profound effect on society, Roscoe told CBC Radio’s The Current. Economics have become such a invasive force that we’ve become “homo economicus.”

In his criticism of the dismal science of economics, Roscoe worries that we are heartless reflections of cold calculations. It “brings into being the agent about whom it theorises: self-interested, calculative and even dishonest”.

Other values such as friendship, family, community, compassion, wisdom, beauty, and peace of mind have no worth in this calculation. Houses are not homes. They are things to be fixed up and flipped over as fast as possible for a profit.

Economics has recast each of us as an “entrepreneur of the self.” In this model, Society works best if everyone looks after themselves. But self-interest and greed don’t generate art, self identity, fulfillment, character, integrity, and community.

It’s no accident that we became this way. Homo economicus is a particular sub-species that has risen to power. They are those who equate money with all things worth living for. They imagine that they are rich because they worked hard, or had a clever idea, and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to become the envy of undeserving masses. Never mind that their success depends on the foundations of collective society: public infrastructure, the willingness of workers exchange labour for money, good and corrupt-free government, people’s faith in a society of equal opportunity.

Those who equate money to anything of value want to proselytize and spread their dark redemption by funding schools of economics at universities.  Their apostle is Adam Smith.

 “Every individual… neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

 Schools of economics churn out clever disciples who come up with obtuse ideas like derivatives that ordinary laymen can’t comprehend. In their mysterious alchemy, profit is to be made by selling houses to people with so low a credit rating that they will eventually default.

I have come to the conclusion that my paintings have no monetary value. The term “monetary value,” while not quite an oxymoron, is a corruption of thought because it suggests that if there is no market price on my art, there is no value.

Musicians could capitalize on music download from Net

The recording industry is dreaming if they think that a recent court ruling in the United States against Napster means the end of free internet music.  If Napster dies, other incarnations will appear. The demand for programs that transfer near-CD quality music from one computer to another over the internet is here to stay.

music

The music industry is talking tough: “It’s time for Napster to stand down and build their business the old-fashioned way”, said the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.  But the gig is far from up for the free transfer of music.

Other internet services like Scour and Gnutella will pop up like dandelions in the internet virtual lawn.  They’re tough and hard to get rid of.   “We’ll find a way to get around it,” said one young programmer, “People who want music will always be one step ahead of people trying to stop them”

The recording industry has built it’s business the old-fashioned way — by exploiting musicians.  The battles between the recording industry and musicians are epic.   For the industry, the important thing is to make money, lots of money, and give as little as possible to ungrateful musicians.  For everyone but crass musicians, the issue is artistic integrity — control of the process and final product.

If music sales are down, and there is no convincing evidence that there is any connection to Napster, the recording industry only has itself to blame.  They are not producing a product that people want to buy. The music industry has stifled new music, not encouraged it.  As a result of the need of the industry to crank out hit after hit, musicians are required to do the same thing over and over.

The music industry is responsible for today’s moribund rock and roll.  They have a relatively small stable of musicians who are willing to sell their souls for the lure of big money.  For example, we have the uninspiring spectacle of the geriatric Rolling Stones doing the same old thing.

The irony of the music industry is that their complaints involve the very things that commerce is supposed to cherish — the unfettered right to move information, goods and services globally.  Industry likes the free, unregulated flow of ideas, information, and goods without the interference of government.  Except when affects their bottom line.

Napster didn’t begin as a business.  It was started by teenager Shawn Fanning as way of sharing music with others over the internet using a compressed music file called MPEG-1 layer 3.  The name itself has been compressed to MP3.   All Shaun wanted to do is share music with others. And did he ever — last month, 3 billion songs were swapped for free.

Nature abhors a vacuum but capitalism hates to see something given away when you can make a buck from it.  You can’t make money off the free exchange of goods.

The free exchange of music over the internet is a disaster for an industry that lives off the talents of musicians.  And, regrettably, if the free distribution of music might mean that many musicians will not get their relative pittance.   But musician have something that media giants don’t   — the talent to play music that people want to hear.

It’s not the disaster for musicians that it is for the recording industry.  Musicians can still make money by directly playing to its audience through concerts and gigs.  The recent internet technology will shift power back into the hands of musicians.

And it might just allow for emerging musicians to gain an audience through the internet.   I see it working this way.  A band gives their new music away on the internet as a preview to a concert.  Fans  become familiar with downloaded recordings and want to see the real thing.  When the musicians appear live, they are playing new and fresh, but familiar music.

Instead of  going on tour to promote their latest CD, bands will release music in advance to promote their concert.  The days are numbered for musicians who hole up in a studio as a sole means of livelihood.  I’m ready for new, talented musicians to regain control of popular music.