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Archive for July 7th, 2011

As an ex-English major and instructor, I’m hyper-aware of genre. That’s why the idea of the bingo card fascinates me – not the cards used in playing the game, you understand, but parodies of them that summarize common responses to certain issues. What fascinates me is not just that the bingo card seems less than two decades old and remains a largely unacknowledged genre, but also that it’s a product of the Internet in general, and of feminist thought in particular.

One of the first bingo cards (if not the first) was probably the Buzzword (aka Bullshit) bingo card, which is full of business cliches like “synergy” and “user-centric,” and is supposed to be used to pass the time at long meetings. Wikipedia specifically identifies the inventor as an employee of Silicon Graphics in 1993, but, as with most popular culture, how accurate this attribution is uncertain – I seem to remember the Buzzword bingo card circulating a year or two earlier, when I first started using the Internet.

What is more certain is that the idea seems to have been popularized in Dilbert in 1994, and quickly became one of those Internet memes that well-meaning people were always sending to everybody in their email address books.

However, these early uses didn’t extend much beyond pointing out cliches and expressing a mild satirical rebellion. At some point, the basic structure was taken over by feminist thinkers and became more politicized.

One possible inspiration for this second generation card is Joanna Russ’ 1983 book, How to Suppress Women’s Writing, whose cover summarizes all the ways to dismiss or minimalize women’s writing in a way that is reminiscent of the bingo card. But this attribution may be too narrow. It might be more accurate to say simply that this sort of anticipation of opposing views has a long tradition in feminist analysis, and the bingo card just happens to fit the tradition very well.

Whatever the origins, the Feminist bingo card (to coin a phrase) has proved even more popular than the Buzzword card. I know of close to twenty Feminist bingo cards, most of them with a feminist or at least an activist perspective. For example, there are Anti-Feminist and Sexist bingo cards, as well as ones for Porny Presentations, Anti-Breastfeeding, Anti-Bisexuals, Rape Apologists, Rapists and White Liberals. Almost certainly, there are more.

The Feminist bingo card keeps the satirical intent of the Buzzword card. What makes the Feminist card different from earlier cards is that (at least when done well, with the arguments organized and the free square used imaginatively) the squares on the card are anticipations of the arguments and evasions that opponents might use. Not only does it alert its audience to the replies they can expect, but, in effect, it informs opponents that they can’t possibly say anything that hasn’t been anticipated, so there is not much point in arguing. Moreover, since many of the points on any card contradict each other, when applied, a card provides quick proof that an argument lacks consistency.

You might call it an assertion of intellectual superiority, or at least of preparation for debate. You might, if you are feeling Lacanian, call the Feminist card a deconstruction of opposing viewpoints.

No matter how you describe it, when done accurately, it evokes a wry smile of recognition, like a cutting political cartoon. And should you find one or two of your own thoughts echoed on one of these bingo cards, surrounded by other viewpoints with which you disagree, it might even cause you to rethink your assumptions.

I appreciate the way that the Feminist bingo card has taken a more or less inane meme and given it a purpose. Were I still an academic, I would try to expand these notes into a monograph, going deeper into structure and interviewing the authors when I could find them (I know Mary Gardiner and Kirrily “Skud” Roberts have written bingo cards, but many other authors seem to be anonymous, or else their names have been deleted in transmission. Some cards are probably group efforts).

As a recovering academic, though, I just enjoy them, and never fail to click on the link to one. I never could resist a new or clever structure, and, with bingo cards, I don’t even try.

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Every piece of art, several collectors have told me, comes with a story. Gradually, as I’ve bought art, I realized that this statement is true, so on my spreadsheet for insurance purposes, I’ve created a column where I can type the story of how the piece was acquired.

I have no trouble remembering the first piece of serious art I bought. It was a three inch copper bracelet by Tsimshian artist Henry Green. I’d wanted such a piece for years, and suddenly realized I could afford one. I still remember my breathlessness as I approached the gallery to pick it up, and my sigh of relief when it proved more awe-inspiring than I could ever have hoped.

A couple of months later, I saw that the Bill Reid Gallery was selling canvas banners from a set that had been stored in Bill Reid’s house since 1991. Trish and I bought one, realizing that it was our best chance of affording any work by Bill Reid, then quickly bought another to balance the wall where the first one hung. Soon after, we bought our first mask, a moon by Ron Telek that is both eerie and strangely modernistic.

More soon followed. There was a Beau Dick sketch of a mask, unusual in that, with his carver’s eye, he depicted planes, not lines. The Lyle Wilson pendant Trish won in a raffle at an exhibit – the best $5 that either of us had ever spent. The small Telek mask that I fetched from the South Terminal of the Vancouver airport by walking from the end of the bus line and back again. The Gwaii Edenshaw gold rings we bought for our anniversary. The miniature argillite transformation mask by Wayne Young that I trekked over to Victoria for after Trish’s death and repaired and remounted because it was so magnificently unique. The wall-hanging commissioned by Morgan Green to help her through goldsmith school. And so the stories accumulate, so far as I’m concerned, as innate as the aesthetics of the piece.

For instance, there’s Mitch Adam’s “Blue Moon Mask,” which I saw in 2010 at the Freda Diesing School’s year end exhibit. It was labeled NFS, bound for the Spirit Wrestler show for the school’s graduates a month later. I happened to mention to Mitch that I would have written a cheque right away had it been for sale – not hinting, just praising – and a few hours later he came back and said the piece was mine if I were still interested. I was, and immediately became the envy of half a dozen other people who also wanted to buy it, but had never had the luck to ask. One of them still talks enviously when we meet.

Then there’s Shawn Aster’s “Raven Turns the Crows Black,” a painting that we had discussed in 2009, but didn’t seem to gel in his mind. After a year, I had stopped expecting him to finish it, and took to calling him a promising artist, because he kept saying that he was still working on it. But he did complete it – making it a Chilkat design (which I had not expected), and showing a promise of a different kind.

Two other pieces were commissions in memory of Trish after her death: John Wilson’s “Needlewoman” and Mike Dangeli’s “Honoring Her Spirit.” I made “Needlewoman” a limited edition of twenty, and gave it to family members for Christmas 2010. Mike’s painting, more personal, I kept for myself, carrying it up Commercial Drive from Hastings Street on a chilly January Sunday, because cabs wouldn’t come to the Aboriginal Friendship Center where I picked it up.

Other pieces were gifts from friends: a print of “January Moon” by Mitch Adams in return for some advice on galleries I gave him; a bentwood box Mitch Adams made and John Wilson carved and painted in memory of Trish; a remarque of Ron Telek’s “Sirens” print, and an artist’s proof by John Wilson and another print by Shawn Aster, both apologies for the late delivery of other pieces.

Of course, such stories mean that I can never sell any of the pieces I buy. The associations have become too much a part of me. But since I never buy to invest, only to appreciate, that is no hardship – my appreciation is only deeper for the personal connections.

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