ARTS · The Blast Radius: Brian Baker September 15th, 2013

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Our culture on the world stage

The next time you ride the TTC, look around.

How many people are escaping into whatever’s playing on their headphones?

Have you wondered what they’re listening to?

I’m one of those people who are curious as to what’s playing on their MP3 players — well, those who have their volume set to a modest level. I’m also one of those who imbibe in rhythms gently massaging the tympanic cavities.

There are two reasons why, while travelling alone, I partake in music listening: admittedly to avoid unwanted contact and, most important, because I love music.

Pop culture is all around us. Teenagers walk on the street sporting OBEY-emblazoned hats and T-shirts. Well, the man behind that clothing line is pro skateboarder-cum-graphic artist Shepard Fairey. He’s the artist who drew the 2008 Barack Obama campaign posters with the word “HOPE” written beneath his red, white and blue face.

Almost six years ago, I did my first arts feature for the Town Crier. I sat down with Keith Hamilton, a Kensington Market denizen who organizes a music festival called Pitter Patter. He described the popularity of his fest as having a “blast radius”.

I like that imagery. It’s an excellent descriptive phrase for what pop culture is.

All pop culture starts at the local level. If it has the legs to walk out of town, it will probably take a tour of its home country, or perhaps travel across the pond.

Music is no stranger to this grassroots mindset.

A famous Toronto neighbourhood had its moment back in the late 1960s: Yorkville, where Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot left their pop culture footprint amidst the former home of bohemians who made Patchouli popular before the Parkdale hipsters did it in this decade.

What I want to do each month in this space is find midtown Toronto’s cultural relevance in the world. I want to uncover those hidden secrets that make this city special on the world stage.

My mission is to tell you why Rachel McAdams calls the Annex home. I want to share with you how living in North Toronto affected Malin Akerman’s acting career. I want to hunt down the comic book artist who draws The Flash for a living, and the video game designers who work for Ubisoft Toronto. I want to expose you to the capacious music scene and the intellectually stimulating lectures on horror that the Black Museum provides in East York.

Hogtown is larded up with pop culture.

My goal is to introduce you to that culture, that history, and how it applies to you. I also want to uncover our contributions to the world — and this is not something era-specific, either.

Several literary greats either call midtown Toronto home, or have resided here. Margaret Atwood is an obvious example, but Robertson Davies and Ernest Hemingway also lived here at different stages of their lives.

I find social anthropology fascinating. Pop culture is a big part of that, and we are exposed to it daily, either at the watercoolers, on the subway or at home.

We escape into it via an entertaining movie, a good book, a riveting stage performance, a captivating piece of art, or music emanating from ear buds.

And like a trip on the TTC, we’ve come full loop.