Cultureshock celebrates diversity

Literary Review: Cultureshock

Volume seven of Cultureshock, the anti-racist literary magazine run out of the AMS Social Issues Commission, has rolled out in full colour and a whopping 66 pages of student work. The glossy square book is certainly the fattest student publication this year; the editorial board, however, have broken the magazine into two halves, allowing the reader to work through the book without becoming overwhelmed by the volume.

Organized thematically, the first half of the book represents an “outside looking in” viewpoint. Halfway through, the magazine forces its reader to literally flip his or her perspective, to the “inside looking out” view. The two sections are juxtaposed upside down to each other. This organization is an excellent way to manage a large amount of material and illustrates editorial attention to themes, the main thrust of Cultureshock.

Several pieces stand out in the lengthy publication. Brenda Wang’s piece “Where the Heart Is” narrates the irony of experiencing racism in Tim Horton’s, “that great Canadian icon,” amid Canada’s so-called tolerance and diversity. Unfortunately, (and lamentably in a publication with Cultureshock’s mission) the poem also reinforces the negative stereotype of ignorance-soaked small town life, asserting that Canada’s multicultural tolerance “is only true in big cities.” Sarah Michelle Ogden, who contributed several pieces, uses a brief conversation narrative to speak about the particular stereotypes to which women of different backgrounds are subjected. In a sweet and deft piece, Ogden manages to escape the heavy-handedness that sometimes plagues pieces of this nature.

Although the magazine focuses on strong themes and autobiographical messages to create a sense of immediacy, several pieces stood out on the basis of literary merit.

Claire LaPlante’s “Excavations” is a bare, evocative piece. Its restrained sense of forlorn nostalgia makes for a refreshing change of pace. LaPlante observes that “we are not separated into / artifact and observer,” calling for an end to the notion of othering that mars some cultural observations.

Thomas Simmons’ “Home” makes excellent use of form, utilizing hip-hop rhyming to showcase subject matter that typically gets little air time in campus publications. In another example of Cultureshock’s positivism, Simmons ends with the line “hip hop is my home and they’ll never evict me.” This sense of pride and activity runs throughout the publication.

In her poem “Darcy,” Alison Lau delicately narrates an experience among children, showcasing just how early in life notions of cultural hierarchies are absorbed. Instead of focusing on the hopelessness of the situation, Lau ends with a bittersweet scene of children comforting the classmate whose name is revealed to mean “dark one.” “We all understood / how awful it was to be the Dark One,” says Lau’s child narrator. By combining mercy and prejudice in her characters, Lau highlights the difficult and sometimes ambiguous nature of cultural issues.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan’s “Utopian Wet Dream #29” gets to the root of the issue of cultural awareness. The piece calls for an end to the infinite categories into which people are being slotted. With an ending that would have been a stunning close to the magazine, Flanagan finishes: “One / does not have to be the loneliest number / as long as we stop counting.” Several visual pieces and photographs are scattered through the issue, taking full advantage of the colour printing. Richard Cupples’ “Canoe” reminds us that even plain old Canada has a few cultural emblems: both the old canoe in the foreground of Cupples’ photo as well as the stunning lake and mountain scene in the background. In the same way, Justin Wu’s “Drag Race” exhibits the fact that culture is sometimes something one adopts as part of an individual identity, as opposed to simply the community into which one is born. Wu’s “Apprehension” shows a man descending into a seemingly deserted staircase. This poignant shot drives home the fear felt in situations where one feels threatened for reasons beyond one’s control.

The full-colour interior design of the magazine, which at first glance seems almost overwhelming, actually works well as the reader works his or her way through the pieces. The design is both a thematic and aesthetic embrace of colour, hope and enthusiasm. It’s a refreshingly positive design concept. With the exception of a difficult-to-read title font, Cultureshock is visually stunning.

This year’s issue of Cultureshock showcases a positive approach to the issues of multiculturalism, identity and diversity. Many pieces hope for a better situation as well as lamenting the flaws of the current one. With a slick and eye-catching design and thematically strong pieces throughout, both the contributors and editors of the magazine have every right to celebrate with pride.

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