Opinion » Maxed Out

Whistler U 2.0?



To the extent I am cynical — and I'm not disingenuous enough to argue I'm not — I like to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the folks who beavered away during my formative years honing the black magic we currently call marketing. Then again, it could just be genetic, a rogue twist on my DNA spiral trying to crowd out the Hopeless Romantic gene, a benign mutation of the Undaunted Optimist sequence. Someone said cynics are just optimists who've been disappointed once too often. I don't know who but probably Shakespeare, Twain or Wilde; they seem to have said everything.

In the seminal years of marketing, flogging product on an unsuspecting public wasn't far removed from the sale of snake oil. It was a time best personified by the phrase "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." That's because in most cases the sizzle was being provided by either a soundtrack or a tiny bit of salt pork rendering in an unseen skillet. The steak was in the mail, sucker... C.O.D.

My epiphany, the making of a cynic if you will, probably occurred in a dark movie theatre on a Saturday afternoon. I was hooked on serials. Batman, Rocket Man, Superman, tired reshowings of Flash Gordon, name it, filtered through town, always with a, well, sizzling trailer to catch my attention and an admission-loss leader.

My favourite was the 867 episodes of Rocket Man. OK, maybe there were only 15 — it just seemed to go on forever. Dusting Rocket Man off the shelf was the idea of the people who made Mountain Dew, the soda, not moonshine. It was the new kid on the fizzy-drink block, fighting for some kind of recognition and, even then, youth acceptance. The offer was this: bring in a pocketful of Mountain Dew bottle caps, get into the theatre for free.

What a deal! Every Friday a couple of us would make the rounds of gas stations who sold Mountain Dew in their coolers, rifle through the bin that caught bottle caps and find the price of admission. As an adult, I've developed empathy for what the cashier must have been going through on those Saturdays. Several hundred kids sliding several thousand sticky bottle caps under the glass and, I imagine, right into a garbage can. Big yuck factor.

By episode three, I began to recognize a lot of the other kids in the theatre, mostly by the backs of their heads. It was important to avoid sitting behind the kids with big heads, the loud talkers, the squealers, the farters, the ones who may only bathe on Saturday night. Likewise, you didn't want to be in front of kickers, throwers, chokers or spitters. It was my first lesson in logistics.

But I digress.

Each episode of a serial ended with Rocket Man in mortal peril, plummeting from the sky, over a cliff, caught in an industrial crusher, naked in front of the class, reciting poetry, whatever, you get the idea. And the trailer for next week would show lots of kapow action, reinforcing the foregone conclusion that somehow, the hero would get out of the mess he was in and kick the living bejesus out of the bad guys.

After about, oh say, adolescence, I finally figured it out. The good guys always escaped, the bad guys always tricked them again, good guys always won in the end and the owner of the theatre sold enough popcorn and Jujubes to put his kids through college and buy a new Cadillac every other year.

I'm sure I was going somewhere with this when I started it about 600 words ago. Oh yeah, marketing.

Like Rocket Man, or, if you prefer, like the undead, zombies, a new proposal for what we've come to call the Zen Lands has risen from the grave. All hail advanced life support.

The Whistler International Campus... Woops, wrong zombie. The Whistler Institute, should it ever be built, will be a, "... non-profit aboriginal leadership centre that will foster 'learning, facilitation and dialogue between First Nations, business and government.'"

The hopeful developer envisions a building about seven per cent the size of Whistler U and require a minimal allocation of bed units. All praise bed units. This site's dragged on for so long I can't even remember whether it's zoned for three, six or nine monster homes. Doesn't really matter.

To say the idea is in its infancy is to age it prematurely. Why it's being discussed, not to mention having its own website, is a mystery. The proponent, Giovanni Zen, through this project's front man, said, "We can say that the concept was developed in response to the question, 'What can be done to help improve socioeconomic conditions for First Nations communities in B.C., and improve the relationship between First Nations, industry, and governments?'" Who exactly asked that question is, well, unclear.

There are several problems with this... I'm not sure it's mature enough to call it a proposal. First is, of course, the zoning. It doesn't have it and only time will tell if that well has been poisoned. Second is it doesn't make sense as a real-estate development. Therefore we might be better off viewing it as a legacy desired by a successful man staring into the gaping maw of mortality.

Third, the location is suboptimal. For better or worse, the ersatz Bavarian village of Whistler is a concentrated, pedestrian confection. Once you get too far outside its diminutive boundaries, you might as well be in Surrey. The location is south of town, in the middle of no man's land, removed from all the amenities of Whistler. Attendees at the Institute would have to shuttle up and down the highway to get much more than a cup of coffee. Rightly or wrongly, humans who come to Whistler tend not to frequent places too far off the beaten path. Something as enticing as the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) has problems luring the curious to its location on the edge of Village North.

Which brings us to four. If someone wants to launch a centre focusing on issues of First Nations development and enhancing relationships between First Nations and communities in B.C., the SLCC seems to be the logical, Whistler-centric place to do it. I'm certain if there were any significant relationship between the proponent and FN representatives, they'd have already pointed that out to him. Let's see, got a theatre, got meeting space, right across the street from hotels, restaurants and amusements. Yup, The SLCC's got it all. Built and zoned.

But hope springs eternal in the chest of developers and I'm certain this episode of "Night of the Living Dead" will be as entertaining as the last one.


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