Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Winnipeg: One Extreme City", the Surrealistic Adventure That Will Become Your World

I've been hinting here and there at something that I've been working on for a while now, something strange and undiscovered and all but forgotten even to the vast shared intelligence of the internet, and now -- with the oddly relevant reemergence of one of its key players -- the time has come to share it with you.

So come, friends, gather around, and behold as I beheld:

Winnipeg: One Extreme City, a promotional item produced for the leadup to the Winnipeg '99 Pan American Games. You probably remember the Games very well; in fact, Winnipeg being Winnipeg, the chances are very good that you've recently seen somebody still wearing the clothing. Dudes still strutting around wearing their '99 Pan Am t-shirts and windbreakers and shit, bustin' out the Pan Am necktie (because of course there were '99 Pan Am neckties) only for those particularly special occasions.

Yet, even with our civic Pan-Am-mania running strong thirteen years and counting, this -- this whatever-this-might-be -- had essentially been lost to time. Prior to this very post that you are reading, running a Google search for Winnipeg and the phrase "one extreme city" yielded a grand total of six results: one .doc file of a 2002 holding record from the Thunder Bay Military Family Resource Centre Library, two hilariously unrelated holdings of the 1905 Spalding's Base Ball Guide, and three hits of -- wait for it -- the City of Winnipeg's original 1999 press release, because the City of Winnipeg website is a permanent and unchanging time capsule.

That release, for the purposes of foreshadowing, is reproduced below in full:

Trilingual CD ROM Promotes Winnipeg as One Extreme City

WINNIPEG - July 22, 1999 - A new CD ROM
[sic] unveiled today by Mayor Glen Murray pokes fun at stereotypes about the city while providing factual information in an entertaining format. For instance, the interactive program contains a section called "Top Ten Myths About Winnipeg," which puts to rest, once and for all, the misconception that the mosquito is our provincial bird. It does confirm, however, that Winnipeg is the slurpee [sic] capital of Canada.

The main focus of the CD ROM
[sic] is promoting serious economic development opportunities in the city. It is a joint initiative from the Mayor's Office and Economic Development Winnipeg. Photo's [sic], text and video segments highlight the financial advantages of doing business in Winnipeg, the physical and social climate, impressions of the city, a flavour of our arts and entertainment scene, a box of quick facts, and an easy-to-use contact page. With one click of the mouse, users can have all the information in English, French or Spanish. A fourth option, Mandarin, will be added by the end of September.

"It is important that with an increasingly global economy at our doorstep, and technologically savvy firms vying for our business, that we speak the language of today's entrepreneur," said Mayor Murray. "This CD ROM
[sic] is funky. It has edge. And it shows we have the confidence to laugh at ourselves. I think most people appreciate that."

Mayor Murray added it's a useful tool for local investors who are expanding and looking at recruiting new workers to the city. It also provides a visual update for Winnipeggers who may live in other places but who want to come home.

One Extreme City was released today at a City Hall reception for International Media
[sic] who are here covering the Pan Am Games. Each journalist received a complimentary copy as a resource to assist them in crafting stories about Winnipeg.

[sic] was created by Winnipeg's Axiom Production Services Ltd.

Mayor Murray would like to thank Winnipeg Audio-Visual Services and Bluewater Sound for equipment for today's launch.

I love that sidenote promising that they'll just 'add' Mandarin in a couple months, like the whole print run was issued on CD-RWs and they'd just fire that last session onto the back there after this whole Games stuff settled down a little. Maybe add a few extra Photo's! Get some Photo's of some slurpees, for that extra bit of funky edge.

You'll note that this past summer was Winnipeg's thirteenth Slurpee Capital of the World championship, which means that this news release dates back to the very earliest days of the whole... is 'craze' the right word if a thing runs longer than twelve years? Anyway, that's just something to think about, if you'd somehow made it through your day thus far without feeling terribly, terribly old.

Getting back to the CD -- you may not appreciate what a great personal sacrifice this was, but my innate curiosity and my burning desire to pursue this story led me to crack open a sealed copy of this very item.

There's no way to know how valuable this historical artifact actually is; it had been kicking around on my to-do pile for I don't even know how long, having picked it up unopened for one to two dollars from one thrift shop or another years ago, but you need to understand that -- with zero copies available on eBay, and almost no record of its existence anywhere else -- the value of this item could have been as high as, like, at least five whole dollars.

(An unopened '99 Pan Am Games Coke Bottle, for comparative purposes, will run you forty-five dollars -- and for only twenty bucks more you can get a mug to drink it out of!)

But I never would know what was on it if I didn't do the digging myself, so I finally did crack it open, and -- in an unintentional callback to my most recent post -- it turns out that the CD looks quite remarkably like a Pokéball.

And here, not-particularly-helpfully located on the inside of the case, are the system requirements for what turns out to be a CD-ROM multimedia experience. (Mind that this would have been designed for Windows '98 at the time, which presented some... challenges in trying to convince modern equipment to run it properly.)

So, having established all that, what's actually on it? Why, let's have a look!

Oh, man, nostalgia wave. Not for this exact program, mind you -- as mentioned, this was the first time I'd seen any of this -- but the environment of the thing, you know?

I used to be big into buying computer magazines that came with a CD-ROM, just a hundred different trials of things crammed onto a disc somewhere in that thin plastic packaging, and for each legitimately enjoyable game demo -- if I knew exactly how many hours I played the demo of Afterlife, it'd probably be too embarrassing a number to actually share -- there'd be fifteen or twenty game demos that were complete abominations, a dozen various programs that would never once run properly, and then one curious folder that would turn out to be interactive promotional material for Toad the Wet Sprocket or something. That is what this feels like, right down to the start-and-stop music snippets embedded in each section.

(If you'd somehow made it through your day thus far without feeling old, here's the 1999 nostalgia-bomb of Manitoba musicians they picked: Ben Sures, Swing Soniq, The Harlots, The Hummers, The Wyrd Sisters, Finjan, and two songs by Richard Moody. Daaaaaang!)

So you click around, and text flies onto the screen depending on what you've clicked, and there's your interface. The first slide in the first section turns out to foreshadow the next Mayor's administration quite succinctly:

Winnipeg in five words, everybody!

Okay, I'm giving this particular instance a pass because it was thirteen years ago, but since we still partake in it on a regular basis -- guys, do we as a city still have nothing better to tie ourselves to than Monty Hall? I don't say that to disparage Monty Hall, because he's done a lot of good in his career and is quite widely appreciated, but the last brief revival of the Hall-era Let's Make a Deal died in 1991. (And, even then, the show was only actually on the air for about five years of that preceding decade.) Anyone younger than I am, and these days that seems to be basically everyone, would only really recognize the name from the Monty Hall Problem -- and that problem isn't even how the show actually worked.

If Wheel of Fortune were to disappear from the airwaves tomorrow, and twenty-one years from now (if not longer) Chicagoans were still going out of their way to make sure you associate them and their city with Pat Sajak, well, how bad would you feel for Chicago? You'd feel pretty bad for Chicago. You guys don't have anything else goin' on? Like, anything else?

Anyway. A tiny pet peeve of mine. Let's keep going.

The rest of the section -- and it turns out to be a long, long section -- is in a quiz format, presenting various local factoids in question-and-answer form alongside wacky (sorry, "funky") incorrect choices.

I've included the responses to correct answers for the sake of flow, but it does have some alternate responses written in for purposefully incorrect answers.

And I just want to mention the header for its Part 3, which really encapsulates the business spirit of Winnipeg in seven words:


As mentioned above, the rest of the sections listed on the front menu of the program are far smaller, with some being only two or three clicks long. But let's skip around a little and note some of the interesting passages, regardless.

The "funky edge" of the material tries to dispel negative perceptions occasionally with some lightly confrontational humour:

And sometimes it just doesn't even bother, because dang, man, Winnipeg.

The writing was probably carefully vetted and arranged by committee, but I appreciate that somebody somewhere in there was making an effort; as an example, I thought the parenthetical followup on this slide was a nice touch.

Just slides that in there, once you think the joke's already ended. I can dig that.

The tone didn't work quite as well in promoting (well, 'promoting') the WECC, however:

And, while I appreciated the joke that they were going for here, I can see how this entry in the "Top Ten Lies Myths About Winnipeg" might not have been everyone's cup of tea:

You can imagine some dude covering the Pan Am Games for a newspaper in, say, Mexico (that "International Media" the press release mentioned) who just rubs his eyes in annoyance, shakes his head slightly, and adds "and, furthermore, they made fun of my mother" to the back of whatever paragraph he's writing.



If you'd like to take the virtual tour for yourself -- and of course you do -- I've uploaded its one-hundred and forty-five slides (!) into this conveniently-arranged gallery right here.

I should note that, any time you see a conspicuous dark-gray rectangle, it was a movie file that didn't come across into the screencap. And I couldn't really get too upset about my capture program not catching those, because an external capture program applied to a skeleton presentation program running an internal video program starts to approach some Inception-level chicanery.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "He didn't just... he didn't just say movie files, did he?"


Oh, man, there are so many things to talk about in these clips. Oh, man.

I've put them together here in the general order that they were, at least, supposed to appear; the Soc.mpg one was doubtlessly intended to be played before the "Our Physical and Social Climate" section in the program, but for whatever reason the program plays Imp.mpg (which also plays before "Impressions of Winnipeg") instead.

For your edification and convenience, and because I couldn't believe they included some of this, I've transcribed the entirety of the opening video narration:

"Winnipeg. City of extremes! Cold winters, hot summers. Winnipeg is a modern cosmopolitan city of global cultures, combined with old-world charm. We love a bargain, and we value hard work. But we also love to party and cherish our thriving arts and festivals scene. Winnipeg is one of Canada's most exciting and prosperous cities. We are leading the way with call centres, advanced research and technological facilities. We are a thriving transportation hub, trucking cargo from around the world into the United States and Mexico along our well-established trade corridor. Our film industry is growing by leaps and bounds. You are about to find out why Winnipeg is one of the lowest-cost centres in North America for business. Get ready to visit our city of extremes."

Had to mention the bargains, man. Had to get that in there, before anyone starts accusing us of not bein' bargain-lovers. (And I suppose "leading the way with call centres" is a... charming way of phrasing our portfolio, yes.)

The CD also includes opening and closing remarks from then-Mayor Glen Murray, and, uh... well.

Okay, here's the thing. We Winnipeggers like to remember Glen Murray as being a likeable and charismatic leader, and while that certainly seems true if compared against his immediate successor, the actual reality of Glen Murray never fails to spoil our collective rose-tinted warm fuzzies. Because, A), it turns out that he's a dipshit -- there are plenty of perfectly justifiable negative things to say about Winnipeg, but the first openly-gay mayor of a large North American city dismissing the city that elected him the first openly-gay mayor as being a place where gays don't rank as highly as guns is the kind of supremely two-faced behaviour that represents the worst everyone thinks of politicians -- and, B),

we might have oversold his charisma a little in our reminiscence. Yikes.

(If that looks like the face of a man who would rather be anywhere else, it's because... it was.)

Moving on to the instrumental pieces -- Adv.mpg sounds like a lost demo reel of PBS Animusic and includes some weird, uncomfortable lingering shots on the big brand-name stores of the day, because nothing better convinces outsiders of how world-class a city we are than our having an IKEA Eddie Bauer and a GUESS.

"Oh, well, if they have Eddie Bauer," rich foreigners said to themselves, nodding in satisfaction and packing up suitcases full of money.

Also, I hope you've sufficiently prepared your skull against explosions, because I'm about to blow your mind:

These two icons of style are only in the video (this super-modern 1999 official-City-of-Winnipeg-release video) for a few fleeting seconds, but that's just long enough to get the sneaking suspicion that they seem... familiar--


no, no, they wouldn't have, that can't


Yes, true believers, your eyes do not deceive you: the people crafting official City of Winnipeg promotional correspondance, intended to showcase our city to the international community, genuinely decided that our most attractive and flattering portrayal would be the footage from an old (even in 1999 it was old) Portage Place commercial. So... there's an easter egg I didn't think I'd find when I cracked the packaging open.

Soc.mpg, as I'd explained above, is the unused video on the disc; it has almost identical music to the later aande.mpg (which took me forever to parse as "A and E" instead of, I don't know, Dutch), which is to say, it sounds like CBC-TV signoff music from twenty years ago. Seriously, while it's playing, just narrate some freeform channel and transmitter information over it; your coworkers might look at you a little funny, but the important thing is that you enjoy yourself. And, hey, the video content just alternates between shots of buildings and shots of people walking in front of buildings, so you won't be missing too much in the meantime.

Imp.mpg is the video used twice, so it's fortunate that it also has the best BGM. I don't know if there's an actual genre name assigned to it, but I've always mentally classified tunes like this as "puzzle game music" -- synthy accompaniment just busy and futuristic enough to keep you laying out your city, or clearing your blocks, or matching your jewels, or whatever it is you're up to.

Then, the entirety of the content in the "Impressions of Winnipeg" section, please welcome your feature presentation: Street.mpg. Holy hell, Street.mpg. I've written twenty-five kilobytes of text about this CD already, and I would need another three times that just to pay proper tribute to everything that's happening in this clip.

Adults who are done with the conversation after three words, and children who have so much to say about the City that they nearly forget to stop for air. Half the population of Winnipeg deciding that the second 'i' in 'Winnipeg' is silent. Winn'peg. The little girl in the blue zip-up sweater who never says a word, but insists on being in the background of everyone else's moment, and who could not possibly be more pleased about it. The lankier, probably older boy who follows her into the shots shortly afterwards, but more out of obligation than anything else. The very nice middle-class young mother, dressed like a news anchor, who extols the city's fine atmosphere for raising children, and then the next scene -- rotated ninety degrees from the viewpoint of the previous shot -- revealing that she was sitting next to the absolute most The-Zoo-lookin' guy there as he talks about partying all summer. The lone aboriginal-in-appearance dude in the video pausing, shrugging slightly, and concluding that the city is "nice". The theatre director (or voice-actor, or something) who throws his all into enunciating that Winnipeg has bahh-LUUE SKIEE, all uh ROUND, and then smirks because he knows he god damn nailed that line. Somebody legitimately answered "what is Winnipeg to you" with "waterskiing". THAT PURPLE MIGHTY DUCKS HAT. There is so, so much to love in Street.mpg.

But you know exactly which snippet leapt out at me most about this video, and it is essential viewing if only to frame the thirteen years and counting that came after it:

"Winnipeg to me is Slurpees. Whoooooo!"

I'll be honest. That broke me. Every time. Hopefully now you understand why this post took me so long (besides it being nearly thirty kilobytes of text to this point, I mean): every single time I hit that segment, I stopped dead, stared into space, turned off the monitor, and had to lie down.

Oh, Jesus, Winnipeg. Winn'peg, Winn'peg, Winn'peg.

Everything after Street.mpg is, obviously, going to be completely anticlimactic, so let's just get rolling through it. aande.mpg has more CBC signoff music, makes me reminisce about the Polo Park arcade (I know it has to have had a name besides "Polo Park arcade", but hell if I can remember it) with its unrelated laser flashes, and features my favourite non-Street.mpg character: chef who doesn't quite time his smile properly.

Aww, geez, I don't even want to know, do I.

All right, get it together, maybe it won't be too bad, let's just open 'er up and



I mean, uh--

"Yay! Food!"

Then, finally, to close it all out, we get one more condensed superdose of Mayor Patronizing Eyebrow Lift (granted, in fairness, that it's probably impossible to deliver the line "we consider you a friend now" with anything even close to sincerity) as we exit our interactive virtual tour of 1999 and return to the Winnipeg of 2012, which looks disconcertingly like the Winnipeg of 1999 with worse roads and higher debt.

But wait, you might ask -- because obviously this post ain't long enough yet -- but wait, you might ask, wasn't this CD trilingual?

A good question! The language of the text content changes depending on which executable you run at the start, and most of the videos on the CD are wordless, but the opening video does get the full trilingual treatment:

The other videos recorded in English, alas -- the two Mayoral addresses and that glorious, glorious Street.mpg -- come with French- and Spanish-language subtitles instead. For... what that's worth.

Thanks for coming on this this tour of "Winnipeg: One Extreme City" with us; we consider you a friend now, and we hope you'll come back again real soon.


Shaun M. Wheeler said...

I remember the Pan-Am games fondly, as I was at the peak of my drinkin' days, and bars were open later!

@YWGger said...

Damn, it seems like the product of some stoned-up 1990's high school students' multimedia project. Anyway, funny stuff, thanks for documenting this!

Brian said...

I was telling my students the other day that "credibility" was the most important factor in my mind in any economic development pitch for cities.

Example: "Winnipeg is rapidly becoming the mid-west's leading information technology centre."

I'll be directing them to this post to back up my point. Thanks, JHH. :)

Anonymous said...

It took me an hour to read this post.

Anonymous said...

I command you to post Street.mpg for our viewing pleasure.

cherenkov said...

Bugs Bunny is from Winnipeg?

Emma said...

I.... can't believe this is real. I feel like you must have just made it all up. So awesome!

JSK said...

You sir, are quite mad. Which is the greatest commendation I can give anyone. Bravo.

Daisy said...

Too funny! And uncomfortable......

Thanks for the laughs.

PsychoJason said...

I think some of that stock footage may have come from the early 1980s, if my 1983 Travel Manitoba video suggests anything.

Needless to say, for the CentrePlace Manitoba pavilion at the 2010 Winter Games, the Government of Manitoba did update their travel/tourism footage for the HD age.

PsychoJason said...

I think some of that stock footage may have come from the early 1980s, if my 1983 Travel Manitoba video suggests anything.

Needless to say, for the CentrePlace Manitoba pavilion at the 2010 Winter Games, the Government of Manitoba did update their travel/tourism footage for the HD age.