Sunday, December 29, 2013

This Ain't A Scene, It's A Goddamned Arms Race

There was a time, back in the days of yore (poorly understood by me and people of my generation) where freaky-looking long-haired people terrorized their stuffy upper middle class parents by being as far-out and groovy as possible. All kinds of weird punked-out stuff became cool and hip, mostly because it was so far removed from the buttoned down monoculture of the time.

I have been made to understand that these freaky beatniks had the power to shock and captivate attention. Everyone wanted to know what was up with these hipstery subcultures, and everyone wanted a piece of the action, and as a result entirely new classes of cultural and fashion and social crimes were developed to punish those squares and posers who just couldn't get with it.

But the beatniks were too clever by half. They forgot that whatever was originally outrageous soon becomes the familiar and the commonplace. By now, whatever you do to your body, whomever or whatever you marry, however radically you choose to express yourself- nobody cares anymore. Complain about being oppressed for your sexuality, your race, your gender, and what do you get? "Grow a thicker skin. Get over it." Because it's not shocking anymore. The (insert-whatever-here)archy finds you annoying, not threatening.....and that's because all the taboos have been shattered in the quest to push society's boundaries farther and farther back.

Today, there is only one possible way to get a rise, a real rise, out of the jaded and cynical mass of humanity, and that is to be a clueless, classless, almost deliberately insensitive white person. Your Miley Cyruses. Your Phil Robertsons. Your Rob Fords. Your Justine Saccos. The people who couldn't care less about any of these social crimes, and are unrepentant about committing them.

I would draw your attention to the fact that Rob Ford was declared to be the newsmaker of the year in a year where a future crowned head of England was born, where the NSA was revealed to be spying on Americans on a mass scale, where a typhoon devastated the Phillippines and a new Pope was elected, where the Boston Marathon bombing and the Louisiana shootings took place, where Syria was and continues to be torn apart by war and where Nelson Mandela died. The Lac Megantic train disaster couldn't come close to Rob Ford. The Senate scandal wasn't even in the same ballpark. Not even Justin Trudeau could make as much of an impact. 

What do you do when the familiar and the commonplace- uncool and uncouth white people, the thing everyone, even other uncool and uncouth white people, make fun of- becomes the only thing anyone can talk about? What now, hipsters?

Wealthy, privileged, white people who don't care about how the other half lives have become a punchline and something everyone scrambles to distance themselves from as fast as possible. Let us acknowledge this fact. Let us stop pretending that there are shadow conspiracies that keep these people on top. Because if there are any shadow conspiracies out there, somebody deserves their money back.

But the flip side to this coin is while everyone is trying to distance themselves from Ford, he remains the hottest property in Canadian politics. I pay zero attention to the celebrity industry, I proudly shun TV, and now even I know who Phil Robertson is and what Duck Dynasty is.

Why? Because we know that all these social rules and all this sensitivity and caring about feelings is a big, fat, joke. And Rob Ford gets all the attention because he's the only one in this city who doesn't pretend to care.

That's the face of a man who is counting the ceiling tiles because he finds that to be more interesting that whatever nonsense you're spewing. He's not even going to try to acknowledge you, and he's going to make an obvious show of not caring. Don't you wish you could be Rob Ford and just stare at the ceiling when someone's boring you? Don't you wish you had the nerve to say that you think an entire class of people are just not natural the way Phil Robertson did, and then say you're not backing down when you get called on it, or stick your tongue out and come in like a wrecking ball like Miley Cyrus and become a pop culture touchstone?

Now, the good news is that the rest of us are content to just sit around dreaming about how wonderful it'd be to just go around not giving a wet fart for other people and their concerns. The rest of us don't have the benefit of being able to actually do that kind of stuff, even if we have the opportunity. We're too busy being nice to others because that's what's expected of us. You can buy bell bottoms or get whatever body part pierced, but nobody is so bold as to actually imitate Rob Ford and think they're going to get away with it. And despite what the Principled Conservatives think, nobody is going to ride into office telling it like it is. You can fantasize about implementing work-to-rule or about ripping people's burqas off or about telling Quebec to va a diable all you like, but we know you're not actually going to do that, so STFU.

But- and this is the bad news- the fact that we all harbour some kind of grudging, subterranean admiration for these people who revel in their own grossness, who ENJOY being rude, is terrifying enough. It shows you just how fragile this consensus really is. It shows you how we are all just about two steps away from clapping people we don't like into concentration camps. You can be as open-minded as you please, but you're never going to get away from this part of yourself.

And as we move into 2014, and ever closer to the moment when somebody finally decides that they are going to impose his or her will on Ontarians, on Canadians, and on all of humanity, feelings be damned, I predict that we will see more of these bozo eruptions from people who just can't be bothered, and, in turn, more outpourings of emotion, more fixation, by the general viewing public. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Silent Night

Lots of talk this December about how Canada is becoming a leaner and meaner place supposedly due to Scrooge-y conservatives slicing away at the valuable social safety net that unites us all. This implies that in the golden days before right-wing Tea Partiers rose to prominence, Liberals- the country's natural and rightful stewards- ensured that all were taken care of, disparities did not exist, people didn't struggle for and with low-paying jobs, and all was basically well and good until they came and messed it all up.

Well, that might be. Or maybe.....Canada has always been like this. Maybe what we Conservatives are doing is pulling the wool from people's eyes and waking them up to the harsh realities of what living here is and has been like for many. Maybe poverty is a part of life. Maybe hate is an emotion we all feel. Maybe we'll always have disparities in wealth, and maybe we can't help using up more of our natural resources than we "should". Maybe what Liberals externalize as malign Conservative influence is within each and every one of us. Maybe Justin Trudeau himself is capable of being an even bigger control freak than Stephen Harper, and will implement a "basic dictatorship" which will "turn on a dime" to suit his whims.

But we'll never know, because Liberals are not capable of admitting this possibility to themselves. No progressive can handle the proposition that the aim of the game is not to perfect this world, but instead to fight the demons within ourselves, and once we get the monsters under control things will take care of themselves. It is too hard for them to acknowledge that all of us can, and do, oppress others, despite lifetimes of pledging fealty to social justice and the whole gamut of high-flown causes.

We have guys like Bob Chiarelli who blame everything on Mike Harris, and blame nothing on the government they are part of. As far as Chiarelli's concerned, his government can't be responsible for anything despite having been in power for a decade, because it wasn't a conservative government. If they are in power for another decade, everything they fail to fix will still be Mike Harris' fault and nothing will be their fault. Because conservatives are the cause of everything that goes wrong, nothing that goes wrong can be the fault of someone who isn't a conservative. Q.E.D.

Similarly, the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds of Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne comes from their absolute belief that oppression and bad stuff has its origins in something called "the system" and not in the hearts of man. The system is designed and conceived of by.....well, I would say big corporations, but big corporations are made up of people, creating a massive conundrum (for how could people ever do such things, being basically good?), so instead I will say, "basically good people corrupted by a system which has.......some kind of mysterious origins. Anything, so long as we don't have to say that people are inherently capable, and sometimes more than just capable, of evil."

They don't think too hard about this because they have guys like Rob Ford, Stephen Harper, and Tim Hudak to point at and say, "Shame!" Shame on you for not having a perfect belief in the pure goodness of humanity, untainted by capitalism! This lack of a perfect belief in how people are just wonderful is the Original Sin of conservatism. All the rest of it- the Senate scandals, the crack, the mole on Tim Hudak's face- all of it derives from a lack of understanding of how SYSTEMATIC FACTORS are responsible for everything that goes wrong. Remove the systematic factors and the beauty of humanity will shine through! Remove capitalism and the obsession with owning stuff and things like crime and poverty and racism will melt away! And if they don't, well, at least we got rid of capitalism!

Some time ago, another bold reformer rode into office on the slogan of "Yes We Can", pledging to make America more equal and break down the walls between rich and poor. And on that day, he cemented his place as one of the great progressive heroes. Whatever he did between the day when he was elected and when his term finally came to a crashing end mattered not. Progressives, practicing their gifts for ignoring the paradoxical, continued to make apologies for him- a spying scandal here, a drone strike there, one or two botched health care insurance rollouts -all of it mere drops in a bucket. You can't get cynical about hope and change just because Obama told us we could and then couldn't, or didn't, because if you do, you're a conservative, and that's just the worst.

So for Prince Justin, the supposed heir apparent, and for Kathleen Wynne, the forger of (forged, not-real) consensuses, there is an overwhelming beatific positivity not shared by conservative meanypantses or, as it happens, NDPers who are a little too concerned about inequality. It seems as though these NDPers have noticed as well that Liberals tend to write checks their asses can't cash, and sometimes they can't swallow their discontent at this and temporarily join with guys like Tim Hudak in making life difficult for Liberal governments. Thomas Mulcair also refuses to line up behind Team Liberal, and, as Bob Rae inadvertently let slip a few weeks ago, he and his supporters, who aren't "on the list of who voted", will pay dearly for it. It's because of him that the NDP is a negative, divisive party instead of Jack's party, after all. You could be forgiven for thinking that if Mulcair had been happy about the Senate scandal, he would have done better in the recent byelections!

So you don't just have to be a conservative. You can be a union member upset about wealth disparity, alienated voters who voted for Ford, upset Natives, minorities who were the target of discrimination when coming to this country and afterwards, someone caught in a welfare trap, or any of the other nattering nabobs of negativism who can't get themselves on the Trudeau love train, who cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that Canada is basically perfect (despite attempts by Angry People to ruin it), and who let themselves be prisoners of their own cynicism (however justified that cynicism may be), then you are doing it wrong. Being overly positive and not getting worried about things like the deficit and other stuff is Canada. Getting concerned about stuff is NOT Canada. OK?!

The people who are upset about stuff really don't have any comeback for the assertion that they're bringing everyone down with their negativity. Those angry people, as opposed to happy, happy Liberals. And we need guys like Trudeau to defend us against these negative people who keep trying to poison the well, and to reassure us all that it's a simple matter of voting Liberal and all will be fine.

So on we go, refusing to see that we're the cause of these problems. We're the ones that allow the Liberals to sing us softly to sleep while they don't really fix anything, and when we get cranky about Liberal governments messing things up, we let ourselves be told that it's the conservatives' fault.

And is this not far worse than any cuts to a safety net? Is it not far worse to have a province, a country, of people walking around believing that they're fine, that they don't have to change or do anything for themselves, and that some insidious system that they in no way contribute to is holding them down? That no one is responsible for anything, that everyone is entitled to a pain free existence, and that evil and cynicism is so far removed from their day-to-day that the existence of Rob Ford is shocking and horrifying?

A culture of people doped up on hope and warm fuzzies. A long, long silent night where everyone knows that something is terribly wrong but nobody makes a sound. This is the Liberal gift to the world, this holiday season.

Merry Christmas.