Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sarah Palin Just Wants You to Like Her...

My good friend Kenny once advised me after I lamented the fact that I needed everyone like me, “Buddy,” He said, “you gotta grow a bit of a thicker skin. I used to want everyone to like me, and then I sort of realized that not everyone does. Then I just stuck with people who did.”

Wise words often go on deaf ears. But much to my own dismay I've rarely been able to take Kenny’s advice to heart.

And so just the other day as I walked out of Holt Renfrew, my hair freshly cut, happily frolicking along Bloor Street, minding my own business, whistling Dixie (or whatever the current alt-rock band du jour is that I should be listening to on my iPod), I caught of a whiff of my own reflection in the highly refractive glass of the Harry Rosen window display. It was there amidst the Canada Goose coats and cashmere sweaters that I realized, with about as much as OMG as I could muster, NAYMARK NOT EVERYONE LIKES YOU.

Yes. I know. That’s right friends, there are clearly some people, who shall remain nameless, who probably can’t stand the sight of my J. Crew clad ass.

With fear and self-loathing coating my stomach I didn’t know what to do but sit down and contemplate my own nihilism over a latte at Starbucks. Life was suddenly the opposite of Sally Field’s 1984 acceptance speech for Best Oscar. Life was suddenly so much more negative: “You hate me. You really really hate me.”

Depressed and despondent I turned to a newspaper seeking distraction only to find out that the peon of the people, Government House Leader John Baird, declared that he too hated me as he railed against those damned “Toronto elites” of which surely I am one. Size queen that he is Baird was angry that us Centre of the Universts, i.e. leaders of the Liberal and NDP parties, were going to vote against the Conservative bill to abolish the long-gun registry. Such government invasiveness was deemed treason for Herr Harper’s government of the people. Baird, as you may or may not know, is a homo-sapien [jokes!] and as such has a long history of distaste for Toronto; even if as Glen Murray noted in a tweet: “Funny Baird attacking Toronto elites. Who are they? I imagine given the # of cosmos I have had with Rusty @ Byzantium he qualifies.” For those with short memories Baird once told Mayor Miller to “Fuck-off”.

But the hating didn’t stop at that I realized. The threads of elitist animonsity run deeper then a streetcar ROW track in downtown Toronto and the fury is not just an Ottawa versus Toronto thing. Anger at everything that Miller Antoinette represents is tantamunt to civil war too. Toronto’s mayoral race has seen steamrolled by an everyman candidate from Etobicoke rallying against the violent elitist beast which threatens to ruin the good shop Tarawno.

So Wwho is this steamroller? While Furious George n’est pas.

Non non les incompetents, our everyman is not a former drug addict, turned provincial health minister, turned gay adoptive parent trailblazer. Apparently our everyman is a slightly obese, “fat-fuck” who inherited a family labelling company and has sat on Toronto council for the past 10 years; mesdames and messieurs: Le Roi Roberto Ford!

L'etat c'est moi! Non! L’Eclaire Est Vous!

For the uninitiated the entire Rob Ford juggernaut has been pitched towards the anti-Toronto-elite Torontonian. Ford, with almost 45% of the decided vote, has stayed on a dedicated message for the entire campaign, rallying the car-driving, hard-working, anti-politician, Torontonian who is fed up that his garbage not being collected on time and is sick of the fact that it takes the City of Toronto like ten years to build a stupid streetcar lane, when it probably should stop build streetcars altogether, because they disrupt the flow of traffic and cause pollution. GRRR.

"Save us Rob!" 45% of us non-elite elite Torontonians are apparently screaming. Ford isn’t speaking to me because I get my hair cut at Holts and I’m almost 100% sure Rob Ford does NOT get his hair cut at Holts.

In fact if Rob and I were stuck in an elevator together I’m not entirely sure what we’d talk about; I’m actually not even sure where Etobicoke is.

“I drove a Ford rental car once.”

“Different family.”

“Oh right, of course. You been to the ballet recently?”


But Ford’s brand of populism isn’t exactly new. Ford is stealing a page from the American politico populist playbook. A playbook so old that it can be traced beyond Brett Favre’s NFL career to the Rough Rider himself (if not earlier) and its latest incarnation is best personified by the elitist hating tsunami that is the Thrilla from Wasilla, the wise cracking Sarah Palin! Live from New York its Tina Fay!

Palin’s latest video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X67qgNtZPdQ&feature=player_embedded is simply entitled: Tea Party. It’s an ode to the Tea Party you betcha, but it also allows her nails on a chalkboard twang to yell at the public and let us know darn right just what exactly the Tea Party stands for.

And what does the Toilet Paper Party stand for? [Insert sort of violent, sort of patriotic crescendo] “It’s a ground-up call to action!” She screams. Sometimes I fucking love that bitch.

But the Tea Party has soul too, bitches: “The soul of this movement is the people; everyday American’s who grow our food, run our small businesses, teach our kids and fight our wars.” [note: if you’re gay you cannot be part of the Tea Party because you cannot fight America’s wars, because America doesn’t really allow gays in the military, unless you're gay but you don’t talk about it. ever… sawry]

And what’s the inspiration of this jizz-fest? “Real people, not politico’s, not inside the beltway professionals, speaking out for common sense conservative principles.”

But wait, there’s more: “Who can argue about a movement that is about the people that government is supposed to be working for the people; that is what this movement is about.”

Who can argue about a movement you ask SJP? Well actually I can. But first lets make fun of that last sentence for its damn good Palinsim. There are 3 that’s and 2 movements in one run-on sentence! Bless you and the monkey you rode in on.

In whatever world we now live in (perhaps it is post-September 11th, but that seems a bit démodé at this point, perhaps it is in the “web 2.0” sphere) it appears that politics is now repositioning itself around a new dichotomy. Whereas we used to have a fairly stagnant liberal versus conservative death fight, we now have segued into a contest between the “elites” and the “populists”.

But is this new reality so deceptively simple? Or are pseudo-populists simply framing the fight in their chosen language in order to discredit what they deem to be elitist progresivism?

In her book, the Armageddon Factor, Marci Macdonald describes the work of Frank Luntz an “uber strategist” in the American right wing who has become infamous for teaching Republicans how to pitch neo-conservative ideas simply by changing their verbiage. Luntz ensured that the less kooky sounding global warming became “Climate Change”, and the Democrat led estate-tax became known as a “Death Tax.” Never doubt the power of words in political discourse.

I fear that Palin’s Tea Party populism has simply replaced a different, much more dangerous vernacular. While populism sounds benign, the creeping social conservative values that Palin and her populist ilk preach are not so benevolent. Comparatively the framing of the anti-elitist mentality is a simple rebranding of the word progressive into a negatively positioned word: elite sounds bad, progressive sounds good.

Populism as I've noted isn’t entirely new to the political scene. Jean Chretien rode his pony to 24 Sussex championing “da cause of da lil guy from Shwangan” (the little guy from Shwanigan via your handy dandy JC-English dictionary); however, Chretien’s populist image was peppered with a socially progressive and fairly pro-business bent. Remember, It was Chretien and Martin who balanced the budget, cut transfer payments to provinces, cut social programs and also sliced personal and business taxes. Not exactly your Palin-esque Joe the Plumber Little Guy.

Rather, Chretien allowed us all to be “little guys” with him regardless of your geography; this, retrospectively, was the beauty of the then Big Tent Liberal Party of the late nineties. I could be a latte-drinking Toronto MBA but I could still invoke the little guy at heart.

Palin and Ford’s populism is not the same.

Da lil guy that Palin supports and her brand of populism is, to be frank, at its heart: bigoted. Beyond the small c conservative values Rob Ford is espousing in his campaign, the man is from all accounts a bigoted individual. Tossing Baird aside because he is an idiot [can I be sued for saying that?] and quite frankly an outlier (that shit wrote itself) in comparison to the much larger Tea Party and in terms of scale Ford movements, today’s new populist charge is made up of homophobic, small-minded, and anti-immigrant politicians whose world view is narrow-minded at best.

And so as progressives or elites or whomever the fuck we are I suggest that the time is nigh to beware and be aware of the so-called new-era populist, which has somehow made it shameful to be a progressively minded individual. This isn't a case of a populist revolt, or an attempt to make everyone like them; rather, it is a case of wolves in sheeps clothing. And that is dangerous, no matter what side of the fence you're sitting on.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What a Difference a Generation Makes?

I wrote this and forgot to post it... so its like a week old. Apologies, but hey... new content is new content and content is king.

I’m pretty sure we’ll never really know if the Highfield Road Gospel Hall was specifically targeting a gay couple’s house on Highfield Ave last Sunday as they went about their merry business preaching the Gospel of Jesus or whether they were just spreading the general love of Jesus to an entire street. In many ways it doesn’t matter. The ensuing cluster-fuck and viral sensation that their preaching has become has turned into a he-preached, he-said type of ordeal. At first the story heroicized the residents of Highfield Street for protecting their gay neighbours from an act of supposed homophobia; however, the story would soon morph into one of those freedom of speech nuggets people like to argue about: the Church goers were denied their god-given [sic] right to gather and sing. After all in Canada we have the right to assemble freely.

The video of the incident is available here for those who haven’t seen it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHpiXmPWPwk

I generally don’t like getting involved in tit-for-tat debates, or making blanket statements about how proselytisers of church doctrine are probably less down with the gay-gay than your average hip-hop rapper. In fact the actual event doesn’t interest me as much as everyone’s reaction to it. Divergent reactions to the posting of the video, I believe, have exposed enormous generational cleavages in Toronto’s gay community.

The video of the incident was filmed by a 29 year-old man by the name of Geoffrey Skelding. Skelding is gay. He posted his video on YouTube with the heading of: neighbourhood kicks out religious haters. From the outset the story was framed with this clichéd bias of religious people preaching against homosexuality. Frankly this was a fairly easy narrative to buy considering most religious group’s historical opposition to homosexuality and gay marriage.

Interestingly enough, the supposed targets of the attack, Blair Chiasson and his partner, Paul Collins, have eschewed the party line. They have refused to be victimized. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Chiasson declared, ““I don’t like how the whole issue is being distorted. Nothing happened. Nothing happened.” As Blair further noted about Skilding’s video: “They took a non-issue and turned it into an issue.” The Star article pointed out that Chiasson was 45 and for some reason his age (versus Skilling’s age) struck me as inherently connected to his distaste with the event.

To me the difference between Skilding and Chiasson’s reaction seems generational; and not just in its viral nature… which is very Gen Y in and of itself. Rather, Chiasson’s desire not to talk about what happened was, in my mind, and maybe I’m reading too much into the situation, a desire not to bring attention to his own homosexuality. Now it won’t be the first time that I’ve grossly misinterpreted something, but my honest interpretation of Chiasson’s remarks to the Star was: nothing to see here folks, we’re just two normal people living our lives. Thinking back to the Star article, which clearly states Chiasson’s age, I realized that Chiasson and his partner would have come of age in the eighties, a decade when queer bathhouses were frequently raided by Toronto’s police force, queer marriage was decades away and when the concept of a Pride Parade would have been fairly foreign to anyone. Sure there we’re gay people, but sadly 1985 Toronto was a very different place for gay men.

Chiasson’s interpretation of the incident seems to me as representative of his generation’s own struggle for queer rights. Most gay men I know in their forties or fifties fall into two categories: dudes who made the struggle for queer rights an integral part of their lives or men and women who tried to quietly go about their business, climb whatever ladder they were on, all the while hoping that no one would notice that they were gay.

Skelding, who is basically my age and who is only 16 years younger than Chiasson, would have come of age up in a very different Toronto. The Toronto of the late 1990’s and early 00’s was light years ahead in terms of its acceptance of homosexual citizens. And while Toronto’s queer community may have its struggles (as the most recent Pride debacle has shown), Toronto today is probably one of the most welcoming cities for LGBTQ people on the planet. I don’t even think I’m being hyperbolic about that. We have an out gay man, George Smitherman, running to be mayor and I can’t think of reading one snarky comment about his sexual preference. Over a million people attend our Pride Parade which features TD Bank as its lead sponsor. Almost every major company that I know of has a queer affinity group in order to make sure they’re diverse enough. In 2010 Toronto Police wouldn’t be caught dead raiding bath-houses; they’re too busy planning their Pride float.

This is not meant to be a damnation of Chiasson. Rather, I think it is interesting to see how far the queer community has come in Canada in a short period of time. Certainly the fact that an entire neighbourhood was so quick to react to perceived homophobia speaks quite impressively about how Torontonians are willing to accept gay men and women; although it may speak less of our city’s appreciation of the church and church groups.