Thursday, October 6, 2011

Express Yourself...

Over the past month or so I’ve become mildly fascinated with a gay American soldier who has documented the process of his coming out in a series of fairly emotionally raw YouTube videos. His channel and twitter feeds are titled: AreYouSuprised, a rhetorical question perhaps on the subjects perceived masculinity.

When the soldier, now known as Randy, started making his videos he pointed his iPhone camera at his pectoral muscles downwards. This framing had a dual purpose: they maintained the soldier’s anonymity (the video’s first appeared in April months before the official repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell) while also highlighting his sculpted chest.

This duality was probably at the heart of Randy’s success as an Internet viral hit (4 million views and counting): his videos targeted an intellectual audience that was empathetic to his lonely plight while titillating the rest of us with twitpics of his six-pack.

The dichotomous nature of the Soliders efforts piqued my own internal fasciation – was AreYouSurprised an entirely wholesome effort, or was it some sort of cleverly concocted social media campaign concocted by GLAAD or Human Rights Campaign to bring attention to gay issues preceding the repeal of DADT?

The soldier finally revealed his face in a dramatic denouement (much to the glee of his many fans whom had been left salivating over his sculpted physic) on September 20th, the day DADT was formally repealed, videotaping himself telling his father over the phone that he was gay.

Was the entire series emotionally honest? It was; especially, to anyone who ahs gone through the routine of telling their best friend that they were gay, and then wrestling up enough courage to come out to other friends, and then finally family. This was what made Randy’s “live” statement to his father that he was gay so heartfelt both for the subject and the viewer. Was there a dry eye in the house when Randy’s father told him that he loved him no matter what? Probably anyone but Maggie Gallagher and Michelle Bachman passed the tissue.

That being said - was the whole series also kind of creepy? Yes it was; since when did it become perfectly normal to watch a stranger go through his coming out process on YouTube? What makes this even creepier is how normalized this all seems in a post “It Gets Better World”.

And this, this is where a problem emerges. Sharing, which was formerly caring, or whatever the saying was that we all learned in kindergarten, has been completely redefined in the twenty first century. Sharing is no longer caring. Sharing is now showing and sharing is also now telling.

Now… of course, who am I to really talk about any of this? I tweet, blog and status update with the best of them. And to a point I do it because I’m bored and because I like to express myself and because I’ve been told I’m a mildly witty writer so I figure use whatever God-given talents I have before I’m carted off to the loony bin.

The problem with all of this incessant sharing is that the contribution of ideas, stories, and the like in a curated state was part of humanity’s ability to create “intellectual capital”. And as Russell Smith argued in a really interesting Globe and Mail column last week ideas are no longer a commodity : “I have a recurring argument with creative young people - about getting paid for ideas. There now exists an entire generation of intelligent people who have grown up without any expectation of compensation for imaginative work.”

And in some ways, as someone who loves to write, but has made a sum total of $600 from various writing pursuits, I write and publish on free blogs, like the Huffington Post, for the joy of it. I am part of Russell Smith’s complaint; I have never had an editor parse my work nor have I had to report on things I don’t like to talk about; I can excuse myself from the dregs of journalism because I am a blogger. I am not, nor ever have I been a journalist… I just play one on the interweb.

And so I understand Smith’s concern with the matter at hand; however, in my generational defense, what Smith may have missed, however, is that young - people and I’ll include myself in that lot - don’t view sharing as a form of creating intellectual capital. We share because its what we’ve been trained to do. We share because there is a button on Facebook that says: share. In our constantly connected world, sharing is just another click on our smartphone.

No longer do we write things down in our diary, or even do we write long, expressive emails to our best friend as we did in the late nineties; remember, the halcyon, days when you received only 1 email a day and it was sort of exciting to log into Hotmail? We make YouTube videos because we want to and as Smith notes we don’t expect to be paid for anything because we don’t really view any of this as art. Sharing is no longer creating (in an arts centric sort of way); we share because we like to share. And should it “go viral”, allowing its creator to reap some sort of financial reward (Obviously Rebecca Black is the most obvious example of this)… that is just financial gravy on top of the emotional gratification of sharing. Show now, reap value later, if at all.

But if we HAVE become a society of constant shares, then the line between what is intellectual output and what is just a fart (to be lewd) is forever blurred. And therefore I do understand Smiths' concern - if everything becomes a simple share (I'll just publish my newest photo album on Facebook), then we do unfortunately de-legitimize the creation of real creative content. And that... my friends is a problem.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Caught Between the Rock and a Gay Place

NB: A stupidly long essay on life… ie I need an editor

I was looking at photos of a friend’s recent Euro-trip the other day – the type of overzealous photos taken from a train station when you’re 23 and backpacking through Europe and even though you’re covered in sweat, and you’ve worn the same outfit 3 days in a row, but you’re face is covered with the biggest shit-eating grin because you partied until 4 am and somehow made it to the Budapest train station to catch the early train to Vienna…

Back here in Canada a group of friends and I were chatting about said photo album over brunch. Soon we began to chat about our various Euro Trips; one of us recounted a tale of having sex in the bathroom of a hostel in Madrid (not my story) and another reminded us about the time someone had barfed on them at a hostel in Greece. As brunch ended, we realized, with some lament, that those days – the days of Europe being a haze of 32 person hostel rooms, cheap beer, and vodka shooters – had ended. Somehow, somewhere, silently we had aged out of the fun.

I think a lot about the difference between being 23 and being 27 (or 22 and 28) these days. Those five or six years of seem vast to me in terms of maturity but I can’t tell if it is haughty of me to think that it is those 5 years specifically which constitutes maturation or if it is 5 years in general.

When I tell my 23 year-old friends that 23 is worlds away from 28 most argue, “But we’re practically the same age.”

I wish it were true. I also wonder if 33 will feel totally different from 28 (if a 33 year old is reading this and laughing at me - heads up!); or rather, if, at 25 or 26, you somehow cross the Rubicon from being a sorta-kinda-adult into the murky middle of real adulthood which suddenly means mortgage payments, car payments and private school payments that spread before you like a never ending roadmap to Freedom 65.

I’ve only recently concluded that adulthood is measured by the monthly outflow of your checking account; the more monthly payments you have, the more of an adult you actually are. And if I’m being totally honest being a “real” adult with its litany of monthly payments sorta kinda sucks.

Similarly, a friend of mine was recently at a baby shower, listening to her female friends chat about Egyptian cotton thread counts, when she lost her $hit and literally screamed at the top of her lungs: “guys I don’t fucking care.” Ennui aside, she was in the minority.

To top the banality of it all, being a real adult features such familial injustices as the following: “If you can afford to a Power Ball ticket,” my mother told me the other day, “I don’t think your father and I should be subsidizing your High Holiday ticket at synagogue.” She wasn’t necessarily wrong, but did I really want to spend my hard-earned shekels on Beth Shalom?

But what is most noticeable about transitioning into real-adulthood, besides the aforementioned increase in monthly payments, is the fact that suddenly you don’t just have one best friend. Suddenly your best friend now has a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Even acquaintances start showing up to parties with someone. “Can I bring Phil?” “Do you mind if I bring this girl I’m seeing, its getting kind of serious.” And low and behold these other people aren’t just booty calls or interstitial things: “we’re just dating; its not serious so please don’t friend them on Facebook,” rather, what is happening now eventually winds up with a close-up shot of “the Rock” on Facebook. The Rock Shot and Rock Watch is a great past time for those with a couple of idle moments. And for the record I’m not judging that photo nor the desire to show off the diamond – all parties, from groom to bride to parents, have worked hard for “the Rock”.

Sometimes said photo is pre-dated by an email: “heads up, xyz and I got engaged last night, I’m telling you before we announce it on Facebook.”

My response to such an email is three-pronged:

Initial reaction:
1) Happiness or Anger (depending on my feelings toward the significant other, now fiancé)

Subsequently, I send this email (often before I even respond to my friend):
2) Hey Lucy (a personal shopper at Tiffany’s whom I met once two years ago and whose contact information I put in my phone even though I haven’t seen her since) - I have another wedding. My billing information should be on file.

Lastly, I respond to my friend:
3) OMG!! OMG!!! - I’m so happy for you guys! (I say that even if I’m not and just a differing about of exclamation marks)

After the most recent engagement of a friend I came home and watched that old Sex and the City episode (A Women's Right to Shoes) where Carrie registers for a pair of Manolo Blahniks because she’s fed up with having to spend hundreds of dollars on her friends’ baby showers, weddings, engagement parties and the like. I finally get it. Why is no one offering to buy me a KitchenAid stand mixer? [FYI – I’d like one in the Caviar colour.]

Even friends of mine who swore that they would never get married, tuck their tails between their legs and learn the most important words any bride must know: Monogramed Crane Thank You Cards.

When I was 24, for example, I worked with two lovely women in their early thirties. Neither was married, and neither had children.

“You’ll both wind up pregnant and married,” I told them about a month into our friendship.

“Never!” They argued. “We don’t want kids!” They were modern gals “We don’t need to get married.” Fast forward four years to our annual Christmas reunion lunch at Fresh on Bloor Street, wherein they whipped off their parka’s to highlight baby bumps… “We’re both pregnant!” They gleefully told me.

Babies, much like adulthood, seems to creep up on us, replacing debaucherous nights at the Pink Palace in Corfu, Greece, with conversations about car mileage and the hassle of having to buy two car seats for two separate cars.

What’s interesting of course is that for the gays, although perhaps this will change, what with the increasing acceptance of gay marriage and gay adoption, our semi-adulthood seems somewhat prolonged; at least compared to our straight friends who barrel past 28 and run headfirst into their thirties.

Of my gay friends who are in somewhat long-term relationships… not one is talking about marriage. Comparatively, I already have four straight weddings scheduled for 2012 (this is before the Holiday Engagement rush so I figure I could have 8 weddings for 2012). In fact most of my gay friends aren’t even in relationships. I was up at a friend’s cottage over the past weekend with 5 other single, professional gay dudes who were in various stages of looking for love. We spent the weekend oscillating between jokingly going on Grindr to check out the local talent and lamenting our recent run of bad dates. Sure enough the 6 of us found ourselves on the following Thursday drunkenly stumbling around Woody’s judging the weekly best chest contest. That’s what singledom allows I guess.

In some ways it seems as if we’re sort of caught between “the Rock” and a gay place.

Gay marriage and the fight for equality was in some ways meant to be a great equalizer. Gays can be just like the breeders. And yet… not to rely on stereotypes sometimes we aren’t. First of all there are biological differences between gay couples and straight ones that seem to preclude a rush to the alter. As Marissa Tomei infamously noted in My Cousin Vinny… there is such a thing as a biological clock for the gay man, which in Marissa’s case was “ticking like this”.

And perhaps more than biology gay men are free from the societal pressure that constrains a lot of my single female friends. As one boyfriend noted – and I’m paraphrasing - “Upper Middle Class Jewish Toronto forces this same goal: get married and have babies before you’re 30.” And in a way he was right. There is the unspoken “plan” that seems to take root. Suddenly you run into more and more people from elementary school pushing strollers and as you exchange pleasantries you wonder “how old were my parents on the first day of school?” And then there’s this total mind-fuck because you realize you’re about as old as your first memory of your parents. And if that doesn’t require a shot of vodka then I don’t know what does.

But ya see.. gay men just aren’t bound to the same “Plan” (get married and have babies before 30). First of all biology complicates our lives and any sort of foray into parenthood requires adoption and surrogacy which makes the entire thing a bit more complicated then stopping birth control. And of course society doesn’t expect us to follow the “Plan”; if we do, we do so much later on in life.

There’s a great blog I read called the Domestic Daddy. It’s about two Manhattanite men who have sired a child. The DD (who actually is a daddy in the gay sense of the word) writes about his life raising Julia and decorating their house in the Hamptons and loft in Chelsea. One of the blog posts started with: “Strolling through the girls section of the little J.Crew store in Southampton which we do often.” The Domestic Daddy had me at J. Crew. And in fact there is something resoundingly twee about the Domestic Daddy’s blog. It’s a rather adorable family blog about a parent taking time off from work to raise his child. The slant of course is that the parents are also gay men.

As per most things in life – I spent an afternoon Googling the Domestic Daddy on the internet and realized he was in his late forties. His partner, in his fifties. They were indeed Domestic Daddy’s… but they weren’t like my twenty-something friends who got married and had babies when they were 30. They had settled sure, but they had done so at a much later time in life.

And that’s the thing really… if 28 is somehow suddenly adulthood – and the seeming mass of your adult years stretches before you, tempered by marriage and the birth of children – gays are given the luxury of seemingly having a longer adolescence. The true question – is what do you put between that Rock and the gay place?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Retro: My Two Villages

Because this article appeared in print four years ago... I feel like its time to go all retro styles and reprint. (And I guess the National Post still owns the rights to this.. but like... simmer down) The edited and published version is available here!

My Two Villages

Hilary Rodham Clinton infamously published a book a couple of years ago entitled “It Takes a Village.” Lifted from the African proverb, “It Takes a Village to raise a child” Clinton espoused her unique vision about how to parent a gawky red head in America (loves ya Chelsea!).

The Village she was talking about, I suspect was NOT Forest Hill. Here it takes one immigrant nanny to raise a child, yet an entire Village to corrupt said child into a bitchy sixteen year-old wearing $90.00 sweatpants. Sigh. [Sidenote: how much do you love the fact that Old School Roots Sweatpants are back?]

Toronto, in true Clinton esque fashion, is however a city defined by its villages, neighborhoods and nabes. At the recent Toronto City Summit, the health of our neighborhoods was on par with discussions on transportation, economy and even topic du jour, the environment. In fact “Strong Neighbourhoods, Stronger Toronto Region” was one of the most dynamic and provocative session of the summit; more attendees wanted to talk about Toronto neighborhoods with Frances Laskin then those who humored Mayor Miller’s frenetic One Cent Now campaign.

In Toronto – communities and villages represent a rather simplistic, yet provocative, version of identity. Neighborhoods are instant generalized value judgments. Annex = hippie. Rosedale = WASP establishment. This list could go on and on and like any sweeping generalization there are I’m sure exceptions to the rule; that being said you can bet your Holt Renfrew Amex card that the McGregor Smith’s outnumber the Singh’s on Binscarth Avenue, Rosedale.

As a gay and Jewish man who grew up in the Faux Hill my community based identity should be pretty clear. I oscillate between two of the city’s most infamous villages: the Gay Village at Church & Wellesley is where I indulge in my love of non-kosher meat, and in the Faux Hill Village at Spadina-Lonsdale, I can wolf down a chopped egg salad sandwich from What a Bagel. Sometimes it’s hard to choose.

In funneling between these two villages I’ve realized however that I’ve never felt particularly comfortable in either. Sometimes when I go to Woody’s [That would be a gay bar for those not in know, because yes – gays love phallic gay bar names] I feel like a 14 year-old twink awkwardly venturing downtown for his first taste of homosexuals. A friend looked at me recently and said, “you really don’t like either of your identities, do you?” I stonewalled for a second before looking at him and argued, “Its not that I reject who I am,” I love being gay, and like some aspects of being Jewish, “I just reject the popular connotations of my identities.” What I meant, when I took some time to actually examine my use large, multi-syllabic words, was that I hated the public connotations of my two villages. As a happy fag and embittered Jew I don’t particularly associate or feel represented by the popular connotations of my identity groups, which in Toronto is best personified by the their respective Villages.

When I went to Puerta Vallarta over Christmas (yes - that would have been a vacation I took WITH my parents) I ended up in a hotel about a stones throw away from the Puerta Vallarta gay village. Same rainbow flags, same sex shop, phallic based bar names – and same sense of not belonging. I don’t particularly like the popularized image of the gay village for some reason – perhaps best represented by an inverse graph to the number of times I’ve been asked to “join me and my boyfriend for some hot three way action.” I’m more of a love the dick, hate the Village kinda guy. As if to exacerbate my views on gay villages, one relatively infamous Canadian fag I know had this to say about PV, “I can’t believe you went there with your folks – there are so many men there; Martin [boyfriend of ten years] really loves the Latin men.” Did you just vomit in your mouth, because I did. And as for the other village in my life – Faux Hill, my distaste with these parts has an entire blog devoted to its Lululemon clad ass so really nothing more to say there.

Too often I get accused of some form of self loathe. Gay friends accuse me of being a bad gay, Jews accuse me of being a self-loathing Philip Roth lite; and maybe they’re all correct in their assumption. Maybe I should accept who I am and get myself a nice set of Burberry earmuffs. Don’t worry – I’m not going to. I realize the problem though: at base we all love to belong. We all love to be amongst peers who we recognize and who we can borrow from a Coach purse now and again. For example, there is even a group for people ‘like myself’, Jewish-Fags, which attempts to bridge the cultural gap between uptown middle class Judaism and downtown hardcore faggotry. One could argue even that the success of Toronto is inherently tied to its Village structure and the sense of belonging it imbues. Residents feel an intense sort of pride in the common sense of identity that their neighborhood provides.

The bigger problem though beyond this sense of belonging, or in my case, lack there of is that the Village creates a sort of identity that sometimes is often more stereotypical then real. I.E. all gay men aren’t obnoxious pigs, no matter how many times the bisexual tells me that over the phone [that is called self-loathe sweetie] and no matter how many times I leave a gay bar shaking my head in revulsion. And not all Village residents are Faux Hillary’s – remember Bold doesn’t own anything from Tiffany’s.

My friend Kitty often introduces me as Jewish Jon to her friends. When I came out we discussed adding the additional adjective before deciding that one derogatory nickname was enough. The rather intelligent joke of course is that by calling me Jewish Jon, she was in fact making fun of that particularly stereotype, that Village mentality if you will, wherein cultural identity is trump. And more then that, cultural identity is a broad stereotype that everyone gets. “Oh you’re Jewish?” Her friends would say. “I love latke’s! I love hanging out in the Forest Hill Village!” Jewish Jon was a motif for the fact that for the most part the people that we associate with are happy to loudly and proudly declare their minority status. I’m gay! I’m Jewish! I’m Asian! I blame the whole multi-cultural mosaic concept; either way, welcome to Village Pride baby.

Ghettoization has never been so vogue.

Friday, May 20, 2011

In Defense of Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow gets a real bad rap.

Which is somewhat odd because Gwyneth Paltrow can also actually rap:

GP can also act, cook and sing. Forget [You] about J. Lo – my girl Gwyn is the ultimate triple threat.

Yet… for some reason the public at-large seems to hate her. Unlike Reese Witherspoon, Katherine Heigel, Kate Hudson, or Meg Ryan (back in her pre botoxed fish lips day) Gwyneth Paltrow has never been America’s sweetheart. Instead Gwyneth has forever been Queen G, head of Hollywood’s cool and therefore mean girls. Truly, there is nothing girl-next-door about Gwyneth, unless the girl next door to you lives in Apartment 15B of a Park Ave. Co-Op.

Rather then being the girl next door - Paltrow has always been effortlessly better than you. And this air of superiority clearly rubs people the wrong way; Google her name or read comments about her on gossip blogs and you'll get the feeling that not a lot of people like the Paltrow. As the daughter of Hollywood power-couple Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner Gwyneth is not representative of how American’s like to think of their domestic culture where anyone can become anyone; Gwyn’s gilded life is the opposite of the Horatio Alger “rags to riches” story that America’s like to name as a founding cultural motif. The fact that GP went from riches to riches while looking gorgeous in cashmere is like rubbing fleur de sel into an open wound.

Throughout her career Paltrow has done little to endear herself to the public. Such ill-advised comments: "I worry about bringing up a child in America… At the moment there's a weird, over-patriotic atmosphere over there, like, 'We're number one and the rest of the world doesn't matter,’” are clearly not mass market placating.

While such mildly asinine comments did nothing to endear Paltrow to the public I dare say the public has never truly liked her. Her GUSHING Best Actress win when she wore a Barbie pink dress and cried about her love for her father. She did herself no favours a year later when she showed up at the Oscars in a goth chic dress that made her breasts look like chicken cutlets.

In the interim years she grew up and married Chris Martin, lead singer of perhaps the most successful band since the Beatles (sorry Oasis), had a couple of children with said lead singer and gave them cloying names (Moses and Apple). She’s also made a number of dubious films while generally keeping herself in the spotlight for being rich, beautiful and successful without overexposure.

And yet people have continued to hate her. Ted Cassablanca infamously nicknamed her Fishsticks Paltrow so named because she is cold, much too thin and overly white-breaded.

I get some of this misplaced anger. I do. Gwyneth isn’t like like coca cola classic. Rather, like a fine Port Paltrow is an acquired taste. But friends - why must you hate her so? What has Saint Gwyneth, the Duchess of GOOP ever done to you besides tell you how to live your life better?

If anything I’d venture to say that my dear, sweet Gwyneth Kate Paltrow Martin is simply misunderestimated.

While often being labeled for being out of touch via her lifestyle newsletter GOOP – I would argue that GOOP is really based on the early twentieth century notion of moral uplift and upper middle class conceptions of charity. Similar to the temperance movement and other progressive causes taken up by wealthy, white, women in the early years of the twentieth century GOOP is a modern re-interpretation of progressivism. Ya know how Andrew Carnegie built libraries as a way of educating the masses? Paltrow is sending e-newsletters helping us nourish our inner aspect so we can live our life better. Just as Upton Sinclair fought for proper meat packaging in his book the Jungle… Gwyn is helping us pick out French skin-care solutions. Quelle surprise Mademoiselle Paltrow!

As G said herself upon launching GOOP: “I have this incredible, blessed, sometimes difficult, very lucky, very unique life, and I've gotten to travel all over the place and to work and live in different cities. … So I started accruing all of this information to share it.”

And while sometimes her choices are outrageous – don’t hate her for not knowing any better. In her most recent GOOP newsletter, Spring Wardrobe Basics, Gwyn advised spending a couple of thousand dollars on a spring wardrobe. The UK Mirror called her "out of touch." Is this a lot of money? Sure. But look – I probably spend a thousand on clothes “a season”… is ten times what I spend that outrageous for a woman who probably makes 20 times what I do? Besides – who cares if what Gwyneth is suggesting unaffordable outfits for the masses?

She’s Gwyneth Fucking Paltrow and La Paltrow does not represent the masses.

Isn’t that the point of celebrity anyway to make us feel inferior about our looks, sex and wealth? Part of what celebrities have traditionally been about (at least in the era before the current age of reality star twats) was cultivating such an unreachable image.

If anything GOOP is a modern compromise about how to be a celebrity in the twenty-first century. It is not grassroots, but it bends to the modern need for celebrities to share with their fans.

In today’s world of TMZ and Perez Hilton Gwyneth Paltrow is very intelligently controlling how we view her world. With GOOP she lets us in, but she controls the output. Is it all a bit much? Sure… the mutually masturbatory interview with Jay-Z was a bit much (sample question: "You are the coolest man on Earth, how the f did you get like that?"). But from Gwyn’s perspective – if we the public are consistently clamoring for celebrity and we the public are constantly desiring to know more about her life, is it not intelligent to try and control what and how we learn about her?

GOOP isn’t just about nourishing your inner aspect – its Gwyn’s attempt to stay above the current celebrity fray, that she would also probably say is completely beneath her, while also reinforcing the fact that she is indeed a celebrity and therefore better then us. So you will get GOOP every week, you will read it, and you will like it.

Because if celebrities aren't better then the great unwashed masses - then what good are they? GOOP is like a Lady Gaga outfit - it is a constant, weekly reminder that you are not Gwyneth Paltrow. So while you may hate her Paltrow is doing something serious: she is single handedly trying to rebuild that fourth wall of celebrity.

And that... that is why I love her.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Book of Ruth

It is almost too easy to laugh at Ruth Ellen Braseau, the NDP MP for the francophone riding of Berthier—Maskinongé. For starters even though she was running for election she infamously celebrated her birthday in Vegas midway through the most recent Federal election. The Dippers tried to excuse her by saying that she couldn’t change her flights because she’s a poor single mother, but let’s be honest here, going to Vegas is not like saying, “I’m off to Geneva for a World Health Organization Convention on reproductive rights, so I’ll be missing the local all-candidates debate.” We all know that the only reason people go to Vegas is drink, gamble and see Celine Dion. Because as well also all know Celine Dion is #amazing.

For the Liberals, reprimanded by the Canadian electorate and sent to sulk in their room WITHOUT DESSERT, Ruth Ellen has become an easy target as Canada’s Not So Natural Ruling Party attempts to lick their wounds like no political party in this country has licked their wounds before.

“See what happens with you give the NDP keys to Stornaway,” you can almost see a stern-looking Michael Ignatieff complain to Zsuzsanna as she helps him unpack his boxes into his fancy new office in Toronto’s Munk Centre, “They immediately invite everyone over for a house party. If only Canadians had trusted us. We know what’s best. As if we’d ever have an unwed single waitress over to dinner. As. If.”

Such patronizing paternalism aside (Iggy, what?!)… lets be somewhat radical in the assessment of our dear friend Ruth Ellen. Yes, she’s a 27 year-old cocktail waitress who may not be fluent in French and who represents a riding where 98% of her constituents speak French as their first language and where 77% don’t speak English. These are what the French call, les faits.

But she’s also a woman and a single mother who at some point was asked to run as a parachute candidate in a country that is desperately lacking in female parliamentarians. Besides… if you asked half of my friends (a lot of whom are 28) two months ago to run as an NDP candidate in any riding – the answer would be: (to quote Mercedes on Glee) Hell to No. That would be due to political affiliation but also political disinterest. Bitch please, most would rather watch Rebecca Black’s Friday on loop then think about politics.

Certainly Ruth Ellen isn’t the only parachute candidate from the most recent election. Etobicoke-Lakeshore is quite a few physical kilometres away from Michael Ignatief’s residence at 18 Yorkville (even further from a socio-economic perspective). And as this cheeky article from 2006 notes: In fact, politicians who run in ridings where they don't actually live are as much a part of Canada's heritage as hockey or maple syrup. Seems that politicians from John A. Macdonald to Brian Mulroney have a history of running in one riding and living in another (do you think Brian and Mila were going to schlep their asses out to Central Nova from Westmount?).

Is it possible that the Ruth Ellen Braseau situation indicates a tipping point of how the Canadian electorate is starting to see beyond our historical allegiance to the Westminster System with its imbued first-past-the-post idiosyncrasies coupled with some sort of vague representation by population?

Its almost as if segments of the Canadian electorate are slowly deciding they don’t need local federal representation. Ruth Ellen may represent a larger movement in Canadian politics, one where local representation at the Federal level has become increasingly less important.

It seems that Quebecers may be moving in that direction. This is somewhat unsurprising - in my mind the Quebec electorate is perhaps Canada’s Smartest Voting Bloc (no pun intended!). So before we cry for the poor villagers of Lavaltrie remember that 40% of them (22,000 people) voted for Ruth-Ellen even though she didn’t personally canvass the ridings towns and find out what their needs were. She didn’t, like my Member of Parliament, have to stand precariously above the Heath Street exit to the St. Clair West subway station rambling about the Liberal Family Pack.

And as Canada’s Smartest Voting Bloc – Quebecers knew who they were voting for even if they didn’t know who they were voting for. What the NDP surge exhibited was that Quebecers were happy to voting as a cohesive bloc in order to punish parties that they felt had wronged them. If Ruth Ellen happened to get caught up in the surge - who cares, because Quebecers wanted a seat at the table to talk about pan-Quebec issues. Nothing else mattered.

And as astute political creatures Quebecers had already soured on the Liberals, realized it was now time to take the Conservatives to the cleaners (J’accuse you for not building our arena M. Harper!) and felt like they needed to punish the Bloc for being lazy fools and thus… they turned to Jack and his merry band of idiots fully know that some of the NDP candidates were nothing more then what Lysiane Gagnon called poteaux in a recent column. Poteaux stands for posts – “symbolic candidates who don’t bother to campaign because they don’t have the slightest chance of winning.” As Montreal Gazette columnist Don Macpherson noted: “Every time I pass an orange traffic cone now, I’m tempted to wave, because I think of my new Member of Parliament.”

But perhaps Quebecers are ahead of the general curve realizing that the twentieth century concept of electing a federal MP to represent your hyper specific local issues is outmoded. What matters increasingly in twenty first century Canadian politics is party leadership.

The success of Ruth Ellen to me, at least, asks that important question: as we move to a more regionalized stance in Canadian politics and where, at least federally, our issues and debates become about the general tone of the country (economic recovery, law and order, foreign policy, health) why do we need local federal representatives to deal with our local issues. Truthfully we have Rob Ford for that (song interlude: you just call Rob Ford, and you know wherever he is – he’ll come running, to see you again; winter spring summer or fall, all you got to do his call and Rob Ford will be there ya ya ya, you’ve got a friend).

Besides – have you ever seen what happens in parliament? Them people are yelling at each, clapping and banging on their desks. Do you think Ruth Ellen was EVER going to stand up and argue for additional funding for the local museum she visited today, which celebrates unwed mothers? And how do you think John Baird would react to that? (Because you know that bitch knows a thing or two about impregnating and then leaving women as single mothers [uhm…]) Sidenote: I’m not sure how a video of John Baird saying Point of Order has not gone viral, but this is my new ringtone:

I realize that this is a somewhat simplistic viewpoint of Canadian politics and I understand that local constituent offices work closely with local populations to bring about local change at a local level… blah blah blah and certainly some federal politicians, especially those who are part of our current governing party, do bang-up jobs ensuring that gazebos are built in Muskoka, but like… our MP’s aren’t the people negotiating hidden wage increases with police unions (hi Dalton, call me buddy, we gotta talk) and nor should they be.

Besides within the auspices of our current party structure where MP’s are whipped to vote with their party on major issues – do our local representatives really represent our local issues? I mean sure… they do in some instances, but not always. Take the private members bill to scrap Canada’s Gun Registry - Bill C-391. When it was originally read in Parliament - 8 Liberal and 12 NDP MP’s voted WITH the Conservative Party to scrap the firearm registry even though their party leaders voted against the bill. Afterwards Ignatieff whipped his caucus to vote along party lines meaning if you were a Liberal MP whose constituency wanted the long-gun registry abolished - tits up. Jack didn’t officially whip his caucus (that sounds dirty right?) but still 6 of the 12 NDP MP’s who voted with the Tory's suddenly decided to vote along party lines even if that meant NOT representing their local issues. That's just one issue... but its telling.

What the Braseau scandal then truly highlights is that in Quebec, at least in this election, riding representation in the Federal realm is dead. And Ruth Ellen isn't the villain in this situation, she may simply be the uni-lingual canary in the coal mine.

And if not – we always have the bible. As Ruth said to Naomi in the Book of Ruth: Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people.

For Ruth-Ellen Braseu her people are the residents of Berthier—Maskinongé.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This One Time... At Gay Camp

Maybe like two years ago (fuck time flies) I was asked by Heeb Magazine to go down to New York City and do some investigative journalism into an organization by the name of JONAH (Jews, Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality).

Long-story short - Heeb sorta folded (or became web only) and I never did anything with this article and blah blah blah... Sometimes I looked at it and wonder what to do with it; sometimes I think I could get sued for its contents, but mostly I just think its kinda crazy.


Late one night not too long ago, I found myself sitting in boxer-briefs, cruising websites that a twenty-something, hot-blooded man shouldn’t be caught looking at. Like a fat kid drawn to a bag of smarties, I just couldn’t quite click away from, a homepage belonging to an organization whose acronym stands for: Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality. Did I mention that I’m both a member of the tribe and, to quote popular ex-gay terminology, a continued victim of “same-sex attraction”? Even if my victimization hasn't been as frequent of late as I would have hoped...

JONAH is an oddity in the ex-gay movement, which is dominated by the Christian religious right. For Jews and by Jews, JONAH asks the ever-salient question, “Can Judaism help those individuals who wish to leave the homosexual lifestyle?” JONAH was founded and is run by Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Silodor-Berk; Goldberg is perhaps best known for authoring, Light in the Closet, Torah, Homosexuality and the Power to Change (note for those of you with KINDLES Goldberg's text is available from JONAH “is dedicated to educating the world-wide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors which lead to same-sex attractions. Through psychological and spiritual counseling, peer support, and self-empowerment, JONAH seeks to reunify families, to heal the wounds surrounding homosexuality, and to provide hope."

I'll take some gefilte fish with that!

Thinking that perhaps this whole JONAH thing was someone's idea of a bad joke, the organization’s logo is of two sperm whales 69ing (I’m serious), I sent JONAH anonymous email: “Hi, I have a packing question for your weekend retreats: If I want to bring anal lubricant, does it have to be kosher?” Questions related to kosher lubricant are, I imagine, the second most important gay Jew question, beyond the obviously offensive: if two gay Jews are having anal sex on Shabbat do they have to use the sheet? An almost instantaneous reply came from JONAH director Elaine Silodor-Birk herself. She was NOT as amused by my sardonic sense of humor as one would have hoped: “How sad that you would spend your time making [sic] of men and women who are unhappy feeling same-sex attractions (SSA). JONAH doesn't make fun of those who are happy being gay and we feel we deserve the same courtesy from you."

I can understand Elaine’s mal humor; these are not good times to be proponents of the ex-same-sex attraction movement. In fact my initial email to JONAH came just days after the American Psychological Association reiterated their position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder.

So where do all of these conflicted reports leave a gay Jew fearing that his own ‘same-sex attractions’ aren’t halacich? Well a road trip, obviously, down to JONAH's head office in Jersey City to see first hand, if I could close the proverbial whale hole that is my ass.

The first thing you have to understand about infiltrating a not so secretive organization such as JONAH is that it is actually fairly easy. I concocted a Jewish alias, wrote a fake back-story and sent end out a tearful, poorly worded email to JONAH’s general email account ( Within a matter of hours both Silodar-Berk and Goldberg were in contact with my poor, conflicted alter ego. I was soon ready to begin their process of de-gaying.

Elaine, clearly a consummate Jewish mother, lay down the rules of engagement, “It is important for you to begin to think of yourself as a normal man with unwanted SSA, which is just a symptom of underlying, unresolved emotional issues. No one is born gay and people do journey out of unwanted SSA all the time. No one is born gay - remember that.” [Adding in for modernity purposes - I guess she hasn't listened to Born This Way by Gaga?] I was never quite sure if she was telling me that for my purposes or for her own good.

In contrast, Arthur appealed to my need for emotional support: “just like you need a minyan to daven, so too do you need a minyan of men to support you to your journey into wholeness. So, let me be the first member of your minyan.” Question: is minyan code word for gang-bang these days?

Shortly thereafter Arthur and my depressed nom de plume had scheduled a phone call, where I was assured that everything JONAH did was completely confidential, “in our decade long existence,” Arthur declared, “we have never had someone infiltrate our organization.” Oy vey.

With my lack of spy training, I couldn’t believe how easy my infiltration had gone; although I was constantly worried that Arthur would see through the many holes in my tale of repressed woe. At one point, when Arthur asked me where I went to college, I stupidly answered Wesleyan, the first college that came into my mind. Arthur sighed heavily and I thought then that the jig was up. I mean what self-respecting yid from Brooklyn would go to a bastion of left-wing champagne socialism? Arthur’s response, however, didn’t skip a beat: “Wesleyan, a typically gay affirmative place. No wonder you experimented when you were there.”

My tale of regretted experimentation led to an hour-long diatribe against “the gay agenda”. According to Goldberg, I wasn’t born gay (that’s a big myth); in fact gay doesn’t really exist in JONAH’s universe. Being gay is just a symptom of underlying psychological issues, “A lot of people who go into the gay world are social outcasts. They didn’t feel they fit in to the straight world.” At one point, Arthur went through the list of reasons that caused homosexuality, which include (drum-roll please): not being close to a father figure, “daddy wasn’t around much”, “cruel daddy”, “overly attached to mummy”, “same-sex peer wounding”, and of course, sexual abuse, which according to JONAH is “the most dramatic of all risk factors”. My non-verbal prompts were so convincing that Arthur thought he was really reaching my conflicted self, “I can tell that this is ringing true for you.”

I won’t lie – while I listened to Arthur yammer on about how my homosexuality was caused by my “poor childhood”, I was also checking out the summer sale on It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in Goldberg (ok, you got me, I wasn’t), but listening to someone yell into the phone for an hour about how “homosexuality is a construct,” gets boring fast. You try keeping a straight face while listening to such bon mots as: “The classical male homosexual has feeling of a deficiency of his own masculinity.”

To truly understand JONAH you have to understand Arthur Golderg, who considers himself a consummate civil rights champion. According to his own bio, he has worked tirelessly throughout his life advocating for rights; in fact during the 60’s he was “hanged in effigy” for his African American advocacy work. Goldberg feels that JONAH is the next, natural extension of his life-long fight for rights. Goldberg is now fighting for a group of people that he feels are “the most under-represented minority in America and perhaps the World”. Who exactly? People who have been “co-opted into the gay lifestyle”. Goldberg feels that contemporary attitudes toward people who don’t want to be gay are “contemptible, immoral, irresponsible and potentially lethal.”

Goldberg looks like your typical Jewish high school professor. Tweed jackets and reserved looking suits, loosely cover a potbelly, while a closely cropped white beard, masks his mouth out of which he emits a mild Yiddish twang. He’s the type of guy who pronounces torah, like toyrah and if he wasn’t a total wing nut he sort of looks like the your uncle who gets drunk at the Passover seder and then tries to dance like Elijah.

JONAH isn’t just another rights crusade for Goldberg, it is also a very personal project. In his book he declares that his mother, shortly before she died “specifically asked that [Goldberg] carry forth a Jewish program to help heal those afflicted with the homosexual condition.” Jew-boys… always trying to please their mothers…

I imagine that many Manhatanites don’t venture to JONAH’s neck of the woods, even though it’s only a quick cross-river PATH ride away. JONAH’s office, the third floor of a converted old Brownstone in Jersey City, consists of a couple of meeting rooms as well as a small reception area filled with NARTH pamphlets and out of date Time magazines. Jersey City itself is typical of a mid-sized American city. That feeling of any town USA is part of JONAH’s positioning: married, straight suburban ideals, albeit with a side of matzoh ball soup.

I did, however, venture to JONAH spending some time under cover at JONAH’s offices where I met with Enrique, the JONAH therapist assigned to guide me towards the path of teshuvah. As preparation for my therapy session, I worried a lot about what to wear, before finally settling on a pair of amusingly titled “Straight Fit” jeans bought years ago from the GAP. I figured a gay guy who didn’t want to be gay would probably tend to shy away from trendy slim-fit jeans.

In our first five minutes together, Enrique let me know a little bit about his own background, which included a fairly lengthy stint as a “homosexual” before choosing the path of reformation. He’s currently “partnered with a woman”. Note that I didn’t meet her… so, to answer your question, I’m not sure if she’s a butter face.

Our hour was, I imagine, fairly typical of ex-gay therapy. We went through the causes of homosexuality, furthering what Arthur and I had already covered. JONAH’s therapy seems to be concentrated in understanding these “root causes” while simplifying the emotional needs into categories: validation/ affirmation, affection, and attention. When we don’t receive enough of these emotional needs, we tend to act out.

How do we act out you may ask? Why through anal sex with men.

Enrique and I would delve into my sexual history trying to understand when I first began noticing my lust for cock. We paused, naturally, at my teenage years, where I quickly made up some story about noticing other boys in the change room. When Enrique asked if I would get an erection, I didn’t even have to lie when I said, “Yes.”

According to Enrique, my erections had nothing to do with me wanting to fuck men, this had more to do with hormonal changes of puberty and of course the lack of validation, affirmation and affection in my life.

“When you were fifteen, you probably got erect very easily, yes?”


“Did you ever brush up against a chair by accident a get an erection?”

“Ya, sure.”

“Does that mean you are attracted to that chair? Do you want to have sex with that chair?”


“It’s the same thing with same-sex attraction. You’re not really attracted to men… you just think you are attracted to men. Because you had a perfectly natural erection and you assumed it was because of men. When it wasn’t.” At this point my internal thought process was more along the lines, “The more we talk about men, the more I’m looking forward to getting laid.” According to Enrique – it’s fairly natural to think that men are hot, but we need to continually affirm ourselves as masculine, which means we don’t fuck men.

“I can tell you – you are a very attractive guy. Very attractive. But I don’t want to sleep with you.” Understanding and being able to harness attraction vs. desire would lead me to the path of reformation, or somewhere between becoming straight or simply stopping to play the skin flute. JONAH doesn’t guarantee full straight-dom; rather, its 75-80% success rate is defined by a spectrum of change, ranging from straight marriage to helping people live without acting out on same-sex needs.

Things hit a new high of awkwardness towards the end of the hour, when I admitted that I had tried to have sex with women, but, “I just… couldn’t physically do it.” I decided that my character was worried about JONAH’s success rate and his ability to find a wife. There was something shockingly subversive about the conversation that followed, which would detail my sexual proclivities. I felt like I was describing what an ice-cream fudge sundae tastes like to an anorexic.

“Well what do you like to do with other men?” Enrique asked.

“I don’t know.” I answered with trepidation. “Uhm, I like to suck penis. I like anal sex.” I finally admitted.

“Do you like to give or receive?” This was the only question I had trouble answering. Truthfully, I had never decided if my fake persona would be a top or a bottom.

“I like both.” I finally admitted. I figured most people on Manhunt defaulted to versatile, so why should my alter ego define himself as either or?

“How does it feel when you’re having sex?”

“It feels like I’m loved, wanted.” It feels great.

“Exactly!” Enrique was excited, but in what way? “You’re using SSA because you require attention, affection and validation. You’ll train to get those feelings elsewhere.” This line of thinking reaffirms the main theory that Goldberg outlines in his book, detailing the need to “get into your soul and understand what the unfilled needs are. And helping people fulfill those needs in healthy, non-sexual ways.”

“Where else will I get those feelings?” I asked.

“Exercise. Maybe dancing…” When I came back to Toronto and debriefed my gay friends, they couldn’t stop laughing, “They told you to replace cock with ballroom dancing? Let me know how that works out for you.”

“You have to start thinking of SSA is like the white bread we’ve all known. But there are other types of bread out there.” Worst. Analogy. Ever.

We parted soon after. I paid him $100 cash, no receipt. As I left he grabbed my hand.

“Listen to me. You are a man.” He nodded his head asking me to repeat.

“I am a man.” I parroted back.

“Gay is just one window. You need to starting looking at other windows.” Second. Worst. Analogy. Ever.

I obviously called my mother as soon as the appointment was over. After all, I am a nice Jewish boy…

"The good news: you're not completely to blame for me being gay." I told her as I stood on the Jersey shore, wistfully looking at the Manhattan skyline.

"I should hope not," She said.

"BUT, because of my upbringing, I did feel a lack of attention and subsequently I act out by filling that void with same-sex attractions."

"YOUR UPBRINGING?” she shrieked. "I take offense! We gave you the best; you went to private school for god’s sake! I mean you don't have a trust fund, but have you ever wanted for anything?"

"Well we didn't delve into where the lack of attention comes from. It may not be because of our relationship... maybe you gave me too much attention? You should be happy that I’m only gay, according to JONAH because of my poor upbringing, I was eventually going to act out, either by turning to same-sex attraction or joining a gang."

My mother was never so happy to tell me that I was gay. "There was nothing wrong with your upbringing and there is nothing wrong with you being gay." Who knew that threatening to go to ex-gay therapy would finally make my mother extremely proud to have a gay son. For a Jewish mother what’s worse then having a gay son? Criticizing her child rearing skills AND costing her money…

So what is the true motivation behind JONAH?

In an email Elaine let me know that her only son Aaron is gay and that when she found out that he “suffered from same-sex attraction, she was completely devastated. For those who you are looking to meet a nice, single, gay Jew, Elaine also let me know that, “BTW, my son is still gay (no longer in that 10 year relationship) but is now not very happy with the gay world compared to his friends who are hetero and are now getting married and having families…”, perhaps Elaine’s son Aaron was my beshert?

I figured there would be some meat (pun intended) in tracking down Elaine’s son. Through the wonders of the Internet, I soon found the right Mr. Berk. I honestly expected to be hung up on, as soon as I mentioned JONAH; instead I found a son caught between his mother, the organization she founded, and his own life. Aaron Berk didn’t just add a new chapter in the story of JONAH he is the proverbial whale in the room.

“I don’t consider myself gay,” Aaron starts off our conversation, “I consider myself open to the possibility of men and women.” This construct frames Aaron’s admittedly complicated relationship with his mother.

To get the big questions out of the way: Yes he talks to her. Yes they have a good relationship. Yes they laugh about “it” (it being JONAH). Yes, they see each other once a week.

Filial responsibility is a consistent theme throughout our conversation. “I don’t want to contribute to something negatively that my mother really believes in,” he tells me as he is quick to defend his mother’s views on gay people, “If you were to ask her – she has no hatred, she has really good gay friends, we lived next door to lesbians growing up, she’s not - gay people are wrong or evil, she just thinks the choice is not the best choice.”

When I ask if Aaron begrudges his mother for her stance on his own “homosexuality”, he defaults to her feelings, “I am upset because she’s upset… I just wish that she didn’t have to go down that path where she looks at it [homosexuality] as a negative. She totally loves me and she totally accepts me for who I am, but I hate that there is always this but, ‘oh but I wish…’ but no I don’t hold that against her.”

So why JONAH? “God knows,” Aaron shrieks in what can only best be described as a Fran Drescher accent, “I was the golden child.” Berk tells me. “And then I was an actor, and then I was gay.”

And then he was an actor who played drag in several, well received off-Broadway productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Didn’t see that one coming did you? Yes, the son that inspired JONAH, “looks really good in heels.” But he’s not “a femmy drag-queen; I’m a balls to the walls she bitch rock-star.”

Has the JONAH crew made a fieldtrip to see Aaron’s work? “Arthur and my mother watched me do Hedwig, and were so proud of me, six inch platform heels and wigs and all,” he answers.

“My biggest qualm with JONAH,” He tells me when asked if he’d ever use the treatment himself, “Is their judgment of being gay.”

There are about a hundred people who subscribe to JONAH’s listserv each one trying to subscribe to JONAH’s treatment. Comments are standard, "I know I wasn't born with it [SSA]. But at the same time, it's an invoulentary [sic] result of whatever it is in my past that caused it. Why?! Why did I need this?”

In defending his mother’s stance on blank Aaron tells me simply that, “She does not accept it [homosexuality] as a lifestyle choice; she feels that there is nothing that is morally incorrect to be with someone of the same-sex, but as a choice of your lifestyle, you had many more options to be happy as a guy with a girl.”

This concept of lifestyle is perhaps the defining raison d’etra of JONAH, and while Aaron likes to think of his mother as a pleasant woman who provides “help to those who need it”, the liturgy behind JONAH is not as pleasant. Goldberg’s critique of the homosexual community is fairly clear, “by using the façade of “tolerance” or “civil rights” or the ruse of an alleged “Scientific proof” defining homosexuality as “innate” gay activities have inundated western society with propaganda carefully designed to convince us that homosexuality is simply an alternative lifestyle… hence the argument goes that homosexuality is entitled to the same degree and kind of protection as racial and religious diversity.”

Yet Aaron is able to divorce himself from this, “I don’t believe my mom is anti-gay. She’s pro-straight. There’s a real difference. Anti-gay means you have hatred towards gay people, you believe they don’t deserve the same rights. Pro-straight, you believe strongly that people do better in typical old-fashioned male-female relationships…” Aaron finally laughed as he thought about his parents’ heterosexual friends who were just as single as their gay friends, before finally admitting, “Wow man… this is so challenging.”

And perhaps that was the most honest answer of the day. While our friends in Jersey City like to view sexuality as a flavour of bread, it is clear that to many sexuality is more challenging then simply choosing between challah with raisons or challah without. Third. Worst. Analogy. Ever?

Regardless... after my stint in JONAH's reparative therapy I’ve tucked away those straight fit jeans and am sticking with white bread. Luckily, my mother’s happy with it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Born That Way

There was quite a bit of chatter a couple of months ago when famed Australian director Baz Luhrmann announced he was going to remake F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. Lurhmann’s supposed 3D (darling, its like we’re actually in East Egg!) take on Gatsby will not be the first time that F. Scott’s sour take on the downside of the American Dream has made it to the that “oh so” classic American entertainment medium of the silver screen; the 1970s saw Mia Farrow and Robert Redford infamously butcher Fitzgerald’s source-material while looking handsome in their jazz-age best. And while in his younger and more vulnerable years Paul Rudd helmed a made-for-TV version of the Great Gatsby featuring Mira Sorvino (remember her?) and Toby Stephens (who?).

A phenomenal book which has made for terrible film, Gatsby’s iconic characters and bittersweet plot have, however, sustained continued fascination since the novel shot to post-war fame. In fact Luhrmann’s announcement was not the only recent Gatsby news to hit the mainstream press of late. Newspapers from the LA Times to the UK Daily Mail sadly reported that the Long Island mansion that supposedly inspired Fitzgerald was bulldozed in April, its plot of land split up and sold into building lots at $10 million a piece. A sad comment about the end of America’s Gilded Age can be seen here.

Few artistic products, with 85 years of vintage, can claim to have such extreme cultural resonance. So what explains our continued fascination with the novel and its titular character of which Fitzgerald once remarked: “the title is only fair, rather bad than good”?

What is it about Gatsby that still means something?

Well to quote Lady Gaga: “He was born that way.” Jay Gatsby reminds us all that for whatever reason we human beings are obsessed with where we come from, and not in the philosophical way, but rather the mundane, “what did your parents do” sort of way.

Take the recent wedding of Kate (now Catherine) Middleton to HRH Prince William of Wales, or whatever his last name is (is it Wales or Windsor?). Throughout their engagement the British press (and presumably the press-reading public) has been fascinated with the Middleton family’s impressive upward social trajectory. In less than three generations the Middleton’s have gone from bricklayers, to air stewards, to entrepreneurs, to machataynus (Yiddish for in-laws) to HRH Prince Charles and Camilla. We know all of this because it was reported breathlessly with a mixture of glee and disdain by London’s press corps. But also note - there was no whitewashing of Kate common past; rather, Kate and her sister Pippa have forever been dubbed the Wisteria Sister’s for being pretty, smelling nice and for their incredible climbing ability. One may argue that Kate’s non aristocratic background is part of what has enamored William, who seems rather taken with the entire Middleton clan, whose bourgeois closeness would seem to bely his own proper up-bringing; regardless of that, our future Queen will forever have a commoner footnote.

But the British Royal Wedding hasn’t just exposed the British public’s fascination of where the Middleton’s come from – they care about where everyone comes from. As this rather amazing article in New York Magazine noted: the current House of Windsor are seen by some members of the landed British aristocracy as nothing more then “middle-class Hanoverians.” The Royal Family as you may or may not know only became the House of Windsor in 1910, changing their name (how common!) from the German sounding House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha). And as Tina Brown noted in her biography of Diana, upon being threated by Prince Phillip: "If you don't behave, my girl, we'll take your title away." Diana is alleged to have replied: "My title is a lot older than yours, Philip." Diana was only too happy to remind Philip that while he may be married to the Queen, the Spencer family has been titled since the 1500’s. Snap.

Lest us not think that it is just the Brits who seem to have a fetish for pedigree, over in the former colonies where birth isn’t supposed to mean anything to the Horatio Aldeg set, perhaps the greatest circus sideshow since the merger of Ringling Brothers with Barnum and Bailey has transpired over just that – family lineage.

Witness the rise of the Birther movement, exacerbated by that carnival barker of a Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who believes that Barack Obama was not actually born in the United States and therefore is in violation of Article 2 of the US Constitution, which states that only natural born citizens can become President. While you may think that this is a fringe movement, some polls have found that 1/4 of American’s aren’t 100% positive that Obama was actually born in Hawaii as he states and as his birth certificate shows. Certainly there is something more sinister and sort of racist about the Birther movement but the very fact that people are interested in Barack’s heritage would stem from an innate desire to know as much about our leader’s history as we can. Even the NY Times, a bastion of Liberalism, published a great feature piece of Barack’s mother and her time in both Kenya and Hawaii, highlighting the fact that family history, even in the history less United States, sells.

Now as Canadians, before we let our noses get too high up in the air from judging former super-powers, lets not forget that we took time away from the most recent federal election to talk about how rich or poor the Ignatieffs were when they got off the boat. Forget the “I didn’t come back here for you,” attack ad and go straight to Iggy’s own “My Canada” advert where he voiceovers: “my dad was a Russian immigrant who came off a boat in 1928 without anything."

Of course as the Conservatives were quick to note before the Writ dropped in their cutesy website: The Ignatieff immigrant experience is one of significant wealth, first-rate educations and privilege. Very few Canadian families can claim this “immigrant experience.”

The common thread in all of these stories and our fascination with them is that they show humans who are beholden to their pasts. We seemingly just can’t escape who we are. This perhaps underlies the continued fascination with Gatsby. Gatsby is one of the few characters that dared attempt to separate who he was from who he tried to be. And yet he is tragic because his desired future was so caught up proving himself to his past. What’s worse is that for a time Gatsby is successful – he remakes himself into a man of wealth, and yet in the end he fails; he winds up friendless, loveless and dead.

Fitzgerald’s argument is significant: we can never truly escape who we are. This plays true for Catherine Middleton of the Party Pieces Middletons, Barack Obama born in Hawaii and Michael Ignatieff, well to do Russian immigrant.

And so we sing songs, beats against the music, re-investing ourselves ceaselessly into Madonna’s past.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stop the Presses: Canadian Campaign Ads, Now With Music, Voiceovers and Images

Post Secret – I think Stephen Harper is a creepy mother fucker and if he was my neighbor I wouldn’t give him my spare key to water my plants and take care of my cats when I went away on vacation. That’s how much I trust the dude who has all of our country’s secret codes.

That being said – the Conservative’s new ad campaign “Our Country” is taking a drubbing in the media and I feel it necessary to defend Herr Harper. When this is all said and done I’ll be taking a nice long shower to wash myself clean.

But in the interim - Simon Houpt, in the Globe, and scores of other reporters have reported the following story today, that Our Country is a direct copy of an ad done for Tea Party candidate Tim Pawlenty. This story was most likely fed to media outlets by the Liberal Party itself, which has quickly put together a nice video montage of both ads:

I commend the Libs for quick spin on this one; looks like that whole disaster with the Stephane Dion coalition video thing is finally behind them (remember the Dion video that arrived late to the CBC looked like Dion was some sort of Al Queda leader releasing a tape from his hidden bunker?)

So where’s the beef?

Well… both ads use voiceovers, images and orchestral music.

Yes that’s right. Voiceovers, images and music. This, in Canada, is what is now consider plagiarism. You should read people’s comments on the YouTube: “if i did this in my university I’d be expelled from all universities in ontario. that's called plagiarism.”

Houpt even uses the word plagiarism in his article: The Pawlenty plagiarism allegations threaten to derail the Conservative attempt to pivot in their messaging, from using their ads to sow fear over Michael Ignatieff to a more hopeful stance.

Since when are “voiceovers” and “images” (which are what people in the movie business call narrative techniques) plagiarism.

Furthermore the actual speeches in both ads are fairly different.

Pawlenty talks about the fact the United States is the world’s most successful nation ever known. This is due to freedom, security, and prosperity. Pawlenty’s rallying cry is that life is not easy, but American’s can overcome their challenges.

In contrast Harper talks about the fact that Canada is the true, north, strong and free. He talks not about overcoming challenges, but about serving, and creating a country of hope, where all Canada can be all that can it be.

Most importantly voiceovers, music and images are old hat in election campaigns in the States. They weren’t invented by Tim Pawlenty and the Tea Party. Here is Reagan’s fairly famous: Morning in America (which shockingly uses Images, Music and Voiceover)

Maybe Pawlenty is plagiarizing from the Gipper? Voiceovers, music and images were trademark of his 1984 campaign. Here's another add from 1984. Yes, MORE voiceover, music and images.

Lest you think this is a Republican versus Democrat thing: here’s an add for Barack Obama from 2008. Yes. Voiceovers. Images. Soaring Music.

I believe what Obama presented in his ad is a vision. Same with Pawlenty. And yes… same with Harper.

So look - lets get angry about the content of Harper’s ads – the $35 billion dollars he’s spending on fighter jets which are so amazingly featured in “Our Country”. Let’s debate Harper’s vision. But let’s not get angry about the fact that he’s presenting one.

Nah what I mean?

I’ll be showering if anyone needs me.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On the Youth Vote...

The lead story on the hard copy version of last Thursday’s Globe and Mail, for those of us technological Luddites who still insist on home delivery of their media and or are weighted down by the cost of professional school rendered too impoverished to buy an iPad, trumpeted the fact that on eve of the 41st federal election all three federal parties were targeting the exact same group of voters.

The G+M headline screamed: Three Parties, One Strategy: Courting the Senior Vote, while the article declared: “this election won’t be about the masses. It will be a battle for segments of the population that can be effectively targeted.” One such targeted population: those 65 and older. The stats apparently speak for themselves: 90% of those over 65 voted in the last federal election. Comparatively only 45% of those aged 25-44 voted. The Stats are even worse for new voters 18-25; but just as your average 19 year-old is too lazy to stop taking bong hits to vote [or so how we’re portrayed], I’m too lazy to do actual research. Just know that the numbers are really really bad.

I mean look... I think it is great that our politicians are so concerned about the senior vote. The Baby Boomers ARE important – my parents are Baby Boomers and their portfolio (of issues… obviously) is important to me. But I gotta be honest when I read that no federal party was interested in my support - I felt a bit slighted. Its sorta like anyone under 44 is stuck in the political version of “He’s Just Not That Into You”; and by replacing Jennifer Aniston with Bev Oda we’ve confirmed the adage that politics is Hollywood for ugly people. The He in our scorned lover scenario, because of course all of our dear leaders coincidentally happen to be white, old, men, are Stephen Harper, Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff and not only do they just not care - they’re like the three musketeers: “All for none and none for you”.

Which of course leads us to the chicken and egg dilemma that we rarely seem to talk about when dealing with what has quaintly been described as youth apathy. While organizations like Apathy is Boring and Student Vote exist to urge our youth to vote, our national newspapers tell us that our votes don’t matter. Our politicians seem to disregard us because youth tend to live in ridings where our votes are worth less then rural ridings which are (drumroll please..) heavily populated by seniors. Mix message, much? No big surprise then that instead of rocking the vote, we’re hitting the snooze button. Is youth (and that word is a bit pejorative isn’t it?) apathy because we’re too young to care or because we’re ostensibly too young to be paid attention to?

There are of course youthful political zealots; I remember them from my stint as a political staffer for a liberal politician. Youth are big business to parties who rely on them for their idolatry of the cause and their willingness to do jobs that no one else wants to do, “Our candidate really really needs you to call this list of people…”

Typical engagement for the under 25 set is limited to membership in party youth wings like CPC Energy, whose headline claims that the last time it was cool to be liberal the New Kids on the Block were cool (uhm… last time making a new kids on the block are no longer cool joke was cool was… never?) or the Young Liberals, which is for those who want to “shape the future of Canada”, the NDP youth wing seems dormant, click around on and you’ll get automatically forwarded to, so I guess uhm… the Dippers care even less about the youth vote then anyone else?

Being a young political animal has its perks beyond open access to the corridors of Canadian politico power such as annual caucus retreats where like-minded individuals argue shades of gray about policy coupled with self-important elected positions. Youth political wings are a self-feeding mechanism that breeds in-group thinking, where every summer John Baird or Justin Trudeau are trotted out at the annual AGM where each will proclaim that those in attendance “are the parties the future”. The whole thing feels like a sycophantic self-congratulating cesspool, which, unsurprisingly, turns off the other half of twenty something’s who are busy trying to solve their own quarter life crisis; not the democratic crisis of a country and a political process that patently declares that it has no interest in them anyway.

So here’s the answer to that chicken versus the egg scenario – why don’t some of the political parties ask us what we want? Maybe then we’ll bother showing up to vote.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Losing My Religion Over YouTube

When I was in grade seven, my class, 7C, was given the task of performing a Shabbat themed play for the entire Senior Division (Grades 6-8). At Bialik Hebrew Day School, or Bialkatraz as we liked to call it, each class got to produce one holiday themed play a year. 7B did a Purim play, 5A did a Passover play etc… twas a gay old time.

I have NO idea how these things were randomized, or whether there was a throw-down in the Teacher’s Lounge every September: “Chava you had the Chanukkah play last year, bitch; this year MY class is going to do it and our version of Peter Paul and Mary’s Light One Candle is going to blow yours out of the water.” [RIP Mary] I don't know how, but it happened.

I will also tell you that these plays were a HUGE deal. Like huge… all consuming for at least a month. As students we were so serious about our performances that I actually can’t watch movies like Centre Stage, because I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; people cried over leads, there were costumes and sets and while retrospectively, they all sucked obviously, at the time I think we felt like we were performing at Radio City Music Hall [You know how shit rolls in grade school].

Anyway… so the 7C Shabbat play; the year was 1994, it was springtime for Hitler and for some reason my teacher, a former Israeli military officer, natch, Rivka, decided to assign me a solo.

No one to this day, is sure what possessed her to do this. But what I can tell you is that at some point during rehearsals and again, let me tell you, this shit was rehearsed over and over again, Rivka turned to me, stripped me of my solo and admonished me in front of the entire class declaring: Yonatan (Hebrew for Jonathan) you sing like a goat. Colour me mortified. I also had horrible Harry Pottery Size glasses; something like 10 years before anyone knew who Harry Potter was so clearly Grade 7 was traumatic enough without being name-checked to a bleating mammal.

In turn, at parent teacher night, don’t think that Papa Len and Sim Sim Sima didn't tell Rivka off. Because they did. “Our sweet, sensitive [sensitive is code-word for gay in retrospect] son,” they let Rivka know, “performs better via positive reinforcement.” Now in some ways my parents are right… I do perform better via positive reinforcement, but, to tell you the truth my parents and I weren’t shocked that my solo was taken away; really what came as a surprise was that I was given a solo in the first place.

My entire family KNEW I couldn’t sing. I could never sing and let's call a spade a spade - puberty certainly didn't help matters.

I started thinking about my brief career as a soloist about week ago, but these thoughts were interrupted as I witnessed the world change forever.

Yes there was a major earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan; Libya’s Mohamar Gadaffi continued to bring the cray cray to North Africa and all of this shit that no one understands went down in Ottawa about contempt and the like.

But more importantly the world met a young rapscallion chanteuse extra-ordinaire named Rebecca Black, singer of the saccharinely mindless ditty, Friday. Which is, stop the presses, about the day of the week, colloquially known as Friday. Black's song is an ode to "looking forward to the weekend" from a chick who probably doesn’t know that when I was her age TGIF meant Full House, Family Matters and Step by Step.

Anyway - what hasn’t been said about the 13 year-old Rebecca Black that hasn’t already entered internet meme lore? At this point R. Black may in fact be bigger then Antoine Dodson, he of the “they raypin erybuddy” fame of last summer. My favourite is the Facebook group entitled: That awkward moment when Rebecca Black doesn't know which seat to take.

What I find fascinating, however, is that Rebecca Black, who admitted to Good Morning America that indeed she doesn’t have the best singing voice in the world, somehow convinced her parents to drop $2000 so that she could have her own music video and song.

At what point did Rebecca Black’s parents NOT say, “Look Rebecca, you’re not the very best singer out there but you’re really good at comedy, horse-jumping, poetry… ANYTHING else.” Did Rebecca Black not have a former Israeli military commando teacher tell her that she sings like a goat?

Cause I can tell you if 12 year-old Jonathan was like, "Sim, Papa Len," I want to become a rap star, my parents would have laughed in my face. Unlike Rebecca, I knew I couldn’t sing. I’m what the French call, tone deaf. But heck, I could do other things instead of singing. I could craft stories, make jokes and uhm… to tell you the truth, I recreated the fictional Hardy Boys town of Bayport out of Lego’s in my basement, but sing? Are you kidding me, singing is on my trifecta of things I don’t do, which are: play team sports, sing and have sex with chicks. Anything else I’m game.

I grow concerned that we’ve somehow become a society of people who refuse to admit that they can't actually sing. Somehow because of the internet and shows like American Idol everyone thinks they can become the next Justin Bieber. The weird thing is that Rebecca Black and the like must know that singing isn't their A talent. After-all its not the artistry of music they crave or a strong endeavor to master the craft of singing. It's none of the above. Rebecca Black and the Ark Music Factory is a wannabe fame factor. We don't want laudatory congratulations, we want celebrity. And people somehow expect that they’ll just throw up some videos on the YouTube and BAM! Viral sensation. Click on those for some awkward YouTube isms.

Maybe the new millennium isn’t, as REM declared, about losing our religion, but losing our sense of artistry for the quick soundbyte of fame at whatever cost. And as if to prove some sort of argument – when I typed “Losing My Religion” into Youtube, the Glee version came up first.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Apparently You Nor I Really Care...

I realized the other day that I was behind Bev Oda. I mean I was behind on the Bev Oda affair and not physically behind the Femme Fetale of the Conservative Party of Canada. I saw all of the headlines involving her and some scandal in my morning Globe and Mail, read Rick Mercer’s tweet about it and quickly turn my browser to Gawker.

Certainly if this were the United States we’d have memes celebrating Bev Oda, and someone would re-write the lyrics to Fergie’s song “Fergalicious, so delicious,” to "Odalicious, so fictitious". In the states that shit would go viral; but in Canada, no one really cares.

After Oda I proceeded to miss the whole Jason Kenny imbroglio because truthfully I kinda didn’t care. Sorry, we’re arguing about stationary? I mean I just bought a bunch of really nice French stationary from this paper shop in Yorkville. But sorry… politics and stationary? Who in the what now? I had the same reaction after Rob Ford canceled muffin service at Toronto City council meetings. I’ve also tried to reduce my carb load so I get where he’s coming from, but like… colour me uninterested. So as Harper, Ford, Kenny, Oda and Iggy re-arrange the deck chairs on the good ship Canada – I’m going to be over there, aka get into a lifeboat, but thanks for coming out guys. Let me know how that works for you; maybe someone can send me a postcard?

My political malaise is, to be honest, fairly surprising. I was recently having coffee with a Globe and Mail journo friend lamenting my sudden inability to keep up with political news, when I finally admitted that for whatever reason, whether it was societal, transitional, demo-graphical, or technological, or due to attention deficit disorder, I just could no longer feign interest in broad-based Canadian politics.

This wasn’t always the case; at 22 my life, both personally and professionally revolved around politics. A lot of my friends were politically employed and I assumed that forever bitten by the bug of politics, we’d forever be addicted. A funny thing happened on the way to 30. We all sort of stopped caring.

The lack of interest of course isn’t just voter apathy in the conventional sense, a problem in and of itself, and which campaigns like and Apathy is Boring exist to challenge. Youth apathy is one thing. Complete disengagement, is, however, a different beast.

It would be easy to claim, debt, business school, and careers for this waning interest in all things government. I worry, however, that there is an insidious undercurrent in this generational angst; an undercurrent, which has created an age of mass political indifference.

As Andrew Coyne notes in what I think is a seminal article on politics in Canada: “Politics in this country – federal politics, at least – is in a kind of death spiral, whose terminus is not dictatorship but irrelevance.”

So what causes this death spiral? At root, surely information, or the lack there of. A friend of mine recently started an organization called Samara, whose goal is to strengthen Canada’s democracy. Samara recently released its second report based on interviews with ex-MP’s. In the reports backgrounder Samara lists the 3 official tasks an MP has in our Westminster Parliamentary system. They are: establish policy and pass laws; ensure that the laws are being carried out properly, and that tax dollars are being spent responsibly; and determine the life of the government by voting for things you support, and against things you don’t.

Truthfully, if you asked me what an MP’s job was before I read Samara's report I’d probably yammer on about “Representing riding interests”. And that’s the ironic truth in this age of information, right? We know so little about how our own government works. How many of us understand the nuances of the recent Globalive ruling, can fully articulate the relationship between the CRTC, the cabinet and industry Canada? To misquote Obama: No We Can’t. This morning as I read about Peter Milliken’s ruling that the government is potentially in contempt of I subsequently had to Google what the ramifications of contempt of parliament actually are.

What’s fascinating and potentially very worrisome about this lack of knowledge is that many of the trends facing our democratic system are dangerous. While most of us like to pinpoint Harper’s supposed hidden agenda as a danger… in reality encroaching conservatism is a red herring at best. What Canadians are actually quietly acquiescing to is a fairly frightening concentration of power.

Jim Travers, the recently deceased Toronto Star columnist wrote this in 2009: "Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.”

What Travers wrote in 2009, is probably even more truthful today.

And so the chicken versus egg situation that we are faced with is: is our political leadership taking advantage of us because of citizenship disinterest, or are we disinterested because politics has become a dirty business where power is increasingly centralized?

It sort of doesn't matter. There's still fun to be had over at gawker... right? In today's 5700 channel internet, there's 5700 web pages and no one's able to concentrate on any of them... Pity that. [learning of the day: the saying: 57 channels and nothing on is a Bruce Springsteen lyric... am I stupid for not knowing that?]