Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: protests

Being Young and White is not a Crime, Ms. Blatchford

Christie Blatchford begins her Globe and Mail column today warning of the “increasingly opaque” Canadian justice system as the case against the 17 protestors charged with conspiracy in connection to the G20 summit begins behind closed doors, with tight security and a media ban.

The idea behind the ban is that the accused, nick-named the G17, are presumed innocent until found guilty, and, in Christie’s colourful language, “should be protected from heinous publicity disseminated against them by the state, its agents and the scum of the press for fear of prejudicing their fair trials.”

While infringement of human rights via last-minute draconian police laws and the exclusion of the public and the press from the court are both issues which should concern all Canadians, Blatchford does her best to undermine her own argument that the media is needed to challenge the spin of the authorities, lawyers and defendants, by slandering an entire age group.

From footage recorded by a undercover police officer of a meeting of the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance, Blatchford observes that the G17 “for the most part appear to be the middle-class progeny of the middle-aged urban profession class of this country. They are, in other words, reasonably affluent, lucky, mostly white kids with good teeth.” She also alleges that some of them still use their parents’ cars and cottages. I have not been covering court cases as long as Blatchford, so maybe the connection between Muskoka, dentistry and conspiracy charges is less obtuse for her than it is to me.

Christie goes on to link, through guilt by association, the young people who came to the courtroom with the accused 17, for they were “cut from that delicate yet entitled cloth so familiar to teachers who work in large Canadian cities.”

Blatchford is insulted that a pair of young women dare to request that an unnamed reporter change seats so that they can sit together and mocks them for getting upset because one of their friend’s is in jail. When the women are eventually able to sit together, Blatchford adds some mild-homophobia to her youth-bashing: “Frankly, it looked as though what they really wanted was a room; they were constantly stroking each other’s hair, doing deep-breathing and clucking softly.”

The article ends, not with a return to the legitimate concerns of secretive courts and restrictions placed on media, but with Blatchford’s interview with a father of an accused, who claims that his daughter is not doing too badly in jail and that “Being a parent is knowing how to do the job after the job needs to be done.”

So there you have it: if only some parents had been a little stricter, perhaps taking away cottage-privileges from their spoiled anarchist offspring, perhaps they wouldn’t be in jail.

And they wonder why young people don’t read newspapers.

Most troubling is the realization that, while making the case for the press’s involvement in court cases, Blatchford shows just how biased and superficial that reportage can be.

Post script: I was going to comment on the Globe’s website and hopefully get some hits from it, but they disabled the comments. I hope “lucky, affluent, middle-class white kids with good teeth” crashed the site.

Advertisements

That’s so Gay

‘That’s so Gay!’ read the pink poster advertising a queer art show on the wooden stairway of the Gladstone Hotel. “Oh my God, I want that,” I told my friends as we stumbled up the steps (I’d already finished a pint). “I’d put it above my bed!”

We had ventured down to Queen West to hear Arsham Parsi take part in a panel discussion on (take a breath) “Bridging Queer International Human Rights at Home and Around the World” (exhale). Arsham is an Iranian queer activist (essentially the Iranian queer activist) who fled his home five years ago after creating an internet message board for Iranian queers. In Canada, he founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, which provides legal and financial support for gay, lesbian and trans-refugees in Turkey, the United Kingdom and North America.  

Most interesting was his insight that the language to talk about gay rights in Iran barely exists. There is no non-offensive word for homosexuality in Farsi. So Arsham made one up. He took the insulting name for a sissy man, equivalent to ‘faggot’, changed the ending and began telling people it meant homosexual. Already, he has noticed reporters picking it up. Arsham has seen first-hand how little information is available for people in Iran and is now posting videos of himself on youtube explaining in Farsi what gay, lesbian and trans mean. He takes his responsibility to the families of Iranian queers just as seriously as that of the refugees themselves and hopes they will watch the videos too.

We were informed that after the break there would be a question and answer session, so I snuck up to Arsham and, after telling him he was doing a good job, whispered, “Just don’t answer any questions about the G20 protests.”

“I am here to talk about queer rights in Iran,” he said. “Don’t worry, I won’t.”

The very first person who went up to the mike, whose broad A’s suggested Australian and skater boy clothes suggested trans, asked about the protestors. Actually, he didn’t so much ask as ramble on about interviewing those who had been arrested and their claims of homophobic slurs from police. Arsham looked at me and smiled. He allowed the other two panellists to give their thoughts, and only when asked directly by the moderator did he weigh in.

“My focus is on the rights of Iranian queers,” he said. “But I should say that I think people should feel safe and secure, and coming from a place where I was in constant fear of the police, in Toronto I always feel safe when police are around.”

Afterwards he told me how much the G20 protestors rattled him. “I left a country of violent protests for one of peace. I don’t want this again.”

One of the other speakers was Marilyn Byer, one of the founders of PFLAG in York Region. She goes into schools and gives talks about homophobia, although that word makes some principals uncomfortable, so she’ll tell them the talk is about ‘diversity’. She pointed out the irony of the ‘That’s so Gay!’ poster on display beside her anti-discrimination banners. “I’m trying to get teenagers to stop saying that, and here it is on our own posters!”

I thought about the new GQ magazine, a magazine my friends and I mock as being one for men who don’t know their gay yet.  Besides the interview with Jason Seigel and the photos of Taylor Lautner (and I must say, being aware that he was born in 1992 and that I would still totally ball him makes me feel a tad old and gross) it has an article defining old-fashioned words for gay guys. The writer explains words like ‘fairy’, ‘queen’ and ‘nancy boy’ in a tongue-in-cheek, ‘isn’t it funny that people used to actually say things like this’ way, taking the (presumably straight) reader’s comfort with homosexuality as a given.

In one place, an activist has to make up words in order to create dialogue, the very first step towards social change. In another, we laugh at hollowed-out slurs as harmless camp relics from another time.

(Although, of course, Canada isn’t homogenous, as activist Kim Vance, the third panellist, reminded the moderator when he claimed that ‘queer’ was universally acknowledged as an acceptable term by the community. “Um, I’m from Nova Scotia,” she said. “And while I’d never live anywhere else, there, it’s still a pretty bad thing to say.”)

“What is in a name?” famous heterosexual heroine Juliet asked on her balcony.

It turns out, quite a lot.

A Rainy Day in Toronto

Well, they’ve done it: they succeeded in hijacking the G20 meeting for their purposes, mysterious as they may be. And I’m not talking about protestors hijacking it away from politicians. I’m referring to the black-clad anarchists stealing the all attention from the peaceful protestors.

It was a surreal day at work. It was a busy afternoon, rainy, so lots of people coming in and sitting around. Other than the occasional flock of police cars racing by the windows, there was nothing to suggest that it wasn’t a usual Saturday afternoon. But eventually someone turned on the Toronto Star live updates blog of the protests downtown, and we took turns reading and refreshing the screen (while helping customers in a timely and courteous manner). It was like reading updates from another city entirely; cars on fire; shattered windows; tear gas that may or may not have worked; police goaded on by protestors who may or may not have been undercover cops. The mom of one of my coworkers was downtown and she was not able to reach her cell phone. “They’ve probably blocked reception,” someone suggested.

One of the updates had a quote from a protestor claiming that only big businesses which used sweatshop labour would be targeted. We all had a bit of a chuckle over American Apparel being vandalized (does anyone have good feelings about that store?), but smashed windows of Starbucks (where I used to work) and Swiss Chalet (where my family used to go for special occasions) hit a little close to home. Where’s the Swiss Chalet sweatshop?

I don’t think it’s as bad as it could be, and I don’t think anything terrible will happen. It’s just depressing because a lot of thoughtful, non-violent people like Sandy participated and will be ignored on the six o’clock news for the sensational footage of destruction. If anti-G20 protests are to continue (that is, if G20 meetings are to continue) there needs to be a reckoning between those with legitimate grievances, relevant issues and peaceful intentions, and those flown-in professional protestors, brave enough to smash windows but not enough to show their face.

Other People: Sandra Goldenberg

When Sandy and I worked together we discussed many things which were “problematic”. Then she left to stand on the street for Greenpeace. (Be nice to those people!) Now she’s doing yoga, running around, a gal about town. Because of her encouragement to get back out there (“You have to!”) I met the Gentleman. Even without that, she’d have a place in my heart for her intelligence, wit and genuine compassion.

MM: Are you still doing chat roulette? What was the craziest thing that happened?

SG: Haha. For the record, my stint on CR was short-lived and fuelled by curiosity (and maybe a giant boner. I kid!) I haven’t visited for a while now, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t in the future. I love meeting new people! See, you’d expect me to tell you that the craziest thing that happened was seeing cock and endless balls (to quote Ginsberg), but something even CRAZIER happened.

My second time on the site, after several creepy, creepy dudes popped up, was a slightly less creepy one that I had an extensive conversation with. It turned out that we loved talking to each other and we’ve carried on video chatting via gchat until now. I think I won him over when I mentioned the movie Houseguest in one of our early convos, and I kid you not, he reached off-screen and it was the movie at the top of his DVD pile. And that was mid-March. It’s not romantic or anything and he lives in Wisconsin, but it’s just a reminder that you never know where you’re going to make a connection. Also, he taught me all about March Madness, ukuleles, and his cat, Sinbad. Moral: Don’t judge Chat Roulette…except maybe a little bit.

MM: What was it like working for Greenpeace?

SG: Amazing! Hands down, favourite job yet. (Well, minus the time I worked with you, Max. That was nice too). For the first time in my life, I was able to apply my passion and my schooling (I’m completing my degree in Equity Studies in December) to a job, for which I was being paid. I was canvassing on the street (a girl with a binder, I know), which led to all sorts of learning regarding Greenpeace itself, environmental degradation and human interaction – good and bad.

From what I saw, Greenpeace is an effective and inspiring organization. I was proud to be on the frontlines for something that I believe in. To revert back to my job as a canvasser, I’m going to go ahead and say that everybody should sign up and donate. See, the world is going to keep kicking whether we stick around or not, and selfishly, I not only want to have kids, but I hope they get to swim in lakes and see ancient trees, and don’t have to feel scared about the condition of the environment. I find it hard to believe that I’m alone in this. It’s something to think about anyway.

I would get a lot of flack from passers-by, claiming that I was naïve for thinking an organization could make change. Hold on to hope, because it inspires it in others, and together, change is absolutely possible.

MM: Ideally, what would you like to be doing?

SG: Who are you, my Mom? Haha, kidding. I love both you and my mother. Honestly, the answer to this question changes a lot, but there are themes that are emerging. I care desperately about my freedom to live as I want and my ability to express myself in a creative way. I care about learning and teaching, writing, yogaing, and my relationships with others. I function under the assumption that I won’t have a TON of money in my future, but I’m okay with that.

I learned early on, with The Sims, that knowing the cheats and having tons of money is a shortcut to unhappiness. To be more specific, I picture: yoga teacher, academic, mother, working in some capacity for Greenpeace or some other sweet-ass organization or maybe even a totally unqualified therapist. It’s not that I have the answers, but I love hearing about others’ confusion – I have endless sympathy for people who just aren’t sure about the answers to life’s bigger questions.  

MM: What do you like about yoga?

SG: It’s just the best metaphor for life, ever. It’s full of struggle, it requires risk, strength and courage, it throws you in compromising positions to which you find, there’s always an escape. Even in seemingly impossible postures, even when your muscles are shaking and the sweat gets in your eyes, you can find this secret bit of strength that you didn’t know you possessed, which allows you to sustain and eventually surrender to the pose. It’s incredible because you can feel this transformation from struggle to radiance and grace. Honestly, I feel like I struggle a lot but I’m aware that I get stronger, and that the things I perceive as failures are (I hope), successes in progress. 

For a long time now, I’ve wanted to teach yoga but I had a set back this year. There’s a voice in my head that tells me I’m afraid to do hand stands and arm balances, so my progress began to plateau because I was so afraid. I stopped going to yoga for a while, convincing myself that it just wasn’t what I wanted anymore. But a couple weeks back, I woke myself up. I was like, “Sandy! What are you doing?!” Ha. I laughed at myself and now I’m going again. I’ll let you know when I start getting up in hand stands.

MM: Describe your bedroom.

SG: It came furnished and the stuff is remarkably nice, considering.  The walls are white with a plastered ceiling. I like to look up at it because it’s all swirly. I have a white comforter and a crazy old-school hud-bay blanket for additional warmth. (Completely unnecessary in this heat). The window is by my bed and always open. The artwork is all my own and I only put up pieces that inspire me. Books, lotions, dirty mugs. Yup. Oh, one time my roommate walked in and my room was a MESS; a giant pile of random things lying on my floor. As she turned away she said, “You know it’s a real mess when there’s a hula hoop in the mix.”

MM: What book should everyone go out and start reading?

SG: Ugh, I hate talking about books because you know like 75% of people are going to be like, “Ooooohmygod, On The Road or Catcher,” and I’m one of those people! And then someone is inevitably going to rag on you for your cliché choices. So, I’m going to choose other amazing books because LOTS of books are incredible. Angela Carter wrote Wise Children, after she found out she was dying of cancer. It’s not only a hilarious, rich and well-written novel, but one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. The tone corresponds to the refrain of the novel, “What a joy it is to dance and sing!”

I was also raised by a mother who was into self-help in a big way. If you want to find freedom and joy, read Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life.

And when you’re done feeling really good about life, read whatever poetry you can get your hands on and question everything you learned from Carter and Hay. But then read the former two again so you can feel good.

MM: Describe what G20 protests you’re involved in, and what your opinions are about it.

SG: I was present at the Toxic Tour on Wednesday, a march through the streets which sought to bring attention to Canada’s extractive industries, the Tar Sands, key financiers of these industries and to bring together people who believe in climate justice. I’ll also be at the People First! march on Saturday which will be huge and amazing, not to mention family friendly. (Bring your friends!) At this point, I’ve read a lot of theory about activism, but haven’t put a lot of it into practice. The summit has provided an interesting introduction to this kind of work.

As for my opinions, they’re conflicted. They’re conflicted because I don’t know the right way to make positive change. I’m not sure how best to shape this reality into the one I wish it is. I’m not altogether sure that I think it’s fair to shape things to my hopes and dreams, as opposed to yours or that guy’s or whomever. I don’t know how the protesters will be met, if the risk of violence is worth it, if people will be respected. I believe (and I know there are people who would argue this) that both protesters and police deserve respect. My understandings of non-violence are probably stricter than many people marching.

I find it difficult to reconcile also the messages I receive on my yoga mat with the chanting and shouting at a rally and yet, both make sense to me. I attempt to keep things in tension, keep things complex in my mind. Ultimately, the reason I’ve decided to be there is because I heard someone say that you’re either an activist or an inactivist. I’d prefer to the be the former and not sit by idly.

MM: Where would you like to travel next?

SG: To the woods, out of sight.

MM: What are the five best (or worst, or mixture of the two) academic books/thesis you’ve come across.

SG: Sigh. Max. Perhaps you overestimate me as a student. I wish I remembered all of the amazing articles I’ve read over the past 6 years. But…

John Gray’s work on Modus Vivendi, gave me nerd-chills like nothing else to date. He’s a political theorist dealing with value-pluralism, which is relevant to a place like Canada. In a nutshell, his theory allows for groups with conflicting cultures/morals to form smaller groups/nations run by their own worldviews, while all nations agree on a VERY minimal compact or agreement. I’m not promoting it necessarily, just saying it’s awesome.

Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which Is Not One was a hit. She talks about vaginas. It’s pretty cool.

The entire book, PoMoSexual. It’s two of my fave things to talk about: post-modernism and sexuality.

Christopher Southgate et al.  God, Humanity and the Cosmos. It’ll tell you what you need to know about the history of the science/religion interface. Amazing.

I’ve only got four. My head is really to explode from thinking hard. Nap time. And I’m not joking.