Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: The Globe and Mail

Drop Dead, Diva


“That is the gayest thing I have ever seen,” I whispered when I first saw the trailer for the Christina Aguilera-Cher camp orgy ‘Burlesque’. A hodgepodge of ‘Cabaret’, ‘Chicago’ and ‘Showgirls’ (there’s some ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in there too), the film looks horrendous but I think I may have to go see it in order to keep my queer card.

While I worry that Cher’s multiple facelifts have left her unable to act (Cintra Wilson described her as resembling a stuffed, perpetually-surprised geisha), I was pleased to see her again. Cher is that rare creature, a surviving diva who can laugh at herself. When she showed up at the Oscars in a crazy black sequined headdress and a dress that left nothing to the imagination, she joked with reporters, “You can see I’m taking myself seriously as a legitimate actress.” (Would Lady Gaga say something as funny about her outfits, which she treats as conceptional art?)

In her recent Vanity Fair interview she talks about hating the aging process and mentions Meryl Streep, a former co-star and friend: “I think Meryl is doing it great. The stupid bitch is doing it better than all of us!” I pictured her saying this in her quintessential low drawl and laughed out loud.

Not everyone is as happy about the return of Cher. Take Lynn Crosbie in today’s Globe and Mail.

After outlining the term ‘diva’s operatic origins she writes “Lately, to be a diva is to be, plainly, stuck-up, spoiled and deeply unpleasant.” While gay men may cheer their many comebacks, she claims that the persistence of the diva ideal is disheartening to women.

“These women—from Cher to Bette Midler to Liza and beyond—do not persist because of women’s desire or obsessive fascination. Possibly, there are women out there who actually enjoy Cher’s nightmare synth-hit ‘Believe’; women who find Midler’s caterwauling on about the invention of the brassiere in her stage play delicious; women who can watch Minnelli mumble-sing ‘Single Ladies’ in ‘Sex and the City 2’ without feeling shame and revulsion…And while we are gently heartened by the diva’s worldview (‘I will survive!’), by her apparent timelessness and guts, we are simultaneously alienated by such women for they are gay icons who service a queer ideal of women that is, obviously, nonsexual, and rife with cruelty. The diva is not a friend to women.”

While I don’t know what to do with the argument that gay-worshipped divas are nonsexual (Do famous women have to be sexualized? Don’t straight men have that covered?), it is true that gay camp always derided some of its humour from cruelty. How else can you view drag queens recreating whacked-out Marlene Dietrich falling off a stage mid-song, or crazed Joan Crawford brandishing a wire hanger at her terrified children? Daniel Harris in ‘The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture’ has called camp the ‘religion that failed’, a dark mockery by former star-worshippers as they watched in horror as their goddesses aged and faded away.

But there is strength in the diva as well. Harris writes, “to counteract their own sense of powerlessness as a vilified minority, [homosexuals] modeled themselves on the appealing image of this thick-skinned androgyne-cum-drag-queen, a distinctly militaristic figure who, with a suggestive leer and a deflating wisecrack, triumphed over the indignities of being gay… Quite by accident, by pure serendipity, the diva provided the psychological models for gay militancy and helped radicalized the subculture.”

But that’s about the homosexuals, and Crosbie is interested in gay fandom only as it (to her) delegitimizes a diva’s celebrity.

After accusing gay camp of cruelty and divas as being no friend to women, what does she do with the rest of her column? Well, she says nasty stuff about Cher with the relish of a high school mean girl.

She mocks her for making lots of money and not telling ‘20/20’ the exact amount. She brings up a lame joke about “not being born in Poland” from decades ago (because, you know, Cher is obviously racist against the Poles). She judges Cher for the way she handled her conflicting emotions at the death of Sonny Bono, her ex-husband and manager who attempted to control her career. She judges her again for how she’s coped with her daughter Chasity’s transition from lesbian to transgendered male. She even takes the Meryl Streep quote from Vanity Fair out of context, simply claiming that Cher called her friend “a bitch”.

Near the end of this nasty paragraph Crosbie quotes a gay man, flamboyant designer Bob Mackie, who called her a “chameleon”, then, as she did above, dismisses gay fandom as unimportant: “Cher may well be a chameleon, but only in her reptilian demeanour and ability to adapt, cunningly, to her large LGBT following.”

A cunning reptile. Nice, Lynn.

The column reminded me of all the reviewers of ‘Sex and the City 2’ who didn’t see the paradox of cloaking themselves in feminism while criticizing materialism, and then calling the actresses old, ugly and whorish.

It’s fine if you don’t like Cher. And there’s something to be said for questioning gay diva worship and drag performance (even Harris thinks that, rather than being a transgressive force which questions gender roles, drag queens, by exaggerating and codifying femininity as an over-the-top cartoon, actually reinforce them).

But forgive me if I don’t take your feminist warrior stance very seriously when you’ve made a career of writing mean-spirited cut-ups of celebrities, mostly females.

Divas may be no friend of women, but neither is Lynn Crosbie.

Immigrants, Tories and the Gays

Apparently, I’m causing people to vote Conservative.

I’m sorry. It’s not like I’m trying to. But that’s the inevitable conclusion of John Ibbitson and Joe Friesen’s article in The Globe and Mail about the political beliefs of immigrants: new Canadians are increasingly eyeing the Tories and, though they may give lip-service to smaller government, it’s all about same-sex marriage and gay rights.

Ibbitson and Friesen write that “a new immigrant-friendly Conservative message and a new, more conservative immigrant are finding each other, shaking the once-ironclad bond between new Canadians and the Liberal party.” They introduce Helen Poon, originally from Hong Kong, now of Markham, Ontario. Five years ago, the pastor at her Cantonese Protestant church shocked her by encouraging the congregation to vote for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives because they were against same-sex marriage and abortion. “They said same-sex marriage is not God’s law.” (Also today, the Star reports on criticism of the Pope for not speaking out more fiercely against the mafia in a speech in Sicily. He was more concerned with ‘family values’. Oh, priorities.)

The pastor must have been persuasive, because now Ms. Poon is “considering” voting Conservative. She’s not the only one, as the last election saw the Tories win six new seats in immigrant-heavy suburban ridings. The writers point out that many new Canadians come from countries which had both stricter traditions and ineffective or corrupt governments, leading them to be more socially and fiscally conservative than the average Canadian voter.

When Randeep Sandhu, a Punjabi businessman, first arrived in Brampton he got involved in the city’s Sikh Liberal politics before drifting to conservatism. Same-sex marriage was “the final straw”, but Sandhu doesn’t elaborate on that epiphany, instead emphasising his fiscal conservative beliefs: “The way we were raised, we were taught conservatism, from eating habits to spending habits. That’s the thing I like about conservatism. There’s less misuse of funds. It’s not elaborate government where everybody gets their share of the public money.” Evidently, he has no problem with “elaborate” government restricting gay rights.

Because the connection between smaller government and tradition “values” is sketchy at best, what is sadly going on here is good ol’ fashioned prejudice. Even though they have no intention of reopening the issue, the Tories think they can stir up some votes by tapping into new Canadians’ unease about homosexuality. Like the spectre of racism which haunts the Tea Party “movement” south of the border, the manipulating of prejudice is politics at its most cynical and ugly.

And it’s hardly a long-term winning strategy. Even Stephen Harper knows that his party’s future is not in social conservative ‘wedge’ issues which do nothing to expand his support in the important urban ridings they need to start winning if they are ever to get a Majority. And playing on traditional intolerance often ends up being a one-generation trick. Not only are the children of immigrants born in Canada more likely to hold the progressive views of their  friends (Ms. Poon notes that her son picks up his social beliefs from school and “hates Harper”) but younger newcomers have less adherence to the traditions of the ‘Old Country’. “For me I think it’s important that gay people are considered equal,” said Subir Mann, a 22-year old Punjabi student, who came to Canada as a child. “Part of the reason I’m anti-Conservative is that they often mix religious issues with politics. That can be very dangerous.”

Very true, Subir. The Tories would be wise to remember that many new Canadians come from countries in which religion is constantly embroiled in politics, whether it be reflected in the official state church or, at worse, long-standing sectarian violence. Not all traditional beliefs are worth holding onto.

I felt affronted by the article repeatedly using gay rights (both anti and pro-) as a motivating factor while hiding it from the headline and pull-quotes. It bothers me that my identity as a gay man, and our government’s sanctioning of my marriage (‘some day…’ he thought wistfully), motivates people to support a party I oppose. But new Canadians should be able to relate to this: their identities, their presence in this country, worries some voters who think we should allow in fewer immigrants and have less multicultural accommodation. Always remember, we have more in common than you think.

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.

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