Last Tuesday, the National Post published what turned out to be a great justification for the continued existence of Women’s Studies programs, in the form of an “angry, divisive and dubious” (to borrow a phrase) editorial against the discipline.
Now, the opinions expressed by the Post’s editorial board are, very often, not ours; a right-wing editorial would not normally merit a special response from us. This is different. For one thing, the paper’s official position — it bears repeating, official position — on Women’s Studies programs is outright offensive, and woefully uninformed. It states, for instance, that “Women’s Studies courses have taught that all women — or nearlyall [sic] — are victims and nearly all men are victimizers,” which should seem a careless generalization to anyone with a Women’s Studies degree. It cites dated concepts as though they’re generally accepted premises within this (apparently homogeneous) discipline. There ought to be a variation of Godwin’s Law to cover poorly contextualized Andrea Dworkin quotations.
But it would be too generous to say that the National Post’s editorial writers know little about Women’s Studies. That’s not what bothers us: ignorant stereotypes are familiar to all feminists. No, what disturbs us is that the Post considers Women’s Studies’ aims pernicious. The following quote is not, in fact, lifted from the Onion: “The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women.” Women’s Studies isn’t a corrective to an unjust society, you see — it’s a conspiracy which is responsible for such horrors as “employment equity,” “mandatory diversity training,” and “universal daycare and mandatory government-run kindergarten.” And thanks to feminism and the unbiased, professionally run, and state-subsidized education system it supports, your children may grow up believing that the differences between males and females are “relatively insignificant.”
This is, in our view, utter rubbish, and it is very much not OK. When a group with a longstanding, deeply entrenched systemic advantage — “privilege,” in the parlance of Women’s Studies and programs like it — speaks heatedly of its “rights” vis-à-vis a less privileged group, it’s usually seen as an expression of bigotry. “White rights” are generally invoked by white supremacists. The words “Jewish conspiracy” or “immigrant takeover” are surefire conversation stoppers. Heterosexuals who object to gay pride parades on the basis that no “straight parades” exist are, if not completely homophobic, not all that bright. In either case, the opinions expressed aren’t just stupid; they’re alarming. We don’t see why things should be any different when it comes to gender, and yet the “pendulum has swung” argument is somehow viable when women’s rights is the issue at stake. (more…)
Last summer I took a gig hosting a film screening and lecture series at a library well north of Toronto. In a sterile meeting room upholstered with folding chairs and an extravagant hi-def projector that nobody employed there knew how to use, I began the series by screening Beshkempir, a 1998 Kyrgyz-language Bildungsroman. It’s a poky piece of social realism shot in a country most of my viewers had never heard of, but was a unanimous hit amongst the crowd of suburban housewives and budding cinephiles. The reaction to the second (and final) film I screened was even more startling.
The movie was Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World, one of my favourite Canadian features of the past decade. My idea was that these eager armchair film scholars would learn how vibrant, exciting, and bizarre their national cinema could be. Their response? Not so much.
As I began to suss out feedback, one woman furrowed her brow and shook her head, grumbling “I couldn’t find one thing that I liked about it.” My attempts to defend the film, its extraordinary humour, its stylistic idiosyncrasy, its riffs on American cultural imperialism, and the obsessive peccadilloes of its director fell on deaf ears. Whether they got it didn’t matter. They disliked it.
As I prepared to pack up my notes and get back on the roundabout bus route home to my downtown basement apartment, there was a stir of dissent in the ranks. An older, Eastern European man popped out of his metal chair and ardently defended the film’s clever use of montage editing, and its cartoonishly tragic thematic flourish. Not only did this crotchety retiree get Maddin’s film. He liked it a whole lot too. (more…)
Twitter looms large in the minds of journalists. Some of us live on the micro-blogging site: it is our industry’s collective water cooler. Others hate and fear the blue bird, confining themselves to Facebook or even email for social communication. All, however, feel compelled to file stories about what Twitter and Facebook mean for traditional media, in a relentless, mind-numbing, collective effort to convince readers that our business is its own top story.
So it is that today we read about an experiment called “Behind closed doors on the Net.” Starting on Feb. 1, five French-language broadcast journalists will get all of their information from Facebook or Twitter — no newspapers, magazines, television, or radio allowed. They will be allowed to click on links, but not surf freely across the web. The Toronto Star says that this will “test the limits of reporting solely with Facebook and Twitter.”
Of course, to call this reporting confuses consumption with production. Reading Twitter is not reporting any more than watching the Food Network is cooking. So let’s take the project for what it will actually measure (and to their credit, the experimenters seem to understand this much) — what news is like when it is consumed from social networking sites. As Radio-Canada’s Janic Tremblay told the Star, “We don’t know what to expect. There are people who just inform themselves with those 140 characters. What image do they get of news?”
Since Tremblay doesn’t quote any research about how people actually read Twitter, I’ll make my own evidence-free assertion: he’s wrong; nobody gets all of their news in 140-character increments. Most tweets contain links to actual news articles or video clips by folks (i.e., traditional journalists) like Tremblay. We follow sources that interest us, and then click links from their feeds. We Google something related to the story, get sucked into Wikipedia, and look up to find that the work day is over. Or we click, find a superficial criticism of the internet, and give up on newspapers for another day.
BUDAPEST—The first thing that one sees, upon stepping off a plane in the Hungarian capital’s Ferihegy airport and entering the baggage claim area, is a pair of full-wall posters. A tall, lithe Hungarian, naked from the waist up save a bushy Mark-Spitz moustache and a funny little bonnet with ear protection, explodes out of the water with a yellow, volleyball-sized sphere cradled in his hand.
The advertisement, for a mobile phone company, appears twice, once in English and once in Hungarian. But either way, the message is clear: you’re now entering the land of water polo. Enjoy your stay!
Water polo, despite its English moniker, was developed in the UK in the late 19th century as an aquatic variation on rugby. The English wrote the rules and dominated the sport in its early decades, but since the late 1920s, no country – not any of such second-tier water polo nations as Italy, Greece and the former Yugoslavian countries – can match the prodigious water polo expertise and achievements of the Hungarians.
Since 1928, the Hungarian water polo team (in Magyar, the sport is called Vízilabda) has medalled in all but four Summer Olympics, one of which they were forced to skip due to the Eastern Bloc boycott (Los Angeles, 1984). Nine times they’ve won gold, including the past three Olympics.
In one amazing run of invincibility, Hungary went undefeated in 40 consecutive international matches between 1952 and 1956. This remarkable stretch was no easy feat of concentration, considering the political oppression the country experienced during these years at the hands of the Soviets, who brutally put down a popular revolution in November, 1956, one month before a vengeful Hungarian team beat Russia in the most famous match ever played, the “Blood in the Water” encounter at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. (more…)
P.K. Page, an extraordinary poet, prose writer, and painter, one of our most individual talents, died yesterday at home in Victoria, B.C. It is a loss not only for the world of Canadian poetry, over which she loomed large in her unusual way, but for Canada itself.
While I had read poems of hers before, I first encountered the enormity of her contribution in Ottawa in 2003, when Prof. Zailig Pollock, now named Page’s literary executor, spoke to a conference I attended. Pollock’s presentation was about the possibilities of hypertext poetry, and he used his ongoing work on Page as an example. After that day, I began to seek her poems out, and my reading of her has been a universally satisfying experience. (For an artist with such a wide range, she was unbelievably consistent.) The Walrus was fortunate to publish her work a few times over the years, most recently in June 2008, when we featured her poem “Each Mortal Thing,” illustrated by a pair of P.K.’s wonderful drawings.
While her passing is a considerable loss, especially given how productive she was in old age, there is some good news. As Quill & Quire reported yesterday, Pollock will be working with Tim Inkster and his excellent Porcupine’s Quill Press to publish a ten-volume edition of Page’s complete works. Additionally, Pollock and Dalhousie professor Dean Irvine will be preparing a hypermedia archive of her work. Thanks to these efforts, she will live on.
Last June, P.K. published a poem called “Cullen in the Afterlife” in Poetry. On this day after her passing, quoting its closing lines seems to me a very good way of saying goodbye:
So he must start once more. He had begun
how many times? Faint glimmerings and dim
memories of pasts behind the past
recently lived — the animal pasts and vague
vegetable pasts — those climbing vines and fruits;
and mineral pasts (a slower pulse) the shine
of gold and silver and the gray of iron.
The “upward anguish.”
What a rush of wings
above him as he thought the phrase and knew
angels were overhead, and over them
a million suns and moons.
(Drawing by P.K. Page. Click here to read more of her poetry in The Walrus.)
Last week a computerized voice at TD Canada Trust called to inform me that my ATM card’s security had been compromised, and I had to come get a new one; meanwhile, my old card had been deactivated. This irritated me, not least because it was the second such call in three weeks. So I did what any right-thinking modern man does when faced with a petty annoyance. I groused about it on Twitter.
Minutes later my friend J. responded that the same thing had happened to him and his wife twice in two weeks. They’d been told it was a local skimming scam in Toronto’s Beaches — but I hadn’t been out thataway in over a month. I quickly drew two conclusions:
• TDCT’s recent security problems were more widespread than they admitted to their customers.
• Twitter is more interesting than I thought.
Twitter’s long-term strategy is to be “the pulse of the planet.” At first that sounded ridiculous to me — but you know what, maybe it’s half-right. Maybe its fire hose of data can be filtered, collated, and used to draw connections that would have otherwise gone unseen.
Corporations have been quick to realize this. Another online friend of mine recently went to the U.S. with her iPhone, and was charged $300 even though she had turned data roaming off. She called Rogers; they said it was her fault for not turning off 3G. So she complained on Twitter — and Rogers noticed, and contacted her, and refunded the charge in full.
Why? Because companies don’t care if individual customers are upset, but if they tell enough people about it in writing, on a public forum where complaints can easily be retweeted across the Twittersphere — well, that’s different. I still don’t know about pulse of the planet; but Twitter as the world’s complaint department? Now that I can buy.
Here in the First World, we complain about First World problems: inactive ATM cards, excessive data charges. It’s mostly no big deal. But in the developing world, there are real complaints. In particular, endemic corruption. I have long argued that the human leeches (i.e., government leaders) who steal money from their own people are the single biggest problem the Third World faces.
A few years ago, a Very Large Corporation called for ideas on how to use technology to help sub-Saharan Africa; I suggested a corruption-reporting service to name and shame those parasites. The company liked the idea, but it didn’t go forward. (See my latest Maisonneuve column for more about why.)
But now I realize that there’s no need for anybody to implement such a system. It already exists. It’s called Twitter. And in a few years, the developing world will have ubiquitous access to it via both the internet and cell-phone SMS, the medium for which Twitter was originally designed.
The cephalopod of corruption has long festered in the shadows, and held the poor world back with its bloodsucking tentacles. Call me an optimist, but I can easily imagine the monster finally dragged into light by a few Twitter hashtags, some judicious data mining, and the unquenchable human urge to complain. Paging Transparency International. Perhaps your Holy Grail is here.
I admire how restless Jeff Lemire seems to be. Look at the career trajectory the Toronto cartoonist has charted for himself, look at how urgently he’s laid down every penline and brushstroke — you get the sense that this guy needs to tell stories. In 2007, following a Xeric Foundation grant and a self-published debut, Lemire released Tales From the Farm, a coming-of-age story that finds parallels between hockey, fatherhood, and superheroes. Another two volumes followed in what became his Essex County trilogy, each growing in ambition. Upon their completion (Top Shelf published all three as one massive collection last year), Essex County had become a multi-generational family chronicle that pieced together the lonely lives of kind-hearted brutes, pensive boys, and determined women.
Lemire’s cartooning is expressive without calling attention to itself, pointing instead toward the importance of plot, setting, and character. After Essex County, he created The Nobody, a loose adaptation of The Invisible Man that leavens Wells’s masterpiece of misanthropy with the addition of a sympathetic narrator (a teenaged girl). Vertigo, one of comics’ big-name genre-fiction imprints, released The Nobody, and is also publishing Lemire’s monthly title Sweet Tooth. The series, featuring an antlered boy “hybrid” and his grim survivalist companion, is something of a post-apocalyptic take on the cartoonist’s concerns with small towns and family units, and the allegiances formed and broken within. To discuss his rapidly expanding body of work, Lemire graciously set aside some time to chat on the phone with me. (more…)
Writing is freedom. The freedom to express ideas; the freedom to influence others; the freedom to explore all facets of humanity. Many authors have used this power to delve into one of our greatest unknowns: what life would be like as a member of the opposite gender. Through fiction, male and female writers get to convey what they perceive to be the feelings, emotions, and struggles of, respectively, the fairer and fouler sexes. With that in mind, let’s consider some prime examples of both genders’ attempts to inhabit the minds of the other.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham, 1998
Cunningham creates not one but three substantial female characters, each of them deeply effected by Virginia Woolf’s 1925 book Mrs. Dalloway. The Hours follows Ms. Woolf (a fictional portrayal of the author), Laura Brown, and Clarissa Vaughn as they grapple with mental illness, suicide, and sexual identity. Cunningham borrows not only Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness writing style, but also many themes from her life and the plot of Mrs. Dalloway. His Pulitzer Prize–winning novel (which was transformed into an Oscar-winning film) is celebrated for its realistic portrayal of how women confront major problems of human existence.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, 1911
This novella has Wharton examining the social pressures at work on a Victorian husband who is vexed by a difficult choice: stay with his ailing shrew of a wife, or run off with their young, comely housemaid. Ethan longs to make a new life for himself with Mattie, but society imposes his obligation to honour his vows to Zeena. The male protagonist has often been called an analog for Wharton, who was experiencing a similar pressure — juggling a spouse and a lover — at the time of writing. The story ultimately ends in tragedy, as Ethan and Mattie are brutally injured in a sledding accident. Wharton’s marriage fared no better; she divorced in 1913 after suffering a nervous breakdown. (more…)