By Emma Teitel - Saturday, May 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is not known to be a fan of the gays. Yet beneath a flapping rainbow flag — raised to mark the International Day Against Homophobia Biphobia and Transphobia at Toronto City Hall –he looked at peace on Friday. He was safe, at least for a while, from the media and the question of the day: “Mayor Ford, do you smoke crack?”
I was twice in the Ford scrums on Friday. At one point, he emerged from an elevator, red faced and mumbling something to the effect of “it’s ridiculous.” He appeared again after the gay-rights flag ceremony where I’m not sure he said anything at all.
The only indication we have so far that Rob Ford is a crack user, is this and this. There’s also this photo of the mayor standing visibly blitzed (in my opinion) between two men, one of whom appears to be the late Anthony Smith, a 21-year-old Torontonian who was killed in a gangland shooting.
If the video surfaces on the Internet, which I suspect it will, and the allegations are confirmed —remember the golden-eagle-snatching-a-baby video? — he may not only lose his job, he’ll have lost his last redeeming quality. Irrespective of his boorishness, Ford has survived on his image as a folksy inner-city high school football coach full of tough love and high hopes for the downtrodden.
The narrative was the only thing his detractors could stand — it’s what made him most loveable to his boosters.
If the allegations are confirmed, a man who claimed to be a hero in a drug-ridden neighbourhood will turn out to be the villain. He’ll go from being a flawed human being— bad mayor, but an okay guy — to much darker and despicable.
Until it plays out, Ford will persevere — indifferent to everyone and everything, especially his past. Remember his short-lived Cut the Waist, weight-loss challenge? That famous scale is still on display, unused and in full view — a public relic of his personal failure.
On Friday at city hall, an anti-homophobia flag-raising seemed like the highlight of Rob Ford’s day — that alone speaks volumes.
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 8:44 PM - 0 Comments
In 1991, the New York Times published a story called Women Who Lost Breasts Define Their Own Femininity. The piece was mostly positive; its message—that losing one breast, or both, does not extinguish one’s femininity or sexuality. Beyond their courage in the face of disease, the women seemed ordinary.
Angelina Jolie is not. She is a diplomat, an Oscar winner, a humanitarian and an eternal thorn in the side of Jennifer Aniston. She is Lara Croft.
And she’s just had a double mastectomy.
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Always buy toilet paper in bulk
The news has two objectives: to report what’s just happened and to rehash, in the most sensational terms, what is apparently always happening. There’s the obesity beat, the what-gives-you-cancer beat, the housing-crash beat, and the most constant of these constants: the everyone-under-30-is-lazy-entitled-and-doomed-to-fail beat. Some recent highlights: “Generation Y struggling to start their adult lives”; “Study claims Generation Y more materialistic, less willing to work” and “Are Millennials the screwed generation?” We either can’t get jobs or can’t appreciate the jobs we have. We’re not even thinking about getting married yet, we walk through traffic with our eyes fixed to our phones and, to top it off, we can’t even cook a decent roast: according to Australia’s McCrindle Research, “only 51 per cent of women aged under 30 can cook a roast compared with 82 per cent of Baby Boomers.” We are also useless at gardening: “Only 23 per cent [of Millennial women] can grow a plant from a cutting when 78 per cent of older women say this is a breeze.”
To the rescue of this so-called lost generation comes 28-year-old American blogger and former newspaper columnist Kelly Williams Brown, who has written a book called Adulting, How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. It’s the first book of its kind—a guide for Millennials who are oblivious to all things seemingly adult: the young professional whose parents still pay her cellphone bill; the med student who spends his student-loan money on a trip to Tijuana; and the Maclean’s magazine columnist who, until very recently, thought that Warren Buffett sang Margaritaville, and had to ask her boss for instructions on how to write a cheque.
In the words of Williams Brown: “What’s that, you say? You’re a colossal sham who will never have your life in order? One who eats microwave taquitos in lieu of breakfast? One whose actions do not reflect the fact that, chronologically, you are absolutely, completely, and undeniably an adult? Yes. Of course you think that. Everyone does.”
By Emma Teitel - Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 5:12 PM - 0 Comments
Stephen Hawking has joined a motley crew of celebrities who have distanced themselves from the state of Israel. The list of personalities to do so includes Annie Lennox, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bran Van 3000 (remember them?).
Hawking has announced that he will not attend the Israeli Presidential Conference next month, an academic event set to explore “the central issues that will influence the face of our future.” It’s also a celebration of Israeli President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday.
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
From forcing kisses on relatives to hand-holding, kids may be losing their liberties
You’ve all been there: unruly, unclean and narcissistic, yet for some reason, irresistible to everyone in your path. You are four years old at a family function. A stranger approaches. She looks and smells like leather. She has whiskers. She wants a kiss. You duck away, look to your parents for support. Not only do they ignore your calls for help, they are, in fact, aiding and abetting this sadistic ritual: “Give your auntie a kiss, sweetie,” they plead. “It will mean so much to her.” You abstain, they get stern and finally, defeated, you give in and let the whiskers brush your chin as the stranger plants a wet one on your tiny grimace.
Being forced to kiss and hug distant relatives—endure cheek-pinching from old people you’ve never met—is a universal annoyance, an age-old tradition most of us have experienced first-hand. But its days may be numbered. Support for a new parenting trend is on the rise, a trend defined not by the affection kids crave, but by the affection they detest. Irene van der Zande, founder of Kidpower International—a non-profit organization devoted to child safety (she founded Kidpower in 1985 after a man threatened to kidnap her children)—believes that forcing kids to show affection is potentially dangerous. “When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them,” writes van der Zande, “because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them. This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behaviour and kids enduring bullying because everyone is having fun.” Shirin Purnell, a Virginia parenting blogger who subcribes to this belief—she wrote about it last week on her blog, On the Fence—believes that even suggesting to your child that a relative might enjoy a hug or kiss is “emotional manipulation.”
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 10:41 PM - 0 Comments
I texted my sports-addicted dad with the news that veteran NBA player Jason Collins is gay.
“Who’s Jason Collins?” he wrote back.
Apparently before his very brave admission, Collins wasn’t a big deal. Brittney Griner, this year’s WNBA No. 1 draft pick—not to mention the only woman in professional basketball who can dunk—is a big deal.
She’s also recently, publicly, gay. Griner came out casually last week during an interview with USA Today. In fact, she didn’t come out so much as confirm what most people already thought they knew.
From USA Today:
She also took the advice of her parents, who always encouraged her to be herself. Griner has always embraced that advice, and it gave her the courage to open up to her parents about her sexuality. “I hadn’t come out completely,” she said. “It was kind of like, you know … I just hadn’t said it.”
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Griner was equally laid back: “Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.” Media reaction was as placid as Griner’s acknowledgement. If you weren’t seeking out LGBT or WNBA news that day, you probably wouldn’t have known Griner was gay—or who she was in the first place. This seemed to irk some women in and out of the sports world who have since asserted that Jason Collins is not the first sports star to come out of the closet (as some news outlets proclaimed). There were many trailblazers — Brittney Griner included.
So why is a high-profile man’s coming-out story more newsworthy than a woman’s?
The answer is simple and separate from the fact men’s professional sports are infinitely more popular (and thus more newsworthy) than women’s athletics.
Travis Waldron at thinkprogress.org articulates it perfectly: “Because heterosexual women are assumed to be feminine,” he writes, “women who excel in male-dominated fields, or who exhibit strength normally associated with men, find themselves subject to having assumptions about their sexuality made on the basis of their bodies or their skills.” In other words, people assume if you are a woman who is heavily into sports—especially at a high level—you may be gay. Whether or not this assumption is fair or founded is irrelevant. In men’s sports, the pendulum swings the other way: people assume a man who is heavily into sports—especially at a high level—cannot be gay.
Coming out is never easy — no matter how many people “already know.” But defying other people’s expectations—as Collins and male athletes like him have to do—is an added pressure to a daunting and painful task.
Brittney Griner affirmed a stereotype. Jason Collins broke one. That is why his coming out received more attention. And in many ways, that is why it is more important.
By Emma Teitel - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 10:23 AM - 0 Comments
Acts of religiously motivated terrorism, or in Canada’s case, foiled plans of religiously motivated terrorism, do not generally bode well for multiculturalism.
In the wake of Boston, and news of the VIA Rail plot, people are left to wonder about the merits of cultural pluralism. What are we to make of terrorists and would-be terrorists who weren’t disciples of Osama bin Laden, but outwardly happy inhabitants of the Western world. These people studied here, made friends here, sang the national anthem beside us after the morning school bell. It’s easier to conceive of blind hatred when the person doing the hating has never come into direct contact with the thing he hates: the skinhead who has never met a Jew, the righteous belieber who has never read the Diary of Anne Frank. But these men knew us.
It’s easy to become disillusioned with multiculturalism and religious tolerance when we fixate on the people trying to obliterate these ideals. Yet look to the faith communities that these men thought they were a valuable part of and it becomes clear that multiculturalism, co-operation, tolerance — all the cheesy Canadian principles Fox News makes fun of us for—are alive and well. So too are we, quite possibly, because a Canadian imam tipped the RCMP about a shady member of his mosque—a potential religious extremist. If Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier are the villains in this story, the anonymous imam is our hero.
I don’t usually agree with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, but I can’t fault him for these comments he made to the National Post:
“The community involvement in dealing with these kinds of activities is absolutely essential. In that context, I’d specifically want to point out the fact that the Muslim community was very instrumental in providing very crucial information that helped the police in this case.”
The actions of the Cambridge Muslim community speak for themselves. The Tsarnaevs’ mosque refused to give Tamerlan a funeral. Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Centre, Boston’s biggest mosque—denounced the brothers and their alleged crimes:
“I don’t care who or what these criminals claim to be, but I can never recognize these criminals as part of my city or my faith community. All of us Bostonians want these criminals to be brought to justice immediately. I am infuriated at the criminals of these bombings for trying to rip our city apart. We will remain united and not let them change who we are as Bostonians.”
Anyone cynical about multiculturalism and suspicious of foreigners in the wake of this month’s events would do well to remember that these suspects—Tamerlan and Dhokhar Tsarnaev, Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier—do not speak for their communities. But their communities have spoken for them, and their message is clear: Those guys are not with us.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 6:26 PM - 0 Comments
Shortly after the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly bombed their own city and a day before they took their armory to Watertown, the U.S. Senate defeated a bi-partisan gun control amendment that aimed to expand background checks for gun buyers. President Obama was furious. Vice President Joe Biden verged on tears, while Newtown families in Washington wept openly.
“We’ll return home now, disappointed but not defeated,” said Mark Barden, whose seven-year-old was one of 20 children shot and killed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. “We return home with a determination that change will happen. Maybe not today, but it will happen. It will happen soon.”
Or perhaps not at all. In the wake of Boston some might see heightened hope for the gun control lobby. Paul M. Barrett at Bloomberg Businessweek sees the opposite:
“I’ll predict that the unrest emanating from Boston will benefit the National Rifle Association and its allies in their campaign for widespread individual firearm ownership. For better or worse, the pro-gun side thrives on heightened anxiety … As any gun manufacturer will tell you, the 9/11 attacks helped sales at firearm counters around the country and strengthened the NRA’s hand in lobbying against greater federal restrictions.”
Arkansas State Representative and long-time NRA member Nate Bell tweeted the following on the weekend: “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?” Cain TV —Herman Cain’s TV network—was equally subtle: “Just wondering: wouldn’t it be good right now if everyone in Boston had a gun?”
To follow the NRA’s logic—“the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”—the more good guys with guns, the better. The more gun owners who are “law-abiding citizens”—to use the right’s new favourite expression (“job creators” is so 2012)–the less likely criminals are to shoot up the neighbourhood and hide in your boat. According to the NRA, merely following the law is proof you should have unlimited access to the tools most convenient for breaking it. The gun lobby doesn’t just thrive on fear mongering, or “heightened anxiety,” as Barrett calls it. It thrives on the myth that the law-abiding citizen will never cease to be one. And so its leaders ask, every time a new measure comes before the Senate, every time a violent tragedy strikes somewhere in their country:
Why should harmless, law-abiding citizens, be inconvenienced and insulted with extensive background checks when we have no reason to fear them?
The answer is simple: Until last week we had no apparent reason to fear a person like Dzhohkar Tsarnaev, the “popular” teenage wrestler, handsome stoner, and — at least as far as his father is concerned—“angel” on Earth. Until last week, the brothers Tsarnaev were seemingly harmless, law-abiding citizens. (The older brother’s rumoured domestic violence charge has not yet been verified and there’s nothing illegal about watching unsavoury YouTube videos.) Neither showed any desire to commit mass murder. Everyone’s query, now that four people are dead and nearly 200 are injured, about how two supposedly normal individuals could be capable of such atrocities, is in essence, an answer. It’s the answer to the gun-control, background-check debate: we never know, ultimately, who is capable of evil and who isn’t. We only talk about “root causes” once they’ve torn through the earth and fulfilled their twisted purpose. The Boston Marathon bombing isn’t proof that people need weapons to protect themselves from monsters. It’s proof that any one of us could be a monster. We are all law-abiding citizens until we aren’t.
Why shouldn’t “everyone in Boston have a gun?” Because until last week, Dzhohkar Tsarnaev was everyone. No one today would protect his right to forego an extensive background check on the purchase of a weapon. So why last week? Why ever?
By Emma Teitel - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel on the long, slow fade of dementia
When former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher died last week at the age of 87, public reaction was as divisive as her politics. Some mourned, some drank champagne. In Leeds, a man yelled into a megaphone before a crowd of revellers, “If you all hate Thatcher clap your hands!” They did.
I know very little about Thatcher, the prime minister. She resigned from her position a year after I was born. I can’t comment on her political legacy, and whether she saved Britain or ruined it—but I have a lot to say about her final years. What I know about Thatcher the person is that she had dementia, the blanket term for a host of debilitating memory-loss diseases (Alzheimer’s included). We don’t know how advanced her dementia was when she passed away last week, but if the disease had changed her as dramatically as her daughter Carol says it did, it’s very likely that the personality mourned and vilified by Britons this past week had in many ways already departed several years before.
Carol Thatcher writes in her 2008 book, A Swim-On Part in the Goldfish Bowl: A Memoir,that she started noticing her mother’s symptoms in the year 2000: she began to confuse the names of countries. She asked the same questions several times. And eventually, years later, she forgot again and again that her husband of more than 50 years, Denis, had died of cancer in 2003. “Sufferers look the exact same,” writes Carol Thatcher, “but beneath the familiar exterior something quite different is going on. They’re in another world and you cannot enter.”
By Emma Teitel - Friday, April 12, 2013 at 5:56 PM - 0 Comments
The hacktivist group, Anonymous, is known for vigilante justice—or hooliganism, depending on who you ask—but its role in the enormous public backlash to Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons’ tragic death last week is not so black and white. When Amanda Todd took her own life after merciless cyber-bullying last year, Anonymous implicated B.C. resident Kody Maxson — later widely reported to be the wrong man. Maxson says he received over 50 death threats after the hacktivist group spread his name around the web, accusing him of tormenting Todd.
This time around, however, Anonymous appears more strategic, probably because whomever wears the mask in Nova Scotia is not the same person(s) who slandered Maxson in British Columbia. This Anonymous hasn’t used vigilante justice to expose Parsons’ alleged rapists. It’s used the threat of vigilante justice to move the authorities to action. If the RCMP doesn’t act fast, in other words, Anonymous claims it will release the names of Parsons’ alleged rapists. [Editor's note: RCMP have since announced that they have reopened their investigation.] The group says it has obtained an actual confession from one of the boys involved in the alleged rape. Excerpts from the group’s most recent statement, below:
A 17-year-old girl killed herself because the police failed to do their jobs…
We do not seek vigilante justice. If those who we believe are guilty are exonerated in a court of law, Anonymous will disappear from Nova Scotia.
Is it necessary for Anonymous to be involved in this case? Yes. For a moment lets set aside the theatrics, the masks and the labels. We are group of concerned citizens that have recognized an injustice in the system. We have taken it upon ourselves to point out that injustice to the public and we are asking the police to correct their incompetent handling of this case–a young girl has already died from it.
Robin Hood doesn’t usually work with the Sheriff of Nottingham. This is, in my view, a much more sophisticated, socially conscious, breed of Anonymous. Not everyone would agree, however. This afternoon I heard from a Halifax man in his twenties who is a friend of one of Parsons’ alleged rapists. He wishes to remain anonymous (in the traditional sense of the word). He believes Anonymous is doing “the right thing, the wrong way.” He is concerned that innocent people will be implicated in the group’s search for justice. “This is the problem with people taking it into their own hands,” he says. “Now their [those implicated] lives are at risk.” He says that his friend received threats prior to Anonymous’ public statements, “but nothing in comparison to now.” It hasn’t been easy for him, either: He’s received emails from friends and acquaintances on Facebook suggesting he is “defending rapists.” He even went so far as to compare the actions of Anonymous to cyber-bullying itself.
Whatever your thoughts on cyber vigilantism, there is no question that the actions of the person(s) behind Anonymous in this particular case has jump-started a remarkably stalled justice system. The RCMP is of course propelled to act because of public outrage, but the hacktivists’ blackmailing has given them a firm deadline. When tragedies like these occur, people want answers, and they want them fast. Right or wrong, Anonymous delivers.
By Emma Teitel - Friday, April 12, 2013 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims recently revealed that she is uncomfortable with the revised edition of the Welcome to Canada guide—a 146-page document compiled by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and presented last week by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Sims doesn’t care about the guide’s monarchist bent, or its omission of ”O Canada” lyrics. But she does take umbrage with the following passage:
“Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, honour killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws.”
Sims’ problem isn’t with sentiment (she agrees such crimes are barbaric). It’s with semantics.
“All of those practices are barbaric, but they are barbaric no matter which culture they happen in,” she explained. “As soon as you put the word ‘cultural’ in there, you are putting it as if it doesn’t happen here.”
I called Sims and asked her to elaborate. Why the opposition to the word “cultural?”
“It is barbaric,” she said. “You don’t need any other adjective. They are barbaric. Period.”
I tried to press her: Isn’t there a cultural difference, I argued, when you’re dealing with immigrants who are coming from a place where certain barbaric practices are condoned? Doesn’t the cultural acceptance of those practices render them culturally barbaric, as opposed to just plain old barbaric?
We have our fair share of gender violence, of course, I argued, but our culture rejects it overwhelmingly as immoral. That’s a stark cultural difference.
Sims didn’t want to talk semantics, or ethnicity. When asked if the word “cultural” stigmatizes certain cultures, she changed the subject to the Conservatives.
“I see a little bit of hypocrisy,” she said. “We’re telling newcomers all of these things are barbaric, but my question is, what has this government actually done? What has the government done right here in Canada and internationally to address those issues?”
Although Sims wouldn’t say directly why she objects to the word “cultural,” the obfuscation in her answers leads me to the following:
Describing vaginal mutilation and honour killings in a cultural context is inappropriate, she and others probably feel, because there is gender violence in Canada. Therefore, labelling imported gender violence as “cultural” is potentially racist and misleading. The same barbaric things happen here as well. Or as Sims said, on average, “every six days a Canadian woman is killed by her partner.”
Forgetting for a moment that the incidence of vaginal mutilation in Canada is probably lower than it is in Djibouti, there’s a glaring logical error in this argument: it confuses behaviour with attitude.
It may be true that gender-based violence and other barbaric practices occur “here” and “there,” as Sims suggests. But if you mutilate a child’s genitals here, you go to jail; there you carry on and go about your business. Culture is attitude.
Jinny Sims likely feels that by condemning certain “barbaric cultural practices,” we are judging entire countries and civilizations. But when behaviours are antithetical to what we believe and at odds with what we consider to be civilized, it’s our responsibility to underline our antipathy in terms that leave no room for misinterpretation.
The “Welcome to Canada” guide says we are a tolerant society, but our tolerance does not extend to intolerance or savagery — here or there. The Canadian government’s rejection of cultural barbaric practices from afar is not a tacit approval of cultural barbaric practices at home. It is a clear message to our immigrant population that where gender violence is concerned, there are no sacred cows.
When I was an undergrad, I tutored adult ESL at a public library. My students were women, the majority of them immigrants from theocracies where “barbaric cultural practices” aren’t barbaric — they’re what you do on a Tuesday afternoon. Many told stories I will not repeat here and don’t like to think about. But I am reminded of their words every time a well-intentioned person like Justin Trudeau or Jinny Sims equivocates and obfuscates in the name of cultural sensitivity.
I am also reminded of the time I tried to discuss with my ESL students, this strange breed of well-intentioned Canadians (which for me, at that time, was a university classroom of white feminists debating the freeing qualities of the burka). They were, I assured my students, really well-intentioned. My students laughed, loudly.
They thought I was telling a joke.
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 11:59 AM - 0 Comments
I know I’m a few days late to the party, but if spring break is forever, as James Franco’s “Alien” reminds us every 15 seconds in
Skrillex’s 92-minute music videoHarmony Korine’s latest think piece, then I have plenty of time to kill. I never intended to write about Spring Breakers, until I saw it on Saturday night and have since felt worse than Stan and Kenny post Passion of the Christ. I want my money back. I want to round up my best girlfriends, invest in some pink balaclavas, day glo bikinis, and squirt guns, and hold up Harmony Korine’s house like it’s the chicken shack and I need to get myself to Florida, stat.
For some reason I find myself almost entirely alone in this sentiment, which leads me to believe that either the film’s greatness was lost on me (I am a boring nube and just don’t get it) or perhaps, Spring Breakers is the Emperor’s New Clothes of our day: a nude spectacle critics are falling over themselves to endorse. Sure it lags a bit, they say, but in a self conscious way. Can’t you see? It’s laughing at itself. It’s ironic. It’s rebellious. It’s a searing indictment of Western hedonism and materialism. It’s the only American movie that matters right now.
By Emma Teitel - Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel on TV’s modern censorship crusaders
Historically, the aim of television censorship has been pretty straightforward, if ultimately doomed: sex, or anything that made you think of having it, was supposed to be as unsexy as humanly possible when it was on TV. “Indecency regulations”—the kind that kept married characters sleeping in separate beds—arrived in the 1930s. In the 1950s, CBS famously cropped out Elvis Presley’s gyrating pelvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, and in 2004, the world saw Janet Jackson’s nipple for a fraction of a second, which, for the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, was one fraction too many (the FCC tried to fine CBS $550,000 for the infamous “nip slip,” but the United States Supreme Court threw out the charge last year). Sex persevered. A study by a U.S. non-profit in 2005 found that sexual content on TV had almost doubled since 1998. I wouldn’t be surprised if that number has quadrupled since. What’s more, censorship initiatives by socially conservative groups that would have certainly succeeded in the nipple-wary past are seldom successful today. Groups like the Parents Television Council, for example, and One Million Moms, consistently try—and fail—to get supposedly inappropriate content off the air: from gay romance on Fox’s Glee, to sacrilege on ABC’s GCB (Good Christian Bitches), some things just don’t shock like they used to. This is certainly one of the reasons networks have stopped trying to appease the traditionally squeamish—but it’s not the only one. They’ve also stopped because there’s a new squeamishness on the rise, one that’s concerned not with what TV portrays too much of, but rather, with what it doesn’t portray enough.
Take CBS: the network is no longer under fire for depicting too much sexuality, but for failing to depict the right kind. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gave CBS a failing grade on its “network responsibility index” this year, for its apparent lack of sexual diversity; that is, not enough gay and transgendered characters. GLAAD puts out two reports annually, one rating the American networks on overall “LGBT impressions” and another that looks at LGBT characters in the TV season to come. Apparently, the reports work. Matt Kane, GLAAD’s associate director of entertainment media, says, “CBS responded, saying they would do better. We have worked with their diversity department in recent years and they seem to have been making a concerted effort to improve diversity on their network.” Kane says his group’s earlier efforts may have actually led to the production of the gay-themed TV show, Partners, although the comedy was cancelled almost immediately after it aired.
In a similar fashion, HBO’s Girls, arguably the most sexually explicit show on television right now, has also succumbed to public pressure over its lack of diversity. When the show first premiered, social media was rife with complaints that creator Lena Dunham’s omission of non-white characters was “unrealistic” and, some critics suggested, downright racist. Dunham told NPR that she took the criticism very seriously, which is why, presumably, she wrote a black character into the second season of Girls—an African-American Republican named Sandy, who lasted about as long as CBS’s Partners did. It turns out affirmative action and fiction don’t really mix. But the criticism didn’t stop at racial representation. Dunham’s current critics argue that there’s lack of “verbal consent” between sexual partners on Girls, as though the TV show were a public service announcement you’d watch in health class.
Paul Levinson, a media professor at Fordham University in New York and author of the book New New Media, doesn’t find any of this depressing. He’d prefer that audiences—not regulators—pester networks and TV writers. “It’s not as though the gatekeepers who decided what got on television in the past did a very good job, so I think it’s a very healthy thing that viewers have much more power over what gets into television than they ever had before,” he says.
It would be easy to agree with Levinson if we were just discussing the merits of something like Kickstarter—the website that allows users to fund artistic projects (the Veronica Mars movie, for example)—or any other medium that gives an audience freedom of choice. But we’re talking about the merits of an audience manipulating a piece of art so that it meets a certain ethical standard. And that doesn’t sound like power to me. It sounds like censorship.
The people at GLAAD and those who criticize Dunham do not likely see themselves as prudish or censorious. And they certainly don’t see themselves in league with the Parents Television Council or One Million Moms. But their crusade for inclusion is fundamentally no different than their opponents’ crusade for exclusion. Both groups believe that art, ﬁne or popular, must fulfill a moral obligation—that its purpose is not to portray the world as it is, but as it should be. Carried to the extreme, “moral” art like this is just another version of state-sponsored art, the kind you could have found in the Soviet Union yesterday, and Saudi Arabia today. Ironically, it violates the fundamental moral raison d’être behind art since the beginning of campfires: to hold up a mirror to nature. Worse, it violates the fundamental amoral one, which any TV watcher knows is even more important. It’s boring.
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By Emma Teitel - Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 9:47 AM - 0 Comments
Something very good happened in the United States this week: Rob Portman, the Republican senator from Ohio, who co-sponsored DOMA and was once favoured to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, penned an editorial in the Columbus Dispatch, announcing his newfound support for gay marriage. He began to change his mind on the issue, he wrote, after his son Will came out of the closet two years ago. Here he is, below:
“At the time my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love.”
For anyone unaffiliated with NOM, it would seem like pretty heartwarming stuff—good fodder for the next marriage equality PSA, or in the very least, something for Ellen DeGeneres to dance about. The consensus among progressive pundits, however, was decidedly different.
Rob Portman made the right choice, they argued, but his history of wrong ones (voting against gay rights) overrides that. Changing your mind for personal reasons is selfish. The only noble about-face is an altruistic one.
Witness below, a living example of Oscar Wilde’s observation that a “cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Igor Volsky, the managing editor of ThingProgress.org, on Twitter:
“Kind of sad that Rob Portman probably wouldn’t have come out for marriage equality if his son wasn’t gay.”
Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic:
“Portman says he changed his mind because he looked at his son and wanted him to have a happy life. But the gay people to whom Portman was denying marriage before his conversion—those people were also someone’s sons and daughters. Does Portman only care about suffering when it occurs in his family?”
Steve Benen, on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog:
“I’m genuinely glad Portman has done the right thing, and can only hope it encourages other Republicans to do the same. What I find discouraging, though, is that the Republican senator was content to support discriminatory policies until they affected someone he personally cares about. What about everyone else’s sons and daughters? Why must empathy among conservatives be tied so directly to their own personal interactions?”
The moral posturing would make Moses cringe.
Personal interaction has inspired practically all activism and ethical choice throughout history. We don’t discredit abolitionists who rejected slavery because of personal encounters with slaves, nor do we doubt the sincerity of activist parents who champion causes that affect their own children. Unless you are on the list of possibly two people in human history and imagination whose empathy is not tied to their own personal interactions (Jesus and God?), perhaps you should keep your righteous indignation to yourself.
Portman’s critics refuse to acknowledge that overcoming prejudice and changing one’s mind—for whatever reason—is a really big deal. It’s something that should be commended, especially when you come from an enormously anti-equality environment, in which minds do not change overnight.
Being gay is not a choice, but neither is being born to a socially conservative, Methodist family. The way a person is raised—to believe homosexuality is a grave sin for example—is as beyond his control as his sexual orientation. No one is immune to child rearing. I was not immune to my own secular Jewish, liberal upbringing, which instilled in me two core principles: that it’s perfectly okay to be gay but it’s not okay to drink milk with dinner. Had those principles been reversed, as I’m guessing they were in the Portman household, I don’t know what I would believe. I don’t know if I would have the courage to challenge my convictions as Rob Portman has, and announce publicly that they have changed. I don’t know because I am lucky to have never had to make such a choice. And I suspect, neither have any of the cynics above. It’s easy to love everyone and everything with conviction when you were never taught to hate.
I understand the urge to dismiss Portman and people like him—people who come out for equality later in life–if you have always been “out” yourself. But to dismiss him on those grounds is to lose sight of the bigger picture: Portman’s change is a boon for gay rights. And celebrating that change is an even bigger boon. It lets others know that if or when they follow suit, they too will be celebrated. They may lose friends in one corner, but they’ll gain a whole lot more, somewhere else. Chiding Rob Portman for his homophobic past isn’t bad for Rob Portman: it’s bad for gay rights. It leaves progressives in the closet and open-minded people in the dark–caught between one community that will denounce them for thinking differently, and another, for not thinking differently soon enough.
There will come a time when Republican lawmakers overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, because it would be political suicide to do otherwise. If the pro-equality movement in the United States wants that time to come sooner rather than later, it should give its newest members an extra warm welcome.
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
On the eve of International Women’s Day last week, Sarah Thomson, the publisher of Women’s Post magazine, attended a party for the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, where she was allegedly groped and propositioned by an “arrogant” and “outrageous” Rob Ford. The Toronto mayor grabbed her buttocks, Thomson claims, and expressed regret that she didn’t join him in Florida the week before, when his “wife wasn’t there.” She went even further—suggesting on morning radio that Ford might have been high on cocaine at the party because he was “talking fast.” Thomson went public with her claims via Facebook the morning after the alleged groping, and has since been deemed a thoroughly unreliable narrator. Not only because there are problems with her story (two other municipal councillors claim to have heard her telling a friend about a plan to entrap the mayor) but, considerably more disturbing, because people just don’t like her. She’s obnoxious, she has unconvincing political slogans, she’s too skinny: these are just a few of the completely unrelated Sarah Thomson criticisms circulating the Internet at the moment. Tarek Fatah, the writer and activist, criticized the Toronto publisher for being rich (he assumed, incorrectly, on Twitter, that she is “from the richest family in Canada,” those other Thomsons). Others have attacked her for her employment of the word “ass” in describing the incident (as in, “the mayor grabbed my ass”) and even for speaking publicly about the incident in the first place.
In other words, being modest—and not rich—would seem to be the preferred prerequisites for someone who is groped. Oh, how far we’ve come. But it doesn’t stop at modesty. Once you’ve been groped, there are, apparently, exactly two things you can do about it. Here’s Christie Blatchford, spelling out those two things, in the National Post: “If Ms. Thomson believed she was sexually assaulted, she should have complained to a traditional body with the expertise to conduct a proper investigation, like the police. If she believed the mayor had just been a boor, she should have kept her mouth shut; wherever did the notion of discretion among ostensibly capable adults go?”
Press charges or keep quiet. Surely there is a happy medium in such a situation.
My ass, for example, has been grabbed more times than I can count, mostly in clubs and bars, and I haven’t once pressed charges. For me—and I suspect Thomson feels the same way—public groping is a momentarily perverse invasion of privacy, not an act of sexual violence. (It’s also incredibly hard to prove.) It makes me mad, not necessarily sad. But quiet? Never. In fact, on the particular ass-grabbing occasions I can recall, I sought out my girlfriends and we tried as best we could to publicly shame the guy responsible. We even had a technique at nightclubs—where dancing has devolved into arrhythmic mounting—of banding together and collectively remounting the guy who had groped us. It was the biblical solution to public groping: an ass for an ass.
Women have many choices in exacting revenge in the event of a public groping. They can be as immodest as they like—and yes, Tarek Fatah: as perversely rich, too.
And the notion that all sexual assault claims made by women who don’t go to the police are automatically false or at the very least suspicious is outrageous. According to a survey last year, 83 per cent of women who are sexually assaulted choose not to report it to the police because, ironically, they are convinced their attackers will never be brought to justice.
Still, as much as it pains me to say, some critics are right about one thing: Sarah Thomson may have made the wrong choice. Not about speaking out, but about with whom she is currently speaking. She didn’t go to the police with her accusation, perhaps because of the reasons outlined above. And she didn’t go to Rob Ford, to confront him directly. Instead, she came to us, the media. (And we aren’t, traditionally, known for our fair-minded and reasonable judgment.)
She chose to air her grievances not in a court of law but solely in the court of public opinion, where she is subject to the same scrutiny as her alleged abuser. She chose to deal with the incursion privately but in the most public setting, thereby forfeiting the protections of both realms. She chose the shaming route. She took the route of the 22-year-old at a nightclub, which, while it works in that realm, doesn’t work as well for the publisher of a magazine and a former contender for mayor.
I tend to believe she’s telling the truth, but because of her potentially libellous finger-pointing, refusal to consult police and utter lack of proof, the truth is something we may never discover. In a court of law, we might. In a court of law, Rob Ford would be innocent until proven guilty. But in the court of public opinion, Sarah Thomson is, unfortunately, guilty until proven innocent.
By Emma Teitel - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 4:32 PM - 0 Comments
Nothing says free speech like pulling the fire alarm. It was a quarter past seven last night when police emptied U of T’s George Ignatieff Theatre. Keynote speaker Dr. Janice Fiamengo, an English professor at the University of Ottawa, rolled her eyes and adjusted her blouse as the crowd poured out of the building and onto the sidewalk to mingle with the small throng of protesters—pretty girls with big placards and little patience. They wanted Dr. Fiamengo to take her message elsewhere. But firemen came and went, and the professor, once a radical feminist, proceeded to do what the University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society, and the Canadian Association for Equality invited her to do: denounce women’s studies.
The discipline has devolved into an “intellectually incoherent and dishonest” one, she argued, replacing a “callow set of slogans for real thought.” It’s man-hating, anti-Western, and fundamentally illiberal. “It champions a “kind of masculinity that isn’t very masculine at all,” and shuts down freedom of debate, hence the fire alarm.
This message was quite pleasing to the minority in the room—greying baby boomers of the pro-Fiamengo, Men’s rights camp–and exceedingly distressing to the majority—by the looks of it, gender studies majors and people who would, if given the opportunity, personally execute Rob Ford. It looked like a small contingent of CARP wandered, bemused, into a Bon Iver concert.
Appearances aside though, it was a meeting of truly lunatic minds.
Fiamengo opened the lecture with a recording of a song written by a male friend: a satirical folk number about the need for men to rise up and take back their masculinity from gender-bending feminists. “Stand our ground/defend our den/it’s time we learned to be men again.” And then there was this: “You don’t have to sit down to pee.”
From here things got progressively awkward. She referenced the male to female death ratio on the Titanic, and declared that “self sacrifice and heroism are not exclusive to men,” “but they are distinctive to men.” Students scowled behind their wayfarers. She railed against affirmative action, a family court system skewed unjustly to favour mothers over fathers, and the deep vein of anti-Western sentiment running through academic feminism that makes it okay to decry gender inequality in the West, and keep quiet about vaginal mutilation and honour killings in the East.
The women’s studies crowd looked constipated. Fiamengo’s arguments weren’t going down easy, this one—her best—in particular: women’s studies “can’t be about the pursuit of truth” because it has an “ideological base.” Its goal is to push the ideology that women are victims and men are perpetrators. Therefore, any evidence to the contrary, regardless of its veracity, is unwelcome. In other words, ideology censors truth. “If you believe you are righteous,” she said, “you don’t challenge other views.”
But you can try. And many did during the question period. When the professor finished her talk on an inspirational note about being relentlessly inquisitive, students and men’s rights activists filled the aisles to lambast and laud her. One man bemoaned the “feminist dictatorship,” another, the legal system that bankrupted him after a divorce. A stout black man in the corner demanded to know what men’s rights groups were doing to help him, as “a racialized person,” exploring different “gender identities.” When a woman complained that the man who spoke before her got more time at the microphone, another woman stood up and yelled in her defence, something to the effect of “That’s because he’s a man!” A young woman with thick black hair in a yellow coat, irked by Dr. Fiamengo’s “heteronormative” answer to her question about lesbian moms, screamed “That is bullshit!” and stormed out of the lecture hall.
Free speech was alive and well at the University of Toronto last night, but in that moment I’d have welcomed its death with open arms.
It was clear that both the professor’s detractors and supporters were, overwhelmingly, nuts. And Dr. Fiamengo herself, was, standing at that podium, a buoy of relative reason in a sea of everything but. “Any movement can attract hysterical detraction and unsavoury allies,” she would tell me over the phone the next morning. “That is the risk one runs.” She’s right. Take this little Facebook diatribe from an active member of A Voice for Men, one of the men’s rights groups who support her.
There has never been a great female composer. Throughout history there has been plenty of privileged woman, who have had access to pianos, and violins, yet somehow we are expected to believe that men have somehow stopped them for being composers? Woman have the big lovely eyes, big tits, but mean [I think he meant “men”] are far more beautiful, they are more beautiful where it counts. In their wonderful creative souls.
Unfortunately, though, the other side is no more intelligent. They just use bigger words.
Almost every pro-women’s studies person who approached the mic last night, spoke another language, a jargon you might misconstrue as scientific–only the words they used weren’t shortcuts meant to simplify or summarize complex concepts, they were used to make simple concepts sound complex: Hegemonic, racialized, problematic, intersectionality. It was pure obfuscation, 1984 with tattoos and septum piercings. Some of the students couldn’t even string together a single lucid sentence. All they had were these meaningless, monolithic words. I felt like I was on a game show, the exercise being how many times can you say patriarchal, phallocentric hegemony in 45 seconds or less. It was frankly, for a feminist, depressing.
Slogans don’t make scholarship and being self-righteous does not make you right.
Going into the talk last night I wasn’t convinced women’s studies needed overhauling. Now I’m positive that it does. Not because I believe fighting misandry is a legitimate humanitarian cause (LOL) or because Dr. Fiamengo’s speech was particularly insightful, but because her detractors—presumably, women’s studies’ finest—were so profoundly, not.
Happy women’s day, everyone.
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel on the real dance revolution — in men’s ballet
You could call it the glass curtain: unlike almost every other industry on the planet, ballet favours women over men. Much of the art’s history is one in which“everything was built for the female,” says Ukrainian ballet dancer and choreographer Ivan Putrov. “The female dancer was the top of the crown.” It’s a man’s world—unless, of course, you’re a man in tights. Every now and then, there was a Nijinsky or a Baryshnikov, but mostly, ballet and its stars were traditionally female.
Now, finally, almost 15 years after the success of Billy Elliot brought ballet into the mainstream and increased male enrolment at ballet schools, the tide has begun to turn. From the lowbrow— the televised dance competition, So You Think You Can Dance—to the high—Putrov’s critically acclaimed all-male ballet, Men in Motion finished its run in London this month—men are no longer shying away from the barre. The School of Alberta Ballet in Calgary, for example, has doubled its enrolment in a boys’ program that launched last year. The class it was to offer in April will likely be moved to September, in part to keep up with growing numbers. Meran Currie-Roberts, the school’s manager of development and communications, says there is “huge demand” for year-round boys programming.
This may have something to do with the way dance is marketed to boys today. The school’s website isn’t subtle about showcasing the similarities between traditionally macho activities and dance. It includes photos of an ice-hockey goalie, a soccer player and a young boy doing the splits in a leotard. Currie-Roberts says the school’s outreach program in rural Alberta always includes jumping demonstrations, “as well as a battle scene from Romeo and Juliet, with prop swords. The boys who have never seen ballet before are just astounded by the athleticism.” The message? Ballet is just as rigorous as any sport, if not more so.
Steven Melendez, a principal dancer with New York Theatre Ballet, would agree. He says he was teased mercilessly as a kid for being a ballet dancer—until the day he caught a baseball in full splits, foot planted safely on base. “Nobody laughed at me after that,” he says. Perhaps it’s the Billy Elliot effect on steroids: ballet isn’t for sissies. In fact, you may be a sissy if you can’t do ballet.
Take Guillaume Côté, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, who was a hockey goalie while growing up in Lac-à-la-Croix, Que. Côté recently collaborated with Broadway performer Paul Nolan (Jesus Christ Superstar)—who’s now with the Stratford Festival) and was also a hockey kid in Rouleau, Sask.—in a performance of West Side Story’s Something’s Coming, which aired as a short during Cineplex Odeon’s screenings of the Metropolitan Opera this month. Nolan sings, Côté dances. They agree the arts can be sold differently to boys. “One goal in my career is to expose more dance to young men,” Côté says. In a recent project, a short dance piece called Lost in Motion, he wears shorts that wouldn’t be out of place on an Olympian. “I wanted to strip it of the tights and frillies, and just show what it is: awesome and athletic.”
“Everyone thinks of guys in the arts as different,” says Nolan, who was accepted to the prestigious athletics program at Calgary’s Notre Dame High School. “But you can be on a provincial hockey team and you can be on a stage. I think the human mind likes to categorize things and restrict them.” Nolan is aware of the taunting faced by boys in the arts, which is why, he says, he challenges stereotypes in his work. In 2008, he played a gay character in Cabaret. “The obvious thing to do was to make him effeminate,” hew says. “I made him the most dangerous person on the stage.”
Ballet’s new machismo has its drawbacks. Melendez says ever since Baryshnikov “jumped higher than anybody else” and dancing competitions appeared on TV, “there’s almost been an arms race amongst men in ballet over how many times you can jump and how high.” Artistic expression may suffer. “It’s turning into aerobics or gymnastics,” he says, “which makes it more accessible and appealing to a mass audience, but may not be the best thing for ballet.”
By Emma Teitel - Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel on the educational side of casual sex
In 1925, when American anthropologist Margaret Mead was 23 years old, she travelled to the volcanic island of Tau, in eastern Samoa, to study a group of “primitive” teenage girls. Her findings—namely that Samoan adolescents were unusually free with their bodies and their hearts—would make their way into her most famous book, Coming of Age in Samoa, three years later. Mead didn’t fetishize Tau as a modern-day Eden. Rape was frequent. Entertainment was scarce (unless you like weaving fish baskets, I wouldn’t recommend it). But she did laud something on the island: casual sex. “The Samoans,” she writes, “laugh at stories of romantic love, scoff at fidelity to a long-absent wife or mistress, believe explicitly that one love will quickly cure another.” In other words, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. She suggests that the cloistered West—prudish and purity-obsessed—could learn a thing or two about sex from teenagers on a remote island thousands of miles away.
Apparently we did. It’s been 88 years since Mead set sail for Tau, and in that time, Samoa—Mead’s version of it, anyhow—has made its way to the Americas. Casual sex among unmarried people is no longer taboo. It’s the norm. The average age at which a Canadian loses her virginity is 16. The average age at which she gets married is 31. The notion that, according to Mead, one of the “uniform ambitions” of young Samoan women is “to live as a girl with many lovers as long as possible and then marry” is also possibly the modus operandi of every college girl today, not to mention a contender for the official tagline of HBO’s Girls. In this day and age, unless you are older than 25, exceedingly religious or naturally chaste, second base precedes the first date. Dinner and a movie is something that happens after sex—if at all—and people don’t call. They text.
What Mead found charming about sexual promiscuity in a distant culture, American university professor and author Donna Freitas finds rather dismal in ours. She’s conducted her own anthropological study of sorts: not of sexual Samoan mores, but of her own time and place. Her forthcoming book, The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused about Intimacy, is an exploration of “hookup culture” on American university campuses— secular and religious, public and private.
By Emma Teitel - Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 9:04 PM - 0 Comments
Anti-Hathaway is as pervasive as Kimye’s unborn child on the Internet this week. A lot of people don’t like the Oscar-winning actress, and a lot of those people, are, apparently women.
Enter Anne Hathaway’s stalwart defenders—also women—some of whom hate her just the same. New York Magazine’s Ann Friedman, for example, is confused about her anti-Hathawayism because the actress “seems smart and self-possessed, savvy and successful.”
“Hathaway and I would probably get along swimmingly,” she writes. “She’s a spokesperson for Eve Ensler’s anti-violence organization, One Billion Rising. And have you seen the clip of her shutting down Matt Lauer’s creepy questions about her upskirt moment with a measured response about the commodification of female sexuality? It is on point. Yet she leaves me cold.”
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 9:57 AM - 0 Comments
I heard Fran Lebowitz speak at Massey Hall last week about how much she hates strollers, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and audiences with low standards. She blames the latter on the Oprah effect—the impulse of the modern American audience to rise in applause of anything and everything. Nowhere in history (besides, perhaps, on the Oprah Winfrey show) was this phenomenon more pervasive than last night during Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address. Except for Ted Nugent or John Boehner, the live audience was perpetually on its feet. Even Paul Ryan couldn’t resist applauding this one liner — that or he really enjoys veiled digs at his own policy proposals:
“I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.”
Three more observations about the State of the Union: Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
The information superhighway is so personalized that it’s often just a road to what you already know
In the third year of Facebook’s existence, I sat in the back of an after school Judaica class called Torah High and listened to a rabbi proselytize about the evils of social media. Jews don’t usually believe in the devil, but I suspect he did. The Internet, the rabbi said, was an evil place. Facebook, YouTube and Google were where vice found company; where freaks found freaks, tax evaders found tax evaders, terrorists found terrorists, and Jewish men found Gentile women. It was a world built on individual choice and preference and given every choice imaginable, we were bound to make the wrong ones.
Torah High isn’t exactly Yeshiva, or rabbinical school: a typical afternoon consisted of kosher pizza (looks like pizza, tastes like chicken) and awkward, long-winded lectures in pop philosophy. I imagined the Torah High rabbis as the televangelists Jews never had, stuck interminably with a shiftless, godless audience. But that day our rabbi was onto something—not the iniquity of cyberspace (I was 15 at the time and would have been at home, on Facebook, if I wasn’t listening to him admonish it), but the notion that pursuing your interests to the end of the Earth—even a digital Earth—was, maybe, not ideal for the soul. What our rabbi didn’t know, however, was that the future of the Internet’s most insidious damage lay not in people pursuing their own interests, but in our interests pursuing us. Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:54 PM - 0 Comments
Have you heard? Free speech is a thing of the past. And religious liberty is dying fast.
It began last week when Arun Smith, a seventh-year human rights student at Carleton University in Ottawa, tore down a “free speech wall” on campus because it featured socially conservative comments. The action inspired three National Post columns and an Ezra Levant exclusive lamenting the end of freedom of expression as we know it.
Elsewhere, on the religious liberty front, the Canadian Council of Law Deans wrote a letter of protest to Canada’s Federation of Law Societies about Trinity Western University. The Christian liberal arts school in British Columbia wants to open a law school that would require students to sign a Community Covenant Agreement that pledges “Healthy Sexuality.” The agreement has nothing to do with gonorrhea or how to avoid it: what’s to be avoided is love and sex between people of the same gender (which is, I guess, by Trinity Western’s standards, worse than gonorrhea). “Sexual intimacy,” says the covenant, “is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.” In other words, gays need not apply.
In a bizarre twist, one of Trinity Western’s champions is the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, whose double-speak on this issue would confound George Orwell himself. From the Vancouver Sun:
“Despite TWU’s ban on homosexual relationships and sex outside marriage, Lyster [British Columbia Civil Liberties Association president Lindsay Lyster] also defended the evangelical school’s approach to academic freedom — saying secular universities often impose restrictions on free thought, including in regards to religious perspectives.”
Lyster’s concern, I suspect, is the same kind shared by Rex Murphy and Ezra Levant when they lament the end of free speech at Carleton University. There’s no denying most secular liberal arts schools are left-leaning, but do they really “impose restrictions on free thought and religious perspectives” draconian enough to match the injustice of Trinity Western’s ban on homosexuality?
Secular schools are by and large socially liberal, yes, but the mere presence of seventh-year human rights students and atheist professors in blue jeans does not equal discriminatory policy against socially conservative, religious students. Nor does the overwhelming presence of socially liberal thought prohibit social conservatism. Telling gays they are going to hell probably won’t make you valedictorian, but there is no rule against doing so. Arun Smith ripped down the “free speech wall” because written on it, among other things, was “Traditional marriage is awesome,” and “Abortion is murder.” He was wrong to do so. But the fact remains: he was punished. The students who wrote the conservative comments were not. As for the free speech wall? There is a new one in its place.
Freedom of expression: 1.
Arun Smith: 0.
Free speech dead? Apparently not.
Socially conservative students may find that in a modern university classroom, they’re uncomfortable stating their views on the civil rights of gays and lesbians (possibly that they shouldn’t have any), but that doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to. However, your right to speak freely doesn’t negate someone else’s right to tell you to stop talking. And asking that you do so because your argument has no place in an institution of higher learning, or in a court of law (my right to marry my girlfriend is no longer a valid debate topic, nor is it any of your business) is not a letter of expulsion.
Echoing the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Barbara Kay writes in the National Post that secular law schools are breeding grounds of their own a-religious philosophies; prone to different but equal prejudice. Here she is below:
“So although white Christian students of European descent don’t actually have to sign a Covenant attesting to their original sin of white or male privilege when they sign up for law school, they may as well have had to, considering what they will be taught once they’re in, and the way they’ll be treated if they dissent from the critical race theory or feminist line. Unlike gays, who have their pick of law schools that cater to minority sensibilities, those who reject the Marxist-based faith governing most law schools in the West are forced to submit to their tenets.”
Let’s assume for a moment Kay is correct: Canadian law school is a three-year pinko party to which all would-be gay law students aspire. And one at which all socially conservative law students feel out of place.
That she can even allude to the isolation of socially conservative students on secular campuses proves my point precisely. They are allowed on secular campuses. They don’t have to sign a covenant. They may not Take Back the Night, or Occupy Bay Street, but nobody’s stopping them from going to school. More on point, their rights to rant and lobby against my rights does not bar them from enrolling in a secular institution. But my right to be myself would bar me from enrolling in theirs.
So let’s be clear. We are not dealing with equal prejudices. One is far more insidious. Secular law schools, no matter how annoyingly liberal, do not have the power to expel socially conservative, religious students simply because they are socially conservative and religious. Trinity Western University’s law school, on the other hand, would have the power to expel gays because they are gay.
Social conservatives of this ilk are not defenders of liberty. They are its thieves.
By Emma Teitel - Monday, January 28, 2013 at 12:30 PM - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel on who needs military assault weapons
In place of a Second Amendment, Canadians have collective head-scratching about why it isn’t obvious that an assault rifle doesn’t belong in the hands of an ordinary citizen. “Who needs that?” is the typical Canadian question. “Nobody,” is the typical refrain. And yet it seems that a lot of people do “need that,” or claim to. This month—in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, and which saw another school shooting, this time at Lone Star College in Houston—the National Rifle Association added more than 200,000 Obama-wary members to its four-million-plus ranks. And last weekend, Guns Across America—an online community of American gun enthusiasts—drew thousands of people in state capitals to protest President Obama’s new gun-control proposal. Obama’s inauguration this week followed a series of proposed congressional actions that would, among other things, reinstate the Clinton-era ban on assault weapons and limit legal ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. According to a new poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 41 per cent of Americans are fond of the NRA—loony Wayne LaPierre and all—meaning 41 per cent of Americans are also fond of military assault weapons. Who needs that? Apparently, they do. Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Monday, January 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM - 0 Comments
Sunday Times cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, the man who brought you the album art on Pink Floyd’s The Wall, erected another wall this past weekend. The new one looks a lot like the old one, except that it’s built atop dying Palestinians and their blood provides the mortar. Oh, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in as architect, his caricature complete with oversized ears and (you guessed it) a formidable nose. His horns, they say, are vestigial.
The writing on the wall as inferred by the Anti-Defamation League?
We don’t need no Jewish Nation.
Here’s Michael A. Salberg, the ADL’s International Affairs Director:
“The Sunday Times has clearly lost its moral bearings publishing a cartoon with a blatantly anti-Semitic theme and motif which is a modern day evocation of the ancient ‘blood libel’ charge leveled at Jews.”
I wasn’t aware that the Times had moral bearings, but the ADL isn’t entirely wrong in their “blood libel” charge. Scarfe’s Netanyahu does look a lot like this, and this, and this. There’s also the awkward bit about the cartoon being published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Even Rupert Murdoch, who owns the newspaper, managed an apology. He called the cartoon grotesque.
But there remains a big gaping hole in this tale of anti-Semitism. For one, Scarfe isn’t an anti-Semite. Yes, to a lot of Jews (myself included) the cartoon appears anti-Semitic, but that has less to do with Scarfe–a man who has depicted several political leaders he abhors, most of them non-Jews, with exaggerated facial features in exaggerated ways—and more to do with context. Tony Blair, for example, (another one of Scarfe’s subjects) doesn’t belong to a religious group with a history of systemic discrimination. Or genocide. Neither does George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton–other leaders the cartoonist has taken aim at over the years. Netanyahu, on the other hand, does. Unlike Bibi, Blair, Bush, and Clinton don’t belong to a minority whose facial features were altered grotesquely throughout propaganda history, not for comic effect, but to instill fear and incite violence.
Scarfe has affirmed that he is not an anti-Semite—that he had no idea Holocaust Remembrance Day would fall on the same day the paper published his Bibi Netanyahu-architect-of-death cartoon. Here he is talking to the press, below:
“The Sunday Times has given me the freedom of speech over the last 46 years to criticize world leaders for what I see as their wrong-doings. This drawing was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people…I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust day, and I apologize for the very unfortunate timing.”
Anti-Zionists and ADL critics will of course say that the date on which the cartoon was published is irrelevant. If Scarfe’s beef is with a government, not a people, what does Holocaust Remembrance Day have to do with anything?
The answer, as he now knows, is everything.
The day has everything to do with the deed because it is, at this point in history, almost impossible to draw a sensational political caricature of a Jewish person without evoking images of Der Sturmer. The history is still too recent, the wounds still fresh.
If Gerald Scarfe is to learn anything from this, let it be that until further notice, like it or not, the only socially acceptable time to draw a Jewish caricature is at a Bar Mitzvah.
By Emma Teitel - Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
A chat about his new radio show and, of course, Spenny
Kenny Hotz is a breaker of records in (among other things) octopus wearing, semen producing, bible peddling, and gas passing. Post Kenny vs. Spenny, he’s been covering new–equally gross– ground. There was Testees, a short-lived comedy about human test subjects, Kenny Hotz’s Triumph of the Will, a reality series in which Kenny wanders a Nevada desert naked, tries to get his mother laid, and enlists a Jewish community to help him build a mosque. And now, for the first time in his career, he’s doing radio–with Testees actor, Jeff Kassel. Hotzcast, will debut this month on Sirius XM’s Laugh Attack (XM channel 160), live on Tuesdays at 5 PM ET. Kenny and Jeff will be covering politics and popular culture, with the occasional guest (including, he hopes, Martin Short some day.) Here’s Kenny Hotz on life without Spencer, Hebrew school, the NHL lockout, and his new “no mandate” radio show.
Q: Hi Kenny, how are you?
A: Surprisingly well. Still relevant, thank God. How are you? How is everyone at Maclean’s?
Q: Everyone’s fine, I think. We’re all in cubicles, so I can’t see anyone right now.
A: Yeah that’s good. You don’t wanna see those people.
Q: Tell me about your new radio show.
A: It’s funny because I’m not really a radio guy and my fans have been bugging me for years, telling me to do a podcast, but podcasts are stale and they’re dying now. But I’ve always been a really big fan of radio and I grew up with it. I’m 45 and the early part of my life I spent with headphones on in my basement listening to radio.
Q: What kind of radio?
A: Brave New Waves, 102.1, a lot of CKLN, you know, Ryerson. And then when I moved to Los Angeles I lived in a garage for five years, and it was Howard Stern every morning.
Q: Have you ever met Howard Stern?
A: No, but I heard he liked the show [Kenny Vs. Spenny].