Tuesday, April 2, 2013

After Dark, April 2, 2013

The Liberal High Horse
Is it too high for me?
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I am actually getting palpitations about broaching the subject of this piece, so let me start with a story.

Years ago, when I worked in the trenches of the arts weeklies, I wrote an op-ed. In it, I discussed the anti-Semitism that is regularly exposed to people who are not Jewish. I was concerned about this because I had recently come out and, like a miracle, my friends, associates and family had stopped making faggot jokes. But I knew, among them, there were still those who found Gays repulsive and who kept their jokes and opinions to be shared with the like-minded. So the question of private anti-Semitism resonated with me as people I frequented felt my coming out signaled they could safely move on to a different intolerance. (With my name it was not likely I was Jewish...)

This turned out to be dangerous (and I was naïve not to realize it would be). 

So that's what I wrote about. However, to make the article more punchy I took an ironic tone. This turned out to be dangerous (and I was naïve not to realize it would be). Within days the world came down on me and my editors...a shitstorm. One woman counted the number of times I had used the word "Jew" in the article and stated her horror to the Quebec Press Council - then the biggest bunch of tools in the country. The Council opened a dossier. Meanwhile, the Canadian Jewish Council wrote a complaint that we published. However, just as I was thinking of blowing my brains out, I got a call from a bigwig in B'nai Brith who told me he had found the piece hilarious and important. He single-handedly helped me to get through the monstrous attacks on me. The upshot? The imbeciles at the Press Council, clearly not understanding the very idea of irony, ruled against me. However, by that time the storm was passing. Besides, I was blessed with editors who paid the Council no never mind. (Nor, in passing, still, do I despite the fact they are working to control online media...but that's another story...)

The thing is some people get it and some people don't. In Facebook a huge discussion broke out about Seth MacFarlane's handling of the Oscars. It broke down to, "I didn't find it funny" and "I did find it funny" and "Well, I didn't..." For the record, I found it funny and that's the end of my discussion of that one.

The fact is, the minute you write or open your mouth you are putting sensitivities in play. It is that way with all but the most blanc-mange of opinions. Beyond Mother, the Flag and Apple Pie you can now say virtually anything and there will be a vast chorus of people jumping all over you. 

In art, therefore, the concepts of provocation and transgressivism are in danger. The attacks are coming less and less from enemies (straights v. Queer culture, f'r'instance) and more from within the ranks of those we felt were allies. 

I inadvertently tested this idea the other night on my own Facebook associates. I mentioned that a female podcaster I love rarely used the word "cunt" and used, instead, "gash". The women among my FB friends, all of whom I truly adore (I don't keep FB friends I don't) came down pro, con and the discussion was as fascinating as it was civilized. The civility had much to do with the fact these women know me and, by extension, trust me. But the opinions were distinctly pro and con. 

As these discussions have ALWAYS been.

This seems to be how the culture has been redefined by the internet.

The problem? With the rise of social media and immediate statement and immediate reaction to that statement, all hell has broken loose and it's like the Wild West. People automatically mistrust the statement and judge it because people seem predisposed to anger. This seems to be how the culture has been redefined by the internet. Those who make a living being provocative or transgressive become causes célèbres. 

The taboos multiply - Israel, Palestine, gender, race, religion, rape, abortion, capital punishment - so, instead, we share cat memes instead of ideas. 

This week, for instance, it was noted that Buddies in Bad Times' production of Arigato, Tokyo included an actor in "yellow-face". Those of us who know the company and its boss, Brendan Healey, did not make a federal case out it because we knew that there was probably an artistic decision that required further discussion (beyond Twitter). However, all it would take is one "right-thinking" person to turn this into a monster. 

Let me go back to my story about my "Burn this" column. The Press Council's complaint - the one they proceeded on - was filed by a non-Jewish woman. It only took her to make my life hell. It only took a bunch of boobs to listen to her. 

I've seen those boobs.

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