Thursday, June 19, 2008


For some reason, I read Leah McLaren in the Globe and Mail today. (I encourage you to read her wikipedia entry before proceeding, that's why I linked to it)

Anyway, there is a lot of resentment toward Ms. McLaren around these parts. Her mother was an editor at the Globe and Mail and it is alleged that the reason she has a nice column and a book deal etc. is because of connections, and not writing ability.

I don't read her often, but when I do, she's infuriating.

Based on the evidence of her columns, history appears to be on the side of her detractors, but really, who knows? My own take on her success is that she speaks to a particular constituency, and she does it well. It just so happens that this constituency is at the forefront of ruining the world.

She had a column a while back complaining about how there were no hardware stores in her super-trendy Toronto neighbourhood. I found her frustration interesting, as I happen to live in the same neighbourhood, and know of at least three hardware stores, two of which sell lumber for crying out loud, within a 10 minute walk of the area.

However, what's worse, she uses this "problem" to craft a bizarre paean to suburbia, where every Home Depot is just an SUV ride away. Her conclusion was that it is in fact the suburbs(?) where things are really accessible and convenient.


Well, she's at it again. This time, in a column perhaps ironically, perhaps not, entitled A contrarian yuppie snob - moi - returns to her roots: A Lament for Junk.

Friends around the world, if you want a glimpse into bleakest corner of the North American condition, here's a flashlight.

After discussing her friends' praise of the Angus beef burger at McDonald's, she writes,

I miss the days when bad things could just simply be bad. Why is it these days we must dress everything up as new, improved, upgraded or purified? I'm all for fresh white asparagus and imported Italian bathroom faucets, but sometimes you just want a crappy burger from a low-end burger joint. What ever happened to shameless crummy convenience?

Now, sure, this could all be a clever ruse, and Ms. McLaren could be putting us on. However, I'm willing to bet that she's not. Indeed, I'm willing to bet that any irony in her work is what I would like to term "hazzardian", in honour of the weekly festival of unintentional irony that was the Dukes of Hazzard.

Ms. McLaren's hazzardian irony knows nearly no bounds. After regaling us with stories of her crap-filled childhood in Cobourg Ontario, she tells us why she returned to her "roots":

How was I to know my own taste revelation would coincide with the turn of the century and the decrappification of the English-speaking world? First came Starbucks, then came H&M and the next thing I knew real-estate agents in Ajax, Ont., were sipping green-tea lattes in Stella McCartney frocks.

I did the only thing any self-respecting born-again contrarian aesthetic yuppie snob would do: I returned to my roots and learned to love crap all over again.

I went to Wal-Mart and bought plastic patio furniture. I served KD and frozen peas to dinner guests. I filled my iPod with Kylie, Britney and late Elton John.

She admits this turn is hard to defend, but the final lines of her column are where her real argument lies, and it's a stab at the philosophical:

Because here's the thing: Without the bad, there is no good. Cast the KD out of your life and pretty soon the beef carpaccio tastes about as special as a Happy Meal. McDonald's might be trying to sell me an Angus burger, but that doesn't mean I have to buy one.

Let other people have their fancy white slipcovers and $50 chardonnays this summer. I'm quite happy as a born-again crap-lover.

So you see, we wouldn't know what was good without the bad. We wouldn't know the beauty of a Bach Fugue without J-Lo (yes, I'm going out on that limb). We would be lost in the aesthetic wilderness without the shit on our boots to keep us "grounded". She is as happy as a pig in shit, because, finally, she's back in the brown stuff after years of soap and water.

Ms. McLaren reminds me of a university student who sat next to me, on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq. She informed her friends that she was in support of the Iraq War. Why on earth would you support it, they asked? Well, she replied, she is just so tired of how cool it is to oppose the war, so she's going to be for it, because someone has to be.

Hannah Arendt, anyone?

The problem with Leah McLaren's "contrarianism" is that buried under its liberalish urban veneer, is a kind of hazzardian banality that chills me to the core.

I mean, from the two columns I speak of, what does she appear to long for? The days of car-filled suburbs filled with cheap mass produced crap.

Seriously, who longs for this? Who longs for mediocrity of the worst kind?

Her mediocrity isn't even the anonymous middle-classness most Canadians strive for, it's actually a longing for the days when Canadians had no taste, and to boot, didn't even know they had none.

Leah, those days you long for are dead, and they are dead because that life you long for is killing everyone. And what's worse, the life you mock in your column is even worse. We aren't going down either of these roads.

While we're at it, let's turn her "argument" about needing the bad with the good on its head - Did the crap lovers of yore ever feel the need to read Joyce? Or listen to Beethoven? Don't they need some good with their bad? Has anyone spotted McLaren reading Proust to Cobourg schoolchildren lately?

This argument only ever seems to work one way, the way that apologizes for what's bad at the expense of what's good. If there's anything I am nostalgic for, it is for the day of What's Opera, Doc?, when popular culture and high culture observed a kind of detente. This kind of fluidity seems very foreign now.

And I realise now that those of uswho know we're smarter than her, who maybe even resent her success, or perhaps the ease of her success, are missing the bigger problem -
what she advocates isn't banal, it's incredibly destructive.

So Leah, if you are indeed being ironic, let us know.

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