Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Our long civic nightmare is over - or is it?

I was out over the weekend, having drinks (probably too many of them) but attempting to explain why there's a large part of me that is, for lack of a better word, often ashamed to be a Canadian right now.

I suppose it's safe for me to say that I'm far from a supporter of our current federal government, or the current (at least until the end of yesterday) Mayor of Toronto.  But it's not just that they're right-wing and I'm not, it's more about the ways in which Canadians have become so much pettier and meaner than I recall growing up, and how our current governments often reflect that. 

By reflect, I mean that nearly half of voters in the last civic election voted for Rob Ford, knowing full well who he was and what he stood for.  And he delivered on his "mandate".

John Tory?  I usually remember him as the guy who used to real suck up to Mike Harris, which made me sick, but then I actually felt a bit sorry for him when he lost as PC leader over, of all things, funding for religious schools.

Now I know that I'm pretty much the only person (especially on the left) who feels this way, but I always thought he got a bad rap for losing the election over this issue.  Given we already fund Catholic schools, why not fund all the other religious schools?  And then they all would have to play by the government's rules - despite what people think about government, that's how it works.  If you want the money, prepared to have every last cent of it accounted for.  Wouldn't it be a better idea to bring these private schools into the tent than leaving them outside?

But it turned out that raising the spectre of "Muslim" schools was more than enough for the good people of Ontario to reject him, even though, like the whole Sharia Law thing a number of years back,  Ontarians decided it would be better to exclude Muslims from the law than to bring Sharia Law into the framework of the Canadian legal system. 

Canadians are good at talking about diversity, or being smug about diversity, but actually reflecting it in our institutions?  Not so much!

But I don't come here to talk about the mayor. 


No, I want to talk about the story that's overshadowing the fact that there will hopefully never be a Mayor Ford of Toronto - the firing by the CBC of Jian Gomeshi.

Given what's come out, it's pretty difficult to see anything good on Gomeshi's side - the calculated Facebook post, followed by the numerous allegations, and so on.  It's all very ugly.  But here's the disclaimer- none of my opinion on what happened matters or has any bearing on the truth!

But the thing that really got me was how many Torontonians, when they heard about this, answered "I'm not surprised."  Really, you "Toronto media and arts scene" assholes?  Really?  You weren't surprised that he allegedly hit and choked various women?

Is this what passes for being an "insider" in Toronto - I thought a membership to The Spoke Club or an invitation to the latest secret supper club inside the back of a food truck was good enough back in the day, but everyone "knowing" a prominent CBC Radio personality is supposedly doing this kind of stuff to people?

Maybe being across the pond, I'm seeing this rather differently than if I were there, but it's difficult not to think that most of the Torontonians who went around saying this all over the Internet the past few days were just reinforcing their own social capital, which is, quite frankly, insane to me. 

There are people defending him, there are people excoriating him, and then there are people telling you that they knew about this all along on twitter, and then defending or excoriating him.  Two of those three groups live in the real world, the other lives in downtown Toronto.

This is what infuriates me about Toronto -how incredibly blind people are to the world and that even we Canadians do awful things to each other and other people, all around the world. Here's a news flash for Canadians - we are no better than anyone else in the world

We do awful things, and we let awful things be done to people, and then we tweet about knowing how these things happened all along, and it's the latter that seems to be the most important thing.   It seems trivial to say this, but there are going to be long term ethical and political implications to seeing the world this way.  And that frightens me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cash is the limit point of irony, or, things that have been in my head for a long time

If any of you were reading me five years ago, you might recall that one of my many failed projects was an examination of hipsterdom.  Back in 2009, this would have been cutting edge research, but because I was either lazy or busy (or other things that one could discern from this blog back in the day...) I never got past the first piece U did on the Black Hoof, which has become an institution.

I talked about hipsters as an artifact of late capitalism.  I thought that sounded pretty novel - well, it turns out that pretty much everyone already thought this.  Indeed, N+1, the literary magazine founded by white guys my age (like me!) published a book called "What was the hipster?", which I got with my subscription to, uh, N+1.

It's a good little book, and it kind of killed my project, in part because it had so much more authority than my blog, and better research too.  But there was always one thing that bugged me about the book, of which a good excerpt is here, which was that Mark Grief, the author of the piece, stated that the hipster emerged in 1999.  I don't really disagree with him, but I've always been convinced that the hipster aesthetic emerged before that, and my evidence for this has always been Fiona Apple's "Criminal" video:

Actually, I'll just say right now that I think this video pretty much invented the aesthetic.  By which I mean it made the 70's look like the 90's, and this is where we are now, isn't it?  Go back and watch and episode of Friends, or the last season of Seinfeld, and tell me they haven't aged.  But this?  It could have been filmed yesterday.  Or 10 years ago, even!  But this video is closer to 20 years old, which is mind boggling.  (Oddly enough, Tidal represents one of maybe 10 popular music albums I've purchased in the past 20 years, most of which happened around 1997-98.)

The reality is that the most authority I've ever had on this is when I wrote a post eight years ago about Ossington Avenue, and it's kind of cool because Ossington is so unrecognizable now in that piece, entirely due to hipster gentrification (I'm actually using this term ironically, just wait!)

It captured a moment, and also my own ambivalence about my role in the world, which at that time was centered around Queen and Ossington. (This ambivalence is a large part of why I post so infrequently now)

But I do have a couple of things to say about hipsters that I couldn't say five years ago. Besides my Fiona Apple Conjecture,  I'm pretty sure the early 21st Century hipster and what we refer to as hipsters now are two totally different things - the early version were people who get referred to as the shock troops of gentrification - they gave a place a cool edginess, but usually without the scariness of the Other -they somehow felt both welcoming and exclusive.  I'm thinking of a place like the Communist's Daughter, which is now an institution.  Or the Lakeview Diner, which was an institution before its makeover, and is now an institution.

But always lurking in the background were people like me - thirtysomething upper middle class white people. We were waiting there, letting the hipsters do the heavy lifting, and then we got in there and built condos and squeezed out the original hipsters.  But the process was so strangely organic, with Category 1 hipsters becoming Category 2 hipsters once they got a job in the civil service, that no one really noticed that the hipster, who everyone associated with say, Dash Snow, somehow became the hipster of the Portlandia series, that is, bourgeois, domesticated. 

The hipster that Mark Grief describes died out a while ago, but it still signifies two things - people with big glasses and lumberjack shirts, and then people who own the bars these people drink at.  They kind of look the same, but they seem to represent two very different things.

I mean, you can have conservative hipsters now!  There are actually guys, who wear lumberjack shirts and have beards with short, pomaded hair, and who vote for Stephen Harper.  I've met them.  This is not something I could have imagined 10 years ago.  Hipsterdom is rather like punk now - something a lot of people loathed, and a lot of people loved, but now it's just an aesthetic.

This is also why I got tired of writing about this stuff - I wanted to deconstruct the irony that the  hipster, in the movement's (actually not bad) celebration of kitsch and trash begat the $15 macaroni and cheese. But in doing this it also meant participating economically by consuming all this expensive crap. Because the only way one could participate in being a hipster was by paying $20 for a hamburger and fries, which was actually a pretty good sign that the way I, and everyone else, was talking about hipsters was deeply, deeply confused.  For a brief moment, hip meant affordable and interesting.  But then irony got expensive.

There's maybe no better example of this now than Wallflower.  It's a bar on Dundas near Lansdowne.  I was first attracted to it because it has that faded charm that so many bars in Berlin have. (Yes, I am aware of the fact that just saying that says a lot about me, but here we are!)

But then they charge $6 for a "mug" of beer, which actually works out to $8 a pint, and it occurred to me that I was not in a Category 1 hipster bar, but a Category 2 hipster bar.  By which I mean that people with money, who want to make money, are running Wallflower - it is such a calculated environment, but not in the way a fancy restaurant is, no, all the calculation is in the effort the owners took in hiding its calculatedness.  Hey, it's really just a low key relaxed place, with distressed wood and faded wallpaper.  And expensive beer served in a way that evokes drinking out of mason jars.  

There is some irony in this digression - I'm pretty sure that the person who owns Wallflower owns the Communist's Daughter.  So there's a circle there, somewhere.

But I am boring myself with this, and I didn't really have a point except that this has been laying in the fragments of my mind for a while, and now that it's gone, I can make room for other thoughts.  At least I think that's how it works.