To Be Canadian Is To Be Toronto

November 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

There is a disturbing trend in Toronto sports for the franchises of the self-proclaimed ‘Centre of the Universe’ to brand themselves as the ultimate Canadian franchise.  Of course, this should not be surprising, since Toronto hasn’t realized there is a huge country out there, and that, in reality, it only makes up around 16% of the population of the nation.  But don’t tell Toronto that.

The Toronto media has a long history of denigrating the rest of the country.  I stopped reading the Globe and Mail about 10 years ago when I realized that about the only time there was news about Vancouver, Calgary, or Montréal was when it was bad news or something to mock the cities about (this, of course, coming from a city that once called out the military to deal with a bit of snow and had Rob Ford as mayor).

But to suggest the Toronto sporting franchises as the Canadian teams is, well, ridiculous and insulting.  The NBA Raptors a few years ago used the slogan #WeTheNorth as part of its marketing campaign.  This, though, feels the least insulting to me in that the Raptors are the only Canadian NBA team, and the only other Canadian NBA team, the Vancouver Grizzlies died an ignominious death in 2001.

And, to be fair, the CFL Argonauts and MLS TFC haven’t seemed to get the memo, but that’s probably because no one cares about either one anyway.

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But it’s the MLB Blue Jays and the NHL Maple Leafs who take the cake.  The Blue Jays have created a cap that features nothing but the Canadian maple leaf on it.  The message here is that any good Canadian must cheer for the Blue Jays.  But the thing is, it’s not this simple.  Until 2004, Montréal had its Expos.  The Expos were killed off by MLB and moved to Washington, DC., so this remains somewhat of a sore spot.  But Down East, Canadians are just as likely, if not more so, to cheer for the Boston Red Sox than the Jays.  And out West, the Seattle Mariners and the Bay Area teams are also popular.  And in Montréal, the Red Sox are the most popular team.

Then there’s the Maple Leafs.  Sure, their name and their logo.  But those go back nearly 90 years.  So they get a pass on that (as an aside, the Canadiens de Montréal are so-known because the peasants of French-era Québec were called Canadiens, or Habitants, thus, the Habs).  But EA Sports, Adidas (which makes NHL uniforms) and all of the so-called Original Six teams created interesting new jerseys for EA Sports’ NHL ’19.

They almost all suck and are pointless, but you just know that they will eventually be the third jerseys of the teams, though the Chicago Blackhawks jersey looks like their third jersey already.  The Maple Leafs’ however, is a blatant rip off of the legendary Team Canada jersey, made famous by the victorious Canadians in the 1972 Summit Series.

 

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The difference, of course, is that the Maple Leafs’ version is blue instead of red:

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So, yeah, this is for a video game and it’s not realty.  Yet.  And sure you’re thinking I’m getting worked up about something that isn’t important.  The thing is, it is.  Jerseys, caps, hoodies, etc., these are all part of the marketing campaigns of the franchises and the leagues they play in.

And when Toronto clubs monopolize and capitalize on Canadian images and icons for their marketing campaigns, they are doing several things.  First, they are cheapening our national symbols and icons (as an aside, remember when the RCMP licensed its images to Disney for marketing purposes and the outcry it created?).  Second, they are changing the national discourse about what it means to be Canadian, just as Molson attempted to in the 90s with the Joe Canada commercials, which suggested to drink Molson Canadian was to make oneself Canadian.  That’s what the Raptors, Jays, and Leafs are doing here: to cheer for them is to be Canadian.

In the case of baseball, again, we have divided loyalties.  We do for basketball, too.  All my friends in Montréal cheer for the Boston Celtics, and out in Vancouver, it’s the LA Lakers, Chicago Bulls or Golden State Warriors.  But hockey is something else.  There are seven NHL franchises in Canada.  Three of them have variations on Canada and our nationality in their names (Canucks, Maple Leafs, Canadiens).  One shamelessly ripped of the Royal Canadian Air Force in its marketing and logo (Winnipeg Jets).  But none of this reaches the ridiculousness of the EA Sports Maple Leafs’ jersey.

And so we’re back to the idea that to be in Toronto is to be Canadian and to hell with the rest of the nation, you know, the 84% of us who don’t live in Toronto.

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The Moral Ambiguity of The Man in the High Castle

January 17, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’ve been binge-watching The Man in the High Castle.  It is truly a TV show for our cynical times.  There are no heroes in this show.  Everyone is deeply compromised.  Some are even horrible people.  For those who don’t know, the show is set in a dystopic 1960s in the United States.  The Allies lost World War II, and the United States is split in three.  The eastern seaboard is the American Reich.  The West Coast is occupied by the Japanese, and there is a dodgy, moral vacuum in the middle, the neutral zone, a lawless respite from both.

The main character is Juliana Crain, who is a spoiled, horrible, selfish young woman.  She betrays nearly everyone she meets, and leaves a body count behind her.  Ostensibly, she’s trying to figure out what happened to her half-sister, Trudy, a Resistance fighter killed by the Japanese security forces.  Her boyfriend, Frank, is the closest thing to a hero in this show, as he is drawn closer and closer to the Resistance in the wake of Juliana’s multiple betrayals.

But otherwise, the show gets intimate and personal with Obergruppenfürher Joe Smith, a former American soldier, and his family, creepy as they are.  Smith, not surprisingly, is a murderous, horrible human being.  And he’s a Nazi.  We do get a sense of honour from Japanese Trade Minister Nobosuke Tagami, whose loyalties are never entirely clear.  But he is an honourable man who works for a violent, brutal dictatorship.  Then there’s Kampeitei (Military Police) Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido.  He’s about a milimetre short of being a psychotic killer, so determined is he to make sure law and order is maintained in the Pacific States, and in San Francisco in particular.

The remaining characters are all deeply flawed, morally vacuous, and horrible.

I find it interesting to be watching a TV show that humanizes Nazis, and attempts to play on my sympathies with them.  For example, Smith’s son, Thomas, is a teenaged boy who, it turns out, has muscular dystrophy, which comes from his father’s side.  The Obergruppenführer’s brother had it as well.  As per Nazi ideology, he was liquidated.  And that is what Thomas must be too.  When the diagnosis is delivered to Smith, he is at a loss as to what to do.  He is the most powerful man in the American Reich, though he lives a pretty typical suburban life at home on Long Island (New York City is the capital of the American Reich, as DC was nuked during the war).  He must, he knows, kill his son.  And yet, surprise, surprise, he cannot.  In order to protect his family, he instead kills  the family doctor, who delivered the diagnosis.  I know, a shock. A Nazi being a nasty piece of work.

Smith’s protegé is Joe Blake, who Juliana kind of falls for.  He’s a Nazi undercover, sent to find Juliana, who has knowledge of the secret films of the titular Man in the High Castle (played brilliantly by Stephen Root), and, more than that, has the actual film(s), which Trudy had given her right before she was killed.  He finds her first in the Neutral Zone and then follows her back to San Francisco.  Meanwhile, Juliana has cozied up to the Resistance herself, and appears to be a member of it as she tries to find out what happened to her sister.  She is supposed to lead Joe Blake into the hands of the Resistance.  But she doesn’t.  Instead she betrays the Resistance and Blake makes it back to New York City.

The summary of Episode 5 of Season 2 notes that Juliana will have to betray someone close to her.  By this point in the show, I am left wondering who is left for her to betray.  She has already betrayed Frank.  And the Resistance, leading to at least three of her erstwhile colleagues being killed.  And she seems to have no moral qualms about this.

And this is the thing about the characters of this show.  There is no moral compass.  Each is an actor entirely interested in her/his own fate.  Occasionally there is co-operation, but mostly there is a collection of atomistic individuals who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

And, of course, this is completely compelling TV.  I can’t turn away from it.  And yet, I can’t help but think there is something deeply wrong with being engrossed in a TV show that humanizes Nazis (whilst still showing what horrible people they are).  It would seem to me that perhaps Nazis are beyond the pale.  And yet, they’re not.  I’m not sure this is a good sign for our culture and society.

The Power of the Media

January 3, 2018 § 6 Comments

Last week I posted this to Facebook, thinking it made a good point about corporate behaviour as opposed to individual behaviour.  I immediately got lambasted by several friends who argued that it is we as individuals who make change and that corporations and the media respond to us.  As far as I’m concerned this is hogwash and the height of American liberalism.  No.  We don’t control corporations.  We don’t control the  media.  We are conditioned not to. We are conditioned to purchase new things, to listen to our media.  And, sure, we can boycott. One friend lives in rural Tennessee and is doing her best to live a life of simplicity with minimal consumption.  I salute that.  I personally do not shop at Walmart due to its odious corporate behaviour vis-à-vis downtown cores around this country.  But Lydia’s actions and mine are small, a drop in the ocean.  And, yes, certainly, if we are joined in our attempts to make the world better in this sense, it would make a difference.  But, until we are numerous enough to make Walmart stop gutting the downtowns of small-town America, for example, I think we need to both carry on keeping on keeping on, but also holding the nose of corporations to the stink they create.

Today, I looked briefly on Twitter and got depressed.  Trump, Trump, and more Trump.  Some of it was useful, like reporting on the actual news.  But most of it was the usual outrage to his rants, raves, and rages on Twitter.  Apparently today he thinks Huma Abedin and James Comey belong in jail.  I don’t care.  None of that matters.  None of it.  It’s just so much hot air.  What matters is the policies and actions of the US government whilst he is president.  That matters.  But that’s not what the so-called resistance seems to be focusing on.  It’s focused on the the newest outrage from the President’s Twitter account.

And so I got to thinking about how we arrived here.  Donald Trump was an outsider when he threw his hat into the GOP race for the presidential nomination in 2016.  He wasn’t an unknown, of course, he was a famous showman.  He had no policies, just a slogan to Make America Great Again.  He ranted and raved at his rallies, he made fun of his opponents, amongst others.  In other words, he ran a circus. He tried to provoke.  And the media responded exactly how he wanted, and therefore, so did we.  The media is addicted to Donald Trump and his off-the-cuff remarks and outrageous statements.

Trump’s candidacy was pushed not by Trump, but by the media.  His campaign for president was also driven by the media.  He got wall-to-wall coverage.  That most of it was negative, 77% according to a Harvard study, doesn’t matter.  Trump was proof of Oscar Wilde’s observation that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  He was all over the place. And, yes, we lapped it up.  It become almost masochistic for a lot of my friends, having to see his latest outrageous comment or tweet.  Trump as president has been driven by the media.

Right now, the home pages of CNN, New York TimesHuffington Post, and the Washington Post are dominated by the President.  But not his policies, or his ideas to improve the economy or anything like that.  No, it’s mostly noise caused by his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks, as well as that outrageous interview he did with The Times last week.  None of this matters.  But we just lap this up.

Certainly we, the people, have some power.  We could stop paying attention to his tweets, but they get amplified by everyone on Twitter.  His two tweets attacking the New York Times yesterday morning have both been re-tweeted close to 52,000 times and liked another 13,000 times each.  He has 45.6 million followers.  And, sure, not all of them are American, but they’re also not just conservatives.  I can see that 272 of my Twitter followers follow him, and just looking quickly at the first 30 0r so, I can confirm that most of them are progressives.  So, we’re clearly not doing that.  But if we collectively stopped following, re-tweeting, or liking his tweets, he would fall silent pretty quickly.

But. There is the larger issue.  The news media is all over him like a cheap suit.  Because Trump is first and foremost a showman.  I personally don’t believe he believes even 10% of what he says publicly, he says it to provoke people, to fire up his base, and anger his ‘haters,’ as he calls them.  And thus, the media salivates.

And sure, the media is composed of individuals.  And those individuals work for large corporations.  And it is in the interests of those individuals to ensure large ratings/readership/viewership in order to further their own careers.  And those corporations have an interest in those readers and viewers, as this is how profits are made.

Another example: Hockey in Canada.  Canadians, we take our hockey seriously.  And we have two English-language and two French-language media conglomerates exclusively devoted to sports.  And hockey dominates at TSN, Sportsnet, TVA and RDS.  And then there’s all the other media in Canada.  Each has one or 100 ‘insiders’ who claim to know about the inner-workings of the NHL and our favourite hockey teams.  And there is not just the TV stations (multiple streams), but also the social media presence of not just the networks, but their studio hosts, as well as these so-called insiders.  And so viewership/readership and profits must be driven up at all times.  And what drives all of this?  Coverage of the NHL, in particular the seven Canadian NHL teams, but even then, especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, who not only play in the two largest cities in Canada, but both of those cities have large diasporas out west (where the rest of the Canadian NHL teams are in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg (and, yes, I am ignoring the Ottawa Senator), but also down east.

But coverage of practices, games, press conferences by coaches and general managers just aren’t enough.  So there are trade rumours, as all of these ‘insiders’ go a-twitter discussing who is going to be traded and to whom.  We are told that our favourite team’s general manager is ‘working the phones’ to improve the team or find that elusive piece that will deliver the Stanley Cup.  My guess is about 99% of these rumours lead to absolutely nothing.  The other 1%, well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  But we lap it up.  Because TSN, RDS, Sportsnet, and TVA have conditioned us to.  It’s irrational human behaviour at its best because we have been trained by this media industrial complex to respond.

So, back to Trump: What if, for just one week, the news media ignored his Twitter?   And what if we, the people, also ignored his Twitter for one week?  What would happen?

Donald Trump and the ‘Lamestream’ Media

December 12, 2016 § 6 Comments

Way back in 2009, failed Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin took her feud with the media to a new level.  She began referring to it as the ‘lamestream’ media, bitter as she was about the justifiable questioning of her qualifications for the position, amongst other things.  Her nomenclature, though, became a crystalizing moment for many on the far right, as they now had a catchy and witty term to describe the media.  The far right had long had a problem with the mainstream media, which tended to dismiss them as nut jobs or worse.  Indeed, far right sites like Breitbart, which had already been in existence for two years by the time Palin came up with her term, had been critiquing the allegedly liberal media.  Breitbart, though, was just the most successful of these far right sites, most of which, including Breitbart, descended into conspiracy theories, hate speech, and vague threats against minorities.

And then Donald Trump happened.  Trump, a life-long moderate Democrat from New York City, saw an opportunity.  Clearly he was a student of Joseph Goebbels’ theories of propaganda.  Goebbels, who was the Nazis’ spin doctor, noted, most famously, that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes a truth.  But Goebbels also opined that propaganda works best when the manipulated group believes it is acting of its own free will.  This is not to say that Trump is a Nazi, of course (though some of his followers clearly are).  It is to note that Trump is a master manipulator.

All throughout the primaries and into the main presidential election, he carried out a series of feuds with the media.  He refers to the New York Times as ‘failing’ in nearly every tweet about it. He even carried out a feud with Megyn Kelly of FoxNews.  In that, he seemed to break with every expectation of a conservative candidate, as Fox has long been the conspiracy-driven, nearly fake-news media darling of the right (lest you think I’m biased, liberals have MSNBC, and it’s not like the far left doesn’t have its own issues with the media).  It probably helped that Fox was in a crisis of its own at the time, with head honcho Roger Ailes being forced to step down due to a sexual harassment scandal.

Trump, then, coalesced an already-extant movement that developed in the wake of the rise of Barack Obama, the first African American president, and his candidacy for the presidency.  Trump’s candidacy, though, took this until-now fringe movement into the mainstream, most notably through Breitbart and the appointment of its CEO, Steve Bannon, as his campaign CEO before appointing him as the Chief Strategist of the nascent Trump administration.

Trump’s media campaign and discourse has been nothing short of brilliant, even if it is nefarious and repulsive.

 

Do Not Make Hatred Mainstream, or, Don’t Feed the Trolls

November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

Donald Trump is the first man elected President of the United States with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups since, well, before the Civil War (Andrew Johnson was elected Vice-President, but he did so as Lincoln’s junior partner and after taking a hard-line against Confederates, which he later walked away from). I refuse to call these people the alt-right. They’re not. They’re white supremacists.

But in the wake of Trump’s election, the media has been bending and tripping over itself to normalize white supremacy.  Perhaps those in the media behind this would claim that they’re just attempting to understand.  But there is nothing to understand. White supremacy is pretty bloody obvious.  There is no need to explain it differently, it is deeply offensive to let members attempt to explain themselves and argue for the justness of their cause in public.  There is no justness of their cause.

I came of age in the early 90s, when racist skinheads could still be found wandering around Canadian cities like Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.  There, they beat on black people, harassed and intimidated non-white people, targeted LGBTQ people.  Violently.  And since that era, white supremacy has faded into the background, usually affiliated with violent racist fringe groups.

Until now.  President-Elect Trump has appointed Steve Bannon, an anti-Semitic, misogynist white supremacist as his Chief Counsel.  And much of the so-called liberal media in the United States has attempted to normalize it, like this is just a run-of-the-mill appointment.

But it gets worse.  Starting the morning after the election, on November 10, NPR was interviewing white supremacists on Morning Edition, as if that was to be expected.  The New York Times has alternated between shaming the incoming administration for its ties to white supremacists and normalizing those same ties.  The BBC has allowed the editor of The Weekly Standard, a deeply conservative, and apparently racist, publication, onto its set to claim that the KKK does not exist and, moreover, even if it did, to compare it with the Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus.  Nearly every media platform I consume has had some commentary from David Duke crowing about how happy he is.  And CNN had a man on last week asking whether or not Jews are people.  I refuse to provide links to this.  Search them yourselves if you want to see/read.

This is disgraceful.  This is giving screen-time to white supremacists, it is making them acceptable members of the body politic. It is allowing white supremacy to gain a beach head in the mainstream.  This is wrong.  So very wrong.  None of these clowns deserve support, or attention.  There’s a reason they were almost personae non gratae in the mainstream for the past two-plus decades: they’re extremists.  And watching the media feed these trolls is nauseating.

Scary Ideas and Lazy Journalism

April 3, 2015 § 6 Comments

Last week, the New York Times published another in a depressing series of articles in the print media about how colleges and universities are allegedly catering to sensitive-little flower millennials, who cannot handle big ideas that challenge their deeply-held beliefs, and how, instead, they seek to create ‘safe spaces’ all across campus, where they won’t come into contact with big, scary ideas.  I can never get through one of these articles without seething.  See, I am a professor.  That means I work and teach on a university campus.  I come into daily contact with these millennials.  And I’ve come to despise generational stereotypes about them, as much as I despised the stereotypes applied to my generation twenty years ago.  The stereotypes are largely similar: apathetic, self-centred, self-obssessed, etc.  And, just as they were a ridiculous accusation against Gen X, the same is true of millennials.

The larger problem with these kinds of articles is that they are written by journalists looking for sensation, and supported by their editors looking for clickbait (hey, look, Ma! I used the term ‘clickbait’ in successive posts).  These articles are drive-by smearings of academe (not that there aren’t a lot of problems within the system, but journalists aren’t interested in them, because they don’t generate headlines), written without bothering to understand how the academy works, how ideas are exchanged, and how we professors work to challenge and destabilize commonly-held beliefs, even if we agree with them ourselves.

Take, for example, the story of a course at Arizona State University called “US Race Theory and The Problem of Whiteness.”  FoxNews host Elizabeth Hasselbeck attacked the course, after talking to a student at ASU.  The problem was that the student Hasselbeck talked to wasn’t enrolled in the class, and she herself never bothered to talk to the professor.  No, instead, Hasselbeck instead ranted about the problems with this kind of course, in predictable fashion.  This led the professor of the course to doxxed and to receive death threats.

But back to the Times article.  I was going to write a strongly-worded riposte to it here, but my wife beat me to it.  So, instead, I point you, gentle reader, over to Margo’s blog, as she says what I wanted to say in a much better fashion.

Agnotology and Obama’s Religion

February 26, 2015 § 15 Comments

Jeff Jacoby is the resident conservative columnist at the liberal Boston Globe, the main Boston newspaper.  Jacoby is a very intelligent man and while I rarely agree with anything he writes, his column is usually well worth the read (as long as it’s not about climate change; he is delusional on this matter).  But yesterday, Jacoby set a new low.

In yesterday’s column, Jacoby ponders President Obama’s religion.  He takes to task reporters who asked Wisconsin Governor (and Republican presidential hopeful) Scott Walker about whether or not he thought the president was a Christian.  I agree with Jacoby thus far.  I don’t see the relevance of any of this to either Obama as President or to Walker as a prospective candidate.

Walker, of course, couldn’t resist.  He said he didn’t know if the president is a Christian.  This is a disingenuous response if there ever was one.  Jacoby then notes that Americans as a whole seem confused on the matter:

[Walker] has plenty of company.

During the president’s reelection campaign in the summer of 2012, the Pew Research Center polled a national sample of registered voters: “Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is?” More than one-third of the respondents — 36 percent — said they didn’t know. Only 45 percent identified the president as a Christian; 16 percent said he’s a Muslim.

That was the seventh time in a little over four years that Pew had measured public awareness of Obama’s religion. The first poll, back in March 2008, had yielded almost identical results — 36 percent couldn’t name then-Senator Obama’s religion, while 47 percent said he was Christian and 12 percent answered Muslim.

Indeed.  But this is where Jacoby goes right off the rails:

Over the years, the president has made numerous comments on religious topics, and his messages haven’t always been consistent. It isn’t hard to understand why a sizable minority of Americans, to the extent that they think about Obama’s religion at all, might be genuinely puzzled to put a label to it. Honest confusion isn’t scandalous.

This is NOT honest confusion.  Obama’s religious beliefs aren’t that complicated, he’s a Christian who doesn’t go to mass often, like most Christians.  What this is is racism.  This is the same racism that drove the Birther movement.  I severely doubt if John McCain had won in 2008, or if Mitt Romney had won in 2012, their religious beliefs would ever be a topic of discussion.  I seriously doubt that 36% of Americans would have no clue about the president’s religious beliefs.  As for the discussion that Obama is a Muslim:

public opinion polls show that despite liberal denial, at least one in five or 17% of Americans recognize that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim.

This is the first sentence of an entry on Conservapedia on “Obama’s Religion” (the bold is in the original).  Note the “is” after the word “Obama” and before the word “a.”  Jacoby is dead wrong to go down this road, because this is exactly where he is going.

Agnotology is the study of deliberate ignorance.  Deliberate ignorance is easy to spot in our culture.  Examples include the insistence that Hitler was a communist because he led the National Socialist party. Or that because Lincoln was a Republican and he freed the slaves Republicans cannot be racist.  These are both fallacies.  Clearly.  Yet, there are people in the United States who will argue to their death that these are truths.  These kinds of beliefs are easily perpetuated in the so-called Information Age.  Scrolling through my Twitter feed on any given day, I can find any number of un-truths passed off as truths (especially by “facts” accounts, that claim to only tweet fact).  These un-truths get re-tweeted for all sorts of reasons, of course, but an un-truth repeated often enough eventually becomes believed as truth.  Thus, the editors of Conservapedia can, with a straight face, claim that “17% of Americans recognize that Barrack Hussein Obama is a Muslim.”  And how did 17% of Americans come to believe that Obama is a Muslim?  Because this lie has been repeated often enough that some people have come to believe it.

Jacoby disingenuously opens this can of worms in yesterday’s column.  Jacoby is smart enough to know that the “confusion” over Obama’s religious beliefs is irrelevant.  He is also smart enough to know that this confusion is a fine study in agnotology.  But, instead he appeals to the lowest common denominator and uses his column to perpetuate ignorance.

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