Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A New Low, and Not the Last: Part II

Time, now, to examine the flip side of Stephen Harper's latest partisan junk-mail campaign, sent, on the tax-payers' dime, in the guise of a local constituency update. Yes, there are two sides to this pamphlet. Of course there are: you can always trust "Prime minister" Harper to get the most out of other people's money.

As the sides aren't marked, who knows which side is "Side One"? It hardly matters: I'm discussing them in order of hilarity--in descending order. That's why I began with the side that showed our proud national hero, Atlas-like, supporting the full weight of our brash new war-cry, "Canada's Back", on his smirkingly confident head while surrounded by a batch of kitsch Canadian signifiers ("Canada" on the name plate, the desk-sized Maple Leaf on the table, and Harper's barely visible Maple Leaf lapel pin).

The photo's sheer desperation is as glaring as its sick irony: Harper's environment needs to represent Canada, because the man cannot. Inanimate objects are asked to provide the patriotism and nationalist conviction that Harper cannot honestly communicate (cannot communicate at all, actually, as he's a terrible liar). Canadians have seen their share of preposterous political slogans (Pierre Trudeau's Maoist "The Land is Strong" counting among the most risible), but Harper's is the first to be delivered by pieces of plastic, rather than by a man (if there is, in this case, a meaningful distinction to be made between the two).

Here is the other side:

It's a slice of good old-fashioned reactionary "law-and-order" tripe, aimed at the sweaty, bug-eyed paranoiacs who sleep with loaded .45's under their pillows and who've watched the country go to hell in a handbasket ever since we started letting the "coloureds" in (that would be since about 1780). Such people represent a hefty proportion of Stephen Harper's core support, and this mail-out is meant to cement their allegiance, to show them that, even though Harper's "Conservatives" haven't yet torched the House of Commons(like they ought to), they are still worth voting for.

The pamphlet succeeds beautifully. My favourite part of it is the main graphic, of a trio of kids in hooded sweaters running away (presumably after having committed some horrible crime).

To be sure, the pamphlet could have shown them running towards the viewer (which would have made the photo so much the more menacing, in fact), but the CPC would certainly have faced a storm of criticism if the kids' faces had been black. Why not hide the faces, and let the viewers use their imaginations? For all we know, the kids may all be white (yeah...sure they are). This is surreptitious, guilt-free race-baiting, not done this expertly since the American Right of the 1960s--realising they could no longer respectably rail against "niggers" and "nigger-lovers", gentrified their hate by championing "states' rights" and "small government".

The photo in question was obviously used for a reason, and it wasn't because it matches the nature of the legislation it is meant to advertise. Most of Harper's "Tough on Crime Omnibus Bill" (Bill C-2) dealt with non-violent issues like impaired driving, bail laws and the age of consent. What are the kids supposed to be running away from? Jail bait?

Given the manipulative mastery we see in that graphic, we find it hard to discern whether what seems idiotic elsewhere in the ad is actually an act of devious genius, or at least of a calculated strategy. For example, when the ad screams "Age is no excuse", are we to take it literally that, for the "Conservatives", age is never an excuse, and that a nine-year-old deserves to have applied to him the legal sanctions we apply to adults? Are the "Conservatives" here implying the mirror-image of their own abnormal psychology? Since they insist upon habitually acting like children, are they convinced that children must be treated like adults? We cannot really know.

Nor can we discern what is terribly new about a fact Harper seems to find quite frightfully urgent: "Young thugs are committing crimes without fear of the consequences", we're informed, leading most of us to recall the evident fact that all crime is committed without any appreciable fear of the consequences (since most criminals do not intend to be caught) and that crimes do not lose their sting even when criminals do fear the consequences. For just those reasons, crime rates are spectacularly higher than are Canada's in places where fear of many kinds--fear of execution, fear of government, of the law, of one's neighbours--reigns supreme. Yet, where there is little fear--Norway, Iceland, Denmark--crime rates are lower even than ours. What's their secret? Note to "Conservatives": it's called "civility"; look it up, and actually earn your ministerial wages for the first time in two long years.

Now, think of the language: "young thugs". That choice of words is key.

Some people want their federal leaders to inspire them--to help them engage with causes higher than themselves, but they are not Stephen Harper's people.

Some people expect their leaders to touch and arouse what is best in them, to make manifest their latent greatness, to magnify their souls, but they are not Stephen Harper's people.

Some people pace their dark, dank basement apartments in tatty t-shirts and punch holes in the walls while swearing oaths against "young thugs", immigrants, women, Muslims, Jews and everybody else who has caused the pain, the mediocrity and the insignificance of their sad little lives. They are Stephen Harper's people, but, sadly, deep down inside, they know perfectly well that the ch√Ętelains who have the gall to tell them that "Nobody is above the law" are just laughing at them.

Those poignant facts spoil the many elements of real, unaffected, almost child-like bits of comedy that abound in the ad--like the ungrammatical nonsense of the phrase, "Keeping dangerous youth criminals off the streets while awaiting trial" (in which it is the government that is awaiting trial, in a nice Freudian slip), and the absurd question, "Who do you think is on the right track on crime?", which equates nicely and tautologically with the question, "Who is the only leader who, as prime minister, has had the opportunity to propose and enact a track on crime?".

Then, the comedy ends, and we get to the meat of the appeal. Those of us who weren't sold by anything in the ad so far are hit with this devastating hortatory salvo: "Real Action; Real Results", the ad brags, its writers having wisely relied on the proven method of using the adjective "real" to conjure an actual reality (call it the "Abracadabra Effect"), a reality whose "results" so far include some of the most horrific murders in Canada's history and our first serious urban riot in over fifteen years.

I feel rather sorry for the CPC Members of Parliament who have had to suffer seeing their names and faces pasted onto this rubbish in order to have it passed off as legitimate riding news. Sure, it allowed them to rob the public purse and keep the CPC party's coffers that much richer for the widely expected fall election, but I cannot believe that it was worth what it cost their souls. And, yes, I persist in the belief that "Conservatives" have souls. Call me an optimist.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A New Low, and Not the Last: Part I

In the old days, Canadians had to either read the great works of Western literature's most trenchant critics of totalitarianism (Kafka, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell) or pay close attention to American elections if they wished to see partisan propaganda deployed in a form so pure that it approached sublime self-parody. Fortunately, ever since a paltry but sufficient slice of our countrymen saw fit to hand care of the Dominion over to an ideologically autistic clutch of vandalic berserkers with the collective moral acumen of a loan-shark and the visionary power of an apprentice Avis Rent-A-Car clerk, propaganda laughably absurd enough to stand proudly beside Kraft durch Freude posters, COMINTERN announcements proclaiming the imminent victory of the international proletariat and Ku Klux Klan anti-miscegenation pamphlets has been freely available to us for the last twenty-seven months. Truly, there seems to be not a single principle of decency, taste or integrity that "Prime Minister" Stephen Harper will not garrotte, disembowel or dismember.

The species below, in which you see one side of a recent CPC pamphlet, will serve as a case in point. I gather from what I've been reading on a newsgroup I belong to that this mail-out consists of a generic template upon which the photos and names of CPC MP's have been grafted. It seems that thousands of these have been mailed out to people in CPC-held ridings across the country.

All Members of Parliament have the right to send a limited number of tax-funded mail-outs to households in their constituencies. Originally, the pamphlets were used only when people had to be informed of changes to their riding boundaries. Now, the enabling parameters have widened, but, still, these pamphlets are supposed to be strictly informational and local--that is, they are meant to allow the MP to inform people in his or her riding of what he or she has accomplished or advocated on the Hill.

Lately, the "Conservatives" have begun to use this tax-funded service as a cost-free method of deploying U.S.-style direct-mailing campaigns. Notice that the pamphlet below conveys no information whatever about the Member of Parliament on whose behalf it was sent but serves only to promote the CPC and Stephen Harper. Notice also that the return address is a House of Commons address. Thus, this pamphlet is a party device, used for partisan purposes at Parliament's (i.e. tax-payers') expense. That's right: you are paying Stephen Harper to whore himself to you. Even Hugo Chavez wouldn't have the balls.

The best (and by that I mean the "worst") propaganda always provides satisfying comedy, and we're not disappointed by the CPC's latest offering. Consider this:

"Canada's Back", it yells, as if the nation were a cheap sitcom going into summer re-runs. Clearly, somebody thought that the dynamism and vigour of this alleged national renaissance would be conveyed most convincingly by the sight of our prime minister sitting on his ass, smiling like the half-drunk facilitator of an Amway seminar.

It continues:

After more than a decade of Liberal government rule, Canada's reputation abroad floundered and even our capacity to patrol our own borders was significantly diminished.

Amen to that. During the Liberal Dark Ages, we had no more than a hundred main battle tanks. Now, thank God, we've got about a hundred and forty, most of which are in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, with our Nigerian-sized air force and navy, Lord, but we would provide a right bloody nose to anyone foolish enough to invade Fortress Canada. It continues:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government are protecting our sovereignty here at home and speaking with a confident voice on the world stage.
Damn right. Stephen Harper has made it crystal clear that he will not allow anyone, not even Canadians, to bully him into doing anything the White House doesn't want him to do. Far from being an ideologue, Harper is, in fact, the ultimate neutralist: he refuses to interfere even in his own internal affairs. The Pentagon is running things quite swimmingly, thank you very much. Any input on Harper's part would be...well...redundant--an unacceptable inefficiency in our increasingly competitive global market.

Then we read this illiterately punctuated sentence:

We have an important role to play; representing to the world the Canadian values of security and human rights...
Naturally, I was astonished to discover that Canada apparently has a new "value". I only wish I knew what precise banality the word "security" is meant to communicate. Is it supposed to mean the kind of "security" we feel when we're snuggled up tight under our duvets on a cold January night? Who knows?

I've always thought of security as a collateral benefit of having the right values rather than as a value as such. The NKVD, the Securitate and the Gestapo thought differently, as does Iran's Council of Guardians, and as does Stephen Harper, it would seem.

At least Harper got one thing right: respect for human rights is a Canadian value, or at least it was until our government decided to stand idly by and watch an "ally" abduct a Canadian child, torture him, and hold him indefinitely without trial and without regard for even the merest niceties of international law. In the context of that ongoing disgrace, Harper's claim to be a champion of human rights is not just ludicrous; it is sacrilegious.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Curse of Dred Tory: Part II

The Great Demiurge of continental politics has, yet again, fashioned a reality out of my satirically intended fancies.

It all began when I ended an exasperated jeremiad against the self-abasing vapidity of the official components of our last Canada Day celebration by wondering if American authorities risked being infected with the current Canadian need to spend our national holiday wallowing in the mud of historical embarrassments. I said:

Perhaps this mania will be contagious. Perhaps we shall, later this week, hear G. W. Bush declare how proud Americans should be that some of them feel rather awkward about their forbears having whipped, raped and worked to death so many black folk.

A few days later, to my horror, I had to announce that the contagion had already spread:

[L]ook at the helpful suggestion the United States Senate is passing on to the President. I really must stop thinking aloud; I'm clearly more influential than I want to be...

Still, the U.S. Congress had materialised my sardonic musings only imperfectly; the infection was weak. Now, it has achieved a full-blown splendour, as it appears that American federal politicians have decided to declare their official sorrow at the undisputed fact that their nation was a brutal racist gulag for millions of their citizens--on a scale that makes Apartheid South Africa look like Disney's conception of a NAACP theme-park--from the post-Reconstruction era until the late Eisenhower years, with the eager collaboration of shamefully and callously inert federal and judicial authorities.

To put that despicable inertia into context, we need to remember that, incredibly and despite several determined attempts, no Congressman was ever able to convince Congress to place a federal ban on lynching. In America, racist mob violence was not only tolerated but was enabled by the land's highest governmental authority. No Western nation has ever come closer to a Thousand-Year Reich.

Now, as American blacks tread daily over the red-hot coals fanned by centuries of violence and systemic contempt, I wonder how many will be prepared to take comfort in the fact that a few Capitol Hill hacks are "sorry" that their wretchedness is the tragic product of a protracted, officially-sanctioned catastrophe of colossal proportions. Some may be tempted to call this inane apology an "empty symbol"; that would be clumsily inapt. A hollow statue of the Buddha is an empty symbol, but it is also a beautiful embodiment of the divine for millions of people. Let us not demean empty symbols: Congress's act is merely empty.

Will the Curse of Dred Tory continue? May I expect to read on Monday that Congress has espoused my next suggestion? If so, let the suggestion be this--that Congress sweeten its apology for slavery by extending to Canada the honour of an official acknowledgment of the heroism with which, as the terminus of the Underground Railroad, we welcomed tens of thousands of their fugitive slaves as political refugees and bestowed upon them the civil liberties unavailable anywhere in their own nation. Such an acknowledgment becomes urgent, as American willingness to watch their historic Underground Railroad sites crumble into dilapidation may soon wipe out the whole era from what small space it occupies in their collective memory.

Alas, I do not suppose that the Canadian contagion will spread quite that far. Nevertheless, it is really quite touching to see that, when it comes to cynical, opportunistic political correctness, the Americans are, for once, willing to learn from their betters.