Is this time different? What can we learn from #MeToo and #NeverAgain

At first blush it is tempting to just assign #MeToo and #NeverAgain to the growing pool of hashtagged social movements that happen to get their teeth into the media cycle for an extended period of time. They both benefit from being related, in one way or another, to the infinite-scroll train wreck that is the Trump presidency. And most importantly, both are at the spearpoint of what looks to be rapid and in many ways shocking social change.

But these two movements are interesting for another reason: They force the question of why this is happening. Or to put it more forcefully, why is this happening now? After all, in both cases the triggering events or circumstances are far from unprecedented. Harvey Weinstein had been threatening, harassing, and abusing women in Hollywood for a very long time. And in the case of the Parkland shootings, it is unfortunately far from the first time a student in the United States has gone into a school and massacred some students with a semi-automatic rifle.Continue reading

On Trump, the apocalypse, and missing the forest for the Tweets

At the beginning of every apocalyptic thriller there’s always a scene where the hero is getting ready for work, feeding the kids breakfast, dealing with a dog that has barfed in the living room, and generally dealing with the million minor stresses of every day life. 

Meanwhile, on the TV or radio in the background the news is cycling through the usual mundanities of petty crime and traffic and local weather, except thrown into the mix there are always a handful of Easter eggs: warnings of nuclear sabre-rattling by jumped-up third-world dictators; quirky reports of bizarre weather patterns in Europe; a fun little hit about a couple from the midwest who swore they saw an alien spacecraft collecting samples in a field behind their house.

These scenes play a key role in setting up the narrative, in three ways. First, they establish the family ties that will provide the emotional basis for the film.… Continue reading

Freedom of Speech on Campus II

(This is part of a longer piece I’ve been writing about universities in the public sphere. I’m posting this because I think Joe is right that these issues are especially current at the moment, and the conversation is seriously compromised because people keep conflating academic freedom and freedom of speech. This is an attempt to help sort out the difference. It draws heavily on two pieces: A blog post by Alex Usher, and a transcript of a talk by Jacob Levy. Go read both first, then come back here if you care for my take on things.)


With both Ryerson and the University of Toronto this week cancelling scheduled on-campus events that were guaranteed gong shows, Marie-Danielle Smith of the National Post had the smarts to call up Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and ask him about his campaign pledge to take away federal funding from any university that failed to “foster a culture of free speech and inquiry on campus.” It wasn’t just a tossed-off proposal: in his pledge he listed specific funding mechanisms that would be at risk, and carved out a special exemption for private and especially faith-based institutions.… Continue reading

What if Donald Trump is an authentic douchebag?

There was always a bit of the locker room in the old Mencken line about democracy being the theory that  “the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”.  But from “grab em by the pussy” to “I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” Trump and his allies have finally brought that locker room insight square into the Oval Office.  

So while it doesn’t make for family-friendly newspapers, if there’s one good thing that might come out of the gong show inside a dumpster fire on a train wreck that is the Trump presidency, it will be to kill until it is dead the idea that what we really need from our politicians is more authenticity.

It’s been the dominant meme of American politics since at least the 2000 election, when Al Gore was widely ridiculed as being a wooden, poll-driven phony, in contrast with Dubya’s Tex-folk posing.Continue reading

The Politics of Ethnic Fraud

Guest post by Avigail Eisenberg

When I was growing up, my best friend and I would play what I now recognize to be a kind of ‘Jewish identity game’. We would identify different celebrities and historical figures who were Jewish or partly Jewish. My friend was much better than I at this game. She told me that Goldie Hawn was Jewish as was Sigmund Freud, and Bob Dylan. It wasn’t all good news – she claimed Hitler was partly Jewish as was Stalin (no idea where she got this). But there was lots of compensation for these stains in people like Karl Marx and Sammy Davis Jr! She had a book about Jewish communities all over the world, with pictures of the Chinese Jewish community, Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and many more that I’m forgetting. There was no winning or losing this game (no fact checking or challenging). It was about impressing ourselves about our shared identity by creating a sense that so many people (and especially celebrities like Goldie Hawn!) were part of our tribe.… Continue reading

The age of anti-consumerism has passed

It took the butt-ugly advertising wrap around my morning newspaper to remind me that tomorrow is Black Friday, supposedly the biggest shopping day of the year. You know, the day when Americans stampede one another to get into Walmart and pull guns on one another in the flat screen TV aisle of Best Buy.

It wasn’t so long ago that Black Friday, and the anti-consumerist hysteria that surrounded it, was one of the biggest days on the culture jammer’s calendar. Because that was also the day that Adbusters magazine sponsored Buy Nothing Day. That is the day when anti-consumerism activists try to “jam” the shoppers by cutting up credit cards, engaging in sit-ins, riding their bikes, participating in zombie walks or critical mass rides, and so on. The point is to not buy anything, while drawing attention to the grossness of those who are.

We had a lot of fun with BND in The Rebel Sell.… Continue reading

Punk’s not dead…

Thanks to the The Rebel Sell, I’m still asked to give my opinion every now and then about music and culture. I usually decline, but Jeremy Allen had a story idea recently that caught my interest, so I did an interview for this article: Punk was Rubbish and it Didn’t Change Anything: An Investigation.

Unfortunately, we did an email interview, and he wound up not using most of it, which is a shame, since email responses take a long time to write. So here is the full interview, for those who are interested in such things:

You suggest in your book The Rebel Sell that the counterculture is not a threat to the system. Does art change anything?

What Andrew Potter and I were arguing against, in The Rebel Sell, was a certain political idea, which originated in the 1960s, but remained enormously influential during the punk era as well.… Continue reading

Retour sur le nouveau réalisme

Pour son cinquième anniversaire, le magazine d’art Zone Occupée m’a demandé de contribuer à son numéro thématique intitulé « Prospectives ». Comme je ne sais trop ce que l’avenir nous réserve—je n’ai même pas été capable de prédire le gagnant de la dernière campagne électorale fédérale!—, j’ai plutôt choisi de présenter une mouvance philosophique, le « nouveau réalisme », qui s’impose de plus en plus et dont notre monde a bien besoin. Le Devoir a publié une version abrégée du texte dans sa rubrique « Des Idées en revues », ainsi qu’une réplique d’André Baril. J’ai reçu des courriels de collègues séduits ou irrités par le nouveau réalisme, et le texte a suscité de nombreuses discussions sur Facebook. In fine, le plus réjouissant est sans aucun doute le fait qu’un petit texte portant d’abord sur des questions d’ontologie et d’épistémologie ait provoqué autant de réactions.

Quelques précisions sur la version du texte publiée dans Le Devoir.… Continue reading

The (messy) ethics of freedom of speech

A few days ago, I took part in a very interesting panel discussion on the issue of free speech. The panel was prompted by the tragic events that took place in Paris a couple of weeks ago. One of the most interesting aspects of the panel was that despite our disagreements, none of the participants actually thought that the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo actually raise any particularly interesting issues to do with freedom of speech as it is usually understood. As far as I am able to tell, hardly anyone thinks that the cartoons that the satiric magazine has published over the years warrant censorship. Even commentators who believe that there are cases in which the state appropriately steps in to limit freedom of speech – cases in which speech promotes hatred toward an entire group, for example — acknowledged that Charlie Hebdo steered clear of the line separating ridicule directed at religion, religious symbols and religious beliefs on the one hand, and contempt or hatred directed at a group of people, on the other.… Continue reading

Slow Wednesday nostalgia file

Back when the earth was young, and I still believed that music mattered, I used to have a favorite song. If you had asked what I thought the probability was of anyone producing a worthwhile cover of that song, I would have said zero. But then I came across this:

(Hint: give it until at least 3:28)

Okay, off to my departmental Xmas party now.… Continue reading