Tag Archives: Scarborough shooting

Suppose they held an Olympics and nobody came?

One can’t be blamed for having forgotten that the Olympics start this Friday.  News coverage has been non-existent.  Perhaps we in Canada are spoiled, just two years removed from hosting the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where you couldn’t turn around in a store without bumping into some Olympic memorabilia.  But the lack of attention being paid, or, more to the point, the sheer indifference to the two weeks of athletic festivities about to get underway is remarkable.  Granted it’s been a rough month of news for anyone to get excited about – the shootings in the Eaton Centre and Scarborough and the Aurora theater massacre have not only shot a jolt of fear and sadness through our collective consciousness but revealed the ugliest face of the public debate as gun haters and lovers square off in anonymous Internet forums, each side so implacable that the tragedy of the lives lost – and the heroism of those who died protecting their loved ones from a hail of bullets – is abandoned in the quest to score political points.  The U.S. is rending itself apart in election year theatrics as the partisan equivalent of the Montagues and Capulets hurl mud at each other and a wash of unfathomable money blankets the country in negative advertising.  Relentless sun scorches the continent in an unprecedented heat wave and drought, the bankers who caused the 2008 financial crisis walk free and Occupy protesters are ignored or called nuisances by the media.  Governments obsessed with austerity disregard the plight of people in need and focus like soulless accountants on the bottom line.  In short:  people are hot, tired, scared, pissed off and broke.  How unsurprising, then, that the thought of coming together to cheer on the representatives of our countries in athletic competition is about as appealing as having one’s fingernails extracted with rusty pliers.

I loved watching the Olympics when I was young.  I remember leaping out of bed in the summer of 1984 and flipping on the TV to catch up on whatever event was happening in Los Angeles, even if it was nothing but reruns of rowing heats.  I tallied medal counts obsessively and updated my father when he strolled in from work at the end of the day on who won what.  That was the last time there had been a significant boycott by any of the major competitive countries – the Soviets in retaliation for the U.S. refusal to take part in Moscow in 1980 – and the Americans were wiping the floor with the world.  But despite the inevitability of the results in most of the competitions, it was still riveting to watch.  The Olympics have always provided more than their share of human drama, even in my lifetime.  Carl Lewis scoring four golds in track.  Zola Budd knocking over Mary Decker-Slaney.  The Battle of the Brians.  Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and the Jamaican bobsled team.  Greg Louganis smashing his head on the diving board.  Ben Johnson losing his gold after testing positive for steroids.  South Africa’s return in 1992, and Elana Meyer and Derartu Tulu’s victory lap.  Derek Redmond’s father helping him finish the 400 m.  Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.  The Atlanta Olympic bombing.  Two years ago, Canada’s Own the Podium gold medal triumph in Vancouver, and the tragic death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.  The Olympics, in both their grandest and lowest moments, have been something of a microcosm of the human experience – as ABC’s famous intro used to put it, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” the duality of what it means to be human.  What has been the most moving and hopeful aspect of the Olympics for me is watching countries that otherwise despise each other and do their utmost to humiliate and ruin each other politically and economically put all the nonsense aside and compete in amity and peace, and hug each other after the buzzer sounds.  It’s somewhat of a cliche, and perhaps not entirely appropriate to call Olympic athletes heroes – perhaps they are not exemplars of what we normally think of as heroism, but they do summon to mind thoughts of how human beings can celebrate their differences rather than using them to belittle and destroy one another.

The Olympics have been criticized, frequently in recent years, for commercialism, jingoism and outright questionable taste.  It’s true that watching American coverage of the Games can be a bit cringe-inducing – thank goodness for the CBC and Canada’s “Brrrrrian” Williams – and the use of the word “medal” as a verb continues to give the linguistic purist in me the shakes, but we shouldn’t forget the essence of what they are about:  amateur athletes, regular folks like you and me, only much more fit and skilled, given the chance to carve their names into history in a manner that doesn’t involve killing anyone or embarrassing themselves on YouTube.  These young people are deserving of a scant two weeks of our attention, before we go back to griping about politics and money and the state of the world and whatever our neighbor did with his lawn that is driving us insane that day.  We all seem to hate each other so much lately that it’s a downright miracle that every two years we can set that aside and take the time to appreciate the incredible feats a fully trained human body can accomplish – the pinnacle of the possibilities of physical achievement.  We need to latch onto these sorts of things and cling to them for dear life, because every minute shred of hope – every lingering thread slipping away in the winds of history – is worth saving and celebrating.  It may truly be all we have left.

Let the Games begin.

This week in trickle-down theory

Mea culpa – I’m a believer in trickle-down theory.  Not as it applies to wealth, but rather, the preponderance of nonsense in the world, and in particular, that which is inflicted upon us by those who know better and do so strictly for political and/or monetary gain.  In a democracy that pretends to be educated but usually falls short, it is incumbent upon us to remain forever vigilant, and to expose such professional charlatans at all times.  That is one of the cornerstones of free speech that people tend to forget about – the responsibility to respond, to correct deliberate misinformation, and to shame those who lie blatantly.  Or, as I’ve said before, free speech may give you the right to say things that are stupid and hateful, but it also imposes upon me the duty to call you out on it and tell you you’re being a dick.  On this week’s episode of The Newsroom, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) delivered an inspiring opening monologue whereby he apologized for the media’s failure to do just that.  With that in mind, there are a couple of items floating around the news this week that need to be called out in the same spirit.

As you may have heard, there was a shooting at a summer barbeque in Scarborough a few days ago that left two people dead and twenty-two injured.  Canada’s douchiest federal cabinet minister, Vic Toews, never one to miss an opportunity to pimp his draconian views to the nearest microphone, used it as a springboard to attack judges who had struck down mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes, a rant that I’m certain was a great comfort to the families of Joshua Yasay and Shyanne Charles.  It’s a typical reaction of a privileged white guy who has absolutely no clue what it’s like on the other side.  Toews insists that the prospect of longer mandatory prison terms would have scared the shooters straight before they drew their guns – you know, because in the heat of the moment when you’re drunk, desperate, angry and armed, the thought of jail is always just enough to arrest a murderous rampage.  Proponents of mandatory minimum sentences always miss the central reason why they’ve been an utter failure wherever they’ve been implemented, and that is, when you’re going to commit a crime, you don’t think you’re going to get caught.  Who cares if there’s a mandatory jail term?  That won’t matter, because f*** the police, you’re going to be the guy who gets away with it.  Experts the world over have declared mandatory minimums needlessly expensive and ultimately futile, but that doesn’t matter to Toews, who barely waited until the bodies were cold to throw some red meat to the equally closed-minded tools who keep electing him.  Please, Vic, just go away – go get that judgeship you’re lusting after and pass all the hanging, cat-o-nine-tails and public stoning sentences you dream of late at night when the demons come.

Speaking of red meat to rednecks, Peter Worthington and the Toronto Sun decided this week as well to give a nutcase who spews conspiracy theories on street corners a national megaphone.  A self-proclaimed “cleric” who lectures at Yonge & Dundas next to the wild-eyed weirdo mumbling about aliens and the rapture thinks that the answer to the problem of sexual assault is to legislate that women dress more conservatively.  The Sun ran his photo on the front page with a headline warning about the terrifying restrictions on your freedom that this scary man wants to impose on YOUR FAMILY – propagating Islamophobia in the name of ad revenue.  Peter Worthington even found it necessary to blather a self-righteous denunciation of this guy’s out-there rants in a featured column on Huffington Post Canada, assuring us ever so helpfully that the laws this man is advocating won’t ever happen here (although, if Vic Toews gets his way, you never know).  Thank goodness for your sage and learned wisdom, Peter, because I was under the impression based on the Sun’s coverage that this random guy who yells at passersby as they duck into Starbucks somehow had Supreme Leader-like authority over our government, our courts and public opinion, and that as a result we were one precarious step away from the imposition of sharia law across Canada.  Phew – dodged a bullet there.  Regardless, the Sun’s coverage had its intended effect, which was to stir up the blood of its core readership, spur a metric tonne of “if you don’t like it here, go home” comments, and get everybody hopped up about immigration yet again.  Instead of doing what any sane person not trying to get people to buy a fourth-rate rag of a newspaper would have done, ignore the guy.  And be thankful that we live in a country where women can dress however the hell they want, and that Neanderthal opinions that are law in other parts of the world are only the meaningless ramblings of a twit here.

Finally, Howard Stern, struggling to stay relevant, decided to turn his sad sarcastic guns on the attendees at last week’s BronyCon, sending his staff out to interview fans of My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic and using both ambush and out of context quotes to make them seem like creepy loners one step removed from the guy in the rusty panel van with “FREE CANDY” scrawled across the side – a line gleefully parroted by one of my colleagues the other day.  I’ve talked at length about MLP: FIM and bronies before, and why I think the show’s popularity beyond its target demographic of young girls is a wonderful thing.  When the majority of acclaimed programs on television regularly feature spurting blood, decapitations, drug overdoses, chopped up bodies and any number of variations of grisly deaths, not to mention a general attitude of “drama” being people behaving horribly to one another, why is it considered deranged that audiences are gravitating towards a show that promotes friendship, tolerance, kindness and understanding – and one that manages to do so with a clever sense of humor and without being treacly or preachy at the same time?  Honestly – in whose company would you rather spend an hour:  Walter White or Rainbow Dash?  We are living in the most cynical era of human history and it is not the slightest bit shocking that people are still turning towards hope, and a reminder of what human beings can do when they are good towards each other.  If Howard Stern wants to make fun of that, then he’s welcome to, but it just reinforces how bitter he must be deep inside.  Twilight Sparkle and friends would probably feel sorry for him, but they’d still offer him a big hug and a cherry-changa.

I’m not under any illusion that what I’ve written here will convince its subjects to change their ways, or that it will even reach their eyes.  What’s important to remember is that this is all a grand discourse, meaning that it’s not just sitting back and accepting what is shovelled in front of us, lapping it up with a grin and asking for more, please.  It’s responding to rants with reason, attacking bias with facts, countering ideology with logic and a sense of fairness.  Calling out the bullshit.  And in particular, it’s ensuring that the small minds don’t continue to set the rules, and by consequence the level on which our discourse is to take place.  We need to raise the debate, and it’s not something that you can do once and then forget about.  It’s like the lat press at the gym – the weights are always going to want to fall back into place, and you have to keep pulling down on the bar.  That’s how you get stronger.  That’s how a society gets stronger – by not letting the weakest minds continue to trickle their inanities down over everyone else’s heads without due response.  As the old saying goes, don’t tell us it’s raining.