Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Political Values (Art & Censorship)

Do morals have any place in politics?

Seems a silly question on the surface. We'd all like to think presidents will be noble, but nobody wants to think about Bill Clinton running around the White House for four years with nothing to do, right? Whatever else he did in eight years in office, there's one main thing (or should that be person?) I remember...

I'm getting to the point where I'm not sure morals have any place in politics. First off, politicians are, well, politicians. It's all about currying favour. Some parties are deep in the pockets of big business, so their policies favour those companies. We've all heard the shots taken, record gas prices and Bush is from Texas. I was recently told that the reason infrastructure for public transit wasn't built instead of extensive roads was because of lobbying from the car manufacturers decades back. We're all paying for that one now, aren't we? After all, countries like Canada and much of the United States, it's pretty hard to function without a car unless you live right in the city. I had a taste of that recently, when I tried to go to the mall with my mom, niece and nephew. We asked the bus driver about times for the connecting bus and he said it didn't run that time of day. As in, from 9 am until 3 pm. WTF? On a week day? I mean, I could understand if it had been a Sunday, maybe.

Okay, minor side-rant there. You may not know this, but in Canada the ruling Conservative party is trying to pass a bill that would "deny tax credits to filmmakers on the basis of gratuitous violence and sexually explicit content."

The fact that an evangelist is trying to take credit for that move galvanizes my personal opposition to the bill. To quote:

"We're thankful that someone's finally listening," he said yesterday. "It's fitting with conservative values, and I think that's why Canadians voted for a Conservative government."

NO. Not this Canadian. I can get down with fiscal conservatism any day of the week, but electing a government based on values? You can toss that out right off with the Liberals, because they've been in so many scandals we all know they're as hypocritical as the worst of the tv evangelists. Stronach, amongst others, walking across the floor when it suited their purposes tells me they don't even have a strong commitment to their own party, never mind adherence to some set of morals the party allegedly represents. Call me jaded, call me a cynic, but that's not why I vote for any party.

And I don't want politicians making moral judgments for me either.

This is the kind of thing I can be on the fence about. I can certainly understand not wanting to give tax credits for pornography, but there's a slippery slope. Who decides what's graphic? Who decides what's explicit?

Now, this has blown up into a minor controversy, after a parliamentary staffer was fired.

Tory MPs are denying they ever planned to watch the film “Young People Fucking” even though several of their names appeared on an RSVP list for an Ottawa viewing Thursday night.

The movie has fuelled censorship debate around a Conservative bill that would deny tax credits to productions deemed “contrary to public policy” by the government.

Okay, so "Young People Fucking" is a bit on the nose as far as titles go, but there are classic books (some of which are taught in high school) that have titles that are often considered to be laden with sexual innuendo. THE MOUNTAIN AND THE VALLEY is about what, exactly? After all these years, what I remember is him forcing himself on his friend in the woods, and later she dies and he blames himself. There's Margaret Laurence's STONE ANGEL, with Hagar describing her first sexual encounter as a potential massacre, and reading Laurence in school led me to read THIS SIDE JORDAN, and that has some disturbing sex in it.

Who decides these are classics and that something else isn't, just because the form or the language isn't necessarily to our taste?

Truth is, I think a lot of politicians might benefit from viewing "Young People Fucking." We talk about generation gaps, and sometimes, I think the reason absolutely ridiculous bills get passed while other serious issues are never tackled is because a) the politicians are in someone's pockets, and b) they're out of touch. Maybe if we want more young people to get involved in politics and social policy, we need to reach them on their level. I mean, it's just a movie. I'm not suggesting attendance at an orgy or anything.

And really, if your mind is so weak that seeing a film will corrupt you, you'd better not watch any tv commercials. Isn't that the argument used when people sue McDonalds for making them fat?

Much as he did many things that he had to apologize for, and shot off his mouth inappropriately on occasion, I think I'm tempted to say the politician I have the most respect for is Ralph Klein. You want political controversy? Klein dished it out in spades. During a charity roast on November 9, 2006 Klein made a lewd joke at the expense of former Conservative Member of Parliament Belinda Stronach: "I wasn't surprised that she crossed over to the Liberals. I don't think she ever did have a Conservative bone in her body. Well, maybe one." (Referring to Peter MacKay, her former boyfriend, who is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada.) Klein refused to apologize for the remark stating that "a roast is a roast is a roast is a roast", while his spokesman pointed out that "Ms. Stronach roasted the premier two years ago and made remarks about his weight, his clothing and even his flatulence". Wikipedia really only has a smattering of stuff from his lengthy career, but it definitely gives you the idea. I admire the fact that he took shots at Harper over what he believed to be broken promises. He didn't hide behind Conservative party lines and cut the PM a break.

Most of all, I admire the fact that he was elected saying he was going to eliminate Alberta's provincial debt, and that's exactly what he did. A politician who does what they say they're going to do? Now, that's a politician who gets a bit of respect from me. No, he shouldn't have sworn at a homeless man in Calgary and told him to get a job, but nobody's perfect. We all knew who Klein was, and never tried to be something he wasn't.

I'm glad at least one Tory MP wasn't phased by the idea of one of their staff going to see "Young People Fucking," acknowledging that Canada still is, in fact, a free country.

Let's hope that the Conservatives are with it enough to realize those freedoms also extend to art.


Randy Johnson said...

At age fifty-eight, I sometimes wonder if I'm a member of the wrong generation. Sex in films doesn't bother me. I've wondered for years why people worry about young people watching sex, but never seem to be bothered by them seeing the increasingly violence-laden movies(they don't bother me either).
I remember when growing up parents seemed worried about their precious babies hearing a hell or damn on TV. I said then that I heard more profanity every day at school than I got in a week on television.
Burying the kids head in the sand and hoping it will go away certainly doesn't prepare them for the real world they will be joining all to soon.
I don't advocate anything goes of course. But it seems that as soon as we become parents we forget what it was like to be kids going into puberty. Just telling children not engage in premarital sex never works.
If the "old" folks think it's bad, then it must be good. Back in the eighties when Tipper Gore led the drive to put warning labels on music, I knew it was a mistake. That made the kids want records that would probably have quickly passed into deserved obscurity without them.
Censors never seem to get that the more they protest the more people want to see what's causing all the fuss.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think I'm at the point where I realize there are things I don't want to watch, but it doesn't make them wrong, or bad. We have these arguments all the time, about gratuitous violence and sex, and really, it comes down to the individual. It isn't something we can legislate, and it isn't something we should legislate.

It's amusing to think it's become a newsworthy issue.

John McFetridge said...

The streetcar thing is interesting:

Some of the 'further reading' is also interesting.

I wish the Canadian movie industry would just shut down. The same people have been making the same movies for thirty years.

Here's a stat: Last year the Ontario government invested $100 million in movies and was $3 million. They invested $3 million in the publishing industry and it earned $100 million.

Making movies is like making cars - it's too expensive an industry for us to be involved in. And I worked in the movie business for years, but it's just not cost efficient at all.