Monday, 7 January 2019

Dwindling Decorum

In 1982 when I was just 29 years old, I was asked to be on a special panel at the Canada Council. I don’t remember much about it — it a one time only advisory panel on theatre. On the panel with me was the acclaimed actor Eric Peterson. Peterson was only 6 years older than I was — but I thought of him as an elder; he had been acting since 1971, and I was just starting my professional career.
At one point he turned to me and privately confessed (keep in mind, I am paraphrasing as I can’t remember exactly what he said — this is the jist of it):  “I’m sorry to say I’ve never been to your ‘Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’. You know, a lot of people wouldn’t be caught dead going there — unless they were wearing a paperbag over their head.”
So what did I do, after Eric Peterson said this to me? Did I rise from my seat, in righteous indignation, and declare the meeting an ‘unsafe space?’ Did I call for Eric Peterson’s resignation from the committee? Did I cry?
No, I thanked him for what was obviously a well meaning joke, if perhaps somewhat ineptly communicated. We continued our discussion, and continued contributing to the panel. And I think we learned quite a bit from each other.
Of course nowadays if someone made such a comment, the person who made that comment would be subject to social media scrutiny, declared a pariah and exorcised from the theatre community without question.
What has happened to our public discourse? Where is the decorum? 
The problem is this: we no longer allow for intention.
It is only words that are important. If people speak in a manner that is deemed offensive by someone else, it doesn’t matter what their intentions are, or if they apologize. They are immediately demonized. 
Everyday Feminism asks “What does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us?” Impact is certainly important, but this new decorum — which is really the opposite of decorum — does not help well intentioned people work out their differences or mitigate their ignorance. It simply closes the door on discussion, and divides us.
I knew that Eric Peterson was trying his best to be sympathetic to a cause that he didn’t fully understand, and I gave him full credit for that. I didn’t waste time blaming him or hating him.

When did  our public discourse become so mean-spirited? And why?

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Welcome to Marwen: It’s a Hate Crime

I just watched  Welcome to Marwen, Robert Zemeckis’ new film. 
I almost missed it. Since it only earned a rating of 27% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m sure I’m not the only one who crossed it off their list. 
But here’s a tip. Rotten Tomatoes is aimed at the ‘I rely on movies to babysit my kids’ crowd. As a result, most of the really bad reviews are for films that have adult content.
For instance, the holiday flick Holmes and Watson got only a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and rightly so. I saw it and I can attest to the fact that it’s basically a bunch of bad penis jokes. 
But Welcome to Marwen is, on the other hand, a real work of art. It easily measures up — perhaps surpasses —Zemickis’ earlier classic Forest Gump.
Unfortunately hardly anyone is going to see it.
What a lush, gorgeous, thoughtul, compassionate, imaginative movie this is! I had tears in my eyes when I wasn’t laughing. It’s based on the real life story of Mark Hogancamp, an outsider artist who created his groundbreaking works after being almost beaten to death by a bunch of thugs. He was left with parts of his memory and some cognitive skills missing. As part of his recovery, he devoted himself to photography — producing achingly beautiful photographs of the dolls that peopled the miniature cardboard city he created in his own back yard. 
But Zemickis’ film has a beauty all its own. He has used his consummate animation skills to recreate Hogancamp’s inner artistic world. You will find yourself watching animated scenes full of unlikely drama that are disturbingly, absorbingly ‘real.’ The film careful explicates the complex relationship between art and the soul.
So why is everyone ignoring it?
Like the TV shows of Louis C.K., and the movies of Woody Allen, Welcome to Marwen is the most recent casualty of #MeToo. Whatever the noble intentions of that movement, the effect (as the French feminists have noted) has been to put a chill on sexual art. 
Zemeckis’ masterpiece is a film about a heterosexual crossdresser. Mark Hogencamp was a shoe fetishist who photographed busty Barbie Dolls in sexy outfits. One of the ‘politically correct’ criticisms of Welcome to Marwen on Rotten Tomatoes tells us: “The female characters in Welcome to Marwen are all a little too yielding, a little too understanding... They expect so little of Hogancamp that it's all too easy for him to impress them, and all too easy for us to feel good about ourselves in the process.” 
Right. Women should reject a sexual man like Hogancamp, shouldn’t they? It doesn’t matter that Hogancamp was effectively a victim of gaybashing. We are told to have no compassion for the man, and consequently not to enjoy a movie about him — because, in his dreams and his art, he had sexual fantasies about women and liked to wear high heels.
It was a vicious hate crime when those thugs to beat up Hogan Marencamp for acting ‘queer.’

But when you reject Zemeckis’ film for the same reason? Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but —  you’re doing exactly the same thing.