Dec. 18, 2003—What I learned, by dawn’s early light, from this morning’s morning paper (I’m a Vancouver reader of The Globe and Mail) is 1) that 12-year-old girls think it fashionable to give blow-jobs to high school jocks, 2) more art from 30,000 years ago has been discovered, reminding me that human beings like me have been doing stuff like this for 30 millennia—think of it!, and 3) what various people had to say about the death of former conservative politician Bob Stanfield, which not only instantly retrieved large caches of my political memories of the 1970s, but led me to make invidious comparisons of conservatism in Canada then and now.
Usually, I just grouse about the state of the media in Canada, given that most of it is owned by CanWestGlobalCommunication, the evil Asper family conglomerate in Winnipeg that controls more than 50 per cent of daily newspaper circulation in the country. I can grouse about Canadian media ad nauseum, beginning with the lamentable state of newspapers in Vancouver, all of which are owned by CanWest (which is why I read the rival Globe), working myself up into a minor rant about my current bete noire, the slimy, sneering Kevin Newman 5:30 Global TV national newscast (Global is CanWest’s TV arm), until I’m weeping in my beer reminiscing about Tom Kent’s utterly-forgotten, 1980 royal commission report on the need to prevent media monopolies in Canada. As one of my favourite journalists, Globe and Mail TV critic John Doyle, says, Don’t get me started.
But when I’m not grousing about the state of the media, I occasionally find myself rapturous about the magic of the morning paper. What range! what characters! what human improbabilities! The infinitely various stories told by the morning paper, brought together into one great assemblage of pity, terror and astonishment, is usually far more interesting than most contemporary novels. As a distant, chilly sun is lighting up the snowy tips of the Coast Mountain Range, visible out my front windows, across Burrard Inlet, I’m at my desk, a boy’s fortress of piles of books and magazines, sitting in a pool of yellow lamplight, at the edge of the world, mesmerized by the marvels of the morning paper.
Among this morning’s miracles and wonders: science reporter Anne McIlroy announces that “three tiny figurines carved from mammoth tusks have been discovered in Germany, and scientists say they were made more than 30,000 years ago by the first modern humans to colonize Europe.” The lamplight at my desk becomes light from a flickering fire; this edge of the world, easy to imagine at some primeval moment, becomes that edge of the world, where there is only darkness beyond the circle of firelight; and vanished humans—how absolute their/our disappearance!—feel the urge to make some representation of the world, just as I do this morning. The carving of a “water bird, the oldest known sculpture of a bird, looks like either a duck or a cormorant. Its neck is extended as if it is diving in the water. Its wings are tucked close to its body, marked with distinct lines that appear to represent feathers.” Above the words, a photo of a nicotine-coloured bird body, bird-head with a dent where the eye is, bird-bill, all against a flat blue background. It flies all the way from there, 30,000 years ago, to this morning. “But Dr. Sinclair says the figurines found in Germany are not ‘art’ as we know it today.” Yes, sheer representation is deeper than art.
But it’s not all sombre neo-art making hominids, newly dominant among the dying Neanderthals, who grace this morning’s pages. There’s also contemporary anarchic sexual hilarity to contemplate: Shawna Richer reports from Charlottetown, PEI, that Judge Nancy Orr is still pondering what sentence to hand out to Cass Rhynes, 19, a teenage high school baseball star drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was convicted the month before last “of inciting girls under the age of 14, the age of consent in Canada, to perform oral sex on him.” Most of the story is devoted to the possible effect on young Cass’s baseball career if the judge sends him to the pokie, and how the 6-foot-3, 210 pound, dark-hair-shaved-short teenager “slouched in his chair, picked nervously at his cuticles and, on occasion, seemed to stifle a smirk at Crown attorney John MacMillan as he asked Judge Orr to consider imposing jail time.”
But the guts of the story comes further down. “Mr. Rhynes was an 18-year-old high-school senior when the incidents took place,” reports Ms. Richer. “He admitted allowing the girls to perform oral sex on him, and they testified that they did so willingly to boost their social status among friends at school.” The girls are 12 and 13 years of age, respectively.
“Their testimony showed blasé attitudes toward casual sex, or what they call ‘hooking up,’” the story continues. “Encounters began on the school bus, moved into Internet chat rooms and later, to parties and friends’ houses and sometimes the parking lot of a local Baptist church.” I like that last detail. “In her victim-impact statement, one girl said she participated because ‘everyone else was doing it and she didn’t want to be left out.’”
Wow, some “victim-impact statement.” Everyone else was slurping on the cocks of 18-year-old jocks?! Wait a minute: PEI? Anne of Green Gables, right? I can’t wait for the next televised episode on national TV! Are members of the Decency League, sitting in the Edmonton mall, choking on their morning croissants as they peruse the perverse pages of the morally-dubious Globe, freshly transmitted from foreign Toronto? I wonder if this news report is in violation of the Canadian child pornography law…
I know it’s positively wicked of me, but I find this report of moral disorder strangely reassuring. It asserts, once more, that nature is avenging itself on civilization. Nature, in this case, takes the form of 12 and 13-year-old girls who think that cocksucking is no big deal, even if it destroys the entire kitscherama of green-gabled PEI. Though we friends of Focus on Family Values would no doubt be appalled, how many 12-year-old-girl-and-18-year-old-boy readers of the Globe are this moment porn-picturing spit-slicked penises and gloss-lipsticked mouths… No, no, it’s too much to even imagine.
Let’s come back down to earth, in which they’re laying the body of Bob Stanfield, “the best prime minister Canada never had,” as he was known. Stanfield was the former Nova Scotia premier, and then leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada during the era of Pierre Trudeau, who lost federal elections in 1968, 1972, and 1974. His staid style, gawky body, football-fumbling hands, and dry wit were no match for the trendy Trudeau in his Zorro-fedora and swirling cape. There’s something unforced, sincere, easy-going about the requisite eulogistic comments about Stanfield’s decency and intelligence, unlike the awkward praise that marked the death a couple months back of Izzy Asper, patriarch of the CanWest clan.
For a minute, a past 30 years old comes back, and one remembers it gratefully in the light of the recently-minted Conservative-cum-Reform-cum-Alliance-cum-fundamentalist Party. A time when conservatism was well within the recognizable broadly social democratic political spectrum in Canada, a time when conservatism did not mean, as it does today, a branch of the U.S. Republican Party. The obits, scattered through the morning paper, recall that Stanfield was pro-bilingualism, pro-choice on abortion, anti-death penalty, pro-individual rights of the kind that would be enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If those are the great themes of the morning rag, there are dozens of lesser items to engage the mind for a minute: speculations about New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord’s possible bid for the federal Neo-Conservative Party leadership; news that 67-year-old former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent is returning to politics to run in an Ottawa riding in next April’s national election; obscure fiscal details about Ontario’s budgetary deficit, past, present, and future. There’s a piece on changing salt levels in the Atlantic Ocean, promising unthinkable eco-catastrophes for the future. Too complex to even think about. An editorial against France’s plan to ban the wearing of Muslim head scarves in schools. No editorial about oral sex in PEI. I learn a new word in right wing populist Margaret Wente’s column in praise of shopping at Wal-Mart: “finial.” Finials are “ornaments finishing off apex of roof, pediment, gable, tower-corner, canopy,” according to the dictionary I look it up in.
And… that’s the way it was this morning. Art! Sex! Death! Read all about it.
Vancouver, Dec. 18, 2003