Is the World’s Most Dangerous Man a Hipster from my Hometown?

Before Vice was from Montreal, it was from Ottawa. Before it was cool, it wasn’t.

emaze
emaze

Everybody likes to hate hipsters. Maybe because nowadays, everybody can be called a hipster – just as long as they have a beard. But back in the days, we secretly knew who the real hipsters were. They were the cool kids from the immigrant, queer, Portuguese-Jewish neighbourhood, children of rock’n’roll and fathers of the electro scene. They were the urban, vegan-friendly, music-savvy, drug-inspired and sexually ambiguous amateurs of art, beauty and everything vintage, those who escaped the mall-filled suburbs of North America to bike their way to ‘Berlinesque’ Montreal. They were poor sometimes by indifference, sometimes by choice (rejecting their families’ lucrative agendas), sometimes as a result of destiny.

They were those who taught me how to dress (better), when not only able to afford black t-shirts from H&M, made in Bangladesh by modern slaves – guilt-loaded additions to the non-walking closet of my apartment, shared with five other roommates. They were the ones who taught me how to party, in bars and clubs and buses and alleyways, on rooftops before rooftops were even cool in Paris. When my friend Laura introduced me to the hipster scene, it was like I lost my virginity again.

It was a scene united enough, one where judgment seemed suspended. On the dance floors of the Mile-End, you could find a spiritual hiker from BC, a corn-fed knitter from Saskatchewan, a bored accountant from Toronto, a wasted musician from Newfoundland, twins raised in a cult, a carpenter from Florida with alligator stories, a sexually confused photographer from California and a Colombian barista whose good looks were only matched by grand symptoms of depression. But as a young man raised near a capital, I knew that one thing had the power to divide the room: politics.

montrealinpictures
montrealinpictures

Politics were to be avoided, but difficult to avoid in a politically charged nation like Quebec, and even more difficult to avoid for me. I grew up close to Parliament Hill, and my grandfather was a political journalist. He was also a hero to me. Raised in a family of ‘peasants’, my grandfather was the only one out of fourteen children to get an education, and he certainly made something out of it, ending up on a plane with the Prime Minister. My grandfather was a Conservative, which is everything I’m not, but also quite surprising for such a compassionate man (with ideas of his time, but compassionate still) who had a resolutely open-minded vibe, so to speak. Then again, former Conservatives are the kittens of modern ones.

Early on, I detected some “politically dubious positions” in the hipster scene, potentially inherited from less free-spirited parents. There was the usual “Quebec is racist” (not a false sentence but an incomplete one), often said by people who taught Quebeckers didn’t speak real French (like their colonial ancestors) and glorified France without ever mentioning Marine Le Pen. The “Pauline Marois is a cow” said by people who would never condemn Richard Bain, the “taxes are too high” said by people whose parents paid for their school and the “why would I learn French, this isn’t France” said by people who were not living in England, just saying. But how could I be mad at such comments as an older man who knows about the bittersweet taste of exile: gratitude for the opportunities but confusion in the cultural madness.

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Alanis

These quiet tensions were not completely new to me, since I’d spent my teenage years in Ottawa during the second referendum. The city was still a remarkably ‘cumbaya’ place with a spiritual vibe and friendly neighbours all around, but not everything was 100% Justin Trudeau. Sure, Ottawa was Alanis Morissette, the heartbroken rocker from a Franco-Ontarian lineage who went from awakening to awakening, in a white t-shirt down the streets of L.A. or naked on a Toronto streetcar after a trip to India. But Ottawa was also Gavin McInnes.

Back then, no one knew what it meant. A fascinating piece written by Claire Levenson just taught us a little more about the character, who spent most of his childhood and teenage years in the Ottawa region, studying at Carleton before heading to Concordia and co-founding Voices of Montreal: what would become VICE.

Gavin McInnes is a man of many ‘jokes’. He once celebrated the fact that most Williamsburg hipsters were white. He said that “people would be happier if women would stop pretending to be men”, and that feminism caused women to be sad, “feigning toughness, they’re miserable.” To him, “Transphobia is Perfectly Natural” and all Muslims should be banned from the Unites States, a statement that comes as a surprise for someone who founded Vice with a Pakistani-Canadian friend (who we won’t automatically assume is a Muslim, but who has certainly become a lot more inspiring).

McInnes thinks that people should assimilate to a westernised, white and English-speaking lifestyle, and that women and minorities are too emotional to be rational – something reserved to white “daddies”. He once dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member for a party. He is pro-guns, collaborates with Fox News and openly supports Donald Trump.

americanx
American History X

Not surprisingly, VICE has evolved without him for years: “it’s a long story”, said McInnes. You bet. VICE somewhat stated that he was not ‘their thing’. If McInnes gives us another reason to hate the ‘cool’ kids, VICE certainly gives us more and more reasons to like them. Gone are the days of ignorant Québec-bashing as VICE has become a ballsy, quality-certified media addressing our era like no other medium, even sending Ellen Paige to the Brazilian ghettos of homophobia.

That’s for the good news. The bad news remains. Gavin McInnes might not be the world’s most dangerous man, but he is one of his many faces. Another one is Trump’s. That man has faces all over the Internet, even among my Facebook friends – that Torontonian colleague who hates feminists, that Catalan friend who compares refugees to animals, that French acquaintance who openly celebrates fascism. He becomes an extremist in a surprisingly short time. He is often good looking but slightly ageing. Not getting the sex he thinks he deserves. Not getting the love he craves, because he doesn’t understand that love is like fame: a lottery. Even when he has a girlfriend, there is a certain sadness in his eyes. He is still not convinced of his worth, maybe because of repeated childhood humiliation. He is often jobless and in need of a purpose. Hate becomes the purpose, and difference becomes the motive of despair. Most importantly, he is nostalgic of a time when things were better – better for people like him, that is. He is a little bit of you, and a little bit of me in our darkest hours. He is white, but might as well have been different if born in another country. The world’s most dangerous man is everywhere. We can no longer escape him, no matter how trendy his clothes, or how tall his tours and walls. It is now time to face him.

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Is the World’s Most Dangerous Man a Hipster from my Hometown?

THE FEMINIST WHO HATED WOMEN

As a teenager, I was raised by my mom.  She also raised my brothers.  She raised us alone, propelled by unconditional love, with enough energy to meet our requests and fight our rebellions.  We tested her, challenged her, exhausted her.  But above all, we loved her.

My brothers and I grew up to become men, raised by a woman.  We were ridiculously different one from another, yet united by a modern virility filled with respect for women.  Quickly, our mother became our hero, through her obvious sacrifice.

Doctor, actor or philosopher, we were transformed by our modern upbringing.  We were, of course, treated like kings: fresh meals falling from the sky, dishes washed before we even knew it, impeccable service and tip included.  But our mother wasn’t acting as a woman: she was acting as a mother.  She wasn’t a feminist in her speech, but she was in her lifestyle: half-cook, half-handywoman.  Mom never stopped herself because she was a woman.  She knew she was strong, strong like a mother may be, strong like a father maybe.

As we got older, my brothers and I discovered a world with countries where pregnant women could get stoned.  A world that could be violent to them, even in that system that was closer to home, and that didn’t help much during our family struggles.  My brothers and I didn’t understand this world we had overlooked, a world that looked down on women despite their undeniable strength.

The day I virtually met Julia Gillard, I didn’t understand.  There was a woman’s electrifying speech which, nevertheless, held an obscure component.  At the other end of the world, a woman was standing up for my mom and her sisters.  But she wasn’t standing up for all of them.

On October 16th 2012, the Prime Minister of Australia became a worldwide-web sensation, thanks to a viral clip that showed her response to the Leader of the Opposition.  Rightfully, assiduously and eloquently, Gillard denounced the Leader’s misogyny.  Because she was an original, and because it had been enough to disturb some of her colleagues.  A redhead, the daughter of a Welsh psychiatric nurse, an immigrants’ child vaguely resembling Foster and Swinton, the Australian citizen had always known she would never have children.  Politics were a war in which women needed a defender.

But a month earlier, Julia Gillard chose to stand against History by rejecting equal marriage…  Why?  It was a legitimate question, because she promoted equality for women.  And equality for women was not only gender equality: it was also equality between women, at least when it came to opportunities.  No matter if one was gay, straight, or anything in-between.

Why, then?  Because homosexuality wasn’t natural?  Science had numerous counter-examples.  Because marriage had always been between a man and a woman?  History had proven this theory wrong, with evidence taking religion aback. Because women needed to have children?  Gillard didn’t, and why not favour adoption?  For the sake of children?  Studies from decades ago showed that children raised by gay parents were as sane as others, like a young American showed us in his own viral video.  Because of religion?  Gillard had admitted that she was an atheist.  Like many gay men and women, she described herself as “a great respecter of religious beliefs, but they are not my beliefs.”  For social peace?  We could have invoked this against the right for women to vote, yet change needed to be initiated prior to being accepted.  So what additional proofs were expected by Julia Gillard?

Gillard’s answer was that marriage between a man and a woman had a “special status”.  “Special” as in different.  Different as in “with more rights attached to it”.  Let’s face it: she saw gay unions as smaller than straight ones.  Gays had fewer rights.  This was technically homophobic.

Ironic too, if we considered homophobia came from men who associated homosexuality with feminity.  They linked it to some kind of desire to be dominated, which they thought was a feminine aspiration.  What often provoked their violence was behaviours they defined as feminine, no matter where they came from.  Was homophobia just another kind of misogyny?  In that case, was the gay movement the next feminism?  Could the great fights for the rights of minorities really be exclusive all in remaining logical?  Or were we witnessing the unavoidable birth of… gayminism?

I suspected Gillard didn’t subscribe to such homophobia.  Yet in denying the rights of so many women, she was not spreading love around in a very fair way.  It would’ve been exaggerated to pretend that Gillard hated – or even disliked – women.  But it seemed fair to say that she didn’t like them equally.

In her speech, Julia Gillard lectures Tony Abbott’s shameful-kid face.  She does it with touching frailty yet impressive courage, relentlessly guided by facts.  After all, Abbott once spoke of abortion as an “easy way out”.  I applaud Gillard and the echoing applause.  But I couldn’t applaud her controversial vote, because it seems unfounded.

In that very same speech, Gillard says she is “always offended by statements that are anti-women.”  But is she really always?  Rightfully denouncing a “double standard”, did she forget to see that which blinds her?  She pressures Abbott to “think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society because we are entitled to a better standard than this.”  What about lesbians?

If the blogosphere suggested the world looked at its own prejudices and imitated Australia, I was sceptical in front of a clip that left many people with a bitter aftertaste.

“I think it would be inconceivable for me if I were an American to have turned up at the highest echelon of American politics being an atheist, single and childless.”  If Obama saluted her viral speech, many countries had nothing to learn from Gillard when it came to gay rights, because was it conceivable for a lesbian to become Prime Minister of Australia?

Self-proclaimed agent of “social inclusion” and “change”, Julia Gillard might have seen the irony of it, had she glanced longer.  She once claimed that she “came into politics predominantly to make a difference to opportunity questions, particularly make a difference in education”.  But what did her conception of a legal system teach to teenagers who were a bit too different?  When she was in Belgium, she said she missed Australia.  Would she have spoken the same words, had she been a lesbian in the second country to legalize equal marriage?  The media criticized her for her austere kitchen revealed by pictures taken during an interview.  Gillard mentioned how ridiculous it felt to be judged on a kitchen.  Was she judging Australians on their bedrooms?

In politics, men sometimes made mistakes.  As their equals, women did too.  Gillard was fighting a crucial fight, often brilliantly.  And I was filled with compassion for her, against the morbid and mean comment concerning her father “dying of shame”.  I knew that somewhere up there, Gillard’s father was proud of her, though his psychiatric expertise might make him stand on different grounds when it came to equal marriage.  I had equal compassion for victims of bullying who’d been targeted because of their sexual orientation, many of which had taken their own lives.

After her conscience vote, what did Julia Gillard tell herself and her very own conscience, in the silence of her austere kitchen?  Did she ask herself if all those young gays and lesbians who committed suicide or where lapidated somewhere in the word died in fact of… shame?

THE FEMINIST WHO HATED WOMEN