Tag Archives: Robert Jago

A Canadian Scandal

Before I begin this post, I should clearly define my heritage, as that seems quite important to many people right now. I’m the product of British Isle immigrants (who came over in the mid-late 1800s) and Dutch immigrants (1950s). I was born in Canada.

Yesterday, Joseph Boyden published My Name is Joseph Boyden in Maclean’s magazine. It’s 4 000 words of “here’s what I know about my family” and “I’m a good person”.

It’s not going over too well with anyone who isn’t from the upper white echelon.

Here in Canada, we like scandal. Our British heritage is made obvious in scandal: we disapprove from a chilly distance, disdain with silence. When we speak of people, we use the passive voice and unspecific pronouns like they and he/she, so as not to contaminate ourselves with proper nouns.

We can’t seem to decide: should we be blaming an individual or a group? Who, precisely, is responsible for this problem? Who should we focus on?

According to Ken Whyte, it is time to focus on an individual and the “bullshit” that has been inflicted on him:

(Will I comment on his use of capital letters? I suppose it could be accidental…. No, I think I won’t comment on it.)

According to Robert Jago, it is also time to think about the individual and a different variety of bullshit. (I suggest reading the whole thread and [most of] the comments):

(Mr. Jago also makes mistakes on Twitter, but they’re occasional and clearly typos.)

I think Canada might be getting too focused on the individuals. Individual attention is required when there is a person standing right in front of you, where the interaction is between you and them. When a whole country–including those who have never met said individual–focuses on one person, this becomes rather like a religion. The person becomes an entity, a god or a devil, to serve the purpose.

God/devil/scapegoat: they’re all useful.

The real scandal in my country, however, is that we are a humongous, varied group that isn’t working well together. We’re not working well because we’re focusing on individuals rather than groups. We’re looking for ancient DNA and contemporary affirmation to justify our views on millions of people.

Maclean’s magazine gave 4 000 words to one person. The article isn’t about making improvements to Canada, about how we can work things out so everyone gets what they need–and perhaps some of what they want. It’s about one person and how they justify their own identity.

I would have like to see something about how we could try to end scandal–something about how the taxes can be evenly distributed, how we can get everyone the basics of human needs and rights, how someone like me (who has everything they need) can share with those who need something.

In this age of internet, where just about everyone has access to blogs, Twitter, etc. I would like to see an individual’s issues on said individual’s personal social media sites and national issues in our national media. The use of scandal to sell magazines depresses me.

And, for pete’s sake, let’s try for a new, more interesting, better class of scandal.

P.S. Ken Whyte praises the piece as “outstanding”. It’s not. It’s not better than, worse than or different from any other rambling blog. It needs a red pen.

Edit: Pithy internet quotes to support my point.

 

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My Cultural Standards for Fiction

Two weeks ago, the Canadian literary scene got quite the shaking-up. (If you somehow missed this, start here and just keep clicking on links.) My students are wondering about it, talking about it, trying to solve this problem so it doesn’t inhibit creativity and multiculturalism but still considers people’s feelings when it comes to theft.

I have also been reading about this. As a fiction writer, I don’t want to inadvertently stomp on someone’s cultural heart. It’s not in anyone’s interest that I remain ignorant. I also believe it’s my personal responsibility–not an editor’s–to make sure that I don’t cross the line.

I think I’ve come up with an idea. It came to me while reading Robert Jago‘s On Cultural Appropriate, Canadian’s Are Hypocrites. He uses Harry and the Hendersons as an example of how cultural stories get taken out of context and badly used. I’ve never seen Harry and the Hendersons. Even when my kids we small and we were watching some rather terrible movies, we didn’t sink that low. Why not? Because it’s clearly crap. I don’t want to waste hours of my life deliberately partaking of total crap. There’s enough of that I can’t avoid.

So, how do I avoid total crap? There are certain filters or lenses one might use to determine crap levels. Part of it’s personal perspective; another part is something I picked up during my brief foray into academia. When writing non-fiction, there are certain standards for fact-checking and attribution to which one must adhere. One will not be taken seriously if one writes an academic paper that has no citations or uses “I once heard” as a resource. Primary sources are required; lack of citation is plagiarism.

I think I’ll apply the same criteria to my fiction.

  • If I haven’t used primary sources wherever possible, I can’t publish that story. (I, myself, count as a primary source, but I have to be ready to back that up with some sort of evidence.)
  • If I haven’t been able to come up with a minimum of three primary sources, I can’t publish that story.
  • If I’ve used something without permission, I can’t publish that story.
  • Anything that I’ve “made up” is to be clearly made up, not thieved. (I’m thinking about monsters and space aliens here.)
  • If I use someone else’s idea/tradition/culture and make money off it, a good chunk of that money (50%?) should go to a charity that supports said someone. My primary sources will be able to guide me to appropriate charities.

Fiction writers are still working with the making-up-stories-by-the-fire approach. Whatever one heard was fair game for pre-radio-era entertainment. Sometimes it was possible to trace the origin of the story; other times, it would be beyond the story-teller’s means/ability to do such a thing. Back then, there was some reason to just “borrowing” a story.

That’s not the state of things now. I have several libraries at my disposal, Google on all my electronic devices, and access to every country/culture on Earth through social media. I have no excuse for not getting a) the accurate story and b) permission from the appropriate people.

Not, of course, that this will save me from crap writing. What it might do is save my (few) readers from crap writing, and then the only thing they have to worry about is their personal opinion of my writing–including semi-colons.

Thieves are so annoying….