Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mea Culpa Est Sua Culpa

I spent last Friday evening at a friend's house—setting the groundwork for what was to be a hangover the length and breadth of Saturday—where I happened to overhear this:

"I guess I really should read the National Post. You know: that I might better know mine enemy."

The remark made me uneasy for a number of reasons: I am myself a reader of the National Post and, indeed, was known to this gathering to be so ( ... it's a condition, you see. Like leprosy. Your approach is sounded by bells); it (the remark) elicited from every mouth at once (except, obviously, my own) a, it seemed to me, pointedly vehement expression of approval (though, to be fair, the drink has a habit of making me a little paranoid); and, most jarring of all, it came from a person who, to the best of my knowledge, has never had especially strong or divergent political views—or if he does, he's never been at all vocal about them before.

I asked the obvious question.

"How do you figure that the Post is thine enemy when, as you say, you never read it?"

"Well ... Whenever I visit my brother he's got a copy hanging about. I take a look at it then."

"And what exactly makes the paper so terrible again?"

"The reporting's awful!"

"And you consider shabby journalism your enemy? What Canadian newspaper isn't your enemy then?"

"It's the slant."

"The slant?! Have you ever read the Toronto Star?"

Here he paused to give the others of our group a cheeky grin, then turned back to me. "It's the particular slant. It's an extremely right wing newspaper."

Ach! Well at least he didn't say that it was conservative.

It was an irritating conversation to say the least. And one that, I must confess, I bowed out of quite quickly.

Why? Well, firstly, defending the National Post isn't so much a losing battle as it is, unfortunately, just a lost cause. For while I do read the Post, I can't say that I'm much of a fan. It's true that, daily, I read it before I then read the Star, various of the Suns, then the Globe and Mail ... But I'm under no illusions as to its pedigree. Indeed, I might go so far as to say that it's been getting progressively mediocre-er with every passing month. I'll admit that I once had a preference for its op-ed pages over those of the other rags on offer—back when the likes of George Jonas were making more than once weekly appearances, and the likes of Warren Kinsella were making none. But this past preference isn't enough for me to risk the likelihood of a MillerTime pariahdom in defense of a paper that's managed somehow to retain all the dogmatic disapproval of Canada's 'educated' majority, without ever managing to be especially conservative. (A friend recently bemoaned to me that the Post hasn't even been able to muster the momentum to nail down an Arts and Letters niche—short of, that is, the prolix pissings of that androgenous dwarf.)

But none of this makes the Post substantially worse than any of the country’s other newspapers. Indeed, I would think that it rather puts it on a par with them. But you’ll notice the conspicuous absence that night, in the persons concerned, of even a recognition of the kind of double standard necessary to condemn a newspaper without ever actually reading it. Mea culpa, after all, est sua culpa in the 21st century's ever-revising compendium of conventional wisdom. Who am I to try standing fast against such a tide?

I’m hardly making any novel or original observations when I say that this sort of stuff is typical of the Canadian philosophical disposition. (If it can be called that. Given that it’s more of an anti-disposition.) It’s not so much that we’re Canadian (don’t like the idea of nationalism, thank you very much) as that we’re not American. It’s not so much that we’re Liberal (labels are so confining, don’t you think) as that we’re not Conservative. It’s not so much that we like the Globe (it’s still awfully conservative, don’t you know) as that it’s not the Post.

That, culturally, the golden standard by which we measure ourselves is not only American but, I would suggest, more American than American (hence our constant failure to be even successfully derivative of our neighbours in this respect—sure, you invented the wheel. So what?! Don’t you see that this wheel here is even wheelier than yours … No, it’s meant to be flat in that spot!) … That, politically, we are so far gone in the counter-intellectual throws of materialism that we’ve actually undertaken to insist that the difference between liberalism and conservatism is not one of degree but one of kind (hence the prevalent, desperate equation of conservatism with fascism) … That it is quite literally impossible for this country to produce so contrarian a national newspaper for it to be actually, reasonably considered hostile or opposed to the status quo, but that we’ve made as much of what inoffensive little we’ve got anyway … That any of these things are the case is, quite simply, immaterial.

What isn’t the case, chappy? Now there’s a question. Tell me what it's not, and I’ll tell you where I stand.