I've never been fond of the news business's predilection for describing the late summer as the “silly season” It implies that there isn't any real news happening, which is patently not true. And it provides a justification for manufactured bullshit stories.
That's what we're seeing in the “controversy” surrounding Homegrown, one of the plays on the bill for the current SummerWorks theatre festival in Toronto. Apparently we're supposed to consider it objectionable because it portrays Shareef Abdelhaleem, one of the so-called Toronto 18, in a sympathetic light. And we're supposed to be even more pissed off because the festival got some money from Ottawa. Cue the braying from the Fox wannabes at Sun Media, the Levantines, the Corians, and the rest of the perpetually angry flying monkeys of the right.
As J. Kelly Nestruck points out, the festival got perhaps $35,000 from the federal government. When you do the math and consider how that was divided up among various productions, promotional costs, etc., he suggests that this particular play might have gotten around $850 or so. (Well, I can certainly understand the outrage. How many tasers and cans of pepper spray could have been had for that kind of money?)
Sun Media hack Brian Lilley has been the point man on this. He's taken issue with Nestruck's accusations of censorship in a blog post today, in which he takes the predictable tack of posing as a hard-working dogged reporter, crusading for the rights of the hard-working little guy, bristling at the sneering condescension of media elites, yada yada yada. We've heard the cliches so many times we can probably recite them in our sleep. As he puts it:
There is no right to arts funding, a point that many supporters of the performing arts just don’t understand. Just because a play is written doesn’t mean it should be funded. Just because a theatre company wishes to put it on does not mean it should receive a grant.
Nestruck, Toronto city councilor Adam Vaughan and other defenders of Homegrown would prefer it if the hoi poloi, the great unwashed would just pay the bills and shut up.
Apparently the issue is about public money being spent on things Brian Lilley and his bosses don't like. Well, boo fucking hoo. Can we talk about how tiresome and fundamentally anti-social that line of argument is? “Yargle bargle bleghh, I don't want my tax dollars spent on things I don't agree with.” Straight out of the teabaggers manual.
To anyone who still wants to dance to that music, I say tough shit. You're a citizen of a democratic society. It's not your money, it is society's money – to be allocated in accordance with publicly determined priorities. You get your say in how those determinations are made through your inherent right to participate in the political process. And if you don't get what you want through participating, you don't get to simply take your marbles and go home. I don't think the Canadian military should be in Afghanistan. I don't think public money should be spent on billion-dollar summits or paying cops to beat the shit out of peaceful citizens, but I don't get to withhold my tax dollars on that basis.
As for Brian Lilley, his argument is disingenuous bullshit. What he and his Sun Media paymasters have done is taken one play – one play, from a festival staging more than 40 plays – which may have gotten a tiny little percentage of the money allocated to this theatre festival and built a cynical and contrived narrative of “glorifying Islamic terrorism” around it for the sole purpose of working their knuckle-dragging, drooling readership into a frenzy. Another textbook demonstration of how right-wing operatives manufacture controversies.
What's worse, though, is the insult to our intelligence, with the wide-eyed, innocent “we're not advocating censorship, we're just asking questions about the funding” script. (Yeah, right. I'm not saying your sister's a whore, I'm just asking why she has sex with strangers for money.) They're not just asking. They've poisoned the debate before it's even started by framing this as a story about our hard-earned tax dollars coddling terror-symp artists who don't work for a living because they're milking our socialist government for grant money. It's faux-populist crap.
One last question: did Lilley actually talk to Nestruck, or Vaughan, before penning this load of shite? How can he presume to tell us what they would prefer?
But that's standard procedure for Fox / Sun operatives. Their object isn't to inform, it's to inflame. Just because it's late summer doesn't mean we can afford to relax our guard. The stupidity virus is a nasty one. If we're not vigilant, we could end up here.