Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

No Citizenship and Less Immigration

I just finished school a couple weeks ago and since then I have been appalled at the sheer volume of awful things done by the Federal Government, or should I say the Harper Government. The list is long, and I am undoubtedly missing many items, but I'm going to just name some here. Blogs about these topics are bound to come out soon (perhaps in the new year).

Québec wants the Federal Government to transfer to them the data for the long gun registry so that the province can start its own. Harper has refused, leading to what analysts expect to be a very expensive lawsuit

Canada recently pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol. This followed the climate summit in South Africa where Harper reaffirmed Canada's commitment to the environment and to the international community. Leaving the treaty has proven to be an embarrassing move for Canadians.

Harper has suggested that public health care is no longer sustainable in Canada. The Canada Health Act is set to expire in 2014 and Harper hopes to come up with a new agreement with each province, rather than ensuring that the standards are met across the country (which would be in contravention of the Health Act).

December has been a busy month. But one of the most ridiculous items to come up has been the recent decision by the Federal Government to ban the wearing of face coverings for Muslim women at the citizenship ceremonies. I recently wrote a term paper about Islamophobia in Europe, particularly in the context of European citizenship policy. I was very critical of the oppressive stances of national governments (particularly in France) and of the European Union in general. As a result of this research being so fresh, I have a lot to say about Islamophobia in Canada.

In Canada Islamophobia is a growing problem. Our leaders know that debates around terrorism, Islam, immigration, and security are all intertwined in the public's perspective. These controversial issues are always bundled together as a package, with hardly any effort given to unpack the correlation between the ideas. Politicians, religious leaders, media conglomerates, and many others have used fear invoke reactions from Canadians that are hostile to Muslims. It obviously comes as no surprise to me that the government would go to such lengths to ban face coverings, but what's even more interesting is the public reaction.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am an avid CBC Radio 1 fan, and long trips home are often spent listening to the radio. The day I was in transit to Kitchener happened to be the day after the announcement of the policy, and Ontario Today, a daily call-in show, was having a debate on the issue. What surprised me was that the percentage of callers supporting the move was greater than the percentage of callers who were upset. Since CBC Radio is generally quite a fair and balanced media outlet (often criticised for being too left-wing), this took me by complete surprise. In fact, many who were calling in were self-identified opponents of Harper and still supported the move - evidence that this move is congruent with larger social forces of Islamophobia.

The whole premiss of banning face coverings at a citizenship ceremony bothers me for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the event is just for show. People who participate in the ceremonies have already been deemed successful candidates for Canadian citizenship.

Also, the government's position was that it needs to be made clear that the person's face is visible as that is how we can tell if they are saying the oath. I find this quite ridiculous - I never had to take an oath of citizenship. Why should I be treated any differently because I had the great fortune of having been born here? The ceremony should be recognised for what it is: a formality.

Moreover, I think it's important to note that by saying women cannot wear face coverings that there is a sense of cultural superiority at play. To Canadians, it is supposed to be objectively "better" that we should see your face. The "Ideal Citizen" or "Ideal Canadian" is someone who looks and acts like a normal person - and since normal is entirely subjective, this means like a secular Christian.

This is similar to the secular policies of France and of Québec. In both regions, a strong civic national identity is represented by the removal of religious icons in public. While lofted as equal and fair, these policies promote secularism that has a distinctly Christian history. Since religion and culture are vastly interwined, it is impossible to have a secular tradition that ignores the influences of religion (look at the farce in the United States for example). Also, note that many of the face coverings are relics of culture long before the arrival of Muhammad, and are therefore not a product of Islam.

It's hard to not see the line of reasoning that Canadians (read: whites) are much more fair to their women than Muslims. Women in the West are supposed to be liberated and free, but this is clearly not the case. It's not a black and white division - both "Western" and "Eastern" women are oppressed, albeit in slightly different ways. Refer to this great political cartoon.

Lastly, when asked if there would be any accommodations, the citizenship and immigration minister, Jason Kenny, indicated that that is a ridiculous idea. His attitude was that this was some type of light topic and that there will be no harm done to anyone, afterall, if new Canadians can't handle us, they can always "choose" to go back home. I encourage you to read the text of the speech made 12 December when announcing the policy.

There are two conclusions that I draw from this policy. Firstly,  I believe that this move was designed to distract Canadians from other, more serious, policy issues that have emerged over the past few months. Refer to my list above. As I made mention to, this is a topic to which virtually ALL Canadians can relate. Everyone has an opinion and it's easy to gather and debate this topic (as I have managed to do continuously for at least a week). It keeps us busy and prevents us from getting into debates about items that might require some more research.

Secondly, I feel that this gives credence to a statement one of my classmates made this year about Jason Kenny. He referred to him as our Minister of No Citizenship and Less Immigration. Although this reference was made long before the policy announcement last week, it's really highlighting the fact that the Harper Government is following a sadly predictable trend when it comes to Muslims in our society.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Fun Cars!

We have all seen hundreds of thousands of advertisements just this year alone. Over our lifetime we have been exposed to a number of commercials, posters, telemarketers, flyers, product placements, and many more sinister and sublime marketing techniques. According to one of my favourite authors, Terry O'Reilly, advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century.

As someone who is very focused on criticising the assumptions in our modern, Western society, I am fascinated about car culture in North America, I have been thinking a lot lately about what I see as a relatively new trend in advertising automobiles in the past year or so, which I will explain shortly.

Let's put this into historical perspective. Over the past century the car has become symbolic of North America and a lifestyle of choice, prosperity, and hard work. While cars were marketed successfully before the Second World War, it wasn't until the 1950s that the automobile became such a salient representation of North American culture. This was obviously shaped by the massive economic boom fueled by post-war reconstruction, but more importantly, the meteoric rise of cars was made possible by changes brought in by government. As the population of North America began to grow at an unprecedented rate, cities and national governments looked at ways of addressing this concern. Suburbs were the widely adopted solution, favoured by urban planners and politicians, who were influenced by automotive giants in the United States. This came at the expense of public transit and cities that were made to be biked and walked.

It soon became clear that in order to be successful car ownership was necessary. This is particularly interesting when the common attitude is that the car is a status symbol. Very rarely are status symbols necessities in society, so it is something to think about.

While cars were necessary, they needed to be marketed by their respective manufacturers. Advertisements in the 1950s focused on the car as linked to patriotism and freedom, an idea which stuck for the long term. It was not until the 1990s that this emphasis changed. Modern car commercials focused on cars for absolutely everything: rugged trucks, elegant sedans, powerful coupes, and practical family vehicles. Marketers became increasingly more adept at appealing to the markets that they thought would be interested in their cars.

Two concerns became salient in the past 15 years. The first, which came about in the 1990s, was safety. Manufacturers competed with each other for the best safety ratings in their classes. This is best explained by the rapid rise of the Sport Utility Vehicle (for more information check out The Spirit Level). By the mid-2000s the focus had shifted to how fuel efficient their cars were. There are countless examples of commercials that appeal to this, but there has been an attempt by virtually every type of car to make their vehicles more fuel efficient, from trucks to luxury vehicles, to the cross-over.

Now, post-2010 I see the trend of cars becoming fun. Despite the fact that I don't believe what I see in commercials on  a general basis, I can see safety and fuel economy as important things you need in a car. However, this is not true of fun. I have never had a lot of fun driving. Whether it is the rush hour traffic jam, the 7-hour road trip, or the slow traverse through a snowstorm late at night, driving is rarely ever fun. Not to mention, having a car means carrying debt, buying insurance, paying for maintenance, and driving people around because you have a car and they don't.

Despite this, marketers, fearing that young people aren't buying cars like in the old days, are targeting youth with sleek ads that make owning a car look really exciting. Oddly enough, the driving isn't really the fun part. Certain makes and models of cars have been marketed as fun, but it was because they are so-called high performance. The cars that are marketed as fun now have no precedent.

Take, for example, the 2012 Cruze. The appeal of this car is the "international" experience. What do young people like doing? Listening to music? Hanging out in urban centres? Eating food from Asia, South America, and the Middle East? Why not have a commercial that shows them doing this, insinuating that these pass-times are congruent with owning a car - but not just any car, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze. This is evident in its slogan: "Don't just drive, Cruze".

This drives me crazy. It really does. But that's marketing. I assume that once this formula gets tired these commercials will disappear and be replaced with something else. At this point it's impossible to know what, but they will find something to get the attention of the young people that are increasingly "carless".

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Men and Housework

In the past few weeks since Tide released this commercial, I'm certain I've seen it at least twenty times. Over the past few days I've been thinking about if and how this advertisement is actually progressive. Here is a window into the inner dialogue I've been having recently.

What is remarkable about the commercial, and thus why it is appearing in my blog, is that it features a dad doing the laundry. Despite the fact that we allegedly live in some sort of gender equality paradise where stereotyping roles are a vestige of the past, I have seen less than 5 commercials in my life where there is a man doing a household chore such as sweeping the floors, cleaning the shower, or doing the laundry. Obviously by virtue of showing a man doing "woman's" work, this ad really gets your attention. In fact there's a lot of buzz around the internet about how great this commercial is.

That said, I felt uneasy about after a couple times watching it, and it soon dawned on me that it has something to do with the character of the male in the ad. Obviously the dad is gender bending by doing laundry, but he is also cast as effeminate. His speech, his mannerisms, and his close relationship with his daughter all seem to point at the fact that this man is not a man, he's very much feminine.

But then I started thinking about how the commercial was obviously stereotyping male interests and skill. The idea of laundry as "classic problem solving", where efficiency is key, appeals to stereotyped male notions of logic. This is effectively evidenced by the more than 80 per cent of current engineering students in Canada being male despite the majority of university students being female in this country.

This dichotomy (on the one hand classic male intuition; on the other hand a very female domestic role) shows the complexity of gender. The fact that he can't really be characterised as male OR female stands out as a significant benefit of this commercial to me. Often androgyny is painted as very alien, but in this case it's quite accessible (and of course consumer friendly).

After coming to this realisation, I started checking out forums on the internet to see what other people were saying about this commercial. Naturally, there we super-socially-conservative people (both men and women) who characterised this man as homosexual and in derogatory terms. There were others who claimed he was a threat to our ideas of the household division of labour. Many praised the ad for taking on this issue and showing that it is okay for men to do the laundry and be close with their daughters. Google some of the following keywords to get a sense of what's being talked about: tide commercial, gender, braid, problem solving, laundry, dad.

Ultimately, as I'm sure you can tell, I haven't really figured out what I think about Tide's new ad. I think it has already sparked controversy, which is good. Moreover, even though it has generated backlash, it is still being aired. That is a good sign that Tide is not about to back of over a question of values. I hope to hear from some of you and get a sense of your impressions of both the commercial itself and the discourse around it.