Monday, November 29, 2010

Is it Time For a Little "Spidey Sense"?

According to the urban dictionary, "Spidey sense" is a term used to describe "a vague but strong sense of something being wrong, dangerous and suspicious".

I believe that many Canadians are beginning to tap into their "Spidey sense". Those nagging doubts and suspicions that something is not quite right.

And I'm getting a sense that several in the media are starting to catch on. For four and half years or so, they have been raising questions about the actions of Stephen Harper. They made no sense when viewing his policies through a conservative lens.

It was like having a hockey commentator announcing the plays of a baseball game.

This is because Stephen Harper is not a Conservative. He is a neoconservative, which is the antithesis of Canadian conservatism.

There is an Oped piece in the Globe and Mail, written by Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson: Not their parents’ conservatism

It is well written and they raise some valid points:
Conservatism used to be about a vision of human life, the good, which had important strategic – but not ultimately foundational – disagreements with its liberal counterparts. Devolution and autonomy are conservative virtues only insofar as they are tangibly oriented toward some common goal, some public conception of the good.
Referring to themselves as "millennials", they rightfully suggest that established institutions no longer provide answers to Canada's youth.

However, my "Spidey sense" tells me to be cautious.

Robert Joustra is the editor of Cardus Policy in Public and a lecturer in international politics at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ont. Cardus is, or was, the home of Darrel Reid, Harper's former deputy chief of staff , who wanted our laws to be based on the Old Testament. And the mission statement of Cardus is to “influence people to a Christian view of work and public life” and "to rethink, research and rebuild North America's social architecture."

On the surface that may not be a bad thing, but when viewed as a whole, provides a blueprint for a Christian infrastructure that removes all other faiths from public life.

And Redeemer University College received almost three million dollars in stimulus funds, despite the fact that they are a private, for profit, school.

So after releasing my "web-shooters" and tapping into my "Spidey sense", the opinion piece reads like a neoconservative policy statement.

Proceed with caution.

Cara Joy David recently lamented that while attending the Broadway production of Spider-man, the atmosphere was destroyed by the constant clicking of those in attendance, tweeting their views. That would anger me as well.

You can no longer enjoy a meal in a restaurant without the noise of ring tones, or those around you thumbing their way through a meal, wishing they could just stick their face in their food and suck it up, so they didn't have to lose connection with someone they probably saw just a short time ago. What possible earth shattering news did they need to share?

"The lettuce is limp and the pasta cold"? It wasn't before they spent that last half hour texting.

OK. I'm done. But back to tweeting and Spider-man.

In October of 2009, Sven Larsen wrote a great piece on his Zemoga blog: Everything I Needed to Know About Social Media I Learned From Spider-Man.

He suggests that Spider-man's co-creator, Stan Lee, stepped outside the box, abandoning the characters of the "crewcut, whitebread, All-American heroes who never fought with each other, did anything wrong, or ever failed. By contrast Lee’s FANTASTIC FOUR team got their powers by stealing a rocket, bickered incessantly, and were plagued by their failure to cure one of their members and turn him back in to a human being."

They were not without flaws. In fact the incessant bickering and failure to turn one of their members back into a human being, sounds like my last family reunion.

But more important than the humanizing of super heroes, Larsen suggests, is the writing style of Lee, which was casual, informal and made his readers feel like they were engaged in conversation.

That is an excellent description of social media. It is a constant conversation and an important vehicle for political engagement (restaurants and Broadway shows notwithstanding).

Communities of like minded souls can be built in cyberspace, and in fact, they have already enjoyed a great success.

After Stephen Harper's last self serving prorogation, Chris White, a university student, started a facebook page: Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, and within weeks had more than 200,000 members. The page prompted rallies and the rallies moved Harper down 10 points in the polls, a position he has been struggling to reverse ever since.

Canadians Rallying to Unseat Stephen Harper, while still enjoying daily "conversations", has moved to social activism, with a spin-off group Canadians Defending Democracy. They raise money and publish ads in newspapers across the country, getting the word out.

With a virtually non-existent media in Canada, and journalists beholden to corporations and promoting a corporate agenda, we are the last best hope.

"Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option." Peter Parker, aka: Spider-man.

Ordinary life? no way. I've got too much "Spidey sense" for that.


  1. Who Killed Canada
    Media Ownership and the Radical Right in Canada

  2. Stephen Harper brings US style media control to Canada!

  3. Politics of Language: George Lakoff
    Why do conservatives appear to be so much better at framing?

    Because they've put billions of dollars into it. Over the last 30 years their think tanks have made a heavy investment in ideas and in language. In 1970, [Supreme Court Justice] Lewis Powell wrote a fateful memo to the National Chamber of Commerce saying that all of our best students are becoming anti-business because of the Vietnam War, and that we needed to do something about it. Powell's agenda included getting wealthy conservatives to set up professorships, setting up institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective, and setting up think tanks. He outlined the whole thing in 1970. They set up the Heritage Foundation in 1973, and the Manhattan Institute after that. [There are many others, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institute at Stanford, which date from the 1940s.]

  4. Disaster Messaging
    by George Lakoff

    Democrats are constantly resorting to disaster messaging. Here’s a description the typical situation.

    An important part of framing is the establishment of prototypes: social stereotypes, prototypes (typical case, ideals, nightmares, salient exemplars). Stereotypes are used in automatic reasoning and decision-making.

    A major goal of political framing is to get your version of contested concepts accepted by the voters. Messaging can then use these concepts and their language freely and effectively. That is how framing works generally — independent of whether the frames are used in politics. In politics, bi-conceptual voters can shift back and forth on an issue, depending on how the issue is framed in terms of higher-level political systems.

  5. snip snip: Ever wonder why there's so little investigative journalism in Canada? The reason is simple: libel chill.

    The impact on freedom of expression, a core value of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is severe. There's even a term for it: "libel chill".

    snip snip: Libel chill means that people are afraid to criticize powerful people who might bankrupt them with a costly suit. It means that commentators have to think twice before needling public figures -- .

    Under the current legal regime, you can be sued for anything you say about another person that damages their reputation. If sued, the onus is on you to prove the truth of your statements; the fact that you genuinely believed them to be true is not good enough. Even truth is not an absolute defence --- if the court finds you told the truth but your intent was malicious, you might lose anyway. Canadian libel law is so draconian that people come from all over the world to file libel suits in Ontario.

  6. I watched those videos. They're excellent. I just picked up Mel Hurtig's book: Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids. Very telling.

  7. Thanks Nadine. Excellent input as always.