Friday, October 7, 2011
The Bashing of St. Jack
Now that some time has passed perhaps we could assess Christie Blatchford’s article on the “thoroughly public spectacle” of Jack Layton’s death. I don’t subscribe to the view that I shouldn’t give her any credence by posting a link to her article with the fear that others may read it too. You can’t respond responsibly, and critically, to an issue if you don’t understand it or even deign to read the original source of your displeasure. So here is Blatchford’s article then let’s you and I have a chat ….
Ready? Aside from launching this attack on-line - and I really don’t know how you could construe it any other way - a mere ten hours after Layton’s death was announced and posting it the same day, I was also a bit surprised at the strength of the emotion displayed by the public. The news saddened me and although I have always voted left of centre and Layton represented my federal riding (I have seen him at more community events in my riding than I can count) I wasn’t having the same reaction as many of my fellow constituents or even family members.
Still Blatchford’s response seemed ill timed and particularly malicious. She bemoans the reaction of the media figures, singling out Evan Solomon, and found Harper’s more sedate response judicious. I have no quarrel with Harper’s response – it seemed sincere and kindly meant. If it was subdued, so be it. She is uncomfortable with the canonization of St. Jack and I understand that she feels that it was excessive.
Ms. Blatchford condemns Layton’s last letter to the public and noting that:
“… it’s remarkable because it shows what a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow Mr. Layton was. Even on Saturday, two days before he died, he managed to keep a gimlet eye on all the campaigns to come.”
“Gimlet eye” is particularly offensive. It means sharp-eyed, piercing, which implies that he was trying to manipulate us from his death bed. Some might say that; some might say he was trying to offer hope and comfort to his followers and well-wishers. She finds the letter full of “ruthlessly partisan politicking” and “vain glorious”.
The excessive effusiveness and affection of the public was also disconcerting to her:
“In truth, none of that is remotely unusual, or spontaneous, but rather the norm in the modern world, and it has been thus since Princess Diana died, the phenomenon now fed if not led online. People the planet over routinely weep for those they have never met and in some instances likely never much thought about before; what once would have been deemed mawkish is now considered perfectly appropriate.”
I have long ago determined (perhaps it was with the advent of Princess Diana’s death) that you can neither control nor deny the feelings that people have for a public figure whether it is Ronald Reagan or Michael Jackson or Kurt Cobain. It may seem ridiculous to you as it often has to me but there is no point wagging a finger at them and telling them that they are being foolish. Their grief is their grief. She would have done better to examine why this widespread phenomenon of grief happens rather than castigate those who demonstrate it.
It is mean spirited, it is cheap to say, “Yet again and again, waving the cane that became in his clever hands an asset, he campaigned tirelessly.” So a cancer victim, who uses a cane due to his illness, is wielding it simply to garner sympathy or, even more callously, your political vote?
I had my reservations about Layton as a leader. I sometimes found his responses to be mechanical, less nuanced that other politically progressive politicians I admire (Adam Vaughan, Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff for example) but I wouldn’t question Layton's sincerity or courage in conducting himself the way he did in the last few months before his death. I say this not because his memory is sacrosanct to me but because he doesn't deserve that kind of cynical derision.
And I have to say although I am certainly not a fan and do not agree with her that I‘m appalled by the vicious attack on Blatchford herself – the childish name calling, the overt threats, the ugly comments on news websites and facebook posts. By all means if you feel that she is wrong, attack her position … what does it matter if she isn’t your cup of tea as a female? She’s not vying to be your prom date … she’s expressing a point of view (which is what she was hired to do). It might be wrong-headed, it might be mean-spirited, so attack her on those grounds and leave everything else alone.