Monthly Archives: February 2011



Here’s the real Stephen Harper addressing “real Canadians” on a completely phony issue

The Conservative attack ads are now non-stop, and it’s many weeks, maybe even months away from an election.  When they aren’t running attack ads, they’re running “government of Canada” ads, which means tens of millions of tax-payer dollars spent to spit-polish the Harper government at our expense. During peak viewing hours, every second commercial break has either one or the other of them in an unending manic-depressive cycle of reassurance and vituperation.

It may be that this strategy will ultimately backfire because the motives are so transparently cynical. You don’t have to be partisan to find it distasteful to be incessantly nagged, poked and tugged at, especially when your own money is paying for the trouble.

I’ve posted the video above before, but it’s worth watching again. No filters. No public relations. No image consultation. Just an undiluted expression of bigotry, fear and resentment. According to Stephen Harper, there are “real Canadians,” and then there’s everyone else — which, minus the minority who voted for him in the last election, is two thirds of the population.

Quotes of the Day: Sullivan and “Anonymous”

Libertarian conservative columnist for the Sunday Times and The Atlantic, and one of the most-read political bloggers in the world, Andrew Sullivan today:

If your name is Koch, it’s pronounced cock. And if your name is Boehner, it’s pronounced boner. They can always change their names if they want. Until then … I’m calling it like it is.

Meanwhile, the online hacking collective, Anonymous, is targeting the Koch-sponsered Americans for Prosperity.  Their press release reads in part:

Koch Industries, and oligarchs like them, have most recently started to manipulate the political agenda in Wisconsin. Governor Walker’s union-busting budget plan contains a clause that went nearly un-noticed. This clause would allow the sale of publicly owned utility plants in Wisconsin to private parties (specifically, Koch Industries) at any price, no matter how low, without a public bidding process. The Koch’s have helped to fuel the unrest in Wisconsin and the drive behind the bill to eliminate the collective bargaining power of unions in a bid to gain a monopoly over the state’s power supplies.

The Koch brothers have made a science of fabricating ‘grassroots’ organizations and advertising campaigns to support them in an attempt to sway voters based on their falsehoods. Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and Citizens United are just a few of these organizations. In a world where corporate money has become the lifeblood of political influence, the labor unions are one of the few ways citizens have to fight against corporate greed. Anonymous cannot ignore the plight of the citizen-workers of Wisconsin, or the opportunity to fight for the people in America’s broken political system. For these reasons, we feel that the Koch brothers threaten the United States democratic system and, by extension, all freedom-loving individuals everywhere. As such, we have no choice but to spread the word of the Koch brothers’ political manipulation, their single-minded intent and the insidious truth of their actions in Wisconsin, for all to witness.

Story here.

Frye on Democracy, Laissez-Faire and Oligarchy

“Democracy should work as a force for the underprivileged.” Northrop Frye, interview in The Telegram, 25 March 1950

On a couple of occasions I’ve received comments about the political direction the blog takes on current events, typically in the form of “What does this have to do with Frye?” (I get the same thing when it comes to popular culture.) My response has been that Frye was always critically engaged with the world around him, most conspicuously during his decades-long stint at The Canadian Forum. His politics were unambiguously to the left (he was in fact a lifelong social democrat), and his observations on political matters are frank and detailed. Although some people might not like it, he lived long enough to make pungent remarks about two prominent North American conservatives of the 1980s: Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney. It’s not difficult to imagine what he might have said about George Bush and Stephen Harper.

I am comfortable, therefore, to post critiques of the political right in the liberal spirit Frye embodied, and I am always on the lookout for passages from the collected works consistent with the opinions expressed here. This is particularly true regarding the behavior of an increasingly aggressive economic elite that for the past thirty years has begrudged the poor the assistance they require while stripping the middle class of a fair share of the wealth they generate. In the 1940s, Frye readily characterized such trends as the emergence of a North American brand of fascism. There isn’t any good reason we should hesitate to do so now. It is a direct threat to democracy, which Frye seemed to think of as a secular form of salvation. It is also a nullification of the primary concerns he regarded as the full expression of both corporeal and spiritual life. If there’s any lingering doubt about this, below is another quote to add to the collection already compiled here over the last few months, this time from “Trends in Modern Culture.” As always, Frye sets the standard for feet-on-the-ground idealism: the recognition of and the working toward the better world we could create if only we had the courage to push this one aside.

As the conception of democracy has matured, it has separated itself from its vague background of Utopian optimism.  Many Americans still believe that laissez-faire is the economic aspect of democracy, but there is a growing realization that laissez-faire by itself does not lead to democracy, but to oligarchy, and thence to managerial dictatorship. Laissez-faire by itself is antidemocratic: all progress in the conditions of the working classes has been wrung from it in a kind of cold civil war. . . . (CW 11, 251)

Zero Mostel and Tricky Slaves


New Comedy in a nutshell — including a brother and sister kidnapped in infancy by pirates — from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  This clip includes Mostel as Pseudolus (right), Jack Gilford as Hysterium (left) and Buster Keaton (centre) as Erroneous.  (Michael Hordern makes a brief appearance as Senex.)

Today is the great comic actor Zero Mostel‘s birthday (1915-1977). His performance as Pseudolus in Richard Lester’s 1966 film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum nicely represents the eiron character Frye in Anatomy calls the “tricky slave.” Then again, the plot of A Funny Thing is a playbook for the formulaic conventions of New Comedy, to the extent that two of the characters bear the names of the types Frye identifies them by: Senex and Miles Gloriosus.

From the “The Mythos of Spring” section of “Archetypal Criticism: Theory of Myths”:

Another central eiron figure is the type entrusted with hatching the schemes which bring about the hero’s victory.  This character in Roman comedy is almost always a tricky slave (dolosus servus). . . . The vice, to give him that name, is very useful to a comic dramatist because he acts from pure love of mischief, and he can set a comic action going with the minimum of motivation. . . One of the tricky slaves in Plautus, in a soliloquy, boasts that he is the architectus of the comic action: such a character carries out the will of the author to reach a happy ending.  He is in fact the spirit of comedy itself. . . . (CW 22, 161)

This Week in Climate Change Denial


What the ice cores tell us, and how the deniers distort it.

Koch brothers’ effort to interfere in Canadian renewable energy initiatives here. (Their ubiquity is known as the “Kochtopus.”)

Greenpeace’s detailed 2010 report on their funding of global warming denial here.

The New Yorker‘s investigative report, including their ties to the Tea Party here.

Lord Byron

His Lordship looking very mad, bad and dangerous to know

Lord Byron made his first address to the House of Lords on this date in 1812.

Frye makes many more substantial references to Byron than this one in an interview with documentary filmmaker Harry Rasky, but the exchange is irresistible for his cheekily ambiguous response to a “prying” question.

Rasky: Was the phrase “history is the nightmare from which we’re all trying to wake up”?

Frye: That’s Joyce in Ulysses.  I think Byron said it more neatly when he said that history is the devil’s scripture.

Rasky: I wonder if it would be prying if I said, Does Northrop Frye talk to God?

Frye: Yes.

(CW 24, 871)

Frye at the Movies: “City Lights”


Continuing with our Frye at the movies series, here’s Chaplin’s 1931 masterpiece, City Lights.

Frye seems to have been a genuine fan of Charlie Chaplin and wrote two Canadian Forum articles about him: “The Great Charlie” (1941) and “The Eternal Tramp” (1947).  Here’s an excerpt from the latter:

Chaplin’s tramp is an American dramatic type, and Rip Van Winkle and Huck Finn are among his ancestors.  The tramp is a social misfit, not only because he is too small and awkward to engage in a muscular extroverted scramble, but because he does not see the point of what society is doing or to what purpose it is expending all that energy.  He is not a parasite, for he possesses some occult secret of inner freedom, and he is not a bum, for he will work hard enough, and still harder if a suitable motive turns up.  Such a motive occurs when he discovers someone still weaker than himself, an abandoned baby or a blind girl (students of Jung will recognize the “anima” in Chaplin), and then his tenderness drives him to extraordinary spasms of breadwinning.  But even his normal operations are grotesque enough, for in the very earnestness with which he tries so hard to play society’s game it is clear that he has got it all wrong, and when he is spurred to further efforts the grotesqueness reaches a kind of perverse inspiration.  The political overtones of this are purely anarchist — I have never understood the connecting of Communism with Chaplin — the anarchism of Jefferson and Thoreau which see society as a community of personal relationships and not as a mechanical abstraction called a “state.”  But even so the tramp is isolated by his own capacity for freedom, and he has nothing to do with the typical “little guy” that every fool in the country has been slobbering over since Pearl Harbor. (CW 11, 117)

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Blogging “Anatomy of Criticism”

Jonathan McCalmont at Ruthless Culture and a number of other bloggers will be posting on Anatomy of Criticism, beginning March 7th:

few of us are going to be blogging about Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism (1957).  We are each going to take it in turns to write a position paper on a particular section of the book and then post it and discuss it over at Maureen Kincaid Speller’s blog Paper Knife.  The first essay is due to go up on the seventh of March.  I’ll link to it when it goes up but if you are looking for an excuse to read through a classic work of literary criticism and discuss it, then this is your chance.