Why the Sudden Obsession?

Yes, I admit that lately I’ve been preoccupied by the topic of Québec and its place within Canada, and certainly the PQ leadership race is only one factor that has brought the topic to the forefront of my mind. On the one hand, there’s the fact that I’ve long been wanting to move to Montréal. But on the other hand, there’s the realization on my part that, due to (or despite of) my peculiar situation, I’m not a convinced partisan of either camp. I’ve been coasting on the assumption that I’m a federalist and thus I haven’t seriously attempted to hear out the arguments from the other side. Yet I really, really want to hear pro-separation arguments that are not maudlin and the result of long memories and bruised egos. And I really, really want to hear pro-federalist arguments that have substance and show a real desire to reach mutual understanding.

I’ve read some very articulate blogs in recent days by pro-separation proponents but I’m still left wanting, still left waiting to see a questioning of some assumptions. The arguments that the Québécois “don’t feel at home” within Canada and that the “Rest of Canada” (Roc) doesn’t understand Québec seem disingenuous to me, because it’s clearly a two-way street: Pot, meet kettle; you’re both black. A lot of what passes as Québec’s knowledge of the RoC is often reductionist and vindictive, borne of never forgiving past errors. However, and similarly, while many of the RoC’s past errors are indisputably bad ones, the RoC’s knowledge of Québec is equally reductionist and vindictive. *sigh*

One notion that fuelled anger within the RoC in the 1995 referendum in particular is that it had absolutely no say on whether or not it wanted to let Québec go its own way. It was entirely up to the people of Québec to make this determination—a kind of shotgun divorce. Personally, I still find the notion of the RoC having no say troubling. However, this approach is certainly not without precedent. The separation of Norway from Sweden 100 years ago is one example of a peaceful dissolution:

A special committee in the Riksdag (Swedish national assembly) concluded that Sweden could accept the dissolution of the union, but that the matter had to be decided in a plebiscite in Norway, and that the conditions for dissolution were subject to negotiation. … A Norwegian plebiscite held on 13 August [1905] showed an overwhelming majority in favour of dissolving the union. [emphasis mine]

In other words, the people of Sweden didn’t have a say in the matter; however, the government (or crown) of Sweden had agreed beforehand to let Norway go if the people of Norway voted in favour of dissolving their union with Sweden.

Certainly the political conditions in the world today are very different from what they were in 1905. What’s more, assuming that the RoC (Ottawa) agreed to let go of Québec but suggested that a plebiscite/referendum be held there only, I doubt very strongly that Québec would recognize the legitimacy of this approach as it would likely be perceived as impinging upon its self-declared right to self-determination. Witness the separatists’ (and Boisclair’s) outright dismissal of the Clarity Act, which unfortunately is the only thing that has come out of the federal government regarding the Constitution and Quebec following the 1995 referendum. So the question remains: Does the RoC really have no say in the future of its country as it is now constituted?

Regarding Martin’s recent denunciation of Boisclair’s position, Moncton resident Julie Bélanger of MaZe remarks:

You’d think Martin would be used to it, after the big 1995 referendum “love in” financed by the federal and its ad agency friends, with the cash from the council for Canadian unity supporting—despite Quebec electoral rules—the No camp, and finally the sponsorship scandal.

Trust me, I see the point. I’m not that stubborn. 😉 Meeting the benchmark of a “clear question” shouldn’t be that difficult, though; the biggest problem with the Clarity Act is that it doesn’t give a firm number as to what would constitute a clear majority. Martin’s minority government survived this spring on a simple 50 percent plus 1 majority, but would that suffice to separate Québec from Canada? I know that trade unionists wouldn’t feel confident to go on strike if they received such a weak strike mandate on a simple Yes/No question. Just sayin’…

All Those Confusing Signals

You know what I find really weird? Well, actually, I have two things in mind… But the basic theme is the contradictory messages (and images) that keep bombarding us all.

First, there’s this contradicton between food consumption and being slim, if not downright buff. It’s been well documented that portion sizes, especially in low- to medium-scale restaurants, have grown tremendously in the last 30 years or so. Indeed, when you go to a restaurant, chances are your meal will be served in a huge plate with piles of food on it. And we’ve come to expect that; it’s a value-for-money thing. Or think of soda pop—particularly Coke—and how you now have those small “personal” cans. The fact is that those cans contain the same amount that the old vending-machine bottles used to contain: 200 ml or 6 oz. However, we’ve come to see those new smaller cans as a bit of a joke because we’re so accustomed to the 650 ml personal bottles, which are sold at a much better price per 100 ml. Let’s not forget that sugar, the main ingredient in pop after tap water, is quite cheap. (You realize there are 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 355 ml can of cola, don’t you?)

Okay, my point is simply that marketing has been successful at raising all consumption, including food, to record levels. Yet, simultaneously, practically see-through thinness has become a fetishized ideal—except for Flockhartesque extremes which are seen as sickly. So on the one hand, you have this pressure to be thin and, to add to the collective sense of inadequacy, the media has given a lot of coverage to the so-called “obesity epidemic,” noting that now we’re even seeing serious health problems among some American and Canadian children that before we saw only adults. Granted, lower physical inactivity is in large part to blame, but it’s undeniably being compounded not only by how much food we eat, but also what foods we eat (read bad fats, trans fats, bad cholesterol, bad carbs… recite your litany of poisons).

In recent years, films like Super Size Me! have attempted to make the case against junk-food giants. As a result of the greater consumer awareness such attempts have fostered, fast-food giant McDonalds will soon start posting nutritional information on its  slop   food (at least in Canada). Yet, at the same time, you have other fast-food chains like Wendy’s currently promoting some of their burgers as so big that you’ll want to sit down and never get up again, or so big that all their competitors’ burgers are sissy burgers. Or you have Harvey’s promo of two burgers for $2.99 or $4.99 (complete with the voiceover narrator unable to contain himself and talking with his mouth full).

I mean, what gives? What are these fast-food chains playing into? Are they playing into our weakness: “You know you really want it”?

The second thing that’s on my mind is how that pressure to be buff and beautiful is even stronger among gay men. Now let’s be clear: the cult of youth among gay guys long predates the thinness craze. One could write a complex sociological thesis on the latter subject alone (although I’m sure it’s been done many times already). But in mainstream and gay-specific media, gay guys are seen through a single pair of lens which depicts them as either gym bunnies or tasteful decorators, with bonus points given to those who are both.

Yet in my few ventures out and about in Halifax, I don’t see much of that. I see a lot of attractive yet relatively ordinary middle-aged guys who, like non-gays, carry around excess pounds above the belt and have so-called “man boobs.” Noteworthy are those who are, if not muscular, then trim. What I’m left thinking is not so much, “Where are all the hunks?” Rather, I’m asking myself about the overrepresentation of hunks in the media. Now, I understand that “handsome and buff” sells better than “ordinary and on the soft side,” but for chrissake! Most of us don’t have the time, desire or genes to change what we are, and I don’t think that indicates self-loathing (in that “he doesn’t take care of himself” sense).

On the positive side, however, I have noticed lately in Halifax a few guys who are boldly sticking their middle finger up to the fabricated orthodoxy. Indeed, I’ve been seeing more and more guys, who cannot be described and do no see themselves as “bears” but definitely sport bellies and man boobs, rip off their shirt and proudly head to the dance floor, and to those guys I say Bravo! These guys strike me as real and, I think, are accomplishing as much today as did the drag queens of yesteryear. And the reason why I know they’re accomplishing this much is that their defiant act, their reclaiming of the line “I am what I am,” clearly makes some people uncomfortable. I think they’re forcing the few buff and slim guys who aren’t afraid to think to confront their sense of superiority for being buff and slim.

I have to admit this is a touchy issue for me. I have never been buff. Before losing 30 pounds, I certainly would not have had the courage to take off my shirt on a dance floor. Instead I would attempt to hide under layers and/or loose-fitting clothes. But even today, I doubt very much I’d take off my shirt unless I was polluted and didn’t give a good goddamn. I’m still held hostage by the ideal I believe I don’t come close to meeting. And yet, as I said, neither does the vast majority meet that ideal, so what’s the hangup?

These guys who are not “perfect” and are taking off their shirt are forcing even me to take a long, hard look at the motives behind my weight loss of the last 18 months. Yes, one of my reasons was definitely physical discomfort; sitting for long periods, be it at the computer or in the car, caused real pressure/pain around the sternum area. I’m definitely happy this is no longer the case. However, I would be kidding myself if I denied that a greater reason was that I didn’t like the guy I saw looking back at me on pictures or coming out of the shower. But why didn’t I like that person? It was always the same guy—just with altered packaging. What qualities (or faults) did I ascribe to that person, and why? To what extent did I succumb to perceived pressure to conform? And—this one is tough to admit to—was my attempt to keep a suitor a far greater motive than I ever let on?