Stephen Harper
3 min

Harperland: Where ‘sexual assault’ is okay but ‘fucking’ is bad

BY ROB SALERNO: Outside of my regular gig here at xtra.ca,
I’m also a theatre artist and I run my own theatre company, Ten Foot Pole
Productions

I’ve been producing theatre for five years, and my three
original shows have toured cities across Canada and overseas. Most recently, I
led a small tour of my hit solo show, Fucking
Stephen Harper: How I Sexually Assaulted the 22nd Prime Minister and
Saved Democracy
, playing nights in Toronto, Ottawa and Wakefield, Quebec
before wrapping up the tour in Calgary last week.

 

 

I’d never performed in Calgary and I welcomed my invitation
from the Calgary Fringe Festival with a little trepidation: could I really do
this show in Stephen Harper’s adopted hometown? How would people respond to it
in the Conservative heartland?

When I found out that the venue I was performing in was across
the street from a gun shop and a gun bookstore – did you know there exists such
a thing as a gun bookstore?! – I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

My worries were unfounded. As it turns out, Calgary is a
much more tolerant and cosmopolitan city than its cowboy reputation lets on.
The venue, Club Paradiso, hosts regular popular drag performances despite being
far away from any gay bars (there really isn’t a gay neighbourhood in Calgary).
People were excited to come see Fucking Stephen Harper and tickets sold out
fast.

I got a little cocky and wore my “FUCK STEPHEN HARPER”
T-shirt out on the street. I was rewarded with multiple compliments. A
grandmother having a coffee with her daughter and granddaughter asked me where
she could get one and expressed her shame at living in Stephen Harper’s riding.

There’s always an underground – a fact that’s perfectly
evident to anyone who saw Toronto shift from Liberal red to orange and blue
this past May. Who knows? Alberta could change, too.

The official reviews, even from conservative outlets like
the Calgary Sun and the Calgary Herald, were also very kind. But
unfortunately, I do have to take issue with both of them.

I’m usually of the “live and let live” mentality when it
comes to reviews. Especially when it comes to good reviews; it feels boorish to
complain.

But now that the Fucking Stephen Harper tour is wrapped, I
have to address something. A few news outlets – not all, mind you, but a few –
refused to print the full title of my show when I visited their cities.

The Edmonton Journal wrote “F***ing Stephen Harper.” The
Calgary Herald wrote “F-ing Stephen Harper.” I get it: both papers are owned by
Postmedia and conservatives are always very uncomfortable using the F-word,
except when referring to the City of Toronto or to feminists.

But the most unusual title swap came last week in the
Calgary Sun, which chose to review my show under the title “Sexually Assaulting
the Prime Minister
.”

It’s one thing if your editorial direction is to censor
words to make your paper family-friendly. I wouldn’t support it, but at least
it would be consistent. Then again, this is the Sun, best known for running the Sunshine Girl in the centre
spread and leading with the most violent and horrific crimes it can find.

But on what planet does “fucking” someone cause more offence
than “sexually assaulting” them? This
is that odd situation where I’d have more respect for the newspaper if they
used more censorship: “The One About Stephen Harper” or “The Stephen Harper Monologue You Shouldn’t Bring Your Kids To.”

(For the record, the venue served alcohol, so kids couldn’t
come anyway. But teenagers and tweens have seen the show in other cities.)

Chalk this one up to bizarre Sun editorial policy, though.
The Calgary I saw last week was ready – and desperate – to be challenged.

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