The launch of RM Vaughan’s latest book, Compared to Hitler: Selected Essays, may be an opportunity for fans to learn why Vaughan is so often compared to Hitler. Sorry history buffs; the book actually has nothing to do with Hitler. “When I hang out with people who write, we sometimes play this game of ‘who have you been compared to lately?’ I’ve been compared to Hitler about a dozen times over the course of my career. Somebody would disagree with something I’d written, and then two steps later they were at Hitler.”” Vaughan says. “[When I was deciding on a title] I thought ‘what’s the common theme throughout my career? Oh, it’s condemnation’.”
Vaughan is a novelist, playwright, poet and well-known culture critic. In late 2012 Tightrope Books approached him to do a book. He was part way through another novel, but nowhere near ready to publish. They decided to draw from the many articles Vaughan has published over the last twenty years – anything from blog posts to pieces written for art catalogues – and publish a selection of essays.
Enter an unwieldy five hundred page volume that needed serious trimming. “I sort of put the hammer down and went ‘okay, you know what, I just want the most entertaining and lively ones, and hopefully the ones that have the most appeal to different kinds of people’,” Vaughan says.
What resulted was the far more palatable Compared to Hitler: Selected Essays. It’s divided into sections that cover a wide array of subjects, including art writing, celebrity interviews, sex parties, personal essays and much that appeals to a queer audience. “I think the thread that comes through this book is that I don’t believe in the division between so called ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, and never really have,” Vaughan says. “The distinctions are only in content, and also to some extent economics. In terms of cultural value, I see no distinction at all. I think a funny little viral video that ten million people end up seeing is obviously as culturally powerful as a lavishly produced opera at the Canadian Opera Company – in fact more people will see the video.”
His upcoming launch at Buddies will include a panel discussion called Endangered Species: Culture Writing in Canada, which is about “where culture writing is going in this country,” Vaughan says. “If you notice now, there are very few spaces where the arts are covered anymore. It’s all celebrities and all pop culture, and I’m kind of interested in how that balance has shifted.” The panel will be comprised of media luminaries, including Rita Zekas of the Toronto Star, Amish Morrell of C Magazine, Anne Kingston of Macleans, Russell Smith of The Globe and Mail and Lauren McKeon of This Magazine. “The people on the stage will be very well-known cultural commentators, but it’s very rare that you get to see them and hear them speak,” Vaughan says.