Calls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pull subsidies from a sympathetic, conservative magazine appear to have fallen on deaf ears. It is not surprising — nor should we be outraged.
It’s the latest foray into the world of subsidizing moral righteousness, but this time with a twist. It’s a progressive, rather than a social conservative, who is the hatchet man. In December, Liberal Senator Vivienne Poy took issue with a Maclean’s article about white students who are shying away from universities with a reputation of having a high percentage of Asian students. The article, ham-fisted as it was, so incensed Poy that she wrote to Heritage Minister James Moore and asked him to yank federal funds for the mag.
Denouncing the article, or the magazine as a whole, is fine by me (it’s fun, even), but let’s not go down the road of supplying or withholding funds based on whether folks are offended by what’s produced. When it comes to arts, culture and the media, politicians must do their best to keep subsidies content-neutral.
Ideally, bureaucrats would distinguish who gets funding based on the size of a festival, say, not on whether it’s a rodeo or a comic convention. They may distinguish based on the quality of the art or artist (however difficult that is), but not because she paints landscapes rather than male nudes.
This is doubly important for news magazines like Maclean’s. If a $1.5 million line item were contingent on producing Harper-friendly content, it would be… well, I’m not sure how it would change Maclean’s, actually, but you can imagine that it would act as a countersink to criticism.
Now, don’t confuse this with an endorsement of Maclean’s. If you ask me if I think Maclean’s is a good publication, I’ll tell you I don’t. It’s been particularly, punishingly bad this year, and not just because of the “Too Asian?” article. See the G20 “Lock Em Up” cover, or the Maury Povich-inspired out-of-control-teens story for further examples.
Incidentally, Maclean’s declared Dec 9 that this was a banner year for gays, because of Glee, Lady Gaga, George Smitherman and the US move to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Perhaps they could add the Ontario gay blood donor case to the mix (they applauded when Kyle Freeman lost earlier this year). The near-unravelling of Pride Toronto? The endless parade of gay suicides and a string of gaybashings in Vancouver? The failure to pass trans rights legislation federally or provincially? The continued criminalization of gay sex through HIV prosecutions? The gay-segregation of G20 detainees? No? Okay then.
Gays ought to — and mostly do — feel strongly about cultural funding, since when controversy erupts about subsidies to a particular artist, work or festival, it’s usually gay, or sexual, or both. We’re often targeted as examples of bad, degenerate or children-corrupting cultural creators.
Take the battle over C-10, which would have given the minister of heritage the power to deny tax credits to films if she didn’t like the premise. The battle reached fevered pitch after evangelical lobbyists denounced funding for the PG gay comedy Breakfast with Scot and, more famously, the sex farce Young People Fucking. The Conservatives eventually conceded defeat, but only after then-heritage minister Josée Verner was caught on tape admitting that she personally opposed the clause.
In Montreal, the Black and Blue Festival — a leather-themed gay circuit party — received economic spinoff cash from the feds until Harper’s 2006 victory. Since then, they’ve failed to qualify, on the basis that the festival isn’t “family friendly,” terminology that’s often used to pan gay events.
Finally, artists — led by gay poet John Barton—opposed changes to the Canadian Magazine Fund in 2008. Those changes shut out most small magazines from accessing the fund, in favour of bigger shops like Maclean’s. Part of that package was a decision to change the formulas for gay mags, essentially shutting the door on Xtra’s sister magazine, fab, and Calgary’s Outlooks.
All of this takes us to an awkward place. If we’re consistent in our moral outrage, this time we must aim it at Poy, and her well-meaning, progressive-sounding letter-writing campaign, rather than at the nasty, conservative rag she targeted.
Marcus McCann is the managing editor of Xtra.