Toronto
2 min

Shopping for freedom?

Shame on you. Steal it, instead

SHAME. 'Pride' show puts it in perspective. Credit: Xtra files

Has the gay movement subtly morphed into a corporate-endorsed lifestyle? Replete with product endorsements at every turn, is our identity defined more through consumerism than the gains and setbacks of over two decades of activism and AIDS?



So asks Toronto artist and filmmaker Will Monro, who organized a small agit-prop style exhibition of artworks in the basement of Who’s Emma, the anarchist bookstore in Kensington Market. In an attempt to reclaim some of the activist and anti-mainstream sentiments and ideals that defined gay political movements in the early days, Gay Shame was organized to coincide with Gay Pride – its dark cloud, you could say.



The art is low-tech and diverse. A T-shirt with the logo “Queer is not a commodity” from a More Than Music Punk Festival in Ohio is simply displayed. Stickers and posters with slogans like “If you can’t make your own, don’t buy gay culture – steal it!” are scattered about.



Pages from ‘zines are mounted onto the wall, including a collage-piece by Luis Jacob and Barbra Fisch, an illustrated story about gay flag burning in San Francisco (“Fag Burns Flag” from Monstar Blab) and a letter to Fab magazine from Scott Treleaven, who publishes the ‘zine, Salivation Army. The letter hilariously derides Fab for its insipidness and vacuity, which only elicits a bemused, uncomprehending editorial response.



Michael Barker contributed four cardboard cut-outs on sticks that are cartoonish satires of the stereotypical muscle queen – three of them are heads, one is simply a flexed bicep. A plastic gas-can out of which a Pride flag spirals upward like a flame by Jai Sarin is entitled Lighten Up.



The Pride flag is featured in other works. Monro has included two pieces of his own. One, entitled Consumer Pride, is a shopping bag made from the colours of the rainbow, another repositions it as a barcode. The reference is simple but direct: The enduring symbol of Pride has become a corporate logo, an emblem of nothing more than consumerism.



“The shame,” as a printed hand-out poster in the exhibit states, “is that a social movement allowed itself to be turned into a target market. Your pride = their profits.”



This critique, of course, is nothing new and has been gathering momentum for some time within the gay community as Pride has come to symbolism nothing more than a weekend of debauchery. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)



What makes Gay Shame ’99 worthwhile is its sampling of a culture you won’t see from flipping through the pages of Fab or Genre or any youth-oriented, ad-bursting magazine devoted to the sizeable gay market.



As such, the exhibition proposes an alternative identity, one more aligned with progressive and underground cultures defined through punk festivals, ‘zines, music scenes and cultural activities untainted by corporate endorsements and unfiltered through fashion.



The exhibition as a whole constitutes the assembled hardware for a political protest against the encroaching blanching of gay culture.



Gay Shame 1999.

Till Sat, Jul 17.

Who’s Emma.

691/2 Nassau St.

(416) 596-3354.