“There’s a revolution going on and we’re on the wrong side”, Paisley Rae says to me over dinner. She and I have been talking about what we always talk about when we meet up, politics. This time around it’s about the state of affairs in Canada. More specifically, what Paisley thinks is a slow and steady shift to the political right for the country’s voting public. There’s a lot of merit to that claim, given the recent municipal election win of right-winger Rob Ford to Toronto’s top seat, the rise of conservative Tim Hudak, who has set his sights on Ontario’s premiership in the next provincial election, and a federal Conservative minority government that us lefties haven’t been able to shake in what seems like donkeys years.
I don’t want to agree with her and it shows. I tell her that the average person is becoming more conservative as a response to the credit crisis and currently responding well to any austere measures proposed or made by government. Socially, people have shifted to the right because of 9/11 and all the bombing attempts since (Bear in mind that I’m saying this through mouthfuls of house salad, and not with the polished cadence you are reading here).
But I have to face facts, there is no denying that things have gotten more conservative up here in Canuckistan, and throughout the developed world, for that matter, but – as awful as this may sound – I think there’s more to it than horrific events like 9/11 and economic disasters like the credit crisis. The societal fallout from the former and the spending habits of the developed world leading up to the latter are part of slow and gradual failure of the system as a whole.
First, take money-strapped public school systems that have been pressuring their teachers to push kids through school before they ready. When the students graduate – a good number of them semi-illiterate, according to the CBC – many will be unlikely to pick up another book again. Those students who go from highschool to college will do so to learn a skilled trade. Those that go on to university will choose majors that will land in careers that pay well. In either case, if any of college or university students take a course in the humanities (arts, literature, history) it will merely be for the elective, and not out of personal interest.
(Now, let me be clear by saying that going to university or college to secure a decent job is a perfectly reasonable and responsible choice to make. However, the point I want to get across is that the focus of an MBA or an electrician’s apprenticeship program is to train a student for a specific career path or trade; it is not meant to encourage personal introspection, critical thinking, or any kind of world perspective.)
Second, now that you have a population of people with a little bit to a lot of extra money/credit and not too much time for self-reflection or critical thinking, you couple them to a multi-billion dollar media industry designed to fascinate and titillate the viewers with shows about affluent people living fabulous and exciting lives (while simultaneously making the audience feel like crap about their own lives), all while streaming out the message “buy this and you will be happier” twenty hours a day seven days a week.
If you know where I am going with this, you might be saying to yourself that people aren’t really that manipulable. Yes, there are. I know this because I am as just as manipulable. I consider myself creative, well-read, reasonably level-headed and non-materialistic. I don’t have cable TV so I don’t have the exposure to commercials that most people do, but nevertheless, I get envious of friends who have bigger homes and nicer cars. And although I don’t care much for expensive gadgets, I walk into an Apple store and I suddenly feel like a kid in a…well…candy apple store (I really want a new Ipod Nano! The touch-screen is so cool!) In regards to scaring easily, I’ll tell you that more and more these days the news stresses me out to the point where I seek shelter in my Mp3 player on the way to work in the morning. It’s so much easier just to tune in to mindless, mind-numbing melodies than to face the REAL music.
Now, imagine a whole population of people, who just want to tune out the world completely, as well as no way of addressing there darker inner thoughts and fears. If you can imagine this, then you can imagine an under-informed population, easily spooked by news reports about terrorists, and whose only outlet from this fear – as well as from day to day stresses – is to either get home and smother their worries in the latest episode of Modern Family, or go to the mall and buy a flatscreen for the kitchen.
Add all these factors together and what do you get? Well, on one particular day a year, you get something like this:
Think my theory is a bit of a stretch so far? I find it very difficult how else to explain a crowd of well-fed people would behave this way. These aren’t mobs alcohol-enraged football fans, neither are they throngs of people escaping the fire of gunman. These are shoppers.
TV and shopping are the mirror and the security blanket for such a populace. The former is the gateway to the luxurious lives that have ever been denied it. The latter is a weekly or daily taste of the pleasure, security and control the members of the population would have in such a life. Both are fantasies held together by buying power. Take away a person’s buying power, fragile as it is in these trying times, and you take away a good chunk of their identity. In another Youtube video, the narrator describes how people in the states are so desperate for cash they are turning their houses into restaurants. My reaction to this is not one of sympathy for the home-owner-come-restaurateur, but one of frustration towards the patrons: If things are so tight that you can’t afford even McDonalds, why not just stay home and save your money? The answer is that other than TV, buying stuff is the only outlet these people possess. It’s all they’ve been taught.
So Paisley, to respond to your statement in a rather roundabout way I would say: no wonder there’s been a shift to the right. The zeitgeist of today is busy trying to reconcile the glorious spending sprees of the past with the thinner wallets of the present. It has little time for thoughts about safety nets and social programs, public community centres and light rail transit. And this zeitgeist, paranoid about terrorists and worried about its latest Visa bill, has very little patience for those liberals that would entertain thoughts of diverting any of its remaining spending money to fund such things.