Monday, April 14, 2008

Michael Coren Is W.J. Keith's Half Brother.

Michael Coren's an interesting study. He's a muscular Christian, interested in facts, yet he adheres to tradition as if its roots weren't buried deep in European sand. He has an almost Panglossian fondness for the past--which he sees as a time when morality reigned and everyone knew their place--and he's not too fond of the present. It's a simplistic philosophy that typifies most conservatives, and, like everything, it's not all-wrong.

He also believes in the literal truth of the Bible, the Immaculate Conception and the Resurrection, and the 1950s. The earth might be 10,000 years old; he's not sure yet. (Six months ago he had a creationist debate an evolutionist. The creationist insisted that the earth was around 10,000 years old. Coren didn't seem to buy it, but he was unusually quiet.)

Fine. All that's OK. I don't agree with much of it, but I'm not opposed to intelligent morality, and I think the Ten Commandments are a good thing. Coren's probably the most learned of all Toronto commentators, and he usually does a good job at discussing what needs to be discussed. Plus he'll actually delve into facts that aren't PC. And, as long as they're facts, that's fine.

Yet here's what bothers me: Coren, who was born in the UK, is a British snob in the mould of some of our finest, most imperalist cultural villains. Discussing a government bill that would cut funding to arts projects that violate the Criminal Code, Coren said the following: "It's not like they're not giving money to Chaucer, Shakespeare...or even Marlowe."

Chaucer? Shakespeare? Marlowe? Are you kidding. This is Canada. It's 2008. The English Renaissance aesthetic is dead. Let's be realistic.

Earlier in the broadcast he'd spoken about "mediocre Canadian writers" like Farley Mowat and Mordecai Richler. Coren's opinion is that the government should stop giving money to the arts. Canadians don't sell many Canadian books; Canadians don't watch many Canadian films. That's true. And, like many of Coren's points, there's a decent logic to his bent. But seeing that his evaluation of Canadian writing seems to be based on the Fadiman scale, what kind of point is he looking to win? In writing, as in art, it's not Faulkner or nothing. (Coren probably thinks Faulkner's ungrammatical--and he's certainly not British--so I'll use someone else.) It's not Coleridge or nothing.

Unfortunately, people don't read literature. Just like people don't know much about A.J. Casson--sorry, another Canadian...Just like people don't know much about Joshua Reynolds. But I think we should probably keep Robert Kroetsch and Thomas King. If we have to use Canada Council money to keep them in Kraft Dinner, then do it. It's not like that money's going into the mattress. It'll be spent; taxes will be collected. It's not going to end up in a wood stove.

Coren generally disparages anything and everything that's Canadian. Canadian teachers are bad. Canadian universities are bad and "hand out PhDs!" (The average PhD completion time in Ontario is seven years. The percentage of candidates who complete: 52.) Canadians are stupid.

Again, all partial truths. You really make yourself look like a fool when you generalize. Some teachers are bad; some Canadians are stupid. Some Canadian writers and painters are mediocre. But not all of them.

Coren reminds me of W.J. Keith and John Metcalf--and not just because they're all Brits. It's the self-righteous, omniscient attitude he takes toward everything of which he is not a valued part. Or, in other words, if he doesn't like it, it's bad. So those leftists in the arts community dislike him? Well, according to Coren, Sarah Polley's a bad actor, a very bad actor. And Canadian directors are bad...And Canadian musicians are bad...That'll show them.

But Claire Hoy, a man who, in Fiction and Other Truths, a documentary on Jane Rule, is filmed explaining why gay men shouldn't be allowed to teach in Canadian high schools...well, he's ok. Why? Because Coren likes him.

And York University? Well, when Belinda Stronach was crossing the floor, Coren talked about Stronach's degree from York. York's 50,000 students were fools. Why? Because the school would graduate anything with a pulse. He wants the Academy. Oxford entrance exams. Know your Greek. I guess York's Yale-educated profs are just that much more slack-jawed than NYU's Yale-educated profs. I guess curves are a Canadian thing.

And Coren's writing? He publishes in The Sun. The Toronto Sun. That's a sports section wrapped in j-school copy and AP blurbs. It's the least literate of Toronto's many dailies. But Coren doesn't or can't say much about that.

It's disappointing because Coren can do better than that. Or, at least, he should. John Moore does.

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