Winnie The Pooh And Bieber, Too


I’ve seen some hardcore people in my time, but for the record, Justin Bieber isn’t one of them.  Except — oops! — apparently, he is.  Last week, the powers-that-be in the People’s Republic of China banned Bieber for — uh — “bad behaviour.”  (So, play nice, children — or China spank.)  Actually, with lyrics like “Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby” I can see China’s point, but just how subversive can a punk kid from Canada be?  Canada is, after all, the Land of the Bland.  We say “Sorry” as a greeting.  Of course, this comes hard on the heels of China’s banning that other badass, Winnie the Pooh*.  I’m still laughin’ about that one.  Bieber now joins a pretty select group of notorious troublemakers.  They include Harrison Ford (who, as Han Solo, was indeed, a member of the Rebel Alliance) Brad Pitt (who once made a movie called Seven Years in Tibet, a place China says doesn’t exist) and Richard Gere because — well — Richard Gere.  They’ve also banned Sharon Stone, but it’s just her movies that are unwelcome in the Middle kingdom. She can show up anytime (assuming she keeps her legs crossed.)

Over the years, along with Iran and North Korea, China has been in the forefront of state-sponsored censorship.  They’ve banned — or thrown in prison — all the usual suspects: poets, painters, writers, Nobel Prize winners, and generally anybody with an opinion who doesn’t keep their head down.  They’ve also banned Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and all the other stalwarts of Western social media — plus a myriad of Western movies and television programs — including, oddly enough, The Big Bang Theory. (I guess Sheldon is a jackass in any language.)  Of course, like all dictatorships, China has also bans books — thousands and thousands of books — and I suppose this is where things get serious.  However, I have a lot of trouble not laughing at a regime that feels the need to ban Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.  I can just hear the proclamation:
Will you ban Green Eggs and Ham?
Yes, I’ll ban it, if I can
I will ban it in Beijing
I will ban it in Nanjing
I will ban it here and there
I will ban it everywhere
Yes, I’ll ban Green Eggs and Ham
In Hong Kong, Szechuan and Hunan

*BTW, Winnie the Pooh’s offence was that people were using him as a caricature of President Xi Jinping, the guy who’s currently sitting on the Dragon Throne and running the show on the Yangtze.  Clearly, dictators don’t like people laughing at them.

SOPA: What’s it all about?

It’s no surprise that the huge anti-SOPA/PIPA Internet protest on Wednesday caught a lot of people under the chin.  This included several American lawmakers who weren’t aware that the Internet is more than a bunch of geeky guys (the kind they pushed around in high school) playing video games in their parents’ basements.  These senators and congressmen (persons of congressness?) woke up Wednesday morning to discover there is a power in this world that they can only fantasize about.  They also discovered that Washington, DC is actually connected to the rest of the country.  Most of them probably had to sit down for a minute to take it all in.  Regardless, chances are good SOPA and PIPA are dead, and the only side effect is the American government may shut down for a while as frightened lawmakers make themselves scarce in the face of an angry mob of lobbyists.  Ah, democracy!  Ya gotta love it!

The thing that surprises me, however, is why people didn’t see this coming.  The battle for information didn’t just start last Tuesday, nor, for that matter, is it over today.  These are just the most recent shots fired in a war that’s been going on since our hairiest ancestors learned how to grunt.  And, BTW, although cries of censorship look good on bumper stickers and make terrific sound bytes, make no mistake: this current battle has nothing to do with banning content.  It’s all about who gets to use the content available, and how.  This is a battle between old media and new media, just like it was seven centuries ago when minstrels found out Gutenberg was printing more than just Bibles.  They didn’t like it because they were about to be put out of business.  Fast forward to 2012 and it’s Hollywood vs Silicon Valley.  Plus ca change!

If you’re still confused, let me break it down for you.  We need to go way back to caveman days, when life, although very similar to ours, was a whole lot simpler.  This is how the media worked back then and it’s how it still works today.

It all started one night when Grog, the Caveman, was lying around the fire, burping up mastodon and wondering what to do with his spare time.  Mrs. Grog probably said something innocuous like, “How was your day, dear?” and Grog proceeded to tell her.  Bada-bing, bada-boom, the world changed.  It was the original “Shooting a Mastodon” story, and although Grog was no George Orwell, the family was enchanted.   Pretty soon, Grog was doing story night twice a week.  Word got around.  After all, Cro-Magnons didn`t have all that much to do after dark.  So, instead of just sitting there, watching the in-laws pick fleas off each other, the neighbours would pack up the kids, grab the Cro-Magnon equivalent of popcorn and head on over to Grog’s cave for some entertainment.   In essence, Grog controlled the media; they were his stories and he told them well.

As I’ve said, despite what anthropologists will tell you, Cro-Magnons were not that much different from us.  They liked a good story; therefore, Grog became something of a celebrity.  The locals started treating him differently – first bite off the bone, closest seat at the fire, that sort of thing.  Grog had a good gig going on.  Enter Cro-Magnon #2 (we’ll call him Eddie for clarity; that’s not his real name.)  Eddie was pretty smart for a Cro-Magnon, given the limitations of his receding forehead.  Eddie saw Grog acting like the world’s first Rock Star and he wanted a piece of that.  He decided that he could tell stories, too.  However, the Cro-Magnon world was limited, there really weren’t that many stories yet, and Grog was already telling them all.  Eddie needed a hook; a reason for people to abandon Grog and come and hear Eddie’s stories (even though they’re basically the same.)   Fortunately, Eddie was kind of a caveman Stephen Jobs, and he figured out that, if he added pictures to the stories even the hillbilly Neanderthals down the road would be snarling around, trying to get in.  So Eddie drew a bunch of pictures on the walls of his cave to illustrate the stories he was telling: the first multimedia presentation.  Suddenly, Eddie was the guy you wanted to see in Cro-Magnon town when the sun went down.  Grog, on the other hand, had three options; go back to being a nobody mastodon hunter, go over and kick the snot out of Eddie or draw his own pictures and get better stories.  Luckily, he chose door number three because, if he hadn’t, we’d all be watching Mastadon Hunt MMMXCVI, in 3D.

It’s way more complicated these days, but the same rules apply.  When things change, the media has to change to accommodate them.  Those who do, survive; those who don’t, go under.  Running crybaby to the government is only delaying the inevitable.  If the large media corporations think that’s a reasonable solution, they’re all going to end up like Eastman Kodak, hunting around like a bunch of cavemen, looking for bankruptcy protection.

The Gunboats of Diplomacy

I’m not one to cling to a dead horse, so I’m reluctant to revisit the problem with censorship in this country.  However, I think somebody has got to clear up a gross misunderstanding that is affecting the debate.  Last week, the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council banned Dire Straits’ song “Money for Nothing” from the public airwaves.  It is now illegal to broadcast this song in Canada.  Also, last week, Library and Archives Canada cancelled a screening of Raphael Shore’s film about Iran’s nuclear program, called Iranium.  Instantaneously, the “lefties are ruining the country” club connected the dots and knee-jerked themselves into a frenzy.   According to them, these two events had triggered the end of the world — the crack of doom was clearly visible, liberty was dead and Jack Layton was going to rule the Earth as Satan’s evilest minion.   Folks, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, shut up.  These two events are totally unrelated, and your yipping and whining is muddying the water for real people who want to fix this stuff.  Here’s what’s really going on.

“Money for Nothing” was banned because somebody in the Loud and Proud crowd got bored one afternoon and decided to be outraged, 25 years after the fact.  (The song is a quarter of a century old and Dire Straits hasn’t even been a band for over 15 years.)  The bureaucrats at CBSC probably got tired of all the phone calls and e-mails and decided, “Okay, let’s just ban the damn thing so we can get some peace and quiet around here.”  Everybody was duly shocked — again — at how much power Politically Correct has in Canada.  However, nobody was willing to stand up to these bullies, and the world kept spinning.  Library and Archives Canada’s decision to cancel the screening of Iranium is seriously different.  Let me explain.

In the good old days people, with boats and guns (mostly Europeans) ran the world, and they told the people without boats and guns (everybody else) just exactly how they wanted things done.  This was called “gunboat diplomacy” and in case you were sleeping in Mr. McClellan’s history class, here’s how it worked.  Country A would anchor a gunboat in the harbour of Country B.  A minor diplomat would tell the local potentate to do as he was told or else the boat in the harbour was going to open fire, and keep shooting until everybody came around to Country A’s point of view.  King Whoever, of Country B, really didn’t have much choice in the matter because he didn’t have any boats or guns, so he usually agreed to whatever Country A wanted.

Flash forward 200 years, and gunboat diplomacy has never really gone away.  It’s just changed slightly.  These days, Country A says something like “I don’t want to see any more Moslem cartoons.”  They back up their demands with threats of riots, murder and suicide bombings.  Country B doesn’t want to see murder and mayhem on their streets, so they quietly agree.  They make up some crap about diversity and inclusion to save face, but in the end, they do as they’re told.  One of the most famous cases of 21st century “gunboat diplomacy” was when the TV show South Park was going to depict Mohammed in an upcoming episode.  They received several hundred e-mails saying — in no uncertain terms — that was not a good idea.   The creators of the show decided it was safer to pick on Tom Cruise’s religion than Osama Bin Laden’s and they changed the episode.  Diplomacy works.

Now let’s move over to the situation at Library and Archives Canada.  They were scheduled to show the film Iranium, a documentary about Iran’s nuclear program.  The Iranian government disagreed with the tenor of the movie and their embassy sent a letter to the Library, requested the screening be cancelled.  Immediately afterwards, according to spokesperson Pauline Portelance, the federal institution began receiving e-mails and phone calls from “members of the public” who threatened to protest, and when these threats became “serious” and a couple of suspicious packages showed up at the door, Library and Archives Canada decided it had some “security concerns” (where have we heard that before?) and did, indeed, cancel the screening.  Call it what you will, but it looks to me like Country A made its point.

That would have been the end of it except for Jim.  I don’t know anything about Jim except he strikes me as an ordinary guy.  He’s from New Westminster, he has a dog and apparently he doesn’t like to get pushed around.  In another life, Jim is Heritage Minister James Moore in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, and he used his political power wisely and ordered Library & Archives Canada to show the film.  He told them to address the security concerns but show the film.  He is adamant that the film must be shown.  I don’t think he’s ever seen it; I don’t think he even cares what’s in it.  But he understands that it’s time to quit kowtowing to threats of violence and do the right thing.

Finally to clear up any misunderstanding, these are two completely different situations, with two completely different results.  One is a perfect example of Canada’s ongoing inability to act like adults; whereas, the other is Country A trying to tell Country B what to do.  So, for all those people who want to sit on their hands and moan around playing “Ain’t it awful,” do something about it or go listen to Dire Straits on YouTube.  Me?  I’m going to party with folks like Jim.