HAROLD BLOOM, NAOMI WOLF AND FEMINISM

Greetings,

Sexual politics on university campuses is never an easy topic. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult subjects for people to address, because it is loaded with terms like ideology and culture. But respect does come first above all else, regardless of which gender you are.

Feminist scholar/theorist Naomi Wolf alleged this week that respected Yale University English professor Harold Bloom put his hand on her thigh in the early 1980’s when she was an undergraduate at Yale. Naturally, this has brought out the mercenaries on both sides of the story, with Camille Paglia – whom has described Wolf as a “yuppie feminist” in the past – coming out against her. Bloom denies the allegation and is apparently considering his legal options.

This is a touchy area of debate, true enough. But one unsettling question lingers over this particular incident:

Why didn’t Wolf bring this incident to the attention of the Yale University administration back in 1983 when she was an undergraduate?

Now to be fair, any unwanted sexual advances by anyone at a university or anywhere in the professional world is wrong. If Bloom did this, he made a colossal error in judgment. But something is troubling about the way Wolf is dealing with this by writing a monolithic article in a local New York periodical, outlining how Bloom put his hand on her thigh and how his dealings with attractive female students are known to be somewhat “flirty.”

Wolf claims that phone calls to Yale went unanswered, and that she “owes other students” to tell the whole world about Bloom’s sexual advances to her. But if that were true, then we have to ask the question again: if she had a problem with it, why didn’t she address it when she was a student? Why now? Furthermore, who made Naomi Wolf the judge, jury and executor for Bloom? Why not conduct an independent investigation of her own (she is a journalist after all) and collect information from other former female students about Bloom before going public? That might make it possible to take her case more seriously.

In 1983, the cultures of universities were such that such actions by Bloom were not directly in contravention of the university’s code of conduct. Today, Bloom’s actions are disturbing and if he were to do such a thing in 2004, he would be most likely censured or possibly fired. Rightly so. But to make the jump, as Wolf has done, from 1983 to 2004 and assume that Yale’s code of conduct has not changed, or that the culture of disclosure regarding unlawful actions such as unwanted sexual advances remains closed and inaccessible is wrong. Wolf deserves criticism for this, but not the least of which is the fact her story on Bloom is different in her book Promiscuities, where she only refers to Bloom as “Dr. Johnson.” You can see the article here.

Wolf is exactly what Paglia says she is – a yuppie feminist that has taken a very bizarre route in dealing with Bloom. I read one of her books back in 1992 and it pretty much said the same thing that 2nd wave feminist scholars from the 1960’s wrote: women are victims and that is pretty much the long and short of it. That’s not an especially sophisticated argument and ignores a wide array of 3rd wave theorists regarding post-feminist victimization (or rather how it isn’t always the students who are victims – go ask any number of charismatic, brilliant scholars, male or female, about how they’ve been sexually pursued by their students). Indeed, empowerment is a long process for any historically disadvantaged group.

Yes, women have been victimized and continue to be victimized in professional environments. That injustice should always be addressed on university campuses, whether it is through campus harassment codes, feminist theory or otherwise. Universities have a duty to protect people from discrimination and harassment.

Of course, I have no doubt that Wolf has suffered in some capacity. Something obviously did happen to her. But context is important here: the actions of when and where are as important as who and why. Bloom probably wouldn’t do something like this today, but he obviously made a mistake in 1983. Should he be punished for something that happened during a time of radically new sexual politics, when the rules that govern behaviour between faculty and students were less defined in the terms they are today? Maybe, maybe not. Yet the conclusion here is that Wolf has made an error in judgment by decontextualizing the unreported incident until her great relevation of 2004, and Bloom made an error in judgment by putting his hand on Wolf’s thigh.

Advertisements

ESPIONAGE, 21st CENTURY STYLE

Greetings,

A real bombshell was announced today: there is a strong possibility that Britain may have bugged U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s office. The announcement came over the BBC, in which a former cabinet minister in British PM Tony Blair’s government, Clair Short, claimed that British intelligence bugged Mr. Annan’s office in the lead-up to last year’s war in Iraq.

Not only is this illegal (no country has the right to bug the Secretary-General’s office or any U.N. office for that matter), but it puts into serious doubt the credibility of the British government once again. It also undermines the U.N., for if a country which also happens to be a member of the permanent U.N. Security Council was actively seeking information in an illegal manner, then all aspects of the U.S.-U.K. lead coordination with the U.N. regarding the war in Iraq suddenly needs to be investigated. How much did British and American intelligence officials know about the U.N.’s position on Iraq *before* a case was made for invasion? This is yet another blow to Tony Blair and could cause some serious problems for him this year, given that the British people are going to the polls for a general election later this year.

FAKE JOURNAL: Every year, Golden Words, the humour paper of my alma mater, Queen’s University, and a place where I worked for a year, puts out a fake edition of the Journal. Of course, people always get fooled, mostly because they fail to read the whole paper and take articles they read out of context. Mostly it is to poke fun at how people can be manipulated by the media, as well as pointing out the lack of knowledge people have in relation to life on the campus. This year’s fake Journal was apparently a huge success. It’s amazing how even folks who have been on campus for two years or more get fooled – a colleague of mine who had gone on exchange for one year came back and was fooled by the fake Journal in my final year. At a meeting, she told us how upset she was over an article in the Journal and we all kind of looked at her like she was from Mars. My only response? “That was the fake Journal.”

Needless to say, she didn’t say another word about it. Truly amazing.

MP3 PLAYERS, LIBERALS, BLOGGING AND MEL GIBSON’S PASSION

Greetings,

MP3 players are the wave of the future, that’s for sure. The compact disc is entering its twilight years, for the rapid rise in digital technology has meant that stationary, physical media like the CD will no longer be used in the decades to come. No, we’re only just witnessing the rise of the MP3 (or .AAC or .WAV, for you techno-geeks like me out there) as the means in which for music to be produced and distributed. By 2009, there will likely be few artists out there producing their records exclusively in the CD format, if at all.

SPONSORSHIP SCANDAL: Yesterday, three Crown Corporation heads from VIA Rail, Canada Post and the Business Development Bank of Canada were suspended from duty. Today, there is talk that the Prime Minister wants to go ahead with a federal election this spring, regardless of whether or not we’ve had all the details regarding the scandal out in the open for the public.

I’m not sure if this is a wise strategy. The honeymoon period voters tend to have with new leaders ended about three weeks ago when this sponsorship scandal broke. The Liberals are dropping fast in the polls, which means even if an election was held tomorrow, the Liberals would most likely form a minority government. It might make more sense to wait, given that Canadians do want to know what happened, how it happened and who was directly involved. If Paul Martin can demonstrate that his government truly wants to clean up the ethical mess that this sponsorship scandal has revealed, then voters will respond to that. Otherwise, there’s a good chance voters won’t reward the Liberals on voting day.

BLOGGING: It’s only been in the last year that blogging has erupted into a mainsteam activity for wannabe pundits like myself. Still, it’s given the web a whole new means in which to be relevant to peoples’ lives. Sure, I’m not a blogger from when it was an extremely difficult activity and required vast amounts of technical know-how in order to post your inner thoughts. But it’s a fun hobby and something that shows how the internet is evolving. If you want to start a blog, click here.

MEL GIBSON: The reviews are coming in for The Passion of the Christ and it is decisively mixed. Yet one thing the critics are united on is the fact the film is one of the most violent in recent memory, and after the experience that was Kill Bill last year, that’s really saying something. Mel’s not known for making movies that are tame or gentle (Braveheart, all of the Lethal Weapon series as a few examples), but Mel is even going out into the public arena to advise people not to take anyone under the age of access, given that the film is rated R.

One thing I can assure you on: this film is going to make a lot of money. Christians, movie-goers and the curious-minded are going to see this film in droves around the world, given that it is spoken entirely in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic – there is not a word of English. Mel’s reputation as a thoughtful filmmaker (in spite of the violence in Braveheart, it was a brilliant film) may be knocked down a few notches after the film’s fallout, but he’ll recover.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

Greetings,

This Wednesday (Ash Wednesday, no less) marks the release of Mel Gibson’s long-awaited Jesus biopic, The Passion Of The Christ.

This film – produced through much of Gibson’s own money, as no Hollywood studio wanted to touch this project – is an assembling of all four Gospel texts, written by Luke, John, Mark and Matthew. The film also has some dramatic flourishes via Gibson himself, although he does not appear in the film. The film has aroused some significant controversy already, given that some Jewish theologians have said the film is anti-Semetic in some of its interpretations of the events surrounding Jesus’ death.

First off, Gibson does belong to a group of Catholics who do not support the Catholic Church’s reformation movement of the 1960’s, known from here on in as Vatican II or the Second Vatican Council. That movement was an attempt to modernize the Catholic Church via the use of local languages in conducting sermons and making the church more open and accountable. Gibson’s a traditionalist when it comes to his perspectives on Catholicism.

I’m not going to make any opinions until I see the film this week, although advance word is that the film is intensely violent and pulls no punches when it comes to portraying the grim realities of faith-based violence over 2000 years ago. That may be enough for certain people not to go see The Passion of the Christ, but I’m going to see it because, honestly, I’d rather see what the fuss is about and whether the film does a good job at keeping a fair, reasoned perspective on the people involved in Jesus’ life and death. We’ll see.

I’ll let you know what the verdict is shortly.

A-ROD, NORAH JONES AND THE WAITING GAME

Greetings,

A-ROD: I’ll say it once and say it again – the New York Yankees have proven that major league baseball is, next to hockey, the most economically unbalanced league in North America. The American League’s 2003 MVP’s trade to the Yankees from the Texas Rangers pretty much assures that it will be yet another battle between the Yanks and the Boston Red Sox for the American League East this season, with the Blue Jays finishing third (again).

NORAH JONES: I picked up Norah Jones’ CD the other day – it’s excellent, although not as fresh at her 2002 release Come Away With Me. This album is happier, smacking of a more upbeat urban vibe. It’s scary how much Jones has accomplished at the age of 24. She’s a huge talent and she’s only going to get bigger. Some people I know dislike her music intensely, mostly because it’s more “smooth jazz” and less of the authentic variety vis-a-vis Miles Davis, et al. I know if I want a truly avant-garde jazz experience, I won’t listen to Jones, true, but she manages to transcend genre and audiences to create a decisively modern sound without pretending to be something she isn’t.

WAITING FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL: One of the toughest things in life is waiting on the unknown. Currently, I’m awaiting the verdict on whether or not I’m heading off for school at Western or King’s. Not easy. Again, keep your fingers crossed for me. I’ll be hearing about Western soon and King’s hopefully by the end of March. You’ll be the first to know if I get in.

INTERNET DOWNLOADING

Greetings,

Brief interjection before I begin to discuss today’s topic: I’ve been struggling to write on various topics on my blog as of late, but I wholly encourage you to post comments on future blog postings.

Today, the Canadian Recording Industry Association is planning to request (and probably will get) access from Canada’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the names of 29 suspected internet file-sharers.

The Federal Court of Canada is now adjourned until March 12th, where the judge in the case can examine the technical requirements of the motion and how his ruling would affect privacy laws in Canada. Here’s an article on the case.

First off, here are the facts:

1) Downloading is legal in Canada. Uploading – whereby I have numerous files available for you to download – is not.

2) The Copyright Board of Canada has already ruled that P2P downloading is legal and we already pay a levy via CD-R discs, MP3 players and other digital devices to make up the losses incured via music downloading.

3) The new federal privacy laws which took effect on January 1st, 2004 will make any attempt by the CRIA to gain access to these peoples’ names and contact information difficult (although not impossible).

4) Canada does not, unlike in the U.S, have a legal equivalent of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Therefore, the rules on file-sharing in Canada are very murky and unclear, as opposed to the “all file-sharing is bad” mantra of American lawmakers.

Okay, those are the facts. Now here’s my opinion:

On one hand, file-sharing is essentially a violation of copyright law. You’re not recognizing intellectual property value, which is what happens when you get a song for free off the web.

However, the music industry has openly resisted digital technology since the get-go. The reality is that millions of people download music everyday, and that you can’t go back to the business model that has dominated the music industry since the 1950’s. That model consisted of taking an artist, producing one or possibly two hit albums, artists through contracts have to pay everyone off that was involved in the album’s production and marketing, and owning all rights to the artist’s work, catalogue and all intellectual property associated with that artist. In other words, it isn’t an especially fair system to the artists.

But that’s nothing compared to how, even after all these contractual obligations between artists and the record companies are dealt with, the companies price gouge the consumer. Since the advent of the web, CD burning, MP3 players, et al, we as consumers have realized how paying $20 for a Britney Spears disc, regardless of the quality, is simply too high. And we’ve been given that treatment for years, with record companies getting fabulously rich off artists and consumers’ backs.

The balance between the corporate interest and consumer choice needs to be brough back into sync.

This being said, companies like puretracks.com (which I wholly recommend – terrific site, although they only offer files in .wma format, which limits the product to Windows-users only) iTunes and other legal download sites are a step in the right direction. It shows that the music industry can see the future (albeit kicking and screaming) and it is via the web. But there are many artists and record labels that still openly resist this technology on the basis of not making a profit as they would have in the CD-only era. Maybe so. But with the growth of ringtones for cellphones, web sites and other newer (and cheaper) means in which to make money, it’s hard to make the argument that record companies are crying poor on the basis of the “all-mighty” MP3.

Or, there’s the last potential argument that I think is the right one: I don’t mind paying for a high-quality product – I already do. In fact, most consumers want to be on the right side of the law. However, it’s hard to argue against this common complaint against the music industry: the records we’ve bought over the years haven’t always been good, and the poor quality of records has only become magnified since the growth of the web as a digital medium. In many ways, the record industry has gotten rich off the consumer’s ignorance. We have tolerated poor records for years because we were willing to buy a record that contained maybe two, possibly three hit singles, and the rest of the record was insipid and terrible. This became an especially potent argument in the last few years of the 20th century. Remember the Backstreet Boys-N*SYNC-Britney Spears trifecta of “singles, singles and more singles” that became the music charts’ MO in 1999? Well, ask yourself this question: would you buy an album for $20 that had a few hit singles and little else? No. So it’s hardly unexpected that people would choose free over pay. In fact, maybe the internet has done what no market force could – the consumer is back in charge of what to pay for when buying music.

So I hope that this allows the music industry to re-examine its methodology on how it sells and makes music. I support the industry and I still love going into used record stores to find hidden gems, as well as spending some time on a Saturday afternoon in Sam’s on Yonge Street, a veritable palace of music.

However, technological progress will always replace old markets with new ones. The internet isn’t going away – the industry can either embrace the web, be digitally-savvy in their marketing techniques, produce better quality products, or the war between downloaders and the record companies will only get deeper and deeper.