Saturday, July 19, 2008

Our dinner with Rex Murphy

After a while, a curmudgeon ceases to be amusing, and is just an old grump, best avoided. (Seize your chance, O conservative readers! I don't normally play straight man for you lot.)

I'm referring to Rex Murphy. He's traded on his professional surliness for years, and has managed to persuade the unlettered that his florid, overwrought, denunciatory prose is stylish wordsmithery. His voice grates: I haven't been able to listen to Cross-Canada Check-Up for years without wincing. He's the loud, complaining relative at a Christmas dinner. We used to love him, or so we tell ourselves; now we don't know why we keep inviting him.

Today Rex has a column that promised to be about the recent New Yorker cartoon controversy. To tell the truth, I was mildly interested in reading it, having been seized of that issue myself. But instead, the foofarah due south of us proved to be an excuse to ride one of his favourite hobby-horses these days--our evil human rights commissions. Those of us with tiresome relatives know this ploy all too well. "Nice day today, eh, gramps?" "Sure, not that the damn human rights commissions care. They're too busy taking away our freedoms." That sort of thing.

And, like that nightmare old gaffer at the family feast, he gets everything wrong, too. I don't mean referring to his fellow windbag, Ezra Levant, as "genial and courageous," either, facing a "still unfinished quarry [sic]," or even taking as gospel Ezra's dubious claim that he's spent a six-figure sum defending himself against the Muslim hordes. It's that he so clearly cannot grasp what actually goes on in these forums, or how the system operates. He hauls in Kafka, of course, and titters about the respondents in several cases--"heckled comedians, school boards, fast-food joints, school-prom nights" and so on--but shows no indication that he is familiar with the details of any of these cases, or is even aware of the nature of the complaints.

For example, the "heckled comedian" misnomer refers to an alcohol-fueled confrontation in a comedy bar in which an inebriated comic, departing from his script, hurled homophobic abuse at some apparently obnoxious and equally intoxicated customers who happened to be lesbian. Everyone's sympathy, it seems, is on the side of the outraged entertainer: there's even a fundraiser for him in Toronto this evening. In our society, some forms of hatred are worse than others: had the tough customers been Jewish, for example, and his remarks crudely anti-Semitic, well....As it is, though, this one isn't remotely likely to be upheld, and it's yet another argument for an early screening process, but so far nothing has happened.

Yet Rex says, "[t]he really funny joke in all of the dreary fact that comedians are the latest targets of Canada's human rights commissions....[t]he mirthless sitting in adjudication over the mirth-makers, telling Canadians what they're allowed to laugh at."

Has he been smoking too much flipper? (Surely you don't eat those things.) Human rights commissions haven't even entered the fray. Two people have complained. That's it, that's all. Nor did the substance of the complaint have anything whatsoever to do with stand-up comedy. We aren't talking off-colour jokes here, but that meme has swallowed its Red Bull and taken off at speed. This is similar to the bogus claim of martyr-wannabe Kathy Shaidle that she's "being taken to court for criticizing Canada's 'Human Rights' Commissions." Like hell she is, but she's got a lot of people believing it.

Never fear. The rug is about to be pulled out from under these folks, and with luck, although we never seem to have any, there's a yawning chasm beneath. The Maclean's case (Mark Steyn is not a respondent, but I've made the same error myself) is going to be tossed. Ditto the comedy tag team drinking match. But, like falling crime statistics, this will bring no joy to the hearts of the frightful grumblers in our midst. All we can do is pass them plates and napkins, and try to change the subject.

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