Sunday, September 28, 2008

Happiness is medieval manuscripts


My excuse for not blogging is that most of my free hours on the Internet have been spent browing the Medieval Bestiary. A perfect opportunity to learn about such creatures as the salamander (above), whose incredibly coldness can extinguish the hottest flames, the barnacle goose, a bird which grows from trees, and the hyena, which "eats human corpses and changes sex". Sure, it's a valuable resource to the works of Chaucer and other medieval writers, but mainly it's just really, really cool.

Of course, it's nice to have a window into the culture of the past when own culture seems to be falling down around our ears. The latest offensive against the arts has come from none other than Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who informed us while campaigning for re-election that "ordinary people don't care about the arts". The results were predictable - a well-reasoned counterargument from Margaret Atwood in the Globe and Mail, a pro-culture Facebook group with over 32,000 members, and passionate speeches from Canadian arts leaders. Yet I have the feeling that Harper's divide-and-conquer strategy may well work. He knows that no-one in the arts community was about to vote for him anyway, and in Quebec - where the public reaction against Harper's comments has been greatest - his popularity was already at rock-bottom. By playing the anti-elitism card, Harper is appealing to one of the uglier sides of the Canadian nature, and stands to score a number of political points by doing so. If his political opponents defend the economic value of the arts, or - horrors! - suggest that a thriving arts culture has some intrinsic value of its own, they can easily be painted as elitists, out of touch with the concerns of real Canadians. It's not a subtle technique - in fact, it's a shamefaced appeal to the worst parts of human nature - but this is the prime minister who rode to political power by promising a cut in the sales tax.

If Stephen Harper wins the October election, I have a sinking feeling that the CBC debacle will turn out to be only the beginning.

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