Monday 4 June 2012

Luka Magnotta, Out of the Blue, and why I believe Jan Wong is still out to lunch in the land of denial

I’d always followed Jan Wong’s career because I found her writing consistently interesting: her books about China and her tragic flirtation with Maoism—now there’s teenage rebellion carried to extreme—her work as a journalist there during the Tiananmen era, her articles about going undercover as a domestic worker, the occasional “Lunch With” columns, etc. etc. etc.

And then there was her work about the Dawson College shooting.

My son was at Dawson College on Sept. 13, 2006--a date “that will live in infamy” in my overloaded cranium, I’m afraid--and I’ve written about the Dawson shooting, too. But my slant was on the necessity for more and better gun control—Lepine, Fabrikant, and Gill all managed to legally purchase their lethal weapons—why were guns so easily available to these men?

Unlike Jan Wong, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the “why” of the shootings:

My response is not to launch a fruitless inquiry into the “root causes” of this catastrophic occurrence. I couldn't care a whit whether the perpetrator of last Wednesday's atrocities was refused academic admission to Dawson College, whether he was bullied as a child, either in school or at home. I think it's irrelevant if he grew up with a chip on his shoulder because of some imagined slight, or even if he or his family suffered in the past from some form of persecution, be it real or imagined, in Canada or elsewhere.

To me, there can be no mitigating factors for murder, whether the locus of attack is a college campus in downtown Montreal, a nightclub in Tel Aviv, a skyscraper in New York City, or some parched crossroads among the rubble of Afghanistan. Murder is murder is murder. Each one should fall under the rubric of “hate crime.”

But I’ve always had a feeling there’s something wrong with Jan Wong’s approach to the world, something I couldn't quite put my finger on, but something that made me uneasy nonetheless. Maybe she’s the sort of person who would be great in a war zones or in places undergoing great upheaval, but who can’t make a go of it in the quiet of everyday life in Canada. Too bristly, always looking for a way to make misery out of nothing.

A person obsessed with the notion that the main point of journalism is to afflict the comfortable.

In which case I doubt I will ever be a journalist, because I believe most people are fundamentally good, even if they’re comfortable (though look how far that attitude got Anne Frank…or Blanche Dubois!).

When shots rang at Dawson, the third-generation Montrealer was the logical go-to for a big feature. Under tight deadline, Wong observed that the Dawson shooter, and the shooters at the École Polytechnique and Concordia, were children of immigrants. All three, she wrote, “had been marginalized in a society that valued pure laine,” argot for “pure” francophones: “Elsewhere, to talk of racial ‘purity’ is repugnant. Not in Quebec.”

…[Wong] still contends she was misunderstood. She fishes in her knapsack for a piece of paper with the contentious paragraph. “Everybody is saying I said they shot people because of Bill 101. Where does it say that? I never said that!”

Let me make an admission here: unlike Anne Kingston, or Wong’s laudatory apologist Heather Mallick (who, unbelievably, is mentioned in the Out of the Blue preface and still managed to get a column published in The Toronto Star about Wong’s new “workplace divorce memoir”), I am not Jan Wong’s friend; I’ve never met her. However, I am both similar to and different from Jan Wong: a non-pure laine third generation Quebecer, albeit one who never left Quebec.

And, seriously, Wong as the go-to person? Why didn’t they use a Quebec-based journalist? Surely The Globe and Mail had some….

I found the episode as facilely presented in the above articles, and on Wong’s website and youtube video , very disturbing, and not at all as I recalled it. I know I was hopping mad about Wong’s article when I read it at the time and remember firing off an infuriated letter to the editor in response.

So from the bowels of the internet, I pulled up the article Wong wrote about the Dawson College shootings.

Wong makes it sound like the origin of the uproar was a single sentence in the 3,000+ words of her 2006 article. But the truth is, she spent over 400 words on this whacko analysis: not a throw-away sentence but a major integral part of her piece. Her thesis is clearly that Quebec’s emphasis on ethnic/racial purity is profoundly alienating and is part of the explanation for Kimveer Gill’s—and Marc Lepine’s, and Valery Fabrikant’s--murderous rampages.

So I’ve been wondering when she’ll see fit to ascribe alleged cannibal killer Luka Magnotta’s rampage on Bill 101 and Quebec racism, too? Or maybe it’s our lack of acceptance of alt lifestyles that pushed him over the edge? Oh wait—Quebec is a Canadian leader in acceptance of gay lifestyles, so maybe that won’t wash. What about the psychology behind the Robert Picton, Homolka-Bernardo, or Russell Williams affairs? Any zany thoughts on the psychosociality of those criminals? Either she’s learned her lesson (though she denies it) or it’s only in Quebec that such links occur.

I remember reading Wong’s 2006 article and thinking both she and her editor deserved to be fired over it. It read like the ravings of some anglo-Quebec dinosaur from the Equality Party, not the purview of Canada’s newspaper of record.

I’m no great friend of the Société Saint Jean Baptiste--or of Bill 101--but I believe the fury that rained down on Jan Wong and The Globe and Mail as a result of her article was deserved, if in some measure disproportionate. Self-inflicted, even.

And if anyone in the article deserves to be skewered as racist, surely it was Jan herself:

For security reasons — security of the equipment — that is, the computer lab had three vast windows that looked onto the hall. All 50 or so students hit the floor, everyone that is, except for a couple of students who continued working at their computers. Were they Asian?

“Everyone asks me that,” says Alex laughing, much later, from the safety of his home. “One was a white guy who was writing an essay. The other was a black guy who was searching the Internet.” 
Maybe she thought she was being funny, or that this was QED--highlighting Montrealers’ racism.

I haven’t read her new book, Out of the Blue, but if the premise is that her depression came “out of the blue,” I’m afraid Jan Wong is still out to lunch in the land of denial. And I’m not talkin’ Egypt here.

Jan Wong’s depression sounds to me to have been pretty well self-inflicted, and I say this in sorrow and as a person not wholly unacquainted with depression. That The Globe and Mail used whatever pretext it did to fire her—and, eventually, editor Edward Greenspon--doesn’t surprise me. The article should have been rejected or those damning 400 words altered.

Wong’s book-long skewering of The Globe for firing her reminds me of the standard definition of chutzpah: a young man who murdered both his parents throwing himself on the mercy of the court because he's an orphan.

It was about her judgement. It was about her editor’s inability to save her from herself.

Maybe Wong's editor Edward Greenspon should have borne the brunt of the ire. Her writing crossed the line. As a seasoned journalist, a deadline doesn't qualify as an excuse when the result is provincial character assassination. It was her editor's job to rein her in, to correct her lapses. Another epic fail. Her remarks revealed an appalling ignorance of and lack of respect for the evolution of Quebec society over the past 30 years. Not to mention the sort of pseudo-intellectualizing that would have been shot down in a CEGEP termpaper. If there was still a CEGEP term, I mean.

I'm sure The Globe and Mail would’ve had a hard time printing an article--even one of "analysis" or "opinion"--that baldly asserted Marc Lepine's murderous instincts were the result of his Algerian Arab heritage. How, then, could it justify tarring an entire neighbouring community of millions of people?

A former colleague puts it another way: “The instincts that led her to Maoism in her early years never left her personality.” 

Yeah, I'll say.

And if you think this post is hard on her or if you’d like to really see Wong skewered, you should read  this Warren Kinsella’s blog post which starts with “What a load of deepest Annex bullshit” and proceeds to this conclusion:

Jan Wong is scum. She is human garbage. I was delighted to hear that the Globe eventually severed their relationship with her. And I am equally delighted that she continues to drown in her own bile, and her own irrelevance.

As long as I live, I will never forgive Jan Wong for what she did to our family.  May her misery be long and deep.

Kinsella’s diatribe links to the origins of his problem with Jan Wong in the piece “Eat this Jan Wong.”

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