Stirring the Pot -- Aug. 25, 2010
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Aug 25, 2010  |  Vote 0    0

Stirring the Pot -- Aug. 25, 2010

St. Marys Journal Argus

Where truth and being duped collide

It would be a easier if there was always a black-and-white line between being duped and being delivered the truth: if we instinctively knew whether it was right to detain dozens of Sri Lankans adrift for weeks at sea; whether a rich rap star/presidential candidate can bring good fortune to earthquake-ravaged Haiti; whether Justin Bieber has real talent aside from the hype created by his backers.As municipal elections near, wouldn't those in London and St. Marys be well-served to know if they're being duped into believing there's wisdom in returning long-serving mayors to office? Or Torontonians - are they being duped into believing a renegade right-winger has the vision the city needs? One role of journalists, supposedly, is to make available the tools so the public can discern when they're being duped.Two things happened this summer, however, that caused me to question the necessity of that role.The first was a performance of the 1970s-era musical Evita at the Stratford Festival. It's the story of the 1946-52 elected government of Juan Peron of Argentina, which - according to the story - wouldn't have persisted without the immense popularity of Peron's wife, known affectionately as "Evita."The musical lays bare the possibility (or is it a certainty?) that much of the Argentinean population was duped by Evita's exploitation of their working-class, Catholic sensibilities. From a poor upbringing in a provincial town, she strove for her entire, brief life - by both legitimate and not so legitimate means - to rise above her station. If that meant allowing the population to anoint her with the saint-like respect usually reserved for someone more pious and humble - which was eventually the only thing keeping Peron in power - then so be it.Weeks after I saw Evita, St. Marys native Shirley Cull Thomson passed away. And, although reaction to the 80-year-old's death was miniscule compared to that for the 1952 passing of Eva Peron - at the height of her fame, nationally and internationally - it should be noted that Thomson did enjoy one final foray in the spotlight shortly before being taken by a heart attack at her Ottawa home.It has been 20 years since Canada's "Voice of Fire" controversy - an anniversary duly noted by articles in both Macleans and The Walrus during the first three months of 2010. Both magazines credited the St. Marys native as the director of Ottawa's National Gallery at the time of its purchase - for $1.8 million - of the massive, three-striped painting by New Yorker Barnett Newman.As recollected by The Globe and Mail's Sandra Martin in her full-page tribute after Thomson's passing, "the purchase (of Voice of Fire) outraged Manitoba MP Felix Holtmann, then head of the culture committee in the House of Commons, who insisted he could do just as good a job on the side of his barn in about 10 minutes with a roller and a couple of cans of paint. He even showed up for his public grilling of Thomson wearing a tie modelled on the five-metre painting."Macleans, The Walrus and The Globe and Mail all noted that the passage of two decades allows a perspective that was, for most, unattainable in 1990. The market value of Voice of Fire has, after all, now increased dramatically, and the painting's connection to Canada - through its origins in America's memorable Expo '67 pavilion in Montreal - is fully recognized. Yet that's a perspective Thomson seemed to possess at the time.Did Newman dupe his way into $1.8 million? Perhaps, but as John O'Brian wrote in his book about the painting, Voice of Fire is now "as much a part of the crazy quilt of Canadian culture as the work of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven."Did Evita Peron dupe Argentina into supporting disastrous economic policies? Perhaps, but her story is now part and parcel of the South American nation's rich cultural heritage.So don't be scared of being duped. Go to your Bieber concerts. Attend your municipal election polls. Vote and cheer with your hearts. The short-term repercussions may be uncertain, but years from now, people will probably look back and see the whole thing in a different light.

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