Instant Individualities on Social Media

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              Social media has given us the truly wonderful tool of self-expression, but with it, an immediacy that makes depth and reflection impossible. Thinking takes time, but the internet culture does not allow it. As soon as an event happen, individuals turn into journalists, read an article or two on the matter, talk with a person or two, and give out their opinion right away, before the next hot topic. There is a constant need to be current in order to be relevant. And the internet compels us to participate, not to miss out. It makes us believe that our two cents are important.

            Most particularly, comment threads are simultaneous, “live,” while being delayed at the same time due to typing. Writing is the art of the thinker, who contextualizes, reflects, problematizes, introspects. Conversation is the art of the diplomat, who discusses, shares, listens, challenges, contributes, “extrospects.” I like German writer Kleist’s ideas in On the Gradual Production of Thoughts during Speech. In both the written and spoken word, in order to be productive and thoughtful, a great dose of empathy and calm is needed, or you fall into the trap of wanting to defend your opinion coûte que coûte, which is not productive whatsoever. Your pride is at stake. And this is often what happens in discussions over social media. It falls between the cracks of literature and conversation and between the cracks of temporality. It is neither for thinkers nor for diplomats.

                And with your name and picture next to everything you write/say, how can you not feel that your self is at stake in these discussions? Your markers of identity are omnipresent. Your individuality and subjectivity take the whole space (literally and figuratively). You are your opinion; your opinion is you. This is emphasized to the extreme by the tools for reacting, liking, and sharing. Fight to the death for your pride; what your text is defending comes second. And this is made extremely obvious by not only the content, but also the choice of words and sentence structures, which subtly or directly attack rather than reflect and discuss. I am responding to your opinion rather than adding my own to yours. I am responding to you, not discussing with you (conversation) or reflecting (literature). Therein lies the problem of instantaneous written words that are shared online. As well, because of its aforementioned features, social media culture compels one to share their opinion on any matter, in order to affirm one’s identity. I post my opinion therefore I exist. If one does not react (like, comment, share, etc.), then one does have an opinion, and one’s identity is erased. Your name and your picture are absent. Your picture and your name show first (as the picture is left, so what we read first in Western languages, and then the name, which is on top); only after (and last) the content of your post is read. And in a context where there is a massive amount of people and information, length and depth are discouraged, even explicitly so, through character limits. The immediacy, briefness, and prominence of markers of identity in social media posts hinder productivity and empathy on sensitive topics and texts of opinion.

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Quebec French and Colonized Thinking

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Quebec French and Colonized Thinking

            Though I have an immense amount of respect and admiration for Dany Laferrière and his work (though not for the Académie française, I couldn’t care less about this normative, haughty, obsolete, and cliquey institution), a little something bothers me in his discourse about the French language in Quebec. He is very much revered, and rightfully so, as he is a wonderful writer, and so we take his words for irrefutable truth. His statements are never challenged, because an untouchable aura emanates from his eloquence. However, the content of his words need to be discussed. The last two times he attended the political/cultural talk show Tout le monde en parle, the one with the largest audience in Quebec, he has of course reiterated his love for the Quebecois twist to French, but he also stated something along the lines of the problem is not so much in the English words we use and adapt to Quebec French, which makes Quebecois French beautiful, but rather the insidious infiltration of Shakespeare’s language into the structure and grammar. He also added that then, our language becomes a language of colonized people (the English having colonized Quebec/New France/Lower Canada/Canada East). All of this said in a very dramatic tone. That’s indeed a very interesting topic, and it becomes particularly difficult to challenge his statements not only because of his reputation and definite talent, but also because of his own Haitian origins, which he writes about in  the very texts that gave rise to his fame. But nonetheless, this idea is one which definitely requires nuancing.

            I do consider as well that the English colonized Quebec, but this statement needs to be contextualized and further reflected upon, it cannot simply be stated like this, with all the authority on the matter that he detains, without unpacking such a loaded and emotional concept. First, this implies that French is not a colonizer language. In fact, the reason why there is such a thing as Quebec French is because of French colonialism in the first place. French is as guilty of being the colonizer’s language as English. I do think Laferrière realizes this, but it is crucial to explain this double-colonization that happened in Quebec in order to really provide an understanding of the linguistic, let alone cultural and identity, reality of Quebecois. We are colonized colonizers, and it is not right to selectively pick one of the two in order to make a point.

          Second, why this need to make distinctions between “what is right” and “what is wrong” to use from English? Why is it okay if I say “j’vais checker le hood de ton char toute fucké qui est parké chez nous” but not okay for me to say “j’vais visiter ma mère mais j’vais arrêter par chez vous en passant” (instead of “rendre visite à” and “passer chez”). Why does, according to him, the former phrase showcase the beauty of Quebec French, while the latter is the proliferation of colonialism? In any case, both contain a number of language mistakes, but why would he rank them? All these mistakes are in fact due to the infiltration of English into our language. But giving more weight to structure rather than to vocabulary for instance is completely subjective. He argues that we reinstate our status of colonized people, and think like a colonized people, when we use structures from English, without really explaining his point of view. “Thinking,” to reuse his words, requires both structure and vocabulary, and vocabulary is even more important than structure in terms of communication and comprehension. Such a strong statement on his part needs to be better explained and nuanced. I understand this was a talk show and not an academic essay, but all the more reasons to be extra careful with such strong, unfounded statements. I’m open to his idea, but as it is, I’m very resistant to it, for it seems like yet other arbitrary boxes to scold the lower classes that apparently think like colonized people, while “educated” people are apparently free from this.

Online Communities and Support “Networks”

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Online Communities and Support “Networks”

            Growing up as a nerdy unpopular awkward teenager is difficult in any time and space, I would imagine. Add “gay” on top of it, and you have the perfect recipe for becoming bully-material. But the perks of growing up in the advent of the internet (the dial-up/early broadband era) was that my internet connection allowed for human connection, beyond the tangible, palpable. My main support network was allowed by my internet network. Enough with puns.

            In this day and age, we lament the anonymity of the computer screen. People feel entitled to voice their racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. ideas. Cyberbullying is also a very serious issue — I actually encourage everyone to watch Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk. But that is just one face of the coin, the one people enjoy talking about, but the same exact thing that can afflict bullied teens can also save them. Indeed, much like bullying extends beyond the classroom, so does support. After spending a horrible day at school, one may find solace in chatting with online friends, their real support network. That was indeed my situation. For someone with serious body image issues, online is the real way to connect with people, as fake as some people claim it to be. It is connection beyond the image in a world overwhelmed by images, it transcends the body. The friendship is based on written words alone, which is a beautiful thing, considering the depths of the conversation you can have without the barrier of the image and the difficulty of speech for people with social anxiety or simply shyness.

            As well, the online medium allows for the complete reconstruction of one’s identity. Popular discourse likes to bash its apparent masking of identity. But is wearing a mask lying about oneself, or an act of agency towards the appropriation of oneself? I very much think it is the latter, and it is the main point I make in a forthcoming published academic publication. Without going into the 25 pages of details I provided in my paper, the creation of an online persona is not a lie, it is a work-in-progress, an eventual truth. Indeed, my online coming out prepared me for my real coming out, my online social circles helped me create my own in real life, and the many skills I’ve acquired online, from writing to community-building skills, all transpired in my everyday life. There is also something to be said about ostracized people forming communities on the margins of society. The cyberspace allows for the destruction of the whole idea of space. Borders do not exist — only time zones do. The language barrier is still there, but the written language masks it better. A best friend you talk to every day could in actuality reside in India. We are now accustomed to these notions, thanks to Skype and other apps, but it was truly groundbreaking as I grew up, and generated lot of skepticism and incredulity around me.

            I was 12 when I joined my first online community (back when message boards were in vogue), and have remained extremely close to some of the friends I made there, talking to them almost daily, which is more than most of my real-life friends — not because I like them more, but perhaps because our whole relationship is based on our online communication, so “keeping in touch” isn’t a concept that exists in the context of our relationship. I never leave the cyberspace no matter where I move to or travel to, so I never leave these friends for as long as I have an internet connection. We always share the same space. This was always a problem for me, as I’ve led quite a nomadic life, made very many friends along the way but that I always ended up leaving, which makes keeping in touch difficult, as I couldn’t possibly find the time and emotional energy to contact 50 people regularly (it is very draining for me to be so close emotionally to someone and work at this connection online when it was based on real life connection). But that is not the case with my online friends, because we’ve never had this physical, bodily proximity. I still sincerely care for all the friends I’ve made in any time and space, and it is not a lack of love for them that makes keeping in touch difficult, but rather too much love which puts me in a spot where contacting them online underlines our distance, which hurts. However, I’ve already gone off-topic with this idea, so I might eventually write an article about this.

The Great Normative Family

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The Great Normative Family

I love you, you love me.
We’re a happy family.
With a great big hug
And a kiss from me to you
Won’t you say you love me too?

-Barney

            Family is a concept I’ve always had difficulty to grasp, despite it being so basic, so fundamental to the way our societies are built. How on Earth are people that you’ve never met or chosen supposed to be the most important people in your life? Why do we have so much pressure to like, let alone love, people that are imposed to you? Why are we relentlessly taught to love our family unconditionally? Everyone has a family, from the best, most generous people, to the abusers, the criminals. And sometimes, which is even worse, your family is the best to everyone around them except to you.

             I would dislike my brother if he were not my brother. In school, we would have had the typical jock-nerd clichéd relationship. We have no common interests, very different values. We talk a few times a year, always in the context of family reunions. It used to make me very sad, as I grew up, to see the big brother I always looked up to become close to a stranger. But as an adult, I now see him as this person with whom I have very cordial relations. Someone I care for from afar, an acquaintance. My efforts to get closer have been in vain, so now we have a semi-neutral relationship. But this is okay. We’re two persons that, due to circumstances out of our control, were born in the same household. Why would our mere genetic similarity make us de facto very close, when our personalities are not? I do envy some of my friends who say their sibling is their best friend, their dad is their hero, their mom is their role model, their aunt is like a cool big sister, their grandma spoils them with food and affection, and their grandpa is a source of wisdom and courage, and such stereotypes that seem to come from everyone around us.

            All of these idealizations and protection of one’s family at all costs as I understand them are rooted in a long tradition in most (all?) cultures, if only for the survival of our species and our lineage. But haven’t modern times shaken up these concepts enough to rid us of the constant pressure of fitting into the familial mold society enforces upon us? Is family as a concept outdated? In fact, isn’t the mere fact one may adopt destroying our conception of family? — That is, taking a stranger with no biological relation to you as your own child, on the same exact level as a biological child. And if “family” can be so broadly defined as to include strangers, what does it mean? Is there even a signification to having a family if a sibling can become a stranger but a stranger can become a daughter? If, as some common usage suggests, we can call very close friends “family,” then is family an entirely subjective concept, coming to have a different meaning to any individual, and so being void of any a priori value?

         I launch these questions up in the air without any answers as I fail to really comprehend it all. Right now, I feel as though family strictly speaking is only hurtful insofar as, much like the American Dream, it is an unattainable ideal, the pursuit of which makes us suffer. And much like other normative concepts, our conception of family further marginalizes, victimizes, and stigmatizes individuals who are farthest from this ideal, usually for reasons that are entirely of their control. The more obvious forms of this are victims of incest and child abuse, who face even more difficulty in denouncing their perpetrators because of the notions of family that are embedded in society and in our legal systems. But they also makes it harder on a daily basis for those that were abandoned, orphaned, mistreated by relatives, reminded of their pain day to day from the age of 5 by the simple questions of “what do your parents do?” that follow us until death, and having to either lie or create a malaise, and by the recurring holidays from Mother’s Day to Christmas and Thanksgiving in which society forces guilt upon us for not loving our family enough or not being thankful for having relatives who treat us poorly.

Poppy-Wearing and National Grieving as Political Tools

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Poppy-Wearing and Memory as Political Tool

            I do not wear the poppy. I feel guilty and shameful for not doing so and therein lies the problem. There is a problem when not wearing a symbolic pin makes more of a statement than wearing it, when local shops and restaurants all sell the same pin that gets thrown to the garbage every year so that people can buy it again the following year — basically, when the State implicitly forces its members to mourn strangers with a tangential capitalistic, imperialist, and wasteful component. Let us remember British journalist and newsreader Charlene White who has faced racist and sexist abuse for not wearing a poppy on-screen, and that many people in the UK have been arrested for burning poppies.

            The poppy is a pin people wear in the Commonwealth in the few weeks before (and often after) Remembrance Day to honour the victims of World War I. I would first like to raise the question: until when will we commemorate these people? Considering all of them are deceased, and many of their children are as well, when will we stop mourning these people as a nation? At this point, aren’t we just mourning idealized, semi-fictional people? Turning people into heroes as a state effort to align its people behind them? In fact, there is nothing romantic about the war. This is not something we should strive to turn our young men and women into. The people that were forced to fight are not heroes, they are victims. Victims of their heads of state that play chess with them in an unquenchable thirst for power.

            By guilting us into wearing the poppy, into admiring victims, the State, as our ultimate patriarch, is telling us boys to look up to our fathers and walk into their steps — steps that It forced them to walk into. It is telling us what real men are and what we should strive to become. By refusing to wear the poppy, I’m not disrespecting our men and women that died on the front, on the contrary, I’m refusing to obey to the implicit order of grieving them, in order to respect people who truly should grieve them. Grief shouldn’t be used as a political tool, as something that people must forcefully flaunt. Columnist Dan O’Neill wrote that “presenters and politicians seem to compete in a race to be first – poppies start sprouting in mid-October while the absence of a poppy is interpreted as absence of concern for the war dead, almost as an unpatriotic act of treachery,” while in the past, the poppy was only worn on Remembrance Day itself. Poppy-wearing becomes shallow, void of the emotional baggage mourning is supposed to bear, and becomes used by the capitalistic State to control the masses. It is an insidious tool that society has internalized, its members surveilling each other to make sure that everyone is falling in line, mourning and admiring the same unknown dead people. It is indeed an Ideological State Apparatus, as Louis Althusser would call them. The State sells poppies with one hand and guns with the other. It preaches remembrance one month of the year but wages wars the other eleven. Attention is indeed distracted from current geopolitical and economic crises when we (pretend to) remember events from a century ago.

            It is out of respect for the humanity of each fallen individual that I choose not to buy a poppy, for mourning is not meant to be flaunted, forced, or marketed, but subjective, much like any healing process. I do not want to appropriate this symbol when none of my close relatives have fallen in the war. Individuals may indeed find solace in the unity of this mourning, so I do not criticize people who wear the poppy, as most of them only see it as showcasing respect, much like holding the door for someone behind you. But the process itself has rotten over the years, and some people perpetuate this forceful grieving by imposing a manner in which one should grieve, and grieving is indeed entirely subjective. Two siblings affected by the same death of a parent may heal in opposite ways: one by wearing a poppy and relishing into beautiful memories, one by not wearing it and moving on as fast as possible. It isn’t up to society or the state to impose a way, or to impose grieving. Showing off your grief doesn’t make you a better person. It might help you heal, which is entirely legitimate, so do not feel bad if it helps you personally to commemorate. But do not perpetuate this silent (or not so silent) shaming of people who don’t wear the poppy. They are not any less respectful than you are. Some might be even too hurt to want to show it openly. And please understand how it is used as political tool if you decide to wear it. You might not personally see it as such, or may wish to disregard this aspect of it, but people who do not wear it are not doing so out of disrespect, on the contrary, they don’t wanna appropriate your grief, they have too much respect for it, while also making a statement against its use as an Ideological State Apparatus. Lest we forget but lest we be distracted from the actual catastrophe of warfare and manipulated into remembering strangers.

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Silence and Victim Shaming

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Silence and Victim Shaming

Is Silence but an Insidious Form of Victim Shaming?

                I have come to be more interested in the concept of victim shaming in the last year, because of an abusive relationship I was part of, and more specifically in the aftermath of it. I was always quite acutely aware of the concept of victim shaming and actively tried to avoid perpetrating it, but some reflection led me to consider, on the one hand, victim-shaming as a very blurry concept, and on the other, as all the more important to reflect upon and avoid. In fact, the aftermath of trauma can be even more traumatic than the trauma itself, if only because of the permanent stigma that one must bear as a victim.

                Having opened up to a few friends about the events surrounding my relationship, I’ve come across a surprisingly wide variety of reactions, though I am sure not a single one of my friend would consider himself or herself a victim shamer. Would I agree? I don’t know, hence this discussion. Can one person both support and ostracize you for being a victim? This is in my experience not only possible, but frequent.

                It has been about a year since the end of this relationship, and I have lamented the reaction of many of our common friends to our abusive relationship. Let us be clear: domestic violence is a crime in legal terms, which makes my ex a criminal, and which makes me a victim. There is no room for discussion here. Many would feel bad, sorry for me, and then act normally with my ex.

                Another instance of possible victim shaming happened to a friend of mine who works in the same department at the same university as I. Let us call her Justine. A tenured professor, let us call her Professor Y (because Professor X is amazing and I wouldn’t wanna soil his name) sent an email to all graduate students asking for their input on things to improve, flaws of the department, and such. Said professor collected the answers, and sent out an email to all students and faculty containing responses to the supposedly confidential survey, as well as adding denigrating comments of her own – “the grad students are saying stupidities again, those lazy bums.” In fact, as we learned later, she used the wrong email list, she meant to send this only to other faculty members. And so, Justine took matter into her own hands, called Professor Y, told her off. Professor Y hung up on her. Justine went to her office, told her off again. A few days later, Professor Y had flowers and chocolate sent to Justine’s apartment, along with an apology. Long story short, Justine is clearly the victim here, even Prof Y admits it. The issue is, where does victim shaming begin? All students and faculty know of Justine’s reaction. Do they think she’s justified? Probably. Do they support her? In silence, at best.

                In fact, many students have come up to Justine personally to thank her, though none have spoken up publicly. No faculty members have said anything in favour or not. Let us remember that the only reason why this professor got caught is because she used the wrong email list. Is it in the culture of this department to look down on graduate students? Do they insult us amongst each other? It might be an isolated event, but chances are it is not, logically. But that remains ebtirely hypothetical, I do have too much respect for many faculty members to generalize. But I’m digressing.

The point is, Justine has confided being worried about the opinion the department has of her now. It is not well received when someone files in a complaint about a colleague, no matter how objectively right they are. And academia, much like any business, is a world in which word gets around, and she fears for her future not only as a PhD student, but as an eventual job-seeking alumni. Though most of her peers respect and support her actions, none of them dares do anything more than tell her so privately for their own sake.

                I can draw too many links here with my own situation as a victim of domestic abuse. Everyone who talked to me in private were supportive at best, dismissive or pitiful at worst. But in public, not one of them spoke up, even when the abuse took place in front of their eyes. Months later, I am now the one who has been indirectly ostracized from this group of friends as a result for having been the victim of a criminal act by one of its members. The contexts are largely different, and drawing parallels between all situations of abuse is always shaky at best, though the common denominator in these cases is that silence appears to me as a way of victim shaming, largely speaking. It might not be outright or explicit, but the effect is the same : the victim is isolated, shamed, and stigmatized.

Pro-Anti-Separatism Discourse

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 Pro-Anti-Separatism Discourse

Sugar Sammy-isms and Quebec Society

                I should preface this by stating my ambivalence towards Quebec separatism, not so much because of ignorance or lack of interest (I do care very much), but because either stance seems like a fight about containers instead of content — I would, for instance, prefer living under Françoise David’s party than Stephen Harper’s, but Elizabeth May’s rather than Philippe Couillard’s. I feel as though the (anti)separatist fight only contributes to the same void that sucks all of your energy and only reinforces, naturalizes an apparent dichotomy within Quebec. Separatism separates, no matter if you’re for it or against it, while I’ve always been one to promote unity through diversity — whether that’s in Quebec or in Canada does matter, but it isn’t the channel I’m personally choosing to pursue. Identity politics are tiring fights.

            That is not to say that it’s not a cause worth fighting for, I do encourage my separatist and antiseparatist fellow Québécois to fight for what they believe in, and to keep seeing the value in this fight — and through it, a province worth fighting for. However, some of the rhetoric used really, really bothers me. It is often through snarky comments that people reinforce their position, adopting a condescension, a “we’re just irreconcilably different” stance, creating a space in which this polarizing political division insidiously pervades all other elements of culture, identity, politics, and psychology.

            I would particularly like to address Sugar Sammy, prominent figure who markets his position on this debate, in a cheap way to not only make such people who feel strongly about antiseparatism as though this humour is “for them,” but also for the other camp, who enjoys this type of masochistic humour targeted at them, to be the butt of his jokes, or to find some fuel to their position, leaving his shows with an even stronger separatist drive.

            Ultimately though, it seems as though the political ideology he promotes (and many antiseparatists promote) is counter-productive: by constantly bringing the idea of separatism back on the table, in the current context in which even the main political proponent of it has largely abandoned it, he instills (they instill) life into it. They maliciously keep it alive to keep hurting it, to watch it suffer. He not only reminds separatists they are separatists, and gives them (makes up) reasons to fight in order to make money, but he also reaffirms antiseparatists in their position, ultimately rooting both camps firmly in what he markets as irreconcilable beliefs. It is particularly counterproductive for antiseparatists namely because of their “anti” stance: they emphasize an issue which is not one, only creating more separatists through provocative, snarky, condescending statements. They poke at a caged sleeping monster just to watch it scream. It is indeed twisted, and I would find some sad yet funny irony if it backfired decades down the road, with a combination of elements, and the separatists that antiseparatists created ended up legitimately reanimating the separatist movement only because of their paradoxical discourse. Of course, I cannot help but see that Sugar Sammy (my scapegoat) does it as a marketing strategy, which works extremely well (his stance is what almost solely led to his current success and fame), and which is further emphasized in Ces gars-là, a humouristic series where many one-liners are centred on his antiseparatism. I could write longer on the capitalistic drive behind his position, and the classist aspect to the issues he creates, but that would deserve specific attention. What I focused on in this reflection is that such snarky antiseparatist discourse actually creates much of current day separatism, which is entirely counterproductive and, in my opinion, rooted in some twisted desire to watch your enemies suffer, and constantly reframing them as enemies.