Oh Happy Days

June 4, 2011

Coming of age in the 1970s as the revolutionary ethos of the previous decade waned, the rearguard, reactionary counter-attack came in the form of a nostalgic, totally manufactured pining for the good ol’ simple days and ways of the 1950s. These Happy Days are yours and mine (oh Happy Days). Culminating, of course, in the election of Ronald Reagan and Morning in America.

More than 30 years on and those forces haven’t budged an inch. I guess that’s the nature of reactionary thinking. Pick a period and stick with it. Talk of change or getting with it is for the kids. Pure heresy. No retreat, no surrender.

This world view manifested itself here in Toronto over the past week or so… actually, since October 25th… with City Hall’s declared war on graffiti. In their righteous march to scrub city walls clean and put on a shiny face, it seems our soldiers of blight removal eradicated a mural out the Junction way that the city had commissioned just a couple years ago. Oops. A mistake of over-zealousness? Perhaps, but there was talk the administration wasn’t crazy about the politics they perceived behind the piece.

Provincial Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, out in campaign mode with his Changebook, then got in on the anti-graffiti act. According to the CBC’s Queen’s Park coverage, in a speech he gave to the Canadian Club earlier this week, Hudak suggested that graffiti is a sign that “gangs rule here”. Yes, people. If you’re wandering around the streets of Toronto and come across any graffiti, immediately call 9-1-1, identify yourself and exact location before heading for the nearest house with a Block Parent sign in the window.

I mean, seriously. How old are these people anyway? It’s like their whole world view has been formed by the 70s movie The Warriors. No, wait. Footloose. Like John Lithgow’s Reverend Shaw Moore, they abhor and condemn anything they don’t agree with or understand. It’s the handiwork of the devil. Or gangs.

Graffiti? Gone. Ad hoc displays of public art? Get it out of here. Street festivals and charity bike rides down expressways? Leads to horseplay and unwanted pregnancies.

We’ve given the keys of power over to the Abe Simpsons amongst us. In my day—zzzzzzzz. Tiresome and irksome in our elders, straight up creepy in those we call contemporaries.

Of course, when it comes to Abe Simpson, none do a better job around these parts than our Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday. (At least he’s of the same vintage.) Councillor Holyday was at it himself recently, yammering on about the need to clean up the streets of panhandlers and the homeless. To hear him tell it, it’s a veritable obstacle course of filth and aggressive begging out there. “I know that when I’m downtown,” the deputy mayor tells the National Post, “sometimes you have to walk around these people, they’re right in the middle of the sidewalk and you’ll run over them if you don’t pay attention.”

Sometimes we’re actually forced to walk around these people. The indignity of it! We, upstanding citizens and taxpayers, actually have to change our course slightly because people, neither upstanding or taxpayers (probably), have made the choice of living and sleeping right smack dab in the middle of our thoroughfares, and asking us, sometimes forcefully, to pay their way to living the high life on easy street.

What can we do? According to Mr. Holyday “…we’re paying millions of dollars to try to help people…” and what thanks do we get for it? Disrespectfully having our way blocked.

In my day, beggars knew their place. In flophouses located on Skid Row, safely tucked away from where the tourists and thrill seeking suburbanites came and got the wrong impression of us. Where all the buildings were scarred and marred by senseless graffiti which invariably led to senseless criminal behaviour, lewd acts and smoking of the Mary Jane. In my day, if somebody got out of line, some impertinent hobo or reprobate, not knowing their place, made me step over them as they took a little drunk nap during the middle of the day right in the middle of the sidewalk, it wasn’t frowned upon if you gave them a short, sharp boot heel to the ribs. Let them know you didn’t approve of their lifestyle.

“In my day” is how the fearful and unimaginative see the world. The past was perfect. The future dire. The present, a hand basket on route straight to hell. Everything new or different is suspect. A deviation, in all the negative connotations of that word.

With it, we grind to a standstill, missing exciting opportunities when they arise and embracing values and notions that, if they ever really existed in the first place, are probably in need of some serious updating to their software. Like most of us. Try as you might, you can’t simply wipe clean that which you don’t like or understand.Believe me, I know. I’ve been trying to eradicate the last six months or so. No matter how much I scrub or sandblast, it just keeps reappearing in all its ugly, depressing reality.

nostalgically submitted by Urban Sophisticat


These Happy Days Are Yours And Mine

March 6, 2011

It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile Mayor Ford’s approach to governing and his relatively young age. Just into his 40s, the Ford Nation feels more and more like one ruled by an octogenarian. Maybe it’s because the mayor’s blinkered sensibility is formed exclusively by his view out over his suburban backyard and through his windshield. City life, to his way of thinking, as depicted by the seminal documentary of the 1950s, Happy Days.

The latest manifestation of this is the mayor’s declared War on Graffiti. Signaling an about-face from an earlier decision just after the mayor was elected to target graffiti only on a complaint basis, the city issued over 150 removal notices along Queen Street in just 10 days, catching business owners and the local BIA by surprise in the process. The removal notices appear to make no distinction between your run of the mill graffiti and commissioned murals, bringing to mind a variation on that old standard, I may not know much about art but I know what I don’t like.

This follows an earlier eyebrow raiser last month when the Brickworks received notice for 13 graffiti violations. That chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee that polices matters of graffiti, Councillor Cesar Palacio, has somewhat softened his original hard line stance that graffiti is graffiti, comes as little consolation in light of the Queen Street blitz. The city’s aggressive proactive approach puts the onus on homeowners and businesses to prove that they’re not besmirching the cityscape with graffiti regardless if there have been any complaints from neighbours, belying the mayor’s claim to be looking out for the little guy.

So the mayor campaigned on a promise of taking City Hall’s hands out of the taxpayers’ pockets but seems to have little compunction in unleashing the bureaucracy on them if they don’t measure up to his artistic or community standards.

Which must be a trait of his strain of Tea Party-like reactionary conservatism. As Bill Maher said on his show Friday night, in the U.S. the Tea Party got elected on a straight forward platform of slaying government spending and debt but has quickly moved on to things like attacking collective bargaining, reproductive rights and almost everything else with a progressive stench of secularism. Mayor Ford has similarly set his sights outside of the fiscal realm. He’s trying to push LRTs underground. He’s asked the province to declare the TTC an essential service. Now this wading into public order with an ill-defined, if-I-don’t-like-or-understand it assault on graffiti, he’s revealing his inner non-libertarian and very authoritarian self.

Mayor Ford’s also exposing an attitude toward urbanism that is decades behind the times. A clean, whitewashed main street, full of mom and pops stores, soda shops and cruising the drag on a Saturday night. (No, most definitely not that kind of cruising or drag.) It is an intolerance to differing opinions and tastes, chock full of patronizing father-knows-bestism. Not to mention counter-productive and, ultimately, carrying an additional financial burden to households and small business owners. Eliminating commissioned murals clears out space for less agreeable forms of graffiti and tagging which those owning the buildings will have to constantly spend time and money dealing with. It also appropriates police resources which surely would be put to better use on more pressing issues the city faces.

All in pursuit of what? In a speech he gave to the Board of Trade earlier this year, the mayor said “It’s [graffiti] just out of control. Nobody likes it. It doesn’t help our city. I want people to come to the city and say wow this is spotless, and it is safe.” Note the mental myopia. The world seen only through his eyes. I don’t like graffiti so nobody likes graffiti. It’s stunningly monochromatic and reveals a remarkable lack of empathy. Never mind the Sunday School logic of equating cleanliness with safety. In addition to the mayor having obviously spent his youth watching the wholesome adventures of Richie, Potsie, Ralph and the Fonz, my guess is he also overdosed on regular viewings of The Warriors.

This is the danger of electing a mayor with such unsophisticated thinking who lacks any sort of wider vision for the city. He governs based purely on pet peeves and petty prejudices. Unchecked, we face four years not looking toward the future but back at an idealized past that never existed except in the minds of those like Mayor Ford.

heyyyyly submitted by Cityslikr