Leah McLaren Explains It All

I haven’t given URBMN much content for quite a few weeks.  I’ve honestly been busy with my other projects – you know, writing for the places I write for, trying to earn that cred so I have an excuse to do work that doesn’t involve wood or thankless manual labour, throwing out April Fool’s jokes about me leaving sites and being called a self-important, overly serious twat for attempting them etc.  Nothing new to report there, then.  When two articles about “hipster cred” popped into miserable existence within twenty-four hours of each other, of course, I knew I had to return to my soapbox as there’s nothing I love more than deflating self-important, extraneous bullshit.  It’s why the people that read UR still come here and why I still practice this “writing career” – I honestly wonder sometimes why the people that get paid for writing newspaper/magazine columns can’t do it better than some anonymous berk with a LiveJournal and a fandom for Simple Plan.  I can pretend to like horrible indie rock.  NOW WHERE’S MY MONEY?

The first article about hipsters comes from The Globe and Mail Style writer Leah McLaren, who I didn’t know anything about before this column.  Considering her condescending style and generalizations, I see I’m not missing much.  McLaren seems like one of a multitude of writers given a column not because they have any discernible talent or interesting opinions. They’re just young, go to the right schools and follow in the goose-step of the media’s version of what’s “hip” in popular culture.  It’s good to see that other people hate McLaren’s writing, but it’s apparently become passé these days to talk about her.  Screw it – I’m dissecting Leah McLaren.  She’s a small part of my big picture here, that’s my excuse.

Here come the Fair Use quotes!  Get ready for BANALITY!

It’s not easy being an 18-to-35-year-old these days.

Everywhere we go, somebody wants a piece of us. If it isn’t the clothing retailers, it’s the church, hoping to tempt us back into the fold with post-Pope nostalgia.

But most people my age don’t go to church. (According to Ipsos-Reid, only one in five Canadians does on a regular basis.) Nor do we care much about politics (we barely vote), poor people (we rarely volunteer) or health care (we’re pretty healthy, after all).

Wooo-ee!  Demographics and stats!  How about that?  McLaren takes a bunch of general stats and generalizations, throws them into a bag and tells us who we are as 18-to-35-year-olds!  Never mind the fact that the church statistic is for all Canadians regardless of age and that sly, winking dig at the Roman Catholics as if the death of the Pope was planned in any way.  Three paragraphs in, and we’re already in Stupid Country.  Even Michael Moore doesn’t throw away his allusions to “journalistic integrity” like a flowerpot this early on.  This should be fun.

What we dislike and ignore is well documented. It’s what we want that everyone is so desperate to find out. There are lots of us and, apparently, we’ve got disposable income to burn (though none of my friends feels that way). The word on us is largely negative: We don’t like stodgy, we don’t like old, we don’t like tradition and we don’t like anything too serious. What we want, it seems, is hip, young, new and light.

Isn’t not liking “old,” “stodgy,” “traditional” and “serious” things a function of the “young” in the first place?  Brilliant inference, McLaren.  That’s exactly the sort of statement I’d expect to come from a newspaper formed before the turn of the 20th century.  That “hip, young” bullshit is the exact statement advertising agencies and entertainment venues primarily aimed at older demographics use to justify their leaving said demographics.  One can’t exactly build brand identity when the average age of the consumer a company aims at is fifty to dead.  Also, older people tend to have more experience with regards to ignoring vacuous advertising campaigns.

It’s nice to read McLaren’s column considering some of the biggest news stories of recent vintage deal with young punks like that rebel Paul Martin, that fun-lovin’ Terri Schiavo and John Paul II, the Party Pope.  Nothing says “FUCK TRADITION” like those three party animals.

For example, broadcast executives have noticed that many members of my demographic would rather watch music videos than the news. So what do they do? They get former MuchMusic VJs to present the news to us.

I’m not sneering here. I think George Stroumboulopoulos, host of CBC’s The Hour, is a talented guy. He has intelligence and charisma. But then, so did Avi Lewis before him. Like Stroumboulopoulos, Lewis had piercings, wore casual clothes, jumped around a lot and abused the term “awesome.” (And, like Stroumboulopoulos, he also exuded an air of charming compassion that didn’t entirely fit with the ironic-hipster-in-residence tag that the Corp. slapped on his forehead from the word go.)

Here’s the main problem with this article: it’s partially about a guy CBC stole from MuchMusic.  George Stroumboulopoulos is an intelligent guy, granted (and that’s a hard thing for me to say considering I wasn’t thrilled with his tenure at MuchLoud), but CBC didn’t hire the man because he’s supposed to appeal to the “MTV generation.”  CBC hired the man because he’s supposed to give the Corp. more credibility among “the kids.”  It’s part of CBC’s continuing strategy to reinvent the broadcaster as a tastemaker for the young and “urban.”  Hell, CBC’s audience was skewing old, rural and stodgy!  MomCo can’t have that, can it?

I honestly despise when CBC programs try to appeal to a younger audience, because the radio and television networks of the MotherCorp are so blatantly left-wing and trend-oriented it’s almost sickening.  If you don’t live in a major city, have a liberal mindset, follow the flavour of the week or lack a distinctive personality you mean nothing to the MotherCorp.  Why is it interesting that Avi Lewis or George S. have piercings and wear casual clothes?  How the hell does that equate to anything?  They came from MuchMusic, which was nothing more than a shill for the major record companies to begin with.  How “real” do you expect these people to be, anyway?  Let the Greekgyptkranian live and die by his own merits.

Clearly, this pandering treatment of the so-called youth market has been going on for some time now to no great success. The problem is, those in charge of the media don’t know what we want, the reason being that what people my age want is (wait for it) a bunch of different things. Some of us are interested in politics. Some are curling fans. Others flip straight to the horoscopes. Put simply, we want all the things a good news product delivers. We respond to quality — the one thing Canadian news media outlets can’t consistently deliver with any of its youth-oriented products.

Those in charge of the media, huh?  Like your mother?  Sorry, sorry, too easy.

Seriously, the “media” don’t know what my generation wants because my generation is interested in different things?  No, the “mainstream media” haven’t succeeded in coming up with a decent “youth” news outlet because most “youth” news outlets are terrible.  They’re either blatant shill mags trying to enforce some sort of overly commercial, market-oriented mindset (hence the manufactured cool that I tend to despise) or they’re byproducts of people trying to push an agenda onto other people, whether it be “hipsterism” or whatever.

This is sort of why blogs and websites have stolen some of the thunder from the newspapers and mainstream/”alternative” print media – because the online media are largely controlled by actual people as opposed to a consortium of editors with the right academic “credentials” and “youth-oriented” mindset.  Blogs and news sites have their own problems, granted – the desperate bids for popularity and relevance some blogs strive for is sometimes disturbing – but they far outstrip papers like Ottawa Express and eye weekly for sheer entertainment, readability and relevance as they know the audiences they’re aiming for and don’t have the pressure of being at odds with an overly corporate mindset.  Not that they’re not corporate, mind, but blogging is a young medium yet.

Dose, the national daily news magazine launched by CanWest last week, is another case in point. Edited and published by people in their late 20s, the tabloid reads like a university paper drained of all political or satirical venom.

When in doubt, make fun of your competitor – in this case, Canwest Global and its attempt to emulate the alternative print media.

Honestly, university papers have political and/or satirical venom?  Are you telling me the university paper I tried to infiltrate for three years had intelligent satire?  I was under the impression The Charlatan was a shoddily-run bog paper with opinions ranging from “REZ IS TOO NOISY” and “NICE TYPO ON THE FRONT PAGE, DIPSHITS” to “ANYONE LIVING ON CAMPUS AFTER THE FIRST YEAR IS A FAILURE OH AND GO FIND A FUCKING JOB, APARTMENT AND GIRL YOU FAGGOTS.”  When the hell did university papers become readable/stop becoming self-important, then?  Aren’t you too busy generalizing me to care, McLaren?

The cover of the launch issue featured a photo of a young woman in a frayed denim vest beside a quote in white font. “We don’t need leaders who are wealthy . . .” it read, “we need people like the Pope.”

What is this supposed to say? That the leader of the Catholic Church lived a modest existence? That in spite of cracking down on condom distribution in AIDS-ridden African nations, declaring gay marriage “evil” and refusing to ordain women, the Pope was a nice guy? Or is it that 24-year-olds in frayed denim vests don’t know what the heck they’re talking about?

The Pope was in the news.  Dose interviewed a 24-year-old who likely got swept up in the tide of Popemania.  It’s not a hard thing to figure out.  McLaren’s also thirty years old, so what’s with the overly sanctimonious tone?  Are the “common people” just that much more stupid than she is?  Man.

What’s with the trendy Pope-bashing, anyway?  The last two reasons McLaren doesn’t like the Pope seem more like she’s translating official stands of the Catholic Church to the Pope himself (although John Paul II did harbor those beliefs, which is understandable considering he’s the figurehead of the Catholic Church.)  The condom issue makes little sense considering a condom means shit when some Africans live on $5 a month and have to face dilapidated living standards each day of their lives.  John Paul II didn’t make popular decisions all the time, and he’s not supposed to – he’s supposed to represent the Catholic Church’s position on an issue, not to follow popular opinion.

Honestly, McLaren, you’re criticizing Base yet you go for targets like the Pope.  There were many roads to take with regards to criticizing the newspaper (like the fact that the editor is a 20-something Harvard grad and doesn’t represent “youth culture” at all – honestly, he sounds like a business major trying to tap into the pocketbooks of “his people”), yet you went for Catholic-bashing.  How come a 23-year-old nothing schlub like me can see that and you can’t?

Inside, the tabloid is filled with irrelevant factoids and diagrams, few of which are sourced or relate to a larger story. Some of the news stories, in turn, fail to answer basic questions. A short item on a study that found the majority of ninth graders practise oral sex in the belief that it is safer than intercourse failed to address the glaring question of whether it actually is.

The following day, there was a story about an academic at the University of Calgary who is examining why women flashed their breasts on the Red Mile last year in support of the Calgary Flames. The reporter quoted the professor as saying the women’s reasons for flashing are “really interesting and fascinating,” but never told us what they are.

So what you’re saying is…Dose is a tabloid.  Wow.  Two paragraphs to state the obvious?  Amazing.  What great muckraking.  You should write for the Globe and Mail.

Dose is not all bad. It’s big on environmental stories, which matter to people my age. In the first issue, there was an interesting piece on bald-eagle slaughtering in B.C. There’s also a fair bit of national and international news.

But something about these “hipified” news sources worries me. The Canadian media has a history of getting excited about young people for their kinetic delivery and leather trousers and then tossing aside for the same reasons. In other words, they eat their young.

I remember a guy who ran a record store in Madoc, and he wore leather trousers.  He was a jerk.  His store later became a slum.

Also, the Canadian media eat their young?  That was obvious, but obviously McLaren doesn’t understand that she’s part of the group she criticizes.  If she ends up appealing to a bunch of dirty sixty-year-old men, she’ll be out on her ass tomorrow.  If I piss off Adrian Bromley by being me, I’ll be out on my ass tomorrow.  I don’t pretend to be hot shit, but McLaren obviously thinks she is.  No one is unsackable, which the woman should have realized when she was run out of the UK after a year.  The Brits had already suffered through Barbara Amiel and The Girlie Show, so why put up with the distillation of those two artefacts?

Like Stroumboulopoulos, Noah Godfrey, the publisher of Dose, is in a difficult position. CanWest has spent buckets promoting his paper. If the numbers are high, the critics will sneer about the dumbing down of the news. If they’re low, he’ll be turned out on his low-rise denim behind until the next sacrificial hipster saunters in to take his place.

Will such youth-oriented shows and publications draw younger audiences in or make us yawn with indifference? It depends solely on the quality of content they deliver. We may have nose rings, but we still know a crock of BS when we smell one. Just ask George and Noah.

Tch.  Stroumboulopoulos is the Evan Solomon of the 2000’s.  He’ll be given a semi-major push (after all, CBC created The Greatest Canadian to debut Stroumboulopoulos – like people actually thought Tommy Douglas was The Greatest Canadian outside of the Prairies) and then settle into the CBC detritus.  I imagine George S. will replace Solomon on CBC News: Sunday – or he’ll end up like Daniel Richler or Brent Bambury.  We’ll see.

Godfrey, though?  He wins either way.  If he succeeds, he’ll go on to work at the National Post.  If Godfrey fails, it wasn’t his money and his reputation will still remain intact.  He really isn’t in a position to lose very much aside from personal pride.  If Dose succeeds, it strengthens CanWest Global’s news reputation (which isn’t that bad despite what National Post haters say.  It’s better than Bell Globemedia’s, at least.)  If Dose fails, CanWest Global looks stupid.  It’s the company taking the risk, not Noah Godfrey.  McLaren would be wise to remember that.

What does this have to do with hipsterism, exactly?  The news is not a hip thing to be into, no matter what demographics have to say about it.  These days, though, it’s acceptable to be blatantly left-wing in some corners of the news media, especially if you’re young.  Leah McLaren writes for one of the more liberal papers in Canada.  It’s in her self-interest to grease the palms of a broadcaster that might want her and to criticize the company that has become rather right-wing in recent years (although she gives it some praise, just to keep that door open if she defects to the CanWest Leper Colony – y’know, like Barbara Amiel.)

What I see from McLaren is a bunch of subtle hints about her being somehow above her subjects.  The non-religious stand, the obvious ignorance she exhibits, the condescending “we” tone she takes in the article – basically, she’s what she’s criticizing.  There was a good article here, but Leah McLaren ruined it by being the same writer she always was.  Instead of tackling the issue of “youth news” head-on, she took the tone of disinterested 30-something who knows what “people like me” want.  She’s right about people wanting “good news,” mind you – but it isn’t going to come from her.  I’d rather read a magazine that skewers old but has good journalistic credentials over some poorly-written, vacuous “youth news” outlet any day of the week.  No one should give a flying fuck over demographics, but a lot of people (including hipsters) swear by them. It’s a sad sight to behold.

Call me when you write for Spin, hon. You are destined for there.

C. Archer
Le Social