Thursday, February 28, 2008


It's nice when it's quiet. Life can seem peaceful then. Orderly and untroubled. No reason for concern. A fella could drift off to happy slumber. There clearly isn't a problem in the world. How could there be? It's so quiet. And silence, we're taught from the earliest age -- is golden.

I've been in the rain forest when it goes quiet. It's the oddest feeling. Because it's not a sign of serenity. It's a signal that something is very, very wrong. Birds stop singing. Tree critters freeze. Even insects have the good sense to STFU. Something dangerous has entered the neighborhood and nobody wants to be noticed until it moves on.

We can all recall some grizzled B-Movie character scanning a hostile horizon and muttering "It's quiet. Too quiet..." just before all hell breaks loose. And we all know the cliche is accurate.

In the natural world, silence defeats the predator and it moves on, knowing it can't find prey now than it has been detected. In human endeavor, the opposite is true.

In our world, silence means nobody noticed the window breaking. It means whoever heard the scream decided not to get involved. It means that the victim is too intimidated to speak.

So the human predator succeeds and gets to victimize again and again and again.

The rest of us are expected to suffer in silence for any injustice we may receive, especially when that injustice is meted out by our 'betters', the guy who signs our paycheck or authority in general. They have the rights and privileges. A "good" person "turns the other cheek" and leaves retribution to a higher power that may not ever appear.

I beg to differ.

A thousand years before the biblical exhortation to love our enemies and leave their punishment to God was written, a man named Confucious asked this simple question: "If you reward evil with good -- how do you reward good?"


Y'see not rewarding evil with silent compliance is not really a bad thing. It's a basic human instinct to protect yourself from harm. So why do people who are exploited, misused or unfairly vilified come to think of themselves as "troublesome" when they make any effort to merely defend themselves?

That's simple too. Because thinking that way helps the people who don't have your best interests at heart continue to take advantage of you and increase their grip on the power they've already gained by your silence.

Don't like the fact that some faceless bureaucrat is going to decide if your script is "offensive"? Maybe you should have said something when faceless bureaucrats were deciding what got made in the first place.

Every minute you keep quiet about things that upset you because doing so might hurt your job chances, damage your rep as a team player or eliminate an opportunity to cozy up to the "right" people; every single time you turn a blind eye to something you know is wrong -- you make the people doing those unfair things stronger and you ensure that your future chances of ever defeating them become less likely.

I'm not couseling you to become Paul Kersey here, creeping around Manhatten with your .38 and a mind bent on revenge. But I do remember seeing "Death Wish" on its opening night in a Manhatten theatre and watching an entire audience rise to its feet and cheer with a deafening, primal roar the first time their vigilante hero pulled the trigger.

That experience didn't teach me that revenge was a good thing. It schooled me in the cathartic power of breaking the bonds of expected behavior. It instructed me that self defense doesn't mean letting the other guy pound on you for a good while before you can react.

I know this goes against everything you've ever had drummed into you about being a good little Canadian artist. But fighting back can actually be quite constructive. Here's why:

1. It stops you from being injured any further. In less than ten years of bureaucratic stranglehold and corporate lying, we've gone from a vibrant industry that couldn't find enough people to make its films and television to one that's a shadow of its former self and in danger of completely disappearing.

For too long, too many of us have shaken our heads and shrugged, "What're you gonna do?"

Gee, I don't know, how about "something" -- "anything"!

The first step in getting out of a hole is not letting anybody make it deeper.

2. Fighting back puts the people who would control you on notice. Most of us human types follow the path of least resistance in life. If you bite, spit and scream and the next guy doesn't, they'll move on to him, or at least back away from you. And they'll have serious second thoughts about whether they can actually get away with whatever they had planned.

And that gives you the chance to make some moves of your own.

3. There really is such a thing as Creative conflict. You use it in your writing. Start using it in your life. Sure, it'll make some people get out of your way -- but, ask yourself why they even thought they could get in your way to begin with!

You're the artist here, the one with the ideas and the big dreams. Empires and fortunes are built on that stuff. Take charge and start dictating just how it's going to be from now on.

And try this -- the next time a dog barks at you, bark back. I guarantee you'll get his attention if not his respect. The next time somebody bumps into you at the supermarket, don't say "sorry". And the next time some faceless bureaucrat decides to take one more of your freedoms -- tell them "No!" and mean it!

There may not be a lot of us, people. But there's enough. And this has to stop.

Silence is only golden when it is being practiced by an audience listening to your uncensored words.


Cunningham said...

I find a good punch to the throat works wonders, especially in meetings...

It stops the offender in his tracks and he can't talk back as you tell him that if he wants more of the same, he can keep talking.

I love all of you, my Canadian cousins, but the time has long come for you guys to quit being polite; quit worrying you are going to offend someone and punch some goddamn throats.

Brandon Laraby said...

Fuckin A, Jim.

Fuckin A...

Maybe, just maybe Mr. Harper will read my letter and say to himself 'what am I doing?'

Unfortunately, its far more likely that he hit 'Erase all' when he sees his inbox this morning.

gdott said...

I have to say Jim, reading this late last night got me fired up this morning. I even got to trade those emails with a real live Senator! Whoo!

Ken said...

In terms of breaking the silence the guy who, for me, takes the cake in this instance is Martin Gero (with whom I'm working right now in Vancouver). The director of "Young People Fucking" was quoted in the Globe and Mail today saying: "This is old people fucking the Canadian film industry."

Now I served on the DGC Ontario board long enough to know that language like that usually sets the argument back. But in this case I think shouting as loud as one can with whatever is in one's heart is the way to go.

I hope this all comes crashing down on the head of the man who claims credit for inciting it; one Charles McVety. And I hope he takes his very dangerous Canada Family Action Coalition, a few cabinet ministers, and some ultra-right wing backbenchers with him. Won't happen, but I'm an artist, and I'll be goddamned if I'm not allowed to dream.

pretty shaved ape said...

Jim, very well said and with quite a bit less cussing than myself. As an artist in a variety of media I take it as a personal insult that an obnoxious little man like McVety has any influence whatsoever on the lives of my peers. Thanks very much for your comment on my post over at canadiancynic. I'm on side with Cunniingham (and Pulp 2.0 is on my daily read list of faves) it is high time we started going for the larynx. Cheers, Lindsay aka Pretty Shaved Ape