Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A very smart friend of mine made an excellent point this week about Leah McLaren. Actually, she made several points. The first is that “Leah Bashing” has become quite common in certain circles, and that perhaps, for the most part, it is done thoughtlessly, only because it is the thing to do. To this, I confess, I am guilty. But I must protest that it did start independently, stemming from reading her column and being annoyed (there’s that word again) by it, and wanting to somehow DO something about it. Still, it has become, perhaps, too easy, and, I admit, a blog like this falls under the category of perhaps, if not being part of the solution, being part of the problem. That is, what am I going to do about it, and really, what is IT, anyway?

The second point my friend made was that in fact, Leah McLaren is an intelligent person who is AWARE of the shallow tone of her writing; she is purposefully playing the role of the dumb blonde. Indeed it is a bit of “old school” criticism to conflate the author and her work (that’s a term they teach you in grad school, by the way—“old school”), but in the case of a newspaper columnist, perhaps it is an easy mistake to make—she is, after all, supposed to be writing about herself, herself being a representation of a certain demographic. The demographic is that of highly educated single twenty-somethings with well-paying jobs, who still party like they are undergrads, but also have mortgages and cleaning ladies. They are the new teenager: a little more responsibility, but still lots of disposable income. This is certainly a cultural phenomenon worth reporting on, even worth having a regular columnist for—this is the IT I was looking for.

So why does it irk so much to read about it? And who am I to be criticizing her? Who am I, at all? I am the same age as Leah McLaren, I have a Master’s degree, a book coming out, I teach part-time in a university, I still have a big student loan; there’s not much that makes me different from her, on the surface. Except that she’s made it, and I’m a nobody. She’s cool; I’m not. She’s got money, and I’m in debt; teaching at a university part-time doesn’t pay as well as one might think. My mother-in-law still nags me to get a job. Oh yeah, I’m married; maybe that’s why I’m not cool. But cool people that I know still dislike Leah. Why?

Maybe because we are so similar. I admit, there might be a bit of jealousy in there. Would I take a weekly column in the Globe and Mail to talk about my life? Oh yeah. Would I care enough to try to represent my generation as best as possible, or would I insulate myself in my new, charmed, life, and write only about my life of leisure, making up faux-crises on which to ruminate and fake philosophy?

Here’s the thing. Leah McLaren is charged with representing, accurately, her generation. For the most part, I concede, she does this well. But. The third point my friend, to whom I am grateful for being able to stand having a discussion with me because I can be quite caustic and defensive and disagreeable, makes is this: Leah’s writing is meant to be self-mocking. This was a revelation to me. And this is where, for those of you who are seething and yelling “She sucks, she just sucks, come on, say something mean,” I can make what I think is a genuine bit of constructive criticism (whether it is my place to or not). If she is going to be self-mocking, or sarcastic, or ironic, she needs to provide some context. If you are an air-head all the time, how is anyone supposed to know that you’re not an airhead, and that you’re just making fun of airheads?

Similarly, if you are representing a generation, it might be a good idea to look at the whole picture. Last week’s column becomes a microcosm for the entire concept that Leah is going for: she stereotypes and generalizes, and misses the subtleties.

Another friend of mine suggested the only reason she’s on staff is to give the dirty old men at the paper some sweet young thing to fantasize about. While she may be more than just a pretty face, she’s not doing herself, or anyone else, any favours by playing up to the inanities and immaturities of her generation, or the generation before it. If we are the leaders of tomorrow, men and women of our generation, we can’t let those from whom we take the mantle of leadership think we’re idiots.

The least she can do is write intelligent commentary on the generation that is ourselves.

Monday, April 19, 2004

It has been brought to my attention (not via any kind of comment feature that I can't seem to make work) that the word "annoying" is overused here. Granted, while that's not entirely my fault, I will endeavour to be a bit more varied in my vocabulary. The word of the week: irritate.

This week, Leah irritates as usual. Somehow, despite pointing out that "generalizing about the respective emotional needs of men and women inevitably smacks of all those horrible Rules-type books that try to slot all single and/or married people in the same special needs category," she proceeds, then, to generalize the respective emotional needs of men and women. Huh? Oh, and the bit about wiping your tongue with a napkin, and the sound effect that goes with it ("Bleck")--first of all, it's the wrong sound effect, second of all, it's irritating.

The generalized premise of this week's column is that men are afraid of commitment (wow, that's a new one!) and that women have a nesting instinct (Leah was never much of a feminist anyway, but still...). Apparently, the reason why all of her female friends have bought their own "Victorian row house in the city's west end," but her male friends still live in bachelor pads, is because of the metaphorical weight of house ownership. Not because of individual circumstance, but simply because boys are boys and girls are girls.

It's not that these boys aren't "domesticated" though. Apparently they "shop for cashmere bed throws on Bloor Street" and "if they don't all clean, they all hire a cleaner." A point of logic: the either/or of this is ridiculous. She's postulating that either they ALL clean, or they ALL have a cleaner. I guess if you are going to generalize, you might as well go the whole hog, don't leave any room for exceptions.

Ok, now I'm just ranting. One final point: Not only does Leah manage to sweep all men and women with the same broom in her "examination" of housing market trends, she also manages a little throw-away generalizing at the end. The one guy she knows who did buy a house: he's gay. So of course all gay men have that feminine nesting instinct. This gay man was probably a better dresser than the other men she knows, and he probably really likes shopping too. I can't think of any other stereotypes, but just ask Leah, she knows them all.

Come on Leah, get your head out of your ass.

Monday, April 12, 2004

A list of confirmations...I'm not the only one it seems.

www.cardigan.com/2000/11-11/ (public displays of annoyance)
engsoc.queensu.ca/gw/issues/35/3515-2.pdf (how did she get this job?)
dissectingleahmclaren.blogspot.com/ (this blogger is so demoralized about Leah, he/she is moving to the USA!)
http://sankey.ca/king/002044.shtml (some guy who claims to love her but is really making fun of her)
http://sankey.ca/king/002011.shtml (same dude, outs Leah on her claim to have quit smoking)
http://www.eisc.ca/mclaren.html (environmental illness society of Canada)
http://www.textism.com/article/741/a-book-is-sold (and, yes, she does have a book coming out)

Up until now, really, all Leah has been is annoying. This is the first time she has actually been offensive. Don't worry, she's still as annoying as ever; this week she writes a self-obsessed rant about staying out all night--as if this is something we should a) pity her for, or b) congratulate her on. What's worse is her own self-pity ("I just can't. Do. Anything. Except. Lieinbedcryingabout whatatotalloserIamandwhydoIneverlearn"), not to mention brutal writing style. All this is nothing more than the usual; where she steps over the line this week, however, is in her comparison of her after-hours booze-can, "The Mistake" (an appropriate name at least), to "bullet-riddled ruins of rural Bosnia." She also comapres it to bleak central Newfoundland (I bet Newfoundlanders aren't tired of hearing their province called bleak--get an original metaphor Leah!) and a trashed Cancun hotel suite (yet another example of how unaware this writer is of the real world: if you've managed to get yourself into a hotel suite in Cancun--it's not that bad). But the comparaison to Bosnia just does it for me. Even if she's been to Bosnia (which she claims, though I am glad to say I've never read any of her journalistic reports from there), it has obviously had no effect on her, if she is so affluent-North American arrogant to compare the deaths (real deaths, not deaths as in "Omigod I just died when he crased my party that was talked about in the local gossip column) of so many innocent civilians, not to mention soliders, with spending a night out drinking. If she really does epitomize the twenty-something with a good job who haven't yet learned about responsibility, what is truly bleak is the future.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Ok, so just to get quickly caught up before the weekend paper, here is a little review of the last two weeks in "leahland."

Two weeks ago, she was off on some rant about a dream she had where she was making hot dogs with Madonna. First of all, didn't anyone ever tell you, Leah, that there is nothing more boring than listening to other people's dreams? Maybe your therapist doesn't mention it because you pay him to listen to you, so he has to.

This is another problem--I guess having a therapist is cool these days, and I suppose it is good, in a theraputic sense, to be able to admit to needing/having one, but again, why does this need to be in the public domain? It seems to me you are flaunting your therapy like some badge of upper-middle class honour--at least this confirms that you are sick.

It also seems to me that most upper-middle class folk probably pride themselves on being discrete--it is rude to talk about money, whether you are flaunting your status (as in dropping the information that you have a therapist in conversation, or in a newspaper column), or whining about a lack of it.

I'm not sure what is more annoying about last week's column: you complaining about having to choose between a massage and a cleaning lady or the fact that it is because you are on unpaid book leave, which implies that you are writing a book.

What kind of a writer needs a cleaning lady? You work from home, and you don't even really work, you write a crappy newspaper column about a person who writes a newspaper column about a person who writes a newspaper column...Ok, maybe you are just so lost in your navel-gazing that you don't have time to vacuum, but you can't be so self-centred that you don't realize that if you have a regular massage therapist AND a cleaning lady..YOU'RE NOT POOR!!!

So annoying. See you next week.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Ok, so this blog is dedicated to the columnist everyone loves to hate: Leah McLaren. This is really meant to be helpful. I really don't know anyone who actually enjoys her column, yet there she is, every week, spouting inanities about her personal life that we should somehow care about...it's almost like a blog! Except that it's in my newspaper, and I take great pleasure in reading the entire Saturday Globe, front to back. So she's kind of in the way of that pleasure.

Since it would be unfair to call for her dismissal, or simply trash her without offering a solution (if you can't say anything nice...), I thought why not blog it up and try and make things better.

The first update to come soon...


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