Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sex in Canada

...and the title of this blog post alone will give it more hits than any other I've written so far.

I recently watched a Canadian movie by the name of "Young People Fucking". Mini-review: it was hilarious, candid and touching at the same time. Four couples and one mismatched threesome have sex in five separate storylines. It's like a romantic comedy without the hokeyness or the predictability. The dialogue is fantastic. It's a wonderful movie for couples to watch, provided feigned sex and unclothed boobs don't upset you.
4 1/2 awkward interruptions out of 5

A few years ago, Young People Fucking was at the centre of a Canadian controversy. The Conservative Government was set to pass a tax bill by the name of Bill C-10. Buried deep in this document was a section saying that if the government decided that a Canadian-made movie was "contrary to public policy", they could retroactively yank its tax credits. Canadian artists and filmmakers, after the bill was passed, noticed the clause and rallied the troops. The artists (correctly) pointed out that the vague wording would make filmmaking more risky, therefore less-likely to be funded by banks, therefore less-likely to be financed, and therefore less-likely to be filmed. Obviously films of a certain subject matter, as in ones involving sex, are riskier than others. The word "censorship" was touted, a stink was raised and then the issue just kinda faded out. Did the bill get defeated or something?

Anyway, Young People Fucking became the target of the pro-censorship crowd, eager to make this film an example of the kind of pornographic filth that Canada ought not to support. It was an easy target because of its title. But, as is always the case with conservative censorship scandals, the pro-censorship crowd obviously didn't go to the theatre to watch the film and back their claims. If they had, they would have seen how the show was about relationships and communication.

One of the over-arching messages of Young People Fucking seems to be that communication is poor or absent in each of the trysts. If the people involved had engaged in truly open, honest dialogue before they hopped into bed, the sexual experience would be much more rewarding and less awkward.

What a useful moral! We Canadians can be a frigid people when it comes to sex. We possess the urge to hide our sexuality, to repress public displays of affection, to hide our nakedness, and most importantly, secret our feelings. The most conservative amongst us believe that sex is for procreative purposes only, and these people have somehow managed to convince society that sex is bad, naughty and not-to-be-discussed.

And yet surprise babies keep appearing. Unmarried couples retire to shared beds and do it. Half-naked women sing banal songs and advertise products to us. One in every four workers accesses a porn site on the job every day, and even more porn is accessed from the privacy of Canadian homes. The efforts of morally-decent folk to the contrary, sex for social and pleasure purposes is here to stay.

Why do religious people and their prudish allies hate non-procreative sex and the human body? What is the societal consequence that these people fear will happen when their gay neighbors get married and do each other up the poop-chute? What disastrous THING will occur when mothers can freely whip out their tits to feed their hungry babies in public? What cataclysmic event is coming as the result of the internet porn industry?

Honestly, it sure beats me. I'd like to think that if I was a Judeo-Christian religious man, my faith would be strong enough to survive any pornographic assault. But as far as I can tell, sex is viewed as a temptation by these people. The love of Jesus is not always enough to sustain them and sometimes they want to do naughty things. They feel that open displays of sex and nudity will call them to a life of shame and drag them to hell.

Fair enough. But that's not my problem. I'm not religious in that way. Society's mollycoddling regarding sex damaged me when I was growing up and, honestly, I'm still recovering from it. Sex still embarrasses me when I wish it wouldn't. My urge to hide my sexuality still results in misunderstandings, hurt feelings and arguments. It's not my parents' fault. They did their best. If I had to grow up all over again, I think I'd rather do it in a nudist colony than the public school system so that sex wouldn't be such a big goddamn deal.

Canada's absurd obsession and fear of sex is hurting us. The only answer is open, honest dialogue regarding sex between all of us. But that won't happen anytime soon. If all Canadians spoke candidly and truthfully about sex with each other, the prudes would come to the alarming realization that porn, premarital sex, prostitution, homosexuality and adolescent sex are an unchangeable reality of humankind, that indulging in harmless perversions, fantasies and wanking doesn't make you a bad person, and the sexual tastes of other people do not affect the ability of religious people to get into heaven.

Let's take porn as an example. You discover that the people next door filmed a porno flick in their basement and people worldwide are watching it. How does this affect you? It doesn't. It's their business, their everlasting souls and their bodies. They're not going to tunnel into your house and film down there, nor will they force you to have sex with a stranger. The world goes on and if you're religious, Jesus still loves you.

I'll take it a step further. Suppose you discover that a man down the road paid the pretty Ice Cream clerk to have sex. Is your family any closer to hell? Nope. Did he pay your wife to sleep with him? Nope. So who cares? And furthermore, why was their tryst an arrest-worthy crime?

Much of the time, the prudes swell their audience when play the "protect the children" card. Yes, I agree. Children need to be protected. This means stopping predatory pedophiles, pimps and child pornographers from exploiting your child. Kidnapping, sexual assault and fraud are all arrest-worthy crimes.

But when the censors ask us to "think of the children", they seem to be forgetting that, as adults, it is our responsibility not only to protect children, but to teach and nurture them. Sheltering them from sexual information, particularly when they hit puberty, is not the answer. When puberty arrives, children are hit with powerful instincts to have sex, and some will do it no matter how much they have been sheltered.

Consider this: you're watching a movie with your nine-year-old son, Junior. Then suddenly the scrawny heroine whips her top off and starts kissing the hero. Many parents would cover Junior's eyes. But why? He's too young to have sex. He can't even understand why sex is appealing. What harm are those too-perfect boobs causing him? He's not going to have nightmares about boobs stalking him in the forest. Are you protecting him for his own sake, or are you just concerned that if Junior watches the scene, he'll ask a question that makes YOU uncomfortable, like, "Why are those people doing that?" And furthermore, why will it hurt him for you to explain it? His head will not explode, nor will yours. He's going to find out eventually and it might as well be you that prepares him. Wouldn't you rather he found out from open, honest dialogue than from tittering rumours whispered amongst classmates?

I remember when I was a high school student, the Catholic school up the road had the highest teen pregnancy rate of any school in the city. Coincidence? No. This was back in the days when the prudes had convinced the Catholic school board that sex education was a bad idea. Why on earth would you deprive teenagers, once they become capable of having sex, with valuable information about their sexuality? They need to know about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. Ultimately, as a parent, your child's decision to have sex is not yours. It's theirs. When they have the opportunity to have sex, if they have bad or faulty information, they will make equally bad choices.

I say these things as a new father. I know that much of the urge to protect children comes from a parental desire to keep their offspring innocent. When you raise a child from a baby, it's hard to see them grow up. But grow up they will. It's hard to believe that my little baby will be a woman someday. Honestly, I can't wait. As she becomes a toddler, a little girl, a big girl, a teenager and a young adult, I intend to help and inform her in every way I possibly can. If that means that I'm going to have to weather several uncomfortable conversations, I'm prepared. I will do my best to see that she does not join the ranks of the repressed.

So, dear Conservatives, mollycoddlers and censors: Canada is, or should be, a land of free speech. That means occasionally putting up with opinions, stories and art that you don't like. That includes stuff that's too violent, too sexy, too stupid, too smart and too gay for you. By all means create ratings systems and classifications that tell parents what their children will see in their entertainment. That's useful. Just never tell me what my kids shouldn't see.

If you inhibit entertainment so it fits your mold, you will inhibit open, honest dialogue. There are plenty countries of out there where the government stands for moral decency at the expense of free speech, and do you know what? They all suck.

Even Lot managed to raise a peaceful, God-loving family. That includes two daughters who stayed chaste, and they lived in Gomorrah of all places. If he can do it, so can you. In the meantime, quit trying to impose your primitive, early-agricultural religion on me and my family.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review of "The Blue World" by Jack Vance

In early December I was going a bit crazy. I was writing and doing chores like a maniac. When I sat down to play video games, I wasn't enjoying it. Actually, nothing seemed to be enjoyable. My unborn baby had reached full-term and it was all I could think about. I voiced these concerns to my wife and she diagnosed the problem as stress. She insisted that I take some time off. After getting over the shock of this suggestion I said to her, "I would really like to read some science fiction from the 70s. That is exactly what will make me feel better."

She appeared moments later with "The Blue World" by Jack Vance. It was exactly what I was looking for. Sure, it was first published in 1966, but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that there was a guy with big 70's fantasy muscles on the cover that would make Boris Vallejo proud. I was equally happy when I discovered that the material inside was of good quality. It is a short novel, perfect for reading over the course of a weekend off.

The story takes place on an ocean world. The humans of Blue World live with minimal technology on what are essentially giant lily pads. Food is abundant and the people have few cares. The only nuisance is that a giant, armoured, aquatic, semi-intelligent squid-ant thingy (a Kragen) is extorting them. Sure, he keeps their colony safe from other Kragen, but he also takes increasing amounts of their food to support his growing size. King Kragen is also worshipped as a god by many followers, particularly the men who can apparently communicate with it.

The hero, Sklar Hast, a communications tower operator, has a rotten day at work and returns to his lagoon to see a small Kragen snacking from the community food supply. His "god" is nowhere to be seen and Sklar decides to break the commandment that only King Kragen may harm another Kragen. This brings him into conflict with King Kragen itself. His decision sparks fear, persecution, societal schism and eventially war.

I'm not sure if the book could be considered to be allegorical, but the overarching theme seems to be that religious conservatism will always ignorantly attack novelty and free thought. Which team wins? You'll have to read the book to find out. All I'll say is that it isn't much of a fight. The team that wins steamrolls the other in every engagement. That's a bit of a problem with the narrative, actually. One team always seems to be really tough but is inevitably thrashed. It's a bit like an old Warner Brother's cartoon, really. Eventually you realize that Tweety Bird wins every time, despite Silvester's claws, wiles and plots, because Tweety has fate and absurd destiny on his side. Once you realize this, Tweety ceases to be an underdog and one starts to pity Silvester.

The book handles its exposition excellently. With a society so vastly different from our own, the tempation exists to front-end a novel with explanitory information. However, Vance manages to distribute only as much information as is necessary to understand the plot at each moment in the story. At no point was I confused about what was happening, nor was I bored with too much information. Huzzah! Pay attention, Terry Pratchett.

The book was everything I hoped it would be. My weekend was saved, I stopped worrying so much about being a dad, I drank some booze and life was good.
4 dopey priests out of 5

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Legend-haunted Saskatchewan

I was once riding a bus from Saskatoon to Edmonton. In my lap was a book of short stories inspired by The Shadow Over Innsmouth, by H.P. Lovecraft. After reading a particularly good one, I stared out the window at the summertime fields, imagining the rotting seaport of Innsmouth with its shuffling denizens. I imagined Lovecraft's Massachusetts: an ancient land with malicious things lurking in lonely places, a land where civilization is clapboarded onto a wild landscape and unimaginable creatures writhe at its edges. Here's a nice one of Innsmouth taken from

It is a compelling setting, one which easily lends itself to horror. Other writers have their own horror settings. Stephen King has his Maine. The early horror writers had scores of tumble-down European castles, mansions and abbeys for their ghosts to populate, settings which are now old-hat. But what about my home province, Saskatchewan?

This I pondered as the scenery whizzed past. I tried to see why Saskatchewan was scary. I imagined dark things lurking under the trees, creatures hiding in the fields, strangers gone missing, unspeakable acts committed in anonymity amongst the farmhouses.

I couldn't. All I could see was beauty. Everything was pleasant, canola was blooming, pollen was in the air, the sky was blue and golden. Outside, I knew a warm wind was tickling the aspens and if you strolled one of the dusty grid roads, curious people would wave from their trucks as they drove past. This land is inherently friendly.

Since then, I've been on a mission to find the scary in my province and mostly been frustrated. The scary is minimal or hackneyed. Nobody needs another Indian-burial-ground-ghost or squeal-like-a-pig-hillbilly troubling their literature. There are no abandoned castles here.

So after several years, here's what I've come up with. Rather than explain it to you in rant form, I'll use flash fiction. In no particular order, this is why Saskatchwan is scary:

The orange farm light in the distance didn't seem to be getting any bigger. Daniel trudged along the bleak road. No moon lit his way, but the snow reflected cold starlight. The stars blazed innummerable and white above him. Cold wind blasted from them and stole his breath.

Daniel turned to shelter his bare face from the gust. The wind rattled the leafless poplars at the roadside and hissed in the snow. It leaked through his parka and chilled his legs under his jeans. He found his breath and stared to the indescernable horizon. He could no longer see his Toyota.

The wind passed over the wood and vanished onto the prairie, leaving figid silence. It blew still, but in a deadly whisper. The snow scrunched under his boots. In the dark, where his car should be, something black on the road moved.

He shut his eyes and spun back toward the farm light. He shielded his face, muttering, "I didn't see anything." But when he heard the echo of his snowy boots from the woods, the trees resounded another set of footfalls.
The old wood creaked under Greta's step as her eyes adjusted. She was on a dance floor speckled with mouse droppings. An old stage loomed before her. Light spilling through broken panes revealed a pile of wheat husks at the far end of the hall where some farmer had stored grain. A podium was toppled against a dusty upright piano.

Here, decades ago, her great grandfather had tuned his violin. Her grandmother sat at the piano and her great aunt strummed a guitar in one of these overturned chairs. Where she stood, a vanished community had waltzed and jigged. It was a place of warmth and laughter.

The hall was not warm now. It was damp and musty. The only music was sung by distant meadow larks.

The roof creaked and settled in the prairie breeze. Greta rubbed her bare arms, flattening goose pimples. She felt like an intruder. She wanted to leave, but did not.

Instead, curiosity drew her to the piano. She lifted the lid from the keys. Real ivory shone in the dim. With a thumb, she played middle C. Her eyes widened. The note was in tune. Her fingers traced the first melody that came to mind, "The Blue Danube", each note well-tempered. She stopped when she felt something clammy clap on her shoulder.

A hollow voice asked, "Would you like to dance?"
It wanders into town at night. When I first saw it in my headlights, I thought it was a bear. But giant eyes, round as the full moon, reflected back at me. It shuffled into the ditch and vanished into the endless forest.

When I see it, it makes no sound. It travels from house to house, wanders the landfill, opens sheds and outhouses and just looks. It rummages through piles of trash by the road to the airport and watches children on the playground swing set if they stay after dark.

It haunts certain people the most. It follows Wendy Bear every night, loping just beyond her vision as she staggers home from the hotel, drunk. It peeps in the Delorme's trailer window and watches Norman beat his wife. When I found that baby skeleton lying in the woods, it was crouched on a mound of moss in a nearby strand of jackpine.

I don't know if anybody else can see it. If they can, they don't tell anybody. Nobody tells anybody anything here. They just live with it.

I would leave town if I could, but I don't have the money. I never will. And every night as I light my glass pipe in the dark, I see the lighter's flame shining in its round eyes as it stares through my window.
That's what I've come up with. I'm sure this is not an exhaustive list. Dear readers, what do you find scary about Saskatchewan? I invite you to share. Relate a tale, post some flash fiction, or give me a mini-essay. Leave it in a comment, e-mail me or Facebook me. If I get at least three responses, I'll make a separate post and publish it here. Fire up your creative brains and let's hear it. Hokay? Hokay.