Posts Tagged 'greta thunberg'

Pretty / fair assessment.

I didn’t pay all that much attention to the recently concluded Canadian election campaign. It was only on voting day, while scraping together links to give the illusion of substance to my hot take on the outcome, that I learned about Maxime Bernier’s one-sided feud with Greta Thunberg.

Thunberg’s name you already know – she’s the sixteen year old Swede who skipped school to protest government insouciance toward what she believes is a looming global warming apocalypse, thus sparking an international campaign of climate truancy.

Bernier is the leader of the conservative splinter faction the People’s Party, who, after eliciting torrents of outrage from Canadian commentators about the infection of our heretofore pristine politics by an alien strain of right-wing populism, managed in the end to nab 1.6% of the vote.

A week before the election call, referring to an Instagram post in which Thunberg had discussed how her Asperger’s made her “a bit different from the norm”, Bernier tweeted:

@GretaThunberg is clearly mentally unstable. Not only autistic, but obsessive-compulsive, eating disorder, depression and lethargy, and she lives in a constant state of fear.

She wants us to feel the same: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I fear every day.”

For this and other offenses to propriety he was challenged by a questioner at the English language leaders’ debate, who wondered whether a politician willing to express such thoughts had the “character and integrity” to serve as prime minister.

Now, I don’t think Bernier’s tweet was so horrible. I guess the idea is that Thunberg, as a mere child, is too precious to be exposed to such a vicious partisan attack.

Putting aside the question of why, then, we ought to be taking seriously the opinions of the wee dainty thing, pretending to worry about a political foe’s mental stability strikes me as a more gentlemanly way to discredit her than the customary tactic of questioning her decency or honesty.

Compare Nancy Pelosi’s comment, after a noisy meeting with Donald Trump, that the president was losing his grip and that we all ought to “pray for his health”. I mean, sure it was cynical and sanctimonious. Still, it was a refreshing change from calling him a racist liar like she does every other day of the week.

But I suppose I’m defending Bernier because, when I saw that famous picture of Thunberg at the climax of her speech at the UN – the “How dare you” speech – I couldn’t help thinking, “The poor kid looks nuts.”

greta thunberg how dare you

Jason Decrow, AP Images.

Speaking of unflattering pictures, a couple months back this letter to the editor appeared in the print edition of the Vancouver Sun:

I was struck by the rather telling body language in the photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump on Page NP1 of Monday’s Sun. Trudeau smiles and extends a hand in conventional diplomatic greeting while Trump looks away with a disdainful expression and keeps his hands clasped together. The picture neatly summarizes our two countries’ relationship and shows Trump has no tact.

When I got home that evening I looked up the photo, which was taken at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France:

trump trudeau handshake g7 meeting 2019

“In my considered opinion as a professional photojournalist, the key moment of this encounter occurred just after the leaders’ handshake, as the president turned to look for his chair.” –┬áNicholas Kamm, Agence France-Presse.

No doubt the author of that letter would deny that his political opinions are so malleable that a photograph could alter them. He wouldn’t despise Trump a jot less if the Sun had opted to publish this more conventional shot, taken a few seconds earlier:

trump trudeau handshake g7 meeting 2019

Carlos Barria, Reuters.

I’m not so confident that I’m immune to the effects of media image manipulation. Suppose I’d never seen that memorable photo of Thunberg with her face twisted in rage – suppose the Vancouver Sun had instead gone with the more complimentary angle favoured by the Toronto Star:

greta thunberg how dare you

Spencer Platt, Getty Images.

In that case, when I later came across Bernier’s ruminations about Thunberg’s mental health, they would have struck me as entirely out of left field.

I don’t mean to imply that the Sun, or the many other newspapers that published the rage-face photo, were trying to discredit Thunberg. It’s definitely the more interesting image, just as the image of Trump appearing to snub Trudeau is more interesting than a customary grip-and-grin would have been.

But even when we all see the same image, we don’t. For those already panicky about global warming, Thunberg’s emotionalism seems appropriately modulated: she should be that outraged. Why aren’t the rest of us?

While to cynical geezers like me and, I suppose, Maxime Bernier, she just looks like an overwrought kid who needs a hug.

Looking again at that Trump-Trudeau handshake, to me it’s not the president but the PM who comes off poorly. With his camera-ready grin Trudeau has always struck me as glossy and artificial, like a second-rate game show host; while Trump, for whom I have a grudging fondness, seems appealingly rumpled and unrehearsed.

Obviously this has nothing to do with the two men’s respective policies. Just as obviously, it colours the way I perceive those policies. A news media intent on subtly shifting my political sympathies could probably do so, over the course of many months, by showing me photos of Trudeau looking less like an airbrushed phony, and Trump like more of one.

They’ve been doing that kind of thing – making Personality A look like a saint and Personality B like a shifty weirdo – since the invention of the news. But until quite recently the media’s efforts at thought manipulation have been limited,

First, by the temptation of profits, which created an incentive to publish visually arresting but off-message pictures;

Second, by the diversity of the media market, which meant there was usually a competing newspaper or TV network to serve as a reality check for skeptical audiences;

Third, by the fact that a substantial minority of the audience would always turn out to be perversely attracted to whatever the majority found ugly.

But media consolidation has reduced the salience of the first two factors, while the third – the glorious, ridiculous unruliness of individual human judgement – may turn out to be algorithmically tameable.

Soon media companies will have the power to fine-tune their image delivery to individual readers: to show me Trudeau with a frown and five-o’clock shadow where my neighbour sees him grinning with baby-smooth cheeks; to show me Thunberg cool and scientific where my neighbour sees her bawling for our doomed planet; and we’ll both arrive, by seeming serendipity, at exactly the same set of opinions.

M.


Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

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