I know it’s popular to say that Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women gets more commercial every year, but I still do try to think about the meaning of the day each December 6. I worked for a university engineering faculty newspaper only a few years after an anti-feminist madman rampaged through an engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal and slaughtered a bunch of innocent women. So that day was kind of a big deal.
While we were primarily a humour paper, we were technically the engineering faculty newspaper as well. So each year, we published a pull-out section in memoriam of the women murdered at the École Polytechnique. Because we were theoretically incapable of higher thoughts and feelings, this was outsourced to the Equality Issues Committee, who also did the paper’s weekly “Voices” column, a forum for alternative viewpoints that the paper basically published in penance for our past misdeeds. By that, I mean the homophobic/sexist/racist jokes published by the people who ran it in the eighties. By the time the nineties came along, we at the paper had moved on to patting ourselves on the backs about homophobic/sexist/racist we weren’t. We couldn’t be, since by then we were basically ripping off The Simpsons 90 percent of the time, which wasn’t allowed to be any of those things.*
The only problem with this was that the EIC’s contributions were occasionally so sloppy that I have to wonder if they weren’t trying to take the paper down from the inside, and they—insofar as I can assign responsibility to anyone else—were responsible for both the worst error I ever caught and the worst error that I ever didn’t.
For example, in one “Voices” column about Rainbow Flag Week, they managed to leave a letter out of that second word. I caught that just before we went to press with a story about Rainbow Fag Week.
However, the year I was editor, the December 6 pull-out section was overseen by a staffer we all called “Sizzler.” We all wrote under pseudonyms, but that wasn’t his. His last name was something close to Sizzler, so he got called that, and he probably ought to have just changed his pen name to that from whatever he did write under. It wouldn’t have made much difference, as he rarely wrote anything funny enough to get into print, which left him with plenty of time to devote to his EIC duties. Frankly, I sort of wondered if he’d joined that committee so that he could actually get something into the paper for once.
This pull-out section was four pages long, three of which contained mostly bad poetry. The front page consisted simply of a vertical list of the names of the women killed in the Montreal Massacre. Thirteen names.
… out of fourteen victims.
I blew a gasket. I was furious that Sizzler managed to screw up something so simple as making a complete list of the victims—or at least counting the number of names. If there was anything that anyone knew about the Montreal Massacre, it was that fourteen women were murdered. Fourteen. He was an engineer. He couldn’t do math? He couldn’t count? But I was even angrier at myself. Did I bother to double-check his work before publication? No, I only spotted the error on Wednesday morning, when 8000 copies of the paper landed on campus.
However, there is a silver lining.
For a couple of years, all I’d really known about Sizzler was that he was (a) not funny and (b) annoying. He took up space on the couch and consumed a lot of pizza, alongside a bunch of other dead weight we’d been trying to get rid of for years. Apart from that, I really tried to give him no thought whatsoever. Then, in the course of one conversation one day a little before the above events, I found out all at once that he was (c) Jewish and (d) gay.
Suddenly, two things were clear: First, all those lousy parody versions of show tune lyrics that he kept submitting suddenly made sense. And second, if I continued to find him annoying, that might automatically make me a homophobic anti-Semite. That didn’t seem fair, but it was the way it was. I’d have to be more inclusive. I might even have to start printing his submissions.
But then the above incident gave a legitimate reason to be annoyed with Sizzler. I’d overcome my crisis of confidence. Now I knew it really wasn’t about religion or sexual preference. I really could just see him as a person, and be annoyed by that person. In a way, he exactly achieved the goals toward which the Equality Issues Committee had working all along. In a way, Sizzler was a hero. An annoying, unfunny, incompetent hero.
* Of course, as Matt points out in the title of the post from which I’m cannibalizing a few of my comments here, this was back before Family Guy had built an entire empire on jokes about violence against women. Which probably brings things full circle.
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