A Vanity Tax to Soak the Rich

What better way to identify Bay Street’s top dog than for Ontario to auction off the TOPBROKR licence plate?

Finance by
Web Exclusives •  522 words 

Photograph by Jonathan Kay
Photograph by Jonathan Kay A Lamborghini’s vanity plate in Toronto.

The idea came to me as I was waiting at a red light behind a black BMW X5 with the licence plate ROSEDALE.

I thought of all the other Torontonians who must have wanted to mark their car with the name of the city’s fanciest neighbourhood. What made this particular owner so special? Only the fact that he happened to be first in line at the provincial licence registrar. (All you need to acquire a personalized plate in Ontario is a $310 fee and a two-to-eight-character personalized message that does not connote “sexual and eliminatory functions,” “derogatory slang,” or “reference[s] to the use of or sale of legal or illegal drugs.”)

Other plates I’ve photographed over the years include the promotional MUSIC DJ (on the minivan of the guy who came to rock my daughter’s eleventh birthday party), the professional TOPBROKR (on a BMW M4), and the redundant I BENZ I (on a Mercedes GLA 230). A few nights ago, I spotted a magnificent quarter-million-dollar Lamborghini on Toronto’s Richmond Street, fronted with an Ontario plate reading ERNDITT. When I posted the picture to social media, my Twitter followers were predictably scathing. (“He probably just ran out of room for ‘with the assistance of the state and society,’” wrote one.) But amidst the pile-on, Walrus contributor Stephen Marche also supplied a moment of clarity, which gets to the heart of my proposal: “The truly horrifying thing about this is that there must already be a plate that reads ‘Erndit’ with one T.”

I don’t know who ERNDITT is. But I’m guessing that his extra T bothers him. He’s self-conscious about it. No matter what kind of car ERNDIT may be driving—no manner how little he has, in fact, actually ERND—it is ERNDITT who always will look second tier in the eyes of the vanity plate community.

Which raises the question: Exactly how much would ERNDITT pay to prove that he’s the rightful heir to ERNDIT (or, perhaps even better, EARNEDIT)? More than $310, surely. In fact, I’d be surprised if the number weren’t four or even five figures.

As things stand, the question is moot, since the province charges a flat fee for vanity plates, and the holders of these plates are entitled to renew them indefinitely. But why should that be? By means of an anonymous, sky’s-the-limit, internet-hosted auction process, the government could not only raise millions of dollars from high-roller ERNERS, it also could increase the status associated with the plates: The holder of ERNDIT would become known to the world as a man with money to burn. The same goes for ROSEDALE. And surely there is no better way to identify the real TOPBROKR than by finding out who has the biggest Bay Street bonus to blow on bumper bragging rights.

It would be potlatch in machine-pressed aluminium form, in other words—with all the proceeds going to government through purely voluntary extraction. Want to balance the budget? Let the vanity auction begin.

Jonathan Kay (@jonkay) is the editor-in-chief of The Walrus.

Jonathan Kay (@jonkay) is the editor-in-chief of The Walrus.

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The Other Palestinians

Canada declares support for both Israel and the Palestinians. Yet our policy is silent on the issue of Arabs living in Israel

International Politics by
Web Exclusives •  1,170 words 

With a new Canadian government in place, political observers have wondered whether our approach to the Middle East—and to Israel in particular—will shift. Most expect that Justin Trudeau’s government will return to a more measured style, one driven by compassion for both Israelis and Palestinians.

But in any discussion of Israeli-Palestinian relations, it’s easy to forget that one of the most pressing—and underreported—policy issues is the treatment of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Roughly one-fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabic speaking. Until their own concerns are addressed, the issue of how “Arab Israelis” (as they are sometimes called) negotiate their identity in a Jewish-majority state will remain fraught. While Canada declares itself supportive of both Israel and the Palestinians, Canadian policy is silent on the issue of minority relations within Israel.

It’s perhaps a bit ironic, then, that Yousef Jabareen, an Israeli Member of Knesset from the Arab Joint List party, invokes the Canadian experience when he advocates for minority rights for Arab Israelis—even if the drawing of such a parallel between our two countries may at first seem odd. Canada’s delicate dance between francophones and anglophones has been a qualified success, and bilingualism is an important component of this country’s multicultural identity.

In Toronto, a group of supporters of New Israel Fund Canada, a social-justice umbrella devoted to civil rights in Israel, was recently treated to a discussion of the state of Palestinian citizens’ rights in Israel by two visiting activists. Ron Gerlitz and Rawnak Natour are co-directors of Sikkuy, an Israeli non-governmental organization that has been working for twenty-five years to improve inequalities between Palestinian and Jewish citizens in Israel. I reached them that afternoon by phone.

The name of their organization (which means “prospect” in Hebrew) is optimistic, and so are they. But their message is bleak. Across a variety of indicators—funding for education, housing, municipal infrastructure, and economic disparity, Israel suffers from policy discrimination toward its Palestinian citizens. Jewish towns and cities tend to have a larger tax base owing to the presence of government buildings, military bases, and more commercial centres, they argue. To close the gap, Sikkuy would like to see the national government allocate more funds to local councils. And while 700 new Jewish towns or cities have been established since Israel’s founding, no Arab locales (save several Bedouin communities in the Negev region, which have their own controversies) have been built.

Israeli citizens, of course, can live wherever they choose—in principle. But like all Canadian provinces do, Israel runs separate school systems (state, state-religious, ultra-Orthodox, and Arab), which means that there’s the practical issue of where residents can educate their children. Statements like the one issued two years ago by Upper Nazareth’s mayor, Shimon Gapso—he declared that his city would remain “Jewish,” and that he would seek to block the building of Arab schools—continue to make the climate hostile.

Then there are the symbolic inequities. In trying to promote the idea of a “shared society,” Sikkuy’s directors want to push back against the perception that “Arabic is the language of the enemy.” While Arabic enjoys official language status alongside Hebrew, Gerlitz and Natour point to the fact that the announcements on Israel’s coastal train are in Hebrew and English only. And then there are the little hilarious, but subtly demeaning, examples of linguistic embarrassments. The zoo in Rishon L’Tzion, they tell me, includes descriptive signs for each display in Hebrew and Arabic—but the latter translations simply say “animal.” And there’s the matter of the Knesset’s cafeteria sign, which has the word in English and Hebrew, alongside four gibberish Arabic letters. It’s pervasive, Ron tells me. There is not adequate Arabic language service even in buses that run within Arab communities; there is inadequate signage in universities, hospitals, and children’s museums. “Arab kids feel like strangers in their own land,” he adds.

What about the big national symbols, things like Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah”? While some Diaspora Jews—such as at least one columnist in the liberal-leaning Jewish Daily Forward—have contemplated adapting the lyrics from a “Jewish soul” to an “Israeli soul,” it’s a change that’s unlikely to happen. Unlike Canada’s apparent comfort with having two versions of “O Canada”—one in English and one in French—Israelis tend to be very tied to their national symbols in a way that doesn’t allow for the same flexibility.

Gerlitz and Natour believe their battles are better fought elsewhere. To influence attitudes among the Jewish majority, they think sacred cows such as “Hatikvah” should be avoided. Like other contentious issues—such as the question of Palestinian refugees’ right of return—the Sikkuy leadership is divided on the issue.

There is one sensitive area in which the organization’s staff is in agreement: that is, allowing Arabic schools to teach the Nakba, the Arabic term for the events of 1948—the creation of the state of Israel—whereby 750,000 Palestinian fled or were expelled, and many of their villages destroyed. Unlike the Jewish ultra-orthodox schools, which enjoy curricular independence, Arabic schools have only limited control over a curriculum that is overseen by Israel’s Ministry of Education.

In keeping with the goal of enabling the Palestinian historical experience to be discussed more openly, Sikkuy would also like to see national parks provide signage of the full historical context behind each tourist site, alongside the descriptions of ancient periods. They are enjoying one recent victory on this front: the National Park Authority has promised Sikkuy that at Kibbutz Beit Guvrin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which happens to sit atop a destroyed Palestinian village, signage will now include information about the site’s Palestinian history. As Natour puts it, “Sikkuy doesn’t think the state should decide which narrative is the correct one. The state must allow both to exist.”

Sikkuy has enjoyed other, more practical, successes as well. The organization has successfully lobbied for public transportation into Arab towns and villages to expand enormously, and they’ve managed to shrink the caseload ratio for overworked Arab-sector social workers. Other social services, such as occupational therapy and speech therapy, can be difficult to access in Arabic. As Natour describes it, this is a function of the resource inequality within the educational system, which disadvantages Arabic pupils from the start. (Add to this the fact that there are no Arabic-language colleges or universities within Israel.)

In the long run, Israeli civil rights activists can only dream of the relative success we’ve had negotiating our own multiple identities: English and French co-exist successfully; the federal government pours money into training its civil servants to be bilingual; there is a thriving network of French-language colleges and universities. A generation from now, perhaps we will be able to say the same of Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities. It’s a goal that Canada, of all nations, should be proud to support.

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When Baltimore Gelded Calgary

Twenty years ago, an American football team won Canada’s Grey Cup

Sports by
Web Exclusives •  2,348 words 

Photograph courtesy of the Montreal Alouettes
Courtesy of the Montreal Alouettes Baltimore Stallions defensive end Elfrid Payton sips from the Grey Cup.

Twenty years ago, the Baltimore Stallions beat the Calgary Stampeders and took the Grey Cup away from Canada for the first time. It was also the last time—but at the time, losing the Grey Cup was everything.

Barry Levinson’s 1982 film Diner, beyond launching the careers of a slew of young actors, introduced a classic sports scene to cinema: the one where Steve Guttenberg’s character Eddie Simmons proctors a 140-question football quiz that his fiancée Elyse must pass before he will marry her. She succeeds, but it’s not without controversy (and where is her quiz for him, by the way? Nowhere, because the film takes place in the late 1950s). Diner is set in Baltimore the year after “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” in which the hometown Colts beat the New York Giants for the 1958 National Football League championship; the film culminates with the Colts repeating as champions during Eddie and Elyse’s wedding, with the team’s blue and white as the couple’s colours.

Despite the celebratory ending, Diner was nonetheless a nostalgic look back on glories past. While Levinson was filming, the Colts were a dismal 2–14. The year the film came out, they were 0–8–1 in a (thankfully, for them) strike-shortened season. Two years later, the Colts were gone, having moved to Indianapolis contemptibly in the middle of the night.

For years, Baltimore tried to lure another team back, watching helplessly as the St. Louis Cardinals (football, not baseball) moved to Phoenix, the Los Angeles Raiders moved back to Oakland, and the Los Angeles Rams replaced the Cardinals in St. Louis; expansion franchises were awarded not to Baltimore, but to Jacksonville, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina. After being passed over by the NFL, however, the city got a consolation of sorts from the Canadian Football League, which awarded Baltimore a CFL franchise for the 1994 season.

Baltimore’s team was barred from using the Colts nickname by ongoing litigation, so they were referred to with generic nomenclature (the CFLs, the CFLers, the Baltimore Football Club)—but with Colts always implied. The new team retained many of the old traditions, including the famous Baltimore Colts’ Marching Band, which hadn’t followed the Colts to Indianapolis and instead roamed the country in the intervening years like ronin drum majors. The band didn’t necessarily feel privileged by its new assignment: In the ESPN documentary The Band That Wouldn’t Die (also directed by Levinson), a longstanding member declares, “Do you know what it was like to sit there and watch Canadian football? Awful—it was awful.” Two other band members pipe in that they actually started to like it toward the end, but, really, the CFL would never be better than second-rate to them. It would never be more than “cute” (the most famous CFL fan in the United States might have been Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer—because he was an eccentric). American football didn’t understand that a fan in Edmonton might just live and die with the Eskimos, like the proverbial billion people in China who don’t care what happens over here. It wouldn’t understand that Edmonton doesn’t need a National Football League team to cheer for . . . unless Calgary has one.

It wasn’t so surprising that the Canadian game was going south in the mid-1990s, because everything else was—starting with the dollar. The smaller Canadian NHL franchises were on shaky ground, and the Quebec Nordiques would soon move to Colorado, followed by the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix (it was astonishingly suggested by some that in the end, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the only Canadian NHL team left). Soon the vultures would be swirling around the Montreal Expos after the devastating Major League Baseball players’ strike of 1994 and the club’s gutting of its roster. The National Basketball Association’s Grizzlies were about to embark on their own hardly knew ye in Vancouver: Before the decade was over Steve Francis would refuse to play for the team after being drafted second overall, and within a few more years they’d be playing home games in Memphis. The MLB championship the Toronto Blue Jays won in the autumn of 1993, so feted this past baseball season, remains the last title a major Canadian professional team has won outside of the CFL. Perhaps the worst indignity of all would be losing the Grey Cup to a country that didn’t much want the Canadian brand of football, or its hallowed trophy.

During the CFL’s US expansion, the American teams didn’t have a quota for Canadian players, while their northern competitors were required to have ten—an immense advantage for any American franchise that figured it out. It was a deal with the devil to make expansion succeed, and as usual, the devil came wearing a familiar face. Baltimore was coached by Don Matthews, who had been the defensive coordinator of the Eskimos dynasty that won five consecutive Grey Cups from 1978–1982, and had previously been head coach in both Saskatchewan and BC. Though most American football fans know little about the CFL, for generations the league itself has been full of Americans that know the game—because they’ve played it, or have coached it, or both. The expansion teams would have done well to remember this, but instead they generally hired coaches with what they considered to be superior American collegiate and professional bona fides. In fact, of the six US franchises that played in the CFL (note: Sacramento and San Antonio count as one), only one of them announced an inaugural head coach with actual CFL coaching experience. Matthews had won his most recent Grey Cup in 1985 as head coach of the BC Lions, and it was going to be up to those same Lions to stop him in 1994, after Toronto (the franchise with the most Grey Cup titles) and Winnipeg (the defending East Division champions) failed to stymie the incursion from the south (insert War of 1812 reference here).

Despite the CFL’s recent three-year run of teams winning the Grey Cup on their home field (the Lions in 2011, the Argos in 2012, and the Roughriders in 2013), in 1994 the BC Lions facing a nameless team from Baltimore on their home field in Vancouver was a rare spectacle, even without the border war. During the 1994 broadcast itself, the commentators mentioned how infrequent it was—and especially infrequent to win: “Since 1950, eight teams have hosted their own Grey Cup, but only three have won.” It was the perfect setup, and the game delivered, with BC winning on Lui Passaglia’s field goal with straight zeroes on the clock.

Passaglia was named the day’s Most Outstanding Canadian, but the game also featured other classic CFL tropes: journeymen, second chances, and the opportunity for great college quarterbacks to continue their careers on the field. The misconception, though, is that any failed NFL quarterback is a candidate for the CFL—last year, the sports pundit Bill Simmons criticized both Colin Kaepernick and Geno Smith in the same podcast by calling them future CFL players—but while most CFL quarterbacks wouldn’t succeed in the NFL, success in the Canadian league requires more than just being inadequate south of the border. Another reason why CFL fans enjoyed the Lions victory.

But the American foe hadn’t been vanquished forever, and the problem remained that Baltimore was still really, really good. In 1995, they finally had a name: the Stallions, because close enough. For the team itself, though, losing a championship game with no time remaining was not close enough, and in 1995, Baltimore was determined. They began to gather a head of steam after a false start in week one, when they were edged by three points in rematch to the Lions. They lost only two more games that season, one against Calgary (a foreshadowing), the other to Memphis, because—wait—Memphis had a CFL team before they had the Grizzlies? (Yes, the Mad Dogs.)

For the 1995 season, the CFL had realigned its divisions into North and South, reminiscent of when the NHL put all of its 1967 expansion teams in the same division (the West) in order to guarantee the new markets some success. In that case, it just resulted in three straight losses by the expansion St. Louis Blues in the finals to great NHL powers, while the Eastern final became hockey’s de facto championship. In the CFL’s case, however, realignment instituted in a path-of-least-resistance for the Stallions. Calgary won a sort of mini Grey Cup by beating archrival Edmonton in the Western Division Final, but unlike those old hockey teams facing the Blues, the Stampeders faced no pushover for the championship.

This was to be a battle of two evenly matched teams. Both had 15–3 records to finish the regular season. Both, obviously, had equine nicknames—which was fine for the CFL since there were still two other teams with nearly identical names (the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Ottawa Rough Riders). But the horse’s mane in one of the logos invoked the stars and stripes, so the fans north of the border knew which horse in the race was theirs. And this time, the game wouldn’t be inside the preferred convention spaces of BC Place or SkyDome—but outside in the CFL’s heartland at Taylor Field in Regina.

Incredibly, it was Saskatchewan’s first time hosting the big game, and this was to be the ultimate home-field advantage. It was cold, and it was windy. A friend of mine who occasionally wore ski goggles as a humourous style choice (hey, it was the nineties) actually wore them out of necessity. The Canadian team was supposed to be in its element, and briefly appeared to be when the Stampeders took the lead at the opening of the second quarter on Doug Flutie’s touchdown pass to Marvin Pope. But that was the high point for Calgary. Baltimore scored four times before the half was through, and effectively controlled the game from then on. It was, for the most part, an excruciating smothering of hope for viewers across Canada. Really, though, one question haunts this game for me: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was on the Stampeders’ practice roster at the beginning of the season. If he had hung on, could he have made the difference?

It wasn’t just Canadians who suffered, though, as the eighty-third Grey Cup ended up as a bittersweet victory for the fans who had truly adopted the Stallions. Baltimore had led the CFL in attendance that year, which made a strong case to the NFL and was music to the ears of Art Modell, the longtime Cleveland Browns owner who was looking for a sweeter deal than what he had on the shores of Lake Erie. At the beginning of the 1995 CFL playoffs, he announced that he’d be moving his Browns, soon renamed the Ravens, to Baltimore. Some fans responded during the CFL playoffs (signs read, “Save Our Stallions” and “To Hell with Art Modell”), but everyone knew that the NFL was king, and it effectively let the air out of the Stallions’ balloon. They would lose all but their die-hard fans, and came home to no civic championship parade. Within weeks the city had gone back to its one true love, with the Stallions reduced to a seat-warmer between the beloved Colts and the two-time Super Bowl champion Ravens.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Stallions owner Jim Speros moved his club to Montreal, technically becoming the city’s third CFL franchise, after the original Alouettes and the Concordes. As the lone titleholders from a willfully forgotten American expansion, the Stallions are usually buried as a footnote in the backstory of the reincarnated Alouettes, and are not even part of the franchise’s official history. But nonetheless, in a reverse brain drain, Montreal imported the best franchise in the league, one that would make the Grey Cup eight times in the next fourteen years, winning three of them, and in the process reigniting a Grey Cup rivalry with the Eskimos that had been the hallmark of both the 1950s and 1970s.

In the end, per the equation tragedy + time = comedy, it can be fun to look back on the expansion now, since Baltimore has been made whole (at the expense of Cleveland for a while), and the importation of one strong franchise to Canada has done more for the CFL than the US expansion in its entirety. I had watched games at Montreal’s Percival Molson Memorial Stadium when the tree still grew through the stands on the north side, and I was sitting in my nearby apartment in the autumn of 1997 when I suddenly noticed an epic traffic jam outside as the Alouettes fans descended on the neighbourhood for the first time in modern memory. Famously banished from Olympic Stadium by U2’s PopMart concert tour, the Als beat the Lions in the opening round of the playoffs, winning their first game at Molson Stadium since 1972, when the Sam Etcheverry-coached Als had beaten Edmonton for their last victory of the season. The game went back outside in Montreal, and like the success of Regina’s first Grey Cup, it took the CFL back to roots the league had previously ignored. Since 1995, the Prairies have hosted ten Grey Cups compared to the four they’d hosted of the first eighty-two contests. They host an eleventh this Sunday in Winnipeg, and next year, while the Grey Cup is back in Toronto for the forty-eighth time, the game is going back outside (at BMO Field) for the first time since 1982. The league still faces challenges, but the challenges are its own, and for those for whom the Grey Cup is still appointment viewing—while everyone else is watching the late afternoon NFL games lead up to the Patriots and Broncos in Denver—they have a date in Winnipeg.

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Catharsis Is a Superhero

Jessica Jones gives abuse survivors someone to believe in

Television by
Web Exclusives •  1,253 words 

Photograph courtesy of Netflix
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones.

Like many people who have a penchant for binge watching, over the weekend I took in the entire first season of the new Netflix series Jessica Jones. Created by Melissa Rosenberg, and based on a Marvel Comics character of the same name, the show focuses on a superhero turned scrappy private investigator (Krysten Ritter) and her struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder after being held captive by a mind-controlling sadistic supervillain (David Tennant.) Thinking her abuser Kilgrave is dead—which of course he’s not because they never are—Jessica is depicted as barely managing to rebuild her life. Living at rock bottom, she makes herself hard to love, hitting cheap bottles of bodega liquor to blot out her bad memories.

I admit I went into the viewing blind. Not only did I have very little knowledge about Jessica’s comic-book origin story, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on pop culture superhero narratives in general. I do however have an interest in how victims of sexual violence are depicted on television (i.e., mostly poorly), and how that violation is too often employed as a convenient plot device. The rape of a woman is commonly used to motivate men’s actions (à la True Detective), or as a dirty, dark secret in a tough female lead’s back story, designed to reveal her vulnerability (How to Get Away with Murder, for example). But the early buzz on Jessica Jones suggested that it offered reprieve from lazy depictions of mainstream narratives, and went deeper and more authentically into the process of survival for victims.

Turns out, thirteen episodes later, Jessica Jones is one of the more horrifying and upsetting television shows I’ve ever watched, a designation that has little to do with its degree of explicit violence or level of exploitation. (It’s worthy of note that no one is raped on screen, and the sex depicted is primarily centred on female agency.) Beyond some pretty gross dismemberment, blood splatter, and a few epic fistfights, the true terror is almost entirely psychological, rooted in Kilgrave’s ability to manipulate and persuade not only his victims, but everyone around them. His control also extends far beyond the history of forcing Jessica into sex slavery, and into preventing her recovery once she has physically freed herself from him.

I’m usually reluctant to use the word “triggering,” but if there was ever a show that deserved that designation this would be it. The precise reason the portrayal of Kilgrave is so hard to bear is because, if you’re a person who has experienced abuse, he feels disturbingly familiar. Played with incredible nuance and insight by Tennant—and made all the more jarring because the actor has played our beloved Doctor Who—Kilgrave’s onscreen time directly pushes the most painful emotional buttons. He’s the subtle psychopath, reminiscent of that high-profile, charming, well-loved “nice guy” who fools everyone into thinking he’s not an abuser. (Think Jian Ghomeshi or Bill Cosby. Allegedly.)

In fact, Kilgrave is a much more disturbing TV villain than, say, Hannibal Lecter, because instead of using inventive and absurdly grotesque carnage to terrorize his victims, he engages in the hyper-real, pervasive practices women endure on a regular basis. His menacing tool kit includes breach of consent, manipulation, stalking, and gaslighting. He garners the trust of everyone around him to ensure he maintains control, and conveniently rewrites narratives at every turn, despite Jessica’s screaming assertions of what he’s actually done.

“Jessica, I knew you were insecure but that’s just sad,” he tells her when she suggests he’s driving her to suicide. “I’m not torturing you. Why would I? I love you.”

Because Kilgrave is used to having people literally do whatever he wants—at one point, he actually forces a woman to smile for him, a not-so-subtle nod to street harassment—his rage is stoked by Jessica’s refusal to be with him out of her own free will. “You made me feel something I never felt before. Yearning,” he tells her. Ever the archetypical terrifying ex-boyfriend, he claims to be her perfect match, that he would do anything for her, and that he aims to “prove it.” Under duress, he forces her to agree to being with him, and in the process pulls her away from those who love her. (Isolating her in her childhood home, no less—the very place she’d said she felt happiest in the past.) There’s even a deceptive episode devoted to his possible redemption, fleshing out a back story that could potentially excuse his cruel behaviour, and reminding us how often we do that very thing with real-life abusers. These are pages ripped directly from the domestic violence playbook, and though depicted in a comic-book universe, it couldn’t be more accurate for those of us who have endured it.

Not only does Kilgrave do impossibly awful things to Jessica, the woman he claims to love, he fills her with the punishing self-doubt that any of it ever really happened at all. He lives by a mantra of “you did that to yourself,” scolding her for blaming her drinking on him, and insisting that he’s never directly caused anyone harm by his own hand. Jessica is forced to get “proof,” even though no one who watches on our side of the screen thinks she needs it. The amazing trick of this show is that—unlike true-crime narratives of high-profile abusers—everyone is firmly in the victim’s camp from the moment the accusation is revealed, and painfully channel Jessica’s frustrations as she pursues “justice.”

It’s also no small feat that at no point during this story do we feel sorry for Jessica Jones. Though she’s clinging to a bottle, even getting tossed into a pile of garbage outside of a bar after a particularly bad self-punishing binge, we understand her self-medicating in the context of what she has experienced. She’s imperfect, makes bad choices, and throws herself headlong into harm, but she’s far from the messy/sexy heroine TV has long depended on. We are invested in her even when we don’t necessarily agree with her actions, and we understand that she’s capable, beyond just her superhuman abilities. Damaged yet tough, faltering yet coping, she’s just like so many survivors I know who are doing the best they can with what they’ve been forced to contend with.

At its core, Jessica Jones is a show about how we so often don’t believe women who tell us they’ve been violated, and how we put the onus solely on them to convince us. Perhaps more vitally, it’s a timely representation of a charming, well-spoken man in a good suit getting away with far too much, for far too long. In using Kilgrave’s superpower to highlight the near-inescapable control abusers have over both victims and bystanders, the show has done a remarkable service. It’s relayed the very real, complex experience of long-lasting trauma, and it is a different kind of rape-revenge work, one that focuses more on moving forward than the impossible fantasy of retribution.

Despite how disturbing the show can be for abuse survivors, so much of the process of watching Jessica Jones is one of catharsis. In believing and rooting for this heroine, you are forced to believe and root for yourself.

Stacey May Fowles (@MissStaceyMay) is a novelist and essayist. She curates baseball feelings from across the league into a weekly newsletter called Baseball Life Advice.

Stacey May Fowles (@MissStaceyMay) is a novelist and essayist. She curates baseball feelings from across the league into a weekly newsletter called Baseball Life Advice.

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The Blue Night

I looked in my heart and heard a nightmare singing

Flash Fiction by
Web Exclusives •  528 words 

Illustration by Rolli

“What are we going to do with him? ”


I looked in my heart and heard a nightmare singing.

“Who are you?” I almost said but a voice said, “I’m Mr. Gullifer.”

It was darkest in a corner of the room.

The man stepped out of the corner.

He got close to me.

He opened his jaw wide and . . . bit down on my head.

I heard a crack.

I closed my eyes.

It was still a long time till morning.


“Lamotrigine three times a day, fluoxetine once. Risperidone—you can give it to him at night if he gets drowsy. If he starts vomiting, call me.”


Every night.

I tried not to look at the corner.

I looked.

There was a chair. Mr. Gullifer . . .

He stood up. His hat just about touched the ceiling.

One step.


He opened his jaw.

I closed my eyes.

He crawled on top of me.

He bit my lips shut.

He bit down hard.

I swallowed hard.

I cried.

No one heard me.


“What are we going to do? ”


Mr. Gullifer was sitting on my chest. Digging his . . .

“Why do you like me? ” he said.

I was too scared.

“Hey? ”

He dug his fist into my heart.

“Hey? ”

I wanted to cry.

I was too scared.

“Hey? ”

I closed my eyes.

I had a lot of pain in my heart.

I closed my eyes tight.


“Doc? ”

“Ma’am? ”

“I’m eighty-four years old.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“I can’t live forever.”


“Doc . . .”

“Yeah? ”

“I’m wondering . . .

“Can I donate . . .

“Am I too old . . .

“Is it possible . . .

“Can I give Aiden my brain?


“Doc? Are you alright? ”


I looked at the corner.

Mr. Gullifer.

He stood up. His hat touched the ceiling, this time.

One step.

I wanted—I didn’t stop looking.

Two steps.

Mr. Gullifer opened his jaw.

I swallowed the air. All of it.

I wanted to cry.

I didn’t.

I wanted to close my eyes, but . . . I kept looking.

When I looked at Mr. Gullifer’s face, it changed. It was—it didn’t look like anything. It looked like nothing. His hat was a shadow. It changed and changed back. It kept changing.

He covered his face.

One step back. Two.

He sat back down. He closed his jaw.

I blew the air back into the room. All of it.


“We love you. We love you. We love you. We love you.”


I couldn’t sleep.

I looked at the corner.


I got out of bed.

I looked behind me.

I looked out the window.

The blue night was beautiful.

I looked down. I saw a painted cart with a horse hooked up to it. Mr. Gullifer was getting into the cart. He was sitting down.

He turned his head. He looked up at me. A long time.

There was a pain in my heart.

It faded away.

Mr. Gullifer turned away.

Then he drove away.

Rolli (rollistuff.com; @rolliwrites) is a writer and cartoonist from Regina. His most recent story collection, I Am Currently Working On a Novel, was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and short-listed for the High Plains Book Award. Rolli’s cartoons appear regularly in the Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Adbusters, and other popular outlets.

Rolli (rollistuff.com; @rolliwrites) is a writer and cartoonist from Regina. His most recent story collection, I Am Currently Working On a Novel, was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and short-listed for the High Plains Book Award. Rolli’s cartoons appear regularly in the Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Adbusters, and other popular outlets.

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