The Bountiful and the Damned
Elizabeth Abbott’s essay on polygamy (“To the Exclusion of All Others,” May), which argues against legalizing the practice on the grounds that doing so would threaten our system of rights, resonated on both sides of the border. After Andrew Sullivan linked to the article on his Daily Beast blog, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn followed suit, summarizing the essay’s pertinence to the American gay marriage debate: “Often, when the issue of gay marriage comes up, the opponents… claim that if we allow gay people to marry, we will lose any logical claim for outlawing polygamy… Abbott calmly and intelligently unpacks the history of and case against polygamy for those who are truly interested in the vast difference between same-sex and multi-partner legal unions.”
In Canada, where the definition of marriage is already more inclusive, some readers criticized Abbott for her emphasis on procedural concerns. (Readers also objected to her reference to King Solomon as an early Christian patriarch; Abbott meant to say that he was an ancestor of Christ, not a Christian himself.) In a lively debate at walrusmagazine.com, many argued that this approach glossed over polygamy’s darker side: “Polygamy comes from the dark ages when men were women’s lords and masters,” wrote Jancis M. Andrews. Others defended the practice. Andrew Gow, a history professor at the University of Alberta, wrote in an email:
“Issues of fairness and the division of assets are central to [Abbott’s] argument—but issues of principle, in the end, are not, even though her article insists again and again that liberal societies must take principled stances or cease being truly liberal… Monogamous marriage is not natural or biologically determined. It is a Christian institution… many supposedly secular institutions in Western societies are profoundly Christian, and therefore (at least potentially) not consonant with a truly liberal and pluralist society.”
A Royal Beatdown
Readers liked “Subject to Change” (May)—in which British subject Grant Stoddard lamented the necessity of swearing an oath to the Queen to gain Canadian citizenship—about as much as Stoddard likes the monarchy. Letter writer Beaulieu summarized a popular sentiment: “This puerile flogging of a dying horse upset us so much that we could not continue to read the issue.” Readers objected strongly to Stoddard’s “gutter” talk, taking particular umbrage at his physical description of Prince Charles. Wrote Ernie Dawson of Saskatoon, “[As] my late, wonderful father used to say, ‘Looks is only skin deep.’”
Online and in letters, these grievances evolved into a thoughtful discussion of our political system. On walrusmagazine.com, commenter Mike wrote, “How can you live with the fact that the cause of his physical oddness—his genetic cocktail—is the sole thing that qualifies him as candidate for CEO? ” An anonymous reader snapped back: “We can live with that fact because it’s part of our Constitution… [and] our constitutional monarchy is not undemocratic.” An email from Charles Bernard Stock of Blainville, Quebec, was more constructive:
“To make major changes, we need a Royal Commission to study the project thoroughly and submit recommendations… I suggest we send Stoddard on a fact-finding mission to investigate how the presidential systems of France, Israel, Italy, and, of course, the United States are so much better than ours. After a forty-year investigation, he should be able to offer us some insights as to why their leaders are so much more handsome, beautiful, honest, capable, and morally upright than ours, and why those systems are so much less expensive and more stable than our monarchical system.”
In the end, Stoddard (who defended his piece on John Tory’s The Live Drive radio show) found at least one kindred spirit, in S.M. Simpson of Winlaw, BC:
“Bravo for Stoddard’s sentiments and humour. Not that I found it very funny to be stuck into a ridiculous 1950s dress and hauled off to stand in a sweaty crowd during my Winnipeg childhood; or to be told, after the inordinate wait, ‘There’s the Queen!’ as a car drove by. And not that anyone in my family, not even I, found it funny when I ‘upset my mother’ every Christmas morning, from the time I was eleven years old, with my anti-monarchical diatribes during the Queen’s radio message. If becoming a Canadian required swearing to be subject to a monarch, I couldn’t have done it.”
Mummer’s the Word
Fans of Lisa Moore’s “Notes from Newfoundland” (May), a provincial portrait framed by the annual mummer’s parade (which features costumed street performances), proclaimed their enthusiasm on Twitter. “Love the mummering article. Can we bring it to Toronto? ” asked @mcleansmits. But Moore’s assessment of Newfoundland’s tourism ads as too idealistic prompted Jim Candow of Halifax to submit his own critique via email: “Ironically, the current revival of mummering is about as authentic as the ads that Ms. Moore pooh-poohs. Historically, mummering was often a front for violent behaviour. The revival, with its hobby horse workshops for children and traditional music performed by eminent folklorists, is colourful enough, but it lacks (thankfully) the essential element of menace. As everyone should know by now, there is only one real thing, and that is Coca-Cola.”
blame our parents
Emily Landau’s negative review of On the Outside Looking Indian prompted writer and former MuchMusic VJ Hannah Sung to write an open letter to us on her blog, Futur Parfait: “I’m biased because the author, Rupinder Gill, is a personal friend… But mostly I am biased because, like Gill, I was raised by immigrants who loved to say ‘No.’ And while [Landau] is fully entitled to her assessment of Gill’s book as being ‘shallow, trite and whiny,’ I wonder where she has the authority to claim that writing on the personal experience of growing up second-generation Canadian is ‘disrespectful’ and ‘petulant? ’ Only white people get to blame their parents? ” Sung also wondered “why The Walrus didn’t assign this to the brown literary critic or, for that matter, any non-white immigrant kid on staff… are there none? ”
The post sparked a brief discussion on Twitter.
“Notes from Newfoundland” (May) incorrectly identified Henry Winton. He was the editor of the Public Ledger and Newfoundland General Advertiser. The Walrus regrets the error.
This appeared in the July/August 2011 issue.
“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter, an email ([email protected]), or a tweet, or post on this website. Comments may be published in any medium and edited for length, clarity, and accuracy. Mail correspondence to: 411 Richmond St. E., Suite B15, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3S5
Ryan Lake graduated from the Ontario College of Art & Design. He lives and works in Ottawa.