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Wednesday, August 24, 2005
By Jingo: From Hardcore to Soft wood

We don't want to fight
But, by Jingo, if we do,
We've got the ships,
We've got the men,
We've got the money, too.

-Macdermott's War Song (1878)



I lived in Hollywood, so my trips to and from UCLA took me down Sunset Blvd, and past the Hustler Boutique. It was a large store, the front of which was entirely glass like an automobile showroom. A large sign featuring a supine woman, or rather her mid-section, holding a rose so that the petals tickled just below her navel peered out from inside the store. Above this inviting scene, as if sensing a curious customer’s hesitancy, was the reassuring phrase, “Relax, it’s just sex.” It never failed to catch my eye from the bus window, and I resolved that next time I would get off to pay the store a visit. I didn’t ever find the time, though, until I saw a sign that Larry Flynt would be signing autographs. I rushed home to grab my only copy of Hustler: the Feb. 1999 Canadian edition in which Sheila Copps appears.

Copps was the victim of a contest that offered readers a chance to match her face with one of the three close-up shots of female genitalia. It spells her name wrong and doesn’t use the word genitalia. Or the word female. I assume that the answer was in the next issue, but since I didn’t buy it then and haven’t been able to track down since (does anyone have it?), so I guess I’ll never know if I got it right.

My friend brought his copy of the Flynt Report (a magazine devoted to the alleged extra-curricular sexual exploits of GOP members who were trying to impeach Bill Clinton) and together we went off to get our prized possessions signed. Handprints of famous porn stars imprinted the flagstones out front in a parody of the more famous legitimate ones in front of the Mann’s Chinese Theatre. The only name I recognized was Marilyn Chambers, star of “Behind the Green Door” the second most famous 1970s porn film to be an art house hit ("Deep Throat" was the first). FYI to cult Canadian movie buffs, she was also the star of an early David Cronenberg horror film, “Rabid.”

The store inside featured a boutique that included t-shirts bearing such tasteful sentiments as “Slut”, “if you don’t like oral sex, keep your mouth shut” and “Larry Flynt for President” (they must have been leftovers from his 1984 campaign, when he ran against GOP incumbant Ronald Reagan on a "family values" platform. He was against them.). Further to the back on the right side were racks of lace and leather lingerie, light bondage paraphernalia and (mostly non-threatening) toys for couples. On the left side was a coffee counter serving the standard espressos, mochas and chi’s, but all bearing exotic sex-based names. In the centre, behind the t-shirts at the back, obscured just enough by a low wall, was the really, really explicit really, really hardcore pornography.

The store was filled with couples, mostly uncertain girlfriends towed by boyfriends trying to hide their embarrassment with false bravado and pretending that they weren't trying to peak over that wall. The autograph line-up moved swiftly, and the wheelchair bound Mr. Flynt signed my friend’s magazine with a mumble and a smile, and mine with just a mumble. Clutching my autograph, I tried my best to saunter to a table where my friend was waiting with lattes. The drink’s “sexy name” was sufficiently off-putting that I had to scrape most of the white foam off the top before I could drink it.

Flynt’s ire towards then Heritage minister Ms. Copps was sparked by her Bill C-55, which sought to ban Canadian advertising in US periodicals sold in Canada- so called-“split-run” magazines. C-55 was a response to a WTO ruling that found existing Canadian restrictions on the practice illegal.

The bill was controversial at the time and Larry Flynt’s entry into the debate made it more so. Outraged Canadian feminists rallied in defence of Copps against the King of Smut. Unfortunately, engaging Larry Flynt in a battle for moral superiority isn’t a winning proposition: he doesn’t show up. You’re left standing on the battlefield, forces impressively arrayed but with nothing to do, while he uses the free publicity to sell more magazines. The feminists quickly returned to barracks, and the outcry subsided.

C-55's goal was to reserve the revenue from Canadian advertising for Canadian magazines, as part of efforts to protect Canadian culture. It was probably destined for a NAFTA challenge anyway, and was rendered moot by a negotiated agreement with the Americans. American publishers were allowed to solicit Canadian advertisers as long as they didn’t exceed some maximum percentage of their magazines' total advertising. But the idea behind the bill- trade protection for Canadian culture- lives on.

I’ve always found suspect the Canadian cultural exception to free trade. In my view, either the culture produced here is valuable to Canadians and therefore deserves protection, but doesn’t need it because Canadians will buy it regardless. Alternatively, it is of little value and therefore needs protection to survive, but doesn’t deserve it. In any case, as a matter of pure economics, it isn’t clear why taxing consumers to subsidize Canadian bookstore owners and magazine publishers does more for Canadian culture than taxing taxpayers to subsidize Canadian artists directly. Politically, though the answer is obvious- direct subsidies are tempting political targets. People are inclined to wonder why we’re funding the anti-American documentary producer, or the artist whose "art" is to dump rhinoceros dung on the baby Jesus. But if you sell it as national defence against those philistine Americans, nobody asks why.

The logic works the same on the other side of the border. They’ve also special interests, like the soft wood lumber industry, which demand protection against those unfair Canadian subsidies. For the record, contrary to the impression one receives from the Canadian media, we do subsidize our softwood producers; it’s just that NAFTA panels have repeatedly found no evidence that these subsidies harm American producers. American producers have insisted on protection anyway, and even though American consumers of wood get screwed as a result, it’s in nobody’s interest to suggest the foreigners pressing against US borders (by the way, Canadians are considered the Mexicans of the north) aren’t really evil.

That’s the jingoistic state of our trading relationship. What we tend to forget, on both sides, is that regardless of the rules, a trading relationship is a relationship. For our part, were we generally considered loyal allies and reliable friends, perhaps someone down there would stand up for us. Instead we’re like the boyfriend in the rocky relationship who thinks the sex should still be good. Fellow boyfriends and fellow Canadians: they say, [voice(s) quivering ever so slightly] “do … do you love me (us)?” We say [as though we mean it], “Yes. Yes I (we) do.” How hard is that?

But instead, we’re now threatening war. I’ve heard this war talk from Canadians before. The American response to our ballistic missile defence decision prompted more than a few talk show calls demanding that Americans shooting down a hypothetical North Korean nuke over Canada be considered an act of war. They were completely unconcerned that North Korea was hypothetically using our airspace to set our friends and neighbours in Seattle aglow. About the resulting nuclear fallout that would drift over Vancouver they were also not worried- just as long as the Americans got their comeuppance.

It struck me as strange that an inordinate number of those jingoistic Canadians were calling from Arizona and Florida. No doubt they’re preparing the ground for our forthcoming invasion. It’ll be a close run thing, to be sure, but with the element of surprise and our people already infiltrated, who knows? Maybe we’ll be welcoming an 11th province, rather than becoming the 51st state.

Or maybe the Americans will crush us like insects, as they are sure to do economically if this current trade war talk gets out of control. The US economy is ten times ours. We are their largest trading partner, accounting for a little less than 20% of their exports. But they trade less than we do: exports account for less than 10% of their GDP. That means their sales to us accounts for less than 2% of their income.

They are also our largest trading partners, but our domestic markets are small. We make our living from trade. A third of our income comes from exports, and 85% of that comes from sales to the US. In other words, the US consumer accounts for a quarter of our income. Furthermore, foreigners are lining up to invest in the United States; investors consider Canadian assets US-lite anyway, and starting a full-scale trade war is unlikely to impress them. In other words, a trade war with the US would be like us taking poison and hoping they’ll die. We’re better off attempting a full scale invasion. At least, it’'ll be quick and relatively painless.

Incidentally, my first reaction as an Albertan when I hear Ontarians say we should cut off our oil sales to the US in retaliation for their actions on soft wood is to say, “whoa! Slow down there, Sparky! What do you mean our oil? Let’s discuss our Senate, and then we'll talk about our oil.”

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