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A Victim Of Satire
by Michael Coren

"WHY ME?" The cry of the victim of satire and parody everywhere. A call as distinctive as that of any winged creature, any beast of jungle or forest. It is uttered in wretched, plaintive tones, invariably to an apathetic audience. The response to the shriek has been chronicled by journalists around the world. A somewhat splenetic and self?satisfied "You're fair game," followed by a heavily inflected and triumphant "You can't really complain. Anyway, it's all publicity." But for me, this is no longer just a hypothetical question. A rising young Canadian satirical journal, Frank, decided to mention my good if not household name in a recent edition. The magazine's target was "Toronto's most famous East End bootboy...[who] just signed a tidy $70,000 publishing deal for the definitive book on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." Now, this will be my fifth book, and I've worked long and hard for an advance that ?? even though the figure in Frank isn't quite accurate ?? may at first sight seem outrageously high. But advances aren't paid as a lump sum when you sign a contract; they are paid in instalments following the delivery of portions of the manuscript, and their acceptance for publication. The Doyle biography, all 150,000 words of it, will take me the best part of two years to complete. So I see no limousines or stately mansions in my future, at least not yet. The "East End bootboy" reference is also misleading. The patrician, condescending, and insidiously anti?Semitic British magazine Private Eye described me as such some years ago. In their terms the phrase denotes someone who was raised in East London, traditionally the dockside, working?class part of the city, which at one time contained the main Jewish ghetto. "Bootboy" implies a thug or soccer hooligan. I am part Jewish, but no part hooligan; tempting though it is to pretend that I am prolier than thou, my family left East London when I was a child. In a Canadian context the phrase either means something very different ?? a Cabbagetown or Mont Royal lad who polishes shoes? ?? or nothing at all. So how should I react? I have been let off lightly, and apart from the odd grantawarding body being misled by the financial aspect and declining any future donations, I remain unbruised and certainly unbloodied. But what of the implications? Isaiah Berlin said that the freedom of my fist stops only at your nose. Something similar applies to the freedom of journalistic satire. For the media, maturity means tolerance and self?mockery. Private Eye, for all its pettiness and causing of grief, has blown the whistle on corruption, crime, and sheer hypocrisy for many years, and I wish Frank a corresponding longevity. But why single out authors? Are we really so deleterious and powerful that we need to be mocked and attacked? Those more illustrious than I receive far worse. An Idler article by Scott Symons machine?gunned Margaret Atwood, who had herself made fun of a Robert Fulfordtype figure in Saturday Night. Frank has a permanent sighting on the editor of the latter publication, John Fraser, and it has flirted with the libel laws in its comments on Globe and Mail journalists. But if you make your living by a craft that demands a relationship with a greater public, how can you justify insularity? The vetted banalities of press releases and friends reviewing friends will no longer suffice. We're growing up. And in our rush towards a more open and satirical press ?? often pell?mell, frequently littered with inaccuracies ?? some feelings will inevitably be hurt. Nonetheless, Private Eye has rarely breached the barriers of good taste, even with all its British viciousness and spleen. Frank, still quintessentially Canadian in its relative moderation, has far to go before it even approaches the frontiers of indecency. In any event, there is no need to push any panic buttons. Actually, we have a lot to look forward to. Frank ?? which began in Halifax, then moved to Ottawa, and is now taking on Toronto ?? is going to be around for a while. Writers, politicians, fellow travellers, and the semi?literati may all be in for a rough ride; they might even have to ride herd on turnout, or at least watch to whom they are rumour?mongering. The title, location, and petty foibles of Frank aren't really the issue. The issue is the thickness of our hides. How thinskinned are Canadian writers? How thinskinned have they been allowed to become? Their flesh does not as yet need to be the texture of leather; privacy is still very much intact. In Britain and the United States, it is not the satirists who don rubber gloves and search through the garbage of celebrities; not the satirists who pay enormous sums of money to anyone who will admit to having had sex with a television personality. These genuine infringements on personal liberty and private life are committed by lascivious and ludicrously wealthy tabloids, not by shoe?string magazines that survive on a day?to?day basis. A great deal of what Frank is currently parading as novel and naughty is either recycled or simply not news. That various Canadian literary journalists were born south of the border, for example, is a fact worthy only of indifference. But Frank is young, a mere baby; why don't we let it walk for a while before we try to rein in its high spirits? Private Eye has a self?confessed inaccuracy rate of around 40 per cent, but its 60 per cent of revealed truth has brought down high?ranking politicians, achieved compensation for forgotten victims, and humbled powerful businessmen. And authors and writers? It has deflated innumerable egos, and peeled the veneer from myriad facades. Sol I'm not a bootboy. Do I rush to my lawyer and demand contrition, and then call for Frank and its like to be bridled? On the contrary: I grimace, laugh, and then laugh a little more. And thank the gods that satire is on the prowl.

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