“The Canadian Arab Federation sent out an email to alert us all about how much Layton supported … the Canadian Arab Federation.”
“When columnists in this newspaper dared to crash the public shiva (?! -JG) for Layton with controversial critiques of his deathbed letter or plans for his state funeral, they were vehemently attacked as insensitive and disrespectful to the dead. But there’s a point where publicly advertising your sympathy while calculatedly drawing attention to yourself looks awfully insensitive and disrespectful, too.”
The crass exploitation of Jack Layton’s death
Kevin Libin: August 26th, 2011
Monday morning, after news of Jack Layton’s death broke, my inbox began flooding with press releases. Mind you, my inbox floods every other morning with press releases, almost every single one of which is utterly useless to me: announcements about some community college opening a new laboratory for corn-fertilizer research, or some obscure, fringe activist group expressing its support, or perhaps disdain, for a recent political development. On Monday, though, the deluge was different. This time, it was more like some community college extending its condolences over Layton’s death, or some obscure, fringe activist group announcing its grief over the loss. But then, maybe they weren’t that different after all.
CommunityAir, the Toronto Island activists intent on shutting down the City Centre airport, released a statement saying it “grieves for the loss of Jack Layton.” It spoke respectfully of Layton’s community activism and volunteerism. And then, it added this: “His leadership and inspiration, though, will serve to double our resolve to finally close the noxious, polluting Island Airport and create a park on the airport lands in his name.”
Quebec’s Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, meantime, sent out a news release on the pay-for-publicity service Marketwire, expressing its own sadness, and offering the Layton family condolences, while being sure to mention that “Mr. Layton was the only leader representing a national Federal party that stated that the Parliament of Canada and the City of Ottawa was established on Algonquin Territory. He had the courage to speak and walk the truth.”
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities wanted us all to know that “a most fitting tribute” to Layton would be to keep fighting for a better deal for Canadian communities. The Canadian Arab Federation sent out an email to alert us all about how much Layton supported … the Canadian Arab Federation. The National Farmers Union’s mass email reminded mourners that Layton was a “fervent defender of the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management.” Well, what better way to collectively pay homage to a brave and noble leader than by honouring his passion for dairy and egg quotas?
In press release after press release, this group or that one sought to elevate its cause by attaching it to Jack Layton’s legacy, to capitalize on the national outpouring of goodwill for the man. It’s true that not all were as nakedly self-serving about it. And yes, some came from people and groups with close links to Layton, and seemed very well meaning.
But even in many cases where a message contained no obvious appeal to a cause or campaign, the source of such pronouncements alone seemed so curious that it was hard not to sense something almost cynical about the public declarations. I can’t imagine anyone, upon hearing the sad news about Layton, immediately wondered how the candidates in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership race were feeling about it all. Yet their expressions of sympathy for his family cascaded in, nonetheless. Such things don’t happen by accident and it was all too easy to picture the campaign strategists behind the scenes crafting the wording just right, envisioning how it would look in the newspapers next day, when Albertans would read in black-and-white just what a kind and caring human being their candidate is, as if we couldn’t just take their basic human impulses for granted.
At a certain point, perhaps around 11 am, Monday, this sort of posturing must have inevitably become self-perpetuating, given the spasm of public sorrow that had clearly taken hold in certain pockets of the nation. When the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists piped up to extend its condolences to Layton’s friends and family — not forgetting, naturally, to jog our memories that he “was unwavering in his belief in the essential nature of the arts in Canada” — it can only have had the effect of making the folks at the David Suzuki Foundation feel that they too had better make the effort to chime in to extend their condolences. And to point out, just by the way, that Layton “united Canadians…around simple truth that environmental protection and social justice are inseparable,” and that he agreed wholeheartedly with their views on climate change.
When columnists in this newspaper dared to crash the public shiva for Layton with controversial critiques of his deathbed letter or plans for his state funeral, they were vehemently attacked as insensitive and disrespectful to the dead. But there’s a point where publicly advertising your sympathy while calculatedly drawing attention to yourself looks awfully insensitive and disrespectful, too. Imagine if a company like Trek bicycles marked Layton’s passing by issuing press releases expressing grief, while advertising how much he enjoyed pedaling their durable, light, fast, and fun-to-ride two-wheelers. Or if Sleeman offered a public consolation while asking us to take comfort in the fact that his living years were made that much sweeter by the extra body and clean finish of their Silver Creek Lager. Even if there was some truth to the claims, we’d have no trouble recognizing them as crass exploitation of the man’s death for promotional purposes. When activists and non-profits spike their eulogies with commercials for their pet causes, the tactlessness may be slightly subtler. But it’s there, just the same.
On Twitter: @kevinlibin
See original here.