Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reader's Diary #657- Rex Murphy: Canada and Other Matters of Opinion

Have you ever watched Jeopardy when a bow-tied contestant is blowing everyone else out of the water until... groan... there's a pop-culture category. He prides himself on not having a sweet clue who the Spice Girls are without even realizing that even that bit of knowledge is outdated. In the meantime, he's losing to James from Texas, who, by the way, is not wearing a bow-tie.

Rex Murphy, as you can tell from his photo on the cover, wears a necktie. He's one of those well-rounded breeds of geniuses. He can talk all day about Ottawa, but he's also up on Hollywood.

Which is strange considering the contempt for Hollywood that shoots from the pages of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion. It could almost be called Celebrities and Other Matters of Opinion. He may be looking down his nose a lot, but it's mostly at sitcoms and tabloids from what I could tell. If he hates it so much, how come he's able to reference episodes of Friends that I've not seen?

I find myself in the unlikely position of defending celebrities. No one has been more vocal than I have about Canada Reads' insistence on using celebrities (even the rare non-famous ones) in the annual CBC radio competition. I also don't care who Brad and Angelina are adopting next or that Courtney Cox and David Arquette are splitting up. However, when it comes to celebrities, I not only think Murphy points his finger at the wrong people, I think he often does so unfairly and even hypocritically.

It seems, in Rex Murphy's eyes, celebrities aren't allowed an opinion. He rants endlessly about Sean Penn being interviewed by Larry King about Iraq. I don't know what Sean Penn knows about Iraq. I do know that Dexter Holland of punk(ish) band The Offspring has his masters in molecular biology. I know that Brian May of Queen has his doctorate in astrophysics. Being a celebrity doesn't automatically mean that's all you are or that you're necessarily an idiot in any field outside the reason you became famous in the first place. Me? I'm a teacher, a blogger, and I have my radio operator's license for aeronautical operations. It is entirely possible to have more than one skill. But even assuming Penn doesn't know Iraq from Indonesia, should Penn be the only one brought to task? Murphy does lay some sarcasm at the feet of Larry King, but how about all those that tuned in? Or is it simply more acceptable to criticize Penn than all those that bothered to watch? Calling a huge portion of the population stupid would make you an elitist. Picking on Penn, why that's just fine. He's a celebrity.

Interestingly enough, Murphy does the same thing he accuses Penn of doing. As he was coming down on the "soft science" of climate change, Al Gore (of course), and even David Suzuki, I found myself doing a tally:
Number of doctorates in science earned by David Suzuki: 1
Number of science degrees earned by Rex Murphy: 0.
So why can Rex Murphy rant against climate change science yet Sean Penn can't rant about Iraq? And while we're at it, why can't I rant about football?

I loved this book.

I was angered many times. I nodded in agreement many times (quite possibly literally, but I don't often watch myself read). I laughed many times. I love a well-written thought provoking book. It was heavy on the celebrity rants, yes, but there were also essays on politics, religion, arts, and identity. Do I love the man behind the essays? No. But then, he's no celebrity. He probably wouldn't care.


Nikki in Niagara said...

Oh, I love Rex Murphy! But then I agree with him politically (most of the time) too. Glad you liked the book. I've got it on my wishlist at the library, hoping to get to it someday!


Number of science degrees earned by Al Gore: 0

John Mutford said...

Nicola: Yes, you're right about Al Gore's lack of a science degree (and honorary degrees don't count for anything). The "of course" I added wasn't in defense of Gore, just my means of saying that he's an easy and obvious target on this topic. Still I don't necessarily think he knows any less (or more) than Murphy where climate change is concerned.

raidergirl3 said...

Rex Murphy spoke at our teacher's convention a few years ago. He's an amazing speaker and held our rapt attention. Whether I agree with him or not, I enjoy listening to him. I think I'd enjoy this book.