Those damned ‘elites’

It’s not clear who the ‘elites’ are, but they sure do make life miserable


As a new columnist, I understand the compulsion to repeat yourself. There are only so many segues and qualifiers, and I’ve probably exhausted all of them already. In fact, “in fact,” takes first place on my list of most recycled phrases—it appears in half the columns I’ve written for Maclean’s so far—with “The truth is” and “After all” competing for second place. I have yet to find other words for “In other words” and, contrary to the advice of my high school English teacher, all of my paragraphs begin with “and” or “but.” But, I like to think that my word choice—no matter how repetitive—doesn’t muddy the point I’m trying to make. It’s one thing to repeat words for the sake of clarity. It’s another to use repetition to blur distinctions in the service of your politics.

This is exactly what National Post columnist Barbara Kay has been doing for years.  In true Orwellian fashion (think Politics and the English Language), Kay forever enjoys railing against the same ambiguous enemy, ever ambiguously. I suspect, as George Orwell once argued about another obfuscator, she “either has a meaning and cannot express it, or inadvertently says something else, or is almost indifferent as to whether [her] words mean anything or not.” In the world according to Barbara Kay, every problem big and small is consistently blamed on anonymous elites.

I now present you with a list of Kay’s favourite word, in no particular order (emphasis mine):

On abortion, Aug. 31, 2011:

“In fact, abortion for any reason has become banalized amongst elites: Some Indian women abort over such trivial matters as an unwanted zodiacal sign.”

On prostitution, Aug. 3rd ,2011:

“Those championing the rights of  ‘sex workers’ base their arguments on theory, and the word of a small minority of confident, articulate, happy or heart-of-gold hookers who know how to manipulate credulous elites.”

On why Montreal kids should speak French (apparently sometimes it’s okay to be an elite), Nov. 25, 2011:

“Over the years I have applied myself with real rigour to French acquisition at an elite level.”

On Francis Bacon, May 27, 2009:

“What nonsense. For if it is moral to find aesthetic inspiration in humiliation, filth, disease, deformity and sadism, what, pray tell, would be immoral in the topsy-turvy world of today’s art world elites? Lakes, mountains and the Mona Lisa? No, Francis Bacon and his ilk are holding up a mirror to their own perverted selves.

This so-called art is degenerate; the so-called cultural elites‘ fascination with it is indecent. Degeneracy and indecency are, of course, quaintly archaic concepts, still understood by philistines, that have coprophilic artists and their enablers rolling on the floor laughing.”

(What’s most disturbing about the passage above isn’t Kay’s usual obfuscation of language but her reference to “degenerate art”—a direct translation of the German, entartete Kunst, a term used by the Nazi regime to disparage modern art. Interesting choice of words for a self proclaimed Zionist.)

On foul language, January 7, 2004:

“I blame elites for our uncivil society.”

On AIDS, July 9th, 2008:

“The barrier to progress, in his view, is resistance among AIDS-industry elites to acknowledging unpalatable epidemiological truths.”

On Quebec’s apparent likeness to Israel, Oct. 11, 2011:

“This book is sure to spark interest and discussion amongst Quebec’s cultural and political elites.”

On gender-bending in the classroom, July 20th, 2011:

“That dad may well be taking in by osmosis a certain fascination amongst our sociological and feminist elites with sex merging, the darling of gender-equality activism now that gay rights have all been achieved in law.”

On religious daycare, April 23, 2010:

“Quebec is the most militantly secular of all Canada’s provinces. Its intellectuals and cultural elites are resolutely committed to the ideal of a lay society.”

On feminism, Oct. 9, 2010:

“The feminism I take exception to today is not the mild and blameless right of a woman to self-actualize that all women absorb by osmosis from the cultural air we breathe, but the radical ideology that has come to dominate the movement’s academic and institutional elites over the last 40 years.”

On honour killings, Jan 26, 2011:

“All such practices are anathema to Western culture, and in particular to our values of individualism and gender equality. Yet few influential elites are willing to speak out against them.”

On Rob Ford and the Pride parade, June 23 2011:

“The knives that are out for Mr. Ford have nothing to do with this particular decision, though. The exaltation of homosexuality is second only to the reverence paid to unfettered abortion as a litmus test for political correctness amongst our cognitive and cultural elites.”

On why we should “clone” Tarek Fatah, Oct. 13, 2010:

“The real solution to the problem is to clone Tarek Fatah, a Muslim who really does count Jews as ‘some of my best friends,’ and who would prove to be a billion Muslims’ best friend, if their elites would give this frank, humble and courageous book the time of day.”

On Norway’s “faux humanitarianism,” January 14, 2009:

“Never acknowledging Hamas and Hezbollah’s exterminationist motivation, both Norway’s politicians and cultural elites project virulent anti-Zionism. Norwegian unions remain the world’s most relentless Israeli trade and academic boycott obsessives.”

On gay marriage and Judaism, July 21, 2003:

“The pressure comes not only from synagogue activists, but from the Reconstructionist movement’s strongly feminist academic elites.”


Those damned ‘elites’

  1. Typical of them thar columnist elites to engage in bickering over whose straw man (or, for all you post-modernist feminist and gay activist elites out there, straw LGB person) is the more laughable. But yes. The Christian-Zionist right wing in Canada (echoing a milquetoast version of the same endless discourse ongoing in the Angry States of America) does love its gay-sodomist-Palestinian-loving-anti-market-pointy-headed-academic-homo-faggoty-Palestinian-loving-tree-hugging-junk-science-climate-science-believing redistributionist class-war-fomenting straw gender-uncertain person, the godless Commie elites of the day. 

  2. A couple of the quotes you used don’t even use the word “elite” in the pejorative sense (e.g. “Over the years I have applied myself with real rigour to French acquisition at an elite level.”) Were you unable to find enough material to fill this out or what?

  3. As a new columnist, you may want to expend more effort on writing meaningful columns than attempting to ridicule someone else’s columns. 

    Also, if you disagree with Ms. Kay’s arguments, you should make counter-arguments rather than thinly disguising your disagreement as a critique of writing style.

  4. This attack is just dumb enough to make me suspect it’s a joke, but just mean enough to make me realize that it’s supposed to be serious.

    • It’s hard to tell, because something so dumb would not normally be published unless it were some form of joke, yet it’s not the slightest bit funny.  So you’re right, it appears to be serious, which is quite astounding that something so juvenile would be published.

  5. I’m surprised Maclean’s would print something so juvenile like this.  The magazine has certainly trended downhill the last couple of years, but such a trivial and childish attack on another journalist is something new.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with using the word “elites”. 

    Other journalists may choose different words, but really, what is the problem?  Kay tends to use the word as a synonym for leaders, organizers, influential and powerful people.  There is nothing surprising that the concept has reappeared over the years in her opinion columns, I would suspect that many journalists write about such people frequently. It’s true that it may be better in many cases to name such individuals rather than refer to them ambiguously, but in almost all cases where Kay uses the word, it is not necessary to do so, mostly because she uses the word to refer to a very wide range of people, so individual naming serves no real purpose.

    I’ll make a note of the name Emma Teitel so I don’t waste my time reading her drivel again (drivel is my own over-used word meaning “literary garbage” that I have used repeatedly over the years, but this article may be the purest drivel I’ve seen for a while).

    • I think the problem that Ms. Teitel has is that Ms. Kay often seems to be inferring that there’s some sort of conspiracy of “them” against the rest of “us”.

      Of course, the bigger problem is that Ms. Teitel doesn’t seem to know how to express this.

  6. I hope Teitel paid Ms. Kay part of whatever she was paid for writing this article, as the majority of it is Ms. Kay’s words. Is that even legal?

    I take exception to her assuming that “elite” is a favourite word of Kay’s. Overused, perhaps, but favourite? Her favourite word could be “mellifluous,” for all we or Teitel knows. I hate smug presumption.

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