Now I’ve got to worry about flies, too -

Now I’ve got to worry about flies, too

Going Gaga: Today’s extreme and celebrity culture has even affected the Animal Channel


Shuji Kajiyama/AP

“I was an exile in Manhattan” has an improbable ring, rather like the fifties radio program I Was a Communist for the FBI. All the same, it wasn’t Duluth or Thunder Bay, but glorious, stenchingly hot Manhattan that became my exile during recent court proceedings. All I missed were my panting white dogs whom my husband had never seen, but who are now with us. There’s a bonding thing going on between little Arpad, 90 lb. at eight months, and my husband, undisclosed pounds at 792 months.

Conrad lectures him about the 10th century’s Prince Árpád, who led the Magyars over the Carpathian Mountains to establish Hungary, while Arpad wags his tail with joy and establishes himself on our bed.

When we were dog-less in Manhattan, I had to make do with the Animal Planet channel on the bathroom-mirror TV. Which is how I came to realize that human beings are doomed. A portentous narrator explained that mankind is outnumbered by hundreds of billions of birds, poised like marauding hawks to attack us (not to mention killer swans). Packs of feral hogs are spreading all over America. As for Florida, where I am a part-time resident, we face the Gambian pouched rat, which according to the program Killer Aliens is “the size of an average house cat. It carries deadly diseases that could potentially cripple the population of south Florida.” That’s not counting another 400 non-native species of wildlife, including killer snakes, that are colonizing the Everglades and strangling babies. “We are at the crossroads of interspecies chaos,” intoned a zoologist, whose name I can’t give you since the Kleenex I was using as notepaper while in the bath ran out of space after I scribbled the quote on it.

But what really did me in was the Monsters Inside Us program.

Heaven knows, we’ve all got enough on our minds without worrying about flies that lay eggs inside you via a quick trip into your nose or a scratch on your foot. How many times have you had a fly up the nose? Well, perhaps not so many, but I am a regular in that department due to the prevalence of flies in these subtropical climes and childhood remonstrations to breathe through your nose—unlike the nursery-rhyme old lady who didn’t and thereby swallowed a fly. When the wrong fly detours nasally, you get a revolting movement under your skin as egg turns into maggot burrowing into your flesh.

There were close-ups of the infected foot of a young girl—as pretty and nice as anyone with maggots under their skin can be, which isn’t exactly the Estée Lauder prom-perfect look. After that program came Confessions: Animal Hoarding, in which people like me who want to rescue the entire animal world turn into nutcases marooned among dozens of howling animals while friends cry quietly over the beloved one’s departure from sanity.

When did the Animal Channel turn into a sensationalistic animal National Enquirer? Received wisdom consists of an elegy for the high culture of yore and a screech about today’s extreme and celebrity culture. Neither extremes nor celebs are my strong suit: I didn’t ever get the point of Maria Kanellis and her dust-up with Santino Marella, but then I’ve never been a fan of wrestling, let alone the Bra-and-Pantie Gauntlet femmes. Lady Gaga I naturally put in a class by herself, with US$60 million earned at age 24. A lot of the rest are freaks and sad happenings, some with talent, some without and with very little character to go around as in Amy, Erin, Lindsay, and Paris.

But I’m not persuaded that today’s celebrity culture is any different or worse than yesterday’s or last century’s or for that matter the Ancient Romans’. Every cultivated observer thinks his times are especially shallow and corrupt. O tempora, o mores lamented Cicero in 63 BCE, even though Ovid and Virgil and Horace were about to happen. Our cultural desert of reality housewife shows and fat “disrespecting” females grabbing each other’s hair over some weedy man who has bedded them both isn’t materially worse than the hideous freak shows popular throughout the centuries.

For my taste, no rap lyric can match the awfulness of a description in Louis Petit de Bachaumont’s 18th-century Mémoires secrets of a common Parisian street fair showing, among other freaks, a “four-year-old child who, formed as fortunately as the most vigorous man beyond the finest proportions in the virile organ, has the diverse abilities of it such as erection, ejaculation?.?.?.?especially at the approach of a woman?.?.?.” with the child’s age verified by birth record and teeth. C’mon in, mademoiselle, and see if you can get it up for just one liard.

All that’s different today, I suppose, is that more of our lower classes—culturally speaking—can read and write and pay for cable TV: in earlier times they were functionally illiterate and spent their time stewed at l’assommoir or watching dog fights. Life has improved for them materially—a good thing—but not intellectually. When we had only six television channels we could usually find something that was worth watching. Now we have billions of viewers in search of merde, which means 900 channels and still only one or two worth watching.

The bad always outnumbers the good in any age. We comfort ourselves that great works will survive and the bad will die but you have no way of knowing. The greatest book ever may have been finished last week and is now in the shredder. As Somerset Maugham said, the great American novel has not only already been written, it has already been rejected. And on Animal Planet, I have yet to see River Monsters: Killer Catfish; Gang Dogs; Untamed and Uncut, all overshadowing the Westminster dog show.

O tempora, o mores. Cicero is ever with us.


Now I’ve got to worry about flies, too

  1. Lady Gaga? Yuck. Who cares how much money she has earned? Porno actresses make some good coin too. Lady Yuck acts like a tramp singing about riding on disco sticks and feigning blood and gore on stage. The only class she belongs to is the one without class.

    As usual, great column. Disturbing and fascinating. That's us humans. Amiel is why I subscribe to Macleans.

  2. As always a bit of editing turns Amiel into a truth-teller:

    "Our lower classes—culturally speaking—can read and write" for MacLeans.

  3. The third to sixth paragraph was awesome! A wonderful commentary on the silliness of the times we live in, even funny. I'd even have forgiven the first and second paragraphs if only you'd stopped.

    But not a word about Jews, so that's something. Kudos for that, I suppose.

  4. I was a longtime fan but you have matured very sadly to a totally disconnected world. Your ability to articulate an intelligent and considered point of view has sadly faded. Miss you.

  5. Dog lovers are a strange breed……

  6. At last I understand Canada's fascination with Amiel.

  7. Barbara Amiel like Andrew Coyne love to attack others looking down from their high moral ground. She is married to one of the worst ex-canadian wite collar criminals and is tainted by association. She has no credibility left and should be fired immeadiately. Andrew Coyne on the other hand has given up journalism in order to sell copy and keep his job. In reality, he is not a journalist but a self-serving entertainer. And at entertainment, he is not that good. He reminds me somewhat of the Bruce Boudreau rant. Like Bruce Boudreau, after a while people tune out and that is what should happen to Barbara Amiel and Andrew Coyne. They are both a disgrace to the institution that they serve. My opinion whatever its worth.

  8. Have you ever tried to find a mutt for a kid that just wants a dog? If so, you likely discovered that the mutt has become a rare breed. This fact says a lot about what we as humans have become. When I was a kid, dogs ran free all over town. I don't think I knew anyone who had a "pure bred." Nobody cared. There was no S.P.C.A.– just a dog pound. We would go there on Sundays to look the incarcerated in the eye. I'll never forget the smell. Secretly, I wondered what they did with all the bodies after their two-week sentence was served. I imagined that the fill along the edge of the estuary was made of dog ashes. Me and my sister put rocks in the dog catcher's gas tank and ran. We started catching the dogs ourselves and hiding them in the back shed. When we couldn't steal enough food for them we let them go to catch again later. Heck, none of us were "pure breds" but we had good legs and grit.
    When the first pure breds moved to town, they looked bizarre indeed; tall standard poodles perched atop a chesterfield, looking out a neighbor's new living room window. What kind of dog would want a hair-cut like that? No wonder the owners would only take them out on a leash. Poor things. Then there was that fat old man that used to walk with his dog, walking stick on his right, bull dog on his left. How they looked alike, waddling along the road. When they boarded up that little red cottage in Bridal Alley I could still see that old man sitting on the little porch with his dog laying at his feet.
    Today, many local artists make a living painting those old buildings in vivid colours. What I notice though, is there are no people in the paintings; or dogs.You can dress things up any way imaginable, but real art has a wet nose and liquid eyes that look at you with a tongue hanging out. Ta, ta to the gaga amiels.

  9. Barbara Amiel is an elitist from Toronto's ruling class. These are the old monarchists that were beheaded in the French revolution. These people have a sense of entitlement that allows them to justify every illegal act that they can get away with (conrad black). In their minds, we are such trash that we deserve being robbed by them. In fact, we should consider it an honor. After all, its their righ to do so is'nt it? Monarchists, you just gotta love 'em dont you?

  10. I enjoyed this article so totally. Laughed my silly head off.
    I do agree with you on the quality of entertainment, Babs!
    900 channels of merde, ha ha. And so true that we have no way of knowing whether only the worst examples will survive for future generations to roll their eyes at.

  11. This is a rant that does not have much to do with this article but I cannot find the right article.Barbara Ameil is a disgusting human being who should be fired. Anyone who would even suggest that rape is the victims fault and the victim should be grounded is crazy and should not be allowed to right an article on it. Macleans should not post it either. Here is the exact quote she wrote “In a normal society, the girl’s mother would have locked her up for a week and all boys present would have been suspended from school and their beloved football team. Instead we had a trial and media circus: two boys out of the many were declared juvenile delinquents guilty of rape (by inserting a finger in her vagina) with custodial sentences of a year each, one getting an extra year for distributing her photo, The boys go on a juvenile sex offender list. The girl could do with an alcohol abuse program while Steubenville clearly suffers from a shortage of parents in situ.” So congrats Macleans you have just lost yourself a subscriber.