Protest, cynicism, and fake lakes

With the G8/G20 Summits happening nearby in Toronto/Muskoka, I know a few people who have gone to the protests, and I’m obviously seeing quite a bit of coverage in the news. And I feel, in some ways, like the 30-year-old I never thought I would be as I look at the whole thing with deep cynicism. It’s not that I was ever under the illusion that any of these protests represented a chance for revolutionary change or widespread rethinking of our ways of life. But I thought there was something to be said for the act of being there, of standing present to say that the way things are is unacceptable. It’s primarily been watching media coverage over the past few years that has pushed me further and further towards skepticism.

First of all, summit meetings of global leaders have stood in as standard opportunity protest fare for the past decade or so. The premise is that the leaders are there, the media is there, the counterpoint has to be there as well. But it’s become so much a part of the assumed backdrop of such events that they’re barely worth reporting on. I’ve actually seen very little coverage of protesters, and far more of the police presence that has been brought in to deal with the increased traffic volume in Toronto this week. Casual morning shows express gratitude for the police, who the hosts say are there to keep them safe. Shots of protesters themselves may be used almost as stock footage before cutting to commercial.

What people are saying has absolutely no presence here. There is no actual voice to this counterpoint. There is only one specific thing I’ve heard about that is upsetting people – the “fake lake” set up and paid for by the Canadian government to provide foreign media representatives with a taste of Northern Ontario natural beauty. The objection, of course, is to the taxpayer expense, originally rumoured to be a couple of million and now reported at $57,000. That change in price tag has not changed the attention paid to the story – “person on the street” interviews on more than one station this morning asked about reactions to and perceptions of the ‘fake lake’. The voices we hear say it’s cheesy or artificial-feeling, or that they wonder how that money could have been spent better, some taking the opportunity to object to the upcoming implementation of the harmonized sales tax, others making social justice points about poverty relief or government services.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less about the fake lake. Maybe I have some other thoughts somewhere about the general discourses on wasteful government spending and the ways in which somehow highly conservative attitudes about taxation and individualism can become so ubiquitous as to erase any actual discussion of what things do and what they cost, but the fake lake is not a particularly spectacular counterpoint, so I’ll  leave them steep a bit longer. But what I do care about is that this is the point of objection that we hear. This is the G8/G20 issue that I could mention to anyone on the street, and people would have something (probably negative) to say about it. The fake lake is casual, facile, overwhelmingly banal piece of small talk that is standing in as a distraction for actual politics, actual decision-making, actual protest, actual discussion. Increased securitization is expected, both by those who appreciate it and those who are terrified of it. Protests are expected, even though no protesting voices and positions are actually heard, as protesters essentially get labeled as little more than protester-brand 21st century consumers of ideas, opinions, concepts. The summits themselves will happen, leaders will discuss things, decisions – none of them particularly shocking or unexpected, all of them probably horrifying if you really think about the whole system of it – will be made (or rather, formalized through the spectacle, since most of the discussion has taken place behind the scenes among aides, assistants, and advisors). But the fake lake, that’s something we can talk about.

It’s really hard not to be cynical when you’re talking about a $57,000 fake fucking lake.

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