- Strangers in the Mirror: In and Out of the Mainstream of Culture in Canada
In this volume Nurjehan Aziz continues the project she began in her earlier volume Floating the Borders: New Contexts in Canadian Criticism (1999) of questioning the orthodoxies of Canadian culture. This volume, usefully positioned as a school text (and for the 'intelligent general reader'), highlights some exemplary Canadian cultural moments to illustrate the numerous blind-spots and biases that pervade the mainstream media as well as revealing the mechanisms which reproduce stereotypes and misconceptions about marginalized groups and individuals.
As a way of approaching this collection, Chelva Kanaganayakam's essay usefully analyses the ambiguities of 'representation' as involving both homogenization and essentialism. Traditionally, representation carries the dual implications of 'depiction' and 'delegation,' that is, speaking about and speaking for. These dualities converge to some degree in that depictions also designate a limited number of subject positions that may be taken up by actual people. Clearly the complexities in both minority individuals and communities far exceed the range of these depictions. And official [End Page 441] Canadian multiculturalism too often amounts merely to the capacity to 'allocate spaces within the margin,' effectively leaving the mainstream untouched.
What these essays attempt is precisely to question or to make visible mainstream assumptions and prejudices. They range from Arun Mukherjee's weary anger at noting how 'some lives are more important than others,' in a 1987 CBC news report about bombs going off in two different parts of the world and noting that, as the day progresses, media attention to a tragedy in Sri Lanka wanes in contrast to the Irish example, to Cecil A. Foster's meditation on and confession concerning an initiative to set up a Black-specific Toronto radio station that failed because it was assumed that the complex and diverse interests of the Black community could be contained by one such institution.
Talented Black writer Rozena Maart has an interesting (and pedagogically usefully comparative) double entry comprising an interview with the newly appointed executive director of Ed Video, Karen Kew, and a theoretically dense piece on a controversy in that same organization precipitated by a white teacher screening Birth of a Nation in spite of being requested by some colleagues not to do so. Maart's impassioned delineation of the event is a complex contribution to the growing field of critical whiteness studies.
The idea that some lives matter more than others weaves its way through many of the pieces, whether it be Sharon Beckford's essay on the absences in the Pier 21 museum or Rahul Varma, director of the important Canadian play Bhopal, drawing attention to the fact that the perpetrator of that tragedy is still a free man in the United States. As well as including arts practitioners in a variety of media, there are important contributions by teachers across a range of levels about the implications of these shortcomings on future generations. Both Alnaaz Kassam and Chelva Kanaganaya-kam stress the point that the alienation of youth marginalized in the dominant culture by such media mechanisms contributes to the problems now catching the attention of a globalized communication machine. If youth engage in 'nativist' over-simplification of their supposed home culture this will not help them mediate a hybridized existence that is fundamentally about creating 'a new set of markers negotiating the values of another culture' for community and individuals, away from the traps of identity politics and the fundamentalisms they engender. [End Page 442]
Sneja Gunew, Department of English, University of British Columbia