Nothing personal, but we can’t be friends

By the time you read this, chances are good you will have had the opportunity here to read Gord Perks’s May 19 2005 column in Toronto’s “eye weekly.”

So you will know the title of today’s lob is not original (the Allderblob still awaits brain callous formation).

Gord Perks’s column is not addressed to you, gentle reader, any more than this lob is.

Unless you are Sunoco’s VP of Health Environment and Safety, Carolyn L. Green. In that case Gord Perks wants you to know you are evil. Or unless you are Gord Perks himself, in which case the Allderblob wishes you to search “hypocrite” in your online dictionary.

Oh, Perks is more gentle than that, but his point is clear. In a pull-out quote he states: “The plain fact is, there’s no such thing as a good oil refinery.”

Here’s my pull-out quote:

The fact is, there’s no such thing as an environmentalist who earns his salary from automobile advertising.

“They make gasoline, for chrissakes,” writes Perks (only he spells it “chrissake,” a fraudulent usage which I have corrected).

I’ve never met Perks. From his picture, I’d guess he’s a very nice person. The column he wrote to introduce Carolyn L. Green fairly gushes witn enthusiasm for enlightening us about the evils of car dependency.

I’m sure he’s great with children and kind to animals. he’d probably be a real ray of sunshine as a neighbour. I bet, too, that he’s smart and hard-working. You don’t get to fill the shoes of Bob Hunter at eye magazine by just having a friendly disposition.

And so on (brain callous, where are you?)

Here we have to finish with Perks. The sad irony is, while Perks’s salary is paid by GM, he still thinks his column can effect, as he puts it, ” real change.”

GM? But I thought you said he writes for eye magazine?

Thing is, eye is a publication of Metroland Printing, a wholly owned subsidiary of Torstar publications, publisher of the Toronto Star, most of whose advertising income derives from the automobile industry.

Real change is coming, of course. Whether, as Perks describes, it’s genocide caused by climate change, or mass upheaval caused if we “end the production of gasoline and kick all the workers out of jobs and tell everyone who lives in car-dependent suburbs they have to move because there’s no gasoline anymore” [whew! Someone needs an editor!]. Or possibly Perks’s “third way:” “We contain sprawl, and invest in public transit. We send school kids door-to-door begging people to get up an hour earlier and walk to the GO station instead of driving to work.”

Perks says all the right things, even if he’s long-winded. Something haunts me about him though.

It is Jeff Gray’s Globe and Mail column of some weeks back, where Perks acknowledged his wife is a member of the Canadian Automobile Association.

Andrew Spicer, a blogger I came across by googling Jeff Gray’s column, writes about it here. One of the snips he takes from the globe column (which unfortunately you will need to purchase if you want to read in full) is as follows:

The Toronto Environmental Association’s Gord Perks, whose wife is a CAA member, says the group is almost always lobbying against the things he fights for. “They pop up everywhere you can imagine, as opponents to promoting cycling, promoting pedestrianism, promoting better public transit,” Mr. Perks said.

“They always wrap it in the guise of what they call ‘balanced’ transportation, but you never see them show up at city council and ask for more money for public transit.”

He said the CAA has long been much more than a tow-truck service and is now “the principal advocate in Ontario for building roads, building highways, and ignoring the social and environmental costs of that kind of transportation system.”

If I were Perks, I would have a hard time writing with my left hand while my right was signing a check for CAA membership. But that’s my problem.

Something else bothers me about Perks.

The fact is, while he spouts the right stuff about ending car dependency and discouraging sprawl, he writes for eye weekly. His paycheque comes from the killing fields of Iraq, Nigeria, and the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge.

Am I overstating my case?

I don’t really think so. Eye weekly this week has four full page car ads in its first 19 pages. On page 2 the ad reads “COOL LOOKS/ HOT DEALS” and offers 0% financing and even “better” deals in its “STUDENT PROGRAM.” On page 9 the ad reads “Life’s more fun behind the wheel” and features a picture of a computer mousepad worn down in the classic shape of a stickshift pattern. Page 17 features the slogan “Rent cars by the hour.” And finally, the ad opposite Perks’s column reads: “HAVING YOUR OWN CAR MAKES YOU SEXIER” with a photograph of a Charles Atlas “before” picture, the classic 98-pound weakling. Then it continues: “OKAY, MORE INDEPENDENT,” accompanied by a photograph of a shiny red penis.

I’m sorry, did I say penis? I meant car.

Let’s see. Cars look cool? They’re cheap? Life’s more fun with a car? A car will make you sexier? More independent?

These are all classic Gospel of the Car Ad items. To be dealt with in later posts though. Not here.

2 Responses to “Nothing personal, but we can’t be friends”

  1. inky says:

    how is one supposed to get an anti-car message out, as gord is trying to do, without using the media? by no means should one use the corporate media exclusively, but it seems to make sense that if you get a chance to do so, you should take it. those ads make eye free. that means people will read the column who wouldn't have elected to do so otherwise. and the car ads would have been there regardless - so the choice is a magazine full of car ads and no anti-car article, or a magazine full of car ads and an anti-car article.

    secondly, you say his wife is a CAA member, but then you say that he's writing cheques to the CAA. maybe i'm missing your meaning here, but it strikes me as a bit sexist to suggest that his wife can't pay for her own membership. and maybe she joined in the hopes of being able to sway the organization's policies a little (that's just conjecture on my part, and not entirely relevant).

    if you can think of a way to communicate with people around social issues using a medium which is entirely without glaring hypocrisy, i'll be glad to learn of it - i certainly haven't encountered it yet. today, just about everyone's paycheque comes from some killing field, somewhere.

    i hardly think that in the battle against cars, environmentalists should be your main target. this is why the capitalists always win - despite all the "competition" talk, they actually co-operate with eachother.


    Provocative response. Thank you.

    I didn't mean to imply Perks pays for his wife's CAA membership. But in a marriage, "what's mine is yours" (as really becomes evident at its dissolution!) and the "right hand/left hand" is a metaphor for this bond. In my opinion, Perks and his wife ought to consider some other roadside assistance program, especially given Perks's convictions about CAA (as recorded in Jeff Gray's Globe and Mail column). Spicer on his website suggests a program run by Canadian Tire corp.

    As for the capitalists running together despite their lipservice to competition, maybe you've been reading a different paper than me but have you heard of Belinda Stronach? I think you have a good point about the importance of presenting a united front, but the united front I would like would be for Perks to unite with me against automobile advertising--"Another world is possible" after all.

    Antonia Zerbiasis (the Toronto Star columnist) has taken a similar line to you in her blog. Literally: "advertising will make us free." But there's advertising and then there's the advertising of products we believe to be morally reprehensible. It's not enough to write a column critical of the objects in question. It really comes down to following through on your beliefs.

    As for most jobs having their roots in a killing field of some kind, I really don't know what to say. Strictly speaking, I guess you're right. And maybe it's enough that Perks "speak truth to power" about the his particular killing field in his column. But to really do that, he should address the question of automobile advertising in particular, especially if eye magazine is going to continue laying out the paper with GM on the opposing face. So far I haven't seen anyone go after automobile advertising the way, for example, was once done with tobacco, firearms or alcohol.

    But it's my hunch that, just as with his blase attitude toward the CAA, he is not about to bite the hand that feeds him at eye weekly, either.

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