amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Gilmour Kerfuffle

How is it that Random House, Gilmour's publisher, let its author be thrown under the bus in this way?

Do university departments exert any control over course syllabi?

Do literary festivals and the media, which make money off the bombastic opinions expressed by authors feel it is appropriate to pass on negative publicity about an author via social media?

Is it acceptable to replace one form of group think with another?

Should corporations and institutions take social media more seriously?

I think it is very odd that a publisher's representative would be allowed to share an interview that was so ridiculous and inappropriate.

I think the University of Toronto deliberately hired a star to teach a couple of courses. I suspect Gilmour was given carte blanche to teach whatever he liked and that his courses attracted students and therefore helped with both funding and publicity.

Gilmour has always been a bombastic outspoken person whose opinions many have found patronizing at best. What has changed?

What I have found disquieting is the quick rush to trial and spread of anger that has worked its way through social media. Gilmour hasn't done himself any favours by offering weak excuses for the nonsensical interview and his outdated opinions.

Is his pedagogical method amateur and unprofessional? Sounds like it. But I think it would be disingenuous to assume that his bombastic outspokenness and celebrity weren't the primary motivation for his engagement at the University of Toronto.

Gilmour was hired by the University of Toronto, not as a pedagogue, but as a star. And stars do and say horrible things. All the time. And we're all right there rubbernecking their every move. I've heard university lecturers express opinions that are similar to Gilmour's, but they aren't famous. I have known instructors who have been vehement in their dislike of Canadian literature. And a few of them have had a very narrow opinion about literature written by women. It's a commonly held opinion in academia from my experience. It needs to be remedied. I'd like to think that this kerfuffle could open up a dialogue, but I'm not sure it will do anything more than what it has done: engender a lot of anger.

And it's amazing to me that some of the angry and most opinionated are those who have taught workshops exclusively on dead white males or who offer reviews of film and literature fairly exclusively about men. There's a fair bit of hypocrisy in the current angry rants against Gilmour. I've seen the man in person several times and all I can say is, at least he is consistent.

Is it acceptable to replace one form of group think with another? I don't think it is. Should all university literature courses be inclusive with regard to race, gender, age etc or do students need to be exposed to a variety of opinions, and make their own decisions?

I keep thinking about the Kurt Vonnegut story "HarrisonBergeron." "THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General." 

I am constantly surprised and dismayed by the lack of guidelines and policies dictating social media. There's no way a blog which is supposed to represent a publisher  and its authors should include such a preposterous interview. Where is the loyalty? How much money has Gilmour made for Random House, with whom he has published five novels.

In the about section on the Hazlitt blog, we are told that Hazlitt is "Random House of Canada’s new flagship digital habitat. It’s not just a homepage or marketing vehicle. In a way, Hazlitt is based on an old model of publishing—the publisher as trader in ideas. As more people read books electronically, and the entire cultural landscape shifts with the emergence of new media formats, publishers must seize the opportunities for innovation available to them."

So are we led to believe that the interview was just some innovative attempt to gain more publicity for Gilmour's new book? Is this an example of trading ideas or was it a deliberate act of polemics to attract more attention to a blog that wasn't that well read in the first place? When I discussed this issue with others, most of them said they'd never heard of Hazlitt. Will this kerfuffle lead to an increase in sales of Gilmour's latest book? I suspect it will. 

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