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Should Canadian Celebrities Welcome Controversy?

07/18/2014 05:34 EDT | Updated 09/17/2014 05:59 EDT
Prince Williams via Getty Images
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 05: Justin Bieber attends Ciroc party at Vanquish Lounge on February 5, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Prince Williams/FilmMagic)

It seems like you can barely turn around without some celebrity or public figure saying something racially or sexually offensive. Some people complain society's become too sensitive, while others see it as shining a light on the ugly underbelly of society when we can't get through a week without some supposedly educated, astute person flinging out some offensive slur!

But it's unusual when it involves a Canadian entertainer.

Recently there was a minor explosion when Canadian TV executive Brent Piaskoski sent out a series of comical tweets ridiculing the behaviour of some Asian commuters at an airport, perhaps summed up in Piaskoski's tweet: "I'm just going to come out and say it. Chinese people are weird."

This then led to the usual back and forth. Outrage and offense by some, defense and justification by others.

Personally I'm not sure which is more depressing: the comments Piaskoski tweeted or the fact that one of the guys behind the problematic sitcom Spun Out is identified as having a "major cultural influence" in Canada.

Celebrity Twitter accounts seem to fall into different categories, from ones that seem purely marketing and business-oriented to ones that seem like truly personal accounts in which they exchange comments with friends. In Piaskoski's case, looking at his other posts (he having quickly deleted the controversial tweets) it seems as though he mainly uses his Twitter account to test drive material, most of the posts one-liners and comic quips, so it's fair to assume he genuinely intended his comments to be comedic.

But issues like this can be embraced as a chance to look at issues, consider other points of view, and even to look inside ourselves. Why is so much humour based on put downs anyway? Why does a guy observing people behaving differently than himself immediately see it as cause for derision? And is he aware how he might appear in their eyes?

Piaskoski has his defenders arguing that those comments don't reflect who he is. Which is kind of the same phrase that seems to get dragged out whenever any public figure gets caught with his moral pants down. When Mel Gibson rants about Jews or Ezra Levant attacks the Roma or Tracy Morgan "jokes" he'd kill his son if he acted gay or Rob Ford is being, well, Rob Ford -- we are assured that's not who he is, or the comments were taken out of context, or people are reacting with manufactured outrage.

"Manufactured outrage" being the new mutation of the phrase "political correctness," I guess -- dismissing critics by suggesting even they aren't really sincere.

Another familiar pattern is the "he's apologized -- now let's move on" attitude. Which reminds me of an old The X-Files tag line: Apology is Policy.

To be fair, Piaskoski did apologize quickly and seeming unreservedly.

But when did the onus fall on others to accept an apology? You hope your apology is accepted in good grace. But if it's not -- that's still on you, brother. It's not repentance if you expect -- nay, demand -- absolution as your due. That seems to be moving into Rob Ford territory, the "I apologized and sort-of went to rehab now re-elect me Mayor because I shouldn't be inconvenienced by any of my bad behaviour!"* attitude.

(*not a true quote).

And I should point out it's not Piaskoski who seems to be demanding his apology be accepted and everyone move on but merely those who purport to be his defenders.

But far from being something to "move on" from, this is perhaps an opportunity to "move forward" on -- to get people talking. After all, one of the concerns was not simply the remarks, but that he's a guy in a position of power in the entertainment biz.

Take Spun Out -- please! (ba-dump-bump). A seven-person regular cast of which one is non-white, one is supposed to be gay, and two are women (and behind the scenes at least one of the actors -- Darcy Michael -- is gay, at least he uses that in his stand up material). Most of the guest stars have been white. An occasionally occurring character was played by Asian actress Jadyn Wong -- and she actually managed to wrest a chuckle from me once or twice which is an accomplishment given I'm not a big fan of the show. Yet curiously in one of her few scenes I think I remember a joke was that a character identified her solely as an Asian girl. Yet Spun Out is kind of, sort of, not-quite-but-maybe set in Toronto, which is one of the most multi-racial cities in the world!

If Piaskoski is a progressive in the Canadian entertainment biz (as his supporters claim) one has to assume most of the executives he's butting heads with are card-carrying Klansmen! And maybe that's true. Maybe every day he wages a heroically Sisyphean battle against the intolerant attitudes of his superiors.

Or maybe we've just set the bar really, really, really low.

In the end, Piaskoski tweets aren't really going to hurt him, career-wise. There'll be a mini-controversy for a while, some people criticizing him, some defending him and, if he really is the nice guy his friends say he is, I suspect he'll be more disturbed by some of the people coming to his defense than by the people knocking him. It'll only really stick with him if six months down the line he unleashes a new series of offensive tweets and his friends have to rush to his defense with an increasingly insincere "but that's not the guy I know."

But from a Canadian entertainment point of view, maybe it's good to get a bit of controversy going. Canadian celebrities rarely seem to get into drunken brawls, bitter divorces, or drive-by shootings. But when you think about it, half the time you read about Hollywood celebrities it has nothing to do with something they are working on, and simply some inappropriate behaviour.

There are rumours about behind-the-scenes acrimony or shake ups in Canadian entertainment from time-to-time -- but they never seem to have much legs in the press. And, of course, moreso than in Hollywood, I suspect no one really wants to speak on the record in Canada for fear they never get to work again.

But as humiliating as this is for Brent Piaskoski -- at least people are talking about him.

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