The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.
Art and politics have always had a dynamic relationship. Often clashing with one another, some of the greatest artistic expressions have come as a reaction to political decisions. Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, two of the driving forces behind the Montreal pop quartet Stars, have recognized first-hand how political decisions can serve to unite a community of artists.
“In Toronto right now I feel like there is a lot of art being made in all areas, not just music,” according to Campbell. “Bad times often make for great art.”
In early October, Ontario voters washed away the last traces of the Common Sense Revolution that had ushered in eight years of Conservative rule in Ontario, with a landslide victory for Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal Party.
“I was really excited,” said Millan, remembering her first impression of the new government, “but they’re all the same assholes, really. That’s the unfortunate state of politics right now. You’re just happy when the person you disliked gets kicked out.”
The eight years of Tory rule in Ontario cast a direct impact on Campbell and Millan, as well as many other emerging bands in Canada. For bands like Broken Social Scene, the Constantines and the Weakerthans, the reactionary policies of the Tory government blocked the programs that got them interested in making music in the first place.
“It was a really dark time in Ontario’s politics,” Millan notes. “(Mike Harris) did terrible things for education. He cut arts (programs) which were the whole reason there are bands like (Stars), Metric and Broken (Social Scene). We’re out here only because we had it in school.”
Campbell recalls the period as a dark moment for the arts in Canada. “They cut anything that didn’t make you into an office worker, essentially,” Campbell said. “I think the Harris government was full of ideologues. They didn’t care about the consequences of what they were doing; they did it because they thought it was ideologically correct.”
“They didn’t consider (arts) a necessity and that’s probably crushing a lot of people because when I was growing up, I couldn’t be happy in a normal school,” Millan confesses. “I needed the arts.”
“(The Tories) had cut it so there was no such thing as arts in a lot of high schools,” she notes. “They don’t have any visual art, they don’t have any music classes and they don’t have any instruments. They have nothing. (The Tories) had cut it out.”
The replacement of the Tory party came at a time when Ontario politics were at an all-time low. But Campbell can’t help but acknowledge the Darwinist benefits that also came as a result of their reactionary educational policies.
“In some ways the Harris government and all the problems Ontario has had over the past decade has actually made it so that people who weren’t really doing anything seriously (with respect to art) fucked off somewhere else,” claims Campbell. “People who have something to say and are really committed to living in that community have really stepped up their game and have extended their voice. These people are becoming more vital now as time goes on.”
The success of many nascent Canadian artists can be seen everywhere. Broken Social Scene’s latest You Forgot It in People was released domestically to critical praise. Stars’ latest album Heart has sold more than 3,000 copies in Canada alone, which Campbell denotes as a success. “We’ve sold in Canada in eight months what we’ve sold in three weeks in America. There’s not a lot of growing room in Canada. You’ve got to transcend that, which Broken (Social Scene) has begun to do.”
When asked about the future of Canadian politics, both Campbell and Millan were blunt. “I don’t want to completely sound like an old curmudgeon, I think in politics there are people trying to do well,” he notes. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that you have to work within politics but nothing will change in the world if people don’t change their lives, and that’s where art comes into play. The power of self-expression and understanding other people’s expressions is where you can get so much achieved.”
“I think things are going to change but McGuinty is probably a wanker, so I don’t know,” Campbell states. “He’s a politician, so I assume he’s another wanker.”