More Responding: iHateVan takes me down a peg

A while back I posted a rebuttal of positivity to the #ihatevan Tumblr, and realized recently that he actually responded.  Besides dismissing the things I like with snarky comments, which I expected him to do (as if people aren't allowed to like different things than he does), here's his final shot:
This shit is about “me, me, me” and your want for creature comforts to make your apparently OK life even more OK. This blog’s hate is pointed at all the systematic bull shit that is buried right underneath the surface of Vannie culture. While you touch on some of these issues as basically a bit of an apology, your dismissal of anger towards these issues as non-productive IS SERIOUSLY PRIVILEGED.
Dang it.  I think he's got a point.

My first response was basic defensiveness: "I was not being privileged! That's not what I was trying to do!"

Then I remembered a simple fact: what a person tries to do and what a person actually does are two very different things. The fact is, I am privileged. This isn't a new revelation. I was raised middle class by parents who love me. I am white, able bodied, educated, decent-looking, and work in my chosen field, which is the arts. All of these are things that lead to, or are the result of, privilege in our society.

As a woman, I feel unsafe more often than a person should, and if there's one thing I learned from #yesallwomen, it's that I'd like men to listen and believe women when we say there's a problem. So maybe I should also listen and believe other people when they say there's a problem.

So, the guy's got a point. While don't really feel bad about bringing positivity to the fore, by doing so and glossing over the real problems, I also shoved them under a rug.  Something I got to do because I'm lucky and don't generally have to face those issues.

What I thought I was doing/was trying to do:

I saw the posts about Vancouver's racism and other systemic issues as likely valid, and so I figured they could stand on their own.  At the time I wrote my post, however, the majority of posts were attacking people for not being fashionable enough or spending enough on their jeans or eating meat or going on dates with him or having enough parties.

There were also a lot of blanket statements about the basic character of the humans of Vancouver, which will always get me on the defense.  He claims Vancouverites lack curiosity, generosity, empathy, and senses of humour, and that's just not what I've seen, so I wanted to defend the good people I know and love.

Finally, he claimed that no one ever responds by showing them "why it's not shit" or offering to change things. Since the majority of the complaints up to that point appeared superficial, I wasn't going to offer to stop being a vegetarian or whip Vancouverites into dressing to his particular fashion sense. So I thought I'd respond by offering some evidence for why I think Vancouver is "not shit." I expected them to get shot down, and they were.

What I actually did:

I did do what I thought I was doing - I spouted some positivity and watched it get shut down. I defended the character of the Vancouverites I know and love. HOWEVER, I also demonstrated a lot of privilege.

Since I thought the racism claims were likely valid, on the whole, or at the very least recognized that I don't have the experience to comment on them, I just let them be. I figured that by not engaging with them I was letting them stand on their own. What I did instead was ignore them and by ignoring them, I shut them down. I just did the happy version of what he did - he shut me down with anger, I shut him down with positive glossiness.

Ignoring the unpleasant parts of the system is very much a privileged thing to do, and doing it made me part of the problem.

So here's the back and forth where I have an imaginary conversation with myself:

The generalized anger and wide-ranging vitriol shut me down and put me on the defensive. I am low-hanging-fruit on this one and would have responded better to the issues being posed more openly, with questions and an invitation for dialogue.

However, expecting his issues to be phrased in a way that I like is pretty freaking privileged.

But when you shut people down you kill dialogue.

Yeah, but was I really engaging in dialogue either?

But there was so much focus on the surface - sure, people probably shouldn't spend $100 on yoga pants, but is it fair to claim they should spend $100 on jeans either and write them off as human beings because they don't understand fashion even though they were buying clothes that are sold in stores generally considered fashionable and featured in fashion magazines? That's privilege.

Maybe, but we're all at least a little bit hypocritical from time to time.  So this guy is a snob about fashion and judges vegetarians.  I'm an artsy fartsy know-it-all.  Also, if someone has a spare $100 to spend on pants, it's a fair point that they should just invest that money in actual pants and not yoga tights.

Or maybe they should spend that money on something useful to the world.

Maybe, but they probably won't.

What about the arrogance of assuming you know someone else's motives for their behaviour and pigeon-holing/writing them off based on one or two traits?

That's pretty much exactly what I did.

Oh, right. Dang it.

I still love Vancouver, but am also open to talking about the things that could make it better for everyone.

UPDATE: I just realized I never actually apologized, which was my intention. I am sorry for ignoring the wider issues because of my privilege. It was a crappy thing to do. I'll try to listen better next time. 

PS: If you must know, YES, a thriving arts scene does mean that people occasionally produce "lame boring shit", because when people take risks in art it's a freaking RISK and they don't know how it's going to turn out until they do it.  Sometimes it's amazing and sometimes it's wanky and lame but it's worth it because they tried something and will probably learn to make it better next time or inspire someone else to do something awesome.  And Vancouver is NOT like New York in the 50's.  It's bloody well like Vancouver in the 2010's.  We're not trying to be New York.  There's no need, we are doing our own thing, and it's awesome. 


  1. QUOTE: "a thriving arts scene does mean that people occasionally produce "lame boring shit", because when people take risks in art it's a freaking RISK and they don't know how it's going to turn out until they do it. Sometimes it's amazing and sometimes it's wanky and lame but it's worth it because they tried something and will probably learn to make it better next time or inspire someone else to do something awesome. And Vancouver is NOT like New York in the 50's. It's bloody well like Vancouver in the 2010's. We're not trying to be New York. There's no need, we are doing our own thing, and it's awesome.

    If it's so awesome and uniquely vancouver, why does it turn out wanky and lame? Why can't it be cool and cutting edge? Is the scene a bedroom hobbyist community or is it a serious art industry (you know, complete with infrastructure ie. galleries, art buyers, critics) that enables artists to make a living locally? Do you know that many local artists have left Vancouver in droves due to the cost of living and their inability to make a living with their craft in Vancouver? Why do serious Canadian artists move to NY, London, Tokyo? Why do they have to leave if the scene really is thriving? Do you know that most of the art you guys enjoy in Vancouver is imported from elsewhere while your own local talent leaves as there are no serious opportunities to be found here? Please, wake up.

  2. Hello, Anonymous. As I said, it can SOMETIMES turn out wanky and lame. Other times it is cool and cutting edge (totally subject terms, by the by). Because, as I said, people are taking risks, and you don't really know what's going to happen until it's out there. This happens in every single city in the world, if they have a thriving arts scene. The only place you never see lame stuff are places that stick with "safe" entertainment and don't bother trying anything new.

    Yes, people leave for other cities sometimes because in other cities there are larger populations, which naturally leads to more opportunities. That has nothing to do with the quality of work in any particular location. "Serious" artists sometimes leave Vancouver, but they also sometimes choose to move to Vancouver. We'll never be as "big" as NY, London, or Tokyo, but that doesn't mean we're not thriving. It's an irrelevant comparison.

    I'm not saying our arts scene is perfect, but I'm saying that it's happening and there is some truly incredible work that comes out of Vancouver. Our reputation across the country is for innovation, at least where theatre is concerned (which is my main area of expertise). The only real problem here is that people tend to write off local work before they even experience it, because of assumptions like yours.

  3. Hi Andrea,
    I saw the back and forth between you and ihatevan and I just had to send you a note to tell you how much I truly appreciate this post.
    I recently became a permanent resident to Canada from Sydney, AU and it has to be said that if it wasn't for my partner, I would have gone home after six months.
    Vancouver has very obvious issues such as the homelessness, transit, housing affordability, the ineptness of the provincial government, city cleanliness etc, etc but that's not at all what I struggle with.
    After 5 years of having lived here, my biggest struggle stems from the complacency and seeming numbness to these issues from the residents who live here.
    All world cities have a sense of pride in their culture and identity, but I feel like Vancouver has very righteous, defensive kind of pride and at the risk of offending you (which I hope I don’t) your first post was the perfect example of that.
    I am from Sydney and I love it there, however I would be the first person to put up my hand and list all the things I think could be better! I have met few born and raised Vancouverites who are willing to do the same and that is something that I just don’t understand.
    I have confronted (and ultimately offended) many people by simply asking them “don’t you think there is anything that can be done to improve the city?” A simple question with (what I think) is a no-brainer response, gets most people I meet here in an offended and defensive twist. It drives me crazy.
    I think the biggest indication of what this is city is like to someone from the outside is to say that all of my closest friends who I have met since moving here, are not from here. I think that says a lot.
    So believe me when I tell you that this post, where you admit that there are things about Vancouver that could definitely be better, is a truly a breath of fresh air! It makes me think that people here are not the complacent, brainless zombies I thought (and to a degree, still do) think they are.
    I applaud you for the courage to write this post from your adjusted perspective and I hope this is something that more and more people in this city see and really internalize.

  4. Thanks for responding! You're right - Vancouverites can be weirdly defensive and self-righteous about our city. While I thought I was responding to what seemed like self-righteous anger coming out of ihatevan, I was ignoring the legitimate parts of his complaints and playing into our stereotypes, which was pretty douchey of me.

    I take no offence to how you saw my first response, because you're totally right - yet at the same time it's worth pointing out that that response (and other things that I do) were a part of my attempt to actually deal with the city's issues. I was misguided, for sure, but defensiveness comes out of wounding for people. Generally I feel like I encounter more negativity, blaming, and shaming about the city than positivity, so I was trying to point out the good as much as possible as a way to show that it's actually there. I do think that this city has a lot to offer, and that people just don't always know where to look for it.

    That said, just talking about the good without recognizing and engaging with the bad parts doesn't actually help anything. We need to find some kind of balance and actual dialogue - complaining without blaming, showing the good without blindly ignoring the bad - and then maybe we can actually make the city a better place!

  5. I agree a thousand percent with you. I wish there was a way to engage this kind of conversation without ruffling feathers!
    I see so much potential in this city, it's just so frustrating to see it held back.
    Currently on the look out for action and volunteer groups that I can join to try and make a difference. Hopefully learning more about the city and how it works, will help create better ideas on how to fix it :) Great job on the post, again, such a refreshing sight!