St-Victor: More than the pandemic, I worry about the culture war

St-Victor: More than the pandemic, I worry about the culture war

There’s a problem when my comments about masks are met with accusations that I am pushing propaganda and suffer from Stockholm Syndrome.

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Renowned author, food lover and raconteur Anthony Bourdain adored Montreal. He visited the city on many occasions, during one of which he filmed an episode of his TV series, The Layover.

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Now, three years after his untimely death, Bourdain is back on our screens — this time in Roadrunner, a film about his life, released this month. The anticipated documentary was received with both cheers and jeers, the latter, in the form of controversy, after it was revealed that Roadrunner’s director resorted to using artificial intelligence to recreate Bourdain’s voice in a part of the film. He did so without the consent of Ottavia Busia, Bourdain’s widow.

AI is responsible for essential developments that make much of what we do, and how we do it, better. But in the Bourdain case, it’s deceitful and feeds the fake-news narrative that’s entered our culture in recent years in various iterations. For most, fake news is defined as what is trying to pass as fact but is proven untrue. For some, it’s news that displeases them, though proven factual.

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In my column last week, I stepped on a grenade when I dared write that not only am I pro-mask but I’ll probably continue wearing one in public spaces even after mask mandates are lifted. A reader suggested I suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. Odd really, as I never pegged myself as the Patty Hearst type. Others wrote I was pushing propaganda. The mask, the symbol of the pandemic, is part of our culture wars. Science proves it saves lives. Does it matter it’s the government reminding us of that fact?

Last week, Quebec unveiled plans for a lottery, like some other places have done, to encourage vaccination among Quebecers via cash prizes and bursaries. There’s a difference between anti-vaxxers and those who are vaccine-hesitant. This new initiative hopes to turn reluctance into willingness.

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Being hesitant and being “anti-” are two different things. Many who oppose vaccination are fuelled by ideology. In the U.S., a recent Washington Post poll showed that 45 per cent of Republicans versus 86 per cent of Democrats had received their first COVID-19 shot, making the issue more about politics than science.

In Canada, according to an Abacus Data poll, political allegiance is noticeable between the hesitant, but only slightly.

In May, it was revealed that European online influencers had been approached by Fazze, a PR company, to spread false information about Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine. In France this week, 100 000 people took to the streets in protests resembling — not in size, but in purpose — the demonstration that took place near Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in May. Similar protests across the U.S., where the culture war originated, had the same goal: denounce the sanitary measures that have been put in place to curb the pandemic. All of this has been fuelled by a toxic cocktail of fake news, conspiracy theories and distrust of government, science and media. Everything thrown in the same shaker, leaving me, well, stirred. And concerned.

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Canada’s vaccination rate has surpassed that of the U.S., and our rollout has been a success despite the continuing reluctance by some to get the jab. But what worries me is the resurgence of COVID cases elsewhere, from Florida to France. I worry we might be next, and the extra oomph we need to get more people vaccinated will be derailed not by the vaccine-hesitant, but by the anti-vaxxers and those who oppose sanitation measures. Those who hate the messenger more than the message and confuse news that’s untrue with news they don’t like.

I worry that, more than the pandemic on its own, what will hurt us in the long run is the culture war it has created. It might not have started in Canada, but it has reached our shores. I have the online comments to prove it.

Martine St-Victor is a communications strategist and media commentator based in Montreal.

Instagram and Twitter: martinemontreal

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