In Montreal, pants and bridges are falling down

August 11, 2011 - Peter Stockland

As Montreal falls down around its residents' heads, there is comfort knowing it is safe to drop your pants and bicycle through downtown at midnight.

Motorists forced to use the Ville Marie tunnel for their commute when it reopened Monday told media tales of terror at the prospect of another massive beam collapsing on their cars.

Bridges are considered unsafe at any speed. Overpasses mimic asteroids, tossing great chunks of debris from above: "Look out! It's coming right at us!"

But insouciance, which only sounds like a French word for idiocy, rolls on. Late Saturday night, it cruised through the heart of Montreal wearing nothing but a superior smile.

While I was safely tucked in my bed far away at the time (my staunch belief is nothing good can ever come of being awake after 10 p.m.), press reports advise that 40 to 50 naked souls rode the streets en masse to make the point that, well, no one's quite sure. Perhaps their only point was to show they had something to point.

Like everything these days, the nudie wheelabout was organized entirely on Facebook. There is no word whether organizers recognized this as a golden gift of paradox.

It's doubtful, however, that they did. No two groups of modern humans are more squinteyed with sanctimony than nudists and cyclists. Plop a bare-buttocked progressive astride the ultimate vehicle for green self-congratulation and you create, on two wheels, a snob so myopic the Hubble telescope couldn't help him see things clearly.

Naturally, police passively stood by as public order was violated. What were they to do? Uphold the law? Arrest someone for brandishing a club in public? Not in Montreal, where failure to look the other way is deemed a dereliction of the duty to be insufferably culturally superior.

Curiously, the one yelp of agitation following the event was on a blog called anarchist dot org (http: //anarchistnews.org). Its auteur managed simultaneously to participate and slag other participants for their bourgeois blindness.

The work is worth quoting at length:

"Every garment (and every commodity) is a thread in the most constricting of uniforms, imposed at gunpoint and at shopping centres: CIVILIZATION.

"Whether we are naked or in parkas, our bodies remain trapped within the system that issues judgement according to clothing, skin colour, or desire. Whether we are on bikes or in Hummers, the police will enforce the rules of the road: keep to the right, don't torch department stores. As long as the logic of the commodity rules, the power of the welldressed man in the limousine won't be threatened by the naked queer on the tallbike.

"We take off our clothing to celebrate the beauty and diversity of our bodies, but what of the bodies we can't see, locked away in cells, or consigned to stitch American Apparel under fluorescent lights in 'not sweatshops'? When will we see the bodies that are actually forbidden? Will we even see each other outside of this carefully controlled space with its set time, its predetermined route, its police escorts?

"To begin answering these questions, we have to call into question the entire existing order. We have to stript (sic) away not just the layers that hide our bodies, but the entire apparatus of domination that ensures we'll put our pants back on and go back to work in the morning.

"NO PANTS, NO MAS-TERS means WE MUST DESTROY CIVILIZA-TI0N."

It would be fish in a barrel to dismiss this as the sophomoric mouth-breathing of a political imbecile. Although it is written in something approaching English sentences, for example, its "logic" is akin to one of those word wheels you spin to pick combinations of nouns and vowels that sound coherent, but are really genuine gibberish.

NO BIRDS, NO GAR-BAGE TRUCKS means WE MUST SING BARRY MANILOW SONGS. NO GOLF, NO CONDOMINI-UMS means WE MUST MOW THE LAWN. One could go on. One won't.

Yet, behind the nonsense there is a kind of savage genius, and an eerie prescience given what's happening in England, in the phrase, "keep to the right, don't torch department stores." Likewise the sentence "imposed at gunpoint or at shopping centres."

They are meaningless at the literal level, of course. Yet our anarchist's analysis ingeniously dispenses with civilized distinctions between differences of degree and differences of kind. In so doing, it presents a mentality prevalent well beyond niche political blogs. It represents the thinking that distinctions no longer matter because they belong to that outmoded habit called order.

So the core of a oncegreat city can turn into a nude free-for-all zone while the edges crumble and become impassable. So taking your pants off in public becomes a valid political gesture and obliging motorists to dodge collapsing 25-tonne beams is acceptable political inaction. What matter?

All things are just all things. And all things - pants, bridges - fall down.

Look out. It's coming right at us.

Posted in Cities, Politics.

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Originally Published

date: August 11, 2011
publisher: Calgary Herald