Thursday, October 28, 2004

Richler to Walrus: Kootchie-kootchie-koo.

Well, The much-beleagered Walrus turns one year old this month. And Noah Richler has a piece about it in the latest NOW -- a rebuttal to the infamous Fulford takedown of publisher/editor Ken Alexander in Toronto Life this summer.

There are many flaws with Richler's piece, not least of all that he makes it out as if Fulford has some sort of fundamental problem with the idea of The Walrus, not the strange way that Alexander has run it. "The idea that it is somehow acceptable to one of our foremost cultural critics that our best writers have no forum here, their stories and opinions only read when some crack appears in America's current solipsism, is deeply worrying," writes Richler. (Later in the piece, Richler tries to make it seem like Fulford wrote the piece because Toronto Life "competes" with The Walrus.)

This is all, of course, ridiculous. Fulford praised the magazine and its mission when it first began in an article The Walrus still touts on its website.

Richler goes through his whole piece generally ignoring the fundamental issue from Fulford's Toronto Life piece: In its first year, The Walrus has gone through editors like they're going out of style and shown a lack of focus. Richler skirts this question, writing:
What is really at issue is Alexander's sometimes egocentric bravura and the way he has replaced those in key posts. In America, a couple of swift sackings are routine to save an enterprise, but in Canada years at the wheel and not what you do in them are what counts...

Alexander, formerly the publisher of the Walrus and now effectively its editor, committed a major Canadian faux pas when he behaved like someone who believed he could do better than the small pool of apparently proven trade staff from which Canadian custom says he should hire – "proven," in this instance, merely meaning that the departed worked on various incarnations of magazines that have consistently, um, failed.
Yeah, as if an American magazine publisher could go through two editors-in-chief and then appoint himself editor in his publication's first year without attracting criticism and skepticism... Also, Alexander HIRED these people (Wilson, Berlin) who apparently have only worked on magazines that failed. Doesn't that mean, at the very least, that Alexander is a really lousy publisher, unable to choose editors who he can stomach or who can stomach him for more than six month?

Back to Richler:
When I spoke to Alexander recently, he was delighted that his subscriptions were healthily on the rise. But the future of any magazine is uncertain, and he also remarked that if the Walrus fails, it's likely that no one else will try anything like it for 20 years. He's right. We can support Canadian writing. Or we can wait for some American magazine to publish something that matters to Canadians, usually accidentally. The time to prove that we are more than some other nation's appended consumers is now.
Alright, already. Stop fellating him! You're hired...

Fulford's takedown of The Walrus was perhaps a bit much. It could use a dissenting opinion. But this article by Richler is such a blatent attempt to curry favour with Alexander -- who is given a total free pass -- that he's just made the magazine look worse.

I, for one, am hopeful that The Walrus will be able to pull it together. Alexander can't fire himself as editor, so the magazine will have some stability for a while at least...

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