Thunder Bay, specifically our arts community, suffered a particular nasty shock last week leaving some horrified, some visibly upset, many dumbfounded and a few of us bursting into laughter. We are not laughing because the situation isn’t serious, but because humour is often defensive and generated by a surprise incongruence, that is, two events slammed together so out of whack that we find it funny.
Last week an in-depth article of investigative journalism by the online media company, Vice, in collaboration with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, pieced together a plethora of patterns and clues to accuse Thunder Bay resident, Thomas White, former owner of Espresso Joya, of spreading hate speech, primarily through a podcast titled, This Hour Has 88 Minutes. 88 is a numeration of HH, meaning Heil Hitler for those in the know. The Vice article quotes horrific racist comments and support for violence against leftists and brown people of all kinds.
The actress, Renee Zellweger had enough dramatic facial reconstruction that for the public she may as well have passed on. The actress we knew vanished to become someone else, nothing horrific, just so different looking and unrecognizable that she may as well have just walked away from Hollywood.
A similar transformative vanishing act took place when a friend of the Thunder Bay community disappeared by becoming something unrecognizable and truly disgusting. Espresso Joya was a welcome addition to the North Core, bringing in musicians and artists with events and art shows. Thomas held figure drawing sessions at the Baggage Building and held regular little chess tournaments, introducing a chess board allowing four players to battle against each other simultaneously.
That the owner of such a hub of leftist artsy and intellectual activity would be a Neo-Nazi is right out of a Monty Python skit, specifically where Mr and Mrs Johnson visiting a small boarding house in Somerset, England encounter Adolf Hitler, von Ribbentrop, and Heinrich Himmler trying to blend in and restart their Nazi movement.
Or imagine the situ in reverse. Let’s say I moved to Harrison, Arkansas to open a steak shop or to Charlotte, North Carolina to run a NASCAR rally, all in order to raise money so I could purchase First Nations art and send 5 percent of my earnings to the NDP and feminist organizations in Ontario. In my spare time I would organize redneck gatherings featuring yoga and vegetarian dinners.
It’s funny while being totally insane.
One could imagine Magnus or Cambrian Theatre putting on a musical comedy, like Mel Brooks’, The Producers, where a coffee shop owner, dressed in black sporting a high-and-tight alt-right haircut sings and dances in dramatic soliloquies about his frustration with putting up with all his leftist, women, black, Indigenous and LBGTQ patrons. He hates them all, but is forced to smile and serve them “the best coffee in Thunder Bay,” occasionally seeming to forget who his enemies were.
His theme song would be of his plot to destroy his coffee making competitors, especially his arch nemesis, the owner of the coffee shop at the Country Market. He would rail against the “mainstream media,” while his lefty employees advising White to spend less time reading Reddit on his laptop. And when he closes his doors for the night, he pulls the curtains, strips off his clothes to reveal his untanned body in order to dance naked to alt-right heavy metal music.
I swear there’s a ton of money to be made in taking down the racists and haters. Not only can’t they think hard enough to see the obvious error of their ways and thoughts, they can’t see themselves for what they really are: a big joke.