Twitter called it #hairgate, but award-winning author Margaret Atwood said it was outright censorship when her column about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hairdo was pulled from the National Post site last month.
In what quickly escalated to blitz of social media attention and support, Atwood’s short 813-word article satirically discussed the upcoming Canadian federal election and poked fun at current Prime Minister Harper’s attacks on opponent Justin Trudeau’s hair — attacks that Atwood criticized as a reflection of the prime minister and his trivialization of the election as a whole.
“Hair, an election issue? Really?” wrote Atwood. “Of the three national male leaders, which one travels with a personal grooming assistant — lavishly paid for in whole or in part by you, gentle taxpayer — so that none of his hairs will ever be out of place… Hint: Initials are SH.”
After initial publication, the National Post quickly pulled the column, with senior Vice-President Gerry Nott initially noting in an email that “the necessary fact checking had not be completed.” The column was put back up, but three sentences were missing in the new post. It later came to light that the Post also had concerns about whether the column “aligned with the vales of the National Post and its readers.”
Whatever the real reason was for the censorship, Atwood was not shy about taking to Twitter herself, bringing the decision into the public sphere. “Um, did I just get censored? For my flighty little caper on Hair?” Moreover, she questioned the Post values that would result in a blatant act of censorship and which facts needed to be checked. “Which of my facts were Wrong? What are the alternate facts, presumably Right? Cite sources please.” Atwood, who is not a stranger to censorship and her works being challenged — her book The Handmaid’s Tale is a perennial favorite target of would-be censors — found this whole situation “puzzling.”
Atwood and her fans aren’t sitting back quietly while the Post continues to keep the unedited column off of their site, and much of the incident has become an opportunity to mock the Post’s decision (with more than a few amusing puns). The Post has the right to make editorial decisions about its content, but there is still a great deal of concern about the negative implications of censoring anyone, regardless of fame, for having a dissenting opinion.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!