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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sun TV News and Americanized Canadianism

One of the outstanding traits of Canadian culture has always been our ability to ape American culture in our own inimitable fashion. Sure, Canadians like to constantly point out that they are not Americans or bash American ignorance of our country on national TV.  We knock 'em, but deep down inside, we really actually want to be as much like them as we can. It's all part of our Canadian little brother inferiority complex. So one of the great Canadian traditions of the media age involves taking quintessential piece of ol' Red, White and Blue to the south culture and attempting to make it our own. 

I remember when I was a kid, I enthusiastically tuned into the first episode or The King of Kensington. "Finally", I thought, "Our own version of All in the Family.". Sure, our version wasn't as funny. Or funny at all, really. It didn't focus on any of the hot button social issues like the ground-breaking US show did. Nor did the titular character of King of Kensington make racial jokes that came off both as funny to bigots and as satirical to liberals . Oh, well at least main character was fat like on All in the Family .  At least Larry King (no relation) also had the same kind of living room and chair as Archie Bunker did.

The important thing, really, was that we were trying.  We'd get better at it, really we would.

Over the years, Canadian culture has not disappointed on that front. We've seen Canuck takes American genres like the sitcom, the cop show and the late night talk show. We've also seen Canadian versions of Who Wants to be A Millionaire?, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? and, of course, that Holy Grail of Americanized Canadian TV, Entertainment Tonight Canada. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting to see the premiere of Law and Order: Toronto or CSI: Vancouver of The Dartmouth Shore or the Real Housewives of Trois-Rivieres  anytime soon. But there was some exciting and intriguing when Quebecor Media Inc's announced its plans to launch a so-called "Fox News North".

Sun TV News Channel hit Canadian TV screens April 18, 2010.

The moniker "Fox News North"  does Sun TV a disservice. The newest all-Canadian 24 hour news channel is clearly taking on something much more ambitious than just creating a Canadian Fox News. Sun TV seems to be  part of a larger and nobler endeavor to gradually transform not just Canadian news or even Canadian popular culture but, rather, Canadian political discourse and ultimately, the very nature of Canadian culture and society itself.  It'd be nice if what was something a little more American is the gist of the idea.

American politics is now, and has been for some time, predominately right leaning. Most of the current political issues are defined by Republican talking points and Fox News. Even the American lamestream liberal biased media give a great deal of lip service to right wing concepts like the nanny state, big government and the dangers of secularization, gay marriage and legal abortions. The United States does have a socialist President from Kenya, sure, but he is constantly under attack in both the right leaning and liberal biased media. And, yes, you've got your alternate viewpoints on MSNBC, The Daily Show and HBO's Real Time but all those guys just come off as elite dissidents in the grander scheme of things.

So if, as is Canadian tradition, we want to be just like our southern big brother then we need to not just imitate Fox News but we must also imitate the entire right-leaning American political process.

We have seen our first  first baby steps in this direction over the last couple of Canadian elections.  There have been an increasing amount of US politics-inspired attack ads (who knew that Michael Ignatieff could be shot from so many unflattering angles?).

Canadians have long been complaining of dull and uninteresting elections that do not offer the kind of high stakes drama that we see in every US election cycle. What we Canadians seem to want is a little bit of American right-wing-brand polarization, fear, and intolerance.

Thankfully, Sun TV News is here to help Canada realize that ambition. They are pointing the Canadian political discourse along in the right direction just in time for the Canadian election coming up on this Monday, May 2.

"The greatest place on earth" . Good start. That's some good ol' US style rhetorical right there, that is. It's also a good start in that Sun TV News is laying out all the issues in vague generalities that are both hard to pin down and argue with.

Promising, yes,  but let's get a little more specific, okay?

Now we're talking: elites and a mainstream media that doesn't "get it". 

The real coup-de-grace, though, is the part about how political correctness has "run amok".  It's the perfect Rovian approach: it suggests that some intellectual liberal elite is attempting to box in ordinary people by setting the tone and guidelines of all debate in the country. Meanwhile, it is a tactic that is at the same time cleverly hiding that the fact, it is Sun TV that is, setting the agenda by creating the convincing notion that the populace is being controlled and lied to by a social and political media elite that just doesn't "get it".

Well, Sun TV definitely gets it.

On the surface they are off to good start. The sets are vaguely (but only vaguely) reminiscent of the Fox News sets and much of the graphics follows the red and blue motif favored by Fox News. Okay, well they've got the living room and the chair that looks like Archie Bunker's anyway.

Mr.Lilley has a great deal more to construct than just his set.
Moving on.

The fledgling network has two types of programming. One is their Straight Talk shows. These are opinion shows as opposed to their Hard News. The Hard News shows are supposedly opinion and bias free. Fox News makes similar claims all the time. I have to be able to tell the difference. One of Sun TV's Straight Talk Shows is Byline, hosted by Sun newspaper columnist, Brian Lilley.

I wonder how well this particular Sun TV News commentator will be able to get some good US style moral outrage and intolerance going?

Well, on April 22,  Mr.Lilley opened his Good Friday edition of Byline with the following promising editorial statement:

"It’s one of the holiest days of the year.Yes, you know it, it’s Earth Day, the day we all head out into parks and worship the Earth goddess Gaea. Most of you had the day off, it’s an official holiday. The United Nations has even proclaimed it. That makes it real. Of course I’m joking.. ."

Joking? Dude, WTF?!

If you're gonna go for this American style right wing discourse, ya gotta go all the way.  Anything else is well...polite...and...far too Canadian. We're trying to ditch that shit, remember?

You opened up with some beautiful slams on the secularization of a religious holiday mixed with some perfectly valid sweeping generalizations about Earth Day and a nice little shot at the United Nations to boot. You know, I hear stuff like that and I temporarily forget I'm watching Canadian TV. Suddenly the unthinkable is happening: I'm actually hearing an American right wing political argument about my own country.  That puts you right where you want to be, Mr.Lilley. Then you have to go and derail everything with a nice and cliched Canadian statement like  "Of course, I'm joking".

Yeah. Yeah. I know. I understand the issues you're up against Mr.Lilley. Canadians are not used to having such intolerance thrown at them. Well, they certainly won't get used to it when you keep back tracking with a "I'm joking" line. No reactionary atmosphere in that direction, sir.

And, yes, I also understand that in Canada you are up against way more picky hate speech laws and CRTC regulations that Fox News, for instance, never has to contend with. Well, screw 'em. Break those politically correct rules made by the elite that supposedly does not speak for your viewers. Let them come after you. It's only going to embolden your cause.

You are on crusade here, Mr.Lilley.  Part of being just like our bigger meaner brother means that we must reach a point in our politics where, silly as it may sound now, the Canadian right will set the agenda. That way they will define the rules of the debate and come out on top of every single issue.  You need to start that process by remaining totally unapologetic in your intolerance.

Go for it. That's what you're here for isn't it? 

But don't take a commie pinko canuck's word for it. Take a look at The Master.....

Notice how even in the face of an embarrassing apology, Sean Hannity is still able to maintain a nice light air of morally superior arrogance?  I would study that classic Hannity smirk intensively if I were you. Mr. Lilley.

I shouldn't be so hard on the man. Mr. Lilley's comments did start to pick up as he went on.

He continued by saying "....Earth Day isn’t a real holiday". Ooh, nice try at a classic misdirection joke but the damage has already been done. You still seem a bit on the wishy-washy side for a conservative commentator.

Mr. Lilley stuck with it. He went on to ask, "But why do our officials, our school systems and our culture, celebrate this while trying to reduce Easter to 'Spring spheres' and bunnies completely devoid of religion."

Oh, yeah, that guy can obfuscate with the best of them. While hitting on the hot button issue of the secular liberal influences on our school system and our culture, Mr. Liley deftly distracts most viewers from making the connection that Easter eggs and bunnies are already to Easter what Santa Claus is to Christmas: secular as hell.

Mr. Lilley, after a few opening stumbles, is in good from now. He goes on to drive the point home.

Says Mr.Lilley, "there is a push to downplay Canada’s Judeo-Christian heritage." because that is "the way the chattering classes would like it to be" despite the fact that "...our Christian heritage is still with us in our laws and our symbols....Canada has Christian roots." (his complete text can seen by clicking here).

Then Mr. Lilley then really nails the argument: "Canada’s constitution recognizes the Supremacy of God; our national anthem sings of God and the French lyrics even refer to carrying the cross. Look at our national symbols from the national coat of arms to provincial coats of arms or the provincial flags.There are crosses everywhere....They are part of our heritage and we should celebrate every bit of it.".


When do we get start attacking the lack of prayer in our schools?  What about teaching evolution? When do we get to start condemning that?

The strongest part of Mr.Lilley's arguments is that these kinds of talking points that have already proven themselves successful in the US.  Fox News and even the lamestream liberal-biased media in the US have devoted great amounts of air time to issues like the secularization of Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. Canadians watch tons of American TV and thus are already familiar with the debate. It becomes very exciting when you think about it. Canada is going to get to have its very own War on Christianity lead by a secular socialist elite just like they have in the US.

It reminds me of the little wave excitement that grips most good Canadians whenever there is a Walmart or a Home Depot or a Best Buy or a Starbucks opening in their neighborhood. Watching American TV, Canadians have already collaterally absorbed these company's multi-million dollar advertising campaigns aimed at the US market. There is instant brand recognition before the first Canadian advertising penny is spent. Hey, Krispy Kreme opens a store in Toronto and there are line-ups around the block.

American companies, American political issues, same deal.

Sun TV News has got one guy who doesn't even need the work of the US advance publicity team.  When it comes to reactionary commentators, the man is a power house. He can both create and deliver the whole message himself, thank you very much.

His name is Ezra Levant.

Ezra Levant has been well known as conservative commentator in Canada for some time. He's written for the Calgary Sun, The National Post and is known for his many Internet (in his own words)" rants".

In 1995, he wrote an editorial in the Calgary Sun about the Quebec referendum in which he argued in favor of Quebec separatism. His argument was that Quebec leaving Canada would lead to an end of the Canadian policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism and thus, in turn, end the government's bowing to "special interest groups".

That in and of itself is impressively intolerant right of the bat, I gotta say. However, in the great Canadian tradition, Mr.Levant was not truly recognized as being an important pundit until he made his mark you-know-where....

Now we're cooking with inflammatory statements.

The ground work and the role model for the part Mr.Levant will playing in the Americanization of Canadian politics is clear.

Mr. Levant, in fact, is on the record as saying that he published the Danish cartoons in question to exercise, "....our inalienable right to as free born Albertans to publish whatever the hell we want no matter what the hell you think." and that he reserves the right to "...publish it for whatever offensive reason I want.".  Exactly.  Don't ever let the issue of free speech vs hate speech get the least big complex there, pal.  Be sure that the argument remains simplistically black and white and is all about you and your sense of self-righteousness.

Hmmm....just throwing this out there, Mr.Levant, but Mr.Beck's show has recently been canceled, leaving an opening at Fox News....

It seems that Mr.Levant was only too happy to pick up the Earth Day bashing torch originally carried by Mr.Lilley earlier that evening on Sun TV....

Oh, yeah! Cut, baby, cut!

We sure as hell are outta Mr.Lilley's conservative amateur hour now. Mr.Levant is a man that most definitely understands the medium of television. You don't just talk about doing the most offensive thing to liberal environmentalists (like, say, "Saint Suzuki"...I think I get that, BTW, it's some kind of a facetious comment on Dr.Suzuki's holier-than-thou attitude, right?).

No. Don't say it. Do it.

A flamboyant visual stunt like that is guaranteed attention. It will get your opponents fired up into an outraged emotional state. Once they are in that state, you can debate them on your level where you are more likely to come on top.  At Fox, they call that O'Reillyism 101.

In fact, I bet all the tree-hugging liberals out there were so incensed that they even forgot about the fact that Green Party leader Elizabeth May beat Mr.Levant to the punch about five years earlier...

Most political commentators would have left the issue there. Ezra Levant is not most political commentators.

A bit later on the Earth Day edition of The Source (Mr.Levant's daily opinion show on Sun TV News), Mr.Levant followed his outstanding stunt with an editorial on environmentalism in general and on the animal rights movement in particular.

Mr. Levant made perhaps the most apt comparison out there in the conservative sphere today. He made the case that giving animal's rights can lead to animals being treated better than people. Case in point, he said (and, of course, I'm paraphrasing -if anyone out there has video of this part of the show, I will happily post it) that another person who believed in animal rights was Hitler.


The always apt comparison of big government liberals to Nazis works every time. Who cares if the comparison is tenuous and historically debatable? Putting Nazis and liberals in the same sentence is conservative gold, period.

Indeed, if Mr. Levant has learned anything from his US counterpart....

All Canadians should be really excited now.

The prospects of our nice polite reasonable left leaning little country transforming into a  far superior US type right-leaning polarized and intolerant society are better now than they've ever been.

It's not just about the advent of Sun TV either.

In addition to the American style political attack ads, there are other signs of our country's potential cultural and ideological shift. We've already started adopting some of very important American lexicon and symbols, for instance.

Canada has long since adopted the Bush administration catch phrase "Support our Troops". The yellow ribbon, a United States Army symbol dating back to the 19th century, is beginning to slowly edge out our traditional red poppy as a symbol for honoring Canadian troops and veterans.

We have seen this Americanized version of Canada take hold in our country before. It has happened with American popular culture, American sports, American businesses and soon it might happen with American politics.

So just how long much longer till this wondrous transformation takes hold?

Well, we are on the eve of a national election. The speed and progress of the Americanization of the Canadian political system will very much be determined by the outcome of Monday's election.

So if you'd like to have an influence on the Americanization of Canada, do so in the Canadian favored American way.

Get out there and vote.

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