14 February 2012

Last night, wracked by illness, feeling not completely sane, I found myself doing something I don't normally do: I watched Canadian Television.

As background, Our national channel is called the CBC, aka Canadians Boring Canadians, which shares two initials with the British national channel, the BBC, but none of the awesomeness of the Brit channel.  Our most popular show is Hockey Night in Canada, the most popular part of which is a segment called Coach's corner, starring Don Cherry, his mouth, and his suits

Other than Hockey Night In Canada, the most popular show they ever made was Anne of Green Gables.  Following its success, the CBC quickly produced other original shows, such as Anne of Green Gables, the Sequel, Anne of Green Gables, something or other, and a fourth Anne.  At that point, they ran out of Annes. so they mined other stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery and began producing regular series, such as Road to Avonlea and Emily of New Moon.  By now, the CBC was the undisputed champion of the Butter Churner, and the CBC became Canada's second most popular all natural sleep aid, ceding first place to the one and only Margaret Atwood.

(Another show that was very popular was The Littlest Hobo, about a dog that travelled from town to town, helping people and solving crimes. It was like Murder, She Wrote, except we couldn't afford an old lady.)

Recently, the CBC had a bona fide hit with the show Little Mosque on the Prairie, one of the few international hits they ever produced.  The show was original, and it enjoyed a run of several successful seasons before coming to a conclusion recently.  The CBC, needing to come up with a replacement, returned to Butter Churners, however, since they are out of Lucy Maud Montgomery they turned to a contemporary of hers, and possibly the least likely candidate imaginable, Stephen Leacock.

Leacock was emphatically not Lucy Maud Montgomery.   He was at one time Canada's most prominent humorist, a status roughly similar to being the finest hockey player in all of Ecuador.  In his time, he was often compared to Mark Twain, who accused him of stealing his stuff, and whom Leacock accused of stealing his.  He was a very educated man, wrote learned books on economics, and taught at university of Toronto.  He was an Imperialist, a rather quaint movement  that believed Britain's time as the centre of the Empire had passed, and it was time for the centre of Imperial power to move to a different centre, like Canada.  While many people have plotted the overthrow of Empires, the Imperialists rank among the few who sought to capture one.  None of these are reasons to not make a television show out of his books.  No, the main reason for my surprise that his books were made into a Canadian movie is due to the fact that he was utterly politically incorrect.

Of course, everyone back then was. It would have been exceptional if he had not been so.  However, few people recorded their opinions for posterity like Leacock.  For example, when Canadian government policy sought Ukrainian wheat farmers to come to Canada, settle our West and farm wheat there, Leacock called the Ukrainians with their strange dress and accent as "Galicians", and in his more charitable moments called them "scum of the earth."  He also stated that an Asian Beauty Contest was "a contradiction in terms."

He was a heavy drinker at a time when heavy drinking was both common and commonly reviled.  To be fair, in that era there was really no such thing as 'social drinking'.  One drank to get hammered, or not at all.  Or they drank beer, which was safer than the water, and not considered real drinking.

Booze was at the heart of what is perhaps the most telling story of Leacock's life, only the drunkenness was not his, but his father.  One fine sunny day when Leacock was a young man of fourteen, living on the shores of Lake Simcoe, near what is now Orillia, his father came home, as usual, drunk,  Dad began to beat his wife and Stephen's younger sisters.  Stephen intervened, took his mother and sisters to a neighbour, and returned home with the neighbour's shotgun.  He marched his father, at gunpoint, to the train station, forced him onto the next train leaving town, and told him that if he ever came back, he would blast a hole in him you could drive a stagecoach through.  He then went on to write stories about the quaint and amusing things done by people who live in small Canadian towns.

And thus, in this unlikely series of events, I found myself watching Sunshine Sketches of Little Town last night.  Even more unlikely, I found it to be watchable.  Leacock's humour was deeply cynical and satirical, and it traveled better than I would have expected, perhaps because it was cynical and satirical, and such humour appeals to our times.  Leacock would have been surprised, perhaps shocked and offended, to see people of all races populating his stories.  He would not have recognized the pseudo-Victorian arrangement of a Burton Cummings song. Even so, the humour was Leacock's.  It wasn't a show about nostalgia, or how things were better in the past, but how they were every bit as foolish as we.  I appreciate that sort of thing.  At least when I am sick.

1 comment:

Patience said...

I don't get live tv anymore. (I guess I could buy an antenna..maybe if I cared enough( but we buy our tv in DVDs.
A number of years back I watched a few episodes of "Little Mosque" and found it to be the most unfunny, "trying too hard to be politically correct but not being able to laugh at themselves" type of show. In other words; Canadian. Too bad as there's some Muslim comedians that are funnier but they probably wouldn't be allowed on the show for fear of "offending" someone. Even if it got a bit insane at the end; give me The Newsroom anyday. Glad you enjoyed your show anyway.