Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I usually give a TV series 4 or 5 episodes before commenting on it. That's a professional courtesy since virtually every series I've been involved with didn't fully discover what it was until we were 4 or 5 episodes in.

So I watched "The Border" on Monday, felt it was a little predictable and contained elements that gave me pause. But I reserved judgement until it had the opportunity to find itself, change my mind or surprise me.

Basically, my approach to life is to try everything at least twice -- once to get over the shock and a second time to see if I like it.

But Tuesday, I watched CNN's coverage of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary and decided that something needed to be said about "The Border" and maybe Canadian television in general.

If you haven't seen "The Border" yet, you should check it out here before reading any further.

Cause I don't want to pre-influence anybody and -- there's Spoilers.

Up to speed? Okay...

The rules of engagement committed to in "The Border" pilot are essentially this -- Americans, Bad -- CSIS (Our version of the CIA and therefore apparently identical) Bad -- politically correct guys who guard our border, Good.

To some, this might exemplify the oft voiced adage that CBC ceaselessly reflects a liberal left agenda. Whatever. Although I wouldn't be surprised if upcoming episodes replicate the message and tone of the last year or so of "CBC Newsworld" documentaries on sex slaves, human smuggling, organ smuggling, etc.

The story is a riff on the truly tragic Mahar Arar affair, a Canadian of Syrian descent who became an innocent victim of American rendition and Middle Eastern torture. But this version loses the immense impact of that story by being painstakingly earnest and politically correct at every turn.

I'm not saying that I wanted to see the rescued from rendition Muslim school teacher come home and strangle his wife for not wearing a Hijab to make our heroes reconsider their preconceptions. But something unexpected or different from the steady drumbeat of gratuitous politeness that typifies Canadian television would have been refreshing.

More to the point, while I'd been assured "The Border" signified a new dawn for Canadian TV, what I saw was the same smug "we really are better than Americans" cant that I've endured from Canadian programming all my life.

I've written about the Canadian Superiority Complex before and despair that we can't finally cough up that vile hairball and get on with defining who we are instead of constantly reminding everybody of what we're not.

But, no, the message from CBC drama and comedy is always the same. We're nicer than they are. We're smarter than they are. We're more compassionate and caring and accepting.

But we're not. No more than Canadians are better than Australians, Swedes, Afghans or anybody else. And pretending that we are is one of those obscene lies that reveals just how immature and uncertain of ourselves we really are.

I like Americans -- and for good reason. Americans gave me an entree into a very lucrative and successful career and invited my stories into their homes by the millions when Canadians wouldn't even return my phone calls. And to use our other official language for a moment, "Plus sa change, plus la meme chose".

I've lived and worked all over the USA and yeah, all those stereotypes exist, their issues are huge and nobody's perfect. In fact, nobody's probably better than Americans at being imperfect.

But reiterating that we're not them and portraying Americans (or any Canadians of a "conservative" bent) as two-dimensional cliches doesn't forward our cause either. In fact, it makes us appear just as two dimensional.

Quite simply, it's the difference between Bruce Willis confronting the bad guys in "Die Hard" and Chuck Norris doing the same thing in a dozen direct-to-video knock-offs. Three dimensional characters with shades of grey and relatable motivations make all the difference.

As America and Americans careen down Life's highway, in one ditch before correcting course and then veering directly into the other, one thing about them becomes obvious. They learn from their mistakes (or at least try to) and then move on. If there's a problem they try to fix it. If they screw up again, they try to be better next time.

Canadians, not so much. Change is anathema to us. In fact, we're still chanting the same "We're not like them. We're so much better than them" mantra we've been mewling for generations while progressing little if at all to becoming something of our own.

Now, I realize that "The Border" was conceived and this episode filmed almost 2 years ago, at the height of the Bush Administration's power and all the soul rending depression that went along with that. And maybe the writers and other creatives who've come aboard since will be able to broaden the terribly blinkered world-view exhibited on the first episode into something "new".

Which brings me to Tuesday.

And perhaps the video below is the best example I can offer at what sets Americans apart from us.

I defy you to find a similar oration by any Canadian politician of any stripe that exhibits such passion, positive energy and desire to create something worthwhile.

With all our diversity, I defy you to show me an Afro-Canadian, an Asian Canadian or a Muslim Canadian who could be in the position to do what this man is doing within our own society.

Mostly, I defy you to convince me we're "better" than this.

Give me an hour of Canadian television that can exhibit this much sense of one's national character or even hold a candle to the promised drama of these 13 minutes and your show will not only be worth supporting, but worth trumpeting from the rooftops.


Anonymous said...

Yes we can!! err They can!

We can hold an inquiry! We can hold an inquiry!

Also I love that picture of the car at the top of your page.. Where did you get that?

Anonymous said...

"As America and Americans careen down Life's highway, in one ditch before correcting course and then veering directly into the other, one thing about them becomes obvious. They learn from their mistakes (or at least try to) and then move on. If there's a problem they try to fix it. If they screw up again, they try to be better next time."

As an American (more specifically, Minnesota) thank you. We're not perfect - far from it and our politicians (I shudder to admit so many are citizens of the USA)say and do things that are utterly incomprehensible to the majority of Americans. Surveys and polls do NOT necessarily reflect the true opinions in the USA - they're media driven and therefore asked in ways to solicit the most emotional response possible from the interviewee.
Remember, this isn't 1776 so we can't load up the shot gun and just take up arms against our government because we think they're a bunch of nuts doing only what's good for big business in order to line their own pockets with cash. Every country in the world suffers the same problem - it's just that the USA is always in the news because, well we always are. We are constantly being criticized for getting overly involved or not involved enough - we're not giving enough money, or we're manipulating xyz government with too much money -- it's all true but I dare any country to take responsibility for the world and not screw things up. God knows our government has done a fine job of messing things up. But, we have an election next year - things will change (again) and we'll still screw up but at least we're trying.
So thank you for easing up on all us "evil American's" - we're just people trying to make a living and enjoying any good moments that come our way.