The politics of laughing at politics and politicians John Doyle | Columnist profile | E-mail From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published Thursday, Mar. 03, 2011 12:00AM EST
Everything is political. To ignore this fact is foolish. Yesterday in this space Andrew Ryan explained the coming-and-goings on Dragons’ Den, a show that is as political as those Conservative attack ads mocking Iggy. Dragons’ Den locates ruthless business rules at the centre of everything and celebrates entrepreneurship as the most noble of all endeavours. Trade unions, public employees and the benefits accrued to working people over generations are under assault. The politics of the situation is evident in media coverage of everything from the protests in Madison, Wis., to the lavish attention paid to the ideas of author Dambisa Moyo, who venerates the Chinese model for “prosperity.” In the case of Madison, U.S. TV coverage routinely lacks any voice from trade unions. In the matter of Dambisa Moyo, it was interesting to see that her ideas got a major platform on CBC’s The National this week. (One of those absurd National reports which involved an interview by Amanda Lang and then Lang debriefing Pastor Mansbridge about what viewers had heard Moyo say.) Nowhere was it mentioned that Moyo is a former Goldman Sachs analyst, Goldman Sachs being a main mover in the self-destructive, Wild-West banking antics that led to the economic crash of 2008. In Canada, we pay a lot of attention to politics. And politics has provided the ingredients for some of the most successful of Canadian-made TV. Rick Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes are core Canadians shows, a reality that reflects our intense interest in our politics. We are less enthusiastic about finding politics or political meaning in Dragons’ Den and other emanations of Canadian TV. Frankly, we’re naive and simple-minded about it all. It is also interesting that although we display an intense interest in our politics, Canadian TV has largely failed to exploit this interest in drama and comedy. There was the amiable but slight CBC
series Snakes & Ladders, about federal politics, a few years ago, but dramatic or satiric excursions into politics are rare. Recently, mind you, there have emerged two shows about municipal politics. Dan for Mayor, due to return soon on CTV, is as goofy as all get-out, essentially using small-city politics as a venue for whimsical humour about a puppy-dog loser and his pals. She’s the Mayor (Friday, Vision TV, 8:30 p.m.) is the latest entry. A straightforward sitcom, it is modelled on those traditional Britcoms which air alongside it on Vision. Gentle humour, silly jokes and celebration of ordinary people who stand up against the pompous and the scoundrels, that’s the gist. What happens is that sixtysomething Iris Peters (Janet-Laine Green), a former school principal, is spurred to run for mayor of Fairfax, a mid-sized city, when the current mayor announces he’s going to use the site of a community garden to build a big box store. One thing leads to another and Iris ends up mayor and struggles to run a city hall populated by nincompoops and small-time sleazebags. It’s a hoot, but a very folksy one. The outgoing mayor is a bumbling fool who patronizes Iris and her pals, the gardening gang. The deputy mayor (Scott Wentworth) is a slick suit whose best friends are developers. The mayor’s chief of staff (Colin Mochrie, who is in multiple episodes) is a germaphobe whose ideas of dirty politics is, literally, dirt on his hands. While it would be wrong to put a heavy burden of expectation on a show as slight sand silly as She’s the Mayor, the program illustrates so much about the Canadian culture’s approach to politics. When it mocks politicians, it does so with such softness that the mockery is meaningless. The show (created by Jennifer Holness, Min Sook Lee and Sudz Sutherland) also straddles a peculiar, subtly political line – Iris represents a populist, anti-incumbent movement that is essentially decent but is assumed to be on the side of the angels simply because it’s populist. Janet-Laine Green is great and those who remember her fondly as the nice, befuddled Heather on Seeing Things, ceaselessly declaring “Mister Ciccone!”, will be delighted to welcome her back to TV comedy. In the coming episodes, many real politicians (including Justin Trudeau) will make cameo appearances on She’s the Mayor. And us, we should think about the real politics of how politicians and political issues are portrayed on TV.