By David Sherman
Not sure when my blood and part of my soul turned red, white and blue. Might’ve started with the Lone Ranger and his faithful companion Tonto, or Bonanza and the family’s faithful servant, Hop Sing or Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans and his faithful companion, Chingachgook
There was also Sea Hunt and Sky King and 77 Sunset Strip and Have Gun Will Travel, Richard Boone looking so cool in black when everyone knew heroes wore white hats. Too many others to recount.
In the glorious 50s and early 60s, Americans on TV were a lot like us, white and middle class, and like everyone on U.S. TV, unburdened by money worries. They had magnificent horses, cars and guns. How could you not love a country where justice prevailed and the good guys always won? On the black and white television, secure in its oversized wooden cabinet, life was perfect. What a country.
The ugly side – infectious racism, unbridled poverty, gang violence – was backstage and hidden, except in song and dance silliness like West Side Story.
In Canada, on the earnest CBC, we had the Plouffe Family, probably the last show on English TV set in Quebec, and later, Quentin Durgens, MP. Quentin was on the right side of things but there were no guns or horses. It was like the country itself. Bland and stolid. Nice and boring became our reputation. Save, of course, for Quebec, where unions marched, cops clubbed and the FLQ blew up mail boxes and kidnapped politicians.
But the U.S. heroics invaded our living rooms nightly, soothing our inequities, climaxing Sunday nights with Ed Sullivan.
If Canadian comics Wayne and Shuster were funny, they were riotous on Ed’s “really big shew.” Ditto for Rich Little. If you made it to Ed’s big stage, you had arrived.
I became American by osmosis. Except for hockey. That was our game until it wasn’t. Teams all over the U.S., Soviets teaching us the game.
While we had Pierre Trudeau who begged and bullied for a multicultural Just Society that had no place in our bedrooms – would’ve been awfully crowded – they had a racist, mendacious, anti-Semite in Richard Nixon.
When the American were sending boys to Southeast Asia to kill Vietnamese, we provided safe harbour for those who had loftier ambitions. We had the high ground, we were not Americans, we were boring but principled.
Still, we wept when assassinations took out Martin Luther King, and the Kennedys. Somehow, we felt we had lost our heroes. We bled when cities burned and African-Americans were shot and lynched and set upon by dogs and hit with water cannons. Gordon Lightfoot sang Black Day in July.
In our ignorance, we were innocent but we clamoured and argued for change in America, their problems beamed into our homes every weeknight via Uncle Walter Cronkite.
But, their catalogue of heroes, ever expanding, ever more heroic and implausible, continued to seduce us with the invention of the multiplex, 1,000 screens all showing Batman, and cable TV. Canadian films were quaint, occasionally fascinating, but nothing to compare with Scorcese’s gangster flicks, Spielberg’s popcorn tales that seduced children and parents, or Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, films you watched for two hours and talked about for ten.
Cable sports invaded us with baseball, NFL football, NBA basketball and even hockey from tourist towns in Florida and California.
America was in every Canadian home and part of almost every Canadian date night, just as our penchant for bad food was fulfilled by questionably edible menus from McDonald’s, Boston Pizza, Starbucks, and more franchises that I can stomach.
Fast forward a bit and we wept tears of joy when Barack Obama was elected, hit our heads against the wall when Trump went up to bat next.
Yes, we had Justin Trudeau, a sensible and camera-friendly young man with a calm demeanour who, in this present calamity, has proven his mettle. And Barack liked him.
Yet, we wring our hands over the Dumpster fire that is politics in the U.S.
Friendly gatherings often begin with one rule, no talk of Trump.
Now, as the world is in the midst of the worst health crisis in modern history, we are less likely to applaud how well the Canadian provinces and federal government is handling it as to wring our hands and stare in disbelief at the American numbers and plain stupidity coming out of the White House. We are mourning their tragedy rather than celebrating our modicum of success, though there is no clear victory on the horizon.
The U.S. cannibalized our culture, made their problems our problems, their pain our Advil consumption.
I’m addicted to CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post, like several of my friends and former colleagues, and whisper in harmony “Jesus Christ,” “Holy shit,” or “What an asshole,” several times each session.
In the 1996 film from John Grisham’s best seller, Time to Kill, set in Mississippi, Samuel Jackson plays a working man in jail for shooting his 11-year-old’s daughter’s white rapists. His shirt is filthy and wet with sweat, his ace is dripping, the cell is hell. He tells his lawyer, played by Matthew McConaughey, that they’re not on the same team, not on the same side and never will be.
“America is at war,” Jackson’s character says. “And we’re on different sides. I’m black and you’re white.”
TV kept the war a secret at first then tried its best to ignore it, except when there was really good violent film to air.
Now, the war rages on several fronts, and it’s being waged here, only with more of our renown politesse and decorum. But we watch with eyes wide and hearts heavy as our neighbours die by the tens of thousands, soon to be hundreds of thousands. It’s as if they are us.
Every few days, I wish the Lone Ranger, Tonto and Sky King and his daughter would ride up and fly in and dispatch the bad guys, guns blazing, engines roaring. Bad guys are as obvious today as they were when I was a wide-eyed child.
If only Nancy Pelosi could ride and shoot.