Red-Eyed and Blue

24Mar09

Last evening, a man stood on the Leaside bridge holding a Canadian flag over the railing. A few small clusters of people likewise stood scattered along the viaduct overlooking the Don Valley Parkway. I stood up from my seat as my bus passed by, craning my neck to see what was was going on. Then I realized the soldiers had come home.

Master Corporal Scott Vernelli, Corporal Tyler Crooks, Trooper Jack Bouthillier and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes returned to CFB Trenton yesterday afternoon and travelled from there to Toronto by motorcade. Their names and faces are familiar from last Saturday’s broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada, when Don Cherry, his voice cracking, gave these fallen heroes a fleeting moment of public tribute nationwide. Don Cherry is rarely accused of classiness, but he’s a class act nonetheless for using his bully pulpit to put a human face on the sacrifices suffered by our men and women in Afghanistan. It’s just a shame he’s had to do it over a hundred times.

But what’s really shameful was the recent segment filmed by Fox News host Greg “Gutless” Gutfeld and his panel of D-list talking heads on the program Red Eye. In case you weren’t up at three in the morning, this presented a purportedly satirical look at Canada’s plans to temporarily scale back military operations in Afghanistan. Gutless hailing from the Maxim and Stuff tradition of journalism (having edited those publications, in fact, until his firing), this consisted mainly of sub-Best Week Ever levels of snark, flogging of tired old stereotypes about Canada, and the usual smug chortling about the superiority and military prowess of the United States that gives player-haters around the globe ample reason to hate the ugly Americans — and occasionally, to attack them, which was the whole reason Canadian troops were in Afghanistan in the first place. Here it is:

Gutless picked a bad day to pick at the scab of Canada’s inferiority complex: the same day that the four soldiers mentioned above were killed.

You’ll pardon us for being a little upset, I hope, but we’ve been a little upset since the early days after 9/11, when then-President George W. Bush thanked a long list of America’s allies for its support in the wake of the attack, but conspicuously omitted Canada, though it was Canadian rescue workers who rushed to New York to help in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and though it was Gander, Newfoundland, that provided a haven for thousands of  travellers stranded when air traffic was grounded. We haven’t forgotten this snub, and it’s all the more galling to hear braying meatheads like Gutless and his panel bellowing about how we’re lucky the United States allows us to exist on the same continent as it does. Never mind that we actually occupy more of that continent than the United States does — and yes, we’re aware that we’ve got the freezing cold part. We don’t care. It just makes us tougher.

I was appalled by the Red Eye segment, not least because I’ve got a stepbrother I wish I knew better, but he’s been busy the last few years serving in Afghanistan, getting injured and watching friends die. I sent him the link, and he was pretty appalled too. So were the American soldiers he forwarded it to. It’s the chickenhawks at home — particularly the ones on Fox News — who make the United States look bad while its military does its best on the front lines. (They might kill the odd Canadian or four in a friendly fire incident, but it’s no worse than they did to their own football hero Pat Tillman.)

Pretty much everyone else in Canada seems to have been appalled too, including actual political satirist Rick Mercer, who gave Gutless a short lesson in how to do his job: “If you’re going to do satire, three of the most important rules are you have to tell the truth, you can’t be a bully and don’t be an asshole. Being a bully is not satire.”

The firestorm of outrage was such that Gutless finally had to cough up a halfhearted half-apology. Here’s his statement:

“The March 17th episode of Red Eye included a segment discussing Canada’s plan for a ’synchronized break,’ which was in no way an attempt to make light of troop efforts,” Greg Gutfeld, host of the segment, told the Canwest News Service on Monday in an e-mailed statement.

“However, I realize that my words may have been misunderstood. It was not my intent to disrespect the brave men, women and families of the Canadian military, and for that I apologize. Red Eye is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humourous and ridiculous manner.”

As for the other panelists, I happened to know that there was a Q&A thread for stand-up Doug Benson at the A Special Thing forums, so I asked a question: Did he know that the piece he did bashing the Canadian military was broadcast the same day that four Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan — the latest in a long series — and that his ignorant, jingoistic asshattery had pretty much just cost him his entire Canadian fanbase?

Benson responded, albeit with spotty capitalization:

first of all, RED EYE, while on Fox News, is a comedy show, not a news show (whether or not you think it’s funny is another matter). they did a piece on an article (which i was given before the taping) about Canada wanting to sit out of Afghanistan for a year to regroup. as the comedian on the panel (and a dumb stoner one at that), i made jokes about not knowing that Canada was in the war, and that i thought Canada was the place to go if you didn’t want to fight. i did not know that four Canadian soldiers died that day, and did not mean to make fun of their efforts or their deaths. secondly, i love Canada, and i hope that my fan base there (which is probably only a hundred strong) would understand that i was kidding and that i’d never make those jokes if i had known of the losses suffered by the country that very day.

In the words of that great American Dwight Schrute, apology rejected. I admit that Red Eye was a bit of a victim of poor timing here. I believe the show was actually filmed before these four soldiers were killed. So Doug Benson can’t be faulted for not knowing about that. What he can be faulted for is not knowing about the  hundred-plus members of the Canadian military who gave their lives before these latest four. Yes, Benson is a comedian, but he’s one who appears on a program that, inexplicably, is broadcast on a news channel. Chances are, someone on that set has some kind of not-totally-indirect access to the facts. I mean, it is Fox News, but still…

But as much as Benson loves Canada, it doesn’t love him back. While the Canadian government just recently denied British MP George Galloway entry to the country for his anti-war views, it didn’t ban Benson for his anti-Canadian (but pro-war) views, despite the grumbling of Defence Minister Peter MacKay. But Benson did have a scheduled show at an Edmonton comedy club cancelled after owner Rick Bronson received hundreds of threatening phone calls and e-mails. This is probably safest for Benson. Edmonton is not only home to a military community of over 13,000 stationed at CFB Edmonton, but also, as Joey deVilla points out, Canada’s murder rate capital.

Bronson’s not a fan of Red Eye, by the way: “I think there’s a reason that show is on at three o’clock in the morning on Fox because I find it unwatchable to be honest with you. It’s just not entertaining. I think it’s supposed to be a poor-man’s Daily Show, and it’s not even a fraction of that.”

Red Eye‘s host does seemingly share Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s penchant for playing journalist when it suits him and claiming he’s just a comedian when challenged. (Oh, I love Stewart too, but let’s not pretend he doesn’t do this.) “Red Eye is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humourous and ridiculous manner,” says Gutless. We do appreciate the Canadian spelling of humourous, by the way. But this is still obviously false. Red Eye doesn’t address all topics in this manner. Red Eye doesn’t address all topics at all. I’m sure quantum chromodynamics doesn’t come up much, for instance. So, Red Eye was hardly obligated to take on this particular topic, and would have been well advised not to.

But the more objectionable part of the pseudo-apology is this: “I realize that my words may have been misunderstood.” In other words, I’m sorry you didn’t get my edgy comedy. It’s really your fault you didn’t understand. It’s not that we don’t understand. We do. We understand perfectly that Gutless was just trying to be funny. It’s just that he wasn’t. Remember, Canadians understand comedy. It’s one of our main exports.

Take, for instance, the Americans-do-police-work-like-this-Canadians-do-police-work-like-this routine from one of the panelists. You do know that the Mounties wear red jackets as a dress uniform and ride horses during ceremonial functions, but use the same bulletproof vest and automobile technology enjoyed down south in their day-to-day-police work, right? The thing is, for every hoary, misinformed, unfunny stereotype an American spouts about a Canadian, there’s a Canadian with a story about American tourists arriving at the border in the middle of August with a ski rack on top of his car, and frankly, there’s probably more truth in the latter.

Targeting Canada for taking a much-needed breather after several years supporting the anti-terrorist mission in Afghanistan — taking higher casualty rates than the U.S. while leaving the latter free to go on a half-cocked misadventure of an illegal war in Iraq — is just the same kind of idiocy that jingoistic halfwit Americans directed at France in the “Freedom fries” era, when they bellowed about how if it hadn’t been for the good old U.S. of A, every ungrateful frog would be speaking German right now.

Never mind that the American forces of WWII were simply repaying a favour done by France when it helped the United States throw off the British yoke during the American Revolution. And never mind that we English Canadians know well how impossible it is to make the French speak a conqueror’s tongue. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was decided nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, but just try putting up an English-only sign in Québec or even getting a store clerk to admit she speaks English if she doesn’t want to.

I’m not sure the United States would do much better with an invasion of Canada. As we’re only too proud to point out, we’re the reason the White House is white. And we’ve got untold thousands of square kilometres of wilderness to hide out in and over two hundred years of pent-up anti-American sentiment just waiting to be released. Seriously, never fight a guerrilla war against a people with a love of camping. It’d be like the movie Red Dawn, but with the Americans as the Russians and us as the Wolverines.

Anyway, it’s just easiest for the U.S. to continue the tactic of cultural conquest that’s been working well enough for it, bombarding us with a steady diet of its media. Keep those films, music, and television coming — we can’t get enough. Except Red Eye, of course. We probably won’t be watching that much.

For what it’s worth, though, we’re sorry too, Gutless. We’re sorry you’re such a jerk.

See? We Canadians understand insincere half-apologies too.



14 Responses to “Red-Eyed and Blue”

  1. 1 Krista

    You know, I have yet to figure out what it is about my country that makes it produce so many douchebags. It’s getting harder to hide behind “We don’t all think like that!”

  2. 2 Rachel (from Vancouver)

    Despite living an hour from the Washington state border, I haven’t actually met very many Americans other than the stereotypical loud, arrogant, rude, ignorant tourist types (mainly because the nice ones don’t immediately stand out as being not Canadian). I went down to Berkeley last October to visit our friend Dickolas and I met a bunch of his (and Adam’s) American friends. And they were all wonderful, polite, intelligent people and I realized how incredibly biased against Americans we are up here. As obvious as it sounds, I honestly had a moment of realization that America is actually a pretty cool country filled with a lot of really cool people. But the people who have been representing their country (Fox/CNN “news” personalities, loud and rude tourists, and the Bush administration) do not represent these great people at all. And unfortunately, they are the ones that we are exposed to on a daily basis. It’s sad that Greg Gutfield and his panelists and so many others have no idea what a great disservice they do to their country.

    I had no idea who Gutfield was before this, and when the words “satire” and “news” were put together to describe what he does I was expecting something along the lines of Stewart or Colbert, but he wasn’t even amusing, let alone funny.

    Good post though, Peter.

  3. 3 Gabe

    Nice rant. I have thought about renouncing my country and moving north for several years. I’m from Chicago for fuck sake, how much worse could the weather be? Thank god for Obama or I was coming. Don’t judge us all by that fucker.

  4. 4 Peter Lynn

    This shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of all Americans. There are plenty of Americans I like. For instance, your favorite defunct Canadian Jay Pinkerton isn’t offending anybody down there in Seattle. Well, he probably is offending a few people, but in a hilarious way. But mostly, he’s just hanging out at the old Space Needle with Eddie Vedder and Frasier Crane, drinking Starbucks, just good ol’ boys never doing nobody no harm.

    I’m specifically targeting a specific subsection of the population, the Ugly Americans on evidence here on Red Eye and on much of Fox News, who go around acting like loudmouthed boors and then wonder, ludicrously, why the rest of the world hates their “freedom” when it’s really their smug, arrogant, exceptionalist braggadocio that nobody can stand.

  5. 5 hilly

    Anyone with any decent knowledge of military history has to have a great deal of respect for Canada’s military prowess, unheralded as it is. Sadly, Canadians also have a long and storied history of being placed rather ruthlessly in harm’s way. They were employed as shock troops in the Great War, and then in WW2 sustained huge casualties (like half-of-your-men are gone huge) in Dieppe.

    What made Dieppe especially heart-wrenching is that it was basically intended as a 1942 dress-rehearsal raid for Overlord — sort of a proof-of-concept trial run. So basically Canadians were killed so that the Americans and British could have a successful invasion two years later. Of course, this came naturally to the British. Churchill, for all his excellent qualities, seems to have no compunction about throwing Poles, Australians, New Zealanders, or Canadians to the dogs of war during his career.

  6. 6 Jay Pinkerton

    As someone who makes jokes for a living, I’d consider very few areas off-limits for the purpose of satire. But there’s satire that aims to make a point and illuminate an issue (you know, the good kind) and then there’s Red Eye. There’s nothing funny about men and women, of any nationality, strapping on a gun and fighting for their country. and dying for it. That in this case these men and women have died for a war that’s not even their own just makes it more tragic.

    I couldn’t imagine the outrage America would have felt if Red Eye had chosen to mock the efforts of US troops. There would have been a lynching. It would be nice, then, for FOX-loving Americans to find a drop of empathy for the idea that they didn’t invent the idea of having immeasurable pride for those who fight for us.

  7. Rachel: “And they were all wonderful, polite, intelligent people and I realized how incredibly biased against Americans we are up here.”

    I assure you that they are not all wonderful, polite, and intelligent people.

    (Oh burn!)

  8. Also, some of them were internationals.

  9. 9 jtl

    Having grown up close the US, and having been there many times (including a few days last week), I’m around Americans a lot. They’re actually pretty nice people, by and large — very kind, willing to help you out if you need it, and not afraid to tell you exactly what’s on their mind.

    But, yes, there are moronic boors out there like Gutfeld. Unfortunately for everyone, the American media give tons of attention and airtime to their most loud/extreme/radical commentators, in a bid for ratings (so their advertising rates can go up). That means you have the Limbaughs, the O’Reillys, the Becks and the Gutfelds* of the country lining up as pundits on all their 24/7 networks, waiting to fill all that glorious airtime with all that asinine and half-cocked commentary.

    The catch is, Americans are actually very moderate and progressive people, when you survey them. Most are actually in favour of a woman’s right to choose abortion, gays in the military, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research — but of course you never hear this, because some blowhard is talking about how letting the fags marry is going to bring about Armageddon.

    It’s a shame, really.

    (* I’m sorry this had to be an all-right-wing list, but I honestly couldn’t come up with a blowhard lefty commentator… Bill Maher, maybe, but I’ve always considered him more of a Libertarian than anything else.)

  10. I am thoroughly enraged. I try to keep an open mind about things and attempt to hear from both sides of a story. But clips like that are precisely why I just cannot bear to watch Fox News.

    I am utterly disgusted with the complete disregard for human life and the sacrifice made by non-Americans in battles. If these people were actually informed, they would know that is one of the U.S.’s closest allies and important trade partners. Instead of mocking the Canadien military, they should be thanking them for sticking with this bullsh*t war for this long.

    Finally, as a Mexican, I am quite angry that they had to throw a completely unwarranted and unrelated insult Mexico’s way.

  11. 11 Jay

    ” I’m sorry this had to be an all-right-wing list, but I honestly couldn’t come up with a blowhard lefty commentator”

    Really?!

  12. 12 jtl

    Yeah, really. Bill Maher and James Carville and… ?

  13. 13 MC

    And Keith Olbermann.

  14. 14 Candace

    Michael Moore


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