Every politician wants to be Grace Park.
June 13, 2010
If you want North Americans to pay attention to what you say, present it as make-belief. The Canadian-made T.V. series Battlestar Galactica ended a four-year run this spring, touted as the smartest thing on television by Rolling Stone, loved by its avid viewers who at some level bought into every one of the humanitarian issues it raised. What’s more, its cast moved on to other lucrative show business positions as soon as they retired from the old Vancouver warehouse where the series was shot.
So the Battlestar Galactica legacy is struck: every politician in Canada wants to be Grace Park and have endless offers of other roles when this gig is finished. A clumsy, makeshift stage set in a cavernous old barn of a warehouse, some intellectually unchallenging but edgy issues raised and dealt with in a 46-minute format, and then the credits roll. Plywood space ships sliding around the floor to simulate crashes? No problem. It’s the characters and the ideas that are of interest, not the special effects or the credibility of the plot.
So Stephen Harper’s myrmidons can hardly be faulted for the Fake Lake, the odd fanciful gazebo, prop lighthouse and an old, creaky ship. It’s as close as they can get to emulating the appeal of Battlestar Galactica. Of course they may not have thought it out too carefully – as with the maternal-health-for-the-Third-World kick. On T.V. the writers can just cut to a commercial and then roll the credits, but in the world of politics there’s still Question Period. As well, unfortunately PMO staff are all too likely to be compared to Cylons, and Harper’s apparent contempt for the environment makes more sense if his supporters all aspire to nabbing seats on the first ship to escape the doomed planet.
Perhaps I overdo it in suggesting that control-freak Stephen Harper would prefer the world were safe on a video screen where his editors could have complete and final control over the message mix. For one thing a brief look at any history of Canadian cinema will make it obvious that the Fake Lake follows a noble tradition of government and corporate propaganda films to promote immigration to Canada from Britain and Western Europe. That’s what the media centre’s for, right? Showcase Canada and encourage immigration, trade and investment.
As early as 1910 the CPR and Sir Wilfrid Laurier worked on films to get people to come here and fill the gap between Thunder Bay and Vancouver. Then as now, the image Canada presented to the rest of the world was much more important than the reality the settlers discovered, once exposed to the Canadian climate, its insects, and above all, its intimidating vastness.
I love the spoof video, “If I Had a Billion Dollars.” It shows genuine wit, and makes excellent use of You-Tube. But the more I think about the Fake Lake the less I feel inclined to ridicule it. This week’s Liberal ad on the subject makes me want to defend the alleged “boondoggle” because I detest attack ads, whatever their source.
In the prequel to Battlestar Galactica the inventor of the Cylons offers this: “In my business if it makes no difference, there is no difference.”
Look at what the organizers are doing: they’re taking a group of urban electronic journalists and allowing them to remain in their chosen milieu: close to the bar and away from bugs, sunburn, bad weather and scarce toilets, a milieu they trust and understand, plunked in front of a giant T.V. feed. A few shiny images of Muskoka will do the job, for the sheer multiplicity of imagery can only confuse the camera. It has to be simple and a bit artificial to work on T.V.
So let’s give Harper and his crew some credit for the imagination to see that all that really comes out of the summits is a few select photos and sound bites, and that significant effort must go into the manipulation of these bits. Most likely the cabinet’s tepid response to opposition baiting in Question Period this week has been due to their unusual position on this issue: for once they aren’t called upon to defend the indefensible, and they simply haven’t gotten around to dreaming up a rational response to legitimate questions about its cost.
So they have created an opportunity with the Fake Lake. It’s a chance to showcase the work of the many animation studios around Toronto as well as the Vancouver and Montreal movie industries. How they use the propaganda machine will to some extent contribute to Canada’s image as a world technological leader, but even more on the domestic front it will determine the Conservative Party’s immediate future. They’d better hope the film-at-11:00 is good. If the Fake Lake bombs, come fall there will be a lot of ex-MP’s lined up with Grace Park at casting calls for the next CBC blockbuster series.