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Stephen Harper wags his finger during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 16, 2011. (BLAIR GABLE/Reuters)
Stephen Harper wags his finger during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 16, 2011. (BLAIR GABLE/Reuters)

John Doyle: Television

Welcome to the age of the boring and the bland Add to ...

The leaves turn and fall. The Leafs win, occasionally. Battle of the Blades is over and nobody cared much. Cover Me Canada limped to an end, and hardly anybody noticed.

The Rick Mercer Report (CBC, 8 p.m.) and 22 Minutes (CBC, 8:30 p.m.) are already into repeats. The ultra-bland Taylor Swift wins big at the American Music Awards and gets big attention here. The Big Bang Theory is the most popular show in Canada.

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Hold everything: Sidney Crosby is coming back. “We’re all excited,” says Carole MacNeil on the CBC News Network. CBC goes live with the game. The Occupy movements are told to pack up their tents and move along. There’s Christmas music on an endless loop at the mall. There are ads in the Canadian media for Black Friday shopping in the United States.

Are we bored yet? Are we blanded-out?

Welcome to the conservative age is what I say. The age of the boring, the bland, the tedious. The age of the small “c” conservative and big “C” Conservative culture is what I say too.

The other day, this newspaper ran an interesting piece about Europe going conservative. From Britain to Italy and Spain, it’s all over for the centre and the left. True perhaps, but what is certainly true is that over there a consensus exists that the time of the bland culture has arrived, big-time. In Britain, several pundits have written about “The New Boring,” meaning a popular culture defined by Downton Abbey, wimpy pop music and dull fashion trends.

Hereabouts, I think, we’re experiencing the same phenomenon. And it is directly connected to years of a Conservative minority government followed by the new reality of a majority Conservative government.

In these times, there is a fear of engagement, a fear of controversy and an impulse toward conformist culture. Rob Ford fleeing Mary Walsh from 22 Minutes was about a fear of engaging with comedy. In Ottawa, the majority government essentially declines to engage with the opposition, cutting off debate, ramming legislation through Parliament. That context explains the noise over NDP MP Pat Martin’s expletive-filled tweet last week. A swear word was a scream of frustration.

The unwillingness to engage, to risk argument, to risk fun is everywhere. Conform or shut up is the theme. What happens in these circumstances is a withdrawal to the bland and innocuous. The government doesn’t have to twist anyone’s arm on this. Simply by flexing its majority muscle, it deflates opposition of all kinds and simply by acting like it defines all things Canadian, it does actually help to focus that definition – including that of the popular culture. Hence the bland.

In August, Jane Taber of this parish talked to current and former Conservative strategists, people who talked openly about their determination to change the narrative of Canada. From adding the prefix “royal” to some institutions to tinkering with the way new Canadian citizens have Canada defined for them, it’s all about using a small “c” conservative lens to view all aspects of the Canadian culture. Hockey. The military. Making fun of authority is wrong.

The result, creeping in, is our own version of The New Boring. It happens one little step at a time. Why is 22 Minutes in repeats already? Because funding to CBC was reduced and the show’s run this year is shortened. The government didn’t order 22 Minutes cutbacks. It didn’t have to – someone else joins the dots and it happens. Pretty soon, people are thinking that the departure of Regis Philbin from Live with Regis and Kelly is darn fascinating stuff. And, lo and behold, CTV announced on Monday, “Regis’s Goodbye on CTV Most-Watched Morning Talk Show Episode Ever in Canada.” There you go.

It’s not that there isn’t terrific, non-bland pop culture happening. But it’s happening on the fringe. On TV, the U.S. show Homeland is a wonderfully provocative drama about patriotism and the American sense of self, and it should be talked about in a Canadian framework, but it’s way up on the cable dial, on the relatively obscure SuperChannel. Things do leap off the Internet occasionally too. Most of what you’ll see and find is noisy, bullying right-wing opinion.

But sometimes a outrageously non-conformist thing jumps out. I’m thinking of a video that went viral recently – Fast Ford Nation! Tasha Hearts Rob Ford. Made by Judith Klassen and Robyn Palmer, in their comic personae as Tasha James and Sherrie Neal, with their pals, the cheap and quickly made video had outrageous and rude fun with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s antics and pronouncements. It was mockery of the most vital and refreshing kind – instant, chaotic and hilarious.

But there’s little of this non-conformist energy going on. Stephen Harper defines us now in our Canadianness and in every way. He doesn’t have to bully us. His authoritative blandness benumbs us, and stupefies the culture. Just a theory.



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