Let's do our annual gaze at Ezra Levant.
Far be it from me to come between a fool and his followers, but his followers seem to be few, albeit noisy. Besides, Levant doesn't have a hair-trigger sensitivity to criticism. Unlike some.
Levant's viewers on Sun News probably number about 5,000 people at most. Yet he attracts enormous attention. A Globe and Mail online poll this past August, "Who's the biggest name in Canadian broadcasting?," concluded with Levant in the top spot, and this paper pointing out that the poll, "like all Internet polls or surveys, can be subject to organized campaigns."
Indeed. One often gets the impression that Levant's viewers amount to a tinfoil-hat brigade, people whose reactionary paranoia and outlandish conspiracy theories oblige them to wear tinfoil to stave off government messages aimed at their noggins. But it's a brigade that will boost Levant to the top in any poll asking about top people in broadcasting. He feeds their paranoia, and there are many more of them than we like to admit, not all of them wearing tinfoil.
The recent incident of Levant's bizarre and wrong-headed claim that a school board in Ontario pandered to Muslim students who wanted to avoid commemorating Remembrance Day is a fruitful route to grasping Levant's outsize importance.
Levant is an avatar for an angry, apprehensive portion of Canada. He is, first, an example of "survival anxiety" that afflicts a certain type of middle-class Canadian male – those who fear change, who feel the ground shifting as Canada evolves, becomes more and more cosmopolitan and progresses.
And it doesn't matter if Levant is mad at Muslims or young Mr. Trudeau and his late father. It doesn't even have to be a person. Levant has taken aim at inanimate objects to vent his frustration. There was that time he took a chainsaw to a potted plant on his show. To some people, it doesn't matter if Levant is wrong about the school board and Muslims. Just Levant articulating his outrage and intolerance renders a satisfactory feeling for a lot of people.
Another kind of satisfactory feeling comes, maybe, in the recognition that in Canada we have a wackadoodle pundit as preposterous as those American right-wing cable-news pundits we see mocked on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Maybe, watching those shows, viewers have a form of idiot-envy and wish Canada had such outlandish figures. We do have one – Ezra Levant is it.
But perhaps it's more serious than that. Perhaps Levant's prominence is due to that avatar status, and perhaps "survival anxiety" afflicts not just men and not just the right wing, but an entire Canadian establishment. One that's anxious about "the other," about change that erodes an established order.
We all have personal, intuitive alerts for hints of intolerance. For me, it's attitudes toward soccer, a sport that carries cultural connotations for certain people, as "other." Loathing it, and using it as a weapon, is a subtle cultural signifier.
The head of the Writers Guild of Canada (those who write TV shows), at that time a woman, once wrote to this paper to complain about a column and referred to me as "a soccer hooligan." That being the most scornful possible remark, one assumes. An online loudmouth in the TV business, who regularly attacks my work, continually refers to me not by name but as "the soccer writer." As if that were the perfect, scathing putdown.
In 2006, just as the World Cup started, CBC Radio host Michael Enright marked the event by launching into an anti-soccer speech on his radio show, concluding that "soccer is the Cheez Whiz of sports." I remember being asked to respond to it and couldn't – it was so loaded with reactionary idiocy, it was comical.
So perhaps Levant has this weird leviathan status not based in his TV audience but based on the fact that his followers are many, not few. It's just that he speaks loudly for an establishment that mostly only whispers its anxieties. As for soccer – it's only a game, and the world's game. Not a threat, not a weapon, not weird. Use your noggin.
State of Affairs (NBC, Global, 10 p.m.) replaces The Blacklist in this time slot for now. It too is about spies, specifically about fighting terrorism. But here, in a very different kind of melodrama, Katherine Heigl plays Charleston Tucker, a CIA analyst who prepares the president's daily briefing, or PDB, a threat-assessment document. Not that this is just about backroom machinations. Tucker is still hurting from the death of her fiancé, who died during an incident in Kabul. She was there too, but escaped. The kicker is – the fiancé was the son of the President (Alfre Woodard). So, yes, the president here is a black woman. A lot happens in the opener, from Tucker's dangerous sex life (she does it to forget her fiancé) to the kidnapping of an American doctor who must be rescued. It's all very contemporary, with references to Syria and beheadings. It's very overwrought, and Heigl has her fans, but it lacks the campy kick of The Blacklist.
All times ET. Check local listings.