Like having their attention unwillingly but inexorably drawn to a car accident, my progressive blogging friends can’t let Don Cherry’s latest antics be. He feeds on this, of course, as surely as he battens upon the adulation of those who imagine that being paid $800,000 of our money for 1000 minutes’ work or so per annum puts him in the ranks of the blue collars and the anti-elitists.
After being characteristically boorish during the swearing-in of another millionaire boor, he moves on to fire a safe round at the “Afghanistanis.” The inevitable eruption ensues.
But besides the fact that he’s now probably an unlawful combatant under the Geneva rules, he doesn’t offend me in the slightest. He tries rather too self-consciously to shock for me to take him seriously enough to be offended. Rather, my anthropologist self is left trying to figure out what this all means.
A preamble, then:
Canadians, even in 2010 after four years of rule by Stephen Harper, pride ourselves on our good manners. It’s one way we measure ourselves against Americans. More importantly, it’s how we get along. But that doesn’t mean we’re impervious to the transgressive urge, even if we transgress in safe Canadian ways.
Check out the no-holds-barred blogosphere: we (well, many of us) swear, we insult, we’re actually rude. I wonder how many of those bloggers and commenters, many hiding behind aliases, behave face to face with others? Would they be pleased or shocked if their kids talked that way to their schoolmates?
My suspicion? In their daily lives they’re polite, even reserved; considerate of others; soft-spoken, and they’re bringing their children up the same way. Typical Canadians, in other words.
As anecdotal evidence, I offer the times when tragedy strikes this or that blogger. With rare exceptions, support and sympathy are forthcoming right across the political spectrum. When the chips are down, we act as though we’re one civilized community. Social solidarity trumps political differences. The latter, after all, are rarely of the life-or-death kind.
But civilization has its discontents. We fetter our basic desires and instincts in order to live peaceably with each other. We create rules and boundaries. Order is imposed upon disorder. Part of ourselves, however, is suppressed in the process. Where does it go?
We create channels for its expression. The Internet, as a newsgroup commentator once said, “is where I can get in touch with my inner a—hole.” Why not? It’s virtually (but not entirely) consequence-free. We don’t stand physically face-to-face, our body language setting off numerous responses and counter-responses that call us to order.
There’s little or no accountability. We don’t have to work with these people, they don’t live on our street, and all they’ll usually do is respond in kind—then you all shut off the computer and go to supper.
They’re images, in fact, caricatures with whom we bloodlessly do battle, and for whom we in turn are the same thing. Shooting off one’s mouth in a safe cyber-environment is the work of a few minutes, steam from a safety-valve.
Enter Don Cherry.
He’s not real: as Jean Baudrillard would say, he’s hyperreal. His costuming, his larger-than-life persona, his crude id-gruntings (now on Twitter), are the projection of our inner urges to be uncivil, to overturn the social rules we are obliged to follow. Being exteriorized, we may both assent to them and define ourselves against them:
The obviously unreal performances of characters in television and movies should be examined in light of their significant role for persuading populations that their own social performances are ‘real,’ and providing the most foundational ‘other’ to stabilize all identities.
Don Cherry is an artefact of the media, a projection, a simulacrum, whose function is to be fundamentally reassuring. We may choose to react negatively to his constellation of signs with a vigorous performance of counter-signs. We may see something of ourselves in him, in exaggerated but recognizable form, and suppress it through projection or transgressively celebrate it. But the crucial point is that, whatever our politics, we are not Don Cherry, nor could be.
To my progressive allies, then, why waste our good anger on signs and simulacra? We might just as well allow ourselves to be infuriated by Mickey Mouse (or Donald Duck). Better to critique what it is we are observing, including our own reactions, which are predicated upon engagement—and so we see that once again we have been implicated, indeed sucked right in.
Only through such critique can we, at least possibly, develop strategies of resistance that don’t simultaneously bind us further. And perhaps Baudrillard’s suggestion that we cultivate a radical indifference to simulacra would be a good starting-point.