By Anthony Jenkins, Globe and Mail, November 3, 2011
In an interview with comedian on the subject of the Keystone XL Pipeline, Ron James, Mr. Jenkins asks, and Mr. James responds:
Do you despair of Ottawa’s doing the right thing? In recent years, Canada has been seen as an environmentally unenlightened country for dragging its feet on greenhouse-gas emissions targets.
I’m an optimist. You have to make your voice heard, don’t you? The country (Canada) has an unhealthy deference for the status quo. Look, people have to eat, people have to provide for their families. Nobody who is protesting this denies that fact. There has to be enlightenment, and we should not be driven by the bottom line at all costs.
There are other things that matter, like quality of life. You can’t spend all your time gawking at the TV and buying stuff. Every now and then, you’ve got to take a good whiff of the big wide open. Embrace the mystery.
(Editor's note: Mr. James opposes the route through the Ogallala Water Reserve in Nebraska, but recognizes the need for fossil fuel.)
It is the phrase "(Canada) has an unhealthy deference for the status quo" that grabs me by the neck of my turtle neck and rivets me to the wall!
This tiny man, perhaps five feet four inches, currently makes a substantial "buck" from the CBC doing a weekly half-hour comedy "gig" on Friday nights. And yet, he makes more sense, often, than many an expert, on many a subject on many a "serious" and responsible political talking heads show, and also many an editorial page.
An equal opportunity "slagger" as he puts it, willing to expose the folly of his own life, and equally naturally the folly of his countrymen and women, James is a national, natural resource, feeding on the "big wide open" and "embracing the mystery" of this giantic beauty of the land, for him and others like him, a veritable, honourable and ethical muse and mistress.
Of course, he is not the first "clown" to bear the truth to his countryfolk. Many scribes in history have known the efficacy of putting into the mouths of babes and fools (and sometimes even drunks) the hardest nuggets of indigestible truth the world has to offer. There is an off-hand innocence in many of their best lines, and the audience is at its most "vulnerable" and open and therefore receptive states while sitting waiting to be tickled.
John Morgan did it with his "Mike from Canmore" routine on CBC's Airfarce, for many years.
Don Harron did it with "Charlie Farquharson," for a few years on "This Hour has Seven Days" and beyond.
Dave Broadfoot has embraced several 'figures' like "Bobby Clobber" and the "Member from Kickhorse Pass" as bearers of some of the most insightful satire in Canadian memory.
And now Ron James, the voice of the ordinary man, with a command of several details in multiple "files" because of his insatiable curiosity and "love of the land" that is so motivated and flavoured by his embrace of both the majesty in front of every Canadian and many of the follies and foibles of those of us privileged to be able to tell the world we were born here. His monologues, both on CBC and in his personal appearances, are not only side-splitting funny; they are also mind riveting lectures bringing into focus many of the history and literature works that comprise the cornerstone of a liberal arts education in the blink of an eye, or more appropriately, the whisper into an ear.
And only someone who fully embraces the beauty and majesty of the "big wide open" can also focus on our "unhealthy deference for the status quo" and be able to push the envelop and not run afoul of conventional Canadian politeness or political correctness.
Raising one's voice, is not a Canadian convention. We certainly are all a flock of voiceless birds when it comes to major political debates, unless and until we perceive that we have been "robbed" by some spending spree. Ron James makes a healthy living from "dubbing" for our discontents, in a edgy yet ironic and satiric and memorable vernacular, built on the solid foundation of his own eccentricities, childhood follies exaggerated at his own and his family's expense, without ever cutting so deep that we cringe.
And, our unhealthy deference for the status quo is manifest in our deep and stubborn resistance to change, like resisting the obvious need to confront global warming and climate change, and the load of toxins with which we are flooding the atmosphere, to our own long-lasting embarrassment among other countries.
It is also manifest in our resistance to changing from "first past the post" to proportional representation or some other more representative electoral strategy.
It is manifest in our unwillingness to bridge the divide between provinces in so many fields like trade, worker credentials, and labour standards.
It is manifest in our perpetuation of the long-standing divide between east and west and our embedding that divide in our culture and mythology.
We continue to stereotype provinces in their historic garb without referencing the many changes that have occurred in each region.
And, one of the key differences between the Ron James Show and this space, is that encounters with him will inevitably leaving one chuckling and carrying the memories into the next week, whereas these words pass virtually like teflon through the eyes, and into the slough of discards, without offering that same tickle.
Of course, I am one of James' biggest fans, and wish that his CBC 'gig' would never end. But then, through the magic of DVD, (where he admits the material is a little more "raw" that CBC allows) we can dial him up on demand. Every hospital in every town and city would do well to stock all of his appearances on CBC and on DVD in their library, for patients' use. Such a move would reduce the dependency on pharmaceuticals, lower the costs of the national health progam and generate more healthy, full-voiced Canadian citizens. Every school and university would do well to offer courses on James' comedy as one of the country's most treasured literary forms. And which academic could legitimately disdain such a curricular enhancement?