THE NATIONAL SCENE

HOW TO BECOME WITHOUT REALLY TRYING AN AMERICAN

JON RUDDY November 1 1969
THE NATIONAL SCENE

HOW TO BECOME WITHOUT REALLY TRYING AN AMERICAN

JON RUDDY November 1 1969

HOW TO BECOME WITHOUT REALLY TRYING AN AMERICAN

THE NATIONAL SCENE

JON RUDDY

IT’S PROBABLE THAT, for every Canadian teenager who saw The Ernie Game, Don Owen’s award-winning CBC-NFB movie about youthful alienation in Montreal, 10 saw Wild In The Streets, a Hollywood potboiler with a similar theme. Make that 20. Oh, make it 50. Young Canadians prefer U.S. media. There is nothing new about this observation; it has always been so. The point about The Ernie Game — critically acclaimed as the best fictional film Canada ever produced — is that it was itself a result of the U.S. media barrage. “The things that it deals with are things that are the preoccupation of the psychedelic generation,” says Owen — and is not the psychedelic generation as American as LSD?

The influence of U.S. media on Canadian youth is enormous and incalculable. When Toronto Mayor William Dennison was pelted with peanuts and apple cores by some of the 1,500 kiddie activists protesting a two-week school extension last June, he was the victim of U.S. campus disruption carried to a peanutty extreme. Vancouver hippies who demonstrate against the Vietnam war would not be concerned about it — nor would they be hippies — were it not for the shaggy dissenters spawned by trouble and tolerance in the U.S.

In Toronto’s Yorkville a 15-year-old minstrel, having banjoed a cop on the ankle during a street disturbance, shrieked that he was “as bad as a Yankee pig.” The 15-year-old had probably never seen an American cop in the flesh, and the derogatory “pig” was just another slang import — the vocabulary of dissent is purely American. So too are the vocabularies and ethos of drugs, psychedelia, sexual liberation. Teenagers who conform to older codes are equally hooked on U.S. pop culture and its Canadian imitations, which acquire a certain gilt by association.

Broken down — an American-International horror film, a Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys record, an edition of Laugh-ln, a Time essay — what your young Canadian sees, hears, reads is mostly foreign. The cumulative media barrage across the border, considered on these pages, is as blinding as a klieg light at 10 paces and as deafening as a turned-on, turned-up Dylan.

Your first move? Get with the ‘Canadian’ music scene: it’s as Yankee as Dylan and drive-ins

WITH WONDERFUL predictability, or so it seemed in retrospect, the great midAugust pop festival at Bethel, New York, was followed two weeks later by a lesser Canadian pop festival at Orangeville, Ontario. A teenager who attended both functions compared them in an interesting way: “Well, at Rockhill [Orangeville] I thought I’d freaked out and gone back to Woodstock [Bethel], It was the same scene.” The Rockhill Park happening was a scale model with die-cut parts: police ignoring the pot, the booze, the casual coupling (what would you have them do, start a riot?); hippie drug experts and volunteer doctors tending the distraught; the group manifestation of flower-power values by middle-class kids who were well fed, presumably by their mothers; the music. Ah, the music. Bethel was described by assorted instant historians as an epochal turning point for the young, as the flowering of a new art form and social structure, as a Second Coming of history. Rockhill demonstrated that, for most Canadian youth, where U.S. teenagers go there will they go also.

The music that brings them together— in farmers’ fields, smoky discothèques and ticky-tacky rec rooms — is the key source of teen values, a total immersion in their existential truths. Earthy folk or electric rock, it celebrates the turn-on, puts down the work ethic, acquisitiveness, aggression. It is the purest statement of a new morality among young Americans reacting to affluence, to the poor and the blacks who fester amid affluence, to a war in Asia. The music and its message have spread halfway around the world — and especially, of course, into Canada.

Dialogue with a 17-year-old Canadian boy:

“We’re not waging war on anybody, we haven't been bombing Hanoi, we’ve got no Negro problem to speak of. What do you get out of these lyrics? I mean, what do you get out of it when the Jefferson Airplane says to you, ‘Got a revolution, got to revolution,’ and talks about rioting in the streets and so on?”

“Well I’m, you know, in sympathy

with their problems down there. Things aren’t all that great here. All of us, all over, are doing something about it. That’s what the music is for.”

“What are you doing about it?”

“This kid got kicked out of class for having hair down, you know, to here, and three of us skipped classes in protest.” "Don’t tell me the Jefferson Airplane says you’ve 'got to revolution' over a stupid thing like that.”

“It’s all part of the same thing.” Folklore, fakelore or poplore, song lyrics have deepened since the innocent days when Elvis croaked, “Ah wa-hahunt yew-hoo, Ah nee-hee-heed yewhoo” — and nobody listened to anything but the beat. Now they listen, and what they hear is the Hello People

(“I’m going to prison so I can be free”), Tim Hardin (“I’m the family’s unowned boy”) and Buffy Sainte-Marie (“ . . . and brothers can’t you see this is not the way to put an end to war”). What they hear in Canada is pointed up by a typical weekly list of our top-20 singles in Billboard magazine. The breakdown: U.S. records, 15; British, 3; Canadian, 2. That the native recordings, by Motherlode and the Guess Who, are indistinguishable in style and content from the others is another indication of U.S. pop-culture power.

Sandra Thompson. 16, of Vancouver, has three transistor radios, which she tunes mostly to KPUG in Bellingham, Washington. The same records turn up on Vancouver’s CKLG, she says, but later. She buys a couple of singles a week, an LP when she can afford it. “I’ve never thought about a record being American or Canadian or English,” she says. But the performers she mentions most are the Led Zeppelin (U.S.), Donovan (British), the Fifth Dimension (U.S.), and the Archies (U.S.).

Everybody knows about all that U.S. TV, but its effects are as imponderable as the Bomb

“ A marvelous breakthrough for

Canadian variety performers . . . We can look forward to more like it.”

—From an August CBC press release describing a deal with Screen Gems to distribute 125 editions of The Tommy Hunter Show in the U.S.

AFTER MORE than 15 years of importing almost all of its popular series from Hollywood and New York, Canadian television has a toehold in the big-time U.S. market. The price, of course, is conformity. For what is distinctively Canadian about The Tommy Hunter Show, The Friendly Giant (our biggest TV export to date) or such CTV co-productions as a special, taped in Toronto, starring Bobbie Gentry? “Our aim is to turn out the kind of shows that have international appeal,” says a CBC producer, adding, significantly, “For ‘international’ one might read ‘U.S.’ ”

Television in this country is the most potent purveyor of America’s conventional wisdom. The message of the me-

dium — usually a celebration of middleclass U.S. values — crosses the border in three ways: (1) through imported U.S. programs, still comprising more than 42 percent of Canadian TV schedules; (2) through direct penetration by the 25 U.S. border stations with audiences here; and (3) through allegiance by our TV producers to U.S. programming trends.

The effect on Canadian young people of all this direct and indirect penetration is as imponderable as the Bomb. Some child psychologists fear that constant exposure to TV is a peculiarly Western form of brainwashing: it is established that the average schoolboy has received more hours of instruction from television by the time he goes to kindergarten than he’ll get at college — most of it U.S.oriented. “No one has succeeded in making a nationalist out of Captain Kangaroo,” says Toronto housewife Barbara Holmes, who lets her preschooler watch Buffalo’s CBS outlet without concern. Mrs. Phil Scott, of St. Catharines, Ontario, is worried: “My kids watch as ►

HOW TO BECOME AN AMERICAN continued

many American series as they possibly can, and all they care about are cars, clothes and sex.” But Karl Mathis, of Halifax, doubts that his four teenagers are much impressed by Bonanza or Mannix. “The conventional wisdom is precisely what they reject,” he says. Rejection reaches its fullest flowering on university campuses — which have not, however, rejected the tube. Here the trend is to a kind of stupefied wipeout

(“I watch everything that moves,” says a UBC freshman. “It hurts my eyes to read Kant”) and snobbish derision (“God, what crap. Turn it up”). News and public affairs, the only areas in which Canadian TV consistently shines, draw pseudo-sophisticated groans at the “pseudo-sophistication” of Warner Troyer and Patrick Watson. According to the Television Bureau of Canada, the average Canadian adult

watches the tube daily for four hours and six minutes. Pamela Zuckernick, 16, of Côte St. Luc, a Montreal suburb, is well behind, racking up a flat three hours per evening Monday through Friday. The family set, she says, is tuned “much more frequently” to U.S. channels (CBS and NBC) than to Montreal CBC and CTV outlets. Why? She really doesn’t know, especially since “so many of the programs lack any substance.”

A night at the movies is just great - if you dig America talking to and of itself

SINCE HOLLYWOOD is not so much a town as an acquisitive state of mind, it has gradually become any place where American film-makers are busy. Back in the ’50s, when television was a novelty, it looked as though the whole motion-picture industry was going to slide into Santa Monica Bay. Instead, it set off to wander the world, seeking low overhead. Last year, of 548 films submitted to the Ontario Film Censorship Board, 166 were listed as American features — but many of the remainder were also American, made abroad. Canadian feature films among the 548 totaled six.

The ratio stands up anywhere you look in Canada. At random, consider the films playing on a recent Saturday in Victoria: West Side Story (U.S.),

African Safari (U.S.). The Gay Deceivers (U.S.), Oliver! (British), The Love Bug (U.S.), Goodbye, Columbus (U.S.), If (British), The Chairman (U.S.). One theatre was screening an 18-minute Canadian short, A Dime’s Worth, made in Toronto. (A film buff who saw this effort sugested that it should have been titled A Plugged Nickel’s Worth.)

Youths under 21 now comprise 50 percent of the Canadian movie audience. Something of the effect on them of the U.S. film barrage is suggested by the Victoria lineup. With the exception of African Safari, an imaginatively filmed travelogue marred by trite narration, and, possibly, the star-crossed lovers of West Side Story, the U.S.-produced films are subjective self-appraisals, insular comments on a uniquely American society. Propaganda-adventure (The Chairman), beat-the-draft comedy (The Gay Deceivers), ethnic drama (Goodbye, Columbus), car-culture fantasy (The Love Bug) — here is America talking to and of itself absorbedly. Canadian young people strain their ears to listen.

Question: Why do you watch so many

U.S. movies? Answers: “What else is there?” “They’re just movies, that’s all.” “Steve McQueen is cute — who have we got?” “European movies are too arty.” “Why not? They’re better than U.S. TV shows.” “You saw Isobel and you have to ask?” “They’re slick, you know?” “I don’t watch them. I just like to go to the drive-in.” “Because they’re the best.” “To kill time.” “I like them.” “They're where it’s at.” “Their actors are the best.” “I don’t know.”

Frank Boudreault, 17, of Ottawa, says he has never seen a good Canadian movie. Later he says he has never seen a Canadian feature movie. “I like American movies best. English and European films are mostly lousy.” He sees about 70 U.S. films a year, and whatever slight selectivity he exercises is based on the casting of male leads. His favorites are

Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Sidney Poitier and John Wayne, heroes that belong to him as much as to any kid in Kansas. “The Great Escape — that was a great movie. Steve McQueen rides this motorcycle from a prison camp right into Switzerland ...”

Frank’s own escape vehicle is also a motorcycle. On it he usually gets in free to the drive-ins. Lying on his sleeping bag at the back of the lot, he has developed a considerable empathy with the U.S. and its problems. “I think of them as my problems, too. I don’t feel narrow about it. I don’t think movies push me toward being more interested in what’s going on down there than up here. Everything in life is a movie, isn’t it? But, I mean, the hippies — we have them, too. Just look around in Ottawa and you’ll see them. I think the reasons for them are the same.”

On his sleeping bag. in the dimly reflected white light, Frank Boudreault probably has never wondered if one of the reasons for the hippies in Ottawa — and a lot of other youthful reactions — is film itself. Film, and the rest of the media.

Be grateful we’ve got the Mounties, friends: they’re our only entree to the comic books

“NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER

OF AMERICA, MY FRIEND! FELLOW NAME OF HITLER MADE THAT MISTAKE!” — Panel in Marvel Comics One boy’s reading meat is another boy’s pop-artifact. For the Dad-why-can’t-Ihave-a-hunting-knife set, this sort of exclamatory jingoism is stirring stuff. Comicollectors such as 16-year-old Tom Robe, of Toronto, find it funny. A buff from age six, Robe says he realized, at about 14, that his favorite comic books were neither Canadian nor sacrosanct. “Until then I never thought about them being Amercian. I guess I took them pretty seriously, sure.”

The last Canadian titles, Durango Kid,

Amazing Comics and Nelvana of the North (about a woman do-gooder among the Eskimos), vanished in the ’50s — none too soon for Mike Gadsby, an aging (23) collector from Vancouver, who finds them “either straight swipes of U.S. plots or preachy and crummy.” The only Canadian element in current comic books is an occasional, usually facetious reference to Mounties getting their man. Of the adventure comics, most might have been plotted by a Minuteman.

This bothers the buffs not at all. “If we had a Canadian industry, our artists would have to draw for the U.S. market anyway,” says Tom Robe. “The Mounties’ boss would be J. Edgar Hoover.” ►

HOW TO BECOME AN AMERICAN continued

“I can’t remember reading a Canadian book,” says a teenager who reads 400 books a year

A DECADE AGO, the book that most often protruded from the hip hip pockets of Canadian teenagers’ blue jeans was The Catcher In The Rye, J. D. Salinger’s tale of a pre-hippie dropout in New York. Today’s book-to-be-seen-with is Soul On Ice, in which Eldridge Cleaver expresses his black rage at honkey injustice. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield could conceivably have been a Canadian private-school boy — Cleaver is thoroughly American.

The top sellers in the Canadian teenmagazine market are, in order: Miss Chatelaine (Canadian), Seventeen (U.S.), Mademoiselle (U.S.) and, in tied position, Ingenue and Teen (both U.S.). Miss Chatelaine’s circulation is 130,000; combined circulation of the American top four, 154,000.

Close behind the teen periodicals are the movie-fan magazines that chart a kind of emotional electrocardiogram of Liz, Debbie, Mia, Jackie and, recently, the Teddy Kennedys.

All of which is by way of demonstration that the various print media read by young Canadians are predominantly — perhaps increasingly — American. The book breakdown is, however, debatable. Mel Hurtig, an Edmonton publisher and owner of western Canada’s biggest book store, argues that teenagers are turning increasingly to Canadian authors as a result of new-found national pride and better books. One in four books Hurtig sells is Canadian — hardly reason to wave the flag, but in 1956 the ratio was one in 10.

“Canadian books will never be dominant,” Hurtig admits. “We buy as many from the U.S. each year as it exports to all other countries combined.”

School officials report that almost all history texts are now written for and by Canadians. On the other hand, a trend to teachers individually selecting texts has fragmented the market, thus discouraging Canadian publishers who rely on bulk sales.

Except for the very young, whose parents seem to favor English fantasy (C. S. Lewis, A. A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame), Canadian youngsters look to the U.S. for most of their light reading, from westerns and science fiction to the sort of skin magazines that mothers find under boys’ beds. But the biggest-selling U.S. periodicals (Mad magazine excepted) are aimed at the 18-year-old female mind

— that is, at 15-year-old girls. They buy them for fashion news, dating etiquette, romantic fiction and the latest on their heroines and heartthrobs: Americans all.

Typical of the latter genre is Modern Screen, which monthly sells 69,000 copies in Canada. Its coverlines for the October issue tell all: “Jinx that destroys the happiness of brides who wear white” (many Hollywood white weddings ended tragically in divorce) — “Jackie suffers a miscarriage” (according to the former chauffeur to Lee Radziwill) — “Liz to have another child” (her partial hysterectomy

wouldn’t prevent an adoption, would it?) — "The terrible truth about Ted Kennedy’s accident” (it was tragic).

“I read those magazines because, I mean, I like to know what’s happening behind the scenes,” says Sheila Fineburg, 14, of Hamilton.

Len Grenier, 17, an honors student at Edmonton’s Strathcona Composite High School, speed-reads through 400 novels a year — sci-fi, mysteries, best sellers, Reader’s Digest condensed books. He can’t recall reading a single Canadian book. “I like light reading,” he says. “I might read a book on Canada’s Indian problem if you gave it to me, but I’d never go out and buy it. I read for escape.” Ephemeral U.S. novels, he senses, are more dynamically mediocre than the Canadian product. “We’re so close to the U.S.,” he sayswith a shrug. “What can we do about it anyway?”

Never mind trying to name Canada’s only daily comic strip - have you noticed it’s missing?

WHEN THE Toronto Telegram felled The Giants a couple of months ago, you heard no wailing and gnashing of teeth from young readers of the 10 Canadian papers that ran the comic strip. Its death was, however, faintly regrettable. The Giants was no Peanuts, but it was the only syndicated daily strip turned out in Canada. Devised by the Tely Syndicate to scare up and glamorize some Canadian heroes at Centennial time, it was broadened in late 1967 to deal with world figures — a predictable move to find U.S. markets. With a fine respect for symmetrical symbolism, the paper at this point switched artists, choosing Bill Payne, an American resident in Toronto. The altered strip was carried by a peak of 50 U.S. papers but never managed to show a profit.

Its demise left Canadian comic - strip enthusiasts — by no means all of whom move their lips while reading — with what they wanted anyway: the Republican satire of L’il Abner; the hamburger homilies of Mary Worth; Terry and the Pirates versus the enemies of America at home and abroad; Dick Tracy, the all-American gumshoe: Archie, the allAmerican high-school boy . . . The U.S. in bas-relief.

“We'd like nothing better than to have a Canadian strip,” says Frank Bourjot, assistant manager of the Toronto Star Syndicate, the country’s largest. “But what are you going to do? We can’t tell

our readers that they should enjoy this instead of that.” This, in Bourjot’s analogy, was Larry Brannon, which concerned a Canadian mining troubleshooter and was dropped a year ago, leaving the Star with 16 U.S. strips, no Canadian. Welldrawn but forgettable, Larry Brannon had not registered strongly in reader surveys. “Brannonsays constant comic reader Brenda Goldstein, 15, “was a bit of a bore.”

Danny Fisher, 16, an above-average student at Regina’s Central Collegiate, always reads the funnies first when he gets his hands on the Leader-Post. There are 18 of them, single panels and strips, all U.S.-produced. Fisher gives Pogo a miss — “I don’t know what that political stuff is all about” — but reads almost everything else, saving Bugs Bunny till last. “It’s got a lot of action and he’s a pretty funny character.”

Fisher says he hasn’t noticed the political stances in such military strips as Steve Canyon, but he is conscious and appreciative of AÍ Capp’s anti-hippie satire. “He’s talking about situations in the States, but it’s starting to happen here. Like Trudeau getting harassed. I mean, I don’t like the guy much, but I think Capp’s right when he tells us that the minority often spoils stuff for the majority. You get a lot from comics. I’ve never been more than 200 miles from Regina, so I really get a lot.” The question is, of course, a lot of what? □