COLUMN

When familiarity breeds consent

Allan Fotheringham July 16 1984
COLUMN

When familiarity breeds consent

Allan Fotheringham July 16 1984

When familiarity breeds consent

COLUMN

Allan Fotheringham

There was a time, not long ago, when youth was allowed its own goofy uniforms and attires. If the hippies of the 1960s wanted to affect long hair and rainbow hues, the adults were properly appalled by the outrage of it all, sucking their teeth and shaking their neat heads in despair. Alas, the parents of the world did not continue this sensible approach of superiority to all the vulgar doings displayed before them. Instead, they have tried to emulate the acne crowd, dressing not like adults but like the children they deplored. It is not a good thing. We do not approve.

The ultimate display of this secret desire to play Ponce de León in cutoff jeans came on the United States’ birthday, when a half-million human beings restaged Woodstock beneath the Washington Monument, across the street from the White House. It is considered sacrilege, if not treason, for an American not to go on a picnic on the Fourth of July. When Washington decided to stage a 10-hour picnic on its 208th anniversary, we saw enough bare flesh to drive one indoors for the rest of the year. It seems a basic rule now applies: the more obese the specimen, the more flesh must be exposed. Businessmen trying to look like their teenage sons paraded in T-shirts that should have remained in junior high. Matrons better kept under a shroud insisted on displaying their imperfections for all to see, monuments to cellulite, captives of a generation that fears age. The reason Americans are larger than Canadians is that they eat more. This means that they look very healthy, as in California-healthy, and grow tall.

A half-million people, composed in a large part by adults who weren’t there at Woodstock and regretted the omission, is not a pleasant thing to see when the whole thing is cheek to jowl, the beer mixing with the lost babies. It illustrates one factor of American life that differs from Canada’s: they don’t have much privacy and so ignore it. Any Ca-

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

nadian who travels a bit in the United States is struck by the obvious—there are 10 times as many bodies down there. Wherever you go there are people about. It’s not as bad, overall, as Japan or Britain, those two claustrophobic islands of city dwellers, but a Canadian in the United States is suddenly aware of the space he enjoys at home.

Canadians always complain of how loudly Americans talk in restaurants, elevators, airplanes. The reason they do so is because they have given up trying to keep things to themselves; there is always somebody around, so they shout

their secrets to the wind. Canadians —reticent, soft-spoken—insist on a certain “body space” enveloping them, a safe DMZ of air separating them from their companion. Europeans, if you’ll notice, like to move to within about six inches when carrying on a conversation, forcing the proper Canuck to have a continual list backward, as if the continental were suffering from a bad dose of garlic. Brian Mulroney and John Turner are the most “American” politicians we have had in a long time, liking the rush from pressing the flesh. Turner, the self-proclaimed “tactile” man, likes to grab and squeeze people, like Lyndon Johnson, who didn’t so much shake hands as embrace his supporters. (L.B.J. once explained his philosophy to an aide by announcing that “if you get the voters by the balls, their minds will follow.”) Pierre Trudeau always maintained his isolation with his intellectual cattle prod, and Mackenzie King kept his distance even when talking to his dog.

Americans, however, like to get down and wallow in familiarity. They invented the politician whose main attraction was his smile (Eisenhower) and now seem stuck with that silly habit (Jimmy Carter and Ronnie Reagan, the president whose answer to almost everything is the aw-shucks grin of the second lead who didn’t get the girl again). Walter Mondale’s smile is the photogenic equivalent of a limp handshake, one of those that makes you feel unclean after unentangling yourself.

It’s why the coming election campaign will be a battle of tactility, Sparkling Eyes against The Jaw That Walks Like a Man. We really haven’t had such a struggle of equal personalities since Sir John A. was a pup who liked his cup. George Drew was a stiff product of the men’s-club land, who delighted in French-Canadian jokes and always looked as if he were going to cut his throat on his stiff collar. Louis St. Laurent looked as if cocoa wouldn’t melt in his mouth. John Diefenbaker, all fire and brimstone, an evangelist who missed his calling, always o made the neat and careful £ Lester Pearson appear the g product of Ottawa he was.

It was simply unfair billing when Trudeau of the trampoline went up against Bob Standstill, the classic product of Nova Scotia, which Michael Jackson will never visit. The unathletic Joe Clark stood no long-range chance against Trudeau even though he tried a serious counterattack by wearing a yellow cardigan. It is why Old Athlete Turner will be filmed on the tennis court, to contrast with Mulroney, whose only serious exercise is lifting a telephone with each hand.

So what we’re headed into is a struggle for the flesh of the nation. Unless they hide in the root cellar, there is a good chance that three-quarters of the population of the country will be personally massaged by either Brian Turner or John Mulroney. We have got two incipient L.B.J.s among us, the only guarantee being that neither will show his gall bladder scar or pick up dogs by the ears. Other than that, if you value your pinkies, keep them in your pockets or your purse. They’re in danger.