What Shirtless Justin Trudeau Says About Canada

Those near-perfect abs on our collective Daddy are a powerful statement on who we think we are.

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Aug 9 2016, 5:01pm

Once upon a time, in medieval Europe, the entire functioning of the political world rested on the principle of the King's Two Bodies.

The first body was personal and revoltingly fleshy, consigned to eat and shit and fuck and die and all the other awful indignities of mortal life. But the second body was symbolic and sublime and incorruptible, God's body on earth, the body of the state and its people. Because he had two bodies, the King (and thus the nation) would never truly die—"the King is dead; long live the King."

Unfortunately for some of us (like National Post crank Barbara Kay), we no longer live in feudal England. Instead we must endure the indignity of the prime minister's one body and his terrifying refusal to put a shirt on it.

Because it's August and there is apparently nothing for political writers to do, Canada's national commentariat has been roiled by sightings of Shirtless Trudeau. The prime minister stalks the countryside, leaping out of woodland caves or rising from the sea like an eldritch horror to blind us all with his sculpted pecs. He moves through the wilderness like a ghost and appears only long enough to ruin your wedding photos or your children's camping trips. Clutch them as tightly as you want, but your pearls will never be safe from the threat of Shirtless Trudeau.

But what you see if never what you get in politics, and Trudeau's denuded chest is as much a Rorschach test as it is a paean to the male physique. In one reading, this is another moment where the prime minister becomes a fully realized human being, an actual person who is accessible and relatable to those of us who otherwise see politics as an alien world of nerds and assholes in expensive suits.

In another reading, Trudeau's chiseled form adds to his mythic stature. He is the fresh-faced embodiment of the Canadian dream. He is the fun, friendly, vivacious, sensitive male feminist superhero, perfectly calibrated in a thousand focus groups to serve as the canvas of a collective Canuck sexual fantasy.

You can also see all this as the utter collapse of political decorum, Canada's descent into a gentrified, progressive Putinism. Shirtless Trudeau is the face of a liberalized personality cult, packaged for a pliant media and sold to a generation of shallow, narcissistic Millennials who love selfies more than the noble customs of Western civilization.

When you stare into the abs, the abs stare also into you.

Trudeau's mostly-bare bod has knotted together a few different threads of Canada's many neuroses. First, and let's be real here, Justin Trudeau is an objectively beautiful man. Dude is pretty fit by the standards of the general population—especially for fathers over 40, and doubly so for politicians. The man has confidence in his body and just wants to be outside doing sports and shit in the heat with his shirt off and I think that's pretty fair. It gets hot here in the summer and thanks to his government's lax approach to climate change it's only going to get hotter!!! Zing!!!

Beyond this, his physical charisma is part of what makes Trudeau so successful as a political/cultural phenomenon (dare I say: a Brand). Trudeau's appeal, largely, is that he is a cipher for really vague ideas about "progressiveness," which are more visceral and emotional reactions than any straightforwardly sober evaluation of his administration's policies. If you like "progressive" you like Trudeau and ditto if you don't.

(As an aside: what does "progressive" even mean in Canada in 2016? Tom Mulcair is here and he won't stop crying and I don't know what to tell him to cheer him up.)

Because partisanship is basically confrontational, a large part of this emotive force is that Justin Trudeau makes conservative heads explode, which is pleasurable on an almost visceral level. This is identical to how most of Stephen Harper's "charm" (don't laugh) lay with his ability to make large swathes of the Canadian left lose their fucking minds. Canadian politics in the 21st century is defined largely by competing sets of Leader Derangement Syndrome. It's not hard to imagine someone like Brian Lilley earnestly tweeting "Shirtless Trudeau is still lurking. Be vigilant" to anyone posting about camping in a national park.

All of this feeds into the frenzy of our thinkpiece-powered media economy, because the internet abhors a vacuum. But Trudeau is also genuinely really good at playing the media —especially internationally. As a general rule, American or European outlets don't care about anything that actually happens in Canada so much as they appreciate the myth that Canada is a liberal utopia and the fact that it is now sold to them by a preternaturally charming man is icing on the content cake.

This filters back to us in this country because the overriding drive of the entire Canadian cultural apparatus is to have our ego stroked by the global community, which is why our first collective impulse in the face of racist police violence in the US is to share videos of dancing Mounties. It's the only relief we have ever found from the otherwise crushing inferiority complex of Being Canada, and it's why every true patriot is wishing for President Donald Trump. The apocalyptic collapse of the American Empire/earth will make us look extremely fucking good.

So the Trudeau honeymoon still hasn't ended, and maybe it can never truly end. This is who we are now. We are the cool country with the cool dad who works out and isn't racist and who would probably help with the housework if he didn't hire a maid. That is rad. Canada is rad. Long live the King.

Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.

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