Television

What I Learned About Canada and Justin Trudeau From Last Night’s ‘The Simpsons’

It wasn’t a bad skewering of the prime minister but we’re still the land of liberal American wish fulfillment.

by Jordan Foisy
Apr 29 2019, 2:52pm

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox. 

When my editor asked me if I would like to write something about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being on The Simpsons I agreed immediately. While I haven’t watched the show much lately, I can still say it’s my favorite show of all time as I have fond childhood memories of the very best episodes soothing the drug-addled rages of my father.

More than that though, I was excited to be part of a grand Canadian tradition: losing our goddamn shit any time our country is mentioned or noticed by American pop culture. We react to American TV noticing us like we ran into our slightly drunk high school crush at a party and we didn’t think she knew our name but then she said she knew our name and we were kind of cute before throwing up on our shoes; it’s all unfortunate giddiness and regrettable excitement. Any time we are mentioned by a late-night host you see headlines blare the next day, “Stephen Colbert did a joke about tuques last night. Our long national nightmare is over!” or “Rest easy Fathers of Confederation because last night James Corden mentioned The Tragically Hip.”

In last night’s episode, written by Canadian Tim Long, Lisa falls over Niagara Falls and washes ashore in Canada. After being treated to some *gasp* free health-care, a hoser-accented Mountie notices that Lisa is not particularly fond of her turmoiled home country and tells her to become a refugee. The rest of the episode follows Marge attempting to convince Lisa to return home while a cavalcade of Canadian references and a Skype meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ensues. The episode, like any new Simpsons, is a tough watch. There are all the things that made you love the show— background jokes and subtle references, tough jabs at the political and status-quo, a rambling plot that ties together at the end with a heartfelt focus on the family—but it all seems ghoulish and shambolic now; a weird monstrosity of not-bad punchlines, cynical self-reference and characters who’ve been reduced by time to animatronic caricatures. It’s like wishing for a loved one to return from the dead and being horrified when you get your wish.

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Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Canada, or course, was portrayed in the cloying, simplistic terms that is often the case when our neighbours turn their gaze upon us. We become a land of liberal American wish-fulfillment; all politeness, free healthcare, unshakeable tolerance, boring social order and good government, legal weed, and a bizarre hoser accent that has no bearing on any Canadian I have heard speak. Seriously, now that Hank Azaria has stopped doing Indian accents can we do his Canadian accent next?

Perhaps this is why I have always found our reaction to American attention so embarrassing, it’s our pathetic eagerness to embrace this inaccurate stereotype. This portrayal of Canada as maple syrup sucking Mounties has nothing to do with the Canada I saw when visiting my brothers in Kitchener this weekend; where the streets were flooded with coke-and-booze fueled students trying to fuck and fight, hollering, “You’re a bitch” at anybody who dared hold eye contact. This portrayal of Canada has nothing to do with the nation I see before me; a petrol-state beholden to the interests of a demure oligarchy, built upon the graves of an attempted genocide with a rising tide of white nationalism and general racial grievance that is virulently rejecting the liberal façade that has long obscured the tensions and horrors of the Canadian project.

To the episode’s credit—while presenting us as a progressive American wet dream—it does at least mention tar sands and the SNC-Lavalin affair. The latter event occurs when Lisa Skypes with our “I can’t believe he is telling me about another canoe trip” prime minister in order to apologize to Trudeau about what the president called him. Trudeau is in the midst of his infamous Yoga plank pose when Lisa asks him about the scandal, to which Trudeau promptly plank crab-walks out the window instead of answering.

It’s not a bad skewering, portraying—perhaps accidentally—the way Trudeau offers shallow cultural liberalism instead of… well, anything really. Unwittingly, the episode portrays Trudeau as the leader of this mythic Canada. He is the personification of the lies that we Canadians tell ourselves and that American gleefully satirize ; that we are nice and boring, that we are tolerant, that we are better than the barbarians to the South. It is a cartoonish vision and one that has been on the air for far too long.

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