Editorial – Using jaded stereotypes, the Simpsons’ “D’oh Canada” episode missed its mark

Tom Henihan

The Canadian media, particularly the CBC, gets very excited at any mention of Canada outside of its own borders, especially if it happens in America, and most especially on a popular American TV show.

Apparently, the talking heads in Toronto mistakenly believe that Canada cannot assert its own stature unilaterally and that it needs validation from afar.

It is difficult to know if the Canadian media responded with excitement or genuine indignation to an episode of the Simpsons set in Canada that aired on April 28, when the ageless, clueless Simpson family crossed into the Great White North.

From that point on, the clichés and stereotypical allusions just kept coming: Mounties, beaver, plaid shirts, maple syrup and Justin Trudeau depicted in his earlier incarnation as the young champion of all things environmentally and socially progressive.

But clichés aside, the point that troubled Canadians most was a reference by characters in the show to “stupid Newfies.”

It is interesting that Newfoundlanders, in typical style, expressed their dislike of the episode but there appeared to be no overt outrage, no excessive indignation. The response of Newfoundlanders I saw interviewed was dismissive rather than indignant, which is, in this era of hypersensitivity certainly refreshing.

While Newfoundlanders largely ignored the slight, the Canadian media grabbed on to it recognizing a good hook for indulgent coverage.

As we exist in a social environment where taking offense it is a popular pastime, the media saw the Simpsons as prime grist for the mill.

However, it is somewhat ironic that not all that long ago, Newfoundlanders did not have to look south of the border to hear that very same insult on a daily bases.

Some terms are completely off limits and others, depending on the tone, can be either good natured and playful or said to offend such as Paddy for an Irish person, Limey for the English and, indeed, Newfie for Newfoundlanders.

Put the word stupid before any appellation and it becomes overtly demeaning and offensive. This is something that would never have happened during the loftier and infinitely funnier early days of the Simpsons.

The first transgression of the Simpsons’ episode called “D’oh Canada” is that it failed to be funny and while it tried to be topical with allusion to the SNC-Lavalin debacle, in many ways the country the show portrayed seemed to belong more to the 1970s and 1980s than a depiction of contemporary Canada.

Good comedy or social satire needs to be up-to-date and relevant if it is to be funny and effective. If a comedy proves to have a poor grasp of its subject matter it falls flat and instead of being funny, it appears out of touch and stupid.

 

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