Sunday, 19 October 2014

Justin Trudeau: Keith Davey would be proud

Watching W5 on Saturday, and its fawning hour-long profile of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, I was brought back to a time in the 1980s when Tom Hayden was running for state legislature in California.

Hayden was a famous 60s radical, then married to Jane Fonda, who was trying to rehabilitate his image, to make himself seem more palatable to voters.

Getting him elected wouldn't be easy -- Tom was a bad guy in his youth -- so a gaggle of Democratic political consultants were enlisted to undertake a renovation of sorts, putting putty in the cracks of the foundation, giving him a new high gloss coat of paint.

The media campaign included television ads, and a glossy brochure entitled Tom Hayden, Growing Up in America. The brochure featured sad images of racism, segregation, shootings of presidents and preachers. It was meant to explain how Tom Hayden and his politics had been shaped by events in America. Not his fault. He was a product of his environment

On the cover was a photograph of Tom and his son sitting in a fishing boat accompanied by his father-in-law, the late Henry Fonda. Yep, they were fishing On Golden Pond.

The campaign worked, of course, and the voters elected the prince who soon turned back into a frog, as most politicians do.

Those political consultants would have been in awe of the image making that is taking place around Justin Trudeau.

Justin is the perfect candidate, a child raised in the castle, coddled like a three minute egg, nary a hair out of place on his perfect head. The image makers had the opposite problem to Tom Hayden's handlers.

Justin is an unlikely politician. He lacks the neediness of most people these days who choose politics, the men and women who have faces for radio. He also lacks the drive to change the world.

He would rather just buy it a Coke instead.

Justin has lived a perfect life, unblemished, and protected by a doting mother and father.

The Tories would say that Justin lacks depth and experience but really the fact he lacked for anything is the point of it all. There is a softness to his hands, eyes and heart. Ironically, running for the Liberals, he lacks grit, unburdened by the experience of rough and tumbling, of making ends meet, of being turned down for a date by every maiden in the land.

Justin has lived a trust fund life. Money for nothing, chicks for free.

So the image makers had to reach deep, to explore how loss has affected his life and his view. The image presented on W5 was of a man who straddled the darkness and rode it bareback, as the son of a polarizing prime minister and a manic flower child, a brother who lost a brother, a man shaped by his environment, called to good work because of an avalanche, then emboldened by the loss of a brilliant father, called to take up the quest for the Holy Grail that is the prime ministership of Canada.

The goon squad at Conservative Headquarters, the ones hoping to change the copyright laws so they could use Trudeau's words and likeness against him in the coming campaign, were hoping for a bonanza of pithy comments and ridiculous bon mots.

Instead, they got a walk down memory lane, tugs at the heart strings, a one-hour infomercial on the making of Canada's next prime minister.

For the campaign professionals, it was text book.

No hard questions, here. Only soft whispers between Justin and host Lisa Laflamme, whose doe eyes glistened as she listened to Justin's sad tale of his parents' divorce, his brother's death, and his struggle with his mother's mental illness. Viewers could not help but be carried away by the warm images of Justin playing piano with his Dad, learning to swim in the cement pond at 24 Sussex, trailing behind the old man like a duckling to greet heads of state.

Television is all about images, and images of Justin are everywhere.

Like Princes William and Harry, he has been followed by cameras all his life, from his birth on Christmas Day to his grief at the loss of his brother, to the painfully perfect eulogy he gave at his father's funeral. Like the Crown prince he is, Justin's charm, playfulness and love for his family has been carefully orchestrated.

Pretty hard to beat for, say, a Harper or a Mulcair, whose early images were marred by geekiness and unfortunate facial hair.

The documentary contained only smatterings of controversy. Justin is sometimes like a cartoon prince, perfect on the outside, who squeaks like an unoiled bicycle when he opens his mouth. Asked about some of his ridiculous and impertinent musings, the Prince smiles and shrugs that familiar shrug.

His eyes drip with honey as the body language simply says: Well, if you don't like me, too bad for you. I like myself just fine.

This week, the Conservative goons will no doubt be pouring over Justin's memoir looking for dirt with a sad futility. Meanwhile, Justin will travel the country. air kissing the media, making them wet with excitement.

The image machine has done its job perfectly. The Prince has donned his robes and extended his ring.

Come, my subjects, come kiss it. It's alright. Everything will be all right here on Golden Pond.

Surely, this must be troubling for the Dark King, who guards the Holy Grail amongst the gargoyles. He will be pacing, worrying and cursing the national media. He is old, his rhetoric is tired. Even wars abroad can't help him anymore.

Not even a new pair of specs or a new hairdo can undo the magic spell that is being woven over our land by the sorcerers with Blackberries and fawning TV shows.

The keys to the Kingdom are tumbling swiftly from the Dark King's sad, pasty white hand.

Well done, image makers. Keith Davey would be proud.

Justin Trudeau: the man who would be prime minister reveals his past, his politics

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