Why I voted for Tommy — again and again

We on the left just don't get to define and design the culture we live in.

So, after all these years of being marginalized by the right-wing media thegenus hairshirtus politicus is still around. Sigh. As one of those whovigorously promoted the great CBC contest, The Greatest Canadian, I wassubjected to more hostile emails and criticisms than any of my writings haveever attracted. And I have to say the snobbish reaction to the contest isnot only odd, it is self-defeating and reveals a profound misunderstandingof popular culture and how the left should engage it.

First, let's remember why they call it popular culture... it's because peoplelike it! Millions pay attention to it compared to, on a good day, thethousands who listen to our proselytizing. These are the same people we areconstantly trying to engage to make the world a better place. As sad as thisfact is, we on the left just don't get to define and design the culture welive in. We wake up in the morning, like everyone else, to a world that isnot of our making. And we make the best of it using our imagination andenergy and commitment.

We don't get to own a TV network and design the perfect contest. We don'tget to decide the shape of popular culture, but it is our obligation to takeevery opportunity to influence it. And influence we did! Just one result ofthat was that 698,000 people watched an inspired, moving and brilliantdocumentary on Tommy Douglas hosted by the fabulous and young GeorgeStroumboulopoulos. That alone was worth getting involved in what myhand-wringing critics denounced as “a flawed contest.” Not to mention thedocumentaries of the other top nine.

Think about it. If some CBC producer had said, “I want to do 10 documentarieson these ten Canadians,” they would have got nowhere. If it takes a“silly” contest to get all that great stuff about Canadians on TV andgetting that many people away from reality TV junk, I'm fine with that.

A “flawed” contest? What?! Something in capitalist society is flawed? Tellme it isn't so. Unless memory fails me, we think — rightly — that democracyin this country is hideously flawed. But most us think it is important tovote.

This contest — which “ordinary” Canadians figured out was meant to be fun — took place, exactly when? Well, right at the time the Canadian élites arebending over backwards to sell the country — actually, no, give it away — tothe American Empire to the south. Would there be a better time to get hundredsof thousands of Canadians keenly interested in Canadian history and inCanadians who have contributed to the country? What a fabulous reinforcementof the current trend among the vast majority of Canadians ofhyper-criticism of what is transpiring today in the U.S.

Are critics of this entertainment so disconnected from people's daily livesthat they really believe it didn't matter who won the contest? It is ourobligation as people who fight for social change to take advantage of everyopportunity that pop culture presents us, in order to influence it. That iswhat voting for Tommy Douglas was — taking strategic advantage of anopportunity that the CBC's Mark Starowicz — bless his soul — presented us.Thank goodness a lot of people figured that out.

But imagine what it might have been like if women's leaders andorganizations — supported by men, of course — had organized from the startto get five inspiring women on the top ten list. Five, great one hourdocumentaries on five great women — and hundreds of thousands of Canadiansgetting to know women who, because of our “flawed” culture, they hadnever heard of before. We could have done it.

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