Academic journal article CineAction

You Watch Too Much TV, Kid: Casualties of Cultural Colonialism

Academic journal article CineAction

You Watch Too Much TV, Kid: Casualties of Cultural Colonialism

Article excerpt

At the time of its release in 1993, David Wellington's I Love A Man In Uniform was hailed by Canadian critics as one of the most provocative features to emerge from Canada's then still new "new wave." Critic Geoff Pevere observed, "Wellington's message is as blunt and direct (but not nearly so simple) as a nightstick. As such, it's the first Canadian movie to have fashioned a literal parable out of the consequences of living with a borrowed pop mythology." (1)

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Other critics echoed Pevere's views, praising the film's brilliantly self-reflexive analysis of Canadian masculinity in the shadow of the American other. (2) However, after this initial flurry of critical acclaim, the film seems to have dropped out of discussions of Canada's national cinemas. This essay is written in the hope that it will reawaken interest in this important cinematic work.

Wellington's film makes compelling use of the trope of masquerade to illustrate and comment on the profound effects of globalization (a polite term for American cultural colonization) on Canada's and Canadians' senses of self. By day, Henry Adler (Tom McCamus) is a mild-mannered bank clerk in a busy Toronto financial institution; by night he is a part-time actor playing a cop named Flanagan on a cheesy American "reality" show being shot in Toronto. Neither of these identities is "natural"--both require Henry to conform to the expectations of those around him; both demand, at least on some level, a certain amount of play-acting.

This theme of masquerade extends to the overall film, as well: the city in which the narrative takes place is obviously (especially for Canadians and those familiar with the city) Toronto, but it is never named, a move that points toward the common practice by which various Canadian cities--especially Toronto and Vancouver--are passed off as American cities in US-based productions shot north of the border, as is the case with the television program on which Henry stars. Likewise, the film conforms to a prescribed set of representational conventions (with a healthy dose of irony) established by Hollywood productions. (Some reviewers mistakenly wrote off the film as being nothing more than a pale imitation of Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver--a misinterpretation that misses the point of the film entirely.) This both allows the film to reach an audience in an industry defined and driven by Hollywood standards and products, and at the same time, gives it the opportunity to act out, formally, thematically, and narratively speaking, the very same type of impersonation that appears in its storyline. In other words, the film assumes the trappings of an American action film, at least on the surface, to comment on the overwhelming influence of American action films on international markets and consumers.

Wellington's film focuses on and embodies the related practices of imposture and masquerade, phenomena that arise in the face of disparity between desire and access, between fantasy and reality. The film clearly associates this need for impersonation--this imperative to "pass" as something one isn't--with the colonization of Canada's industries of self representation, both economically and ideologically, by Hollywood. By focusing on a character, a Canadian, whose life is profoundly affected by the discrepancies between his everyday life and the ideals he is presented by the media, the film illustrates the undue power American images exert on Canadian popular culture, and by extension, on Canadian identity. At the same time, because its own form is a borrowed one, heavily indebted to American crime dramas, the motion picture itself enacts a kind of masquerade, reflexively levelling a critique that extends far beyond the boundaries of this specific issue, and illustrating the limitations imposed, however indirectly, on Canada's industries of self-representation by the Hollywood machine. The film underscores the continuity that exists between the its storyline, the its form, and its protagonist; it illustrates how both film and character, quite literally, are the products (both in the sense of "commodity" and in the sense of "result") of a specific representational system, and at the same time, of a reaction to alienation and estrangement from that very system. …

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