Academic journal article CineAction

Second City or Second Country? the Question of Canadian Identity in SCTV'S Transcultural Text

Academic journal article CineAction

Second City or Second Country? the Question of Canadian Identity in SCTV'S Transcultural Text

Article excerpt

Take off, eh?

When SCTV began broadcasting its programming day on September 21, 1976, Canadian viewers were introduced to a new brand of television satire that would develop and grow with the show for its eight-year run. Between 1976 and 1984, SCTV moved from a local Canadian television station, to North American syndication, to American network television and, finally, to pay-TV. The show was composed of a series of sketches woven together with recurring characters and behind-the-scenes narratives about the machinations of a fictional television network called SCTV.

Though SCTV satirized and parodied American popular culture, two of the show's most successful characters were Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas), simple-minded Canadian brothers whose primary interests in life included beer, back bacon, and finding "topics" for their two-minute show, "Great White North." The McKenzie Brothers were a huge sensation in Canada. (1) Most tellingly, in 1981, an Ottawa fan nominated Moranis and Thomas for the Order of Canada for their contribution to "our cultural sense of identity." (2) In 1982, Thomas and Moranis produced the comedy album Great White North, which sold 350,000 records in Canada and made the Billboard top ten in the U.S. (3) The pair even wrote, directed, and starred in a 1983 film featuring the two characters, Strange Brew. Though it received mixed reviews, Strange Brew has since become a cult classic in North America and the brothers are still intimately connected with Canadian identity. (4)

In "How to Get a Mouse in Your Beer Bottle" (1982), Rick Salutin argued that the tradition of Canadian entertainers who imitate "a certain typical Canadian style" for laughs was nothing new, but that Thomas and Moranis did not fall into the same tradition of "Canadian self-putdown." (5) Salutin saw the pair differently. There was a degree of pride in what they did and they appealed to an audience who may have seen themselves in Bob and Doug or simply enjoyed emulating them. (6) Although Salutin celebrates the McKenzie Brothers for their Canadian everyman quality, at the heart of these two characters is a more rebellious streak. The story behind the popular duo is that Bob and Doug were conceived as a response to Canadian content demands made during SCTV's run on CBC and in U.S. syndication. (7) The CBC had fewer commercials breaks than American television, so SCTV's writers were asked to fill two extra minutes in Canada. Because of Canadian broadcast regulations, the CBC asked that SCTV fill this time with content that was distinctly Canadian. In an interview for the Chicago Tribune, Rick Moranis describes their reaction, "We thought this was ridiculous. Granted we grew up dominated by American culture and we love satirizing it, but we do the show in Canada, we write it here, we're Canadians--how can they ask us to be more Canadian?" (8) In an article for Newsweek, Dave Thomas explains that their intention in creating Bob and Doug was to make "a satiric statement on what happens when you try to make entertainment a nationalistic issue." (9) Often masked by the McKenzie Brothers' wider popularity, is the fact that their very inception came from the desire to ridicule Canadian content regulations. What was meant to be a sarcastic snipe at the CBC became a North American phenomenon.

In "Cultural Identity and Diaspora" (1990), Stuart Hall describes two notions of cultural identity: one is founded on the similarities of a shared past (10) and the other is constituted by difference and made up of "ruptures and discontinuities." (11) Hall's description points to the way in which cultural identity is continually being negotiated. It is "a 'production', which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation." (12) This fluid notion of identity is key to understanding SCTVs representation of Canada in a transcultural context.

As signifiers of Canadian identity, Bob and Doug McKenzie play on these notions of similarities and difference. …

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