#15 – Channel Surfing, Part One: Scratch the Vinyl Cafe

The Vinyl Café is revisionist tripe wearing nostalgia’s stolen britches.

Stuart McLean’s version of Canada looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. The most famous but by no means only part of the Vinyl Café is called the Dave and Morley Stories. These stories revolve around a list of personality-free caker morons. There’s the father, Dave, a shucks-golly record store owner with the bumbling exterior of the Good Soldier Svejk but with none of the internal narrative, depth, or sass that makes the Czech figure so fascinating. Joining this non-character is a figure-skating missus named Morley who in a totally-original and not-at-all clichéd way has to fix Dave’s frequent mishaps, a moody teenaged girl named Stephanie, a hockey squire named Sam, a dog named Arthur who steals potatoes, and a cat. Wowie, a suburban caker-family filled with tropes and clichés. How exciting.

These rich and meaningful cardboard cutouts living in a Toronto that mysteriously doesn’t seem to be plagued with any of real Toronto’s actual problems. I mean, just look at the cover of this book:

1022329

When the stories focus on wacky hijinks like forgetting to buy a turkey for Christmas it eliminates any sort of meaningful deeper conversation. Take Svejk again: his activities are daft and silly but they point to real criticisms of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Svejk is an everyman who invites us into his shoes so that we too might understand why the War was so awful. It’s funny, relevant, poignant, and useful all at the same time. While child-Dave derps about stuffing frogs into an elementary school we don’t see a real image of the hard-scrabble life of the Maritimes so much as wistful turns of delightful detail. In what Toronto do lawyers and accountants live around people who work in theaters and run tiny record stores that apparently turn profits despite never changing, far less interact with them á la Bert and Mary Turlington?

The presumed timelessness of the setting actually makes the work even less meaningful because we don’t know when or where this happens. There’s a reference to Dave walking to Brock Avenue in five minutes (yes, I listened to some of it for you), which means that they could live in Brockton Village. The architecture sort-of fits:

85388907

But the neighborhood itself is a canvas of make-believe because there’s no timeframe outside of a few hints. How did Brockton Village deal with suburbanization, or has that even happened yet? What about the Portuguese who currently live in the neighborhood? There’s an Arabic family improbably slapped into the story and a Chinese guy running a Scottish bakery (apparently making Chinese food isn’t nostalgic enough), but where are Joao and Carmella? When did this happen? Where did this happen? None of this is answered. Where Svejk waddles through known towns in a narrow band of time, this story ambles through a palimpsest of a neighborhood where time and history don’t mean anything.

The Vinyl Café is one of those hokey Canadiana things that English Canadians desperately want to believe was real, so McLean and the CBC hawk the Vinyl Café abroad in hopes that having foreigners fall for the non-place will convince cakers that the halcyon Toronto of…whenever this is set is real. So far they’ve scored BBC 7, which is so important to the British people that it was collapsed into BBC 4. We’ve also enlisted listeners on 80-some iterations of PBS in the United States to the cause of retrofitting Canada’s past. McLean’s turd-stacks are pushed as something akin to Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, except that Leacock was clearly writing with a place and time in mind (Orillia, ON at the turn of the century) and he deigns to admit that small-town Canada had its shitty parts with his obviously tongue-in-cheek praise of Mariposa at the time.

With the Vinyl Café McLean had a chance to address and speak to the history of urban Toronto and rural Nova Scotia. There are topics to dig at here with profound value to Canadian history and it is wholly okay to use fictive characters to make the work of digging easier. It’s one thing to erase the Indigenous (which of course McLean does because they really threaten ersatz nationalism these stories pump out); it’s quite another to claim nostalgia from a fiction set in a overly-fictionalized, frozen iteration of an actual place. Comedy has incredible potential – look at Svejk – but employing it in the service of revisionist Canadiana bastardizes the whole point of satire. Without that bite, all these stories boil down to are awkward chance happenings and clichéd characters designed to elicit Canadiana. Haplessly pissing your wife off is the kind of comedy best reserved for Garfield, except with the lasagna-loving cat there isn’t a narrative of make-believe peddled behind strained laughs.

 

#13: The Cult(ure) of Hockey, Part Two – Don Cherry is a Soggy Dickhole

Cakers adore a degenerate turd of a man and take cues about their national identity from him entirely because he once coached a hockeymans team. This is despite him costing the Boston Bruins a chance at the Hockeymans Trophy of Smacky Boom-Plop because he accidentally sent too many players on the ice at once and gave Montreal a chance to come back and kick the Bruins out of the playoffs, which would generally suggest that he’s not the greatest at hockeymans either. Far worse, he currently sits in a chair being a rancid shit and wearing hideous costumes on national television, which is okay because reasons and hockeymans.

Coaches’ Corner is a caker tradition. Two elderly folks who couldn’t lace skates up without their feet crumbling to dust run the show – a rude, abrasive, racist, sexist, mealy-mouthed caker apologist named Don Cherry, and a ghost named Ron MacLean who exists to look sad when Cherry invariably says something inane and stupid, which is always. I’m not kidding – just look at Ron in the picture below (Ron, for the record, is a rather polite guy who once rescued a suicidal dude in Philadelphia). I don’t have a whole lot of reason to hate Ron – once upon a time he was apparently biased because he defended a ref from accusations of fraud or something, but that’s within the hockey-bubble and I don’t care about the hockey-bubble.

And then there’s Don. Don is a fucking idiot. His nickname is “Grapes” and it would be wiser to have them talk about hockey instead of this prolapsed rectum of a man because fruit at least stays clear of declaring entire cultures and peoples weak.

 

don-cherry
“Maybe if I shit myself he’ll stop” – Ron

 

Like when Don said “never mind the concussions” in response to concerns that maybe having meatheads punching each other to prove that they haven’t roided their balls into nothingness is a bad idea. Or when he called bike riders “pinkos” while supporting Rob Ford’s run for office. Don Cherry is a singular cystic disgrace upon mankind, a garish douchebag who exists exclusively for banal Anglo-Canadians to get their dose of Bill O’ Reilly-esque reactionary blather while couching it in the comfortable terminology of hockey. Yeah – Bryan Fischer and Glenn Beck only suck because they don’t talk about The Game. All Glenn needs to do is shout that the guys on a baseball diamond lack “Grit and Heart” before he pulls out the chalkboard and he’s good, right?

It’s okay for this ancient fossilized suitrack to get wheeled in front of the television camera and spread screed because he has been doing it for a while and he both played and coached hockey. Playing hockey, as we all know, is a qualification for anything. His political power devolves into a play at defining Canada entirely in consumptive ways – beer swilling English-speaking hockey-bro-friends watching the CBC (now Rogers, which is somehow even shittier) while sitting in a suburban garage. He allows sadsacks cakers the fictive chance to pound their own chests and pretend that the misfortune of their birthplace (let’s be real here – Don’s is a white, distinctly suburban world where nonwhites may be novel but are little more than window-dressing) give them secret insights into the fine act of trying to turn a guy in made-in-China body armor to paste. In defining the caker Don helps to create the fiction that guides cakers to a deluded make-believe version of Canada.

Somehow, cakers still think that theirs is a tolerant and welcoming culture, and that’s the real treat. AmeriKKKa and its evil right-wing newscasters are cast as evidence that AmeriKKKa is Literally Hitler, but Don Cherry and his screed are fine because hockey. The narrative Don peddles – the sort of violent, meatheaded, hoo-rah machismo manifesto that would make an eighties action hero feel uncomfortable – that’s totally different. Sure, we had an asshole telling people with injuries to stop whining and calling Russians cowards on our national broadcaster – but it’s hockey you guys and that means a senile suitrack can spew bile with impunity.

 

#1 – Canadians

Canada is a place that most of the world doesn’t think about very much. This fact is probably the most terrifying reality that English Canada can imagine, so Anglo-Canadians try to overdo it with the yokel-but-not-really stereotypes so that they can pretend that the rest of the world cares about them. As can be expected in such a mediocre place, Canadians put on a performance about on par with an 8th-grade recorder concert at one of Canada’s many shitty public schools.

Speaking of schooling, here’s a part of Canadian history that few people remember. In the early days after World War Two, Canada was even more restrictive than it is now. Being white, rich, and a dude wasn’t sufficient to be considered a “respectable human” – you also couldn’t come from icky loser countries like Germany or Italy. The Italians, being a fiery sort who love food immediately took issue with the English-Canadian diet and indeed the Canadian way of life, which they saw as bland, unpalatable, and restrictive. They invented our Vorpal Word with which to cut down the Canadian Jabberwocky, and that word is mangiacake – “cake-eaters”, or cakers. And so the English Canadian was titled “caker”, to distinguish them from Indigenous or Francophone communities.

Cakers love deluding themselves into thinking that working a dull job and living in formless, debt-inducing tract housing tacked to formless, unwalkable cities constitutes “the good life”. In fact, as we’ll see, Canadians and their cities are lifeless and devoid of substance. Canada’s economic realities are oligarchic, her literacy skills frightfully low, and her grievous crimes against humanity unremembered. Canadians have no history and no interest in history – the whole country is a palimpsest, capable of being scratched and rewritten to suit any commercial or civic narrative. Noting real problems results in having concerns ignored, minimized, or reacted to with a profound venom from a people who claim to be decent, intelligent, and humane.

And that, my newfound friends, is reason number one for leaving Canada. There is a soft-repression here caused by the immense defensiveness of a country that considers being chill a national trait, and I won’t have it. In my travels through this collective of suburbs I’ve encoutered others who also hate it here. It’s a wonderful feeling to find a like mind, to let loose without fear of losing friends or opportunities, and I’d like to share that feeling with other Canadians who don’t toe the national line.

I’d also like to provide a counterpoint to the millions of dollars of Canadian propaganda distributed internationally. If even one person from abroad reads these screeds and decides to skip Cakertown the whole project will have been worth it many times over. In the year that this blog has been running I’ve had thousands of views from around the world and it is my fondest hope that people who are questioning this place find footing to base their thoughts on here.

The rules are simple – if it’s shit and it’s in Canada, it’ll end up here. There are no punches pulled, no holds barred, and no excuses accepted. It’s time to stomp some cakers!

Allons-y!