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Rob Ford and the triumph of the new hosers

Back in September, I met up with a distinguished scholar visiting from Germany. He was canvassing my views on the state of things in Canada, in particular the idea of "Canadian liberal values," the decline of the Liberal Party and the role of the media in a changing Canada.

At one point I suggested to him that Canada had become a very suburban country. That is, suburban values came to dominate the culture, the federal Conservatives had fed well on this change while the Liberal Party and much of the media had become unmoored from consensus suburban values.

It was a good chat. When the scholar wrote earlier asking if I'd talk to him, I was a little taken aback. I pointed out that I'm the television critic, not one of the distinguished political and social affairs columnists writing for the important part of this newspaper. In turn he replied, that he was fully aware of that, but he'd read my columns and thought I'd have an interesting perspective to share with him.

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In our chat, I struggled somewhat to convey the idea of "hoser." The hoser figure and suburban values are now interconnected, I said. This is a hoser country. We admire hosers, we have sympathy for them and, sometimes, we just let them run things.

Here's the thing – the hoser figure has evolved since Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas played Bob and Doug McKenzie on SCTV's The Great White North segments all those years ago. They simultaneously celebrated and mocked heightened Canadian clichés of boorishness, to our national delight. Since then, the figure has morphed and ripened, through Red Green and Trailer Park Boys into a more sophisticated and widely accepted national type, in boorish incarnations such as Don Cherry and Kevin O'Leary. Somehow, the well-off or super-rich hoser has become an acceptable figure.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the most riveting TV coverage of the past few days – the media pursuit of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. A total hoser, Ford talks hoser and acts the hoser lifestyle. He even leads a hoser community, one that's hardcore suburban, scorns urban sophistication and is well-pleased when Rob Ford and his brother Doug do an achingly close simulation of Bob and Doug McKenzie, on their weekly radio show. "I shouldn't have got hammered," as Ford said, is hoserdom defined.

Meanwhile, the vast armies of TV reporters and cameras crowding Ford, and his refusal to engage, are reminiscent of a swarm of hunters. Ford has all the traits of the original McKenzie brothers hoser – the boorish, beer-drinking guys whose most ardent intellectual engagement is in dreaming up schemes to scam the beer store into giving them free beer. But he's a souped-up version.

While Bob and Doug were lovable, the Ford incarnation is mean-spirited and angry.

It's no coincidence that Don Cherry, king of the contemporary hosers, introduced and unveiled Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto. He even put the chain of office on Ford's neck. Brother hosers. He used the occasion to ridicule the Toronto media and "left-wing pinkos." He hailed Ford as someone to represent "lunch-pail, blue-collar people." The disingenuous aspect of this, coming from a rich media figure praising a very rich businessman, wafted away and evaporated.

Interestingly, what hasn't evaporated is affection for the hoser type, no matter how far they are from the lovable qualities of the McKenzie. Ford's action and attitudes are now notorious. And yet Sarah Polley, who is practically a saint among the "left-wing pinko" crowd, said on Twitter, "I had a lot of lingering sympathy for Rob Ford as a human being. It got wiped out listening to him talk about government housing." There's the rub – sympathy for the haute hoser but disapproval of his policy on social housing.

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That German scholar might still be here in Canada, talking to other scholars, journalists and politicians. If he is, perhaps he now gets it – Canada is a different place now. "Canadian liberal values" are dead. The suburban mentality/hoser type guides us and the new hoser type is who we admire and who leads us. The authenticity might be nominal, but it is accepted. It is Canadian-ness now.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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