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Cartoon Graveyard: Hot Import Nights

July 2, 2009

Happy Canada Day, everybody!  Oh wait, that was yesterday and you don’t care.  But it makes for a good segue into today’s topic. Our relationship with Canada is kind of peculiar, if you think about it.  Everyone in the world makes jokes about people from other places, ranging from the silly to the highly offensive.  And the farther away you get from their source, the less sense they make.  For example, jokes about Norwegians are highly comical in Minnesota, but utterly incomprehensible in New Mexico.  When it comes to Americans making jokes about Canada, the odd thing is that we seem to have very little material.  Most Canadian jokes reiterate the main points that Canadians are perfectly nice people, who speak French half the time and have slight accents, and whose country gets chilly and plays a less dominant role on the world stage than ours.  We’ve had nothing against Canada since the War of 1812, and we know it.  Then again, many of our favorite comedians come from the Great White North, so there must be something funny up there!  Right?

Sadly, this character is named Guardian, not Captain Canada, which would rule.

Sadly, this character is named Guardian, not Captain Canada, which would rule.

To half-assedly answer that question, let’s take a look at a cartoon made by Canadians, for Canadians, and presumably about Canadians: Total Drama Island/Action.

Title: Total Drama Island/Action
Network: Cartoon Network
Premise: Animated reality show is somehow less contrived than regular reality show.

That title warrants an explanation.  This show is in its second season.  The first season was an extended riff on Survivor, with the setting being a small island in Canada.  Hence, Total Drama Island.  In reality-show tradition, they changed the location for a second season, this time an “abandoned film lot” in Toronto, because that’s a thing that exists in the real world and not just episodes of Scooby-Doo.  Since the show’s title no longer made any sense, they changed the last word to Action.  New stereotype: Canadians like their kids’ TV convoluted.

Now, a word of warning: this comes from the same studio that made the x-tremely boring 6teen.  So we approach with some trepidation.  Sure enough, the show is populated by thin teenager stereotypes: a goth girl, a delinquent, a ditzy blond, and so on.  I could go on, but I won’t because there’s twenty-two of these people to start with.  In true reality-show tradition, someone has to get voted off every now and then, and sustaining an entire season while booting one character a week requires a lot of reserves. In fact, the multitudes actually work in the show’s favor. Since you can only give so much screen time to twenty-odd people in a half-hour show, their one-note characters are much less apparent and grating than in the aforementioned 6teen. Frustratingly, the most Canadian-y of all the characters got the hook in the very first episode.  His name was Ezekiel.

Ooooooh Caaaaaanadaaaaaa...

Ooooooh Caaaaaanadaaaaaa...

He had it all.  The accent.  The “eh” thing.  A deep-seated misogyny rooted in his home-schooling in “the prairies” (that’s the Canadian equivalent of “flyover states” for all you uppity big-city types out there).  And now, gone.  It’s almost as if the writers thought a ragingly sexist superstereotype would be an unpopular character, which calls into question just how much reality TV they’ve actually watched.

The rest of the show plays out in typical reality-show fashion, albeit one self-aware enough to actually show the host and crew manipulating the situation to squeeze out more conflict.  There’s character conflict and romantic entanglements, as well as the constant machinations of Girl We’re Supposed To Hate, Heather (of course).  For some reason, I don’t know what, the show is curiously hypnotic.  Maybe it’s fascination with the sheer multitude of cliches interacting with each other (at one point, one character insults another by actually calling them a “cliche.” Oh, the ironic joys).  Maybe it’s trying to guess how the writers will avoid having anyone voted off to stretch the season, or try to predict which characters are popular so they don’t get booted prematurely, or just generally try to keep up the tone of a reality show in the most obviously artificial medium possible.  Or maybe it’s this:

Jesus, I could write a whole piece on the implications of this picture.

Jesus, I could write a whole piece on the implications of this picture.

Nah, it’s probably the intersection-of-reality-and-artifice thing.  In any event, I’m sad to report that we can gain little insight into Canada from this show.  The stereotypes are too universal.  Jolly fat guys, clueless jocks, sassy black girls, and the like are all common character types we encounter in media above and below the border.  There was only one recognizably Canadian stereotype present, and he’s long gone.  Aside from the setting, a few references to the RCMP and a maple leaf shirt, plus one all-too-fleeting utterance of “hoser,” there’s little that separates Total Drama Island/Action from similar American kids’ TV.  And that’s just where we started, dammit!  It seems even Canada doesn’t have all that many jokes to make about Canada.

Final Judgment: Who would have guessed that a Canadian cartoon would be amusing, yet innocuous?

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