‘Jack’: An inspiring tribute, or ‘nauseating hagiography’?

Jack Layton MacLeansGrowing up in a household without cable TV, I rarely had choice when it came to TV programming; this fact likely inspired an education in political science, a profession in communications and a love for Canada’s game – hockey. I also remember watching many CBC film productions, the latest of which was the release of Jack on March 10. (Photo Credit)

The film, a storyline of struggle, loss, love and triumph, was “… pure and unadulterated Canadiana – the type of production CBC should be doing more of (Radia, 2013).” But as dusk turned to dawn the following morning, opinions from media outlets across the country began to emerge – many of which were negative.

 “Canadians don’t need the public broadcaster to decide which of its recently deceased politicians merit a mythology. It is good that the CBC is supporting Canadian dramatic productions and presenting Canadian stories. This is part of the corporation’s mandate, to tell Canadians about Canadians.” (The Globe and Mail, 2013)

On March 11, the Globe and Mail published an editorial that shamed the film for being too soon after Layton’s passing, and challenged the possibility of him ever being remembered as historically significant. The author, although giving a weak nod to the CBCs Canada-centric mandate, chastised the film for skimming over Layton’s misgivings, and painted the film as nothing more than “an unpaid political advertisement” (The Globe and Mail, 2013).

One National Post columnist, while noting CBC is ‘often justified’ public funding when it comes to sharing Canadian content, took the mudslinging a step further, calling Jack ‘hilariously terrible’ and a “nauseating hagiography… the last thing a public broadcaster should be broadcasting (Selley, 2013).”

A CBC-approved portrayal of culture

While it has been asserted that the CBC ‘product’ has found origins in Toronto, and that regional sensitivities are all but given lip service (Jackson et al., 2011, p. 149), their five-year strategic plan may provide hope that their heart is in the right place.

CBC’s five-year strategic plan, rightly titled “2015: Everyone, Every Way”, focuses on growth in home-grown and shared content, advances in digital media and continuing its mission of keeping culture and democratic life at the core of all they do. (CBC/Radio-Canada, 2011)

 “It means telling and sharing the stories that showcase not only the marvels of Canadian diversity, but also the values and ties that unite us. Over the next five years, we will continue to produce programming that plays a part in shaping a shared national identity…” (CBC/Radio-Canada, 2011)

Although CBC/Radio-Canada did not produce Jack, they shared it as demonstration of their vision and values. Perhaps Jack can be considered a modern-day execution on ‘participant programming’ experiments in the 1950s, a time when Canadians gathered around speaker-augmented technology, listening to Ways of ManKind. (Jackson et al., 2011, p. 38). Now, Canadians participate with others, in isolation of others, on multiple versions of second and third (if not more) screens, while maintaining an uncanny ability to internalize a definition of national identity. And what better way to mobilize thought and discussion surrounding national identity than a story of Canadian political triumph.

Brad Lavigne, the 2011 NDP National Campaign Director and former principal secretary to Jack Layton took to Twitter using #JackMovie, paralleling the story with little-known facts and memories from the campaign trail.

Timing is everything

A dystopian perspective flecked with ulterior motives may draw a dotted line between the movie and political motivations. The movie did not appear a propagandized push for NDP philosophy and policy; it did, however, shine a light on a man of great value and ethic who was always supported by an equally strong woman and politician, Olivia Chow.

Some may find suspicion in Chow’s closeness to the movie when paired with her recent [note: three days prior to the film] interview with CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos, in which she admits considering running for the position of Mayor of Toronto (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2013).

Others may suspect Prime Minister Harper’s fear of Justin Trudeau may find opportunity in shining a nostalgic light toward the NDP through Jack, leaving the red in a shadow – after all, it worked for Jack. Not so far-fetched an argument if you kept track of the Government of Canada’s Economic Action Plan adverts during commercial breaks.

Luckily, not everyone was so serious. A MacLean’s article, despite referencing the lost opportunity of including more political fights, plights and Liberal prop-up drama from 2005, ultimately poked fun at the silliness that was the Globe and Mail article (Wherry, 2013).

The reality is, Jack could have been a four-part film, but that wasn’t the point. Jack was a reminder, a memory, a suggestion, an inspiring moment in which we could relate to him, and to one another. To people he met in the street, Jack was a person first. Jack Layton’s story inspires Canadians to be better, to do better, to make a difference and to see that timing is everything. In Jack, we were reminded that the time is now. Watch Jack


Canadian   Broadcasting Corporation. (2013, March 6). Show Segment. Retrieved   March 15, 2013, from George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight:   http://www.cbc.ca/strombo/mobile-video/show-segment/sook-yin-lee-talks-about-playing-olivia-chow-with-olivia-chow.html

CBC/Radio-Canada.   (2011, November). Strategy 2015: Everyone, Every Way. CBC/Radio-Canada’s   Five-Year Strategic Plan. Canada. Retrieved March 15, 2013, from   CBC/Radio-Canada:   http://cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/explore/strategies/strategy-2015/

Jackson, J. D.,   Nielsen, G. M., & Hsu, Y. (2011). Mediated Society: A Critical   Sociology of Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Radia, A. (2013,   March 11). Canadians React to the Jack Layton biopic. Canada. Retrieved March   15, 2013, from http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/canada-politics/canadians-react-jack-layton-biopic-054831850.html

Selley, C. (2013,   March 11). CBC doesn’t know Jack. The National Post. The National   Post. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from   http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/03/14/chris-selley-cbc-doesnt-know-jack/

The Globe and   Mail. (2013, March 11). Jack Layton biopic: We don’t need the CBC to   mythologize our politicians. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Retrieved March 16,   2013, from   http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/jack-layton-biopic-we-dont-need-the-cbc-to-mythologize-our-politicians/article9607193/

Wherry, A. (2013,   March 12). The Globe thinks it’s too soon to give Jack Layton the honour of a   movie. MACLEANS.CA. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Retrieved March 17, 2013,   from http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/03/12/the-globe-thinks-its-too-soon-to-give-jack-layton-the-honour-of-a-movie/


About LindsayCrossMPR

Brand & Integrated Marketing Specialist and part-time Masters (PR) student at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, NS. Former event producer, dot-connector and change agent.
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