Date: Sun, 9 May 1999 22:11:28 -0500 (CDT)
Mounties guilty of Disneyfication sanitizing image: Study
By Marina Jimenez, National Post, 5 May 1999
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have exploited the American portrayal of the Mounties in film and popular culture as "neurotically fastidious, overly polite, and morally pure" in order to sanitize their image, says a Canadian professor.
The Dudley Dooright depiction of the noble red coats and of Canada as a white, empty wilderness has been stoked by Mounties to present a user-friendly face to the nation, says Christopher Gittings, whose peer-reviewed study Imaging Canada: The Singing Mountie and Other Commodifications of Nation was published in a 1998 issue of the scholarly journal Canadian Journal of Communication.
"The history of the RCMP's role as troops of Canadian imperialism gets re-written by cultural products of singing Mounties," says Prof. Gittings, an assistant professor of English at the University of Alberta. "The RCMP have always stood in as an icon for the nation, but it is one that is freighted with ideological baggage and the colonization of the west." He notes that the Mounties have allowed their image to be "Disney-fied," used to sell beer in the U.K., and as fodder for many a Monty Python skit.
Prof. Gittings' analysis of the Singing Mountie in Hollywood films and television series such as Due South and North of 60 comes at a propitious time, as the force marks its 125th anniversary with, among other festivities, a 1,700-kilometre trek across the West. The march, which begins later this month, will commemorate the 1874 Great March when 300 men sought to bring law and order to the west; according to the RCMP Web site, it will honour such milestones as the initiation of "friendly relations with aboriginal people and the establishment of frontier posts."
Prof. Gittings notes that the force carefully glosses over other elements in its history, including its mission to "reproduce the social order" of the Eastern establishment by containing and assimilating natives in the west. For example, beginning in 1897, the Northwest Mounted Police, as they were known then, began policing native cultural activities and ceremonies such as the potlatch and the sundance.
Yet popular mythology makes no mention of this, instead portraying the Mountie as a white, masculine, Anglo-Celtic, paternalistic hero in a scarlet tunic. This image dates back to early Hollywood films; between 1907 and 1956, there were 575 such films set in Canada, leading to what Prof. Gittings calls the "formation of the Mountie as a cinematic commodity of corporate America."
The most enduring film is Rose Marie, about a French-Canadian orphan captured by a Mountie who mistakes her for a boy, and upon discovering his error, falls in love with her and seeks to marry her. "The Mountie enforces the hegemonic norms of Anglo-Canadian invader-settler culture," notes Prof. Gittings.
Mountie images in Hollywood films tapered off in the 1960s, and then re-surfaced with a vengeance in the 1990s, when image-makers begin to poke gentle fun at the silent, humourless Canadian icon. In David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990), the Mountie is parodied as a cocaine-snorting, killer. In television commercials in the U.K., Labatt's U.K. introduced "Malcolm the Mountie," who sings to a life-size moose puppet.
The television series Due South, chronicles the exploits of a Mountie, Benton Fraser, who is transferred to Chicago. The series, written by Canadians and produced in Canada, sells an "American-made image" of the Canadian nation back to foreign viewers. It perpetuates the myth of Canada as non-urban by showing only snow-covered wilderness location shots in the Northwest Territories.
The popular television series, North of 60, made for the domestic market, de-mythologizes the legend by replacing the white, male Mountie with a female native officer, Michelle Kenidi, finally bringing the cinematic Mountie in line with reality.
However, the success of this series in re-asserting Canadian control over the Mountie, is offset by the Disney Corporation's 1995 acquisition of the licensing rights to all products bearing the RCMP's image, which continues the Hollywood tradition of sanitizing the Mountie narrative, says Prof. Gittings.
"Canada's state police cloak their image in cuddly Disneyfication, attempting to displace their shameful recorded past," he notes. The five-year Disney licensing deal could also facilitate the censorship of books and film scripts that seek to portray sensitive issues such as race relations, gender, and the battle to prevent Sikh RCMP officers from w [...]
"The RCMP's actions have been anything but cute," concludes Prof. Gittings, despite their lingering handsome, square-jawed, straight-backed, gentlemanly motif.
CANADIAN COLONIALISM : NOTHING TO CELEBRATE
Over half of all violent deaths at the hands of Canada's national police force in the last 20 years have been indigenous people. Support the call for a public inquiry into one of the Mounties' largest operations, the siege against Shuswap traditionalists who were protecting sacred burial and Sundance grounds at Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake) in 1995:
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