Monday , June 17 2024

When Sparks Fly

Brent H. Cameron is a Senior Advisor with Concierge Strategies, and a local councillor in Ontario, Canada. The second edition of his 2005 book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization” is available on Amazon worldwide – both in paperback and in Kindle e-book formats.

In Canada, there is a channel called the W Network that seems to serve as a means of conveying the Hallmark Channel to this country in such as way as to circumvent the rules as set forth by our broadcasting regulatory body, the CRTC. Significant blocks of programming are dedicated to the airing of Hallmark Channel content, chiefly their endless stable of made for TV movies.

The movies are not exactly sophisticated and have plots that vary only by the location of the drama, the names of the characters, and the unique setting. It could be Iowa or Vermont, New York or Chicago, a ranch or a restaurant. She could be a doctor, or lawyer, or event planner and he could be same, or maybe a rancher or contractor. The variety on offer is, like your locally sourced market, subject to the season. Some lean on Christmas, while others have a fall or summer motif. All the movies follow the same formula – the initial attraction, burgeoning love, then the conflict that threatens their love, followed by the resolve to overcome the differences and the lingering kiss just before the anodyne closing credits roll.

I feel hard-pressed to be too critical, as there is some local benefit to these productions. One such film had the protagonists in the centre of an elegant ball room that I immediately recognized as the location of a Christmas party I once attended. They film a lot of these within an hour’s drive of my home, and they spend money, so I’m not wholly opposed to them.

In our household, they are put on largely as background noise, an escape from a real world that has gotten too real. Many times, one falls to sleep at night with them playing, the volume turned down low.

The Channel’s output is massively popular in the United States, though. Despite the critical acclaim and multiple awards for CBC Television’s comedy “Schitt’s Creek”, the most popular Canadian television show in the US is “When Calls the Heart” – a coproduction of Hallmark and one of the Canadian cable networks. During the week of February 21st, it was the most-watched scripted series in primetime US television.

Right now, you are probably wondering why I am talking about this?

Well, if you watch enough Hallmark Channel output, you’ll notice a plot device for no less than 11 of their movies, and it goes something like this: Meet (Chloe / Emily / Jennifer), a young (lawyer / fitness instructor / neurosurgeon / fashion designer / event planner) originally from a small town in (New Hampshire / Vermont / Iowa / Wyoming) who comes home to save the struggling family (ranch / candy shop / Christmas Tree farm / restaurant). One day, a handsome stranger with a posh British accent rolls into town and for the next hour the two protagonists go through the kabuki dance of courtship. Then the reveal – the stranger is none other than His Royal Highness Prince Gavin (or Steve) of the tiny Principality of Insert-Name-Here. He was being forced to marry another royal, but now found true love and wants nothing more than to take (Chloe / Emily / Jennifer) back to Insert-Name-Here and lavish her with tiaras, castles and rides in the backseat of a Bentley. The end.

If you are an American, all you know about monarchy is that they live in castles, wear nice clothes, and get pampered with every luxury imaginable. If you watch Hallmark movies, you learn that there are no duties or responsibilities to any of it – at least none that would prevent you from hiding under an assumed identity in (New Hampshire / Vermont / Iowa / Wyoming) for weeks on end. For those with the intellectual curiosity to tool down further, then you are reminded of the fact that you had a Revolution so you didn’t have to deal with those people anymore.

In other words, the typical American views members of the Royal family no differently than Hollywood celebrities. Those people in the entertainment industry who add words like Prince, King, Princess and Queen to their names merely proves the point. Oprah Winfrey can sit down with the Queen’s grandson and chat informally because to her – and a good portion of her audience – they are both royals.

But I live in a country where one does not swear an oath to Ryan Reynolds or Kiefer Sutherland to become a citizen. When I was elected to the council in my community, I did not have to take an oath to Shania Twain or Justin Bieber. If you are charged with a capital crime and appear before a judge, the bailiff does not read out the charge as “Shawn Mendes versus John Doe”, all the while under the watchful gaze of a large portrait of Wayne Gretzky.

Like many people, I did watch “The Crown” on Netflix, and it might be my Canadian United Empire Loyalist leanings, but I was struck by the struggle of individuals who, all too frequently, placed their duty and responsibility above that which they may have wanted to choose for themselves. The Queen of US Daytime can choose to retire from the grind of a regular television show and only work on projects she is interested in – such as interviewing the Sussexes. The Queen of Canada (as she is formally titled here) does not get to pick and choose, and for a woman still working in her 90’s, retirement comes when there is nothing left to give.

That is the reality of monarchy – a political and cultural institution with just enough of a veneer of Hollywood glamour as to mislead and confuse. If you’re an American, you have a President, so it matters little if you do not understand. In the past 50 years, two Hollywood celebrity types have inhabited the White House, while Al Gore owns an Oscar and Andrew Cuomo recently got an Emmy, so even they cannot keep it straight.

The Duchess of Sussex tells Oprah that she had no idea that she was to curtsey before her future Grandmother-in-Law, but why would she? In what set of circumstances would her California upbringing prepare her for this? She is the daughter of a Republic that has not known monarchy in over two centuries. When many of us in Britain, Canada, Australia or New Zealand are not familiar with Court etiquette, why should someone from a foreign political tradition get it? But she should have at least grasped that this form of celebrity had some dual import the moment someone handed her a ten-pound banknote and it bore the visage of one of her future in-laws. No matter how many seasons “Suits” would air on cable, no cast member – including her – was ever going to bump Benjamin Franklin from the $100 bill!

No family is perfect, and as much as Meghan and Harry have their grievances with theirs, we all have our problems in our own. Oprah Winfrey, along with many of her viewers, are upset by the revelations and yet in a society where the divorce rate has been 50 percent for decades, and where sociocultural issues have led to whole blocks of large American cities being turned into scenes from a Mad Max movie, the pearl clutching is a bit much – even more so when we are not much beyond the events at the US Capitol on January 6th.

Meghan and Harry have made choices that reflect the life they want, and it would be uncharitable not to wish them happiness and peace in that pursuit. But monarchy is more than a pantomime put on display for the amusement of people whose lives are in no way, shape or form connected to that institution. As with so much of our social media culture, the less of a personal stake the more inflammatory the comment. The Sussexes have made a home where celebrity has no strings attached nor responsibilities to uphold – just like a Hallmark movie.

Of course, the Duchess of Sussex should know all about Hallmark movies – especially “When Sparks Fly” or “Dater’s Handbook” – both starring one Meghan Markle.

About Brent Cameron

A writer and commentator on Commonwealth trade issues, Brent Cameron is the author of 'The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade' (2004, 2018) and numerous essays and articles. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Commonwealth Exchange, a London, UK-based research group. Cameron worked as Telecommunications Coordinator for the Federal Ministry of Labour in Ottawa, Canada before joining SES Canada Research (now Nanos Research) as a Research Associate. He also worked as an assistant to former Ontario MPP Harry Danford, Member for Hastings-Peterborough and Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Cameron was a member of the Advance Team for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during the 1988 Canadian federal general election. During the 2007 Ontario Referendum on Electoral Reform, he acted as Coordinator for the 'No MMP' campaign for eastern Ontario (excluding Ottawa). Cameron has also served as a member and contributing columnist on the Community Editorial Board of the Kingston (ON) Whig-Standard newspaper. He holds an honours degree in politics from Queen's University and a Certificate in Municipal Administration from St. Lawrence College (Kingston, ON). In 2014, Brent Cameron was elected to the municipal council for the Township of Central Frontenac, in southeastern Ontario, Canada, and serving as Deputy Mayor in 2017.

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One comment

  1. In the UK the popular Harry Enfield comedy show had character called “Tim nice but dim” whose parents got him a job in the City. He wore nice suits and talked with a posh accent but was thick as two short planks. Many large, middle or upper class families can recognise Tim in one of their own relations. Some of the humour springs from how Tim is used by women. Sadly our mainstream media have no sense of humour.