Rex Murphy Year-End Special

Rex presents his take on the news, and the nonsense, in 2009.

Read the transcript of this Point of View

December 31, 2009


2009 may be looked upon as the year that simply couldn’t make up its mind.

Was it to be the year the world was going to be rocked to its foundations by the greatest financial meltdown since the great depression of 1929?

Or, was it the year that will be engraved on History’s smirking tablet when the world’s most virtuoso golfer ended up hiding on his 25 million dollar yacht while the tabloids published a list of his mistresses.

Was it the year of historic milestones - the inauguration of America’s first black President; of the sad, messy passing of the greatest pop performer since Elvis, Michael Jackson?

Was it a year of utter menace, the police state of North Korea ramping up the effort to get nuclear weapons. Iran run by a fundamentalist theocracy thumbing its nose at the world engaged in the same fearsome pursuit?

Or, will it be remembered as the year that two publicity hound non-entities crashed the precincts of the Obama White House? And a husband and wife from Colorado lied about their five-year old son and tormented a continent worried about his plight, floating off into the wild blue yonder on a balloon?

Balloons and Bombs, Mistresses and Menace - the world as reality TV, or the world as really it is.

People who paid attention to the news in 2009 were thus whip-lashed between the ominous stirrings of an increasingly nuclear world, and the witless posturings of the latest zombies trying to hack their way into some Lindsay Lohan heaven of tawdry celebrityhood.

Canada wasn’t free by any means from this wild dance between the pointless and the profound.

The recession, helped just a little by the "coalition crisis, scared the Harper government into re-embracing the frigid delights of deficit financing

Photo Ops this year were a gruesome comedy. Seized by what appeared to be a Canadian Tire moment Stephen Harper showed up one day with a nail gun - an image which will haunt home renovation for years, and left - we are told - Mike Holmes in tears of embarrassment. Jim Flaherty followed Stephen’s manly lead with steel-toed work boots…

But the Conservatives real bow to industry came in the manufacture of giant, tacky, novelty Conservative cheques - best illustrated by Gerald Keddy, the East Coast MP, seen here grinning next to the Tory logo on a fake cheque only slightly smaller than the nerve it took to stand beside it.

Say what you will of the Harper Conservatives: they do ‘subtle’ really well.

The more piercing moment however came with the delicious spectacle of our adventurous Governor General...

...on a visit up North, taking an ulu to the carcass of a seal, watching the slicing of the heart, being offered a sliver and downing it raw.

It was the munch heard ‘round the world.

Whole flocks of animal rights types vibrated in the best press-release horror for her gesture of solidarity to the ancient noble traditions of the seal hunt.

All was not folly, photo-ops and fun. The biggest Canadian story was a continuous one, the curious decline of Michael Ignatieff.

The Harperites, with typical zeal, took sandpaper to his image with a series of attack ads, suggesting the one time Harvard ornament was "just visiting."

Then, alas, Mr. Ignatieff took most of the summer off to do "some thinking."

His first moment back on stage in the fall was to threaten (another) election:

That was supposed to be a clarion call, but from the point of view of the good ship SS Liberal, it was like the Titanic "ordering out" for the iceberg. Mr. Ignatieff’s standing in the polls drooped, then fell, and finally tasted bottom somewhere in his predecessor, Mr. Dion’s, territory.

Ignatieff’s misery was Harper’s cue. While Michael languished Stephen explored his ‘novel’ sensitive side

He showed up on stage with Yo Yo Ma (the world’s most courageous cellist) to … well…let’s just relive the glory of his debut:

This was seen as so out of character that some people put it down to "global warming."

2009… it was really - this is undeniable -- Obama’s year. His inauguration was historic, the first black President of the United States.

He owned the imagination of the world - as surely as he commanded the most concentrated media attention we have ever seen.

Obama, President of the US.

Celebrity-in-chief of the planet; Obama was everywhere.

He danced to cameras at home and abroad: off to world capitals, dropping by the UN.

And in the middle of all this he also had time to convene a "beer summit" between a police officer and a black profession - to see if they could work out their differences.

It, by all accounts, proceeded more successfully than his parallel initiatives on the Middle East. Certainly better than his full court press on the US health care bill, which has absorbed more of his Presidency than any other cause.

By years’ end his fairytale popularity, perhaps inevitably, had eroded, his speeches are less stirring, the rapture is dimming, the magic less frequent.

More and more Obama is becoming an ordinary President.

A hard way to end the year for the man who was hoping to heal a planet and halt the rise of the oceans.

The only story to counterpoint Obama in scale - not substance - was the immeasurable coverage given to Michael Jackson’s sad passing as he was trying one final grand concert.

The Jackson family---the doctors, the agents and hangers on --- all had their me-moment in Jackson’s departed sun.

The Jackson juggernaut had hardly stilled when the year ended with its other hollow

Supernova: the catalogue of revelations of Tiger Woods’ inexhaustable exertions off the greens. Tapes, textings and tell-alls --- from Las Vegas waitresses to hyper-pricey call girls - the very template of the celebrity fall was re-enacted.

The word mistress’ was revived for full deployment, every day brought revelations of a new entrant in the long lubricious conga line of his dalliances…

Followed by divorce papers from the serially wronged Mrs. Woods, cancelled endorsements, and at years’ end the announcement that Tiger was giving up golf indefinitely.

Tiger was bigger than the Middle East AND global warming.

Looking back at it all it's difficult to find just one thread to haul everything together except perhaps that the shadow of substantial financial anxiety was the motor of much else. Governments leaped into record deficits, consumers became wary, many people lost jobs - and every OTHER issue - was conducted against the very ominous background of what most people called the greatest financial threat since 1929.

Even Obama has been hauled down from near-deification by the continuous bad economic news. Finally, it was plain many people were truly scared in 2009.

Which may explain also, but not excuse, the acres of newsprint and miles of film given over to Balloon Hoaxes, gate crashers, ludicrous reality shows, poor Michael Jackson's passing --- and of course the mega triviality of the media's obsession with Tiger Woods and his Marathon of Mistresses. Only one thing better than real news: something tacky to distract us from it.

For the National...I'm Rex Murphy

Happy New Year.