Arts·Anne-iversaries

It's time for Canadian political scandals to get their own Dick-style satires

20 years after Dick made Watergate hilarious, we should start getting creative with our approach to political history too.

20 years after Dick made Watergate hilarious, we should start getting creative with our political history too

Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst in Dick. (Columbia Pictures)

Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the 90s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).

In July of 1999, the world changed forever: Dick — one of the greatest cult classics ever made — was released to the masses and put an entirely new spin on the Watergate narrative.

Starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as best friends Betsey and Arlene, the Andrew Fleming-directed masterpiece follows the teens as they evolve into Deep Throat — the (once) anonymous whistleblower who exposed Nixon's knowledge of the 1972 break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters. After a school trip to the White House leads to their appointment as the official White House dog walkers, the two stumble upon Dick's (Dan Hedaya) secret tapes and, feeling betrayed by the man they adored, begin exposing the President for who he is.

The film is, of course, absolute genius. Bruce McCollogh and Will Ferrell plays Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Teri Garr plays Arlene's mother, and Dave Foley is Bob Halerman. The cast is stacked, the jokes are perfect and the story, while completely preposterous, is not nearly as preposterous as the actual Watergate scandal. (Or most political scandals, to be honest.) But for 14-year-old me — whose understanding of world events was exactly as limited as you'd imagine for a wee baby teen whose life revolved around repeated viewings of 10 Things I Hate About You and the 1995 cast recording of Les MiserablesDick was also a gateway to history. It taught me what Watergate was. It taught me who the major players were and why we still talk about them now. And it gave me an endless stream of quotes to exchange with my best friend, who was very much the Arlene to my Betsey (minus a family recipe for laced Hello Dollies).

Which, 20 years later, has led to the most important thought of all: when does Canada get its equivalent?

The fodder is rich and never-ending. Of course, let's get this straight right now: the Canadian government has done a lot of terrible things that by no means deserve precious satirical treatment. But at its most topical and least problematic, we've still got the outspoken nature of Pierre Trudeau. ("Fuddle-duddle" was an actual phrase that was used by him and discussed to death in the 1970s). We've got the 1995 Quebec referendum — a night defined by Quebec voting not to separate from Canada, my parents being glued to the television and me trying to desperately finish my Halloween costume. We've got the 1984 pot "scandal," in which then-New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield was caught with weed in his suitcase. We've got the fact that the Prime Minister's residence is falling apart (honestly, aren't we all). And we've got the invention of basketball, which, frankly, is a movie that I think deserves to be made if only because that Heritage Minute is played out and older than all of us.

Jean Chretien at a ralley during the 1995 Quebec referendum. (Not pictured: the author trying to finish her Halloween costume.)

The thing is, some of the best history lessons come out of sending up the facts (like Evany Rosen's amazing book, What I Think Happened) and by instilling the type of spin that leaves plenty of room for creative interpretations. Not every historically-centered movie needs to be JFK, and not every aspect needs to be self-serious. (In fact, please let's not make things too self-serious.) To learn about basketball or the invention of Superman via short, dramatic TV clip is a great gateway — but to pepper a story with imagination and well-written jokes and, say, a scene in which Richard Nixon and Arlene frolic on the beach is what helps facts stick surprisingly well. Plus, placing a story against a historical backdrop doesn't necessitate a documentary-style approach — it can be part of a bigger tale starring a character (or two) who are made up and experiencing history through the lens of someone with no responsibility to what we know.

Betsey and Arlene aren't real. They weren't the masterminds behind Deep Throat. But their relationship with Nixon and the anger over his betrayal spawned a what-if series of events that led to the end result: Nixon resigns and none of us (at the time of the film's release) knew who Deep Throat really was.

We've got the 1995 Quebec referendum. We've got the 1984 pot 'scandal.' We've got the fact that the Prime Minister's residence is falling apart (honestly, aren't we all).- Anne T. Donahue

And now I'm ready to see what we can do to make parts of Canada's past as smart, biting and hysterical as Dick. I'm ready to watch James Naismith's ascent through the lens of the first basketball players. I'm interested in watching the inception of Superman from the story of its creator's contemporaries. I want to see Dan Hedaya play Pierre Trudeau because I think he's got the right kind of energy and would love to see him embrace those years of stardom. (And I mean, it's Dan Hedaya, and I Stan™ him, so there.) I'd love to see a story from the perspective of the falling-down Sussex house, or a take on it that sees it fall to ruin more with every upsetting choice made respective prime ministers. I need a film about the former cats of Parliament who no longer live in that cute little house.

But more specifically, I want us to get creative with our approach to political history — not with what's big or heavy or traumatizing (and again, there's so much!), but with events that are as memorable as they are ridiculous. Canada's already proven how much comedic talent it has, how many great writers, actors, comics and directors. So for the love of all that is good, let's soon go the Dick route. And if anybody's looking to cast the role of 24 Sussex, the disintegrating house, I'm available.

About the Author

Anne T. Donahue is a writer and person from Cambridge, Ontario. You can buy her first book, Nobody Cares, right now and wherever you typically buy them. She just asks that you read this piece first.