Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Cracker Rider
David Simmonds

Did you see the news photograph a couple of years back of Vladimir Putin, shirtless, astride a horse? Without meaning to draw you out, as to your age, do you remember the infamous 1974 photograph, taken during the federal election campaign, of Robert Stanfield dropping the football; although nothing was published showing him make several successful catches?


Photographs of Justin Trudeau deep in thought.

If so, then you will be familiar with the power of photography to instill either a positive or a negative image of a political leader.   

You will not be surprised, although perhaps a little more jaded, when I tell you how the Harper government has spent at least $2.3 million on hiring photographers to take pictures of cabinet ministers during the first nine years of its tenure. This is according to figures tabled in the House of Commons. It is an incomplete count and doesn’t include departmental salaried photographers or party-paid photographers, but, as they say, you get the picture.

The nine-year aggregate works out to over $250,000 per year; there are roughly forty ministers to divide the expenditures among; roughly $6,250, per minister per year. To make it sound more pedestrian, apply the $16-dollar-a-glass of orange juice test, which was the undoing of former cabinet minister Bev Oda, and you’ll find it’s equivalent to about 390 glasses a year per minister, just a few glasses more than one a day.


How many dignified headshots of cabinet ministers are possible?

Just how many ways, I wonder, can you photograph a dignified looking head and shoulders shot of a minister, which is suitable for hanging? These photographs go in the entrance foyer to the antechamber to the outer office of the inner sanctum to the minister’s private quarters.

You have to wonder if there isn’t something more than dull portraiture at work here.  For all we know, the government may be getting ready to trot out its “Canada Gazette -- Swimsuit Edition” in time for the 2015 election. The “Gazette” is replete with month-by-month photographs of buff cabinet ministers in their sunbathing skivvies. More risqué still, perhaps they’re planning to put out a page-a-day calendar during the next election entitled “Ministers without Portfolio - Or Anything Else,” featuring undressed cabinet types draping smartphones or briefing books over strategic personal locations.

The ministerial photoshoot expenditures are of course a drop in the bucket compared to what the political parties are likely to expend on photography in order to capture the images to win our hearts and minds. For example, expect to see lots more photographs of a resolute Harper surveying the vast northern icescape, as he bravely directs salvage divers where to search for the long lost Franklin expedition. The pictures that are out there now remind me of the photos of Kim Jong Un visiting some far flung military outpost and demonstrating to a retinue of generals how to launch a nuclear warhead; “Oh, Dear Leader, so the big red button is the one you push. Thank you so much for pointing it out to me: I never knew and I’ve spent my entire career in the military.”

The Liberals will issue many photos of Trudeau, deep in thought, as he listens to the wise thoughts of older people with wrinkles and less hair. The NDP will picture Thomas Mulcair surrounded by a few carefully selected preschoolers whom he doesn’t frighten. 

Back in the good old days, we used to have to wait for days as intelligence officials pored over photographs from Chairman Mao swimming the Yangtze river at age 73 in order to figure out if the event was faked, as, in some photographs, you couldn’t see his arms in the water. Kremlin watchers always had fun looking at official reviewing stand photographs to see how clumsily was the excising of an out of favour communist party factotum from the official photographic record.  


Photoshop makes all poses possible.

With Photoshopping software so sophisticated these days, even an adult could master it, it is impossible to tell which picture is ‘real’ and which picture is a Photoshop ‘doctored” image. That bare-chested shot of Vladimir Putin quickly spawned internet imitations. Putin on horseback, as Barack Obama clings to him; Putin on a great white shark; Putin riding a giant Ritz cracker, yes, a giant Ritz cracker.

In fact, maybe the photograph of Putin on horseback was, in fact, a shot taken of a shirted Putin riding a donkey. Alternatively, maybe it’s a simple shot of Putin’s head superimposed on that of someone else riding a giant Ritz cracker. 

We should be suspicious of photography employed for partisan purposes during the next election campaign. The Conservatives will doubtless show a picture of Fidel Castro holding a baby Justin Trudeau in his arms, with the slogan “Raised the Cuban Way.” The Liberals will show a photograph of Thomas Mulcair wearing a Calgary Stampede cowboy hat, jeans and boots, with the tag “Would You Trust This Man To Flip A  Pancake, Let Alone Run A Government.” The NDP will display a print of Stephen Harper locked in an affectionate handshake with Mike Duffy, with the caption “Friends Forever.”  

Those photographs will be giant-Ritz-cracker-style fakes, won’t they?

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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