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Media Bites: "Saint Jack" and Naughty Prince Harry

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Ordinarily I don't have much time for the tired accusation, oft-spouted by left-wingers like this guy, that the partisan sentiment of your average Canadian editorial page floats "somewhere between Barbara Amiel and Genghis Khan." Browsing the columns that accompanied the first anniversary of Jack Layton's passing was almost enough to provoke second thoughts, however.

Though I know the conventional storyline (pushed especially hard by our friends at Sun News) holds that the late NDP boss has been endlessly venerated by a mindlessly affectionate press, reality has been infinitely less kind. Hardly a parade of Pravda puff pieces, much of the ink spilled during the recent flurry of Layton retrospectives has actually been fairly critical, skeptical, or at least measured in honestly assessing Jack's pros and cons -- for true fawning praise one has to turn to his blood relatives or co-workers.

Sure, Layton was a charming guy, writes the Globe and Mail editorial board, but that shouldn't disguise the fact that the NDP has always held "highly impractical ideas about how to govern." And yeah, maybe our glowing hearts would have warmed a little at the sight of an enfeebled Prime Minister Layton hobbling up the steps of 24 Sussex someday, but ultimately that "feel-good story would be tempered with some harsh realities," barring a substantial rejiggering of the guy's pinko principles.

Mark Milke at the Calgary Herald minces even fewer words, conceding that while the great man possessed good intentions "in spades," Jack was still basically "wrong-headed" about everything. He "believed too much in the possibility of politicians and bureaucrats to direct the economy," for instance, and you can bet Milke knows what sorts of countries are fond of that sort of thing, cough cough "banana republics." So unless you pine wistfully at the standard of living in say, Venezuela, Milke thinks maybe it's time to tone down the Layton-love.

Even the lefties have their share of gripes. Writing in Saturday's Toronto Sun, good ol' progressive Warren Kinsella thinks the ongoing Dipper exploitation of their dead leader is getting "pretty sick." Why, I can't even enjoy a nice robocall from NDP headquarters begging me to purchase a lawn sign without first suffering through some cloying screed about honouring Jack's "loving, hopeful and world-changing" vision, he complains. 

Colin Horgan at iPolitics similarly laments with disgust that the words of Layton's poignant goodbye letter have been reduced to yet one more manipulative slogan "entering the void of nostalgic branding and the nothingness of a PR wasteland."

An interesting phenomena of our modern media age is how amazingly quickly a deceased star's legacy can run the gamut of public perception, with sentimental evolutions that used to take years now wrapping up in mere weeks. This is very much what we saw following the death of Steve Jobs, a man whose initially shimmering post-mortal verdict was reconsidered and reevaluated by bloggers, pundits, and other social media revisionists within hours of his passing, before settling firmly in the "great but flawed" moderate consensus that's now virtually inescapable.

A similar reality seems to define the NDP's present existence. Any so-called "national conversation" about Layton's legacy (in the press, at least) is showing strong signs of having reached some fairly definitive, restrained conclusions regarding this runner-up politician and his mostly conventional ideology. The result is an increasingly hostile reception for any party that seeks to capitalize much further on an obviously manufactured mythos of "Saint Jack."

The time for nostalgic mourning is over, in other words -- now we just want the goods.

So when's the NDP going to release their political equivalent of an iPhone 5?

***

If you thought the Canadian press' obsession with royalty was winding down just because we've gone -- what? -- six weeks without a royal visit, guess again! Over the weekend, several of Canada's leading papers felt inexplicably obligated to devote many inches of concerned columnspace to the recent sighting of young Prince Harry playing a particularly rousing game of, ah, Vegas hold-em.

"Grow up, Harry," scolds the Ottawa Citizen board in their lead (!) Sunday editorial, noting that one of the few feudal expectations we serfs ask from our royal betters "is to not make a jackass of yourself." To be fair, they concede, getting caught nude is still "better than dressing up as a Nazi," an analogy which ordinarily might seem bizarrely laboured, until you remember who it is we're talking about.

Ah, the scandal's not that big a deal --"boring," even -- shrugs a playful Kathryn Borel at the Globe. Just think of all the "entitled monkeyshines Harry will get up to in the future!" Thanks to his willingness to expose his "sweet bare can, our collective imagination has been offered a capacity for limitless wonder." So long as William's safe and sound in the royal lockbox, just lie back (with a bowl of popcorn) and try not to think of England too much.

Kelly McParland at the National Post, meanwhile, does his best to inject some seriousness into the discussion --  a tall order, to be sure. Don't be fooled, he says, what might seem like just another naked royal story is actually a highly complex episode raising significant questions and repercussions for everything from British privacy laws to the future of the Murdoch media empire. Legally speaking, "it's a rich stew to consider," says Kelly.

I think I'm just about ready to produce a rich stew of my own.