By REX MURPHY
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Jennifer Aniston or George Baker? It's part of the rigour of scribbling about public things that, on occasion, you're forced to make a difficult choice. Thus it was this week, when I found the actress beckoning from one corner and the Newfoundland senator from the other.
I think everyone knows Jennifer Aniston. She starred in TV's Friends and graduated from that tedium to become more famous as She Who Lost Brad Pitt to the world's most sultry siren, Angelina Jolie. Ms. Aniston remains famous in that kind of nerveless way - unanchored presences in the media landscape - certain Hollywood types tend to stay famous.
And she will not lengthen her twilight fame with her latest effort, Marley and Me. According to the molasses prose of its promoters, it's a film of "a family in the making and the wondrously neurotic dog who taught them what really matters in life." Sounds like Dr. Phil with Puppy Chow. Therapist who can fetch a stick. Positively salivates "must see."
In support of this gooey parable, Ms. Aniston went to its London premiere and, as the Daily Mail revealed, took her Hollywood hairdresser with her and put him up in a tony hotel for a week for a reported $80,000. That's $80,000 to make sure her hair was all right for the premiere of a movie. And they say the dog is "wondrously neurotic."
Surely this is a mortal sin against the holy cause of global warming. There will be islands in the Pacific inundated in 2080 because Jennifer Aniston spent a dollicle, er, a dollar a follicle to be bouffant for Marley and Me. Are there no barbers in London? That was to be my subject, and this is where George Baker came in.
Mr. Baker was never on Friends and, to the best of my knowledge, has not been married to Brad Pitt. And, as far as I know, the temptress Ms. Jolie has had no impact whatsoever on his illustrious life and career.
So his fame quotient is a little less than Ms. Aniston's. And he doesn't get dragged into movies about the neurotic dog class. But, at least in Canada (pity), Mr. Baker is well known as a long-time MP from Newfoundland and, currently, as an ornament in the pampered kennel we know as the Senate.
This week, the senator mused on VOCM radio in St. John's about the boiling waters of Newfoundland separatism. He noted that he himself wasn't about to lead a Newfoundland separatist charge, thus depriving Newfoundland of a very capable facsimile of Lucien Bouchard. He said "he was too old for that," but that was just charming modesty. George Baker, for those who really know him, is a one-man marching band, a zesty salesman and as deft a disputant as our House of Commons has seen. He's also a politician who, in the high art of setting a marauding cat among the pouting pigeons, is in a league of his own.
But he did argue that the Danny Williams/Stephen Harper feud - in which Mr. Baker sees the Prime Minister as the resident and presiding aggressor - and Newfoundland's getting shortchanged under the Atlantic Accord could very well blossom into an all-out drive for separation.
It was at this point that I started to wish George Baker was in a movie with a neurotic dog, wondrous or not. Or that he travelled with a very expensive hairdresser. But he isn't and doesn't. Ms. Aniston's ludicrous habits are one with the generic vice - sybaritic vanity - of her set. The senator's folly, in stirring a most annoying pot, is his and his alone. Thus I made the choice to go with George Baker.
In Canada - certainly as seen outside Quebec - talk of separation, even as a mischief, is the nuclear option. If every premier or provincial politician were to reach for the separation option each time there's a hardy disagreement with a prime minister, Confederation would implode.
What we have is a disagreement between Newfoundland and the current federal government. There is also a very real feud between Mr. Williams and Mr. Harper. These two overlap, but they're not the same thing.
I think the disagreement could be resolved if the feud were set aside. The point Mr. Baker is choosing not to see is that a real, and sometimes quite personal, quarrel between two political leaders, is emphatically not a quarrel about the merits of Confederation. Mr. Harper is not Canada. Mr. Williams is not Newfoundland. The other partners of Confederation are not denying Newfoundland's rights. The contest is not a failure of Confederation but a contest between two hard-tempered leaders, one given to outrage, the other to payback. We should not translate it into anything higher.
But George Baker before a microphone is like an impish Paganini before a violin - he must see what he can make it do. This week, unfortunately, it wasn't music - it was useless mischief.
Commentator with The National and host of CBC Radio's Cross-Country Checkup