SHUT THE HELL UP, REX MURPHY (2008)

On Mar. 29, lights were dimmed in cities all around the world, as part of Earth Hour, a voluntary global blackout to raise awareness about the environment and energy consumption. Province-wide, power consumption dropped by two percent, according to BC Hydro. Locally, North Vancouver was BC’s top power saver, at 7 percent. We saved a total of 125 megawatts. That’s not an insignificant amount, but the event was arguably more about creating awareness than corralling electrons.
Predictably, Canadian commentator Rex Murphy looked onto the mass switching-off and saw sickness: “the contagion of ostentatious and cost-free do-goodism.” Sounds catching. In the pages of The Globe and Mail, he described Earth Hour as “nothing more than a pretentious, hollow, vain and exhibitionistic bout of hyperpublicized moral preening.” Come on, Thesaurus Rex, tell us what you really think.

For years, Canada’s all-purpose pundit has been given a bully pulpit on CBC Radio, CBC Television and
The Globe and Mail. As host of Cross Country Checkup, he regularly guides the discussion and defines the boundaries of acceptable debate for callers. If you have the whole nation as a captive audience, in both broadcast and print, you might be expected to occasionally reflect the majority’s soft socialism and respect for peacekeeping. But over and over, Murphy insists we’re a clutch of Bush-bashing crybabies, who fail to recognize our moral burden as junior partners in the war on terror. We’re fiddle with eco-frills like the Kyoto Protocol while Islamofascists and various tinted types plot our annihilation. We just don’t get it.

Of course, Murphy’s point of view isn’t much more reactionary than other high-profile Canadian commentators. It’s just that he’s the most visible apologist for Empire. Consider his endorsement of Canadian participation in Star Wars, in a 2003 Globe and Mail editorial: “The rogue state and the stateless terrorist, with their limited arsenals, are the enemy now. Against such an enemy, the notion of intercepting and destroying an incoming missile with an outgoing one has all the charm of simplicity.” Of course, missiles are useless against box cutters and suitcase bombs, or any other of Rex’s favourite frights. He concludes that “the era of the threat of mutually assured destruction, the madness that kept the world sane, is past.” Sure it is - if you live and write on Bizarro World.

Isn’t it time for Newfoundland’s wordiest export to put a sock in it?

Whether he’s assailing Nelson Mandela for his remarks about US imperialism, or taking a kick at former UN head Kofi Annan, Murphy’s little coracle of commentary consistently lists to the far right. In 2004, he closed one of his CBC Newsworld “Point of View” pieces with this stunner: “A lot of people who think George Bush is the stupid party ought to visit a mirror.” That’s probably a record number of single syllable words in a Murphy sentence. It also shows up his schoolyard depth of thought, once stripped of its fifty-dollar words.

So what’s up with the guy’s flag-waving for a foreign power, and why has he been given such a wide forum? Perhaps there’s a clue in a noun you’ll never hear from Murphy: “comprador.” The Concise Oxford defines a comprador as the “chief native servant in a European house of business.” “Comprador class” was a nineteenth century colonial term used to describe a local elite that served the interests of a foreign business class. The comprador class acted as intermediaries, presenting the aims of the foreign interests to the local population in a positive light.

On the plus side, Rex’s eccentric writing and speaking style has made him a perennial target for Canadian satirists. CBC’s This Hour has 22 Minutes has done a few send-ups of the man, but they’ve been mostly toothless, with the exception of Colin Mochrie’s savage impression as “Max Pointy.” In one routine, Pointy confronted his inspiration with a microphone, unleashing a torrent of Newfie-inflected nonsense. A silent Murphy looked none too comfortable in witnessing his funhouse reflection.

And although I’m not a big fan of Canadian comic Tom Green, I appreciate his take on Canada’s premier squawker. In fact, Green named his parrot after Murphy. He's struggling," Green ranted in his blog, "struggling to prove his worth in a world that has pretty much looked him over, got bored, and moved on.” (He meant Rex Murphy the pundit, not Rex Murphy the parrot.)

Newfoundland is notable for its output of talented comics. Could it be that Murphy is less a prose writer than a performance artist, pulling Andy Kauffman-style mind games on his audience? Is he tipping us off when he writes about a “pretentious, hollow, vain and exhibitionistic bout of hyperpublicized moral preening”?

Geoff Olson