‘Because if the women don’t find you handsome’

Red Green returns to Winnipeg

Red Green returns to Winnipeg for his “This Could Be It” tour.

Red Green, the character played by Steve Smith, is best known for his syndicated television series The Red Green Show, which ran for 15 years between 1991 and 2006. The show seems to be a bastion of Canadian tropes, as it features an outdoorsy, plaid-clothed frontiersman who enjoys the great outdoors and working on projects in his shop. But does it accurately reflect Canadians?

Palestinian-Canadian comedian Eman El-Husseini used to see the show when flipping through channels late at night when she was a teenager.

“I had no idea what it was. I was mesmerized by the fact that they spoke English, but it didn’t make sense. I spoke English, and I knew they were speaking English, but I just didn’t understand what was happening.” El-Husseini says. “It was very Canadian and very not realistic and not my experience of Canada.”

But is there really a way to be Canadian? University of Winnipeg cultural studies professor Heather Snell doesn’t think so.

“People make it up as they go along and in accordance with qualities they imagine to be ‘Canadian,’” Snell says.

“National identity is not natural but constructed. The things that make up ‘Canadianness’ are inevitably the result of what I like to call ‘imagineering,’ a word that suggests that the nation is built on the imagination.”

If The Red Green Show creates an idea of “Canadianness,” then it creates one without diversity. Over the 15 years that The Red Green Show was on the air, six women appeared on the show, as well as very few People of Colour, people with disabilities or queer people. El-Husseini says Red Green could only be made now if “it had more sensitivity and had more diversity.”

Ultimately, The Red Green Show is about failing to meet the standard. In every episode, Green attempts a new, well-intentioned yet unsound project. Whether it is to build a “toilet carburetor” or a “carbecue,” all his projects eventually fail.

In season 15, episode 13, Green configures his car so he can combat back pain from long car trips by standing. He cuts a hole in the roof of his car and sets the removed portion on the trunk mechanism. This works fine, until he drives under a low bridge, and the raised roof is torn off.

Snell says “Culture is the result of the meanings we make out of our lives-the stories we tell about ourselves.” Red Green’s story about himself is his failure to be handy in ways that are useful or prudent.

Despite his catchphrase, Green’s failure to be handy “is the part I related to” El-Husseini says. “I can’t do the stuff that he is trying to do, and apparently he can’t either, so that made me feel more Canadian.”

Red Green’s “This Could Be It Tour” hits the Club Regent Event Centre on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. For tickets, visit ticketmaster.ca.

Published in Volume 74, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 3, 2019)

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