- Trudeaumania by Paul Litt
'Begone! I have a prime minister to create.' So claimed CBC newscaster Norman DePoe at the 1968 Liberal leadership convention that launched the phenomenon of Trudeaumania and carried the man at the centre of the hoopla–Pierre Elliot Trudeau–to the prime minister's office for the next dozen years. According to Paul Litt, DePoe made the comments in jest, but they spoke volumes about how Trudeau captured the imagination of Canada's media elite who had found their man to lead a revitalised and modern Canada onto the world stage.
Litt's study focuses less on the politics and more on the culture of Trudeaumania. Drawing on film, television, and other visual media (posters, cartoons, buttons) Litt demonstrates how Trudeau's rise to fame and power in post-Expo '67 Canada tapped into the 'high politics of mod nationalism'. Trudeaumania, he claims, exploited and gratified 'an emergent Canadian nationalism shaped by the social and cultural changes of the tumultuous sixties' (p. 32). Like sixties' mod culture, Trudeau, the candidate, and Trudeaumania, the phenomenon, was exuberant and fun, emphasising both freedom and iconoclasm. Yet, as Litt argues, at the end of the day mod nationalism/Trudeaumania was more stylistically than politically rebellious and did not ultimately challenge the status quo.
Though Litt's analysis focuses on the role of media in shaping Trudeaumania, his study is not about how the machinations of political insiders and the 'mainstream media' connived to foist Trudeau on Canadians. Indeed, Litt notes that there was substance to Trudeau's politics that genuinely attracted Canadians, including Quebecers. Nonetheless, Trudeau seemed to connect more with the purveyors and creators of Canadian nationalism, who were being drawn closer to the state to help them promote a distinct Canadian culture that both 'served and protected them' (pp. 36–7). This media elite was largely dominated by white middle-class central Canadian nationalists, who were urban, educated, and cosmopolitan, just like Pierre. As a result, Trudeau fitted their desire to create a new Canada that reflected those values, and they provided him with the stage upon which they would be acted out.
Litt's study reaches a number of important conclusions that challenge the traditional narrative of Trudeaumania. Most important is that Trudeaumania was rather limited in [End Page 230] its appeal. Rather than reconfiguring Canadian politics, Trudeau's 1968 victory merely intensified the attraction of the Liberal Party to the urban educated middle class who had supported Pearson. Equally important, he notes that Trudeaumania did not necessarily attract more young people or women to the Liberal cause, despite the fact the 1968 election was the first real 'baby boomer' election. As for the role of women and sexuality in the Trudeau myth, Litt reminds us that the sexual liberation that Trudeau represented was profoundly gendered and the media's portrayal of Trudeau's 'sex appeal' remained stuck in sexist notions of women's emotionality and irrationality. The only real change that resulted from Trudeaumania, Litt concludes, was the way by which it solidified the Peaceable Kingdom narrative of Canadian nationalism. Through Trudeau, Canada, the kinder gentler nation, was no longer in a state of becoming, it had arrived, and it had done so in style.