Friday, July 10, 2009

Josh Freed versus Gilles Rhéame

For those of you who don't know, Josh Freed, the Montreal Gazette columnist, took a lot of heat from the French press for a humorous reference he made in a column entitled Politics Ruin the Party.

In the column he writes.

"In recent years, June 24 has officially become a big party for all Quebecers, no matter what your roots. Yet most of the festivities still take place east of Park Ave. - so what stands in the way of making this a day for everyone? Just the same small things that keep all of us ethnically polyester Quebecers from feeling 100-per-cent pur laine Québécois.

They include: The dinosaurs of nationalism like the St. Jean organizers who tried to stop two local bands from singing in a foreign dialect called English - a move reminiscent of the old days of the Apostrophe SS."

He was referring to that time in recent Quebec history when almost all stores and business' who had an English appelation changed their name in an effort to be more acceptable to the French majority. Names that included an '' 's ", dropped the contraction entirely, à la Eaton's which morphed into 'Eaton' and Joe's which became 'Joe', thus appeasing the nationalist element that demanded that any vestige of English disappear from the public face of Quebec.

The 'Apostrophe SS' reference was one of the funniest things Freed has ever penned, as it perfectly describes the mean-spiritness of the Frenchification campaign that swept through the island of Montreal like an icy ill wind.

Freed's "Apostrophe SS" reference annoyed many nationalists, who are sensitive to being labeled racist or ethnocentric and a big brouhaha was set off in the press, culminating with Gilles Rhéaume , a radical and somewhat kooky sovereignist, making a complaint to the Quebec Press Council, alleging that Freed had compared Quebeckers to the Nazi SS.

Now before things got out of hand, Freed backpedalled and offered up a somewhat lame explanation and apologized for any offense that he may have caused. By week's end the story had run it's course.

His actions are understandable on a professional level, but it's sad that he caved, the joke was genuinely funny, one of the best he's ever cracked.

English humor is not francophone humor.
Try explaining John Cleese's Basil Fawlty character or Chris Rock's 'nigger' jokes to someone that doesn't have perfect English and a anglo background and you'll find that the humour is lost in the translation. It just doesn't cross language barriers.

It was the 1965 TV series, Hogan's Heroes that transformed the very frightening and serious Nazis into a group of burlesque incompetents who ultimately became the butt of every joke.
Aside from Sergeant Shultz, the lovable boob and the ass-kissing Colonel Kink, who can forget our favorite SS officer, Major Wolfgang Hochstetter: who's unforgettable catchphrase was "Everybody is UNDER ARREST!!!"

The nasty SS character had a recurring role as an antagonist who made everybody's life miserable, a dogmatic, humourless hard-liner who was amusing for his ultimate ineffectiveness. (OQLF language inspector, anyone?)

Who of us hasn't referred to difficult teacher or a nasty boss, as a 'Nazi' at one time or another.
It's no big deal.

Are we offended by the wonderful "Soup Nazi" character of Seinfeld fame, who's evil spirit and petty exercise of power is the personification of what we mean when we humorously call someone a 'NAZI'?

Even the Jews, a people who can rightfully be offended by trivialization of Nazism, seem to have accepted Nazi humour. Does anyone take offense when comedian Jackie Mason screams "Mister, I'm talking to you,... NAZI BASTARD!" at some unsuspecting shnook in the audience? It just part of his shtick which offends nobody.

In the anglophone world 'Nazi' or 'SS' are perfectly fine put downs of authoritarian hardliners, people whom are dogmatic, petty and mean, people who we don't like. To us, it's funny, even if it shouldn't be and if French speakers don't understand the nuance, it's on them.

That Gilles Rhéaume took serious offense is particularly galling. He's been spewing venom towards the English his whole career, from his job as president of the Saint Jean Baptiste Society to the dopey radical organizations that he's been involved with ever since his unceremonious departure.

In a biography by Jean Côté entitled 'Gilles Rhéaume baroudeur de l’indépendance", Rhéaume himself is described as an ardent fascist admirer (read-Nazi?). Read an account of the book in an article written by le Devoir's Jean-François Nadeau.

But the 'piece de la resistance' is contained in an interview with Benoît Dutrizac a couple of years ago when ironically, Rhéaume himself is accused of comparing English Canadians to Nazis.

Here's a rough translation of the juicy part.

Stop talking like that ! When France.....

Don't tell me what to say or think!

When France was occupied by Hitler and the Germans, there were women hemorrhaging and there were hungry people and people living through injustice, but it didn't stop all of France from getting up and saying 'We'll kick the Germans out". It's true that there's people in our emergency rooms. It's true that there are poor people and it's true that there's all sorts of things, but give us a country! It's an emergency, we're disappearing. In 15 or twenty years, we won't be here anymore, we'll speak English. It's starting...

You're not telling your not comparing English Canadians to the Germans of World War Two.

No I'm not comparing.


But you said it.


You can view the entire interview HERE


  1. The brilliant Josh Freed on the organic link between separatism and smoking:

    Gee, I'm sold Josh. I sure wouldn't want mon pays to become a public health rogue state. I can't wait to see your rapier wit and "take no prisoners style" unleashed on the next Ontario premier who tries to close Montfort hospital, or the next CBC dickhead who airbrushes all the francophone artists from the Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala, or the next CBC dickhead who cancels Southwestern Ontario's news coverage in French, or the next federal minister who rails Goebbels-style in the Kanuck Reichstag about the "Separatist-Socialist [Freemason Communist Child Pornographer etc] Coalition".

    You go Josh. Keep fightin' the Power.

  2. Thought this might interest you: (starts at 03:00)

    As a francophone Quebecer, I find this apocryphal story, and the fact that some separatists ( ) actually believe it utterly hilarious.