Video: Here’s Jonathon Gatehouse on the best — and worst — of 24 Seven:
You can’t copyright a title—although HBO might want to consider suing Stephen Harper all the same. Early in the new year, his office unveiled a web-video series entitled 24 Seven: A Week in the Life of the Prime Minister of Canada. It’s an hommage, or, as we say in English—rip-off—of the U.S. broadcaster’s acclaimed 24/7 sports documentaries, such as the recent examination of the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the run-up to the Winter Classic. But where the cable channel offers insight, drama, high production values and lots of swearing, the PMO version is basically a small-town TV news update—right down to the helmet-haired star in the ill-fitting suit.
The opening sequence for the videos is promising—A Mad Men-style cut-out of Harper sliding into the open door of his limo as a military band tootles The Maple Leaf Forever. Then things take a decided turn away from retro-cool. The first edition mostly consisted of still photos of white men sitting in chairs, albeit enhanced with that pan-in, pan-out Ken Burns effect from iMovie. And a narrator—female in the English version, male in the French one—offering what amounts to described video. “On Thursday, the Prime Minister was in Calgary, where he celebrated Christmas with his family.” (Cue footage of the Harpers disembarking from the government Challenger jet.) “He took some time over the holidays to meet with local seniors.” (The Prime Minister makes his way down a receiving line of elderly women.) “And he was able to take in a hockey game with his son Ben.” (Harper and his much taller teen stride through the Saddledome just like a couple of regular guys, flanked by an RCMP security detail and camera crew.)
The 3½-minute week in review does feature a lengthy clip of the PM talking up his government’s trade agenda at a recent B.C. event. But while the segment includes photos of Harper meeting with the presidents of Panama and Chile—as well as a bonus shot of former ministers Peter Kent and Lawrence Cannon sitting in chairs—there apparently wasn’t enough time to include the activists who stormed the Vancouver stage to protest government inaction on climate change.
Week 2 of 24 Seven broke the news of a cabinet meeting that had been held at Meech Lake via another photo of people seated around a table. (Members of the Ottawa press gallery were unaware of the confab.) Justice Minister Peter MacKay made a cameo, non-speaking appearance as the narrator discussing the government’s new anti-cyberbullying law. Laureen Harper was pictured taking in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa on a Saturday evening, by herself. (Stephen and Ben were presumably back in the basement of 24 Sussex watching Hockey Night in Canada.) And the Prime Minister was caught in a number of candid, behind-the-scenes moments: fake laughing during an interview with a Globe and Mail reporter, gesturing emphatically in his empty office, and recording a stilted “Happy Lunar New Year” message with a pasted-on smile. “Read it again,” commands an off-camera female voice before Harper can even finishing asking, “How was that?”
The inspiration for the web series is clearly West Wing Week, an upbeat highlight package that the Obama administration has been pumping out since 2010. But there are some key stylistic differences. The U.S. President’s videos make prominent use of members of his staff, cabinet—even ordinary citizens—to tell the story. A recent offering had John Holdren, his chief science adviser, explaining the polar vortex, for example. But 24 Seven so far seems dedicated to immortalizing the Harper-centric photo-ops that make up the bulk of his media interactions. (The most commonly used phrase in PMO press releases is “cameras only.”)
The new Ottawa videos are also much less slickly produced than their American cousins. Filled with jumpy cuts and abrupt sound edits, they appear downright amateurish at times—although that may be the point. Harper has always believed that his voters have an insatiable appetite for plain vanilla, which helps explain why the Tories have gone to such lengths to portray Justin Trudeau as the equivalent of tutti-frutti in their attack ads. And when the “media party” makes fun of 24 Seven—just as this article does—it only helps bolster the Prime Minister’s credentials as a boring, capital outsider. It shouldn’t be long before the really snide reviews get rounded up into an indignant Conservative fundraising email.
After all, if these videos were for broadcast TV, they already would have been cancelled for poor ratings. Buried deep in the all-comments-disabled zone of YouTube, the second instalment has racked up just over 6,000 hits in English, and 86 in French. Maybe Harper should include some LOL footage of his cats.
What has this inside look taught us? The PM has some nice art in his office, including an Emily Carr. He’s also grown in the job, judging by the jacket-off photos. And, according to the close shot of the Peace Tower, he heads for home at 7:15 pm. A decent workday, but hardly 24/7.