Day One hundred and thirty two: "Canadian Idiot" from Straight Outta Lynwood
I was thinking about why I prefer to American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic’s originals over his parodies and I think I’ve figured it out.
Al’s pastiches and homages are the product of affection and inspiration. He loves certain acts so much that he sets about deconstructing their sound, breaking it down to its base components so that he can reassemble it in his own image and with a satirical slant. You have to be pretty devoted and invested to even attempt something like that, let alone effortlessly achieve it over and over again over a period decades.
Al’s parodies, in sharp contrast, are products of opportunity. A song will present itself for possible parody, first by being extraordinarily catchy, infectious and ubiquitous. As “Toothless People” unfortunately illustrated, there’s not much of a market for a parody of a would-be hit single no one’s even particularly familiar with, let alone knows by heart the way the general public does the inspirations for pretty much all of Al’s other parodies.
You never want listeners to think, “I have NO idea what this is even supposed to be a parody of.” Thankfully that almost never happens with Al’s spoofery because he’s very careful and meticulous in choosing which songs to give the business and which to leave alone.
“American Idiot” was not merely the smash hit first single from a major rock group. It was also the title of the concept album it kicked off and of course the title of the hit Broadway musical inspired by the album.
Billie Joe Armstrong was getting all political and whatnot. His lyrics suddenly were all, “Hey, what’s going on with the War, huh? And politics? And what about greed? And what about that George W. Bush guy? Is he an intelligent leader making good choices for the right reasons, or is he some manner of chimpanzee-faced buffoon, the quintessential fortunate son?”
A grateful nation took a massive, King Kong-sized bong rip and was all, “Whoah. That’s straight up deep! You should do a Broadway musical about that as well!”
And a smiling Billie Joe was all, “I’m ten steps ahead of y’all! My brain is already there!”
“American Idiot” represented a primo opportunity for Al because of its popularity, but also because his parody represented such a quick and convenient switcheroo. All Al had to do was change the nationality preceding “idiot” and suddenly he had a treasure trove of Canuck humor to mine.
On “Canadian Idiot”, Al finally avails himself of the subset of the Old Jokes devoted to good-nature ribbing of our neighbors to the north.
Yes, in “Canadian Idiot”, Al is all aboot sticking it to Canadians in a most genial fashion. Canadians are gently razzed for their love of beer, the arctic nature of their weather and their inexplicable preference for hockey over baseball.
When Americans profess to be filled with rage towards our neighbors to the North, or filled with not entirely flattering stereotypes about who they are and how they behave, it’s always seen as fantasy, comedy and satire. When Americans profess to be filled with rage towards our neighbors to the South, or filled with not entirely flattering stereotypes about who they are and how they behave, on the other hand, it is rightly seen as racism and/or the basis for Trump’s foreign policy.
That’s because our Canuck neighbors are widely seen as white & nerdy instead of dark & threatening so the very idea that they might be up to something is inherently comic, instead of indicative of our deep-seated xenophobia.
So it seems fitting that despite its title, the real target of the song’s satire is American boorishness. The nationality (American) of the Canada-disparaging dude singing the song is as important, if not more important, than that of the country that he’s singing about.
“Canadian Idiot” is fundamentally about the way we demonize people who are not like us, even when those differences actually make them better than us, not worse. The singer here notes that Canadians possess national health care, that their medication is cheaper and their air isn’t quite as poisoned with smug and pollution but what does that matter when the populace is so poorly armed?
The singer here doesn’t hate on Canadians because they’re culturally inferior to us but rather because they’re superior in so many ways. “Canadian Idiot” is really a song about American idiots so suspicious of Canadian’s politeness, eccentricities and lack of personal firepower (it’s as if the common Canadian does not even possess even a single gun, let alone a good citizen’s deadly arsenal) that they’re ready to launch a preemptive strike against Canada rather than learn something from them.
“Canadian Idiot” may have been born of opportunity rather than inspiration but there’s a lot going on all the same, and Al’s brand of satire and social commentary is, if anything, less ham-fisted than the tune it’s spoofing. Al has always been something of a sly, sneaky secret satirist whereas Billie Joe’s American Idiot project shouted its satirical ambitions from the rooftop, starting with its title.
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