When I lived in Canada in the late '90s and early aughts, I always had mixed feelings about Rick Mercer's "Talking to Americans" segments on the CBC comedy show "This Hour Has 22 Minutes." Mercer would travel the U.S., sticking cameras in people's faces until he had enough footage of Americans signing a petition asking "Prime Minister Guy LaFleur" to end the polar bear hunt in Toronto, or lamenting that X percent of Canadian schoolchildren can't name all the states in Canada. That sort of thing. The apex of "Talking to Americans" came in 2000, when Mercer told George W. Bush that "Prime Minister Jean Poutine" had endorsed him for president, and Bush offered M. Poutine his hearty thanks. On the one hand, these segments held the distinction of being darn near the only things on "22 Minutes" that ever made me laugh. On the other hand, I knew that every time one of them aired, I'd be subjected to another round of "Did you see that? Americans are so ignorant, hur hur!" from Canadian friends and enemies alike. Pointing out that A) I'm American, B) I'm not dumb as a sack of hair, and C) with enough time and bravado, you could surely collect footage of half a dozen Canadians cheerfully signing a petition that called on New Mexico Governor Carlos Mencia to free the sopaipillas was useless. Making fun of American stupidity is a cherished Canadian pastime, and it's awfully hard to argue against that practice when Americans do things like put Bush in office.
So when I first heard that Sarah Palin had been pranked by a couple of Quebecois DJs, my first thought was, "Oh crap, it's Jean Poutine all over again." Unlike Joan Walsh, I'm not often tempted to feel sorry for Palin, but I've seen this sort of routine enough times to know that it relies at least as much on the prankster's speed-mumbling as on the subject's ignorance. They could easily have tricked Palin into giving them an unintentionally hilarious sound bite without actually exposing her as a buffoon -- which, for my money, is exactly what happened in the Bush/Poutine moment, where Bush never repeated "Poutine" and probably never even heard it. (He has exposed himself as a buffoon plenty of times, of course, but I don't think that instance was especially telling.) Then I read the transcript of the "Sarkozy" call. Holy cow. I mean, holy cow. And then I read the Globe and Mail's account of how the DJs, Sébastien Trudel and Marc-Antoine Audette, pulled it off. Says Audette, "We thought it would be mission impossible. But after about a dozen calls, we started to realize it might work, because her staff didn't know the name of the French President. They asked us to spell it." Oof. Once they got Palin on the phone, says Trudel, "she never, never suspected anything. It was a little bit frightening."
More than a little bit, I'd say. (And not just the part where she says maybe she'll be president in eight years.) I can forgive her for not catching the "special advisor Johnny Hallyday" bit, but seriously, "I just love killing animals" didn't tip her off? "From my house I can see Belgium" didn't? "Prime Minister of Canada Stef Carse"? "My wife, Carla, ... she's so hot in bed"? Asking if Joe the Plumber is her husband? "Marcel, the guy with the bread under his armpit"? "The documentary they made on your life -- you know, Hustler's Nailin' Paylin"? Come on! Nowhere in there did she start to think, "Hmm, this doesn't sound quite right?" I'm not sure if I'm frightened more by that or the fact that over the course of a dozen calls with these jokers her staff never spotted anything amiss -- like the fact that "Sarkozy" insisted on making the call himself, not having Palin call him back. In any case, if we find out tomorrow that Sarah Palin is going to be our next vice president (shudder), I will officially have zero credibility left when I try to defend the American people against my Canadian friends' sneers. Please don't put me in that position, America!