Fotheringham's Fictionary of Facts & Follies

Winter 2001 CSANews Issue 41  |  Posted date : Apr 03, 2007.Back to list

In these days of anthrax anxiety, post-terrorist trauma and hyper-jingoistic patriotism, we are all in dire need of a subversive chuckle. Just in time, Dr. Foth (author, columnist Allan Fotheringham) has provided a remedial comic remedy in his Fictionary of Facts & Follies.

No institution or individual is sacred or immune from ridicule. Using the format of a political alphabet, Fotheringham trashes and praises fellow journalists, prime ministers, provinces and, even worse, countries.

It is rather amazing that in his vitriolic diatribes, Fotheringham has been sued for libel only 26 times, and has won all but two cases.

In his 27 years with Maclean's Magazine, he has caused a whole nation to read that magazine starting from the back page; his allotted space since being fired by Peter C. Newman (against the advice of every one of Newman's editors).

Fotheringham humbly admits to promoting political leaders out of men he had yet to meet. He once asked Brian Mulroney: "When did you first decide to run for leader?" Brian's reply: "The second time I read it in your column."

On a chance encounter with Paul Martin, Martin informed him that Mulroney had warned him about Fotheringham; "Mulroney says that you invent a politician, puff him up like a balloon, and then stick a pin in him and watch him deflate." Fotheringham's response, "Of course. That's how I make a living." After which, they shared a whisky and have remained friends.

Fotheringham is not so proud of "inflicting on the nation," Stockwell Day, "a charming, glib person with the attention span of a hummingbird," and firmly denies inventing McKenzie King or Laurier. As he concluded: "it is a struggle keeping this country intact single-handedly."

Every province is included in Dr. Foth's Fictionary. I was impressed by the perceptive symbols that this clever writer uses to dissect each society. For example in Alberta, he describes the unapologetic, politically incorrect billboard at the Calgary airport, "English is the international language of aviation" ­ a bold statement for federalist alienation.

About Ontario: "Since banks are the souls of Canadian life, and the skyline of Toronto proves it, Ontario takes heavily its responsibility of being the Canadian leader in dullness."

Foth compares the lifestyle of the proper Torontonian: "nose-deep in paper work at 5:30 quitting time, eager to earn the company bonus which will give him a swimming pool shaped like his ulcer," while his British Columbian equivalent is long gone into the hot tub, doing underwater research with his secretary.

About the current political scene in Ontario: "the triumph of the Common Sense Revolution of course is remarkable for its lack of common sense."

Fotheringham describes poor Mike Harris as a "golf pro with a tin ear and the sensitivity of a Clydesdale." A delight to cover from the press gallery, "he will be missed."

Other events have overtaken publication of this book and, on speaking with Allan Fotheringham recently, he does admit that he would now write differently about George W. Bush, even though he did "come to the presidency with a lighter resume than anybody in at least a hundred years." He admits that George W. has grown to meet adversity in an admirable manner.

All is not ridicule and negativity in Fictionary. The Foth describes Wayne Gretzky as the epitome of "CLASS." "You can't buy it, you can't touch it, you can't even inherit it." Foth celebrates this icon who "never once swore at a referee, never whined about a call, and never kvetched to the press about anything ever written."

About fellow journalists: Jack Webster ­ "the best reporter in the country wasted on radio"; Pierre Berton ­ "hated by academics...because he has hijacked their monopoly and has made history readable"; and Peter Gzowski ­ "a great national treasure."

Conrad Black, on the other hand, doesn't fare so well. Although Fotheringham admires "The Darth Vader of Canadian journalism, with his IQ of 203 and vocabulary to match, that doesn't preclude the fact that in business and in life, Conrad is a bully."

The one unlikely thread that emerges from Allan Fotheringham's Fictionary of Facts and Follies is his genuine love for this "illogical" country called Canada. "Twenty-nine million people strung out over five thousand miles."

Dr. Foth claims that our unlikely bundle of geography has been kept intact by emotion and humour. He contrasts the fact that satirical TV programs savaging politicians are aired in the U.S. on late-night shows, while our satirical programs, Royal Canadian Air Farce, etc. are aired in prime time. He concludes that Canadians, "as the mouse underneath the elephant," understand that the only solution is to laugh.

So buy Fotheringham's Fictionary and laugh.