According to the good people at Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, the definition of the word rant is as follows: "a noun meaning to speak in loud, violent, or extravagant language; rave." Seeing as rave is part of the definition, in an effort to be thorough I checked it out as well: "To speak wildly or incoherently."
According to that definition that means when we talk of somebody ranting, we're implying they are frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog, and spewing out massive amounts of insensible verbiage. It would seem to me that our current usage of the word is slightly more tolerant than that formal definition. In fact, I feel confident in suggesting that most people would agree that a rant is an impassioned statement about any subject a speaker or writer has strong feelings about.
Rants aren't even dangerous – usually they're just a really good way for a person to let off steam about something that's ticked them off in the moment. Unfortunately, some people live up to the dictionary definition, frothing at the mouth with hatred and ending up leaving a sour taste in most people's mouths. It doesn't have anything to do with political affiliations; hatred knows no party lines and left or right can be equally to blame.
The best types of rants are those undertaken by intelligent people with great senses of humour. They are those people who won't be tied down by political affiliations or dogma, and have no problem with taking on idiocy no matter who the source is. The only people who need fear them are the self-righteous, the pompous, and folk who take themselves and their opinions far too seriously.
A few years back Canadians were introduced to the comic genius of Rick Mercer when the satirical news/current events show This Hour Has Twenty-Two Minutes started being televised on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). More recently they have welcomed him into their homes as host of the Rick Mercer Report. Now thanks to Random House Canada and their imprint Doubleday Canada, we will now know him as an author. September 25th sees the publication of Rick Mercer Report: The Book, a compendium of interviews and editorials (rants) from four years of the show, and selected articles from his blog.
Rick is originally from the youngest province in Canada, and the one primarily known around the world for it's "barbaric" seal hunt: Newfoundland. Being from Newfoundland is an important part of Rick's makeup as a comic. Newfoundland didn't become part of Canada until 1949 and has been the poorest province since. When the Cod fish stocks failed and the seal hunt became unpopular, villages that had been first settled in the 1700's began turning into ghost towns.
Hardship like that can make you bitter, and sour your outlook on life. However, in the case of Mercer and the people he worked with on This Hour (who were either all from Newfoundland or the East Coast) it honed their bullshit detectors and gave them a healthy sense of scepticism when it came to the promises of politicians. Rick's opinions were made abundantly clear in his weekly "editorial" (rant) concerning something particularly inane that had happened in the world.
On the Rick Mercer Report, the editorials continued, but he also would do segments involving Canadian politicians, counting on their desire to be seen as "regular folk" with senses of humour. He arranged to sleep over at Prime Minister Harper's house, went skinny dippy with a leadership contender (Bob Rae) for the Liberal party, and took the leader of The Green Party out logging.
But I don't think the politicians would have done any of these stunts with Rick, no matter how popular his show is (and it is one of the most watched Canadian shows in Canada) if they didn't think there was more to him then caustic comments. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he treats everybody the same. If you insist on putting your foot in your mouth Rick has suggestions on how much further you can shove it down your throat no matter what political party you are with.
But there's more to it then that; underneath the silliness and the satire you get the feeling he does what he's doing out of a genuine concern and love for Canada and her people. Perhaps it's not something you'd pick up on watching an episode or two of his show, but when the material is gathered together in one place as it has been for the book, it becomes a lot more obvious.
As you read through the various editorials and interviews, (the segment with environmentalist David Suzuki is worth the price of the book alone: middle of the winter and two men about to jump in a freezing cold lake – you take it from there), you can see that his indignity comes from politicians putting themselves ahead of the people and the country they are supposed to be representing. The only times you feel he is genuinely angry, not just teasing or sarcastic, are those when either people are being insulted or the country is being taken for granted.
When Prime Minister Harper showed himself willing to make deals with the political party bent on ensuring Quebec's separation from Canada (Bloc Quebecois) in an attempt to ensure he could stay in power, after promising never to do that in the election campaign, Mercer was more angry about the potential threat this posed to the country then the broken promise. When it was decided not to lower the flags on parliament hill when a soldier was killed in Afghanistan, in what appeared to be an attempt to hide information about casualties from the public, he was genuinely angry on behalf of the soldiers and the lack of respect he thought it showed for them and their families.
Whatever it is, and however he does it, and I don't think I can give concrete examples, reading Rick Mercer Report: The Book made me remember what used to make me proud of being Canadian. It's what has been missing from our leadership for a good long while now: compassion for those less fortunate.
Whether at home or abroad, it was always what marked us and made us a distinctive country. If people were in trouble, we were there with help – no questions asked. If people needed a safe haven from a dictator, we opened our borders to them – we have nothing if not room, after all. Our armed forces were respected all over the world for being there to help settle disputes or bring vital supplies to people hit by a calamity beyond their control.
Reading this book it sounds to me that Rick Mercer wants to be proud of Canada again for those reasons. When he is critical of people for being selfish and self-serving, it is because they are doing it either at the expense of others or the future of the country. Rick Mercer Report: The Book is not just a series of political attacks for the sake of a few cheap laughs. It is a wake up call to all Canadians to remember what it was that made our country special.
If it can make an iconoclast like me think seriously about why I love my country, think what it can do for you. For those of you who aren't Canadian and wondered what makes us different from either the Americans or the British, reading this book will go a long way to offering an explanation.