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Welcome to Mike Street, U.S.A.

When I was eight, my parents took me to Disneyworld. I got a big kick out of it. Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, giant walking stuffed animals, parades…

…And Main Street U.S.A. Even at the tender age of eight, this kind of freaked me out. I grew up in a village near the Quebec border, and Disney’s little pseudo-town was just plain weird. Too friendly, too clean, too sterile. The Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie-and-Harriet quasi-’50s synthetic facade set my wee hackles on edge.

Amidst all the furor over Mike Harris’ hack-and-slash cuts, I find the hairs on the back of my neck rising in almost exactly the same way. Everybody is noticing the individual reductions — crippling cuts to welfare, the repealing pay equity, cuts to the health care system. But what is the net result?

Harris is trying to pull us into Main Street. He’s stripping away every trace of social progress we have made in the last twenty years (pay equity, affirmative action, affordable health care, JobsOntario, day care) in order to drop us into a squeaky-clean middle-class world where appearance is everything and nobody questions the wisdom of those in charge. 

On Main Street, the poor are kept carefully out of sight. With $6.50 per day to subsist on, they sure won’t be able to live next to Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver. And, since they’re too poor to maintain a good diet or buy swell job-interview clothes, Ozzie doesn’t have to worry about them getting jobs and moving up in the world.

And the people of Main Street scorn pay equity. Waste of money, really. Why should anyone take action against the old-boy network of wage earning? Mrs. Cleaver had it straight. On Main Street U.S.A., June would stay home and vacuum in high heels and pearls. June knew not to buck the system. Besides, she has to take care of the kids. Day-care has been axed, remember?

Harris’ detractors say he was elected because of a general mean-spiritedness amongst Ontario voters. I don’t think that spite alone carried Harris to victory. He was helped by his appeal to the ultimate suburban dream, a reservoir of nostalgia for a world that never actually existed.

Don’t knock the power of Main Street. Most of us grew up on it. The older generation never saw a welfare recipient on Leave It To Beaver, or struggling single mothers on Andy Grifith. I never saw a drug addict on Sesame Street, or a homeless person on Growing Pains, and somehow Mrs. Huxtable was always around for the kids on The Cosby Show. What Harris hsa promised — and what Ontario has bought — is his vision of a middle-class Americlone TV nation; where the poor are swept under the rug, Mom is home looking after the kids, and Dad is smoking his pipe after a hard day at the office.

Fourteen years ago, Main Street U.S.A. gave me the creeps. Things aren’t much different today.

Matthew Sheperd

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