Society

Only Too Happy to Oblige

Sucking up: a brief history

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• 981 words

The following appeared in The Globe and Mail’s letter-from-the-editor column on February 14, 2004, written by editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon:

“I can’t resist telling you about a phone call I received this week from former Michigan governor James Blanchard, whom I know from his time as U.S. ambassador to Canada. He was in the Toronto area and wondered if I was free for coffee. More intriguing, he asked if I could provide him with a copy of the Jan. 26 Globe and Mail.

“Why? He told me he had been stumping through Michigan the previous week with John Kerry and had informed the Democratic front-runner that The Globe and Mail had run a front-page photo of him on Jan. 26 playing hockey in New Hampshire at a Boston Bruins old-timers game.

“You don’t have to be from Massachusetts to know it’s one thing to be on the front pages of papers around the world for political reasons, but quite another to be there for your hockey prowess. Senator Kerry got all excited and wanted a copy for himself.

“We were only too happy to oblige with a framed version of the front page. The editorial board won’t pronounce upon the presidential alternatives until the fall. But should Senator Kerry prevail, we’re hoping our front page hangs in the Oval Office.”

Greenspon’s column raises the question of what might have been, had hacks throughout history sought to affect the same breathless tone when writing about the major figures of their day. To wit:

From the editor of the Roman Agora, February XIV, XXXVII:

“I can’t resist telling you about the scroll I received this week from former Gaul governor Marcus Romulus, whom I know from our days together in the legion. He was in the Rome area and wondered if I was free for a bath. More intriguing, he asked if I would provide him with a copy of the January XXVI Agora.

“‘Cur? ’ I asked. He told me he’d been on a chariot tour the previous week with Caligula, and had informed the all-powerful Caesar and demi-god that the Agora had run a full-page etching of him slaughtering Christians during an old-timers’ gladiator game.

“You don’t have to be from Rome to know it’s one thing to be on the front tablet of newsstones around the Empire for reasons of immortality, but quite another to be there for your slaughtering prowess. Caligula got all excited and wanted a copy for himself.

“We were only too happy to oblige with a marble version of the front tablet. The editorial board won’t be pronouncing on Caligula’s immortality any time soon…make that ever. But when Caligula achieves his celestial destiny, we’re hoping our tablet will be hanging somewhere in the eternal pantheon.”

From the editor of The Mongol Times, February 14, 1226:

“I can’t resist telling you about the message I received this week from Temuka, the former governor of the Kereit people, whom I know from our days as nomadic barbarians of the Mongol hordes. He was visiting the scene of our latest conquest and wondered if I was free for a cup of yak milk. More intriguing, he asked if I had a copy of the January 26th Times. “Why? He told me he’d recently spent some time with Genghis Khan, laying siege to the city of Herat, slaughtering 1.6 million of its inhabitants in seven days. He had informed the perfect warrior that the Times had run a full-page etching of him pillaging the cities of Lahore and Peshawar.

“You don’t have to be a barbarian to know it’s one thing to be on the front page of newspapers across the steppes for your military skills but quite another to be there for your prowess at ravaging innocents. Genghis got all excited and wanted a copy for himself.

“We were only too happy to oblige. The editorial board is busy sacking the Soong state, so won’t be pronouncing on our latest rampage till next week. But when the Mongol hordes lay waste to civilizations from the China Sea to the banks of the Dnieper, we can only hope that flaming copies of our newspaper will be used to torch their cities and towns.”

From the editor of The Cambodian Bugle, February 14, 1976:

“I can’t resist telling you about the sheet of rice paper I received via courier-oxen this week from former worker-peasant Pot Nol, whom I know from our days as perfect equals in the Khmer Rouge. He was here visiting our commune and wondered if I was free for a bowl of rice soup. More intriguing, he asked if I had a copy of the January 26th Bugle.

“‘Why?’ I asked in Khmer, as the use of any other language in public is punishable by death. He told me he’d been on a wading tour of the rice paddies the previous week with Pol Pot and had informed the leader of our agrarian utopia that the Bugle had run a full-page photo of him ‘re-educating’ a mob of counter-revolutionary intellectuals.

“You don’t have to be a member of a utopian commune to know it’s one thing to be on the front page of newspapers around the world for political reasons, but quite another to be there for your prowess at re-educating running-dog lackeys of the imperialist West. Pol Pot got all excited and wanted a copy for himself.

“We were only too happy to oblige with an uncorrupted reproduction of the front page. The editorial board is full of illiterates, so we won’t be pronouncing on anything anytime soon. But when Pol Pot succeeds in building our perfect agrarian heaven on earth, we’re hoping that copies of our newspaper will be mandatory reading for everyone, every day, no questions asked.”