In the Literary Review of Canada, Kenneth Whyte compares two new books on Pierre Trudeau and “Trudeaumania”:
Trudeaumania, by common understanding, refers to a state of mind that prevailed in 1968 when a swinging intellectual bachelor from Montreal rose to the leadership of the governing Liberal Party and swept Canada off its feet on his way to a majority victory in a national election campaign.
It never happened, at least not in any quantifiable way. Pierre Trudeau in 1968 was a politician. Elections are how we keep score in politics. Careers are made, governments change, history is shaped by electoral results. The 1968 election gave Pierre Trudeau his first majority government and revealed to the world his peculiarly Canadian charisma, but no matter how many women (and journalists) swooned in the course of his campaigns, there is nothing in the data to suggest anything resembling a mania.
Litt and Wright have combed the same newspaper and television archives, providing, between them, a neat case study of how historians tend to find what they want in the record. The weight of evidence is on Litt’s side. The front-page photos and evening news footage of Mod Trudeau—the “single, youthful, athletic, and fashionable [candidate] with a liberated-lifestyle” — are more plentiful and impactful than editorials on Intellectual Trudeau, editor of Cité Libre, circulation 500. Litt finds reason for the best-selling status of Trudeau’s book of constitutional essays on its dust jacket:
Pierre Elliott Trudeau is almost incredible: A Prime Minister who swings, who is described by Maclean’s magazine as “an authoritative judge of wine and women,” who drives a Mercedes, throws snowballs at statues of Laurier and Stalin, wears turtleneck sweaters and says things like “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”
Media imagery was critical to Trudeau’s emergence. Wright is correct in that Trudeau could be underwhelming in televised debates, formal speeches and long interviews. It was his spontaneous performances, catalogued by Litt, that created an endless supply of news hits: Trudeau dancing to rock ’n’ roll beside his campaign bus, Trudeau using a hanging microphone as a punching bag, Trudeau jumping over railings to get at his worshippers, Trudeau wearing ascots and sandals and saluting supporters with Buddhist bows, Trudeau posing shirtless and in yoga positions (yes, him too), Trudeau sliding down bannisters and performing somersaults off the diving board at a hotel pool, and, of course, Trudeau kissing, on the lips, random 16-year-olds on the street.
[…] Explains Litt: “A strange passion swept the media ranks, precipitating an idolization of Trudeau akin to that of an ancient religious sect worshipping a fertility god.”