Off Our Rockers and Into Trouble: The Raging Grannies
by Alison Acker & Betty Brightwell
Published by Touchwood Editions
256 pages, 2004
Buy it online
You've Come A Long Way, Baby!
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
From their beginnings in 1987 as a group of older women wanting to protest in an original and empathic way, the Raging Grannies have gone on to ignite a sort of worldwide movement. This was something they never would have envisioned while they were being ignored at the half price Tuesday movie lineups and booed at coffee houses in Victoria, British Columbia. Many bystanders have claimed that the Raging Grannies' singing is excruciating, but only politicians and warmongers object to the lyrics. Imagine a gaggle of older women in ostrich feathers, white lace knickers and feather boas singing "Roll me over in the clover" with appropriate actions, a kind of "Dr. Strangelove" for the new millennium.
The original Granny movement started with clear aims: to inspire older women to be activists, to deal with survival issues, to get their message across with satiric songs, to court the media, remain independent of other organizations, be rabble rousers, a support group for each other and to become more radical with every passing year. They have achieved their goals, even though the Grannies themselves come and go.
One of the most exciting goings was when one of the Raging Grannies' key rabble rousers, Anne Pask, left the group to marry Merve Wilkinson. Well known in his own right as an environmentalist and spokesperson for sustainable logging, Wilkinson lives near Yellow Point on Vancouver island in a green paradise called Wildwood. After a Granny visit to Wildwood, Anne was elected by the group to thank Merve for his hospitality and went one better. She drove back to Wildwood, armed with home made cookies and married him. (Not all in the same day.)
The telling of the tale in Off Their Rockers is hilarious. Alison Acker and Betty Brightwell offer a politically incorrect history that also throws in lots of visuals: photos, cartoons, songs and sketches pepper the pages and move the text right along. Reading history has never been more entertaining.
But do Brightwell and Acker need to work quite so hard at poking fun at themselves? Why, I sometimes wonder, do women seem to feel a need to ridicule themselves when they are doing something significant? Ever notice how many successful female comics there are? Describing the Granny protests, their stage routines and their songs with saucy, sometimes irrelevant humor, is dead right. Sketching the enemy in a mocking, ironical light is spot on. This was always the intent of the Raging Grannies. In detailing other events in the women's lives, however -- like the group drive to Greenwood -- is it necessary to make these Grannies out to be simpletons incapable of even driving a car a few hundred miles? Or to describe the women, who made it unchallenged into the parliament buildings during session, as giggling schoolgirls without a clue what to do next.
A cutline below a photo, for example, reads: "This is the Zodiac that we (briefly) thought we could a) afford and b) run. We scared ourselves silly on our test run." Yes, it is funny, but at what expense to these gutsy women?
Or this: "Being a society means we have to remember to have an annual general meeting and reelect ourselves for our board of directors. We do have a minutes book so that we can check up on the things we promise to do, though we're never very sure who's got the book." Oh Oh, watch out Raging Grannies Society, they're going to get you.
The Grannies mean to mock and use satire and humor effectively to state their protest or ask their questions. They've come a long way, but making fun of themselves in day to day operations feels to me to be subversive to their cause. I want to admire these women who put their mouth where the money is, respect the doer while laughing at the deed.
These are definitely women deserving of admiration. Retired university professors, nurses and authors, artists and activists, teachers, farmers and computer experts, many of these women have been jailed, threatened, ridiculed and heckled; several have had their marriages dissolve, suffered illnesses, lost children and yet soldiered on. It's high time to honor them but perhaps it's just my German background that leaves me wanting a history that sometimes is just not so darn flippant.
That version might come when the Grannies get knighted, or awarded the Order of Canada, or receive a Governor General's Award. In the meantime, read Off Our Rockers for a lighthearted look at some of our most unlikely champions. They've just taken away your excuse for not becoming involved. They've shown us that its never too late. | August 2004
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.