e.t. phoned home, then complained to the toronto sun


As I once wrote in a Historicist column, it was hard to tell if longtime Toronto newspaper columnist McKenzie Porter believed everything he wrote or pulled the legs of innocent readers. His columns for the Telegram and the Toronto Sun are full of head-scratching passages that are hopefully meant to be satirical. Ranting about pooping is definitely humorous, defending apartheid in South Africa less so. The absurdity of Porter's columns fits comfortably with the contrarion streak that has always filled the Sun's pages.

While researching an upcoming article, I came across this beaut of a Porter column about the movie E.T. It’s one of the oddest attacks of the Steven Spielberg classic I’ve ever read. The film’s problem? It caters to idiots who project human qualities onto animals and other beings!

Source: the Toronto Sun, August 6, 1982
Please, please tell me that last line about eugenics was a joke…

Given Porter’s arguments against anthropomorphism, I imagine if he was writing today he’d apply the same logic to Pixar films (picture his take on Finding Nemo or Wall-E). I know a few people and animals who would take umbrage at his correlation between seeing human characteristics in animals and low intelligence scores.

Haruki and the Sunday New York Times (2)

Porter’s article may explain why cats like Haruki prefer reading the New York Times.

Underneath Porter’s (possible) attempts at humour lie chilling thoughts. Besides raising the spectre of eugenics, which Porter’s columns favoured as a form of uplifting humanity from its morass, there’s his belief that E.T. should receive “a right and proper subjection to scientific analysis.” Slice him up first, ask questions later. Yay.


Porter’s ability to provoke Sun readers was in full flower with this column. For nearly two weeks after it was published, the letters pages were filled with comments about the piece. Of the letters published, only Doris Burke defended Porter:

McKenzie Porter’s column came as a ray of light as he seems to be the only person whose expressed opinion of the movie is similar to my own. Having been pressured to see it, I begrudged the $2 that as a senior citizen I had to pay. The level of intelligence in the world today is pitful.

The paper’s pithy response: “You seniors stick together.”


Most letters were along the lines of David Dearsley’s:

I find it difficult to believe that McKenzie Porter could be so arrogant, conceited and cynical as to insult the intelligence and good sense of the movie-going public. Obviously Mr. Porter wrote this article in a puerile attempt to get attention.

Sun response: “No, he thinks he’s smarter and prettier than E.T.”

The column provoked an op-ed rebuttal from entertainment agent Richard Brooke.

Source: the Toronto Sun, August 12, 1982.

Compared to the trampling of human intelligence witnessed in, say, the recent American election, a film about a being who simply wants to go home doesn’t sound the death knell of cultured humanity. Porter’s piece sounds like somebody you allow to open their mouth to see how they’ll top their last whopper of an opinion.

Additional material from the August 11, 1982 edition of the Toronto Sun. 1982 Topps E.T. trading cards taken from my collection.


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