Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Labour and Pop Culture: Frankie Drake

I recently had the… opportunity?... to watch a few episodes of CBC’s Frankie Drake Mysteries series. The series centres on an all-female detective agency in 1920s Toronto (so kind of a flapper lady Matlock dealie). The series is available on Amazon Prime but perhaps also the CBC website.

Episode 2 of the first season (“Ladies in Red”) sees Frankie hired to investigate an attack on a factory owner. The owner is convinced the attack was the work of communists in his plant (that manufacturers some kind of confusing glass window product). The show makes reference to the 1919 Winnipeg strike as well as the 1920 Wall Street bombing (which may have been the work of Italian anarchists or communists… or maybe not) to explain the owner’s concerns.

The detectives’ investigations turns up a group of communists (or red sympathizers) in the plant. But their interest is mostly in world peace and perhaps in better working conditions. There is a subplot around sexual harassment and, in the end, the real villain in the plant manager who is skimming, sexually exploiting, and trying to deflect blame onto the workers.

If you can get past the many inconsistencies (e.g., the show is pretty race blind until race is a useful plot point) this episode has a positive portrayal of collective action by workers and highlights the plight of working women in urban Canada after the first war.

I have to admit, by the end I was on my phone googling. But my impression is that the episode ends with Frankie cajoling the plant owner into raising the women’s wages. This seemed very out of character and pretty Pollyanna.

-- Bob Barnetson

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