Saturday, February 13, 2010

The True North Neurotically Insecure and Insular

The opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics were spectacular. KD Lang's rendition of Hallelujiah was a highlight. But I was completely put off by the "I am Canadian" type diatribe by BC slam poet Shane Koyczan.

For one thing, it was tacky. It was too much like that famous beer commercial of several years ago. Also, it was ignorant and insular, with lines like "We say zed not zee" (only the US says zee - many other countries around the world say zed, and it's not even original to us). But mostly, what Olympic host has ever been so blatant about trumpeting themselves? We are the HOST for Pete's sake. We are supposed to be welcoming other countries, not thumbing our noses at them.

Apparently Koyczan was a last-minute addition to the show. I'd like to know who put him in and why. I just forced myself to watch him again: "Some say what defines us is something as simple as "please" and "thank you"... but we are more than genteel and civilized... we dream so big there are those who would call our ambition an industry... we reforest what we clear because we believe in generations beyond our own... we are the abandoned hesitation of all those who can't wait... we are the surprise the world has in store for you... Canada is the "what" in "what's new"... we are the true north strong and free. And what's more is that we didn't just say it; we made it be."

Ick. What is it in our national psyche that leads us to trumpet our insecurity? We seem to have some deep-seated need to yell at the US: "We're better than you!" while muttering to ourselves, "We know we're not! We're not worthy!"

We see ourselves as the eternal underdog, but we're one of the richest and most powerful countries on earth. With a population less than California's, we're a member of the G8. We're at or near the top of all the quality indexes: wealth, health, quality of life.

Do we feel unworthy because we lucked into vast natural resources that are the backbone of our economy? Or because we are such poor guardians of our great luck: clear-cutting forests, spewing pollution from the tar sands, selling our steel companies to the Chinese, paving our farmland, embroiling first nations in endless land claim settlements, and tearing down our heritage buildings?

That beer commercial was just a stupid campaign to sell crappy beer. If it has become our model for displaying national pride, we're in trouble.



James Bow said...

Small point of order: Canada's population is significantly more than just half of that of California.

According to the US Census bureau, California's population is
36,756,666, as of July 2008. According to the World Bank, Canada's population as of 2008 was 33,311,389.

But, otherwise, your point stands.

James Bow said...

And, yeah, I got a chuckle over the "We're the 'what' in 'what's new'!"

I think the proper response to that is, "what?!"

Yappa said...

Thanks James... I totally misremembered California's population. it just shows that even for non-serious posts, I need to check all facts! (I think I'll go back and change the post so that I don't spread misinformation.)

david said...

Oh my God thank you for pointing on what a fool Shane Koyczan is and how stupid he made Canada look by "lecturing" to the world..namely USA. I searched through the internet to see if others were as pissed as I was by his ridiculous rant. I was totally turned off and embarrassed that they let that fat fool up there to spew his garbage. As a Canadian he doesn't represent me and I proudly say "zee"! Shane Koyczan get a 'real' job and shut up!

Ben said...

I think it's really sad how negative you are about one of the most memorable moments of the Olympics. We ARE the little brothers/sisters of our big neighbour (in that sense we ARE the underdog), but I do not think it was the Americans we were addressing in the speech.

Having lived in Europe, I know that people tend to mix us up with the Americans because we look and sound the same. I think it was a smart thing to remind the world and Canada what makes us unique. You seem to have done the same thing in your blog (reminding us about what makes us great). We do have a right to be proud - and the Olympics on our home soil is the right to time to express it.

I thought Shane was amazing...but either way, I sense, at least, that you and I both believe that we have a lot to be proud of as Canadians.

Yappa said...

I didn't feel like writing another negative post about the Olympics, so I'll post this here. It's something I wrote in a comment to the Globe and Mail this morning...

I didn't think anything could bring me down after that brilliant final hockey game, but the closing ceremonies managed to. The CTV announcers said that it was an attempt to poke fun at ourselves, but it just seemed crass, unfunny, and a pathetic stereotype. It was made even worse by the wonderful interlude from Russia, which showed real talent and taste.

The worst part was that it showed us up as an insecure nation trying to impress our southern neighbors. Instead of choosing Canadian performers who Canadians would know, all the performers were people who had moved to the US (and hence were known to Americans).

If this Olympics redefined Canada, then I don't like what Canada has become. A country that doesn't let competitors from other nations practice on our venues, and then becomes obsessed with our medal count? A country that takes what should be a celebration of all athletes and turns it into a self-indulgent PR campaign about how great we are? A country where the PM has to enter the closing ceremonies with the head of the Olympics and with little fanfare to avoid being booed because he shut down parliament? A country that shows off its talent with people who left the country decades ago and have taken out citizenship elsewhere?

No thanks.