Most Canadians are not much maligned by the classic stereotypes of Canadiana: beavers, lumberjacks, maple syrop, hockey, beer, tundra, good manners and general affability. These symbols are a quaint mix of the historical and the apocryphal, and to most minds they represent no serious effort to define the national character. The polite, virginal Mountie in crisp crimsons is to Canada what the bonneted, braided mountain girl is to Sweden: a postcard.
It is even difficult to find a Canadian who is dramatically discomfited by more recent additions to the Canuck caricature: being clean, calm, diplomatic and, above all, fairly dull. While the points may be individually disputable, the overall impression isn't too objectionable.
But how do Canadians feel about being branded as a modern "hippie nation" of wanton copyright-infringin' draft-dodgin' dope-smokin' queer-marryin' freedom-pirates?
That's a horse of a different colour.
Whether or not you are
a copyright-infringin' draft-dodgin' dope-smokin' queer-marryin' freedom-pirate, you'll have certainly noticed that the Canadian stereotype
is undergoing a profound shift in the eyes of our American cousins, many of whose media pundits really do
seem to use tongue-in-cheek national caricatures as a basis for analysis, or at least for the purposes of strategic diatribes. To wit, to wank -- consider these recent mass-missives:
This summer the Pittburgh Post-Gazette
's Samantha Bennett
typed out a piece of fluff by the title of It's Not Just the Weather That's Cooler in Canada
detailing her own surprise of having to trade one set of stereotypes for another. From the article:
The Canadians are so quiet that you may have forgotten they're up there, but
they've been busy doing some surprising things. It's like discovering that
the mice you are dimly aware of in your attic have been building an espresso
The American version of being cosmopolitan is so...charming. At any rate, after Canada has been painted with a wide brush dipped in current events, Bennett positions the caricatured country as a counter-piece to cartoonified vision of modern America (a popular notion these days, reminiscent of Palpatine's Coruscant of yore, where the clonetroopers of security transmogrify silently into the stormtroopers of oppression). Canada is held up as an anti-mirror, to cast the light of cool conscience on a passionate America:
But if we are the rugged individualists, why do we spend so much of our time
trying to get everyone to march in lockstep? And if Canadians are so
reserved and moderate, why are they so progressive about letting people do
what they want to?
Jay Currie writing for Tech Central Station trots up to the podium with a similar notion up his sleeve, in his August 2003 piece Blame Canada , in which he points his hopes of file-sharing salvation north of the border, suggesting that the RIAA quit its litigated mass-beatings and take a lesson from the sensible, chilly chaps of Canada. From the article:
As the RIAA wages its increasingly desperate campaign of litigation in terrorum to try to take down the largest American file sharers on the various P2P networks, it seems to be utterly unaware of the radically different status of private copying in Canada.
Our own logoless Naomi Klein declares this new image of Canadians as doomed in the post-Little Guy from Shawinigan era, in which our duly-coronated representatives will have to make good with our trading partner and defender to the south for the sake of economic prosperity, in her article for The Nation entitled Hippie Nation :
There is another reason Chretien's nose-thumbing at Washington should be regarded with skepticism. Every poll shows that when Chretien steps down, he is going to be succeeded by his archrival, Paul Martin. By passing a bunch of laws that piss off the Bush Administration and then retiring, Chretien wins on two fronts: He gets to be remembered as the man who rescued Canada's sovereignty, while Martin gets stuck dealing with the fallout. Watch for Martin, who represents the right of the Liberal Party and is the favorite of the business community, to do whatever it takes to get back into Bush's good books, even if it means overturning Chretien's last-minute laws.
It's true that principles don't come cheap. Klein may be suggesting that reasons of vanity will inspire a fight in the average Canadian, however. Could Canadians become to quickly accustomed to being held up as the paragon for liberty for the sake of American polemics? From the article:
The Pentagon may be developing a high-tech form of "gaydar" to monitor the northern border, and John Walters may well be diverting funds from Colombia to launch "Plan Canuckistan." But we are not afraid. For a country that has been boring as long as we have, there may be something more addictive than sex and drugs: being interesting.
Move over Anne Murray and poutine, it's time to meet the new fictitious Canada: stoned, gay, peaceful and holding on for our very lives to the feeding hand we politely bite.