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Canadians Have Culture Too!

05/21/2013 05:23 EDT | Updated 07/21/2013 05:12 EDT
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My previous post -- When Canadians are Ashamed to be Canadian -- resulted in comments. Some pro, some con, some didn't necessarily "get" where I was coming from. Perhaps because they were unaware discussions about Canadian identity and mass entertainment have been going on for decades.

But comments are good. I'm only part of the conversation, after all.

In my post I cited a U.S. talk show host comically rolling his eyes at a Canadian guest as an example of American media belittling Canada. But the point wasn't him, merely using him as an example.

Some said no slight was intended.

Some said it was intended and was entirely justified...and proceeded to denigrate Canada (or specific provinces) further.

Some felt I was making a mountain out of a mole hill. Fair enough. Some women are flattered to be slapped on the bottom and called "girlie," too.

Still, I thought I'd take a moment to articulate where I'm coming from.

Firstly: I'm a "pop culture blogger" (sez so under my by-line). I ruminate on mass entertainment that, after all, consumes a lot of people's free time. (If you thought I was crazy referencing a talk show, I suspect you'd demand my institutionalization over my piece about Captain Kirk!) Pop Culture is culture. Or as I like to say when it comes to entertainment: "If it's worth making...it's worth discussing."

Secondly: I like to question status quo thinking. To ask "why?" and "must it be so?"

Thirdly: I'm intrigued by how "cultural identity" is -- or isn't -- reflected in popular entertainment when, all too often, Canadian storytellers hide their Canadian roots.

So in its broadest definition, what is "culture"?

If you drive to work, bike, or take a subway -- that's culture.

If you get melancholy seeing the first V formation of geese heading south in the fall -- that's culture.

Culture, simply, is your life.

So what's "national" culture? A nation with a military history will say culture is war heroes -- and insist a peaceful land has no culture. A nation boasting famous composers will argue culture is music.

But you could say national culture is anything someone from away might find confusing.

If your family discusses Justin Trudeau -- that's culture. If you have snow tires -- that's culture. If a friend brags he has tickets to see Stuart McLean live -- that's culture. If names like Louis Riel and Terry Fox have some resonance for you -- that's culture. If you don't think it strange when a male politician makes a televised speech and a woman's voice comes from his lips -- that's culture.

A multi-party political landscape rather than a bipartisan one? That's culture, too. Culture is all around you. From bilingual cereal boxes to "Canadian Tire" money.

In this review of the Canadian TV series Motive, an American reviewer comments a Canadian give away is when characters talk about going to university, rather than college! (I don't understand the significance, but I guess he did).

It's also appreciating culture exists beyond your own neighbourhood.

A weakness in Canada is regional rivalries. The Calgarian who sneers Torontonians are just wannabe New Yorkers. The Torontonian who views Calgarians as just pseudo-Texans. Canada has no culture save Quebec, insist some -- but Quebec is part of Canada.

Part of this is rooted in a need to build yourself up, by putting someone else down (the basis of all bigotry). "I have a culture -- you don't!" is the sneer that the American says to the Canadian, the west coaster says to the east coaster, the white man says to the aboriginal person -- and vice versa.

And every single one of them is wrong.

But I love 'em all. Even those who take pride in hating the rest -- like the sullen teenager who refuses to sit with the family at the beach. 'Cause that's culture, too! The Francophone separatiste who looks down upon all Anglophones? Love ya, guy. The western reactionary who still sports a tattered old "let the eastern bastards freeze" bumper sticker? Give us a hug, boyo.

When it comes to Canadian culture, think of me as Pepe Le Pew out of the old cartoons, and the various regions as the black cat with the streak down her back. You can squirm and wiggle out of my grasp, ma cherie, but my adoration won't be dampened.

Because, equally, Canada's vibrancy -- its soul -- is rooted in multiculturalism. From sea to sea to sea, the different people and cultures, the immigrant and the native born. Indeed, no country is truly monolithic.

The contrary arguments can be paradoxical. When Canada evokes America or Europe, then -- ah hah! -- that proves Canada has no culture! Yet when Canada is atypical, then -- ah hah! -- that proves Canada has a stupid culture and should mimic a "real" country (Canadians whine a lot about liquor stores!)

All culture is borrowed and refashioned. European pyjamas were adapted from Indian day wear. Scottish bagpipes originated in the Middle East.

English-Canada celebrates Victoria Day -- even though the British don't! I've seen women dressed in a kind of Scottish uniform complete with kilt (I assume associated with the military or local university) -- yet I'm pretty sure in Scotland a kilt isn't unisex. And that's because, whatever the origins, these things are now...Canadian.

Cultural pride is like fire. You need it to warm your home, and to light the darkness...but unchecked it can burn down your house and threaten your neighbours. Heck, if Canada dominated the global pop culture the way America does, I'd be the first to exhort other countries to shake off the blanket of Canadian omnipresence.

I love American pop culture, but I champion the idea of Canadians recognizing they have a place at the table, too. As do other cultures. So go read a Japanese novel (I recently enjoyed Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino) or watch some Swedish TV (the Wallander programs starring Krister Henriksson are top notch).

I argue we are all diminished when storytellers obscure their Canadian origins. When one culture (such as America) dominates -- you are only getting one perspective. Embracing other cultures, including your own, just makes things richer, more exciting -- more tolerant.

And it makes better, deeper stories.

Imagine if when American writer Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird she had excised all references to the Southern U.S. and any reference to segregation. Would it still be considered a great work of literature?

She embraced her own culture, and maybe so should we all.