THE BLOG

When Canadians Are Ashamed to Be Canadian

05/17/2013 05:18 EDT | Updated 07/17/2013 05:12 EDT
Getty Images

In some earlier posts I questioned ways to improve Canadian TV ratings.

But what about the broader culture? Is there a hatred of Canada, and if so, why? A hatred from outside...and a self-hatred from inside?

Consider this clip I found on youtube. It's of Canadian actress Meaghan Rath and a Scottish-American talk show host named Craig Ferguson. About three minutes into the clip Rath mentions she's Canadian...and the host rolls his eyes! When she says she's from Montreal, he gushes about Montreal (parroting the usual narrative that Canada sucks but Montreal is hip)...until he starts denigrating the Quebecois accent! So, um...he likes Montreal, he just can't stand the people who live there?

He's a comedian, but I'm not sure of the "joke" -- he's not lampooning Canadian foibles or satirizing Canadian iniquities. He's just rolling his eyes and retching.

Rath, being Canadian, remains unfailingly polite. Maybe she shouldn't have. One wonders how he would have reacted if Rath had quipped: "I never thought I'd hear a Scotsman make fun of someone's accent!" Though that would just be insulting the Scots who are guilty of no greater sin in the matter than squirting this yahoo out of their tartan enwraped loins.

Maybe she should've just punched him in the face.

Now, obviously, my umbrage is slightly inflated. Some of the interview was funny -- the Liam Neeson gags were cute.

What's bizarre about it is even as he ridicules Canada as though not worth a thought...he can cite various things about Canada just off the top of his head. Go figure.

But substitute another group in that scenario:

"I'm Jewish" (host rolls his eyes), "I'm Mexican" (host rolls his eyes), "I'm gay" (host rolls his eyes) -- stop me at the point where that wouldn't be objectionable.

Americans can find themselves lampooned internationally. And I'll admit that humour sometimes crosses a line from satire to just rude. But at least it arises out of legitimate targets -- U.S. attitudes and government policies -- even if it unfairly lumps all Americans in with the extremists. But that's a bit different than mocking a people simply for existing.

Now I started out talking about "hate" and I suspect a lot of people would say "hate" is an inflammatory word. Hate implies lynch mobs, threats of violence. Not teasing. Except when the teasing seems to be part of a pervasive and consistent pattern...possibly indicative of an agenda (conscious or subconscious). There are so many Canadians living in Los Angeles that Hollywood is cheekily referred to as the fourth largest Canadian city. Yet Canadians are almost never depicted in American movies and TV shows.

Except when they are.

And then they are generally depicted as dull, naive, often bumpkins and, on occasion, obstructive. They are rarely depicted as heroic or hip, sexy or intellectual.

Is that hate? Maybe not. But look under the surface. Why does this seem to be so common (if, admittedly, not absolute)? Why does a talk show host feel obligated to roll his eyes when confronting a Canadian guest?

If it's not hate -- it's certainly passive-aggressive (or "weak but vicious" as that phrase was defined in the 1990s Canadian sitcom, The Newsroom). It's: "I'm kidding (but not really)!"

Why?

I have one theory. There are plenty of others.

Canada's existence undermines the belief in American uniqueness. The "beacon on a hill" as an earlier American propagandist defined the country. While Americans fought bloody revolutions and civil wars, Canada is stereotyped (somewhat falsely) as the "peaceable kingdom". Yet today Canadians enjoy pretty much all the same rights and privileges Americans have. "What was the point of all that struggle if we're no further ahead than those ice fishermen north of the border?" lament (some) Americans.

The solution? Roll your eyes. Retch when you hear a Canadian accent. Canada doesn't count as a real culture, so America's specialness can stand uncontested.

When Canadian comedians lampoon America it might have its roots in cultural insecurity -- the mouse taking a poke at the elephant. But, if so, what does that say about Americans ridiculing Canada?

And this message then gets picked up and regurgitated elsewhere.

Now I can imagine Americans reading this post and saying: "Hey, c'mon now -- I don't hate Canada." Fair enough. In fact, American Marvel Comics has an entire Canadian super hero team -- Alpha Flight -- that periodically star in their own comic. But, funnily, that kind of makes my point: if some Americans have no issue with maple leaf wearing super heroes...why is so much of the depiction of Canada and Canadians in American media deliberately belittling?

This wouldn't be a big deal if it wasn't that it influences Canadians perceptions of themselves. Tell someone they're worthless often enough and even they start to believe it.

It gives life to the self-loathing Canadian who will happily watch hundreds of hours of American TV, with characters making references to American places and events...yet will declare it "embarrassing" to see a single Canadian flag waving in the background of a Canadian TV show. They aren't embarrassed by Canadian-made productions, they insist, they are embarrassed when Canadian productions admit they are Canadian.

The new American SF series, Defiance, occurs in a world unrecognizable as our own...yet still explicitly sets the story in the American city of St. Louis. While the Canadian-made Orphan Black hesitates to clearly show Canadian currency on camera!

Canada: the country that dares not speak its name, to appropriate an earlier phrase. It's like that "Don't ask, don't tell" American military policy towards homosexuals. "It's okay to be Canadian," say self-loathing Canadians and those like-minded in the American media, "just so long as you don't draw attention to it and we can pretend you're not."

Personally, I'm embarrassed by Canadians who are embarrassed by Canadian references. Or at least, I kind of feel sorry for them.

I wonder if those who make Canadian-but-not-really TV series like Seed, and Lost Girl, and Motive tell strangers at parties that they are American?

Maybe while asking how to improve Canadian TV ratings, we have to begin by convincing Canadians it's okay to be Canadian. And maybe that starts with Canadian starlets like Meaghan Rath punching out a few eye rolling TV talk show hosts.