Episode 115 – Oh, Kanada

Canada, really? The true north strong and free is a hurdle? Well,  Sgt. Kanada on the forums suggested we do an episode where we explain Canada to non-Canadians. Well, we recorded this episode instead where we explain nothing.

But Canada really can be a hurdle sometimes. Or at least the Canada made up of polite Mounties playing hockey with sticks made of old Tim Horton’s cups glued together with maple syrup and pucks made of beaver pelts sure is.

It’s a hurdle because it’s all lies.

By and large, Canadians are not particularly friendly or respectful or polite. We’re not all that progressive in our thinking and our environmental record isn’t too shiny either. As for our cuddly Mounties, just ask the protesters who attended the G20 protests last summer what they think (hint: they traded in their red coats for black riot gear). Any time we manage to be respectful towards other human beings or uphold our humanitarian/socialist ideals, it’s done out of a knee-jerk reaction to not being American.

For instance we’re not a melting pot of cultures, we’re a cultural mosaic. The idea being that we value diversity over assimilation. I’m not convinced this approach actually works on a pragmatic level and might be the root of the lack of social cohesion in our cities or a true national identity. But it is a big part of what makes Canada a Canadian country. Specifically that, when talking about socio-political issues, we take the moral high-ground over our neighbours to the south who prefer a homogenous and, theoretically, more easily controlled society.

And that’s the crux of it. We’re a country defined by not being another country. That’s our whole national identity. Yet somehow we delude ourselves that this is a legitimate source of self-worth. We’re those nerdy kids relegated to the corner of the high school cafeteria who take pride in at least not being jocks.

And it’s a shitty corner of the cafeteria, let me tell you. The reason the jocks don’t sit up here is because the windows leak, there’s a freezing draft eight months of the year, and in the summer the heater gets cranked up to 11  so everything becomes a sweltering sauna.

Oh, by the way, I’m only talking about Central Canada. You see, there’s actually four Canadas and only one that really matters.

There’s the Maritime provinces on the East Coast, there’s Western Canada and then there’s Central Canada which is the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. And that’s the only true Canada. This is where most Canadians live. Or, at least, the only Canadians the Federal government considers the needs of when making policy.

Mountie and indian

Notice I didn’t mention the fourth Canada? Most Canadians wouldn’t either. That’s Northern Canada which only exists to be forgotten and sometimes get screwed over by the rest of us.

The weirdest thing about Central Canada is half of it wants to leave. Quebec has had a separatist movement since the 1800’s. This has something to do with speaking French. Most of Canada wants them to stay. Though if pressed for a reason why, they’d probably just tell you something about as eloquent and considered as “Because” or “Well, they’re part of Canada. They can’t leave.”

Mostly, no one wants the poutine pipeline to dry up. That’s not a euphemism for anal porn, we just like having a douchie name for cheese and gravy on fries.

Really, Canada is too big and under-populated to work as a nation. Only a country with this small a gene-pool would offer up Chad Kroeger as one of our best and brightest. I’m a patriot and all, but I can certainly sympathize with another  province wanting to distance itself from Alberta.

Tim Horton's line up
Typical line up of Canadian idiots hankering for puddle water with two creams and two sugars.

Growing up in British Columbia—which has about as much to do with Canada as Britain or Columbia—I was a big proponent of the Cascadian Independence Movement. Like any Utopian dream, to believe it would actually work is pretty naive. But, hey, I was young and still believed people weren’t all bastards and could set aside self-interest long enough to work together to make a better world. Foolish, I know.

Cascadia could really only be viable economically if California, the Yukon and Alaska were, however unlikely, also a part of it. But the general idea of breaking the continent up into smaller, European-style parcels makes a lot of sense. Decisions made in Ottawa, no matter how well-intentioned, generally only end up giving the shaft to people in Victoria or Halifax.

Canadian Mounties vs. Atomic InvadersBy this point in the article I suspect you’re probably wondering how I can seriously claim to be a patriot. I have just suggested the country fracture into a series of smaller states, in some cases uniting with The Great Satan. Well, that’s just how patriotism roles up here.

Canadians are known for our humility and self-deprecating humour. In reality, we’re closer to self-loathing. We look at Texas and say “At least we’re not like that” but we know Alberta really is and it hurts. We make fun of Tennessee and Alabama rednecks, but we’ve all seen Trailer Park Boys and know there’s a little bit of that American stereotype in everyone’s backyard. We all know Montreal is just a crappy, cut-rate version of Paris and Toronto is a bargain-basement New York knock off.

But Canada is still the best country in the world to live.

We’re a country where the downtrodden aren’t left out to dry, where the sick aren’t doomed to financial ruin, and people have control over their bodies and the right to marry who they wish. Even if Prime Minister Stephen Harper cuts most of the social programs that define Canada, or erodes the personal liberties that separate us from less free states, the next government will probably reinstate them. Though, individually, Canadians are kind of assholes, there’s just a sense in this country of collectively doing the right thing. You can screw your neighbour on your own time, but as a country we’ve got each others’ backs.

Where the real hurdle about so-called Canadian Culture comes in is when it’s implied that finding hockey remotely interesting is somehow tied into these greater ideals. Or that desperate isolation in barren landscapes is the Canadian experience for the average citizen. Reading Can-Lit and watching National Film Board movies might make you think so, but only a small percentage of Canadians actually live this bleak, desperate lifestyle. Most of us live in suburban developments and shop at box-stores. Which is another kind of bleak, desperate lifestyle.

I’m truly proud of Canada and to call myself Canadian. I’m proud to live in a country with the kind of Medicare program we’ve developed, but please don’t paint any more murals of beavers and farmers in the style of the Group of Seven.

The Group of Seven brings me to my next point.

Due to out proximity to the United States of Media Domination, the Canadian arts & entertainment scene is a bit of an odd  bird. To combat the proliferation of American movies, TV shows and music, our government is dedicated to promoting that dubious entity called Canadian Culture. This means certain artists who are deemed worthy (meaning they know how to write a grant proposal) get funding from the government. In effect, all Canadian publishers and record companies survive on grants.

On one hand, Canada Council funding means the arts actually exist in Canada. On the other, it means only a certain “Canadian” aesthetic is given bias. This isn’t intentional, the “Canadian bias” didn’t exist until the Canada Council created it. What I mean is, artists and producers know what’s going to get a green light from the Canada Council and what isn’t. This is how Canadian Culture has been insidiously steered in a certain direction for a little over 50 years. Ultimately, is this really a bad thing? No, of course not. I just, personally, don’t care much for the flavour the Council curates.

stats

Top 2000 Album Chart – Album Sales in Canada by Artist Nationality (Thousand Units)

We also have something up here called Can-Con which is a CRTC requirement that a certain percentage of Canadian music gets played on the airwaves. This is important because otherwise new Canadian bands wouldn’t get any exposure (on radio stations no one listens to anymore anyway?) in favour of Lady Gaga or The Vaccines.

Also Rush wouldn’t get played 20 times a day on the classic rock stations. Sacre bleu! Without this regulation, bands like Barenaked Ladies, Beduin Soundclash, Metric, Glass Tiger, or pretty much anyone else on this list would never have gotten any attention from the general public. The same goes for international superstars like Bryan Adams, Nickleback and Celine Dion (make of that what you will).

When Can-Con and the Canada Council work, they give a leg-up to deserving Canadian talent. The rest of the time they’re perpetuating a culture of mediocrity. How else do you explain  Kim Mitchell‘s career?

In a lot of ways, our Canadian Culture is as entirely a fabricated charade as the Molson’s I Am Canadian ad campaign.

Correction:
Apparently Lloyd Robertson (the real-life Kent Brockman) was neither dead nor retired at the time of recording this episode. He retired just today and will be on air until September. Hey, we didn’t know, we don’t own a TV. Which means we don’t have to watch the horrible Canadian comedy institution Royal Canadian Air Farce.

Which, since 1970, was the worst comedy this country ever produced until Russell Peters and Ron James got invented. Really, I think all my problems with Canadian Culture can be summed up with these two guys.

Further reading:
If you want to know more about Canada. I suggest perusing Filibuster Cartoons. Their article on Canadian Stereotypes expands on a lot of what I’ve said here. There’s also a Guide to Canada.

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13 Responses to Episode 115 – Oh, Kanada

  1. Steve says:

    RE: Flags.

    Wales wins!

    White on top
    Green on the bottom
    Fuckin’ big red DRAGON in the middle!

  2. ebv2010 says:

    Damn, I need to respond to this episode. I was one my way to an aspergers/autists meetup (hanging out, having drinks but with sane people that don’t have 5,000 unwritten but very specific rules on how to properly socialize – seriously, normal people are quite insane like that) so I was driving. My hands itched to write down on what I needed to comment about various things (like music: I revere 4 bands/solo artists, two of them Canadian but I’m not sure you know them).

    Also, a rudimentary idea popped in my head on the possible hurdle of geeks/nerds and autists and autist-adjacency for an episode. For some reason (and due to conversations I had during the meetup) I feel there might be a sort of dynamic in there. But it’s rudimentary, I’d need to work it out.

    • nerdhurdles says:

      I’d like to know who these musicians are.

      • ebv2010 says:

        Oooooh, you asked!
        OK, it’s Brad Sucks (Brad Turcotte from Ontaria) and Jade Leary (Patrick la Roque from Montreal).
        Brad Sucks has built a fanbase mainly through internet and got a bit of recognition in Newsweek and Rolling Stone, Jade Leary got some airplay on CBC and music podcasts tend to play him too.
        But have jobs with which they make a living (programmer and photographer respectively).
        Through email exchanges I got to know Patrick. In essence, we are penpals.

        http://www.bradsucks.net
        http://www.jadeleary.com

      • nerdhurdles says:

        I hadn’t heard of Brad Sucks before. Or, I think I’d heard the name maybe. Seems okay. Jade Leary though is exactly the kind of Canadian folk-rock I really don’t care for. But it’s also a lot like a lot of American folk-rock I really don’t care for too. So probably nothing to do with the Canadian flavour.

  3. ebv2010 says:

    I’m not surprised that both artists don’t exactly top your list, if anything the fact that there are artist/bands that have millions of fans amazes me. With taste being personal I’d expect a more even distribution.

    But Jade Leary classified as folk-rock. Are we talking about the same one? Do our definitions of folk-rock differ? In high school a girl in my class (new wave/gothic type) who had never heard of Frank Zappa said she didn’t like country music after she listened to a Frank Zappa mix tape I gave her. I’m in the same state of confusion now.

    • nerdhurdles says:

      I don’t imagine there’s more than one Jade Leary. My basis for the label is on admitted limited exposure. Singer/songwrter, folk-rock, adult-alternative, interchangable pigeonholes I think would fit.

      • ebv2010 says:

        I wouldn’t ask of you to go through the catalog of Jade Leary and write a thesis, the idea being fun though.
        The closest thing you’ve got there would be adult-alternative. I actually think it is fair enough to put him there. Singer-songwriter: technically, yes. But I’m still straining to find any remote folk-ish influences.
        I say this as a matter of interest in how people perceive music differently. As to JL, I’m far from an objective listener. I got to know him and at one point mailed him my thoughts on his album and what he meant to do with them, which he found spot on. We have some parallels between us. I also love his photography. I got to know him through our mutual appreciation of English musician Peter Hammill (who you either don’t label or put a ton of labels on simultaneously).

        I now drifted from the subject of Canadian music. That requires a slight more general outlook which you really can’t set next to individual musicians. Also, I watch it from the outside. With both US and Canadian music, I find there is a lot of good stuff out there, without me being able to pinpoint it. To me, neither country is really better than the other (except for Celine Dion, she must go away). That is probably mostly due to my approach to music.

  4. nerdhurdles says:

    I only meant “folk-rock” in the sense of the use of strummy acoustic guitars. But that might not be indicative of his music as a whole. Just the songs I’m familiar with. A sort of a distilled Neil Young influence I detected in them, ergo me saying “folk rock”.

    Regardless, a lot of mainstream Canadian rock is influenced by Neil young and Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn and Jonui Mitchel and comnionations there of. Also, sadly, it seems faux-Irish balladeers who run open mic nights in faux-Irish pubs across the country are a big influence.

    • ebv2010 says:

      “strummy acoustic guitars”
      *light bulbs turns on*
      Ok, I can definitely see that. I also think I know which song(s) you refer to. In that sense, yes there is that. Rest assured, this is not ‘A Defense Of Jade Leary’ by E. Blonk. I do think music is very personal and there are few things that are objective besides technical matters. His influences and also what he uses are the 70s, 80s and 90s. There is Pink Floyd in there, straight-forward rock, the philosophical musings that Peter Hammill is known for (I don’t mean “We Were Eternal” which might by the song you came across, being the only one he made a video for). He himself, in a podcast he used to have, freely admitted and pointed out what he did, like were he was trying to create a Pink Floyd sound in a song.

      Your assessment of Canadian music is probably right. Thing is, from over here, it is hard to distinct, as it isn’t obvious who is from Canada and who from the US. You have to know (for the longest time I didn’t know Rush is Canadian).
      I think it would be interesting to see North America as one big area and look at the music again. I think you’ll find Canada isn’t so much the little brother that copies his older sibling but that there are areas where music is gone about in a different way. There are Canadas all over the US and I venture to say there are USes in Canada. Probably many areas in the US has bands doing the same thing you describe Canadian music doing.
      To be sure, I first will have to look at North America in that way. For that I need time, a scarce commodity right now.

      • mrdapper says:

        Well, yes. There is a continuum. And I admit to being just as annoyed when Canadians try to sound like Springsteen or Tom Petty or some other American roots-rocker when we have nothing to do with that sound in our “roots” as when Canadians from the prairies take on a “maritime” flavour.

        All that aside, my main point wasn’t about the “sound” of Canadian rock. It’s that in the US, you have to be really good to stand out from the pack (before American Idol anyway). But in Canada, the pack has always been smaller so you only had to be “pretty good” and Can-Con would take care of the rest. Bands that would have been one-hit wonders in the US (and were if their records even got released down there) end up having bogglingly long careers at home. Which is awesome for them. But it gives me a Canadian musician hurdle.

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