Halfway through the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, I became profoundly and intensely embarrassed for our country. Everything was fine until Neil Young finished his performance. The Olympic torch was extinguished and our country, on the world’s stage, up-chucked every imaginable Canadian stereotype onto the floor of BC Place.
Just to recap, we narrowly beat the U.S. in men’s hockey. We won more gold medals at a winter games than any other country in history. We showed the world that our athletes are not only fierce competitors, but are intelligent, funny and well-spoken. In attendance, for many events, were PM Harper and his always pristine salt-and-pepper bowl cut. Even he won something: a case of beer through a bet with President Obama. Over weeks of hard competition, we had earned the respect of spectators from hundreds of countries. But then, in just a few short hours, as the games came to a close, we were made to look foolish, the accomplishment of our athletes was diminished and our national identity was set back by a century.
David Atkins, Australian CEO of aptly named David Atkins Enterprises, was awarded $40 million to stage the opening and closing ceremonies in Vancouver. “There’s no shortage of talent in Canada,” said Atkins in a 2007 interview, “In fact, there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Canada’s resource of performers.” “Embarrassment” was a fitting word choice. The Olympic musical performance roster read like a pop-chart, circa 2000: Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Simple Plan. Now, I’m not chiding David for his musical tastes. No. Manitoba-grown Inward Eye and Neil Young were among the musical guests. But, David’s view of our country, of what it means to be Canadian, even though it was in jest, was haunting.
It started with Will Shatner’s once funny, now dated, “I am Canadian” speech — an homage to the popular Molson beer ad of a few years back. The Expedia.com front man and Wendy’s chili aficionado was neither funny nor inspiring. Then, Catherine O’Hara, comedian, delivered a dry monologue on how polite Canadians are. In this, she was as humourous and original as Stephen Harper’s hairstyle. One “joke” of hers was Sydney Crosby’s game-winning shot against the Swiss with a thought bubble that read: “Oops. Sorry about that, eh?” During these rants Canadians demonstrated their politeness by not booing.
All this was a light attempt at humour. I can imagine many foreign viewers still watching their televisions expectantly, thinking that the funny bits must have been mistranslated in the subtitles. What came next was a crushing blow to the dignity of our athletes and our citizens. It is too painful to recap entirely. The content is available online. I’ll just say: Mounties, beavers, moose and hockey. Every antiquated stereotype and Canadian symbol took to the B.C. Place ice in jumbo form. This bright, smiling mash-up of our national identity, set to a catchy Michael Bublé number, left me floored. The intent was innocent, the effect, disturbing. This display, which should have shown the world what it means to be Canadian, regurgitated and reinforced tired old stereotypes.
I, like many Canadians, may go years between beaver or moose sightings. The only on-duty Mounties I’ve come across have dark navy jackets (not red), night sticks, pepper spray and guns. It’s also rare to find one crooning Michael Bublé songs. Also, not every Canadian plays hockey.
That we don’t have an identity as constant or unwavering as Stephen Harper’s hairstyle is certain. That we need to cling to antiquated symbols that once defined us is not. The Olympics could have been a perfect time to tear down our ancient facade and display new and relevant symbols of what it means to be Canadian. Maybe in another four years we will.
Saul Magnasson is a third-year student in the faculty of science.