Last night, alone in an apartment in Manhattan’s East Village, I watched the U.S. vs. Canada men’s hockey game, where – as the American media is justifiably loving to point out (“U.S.A., Eh!” read the cover of the New York Post), the Americans topped the Canadians 5-3. As the game winded down and it became increasingly clear Canada wasn’t headed for a win, I’ll admit I encountered some pretty intense homesickness, but one sprinkled with this sense of failed personal nationalism. I’d been irritatingly hyping up the game and Canada’s likely win to anyone I’d encountered over the weekend, tapping into this deep-seated anti-American sentiment that I know burrows deep within many a Canadian, but stereotypically, it takes something like hockey to bring out. But then we lost.
Witnessing the Olympics being held in Canada has so far been the foremost experiences of nationalism I’ve ever encountered. I teared up as our athletes walked their way through the opening ceremony (though, admittedly, squirmed in embarrassment later on as our Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado lipsynced their way through that horrific opening number). I watched nearly every hour of coverage, cheering on Canadians in sports I have little interest in/have no idea how they even work. But our big dreams in the aggressive suggestion we would lead the medal count (as Bob Costas noted like eighty times during the opening ceremony, a “significant departure from our token modesty and humbleness!”), have all but fallen prey to our neighbours to the South: As of right now, America has 25. Canada has 9. Medal leading ain’t looking good.
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And whatever, I can get past our lack of medals. After all, we are only a country of 33 million… a tenth of the U.S. So if we can achieve over a tenth of the U.S.’s medals, that should still allow for some sort of bragging rights. But the strange part in all of it is how passionate I became in wanting to win. How hockey games – which for years were more or less background noise for me – became main events I’d eagerly anticipate all day long. How when our national anthem played when one of our four gold medalists received a medal, I’d proudly lipsync along with the athletes. This is not my nature.
Stranger still, though, has been viewing this from within the U.S. And viewing this as someone who has fought to live and work in the U.S…. As someone who most definitely has guilt arising from the fact that I felt I needed to put a foot in the US if I ever wanted to get anywhere in his profession. A combination of this probably makes me more sensitive to America’s belittling of Canada. After all, my decision to come to the U.S. for work is kind of belittling to Canada in itself. So as I watched the American media’s coverage of the Olympics and how various commentators would subtly but repeatedly put us down, I grew really infuriated. Last night after the hockey game, Bob Costas held back smirks as he gleefully claimed that while this was a small victory for the Americans, the loss would be totally devastating for us Canadians. We’d be crying in the streets, because all we have is our little hockey game! This after a opening ceremony full of Costas repeatedly going on and on about how “Canadians as a group are among the friendliest and most welcoming people on earth,” which in itself is kind of condescending somehow when Costas says it.
All of this exposes what I think is a very flawed socio-cultural relationship between the United States and Canada, as well as how grand my own resentment toward the U.S.’s cultural power is. When Costas and Matt Lauer went on and on about how amazing the US & Canada’s relationship is and how we have the biggest border in the world and how we fight together in wars and wash each other’s hair and feed each other grapes, or whatever it was they said, this is how I translated it: You want Americans to feel like this is their Olympics too (this is heightened by the opening sequence that precedes NBC’s nightly coverage, which roams the mountains of British Columbia only to focus in on a bunch of bald eagles, or the consistent way the NBC commentators have called Canadian golds “victories for North America”). Like having the Olympics in Canada is basically the same as having in the U.S. Which makes sense from a U.S. TV ratings perspective, but to me, it feels like you’re trying to take away one of the few international moments we ever get. Let us just have this!
America’s cultural industry already swallows us 99% of the time, mostly just because of how fucking big it is and how our film, TV, newspapers, magazines or any other cultural entities or events have such a tiny chance of making waves on some sort of international spectrum because you guys are so close by with so much more manpower and so much more money. Honestly, it’s always been a guilty dream of mine to be a part of U.S. culture. That’s likely a result of what many Canadians experience in the socializing that comes with popular culture. I grew up bombarded with American pop culture. Americans, on the other hand, have a rather benign relationship to Canadian culture, save for maybe a “Degrassi” episode or the knowledge that a bunch of celebrities are from Canada. Let’s face it, you generally don’t know us very well. But you still love to keep telling the world how much you like us. Is it fair to suggest that the reason you like us so much is because you know you’re better than us? We don’t threaten you in the least, and you like that. We don’t have your money or your power, or anything close to it. So you make us your “neighbours to the north,” while Mexico rarely is described in any sort of neighbourly way. Because Mexicans are invading your borders and stealing your jobs! Canadians would never do that. But now all of a sudden Canada’s the center of attention, and that is something that does threaten you. At least for 17 days in February.
This is how I see it: America is like Canada’s older, more successful sibling (don’t even get me started on the inclusion of Mexico in this equation). Mother England and Father France or Father Spain or however you want to put it gave birth us a few hundred years ago (or, more honestly, kidnapped us from our First Nations birth parents), and we had to grow up together. In our youth, we got in big fights (the War of 1812, which, hey, Canada kinda won), but as we matured we learned to get along as best we could (more or less) because we had to. After all, we’re family.
But the U.S. also emotionally neglected its sibling, because it didn’t really need him or her. With its geographic disability (colder, less liveable space, etc), Canada’s growth had been stunted, allowing the U.S. to grow taller and bigger and stronger. Canada learned to accept this disadvantage (more or less), making the best of it and creating a nice little society with what we had, all the while knowing deep down we did need the U.S. Eventually, people in the global community grew to really appreciate the modesty that came with Canada’s accepted inferiority. And as we’ve seen, the U.S. likes to champion it too. But secretly they are as jealous of our likability as we are jealous of their bigger cities and bigger power and bigger cultural industry. And this is a dominant facet of a sibling rivalry that usually gets kept under the radar, mostly because it’s in our best interest to have everyone think we get along.
But the Vancouver Olympics have exposed this culture war more than any event in my adult lifetime. Two subconsciously insecure siblings are struggling for and/or with the power that comes with the Olympics games. And I’m in this strange existence I’ve created for myself that lies somewhere in between the two countries… trying to figure out what it all means within the US-Canada culture war that kind of is my identity.
And with that, I’ve turned the loss of hockey game into a rambling rant about U.S.-Canadian relations and what they mean to me. At least this guy knows what I’m talking about: