September 6, 2008

Canadian Culture

I recently resigned from writing about Canadian Culture for another website. This is the last article I wrote... I decided to blog it up a bit, by moving things around and adding pictures, and share it here with you. Hope it doesn't bore you to death!

Have you seen the Molson Canadian "Joe Canada" beer commercial?

When this ad came out, years ago now, it struck a chord with Canadians. Why? I think there are several reasons.

Joe Canada was proud to be Canadian and, unlike many of us (Canadians are notoriously reticent to toot our own horns), he was willing to stand up at a microphone and shout about it. The thought process Canadians probably had in response to Joe must have looked something like this: "Joe is Canadian? Me too! Hey, yeah! ... YEAH!"

Joe rants about how he is not an American. Canadians love to feel that we are different from our southern neighbours. American culture is all around us in the form of music, television shows, movies, language, you name it. Canadians worry that we are losing (or that we never had) our own culture - that it's being swallowed up by the bigger, pushier American culture.

Third: Joe's speech is a rant and Canadians love a good rant. Just look at our humour - much of it is rant-based.

And finally: Joe Canada is a beer ad and Canadians are proud of our beer. We will tell you, often loudly and at length, that it's much better than American beer.

My question is this: Joe struck a chord, but does he truly represent Canadian culture?

What makes up our culture is a pet debate among Canadians. On one side of the argument, people bemoan that Canadian culture doesn´t exist. They claim that it is simply a cheap, faded copy of US or British culture. On the other side of the debate, we argue that Canada has a rich culture that is alive and well and based around our diversity.

In fact, the difficulty in describing Canadian culture is that it is so diverse. The experience of being a Canadian is going to be different for someone who was born and raised in Canada than for someone who came to Canada to escape persecution or war in their country of origin, or for someone who was born in Canada but who is living somewhere else. It is going to be different for someone living on the west coast than for someone living in the prairies, or central Canada, or on the East coast, or in northern Canada. It is going to be different for someone living in a penthouse condo in downtown Toronto than for someone living on the street, or on a farm, or on a reserve, or in the suburbs. Yet all these people are Canadian. Canada welcomes diversity - of people, of cultures, of ideas and, yes, even of beers. Because it is so inclusive, Canadian culture can be hard to pin down.

We can also argue about what makes up the culture. Is it the creative output of a country: It's art, crafts and music? Or is it what we do at home: our food, the way we talk, our festivals? Or is it the people who make our culture? Some people argue that Canada lacks culture because we produce fewer artists and musicians than other countries that are similarly well-off economically. The other side argues that Canada produces a very respectable number of well thought of creative people based on our population, which is surprisingly sparse for such an enormous country. The no-culture side claims that Canada lacks culture because we don't have a local cuisine. The other side argues that Canada's cuisine is diverse, like its people. No matter what aspect of culture is focussed on, one could argue from one side of the debate or the other.

In truth, Canada has a vibrant, exciting and, especially, diverse culture. Part of that culture is the search for what defines us. Canadians love to explore what it means to live here - what it is to be Canadian. We love to talk about ourselves (just look at how popular CBC radio is - a station devoted to talking about Canada and Canadians, and to providing a particularly Canadian view of what's going on in the rest of the world). Canadian culture, though, as a concept can be quite elusive. There are so many different people of different cultures who come together to make Canada what it is; and the country is so vast that many Canadians are living very different experiences even within our own country. It's difficult to come up with just one definition of what a Canadian is, how a Canadian looks or how a Canadian behaves. So, what is a Canadian? A Canadian is anyone who calls Canada home. And what does it mean to be a Canadian? It means living in a great big, beautiful and excitingly diverse country with a fascinating culture all its own. It certainly means more than simply not being American... The beer alone proves that.



Amanda said...

Americans aren't even all like Americans. Right? I think the whole world is diverse at this point. With air travel being so easily accessible and the invention of the world wide web, I hope that we are working toward a world where we are all just one people trying to make sure there is a home and some part of who we were left for our great great great grandkids.

Is that totally naive? Probably.

Amanda said...

Also, great article and it obviously didn't bore me to death. Very thought provoking. Good job!

CC said...

Nice post.

Professor X and I have always wanted to move to Canada. If the government would let us immigrate we might be there already! Shhh! Don't tell anyone I said that. I don't know who is watching my words....

scrappysue said...

you write very well! all the best with the new website!

Poetikat said...

Found you thru the Secret is in The Sauce. I'm a Canadian - born and bred, with Irish roots and Cape Breton clanism(is that a word)?

I do so love a good rant. They are so liberating.

Great post and great blog! I'll be "following" you.