The Yin and Yang of National Pride.
Vancouver Olympics 2010
Speaking as a Canadian, I was watching the closing ceremony and laughing at the cartoonish joking about Canadian stereotypes, I realized that we would have some apologizing and explaining to do.
I’m sorry for the heavy use of ironic humour. I know that irony does not work in many parts of the world the way it does in Canada.
My apologies, first of all, to the Swiss. I’m not sure that sarcasm or irony work well in any of the Swiss languages. I know from personal experience that it seldom translates into German. Catherine O’hara’s joke about Swiss Army knives was not meant to be an insult directed at the Swiss.
I’m sorry that Catherine O’Hara’s speech was crude. But that was the point. Her first comment about “polite Canadians” was made to establish the frame of reference for the ironic humour that followed.
I apologize to francophones around the world for John Furlong’s French. I think he avoided using French in the opening ceremony out of respect for the French language. There were a lot of complaints about the lack of French, so he probably decided he had better use more French in the closing ceremony. He might not have been joking. But there is a lot of fodder for comedy in his French pronounciation. Quebecers have typically been quite good natured and tolerant of anglophones like myself trying to speak French. But I think I know what the reaction would be like in France. I certainly was impressed by Jacques Rogge and his ability to keep a fairly straight face. Then again, perhaps they didn’t notice that he was speaking French.
To Americans who may have been watching, I am concerned that your commentators may have missed the jokes. That is what the second part of the closing ceremony was. It was joke. If there is anything that is typically Canadian, it is our pride in our ability to make fun of our own nationalism. We typically have a low pride threshold, and we are exceedingly proud of that fact.
Every once in a while, we notice that we have done something right, and we will feel really good about it as a nation. Then we wake up the next morning with a nationalism hangover and find ourselves feeling cheap and ashamed of ourselves.
We did a very good job with the Olympics this year. So the hangover threatened to be quite debilitating and we had to work the next day. So this time we decided to be ironic about it so we wouldn’t feel so bad about ourselves the morning.
We apologize to our American friends about the Canadian theme. But an American theme would have been a bit out of place in this case. We knew that Americans like Rupert Murdoch* would have a problem with it, so we used Canadian celebrities whom Americans would recognize, and might even think were Americans. The giant beavers, flying moose, cardboard Rocket Richard (the hockey player), tap dancing canoes, and Mountie chorus line were all parodies of typical Canadian stereotypes. If you thought it was anything other than a joke about Canada, then I am terribly sorry – really very sorry.
I’m sorry if you thought Bill Shatner’s speech was goofy, good. It was supposed to be. He was literally flushed down the hole at the end. I’m sorry if you thought he was being nationalistic. (He lives in the USA, by-the-way.)
I’m sorry for the appearance of Canadian Nationalism. Canadian nationalism is usually a bit of an oxymoron. In the deepest part of the Canadian psyche, we are not so much a nation as we are a family. We are a big weird extended family with lots of love for each other, and with lots of “black sheep” of whom were are strangely very proud. We have some serious disagreements. But we are getting better at resolving serious issues. We are proud of that, too. Sorry.
We apologise for winning more gold medals than any other country. We just needed to do that at least once. (Apologise, that is.) All the gold medals were great. We are very happy to know that we can do it. But I’m sure that many Canadians will also be quite happy if we change the tag line to “Share the Podium” for next time. Let others have a turn.
We never placed much importance on medals in previous olympics. The many great olympic stories about athletes, from our country and others, made it difficult to feel too badly for ourselves. We often have a hard time remembering who won what, anyway. I remember that Sara Renner won a nordic skiing silver medal in Turin. But that is because a Norwegian coach named Bjørnar Håkensmoen gave her his spare pole when hers broke. Norway came fourth in that race. I feel like I still owe a Norwegian a beer for that one. Displays of sportsmanship are more important than medals. So we were all a bit uneasy about the whole “own the podium” thing. But we are feeling really happy for our winning athletes. They work very hard.
What was great about this Winter Olympics, for Canadians, was that it was a celebration of our collective heart. We wanted to open that heart and share it with those from around the world who have “come together as one,” as the song says. That is the beauty of the Olympic Games. People who seem separated by geographical and political boundaries, come together to compete for their nations. In the process, they share their stories with the world. By the end of it all, we find ourselves cheering for each other, and feeling for each other. Each great acheivement and each great effort is celebrated.
Canadians cheered for their own. But we also cheered for Slovenian cross-country skier, Petra Majdic, who won a bronze medal with four broken ribs and a collapsed lung she suffered from a fall in training. We cheered for the amazing performance by Shaun White. We cheered for Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, Ghana’s first winter Olympian. We even cheered for the unexpected success of the American hockey team who were not expected to get a medal at all.
That reminds me of another thing. I’m sorry for the inappropriate use of the subjective case in that song, “Believe.” I didn’t write it. I don’t know what was going on there. I’m not sure that I can accept that in the name of “poetic license”. But I can accept the spirit of the song. It is a great irony that the world can come together as one, in competition with each other. We push ourselves to succeed against adversaries, and in doing so transcend adversity. As spectators, we surrender our own egos to the collective national ego, and then we transcend that equally artificial designation. We watch each athlete and live vicariously through them for a few moments. We learn to idenify with others. We start to feel what we all know deep inside – that the designations of nation, team, and individual are all illusion. Adrenelin and endorphins seem to flow from the athletes to the 3 billion spectators around the world. We transcend our differences and come together in the only true victory. We find ourselves loving the world and all its people a little more.
That reminds me. I sorry we ran out of condoms. Each athlete was apparently given 15 condoms each, and half way througth the games more condoms had to be imported. On the plus side, I am very glad that the athletes are practising safe sex. Apparently they are practising a lot of it.
Finally, I must apologize to the world for a particular mis-understanding that the use of irony may have created. When Michael J. Fox was speaking he was only being partially ironic. When we said to the athletes that “we will claim you” if you are extremely good at anything, and then used that as a way to pump up the medal count, he was being ironic. But when he said that our home is your home now, he was being honest, even though he lives in the USA now. We are all one family, and you are all most welcome here in Canada….especially Norwegians.
*Ironically, Rupert Murdoch is an Australian. He only pretends to be an American so he can undermine the credibility of the news media in the U.S.A. and delegitimize the Republican party.