• Missy Franklin and Canadian Patriotism

    by  • August 3, 2012 • Uncategorized • 18 Comments

    One of the things that the Olympics reveals in Canada is a disconnect about Canadianism between younger and older Canadians. I’m not entirely certain where the line is drawn – it’s somewhere between 32 and 45, I think. Older Canadians (at least ones in the sports media) seem to have this view of the country that’s frozen in time, one that views Canada as a fragile sort of country in which people don’t take a great deal of explicit pride. They seem to have a sense of insecurity about the place, a need to grab hold of the accomplishments of people who aren’t really Canadian and claim them as our own.

    Two examples. First, the video essay that Stephen Brunt did after the 2010 Winter Olympics.

    But even as those inside the Olympic bubble were fretting and wringing their hands, on the outside, on the streets, and not just here in Vancouver or Whistler, but right across Canada, something remarkable was taking place. It was as though an entire country was given permission to feel something it needed to feel.

    Truthfully, re-watching this essay, it’s hard to know what exactly Brunt’s point was. It kind of suffers from Chris Jones Disease, in that it’s got a lot of fake profundity – “Cynicism is easy. So is retreating into historic grudges. So is looking at a world in which were once borders are now dotted lines at best, and believing it doesn’t really matter what you call yourself or where you live. It does matter, or at least it can. It is important to have a shared history. There is power in the collective experience. And, admit it, it feels good. It feels good to let your show.” That’s like nine disconnected ideas there. He does seem to have the idea that the Olympics had something to do with fuelling Canadian patriotism though.

    I’ve got a hard time seeing the Olympics as quite the turning point of Canadian nationalism that Brunt did. As a whole, the younger group of Canadians is, regrettably, obnoxiously nationalistic. They don’t need permission to feel patriotic. They don’t even need to have played any sort of a role in whatever it might be that they’re celebrating. Our taste in flags on our backpacks when we travel overseas is a worldwide joke.

    Which brings me to Missy Franklin, the American swimmer who is the product of Canadian parents, visits an aunt in Pictou, NS but otherwise is an American as they come. CTV did an interview with her in which they pressed the Canadian point on her. Her answers were basically variants of this, from the CTV profile of her on their site:

    Franklin has dual citizenship; both her parents are Canadian, but she was born in the United States. Having grown up there, she says she never questioned which country she would represent. The United States is her home.

    CTV’s kind of gone on and on about Franklin having Canadian parents. It’s been one of the focal points of their swimming coverage. “MISSY FRANKLIN, PRODUCT OF A SEXUAL ENCOUNTER BETWEEN TWO CANADIANS, GOES FOR GOLD.” It’s been interesting watching CTV beat the drums for her and the flak that they’ve taken (mostly from young people) on Twitter for it, culminating today in James Duthie suggesting that her medals are sort of Canadian medals, which is asinine, given that not only is she not competing for Canada, she pretty obviously identifies as American (and rightly so).

    I find these things fascinating because it comes back to how people perceive the country. In my experience, young people tend to be so obnoxiously proud of Canada and being Canadian that they don’t need anything to prompt a display of it. There’s no interest in Missy Franklin, Faux Canadian, because she’s not one of us and we have lots of things to be proud of, so why be proud of something that is so tenuously connected to us? The flip side of this is the sort of older model of Canadian patriotism, where you desperately clutch onto anything with the slightest Canadian connection as a point of pride. This deserves to be mocked.

    Personally, I’ve enjoyed watching these Olympics but not really because of the Canadian performances. While Olympic broadcasts are always going to be uncomfortable intersections of patriotism and sport, the sooner Canadian media covering the games come to the quite sensible realization that Canadians are already proud to be Canadian (in many cases, to the point of obnoxiousness) and that they don’t need to find fake points of pride, the better their broadcasts will be. Patriotism doesn’t have to be the only basis on which compelling stories (and the Olympics are for casual fans and stories matter) are told. Michael Phelps has been amazing to watch in these Olympics – the story of chasing the all-time record for Olympic medals is a great one. The British cyclists have been a fascinating story. If you aren’t forcing the patriotism angle, you can tell more of these stories. Canada will be just fine.


    18 Responses to Missy Franklin and Canadian Patriotism

    1. August 3, 2012 at


    2. Saj
      August 3, 2012 at

      Not convinced the age divide is real there with respect to this issue. It may just seem that way because Duthie acts like a grumpy old man when provoked.

    3. JonB
      August 3, 2012 at

      I couldn’t agree more with both of your points.

      One of the least enjoyable things about being Canadian is you can’t go to any foreign place on the planet without running into fellow Canucks and there faux badge of honour regarding their birth places.

      I was also completely embarassed by the CTV coverage in the 100M free when Hayden won his bronze. It took the announcers approximately 30 seconds to acknowledge what was probably the closest 1-2 finish in the whole swim meet.

    4. Jonathan J
      August 3, 2012 at

      As someone in the middle of the age bracket, married to a non-Canadian, from Sask, I get the inferiority complex. I spend way too much time pointing out to her Canadian actors, comedians, baseball players, etc. did you know Joni Mitchell is from Saskatoon? Some sort of mental illness I’d expect.

      I don’t really get CTV’s need to round athletes into Canadians for a Canadian audience. I don’t recall CBC playing the same game; they were more comfortable telling all the great stories including the Canadian ones. We have a lot of great athletes with great stories and achievements. That Missy girl ain’t one of them. Great story though.

    5. DD
      August 3, 2012 at

      I too am a little embarrassed by the endless mentions of Franklin’s Canadian parents and how me much she loves visiting her aunt in Nova Scotia.

      But, Franklin’s statement that she never considered competing for a country other than the United States is probably not entirely true. Her parents only applied for Canadian citizenship for her once it became obvious she could swim at an international level. They probably planned to use it as a safety net for her to make it to the Olympics if it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to make the American team. That obviously ended up being of little concern. Using dual citizenship in that manner is obviously quite familiar to hockey fans, with the Americans usually being the beneficiaries.

    6. Freeze
      August 4, 2012 at

      Obnoxious is right. To me it often comes across as a blind and ignorant patriotism. People I know seem to be overthetop patriotic just to seem more patriotic than the Americans.

      Do you think the lack of medals fuels the media and other’s insecurity?

    7. art v
      August 4, 2012 at

      The flag-waving makes the Five Ring Circus unwatchable.
      Just assemble the best athletes in the world at their respective sports and let them battle it out. Crown a champion. And move on.

      • DD
        August 5, 2012 at

        Well, the flag waving is what funds all these athletes. Without it, you wouldn’t be seeing anywhere close to the same quality of performance.

    8. beingbobbyorr
      August 5, 2012 at

      I see this so-aggressive-you’re-embarrassed-for-them patriotism whenever a Canadian NHL team rolls through Los Angeles’ Staples Center (especially Saturday night games covered by CBC) and ~1/2 of the invading hordes are sporting a red-and-white-with-the-famous-Maple-Leaf Canadian International (in lieu of the visiting teams’) jersey. Win or lose, their post-game, alcohol-fueled nationalistic revelry on Figueroa street always has this non-sequitur-ish quality (“Well, no, we didn’t ask, but thanks for volunteering how proud you are of your Canadianness.”) that makes me wonder if I’m unwittingly part of some Atom-Egoyan-channeling-Leni-Riefenstahl propaganda film.

      I don’t have the heart to tell them that Americans pretty much think of Canadians as our step-brothers, where an “Eh?” here and a misspelling (Centre, Colour) there are all that separate us. I wouldn’t be surprised to find more than a few Americans assume that Canada is a US territory, not unlike Puerto Rico. We would think that’s a compliment; no doubt Canadians would view it as an insult.

    9. Tom Benjamin
      August 5, 2012 at

      Older Canadians (at least ones in the sports media) seem to have this view of the country that’s frozen in time, one that views Canada as a fragile sort of country in which people don’t take a great deal of explicit pride.

      This is definitely the Canada that I grew up in – it was fragile – and because of that, nationalism was not perceived to be a particularly constructive thing. Perhaps I am frozen in time, because I still don’t think taking a great deal of explicit pride in country – or anything else for that matter – is very constructive.

      The difference between generations is in style, not substance. We took quiet pride in Canadian accomplishments, today among the young it is loud pride. I think the change happened partly because we grew less fragile as a country but also because of a series of very popular beer commercials.

      I don’t get what CTV was thinking with the Missy Franklin story. I don’t think the story appeals to any demographic.

    10. Michael Forbes
      August 6, 2012 at

      Haven’t followed the Olympics but this discussion reminds me of the awful navel gazing of the late 80s /early 90s. From Meech Lake to the Charlottetown Accord, the chattering classes went ’round and ’round (and ’round again) on Canadian nationalism and identity.

      I didn’t get the hand-wringing then and presumed it was over and done with by now…

    11. Lee
      August 7, 2012 at

      The obvious question that comes to mind, “is the media truly indicative of the national zeitgeist?”

      Given the extremely overt nationalism evidenced in the Vancouver Olympics, I think it’s fair to speculate that this is more than a passing fancy, but I suspect it has more to do with actual geopolitical evolution than it does with Canada becoming more competitive in sporting endeavors or a generational passing of the patriotism torch.

      When you live next door to a domineering neighbour with a massive nuclear arsenal and a predilection for puppet mastery, I think deferential diplomacy is as much a necessary survival tactic as it is evidence of the oft criticized wont for Canadians to be apologists.

      The view across the fence is changing however. Foundational cracks are appearing in the Retail Empire, and while it would probably be more prudent to wonder what might happen when the well armed former king starts to lash out in frustration, Canadians seem to be delighting in our rising fortunes while our southern neighbour continues to founder in an economic miasma.

      I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Canadian nationalism rose at almost the exact same time that America’s image started to tarnish on the world stage. Nor is it a coincidence that it rose at the same time the results started to improve. Bandwagon jumping has always been popular.

      Given the choice between the two extremes, I would prefer a Canada of quiet and confident dignity over one of zealous flag waving, but in many ways, this seems like something the country needs to get out of its system after decades of being the ugly sister.

      Having lived abroad for a number of years until quite recently, I believe the global perception of Canadians is changing and not necessarily for the better. Canadians are still seen as intelligent, polite, and for the most part, diplomatic. But that classic Canadian self-deprecation that once seemed seemed so genial and affecting is being replaced with a cutting sarcasm and bombast in the younger generation that many find offputting and eerily reminscent of our southern neighbours.

      A question I’m often asked by my European friends is why the Canadian character seems so defined by our relationship with our American neighbours? It’s not a question that offers an easy answer, and I would daresay, the current rash of Canadian jingoism reinforces a disturbing trend that we are becoming more like our Yank brethren than we’d care to admit.

      I think history will show that the greatest power exercised by the US empire was their ability to export their culture around the world, in essence ‘Americanizing’ the world through the pervasive American media. A big part of the Canadian experience is to deny this is happening to us, while at the same time happily consuming these cultural exports en masse.

      • beingbobbyorr
        August 8, 2012 at

        what might happen when the well armed former king starts to lash out in frustration

        Thanks to the Marxist professors in the humanities departments of our American Universities, our lashing & hand-wringing will most likely be inwardly directed. Just don’t brag too much about those Alberta oil deposits*, and you should be relatively safe.

        * Most Americans don’t know about this. I saw a lot of “Huh?” and “What?” when Obama killed the Keystone pipeline.

    12. Doogie2K
      August 7, 2012 at

      …James Duthie suggesting that her medals are sort of Canadian medals, which is asinine, given that not only is she not competing for Canada, she pretty obviously identifies as American (and rightly so).

      Especially since ultimately it’s American companies and athletic structures that made her the awesome athlete she is. The citizenship of her progenitors is barely relevant, except in making jokes about our own Summer Olympian incompetence.

    13. Ray
      August 8, 2012 at

      As someone who has lived on both sides of the border, I find it interesting when people compare the patriotism of Canadians versus Americans; the image of a loud-overbearing patriot off-set against the image of a quiet, modest patriot. When I first moved there, I braced myself for the worst. But in my opinion, there really isn’t a major difference between your average Arizonan versus your average Albertan in terms of open displays of nationalistic pride.

      On both sides of the border, you’ll see elected government officials or media make flamboyant displays of patriotism on a regular basis, but on main street, there really isn’t much of a difference between the two. Driving around, you won’t see more flags in AZ/NM/CA than you do driving in BC/AB/SK. In short, while many of us were taught in school that there were marked differences between Canadian patriotism and American patriotism, in my experience there isn’t a major difference. If anything, Canadians seem bound and determined to be more flamboyantly patriotic than your average American.

      • Tom Benjamin
        August 8, 2012 at

        In short, while many of us were taught in school that there were marked differences between Canadian patriotism and American patriotism, in my experience there isn’t a major difference. If anything, Canadians seem bound and determined to be more flamboyantly patriotic than your average American.

        I think it is a pretty stupid thing to be teaching in school, but for a long time there clearly was a distinction. Flags? When I was young, the only flags flown by private citizens were Red Ensigns and they were flown in protest against the new Maple Leaf flag. The reasons for our muted nationalism in the past is buried in our complicated history. But it was definitely muted, particularly in relation to Americans.

        I agree that it has changed and there really is no distinction today. The when and why of the change is the interesting question, in my opinion.

    14. Coach Pb
      August 8, 2012 at

      obnoxiously nationalistic

      That’s essentially redundant. The concept of nationalism is obnoxious.

    15. Katie O'D
      August 29, 2012 at

      I also didn’t see much obnoxious nationalism from young people in Canada when I was there, but it could just be that they had a less obnoxious way of showing it. The worst I saw was pretty much confined to hockey-related trash talk. Whereas we start invading people when we get too hopped up on patriotism.
      And that’s not to say that all Americans are obnoxiously patriotic, or that all patriotic Americans are obnoxious. But the ones with the weirdest views, like that owning a gun is somehow patriotic, are always the loudest.

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