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.