OFF THE BOARD: A stereotypically Canadian ceremony

Off the Board/Opinion by

Stereotypes can sometimes be funny. Although insensitive and often in bad taste, where would “guy-walked-into-a-bar” jokes be without them?

Despite their comedic value, the Olympic Games are not an appropriate forum for stereotypes, and it would be far beyond good taste to greet the Italian teams with pizzas and Mario Kart. So why then did Canada portray itself as a caricature of what ignorant people outside of the country believe it to be in Friday’s Opening Ceremony?

I was embarrassed watching the Opening Ceremony in Vancouver this year, long before the last arm of the Olympic Cauldron didn’t properly rise from the floor of BC Place Stadium. All I saw was a $40-million show that reinforced the viewpoints of the Americans Rick Mercer used to interview who thought Torontonians lived in igloos.

But let’s start with the good stuff. The visual effects on that stage, transforming totem poles to redwoods, and creating orca whales in the middle of the stadium floor, were amazing. The musical talent Canada demonstrated reminded the world that we control half of show business, and the great Canadians who were celebrated (Rick Hansen and Betty Fox, for example) made me proud. In theory I liked the idea of showing Canada’s origins starting with the First Nations and eventually looking at groups from coast to coast. But in reality, that last part of the story was left out, as the ceremony whitewashed over the multiculturalism that we claim to be so proud of.

Other than the countries’ teams streaming in, the show ignored Canada’s multiethnic background and gave a skewed picture of what Canada is like. Add in the stadium as an ice cave, and the giant, ridiculous snow bear, and there are now people in the Czech Republic who have a skewed picture of what it means to be a Canadian.

Hosting the Olympics is supposed to be a chance to show off Canada to the world, but so far this seems like false advertising. Aboriginals, fiddlers, and Cirque-du-Soleil apparently rule the icy north, along with our only connection to the modern world – Bryan Adams. Even worse was the Hudson’s Bay ad that came on during the show, in which lumberjacks and dogsledders stood in for Canadians, showing that – as tough outdoorsy types – “We were made for this.”

If I were David Atkins, I would not have stressed our First Nations background as much as he did, considering we took their land illegally and now have a social system that largely ignores the struggles of Native communities. Instead, I would have focussed on the Canada we have today – one where nearly 20 per cent of the population are foreign-born, almost as many are a visible minority, and few families have been on the continent for several generations. Canadians have origins in all corners of the world, and what makes us such a great country is our belief that a cultural mosaic is better than a melting pot. We’re not just Aboriginals and Cape Bretonners, and we’ve got more than snow, ice, and Nelly Furtado. Sure, my Opening Ceremonies would include the forests and the whales, and of course First Nations would be involved – especially since the Aboriginal population is growing faster than the rest of Canada. But there would be a broader range of cultures and performances, from all over the world, to represent all Canadians.

The Olympics are intended to bring countries around the world together. Of course, some sources of Canadian pride, such as gay marriage, our peacekeepers, and universal health care probably wouldn’t sit well as part of the ceremonies, but watering us down to nothing but the landscape and its original inhabitants does not seem fitting.

Atkins and his creative team did worse than make Canada a laughing stock through technical difficulties and phallic, rising totem poles – they reduced us to a stereotype. If this is how we’re going to portray ourselves, we might as well have a Mountie hand each country-delegate a beavertail as they come in – as long as the Germans are forced to wear lederhosen and the Dutch enter wearing their clogs.