Friday, February 20, 2004
First off, let me state on the record that:
I am a big fan of Conan.
I am not a big fan of Canada.
I am an even smaller fan of Quebec.
So maybe I'm not the most neutral observer here. But then, I wouldn't be blogging if neutrality's an issue, right? <-- implicit duh here -->
First, a few thoughts on the Quebec sketch itself. It's not great. The sketch was based on idea of Triumph interacting with French people. Unfortunately Quebec isn't France, so the cultural references don't all work well. I'm sure Americans who may not know the difference as well will get more laughs out of the skit than I did.
Now, of course, there was one bit that did work, and it was telling the Quebec separatists that nobody gives a *beep* about them. This got the crowd cheering and hollering, and you know that it was this that made the pundits and politicians freak out. 'Cuz hey, we're all in on a big Quebec love-fest here right ($100 million swindled by the Liberals attest to that!). It was bad enough that someone pointed out the Emperor was naked, that an American pointed it out was downright humiliating.
The reaction to all this really points to something. The difference between American comedy slamming Canada and vice versa is that Americans do it with a good degree of self-depreciation, while Canadians do it with smug sense of pumped-up arrogance. When an American is portrayed as insulting Canada, it is done in a way to mock the American for his ignorance (e.g. South Park movie, Family Guy, Conan's eventual "apology" to Quebec). When a Canadian is portrayed as insulting America, it is done to show that Americans are idiots, thus reassuring our weak sense of nationalism (e.g. anything humorous on CBC, especially if Rick Mercer's in it).
What does this say? Remember that being "Canadian" is practically defined as being nicer, gentler, more polite and more accepting (not just tolerant, accepting) than Americans. But who's the one that has government employees calling the other's head of state a "moron", whose house member calls the others "bastards", whose government-funded television station has a comedy program dedicated to the other's gaffes and follies? Can it be Canada?!
The truth is that we are vicious, arrogant, and incredibly mean-spirited towards our southern neighbors. Well, at least those of us who bought into the Trudeaupia (as Mark Steyn calls it) vision of the last 40 years or so. And what's worse is that we're in denial about it. Is it any wonder some in the US thinks that we got it coming? The least one should hope for is if we can take it in if we can dish it out. And that's why this isn't about the $1 million CAD paid to Late Night: that's chump change compared to what CBC gets every year. And if you say that the government(s) didn't get what they paid for, I'd say they got exactly what they paid for: late night talk show humour. It's supposed to be on the ragged edges of good taste.
Canadians are people, not flawless deities. We can be jealous and condescending too, especially towards a neighbor whose incredible success and sheer size can cause us to be somewhat fearful of their influence, as well as towards a founding province whose constant threats of leaving can shake our confidence in our nation's survival. But these fears don't stand up to reasoned thought. America doesn't want to swallow us up, and to define ourselves as "not America" is not much of a definition at all. If anything, "not America" is the most popular way these days for non-Americans to define themselves. And as for Quebec separatism, Steyn once again puts it best:
Come to that, if the situation is so "delicate," why hasn't Quebec separated? Every Tomovia, Dickania and Harristan is independent these days: Slovenia, Slovakia . . . Slavonia wasn't independent the last time I was there, but it's surely only a matter of time. Quebec "separatism" is either the world's most inept nationalist movement or it's one almighty bluff.
If only my childhood threat of running away paid as handsomely for myself as it does for Quebec!Thankfully, the truth is that not everyone is a Trudeaupian, and you can certainly tell that much of that crowd on the set of Late Night in the Elgin Theatre sure weren't, which is why they didn't hesitate to give Triumph and those Quebeckers the response they both deserve. The fact that they don't mind an American dishing it out shows that there's hope for this country yet. The fact that the politicians did mind (and that includes not just NDP nutjob Alexa McDonough, but Conservative leadership candidate Stephen Harper as well) shows that we shouldn't expect this hope sprouting in the government any time soon.