Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The new hosers

Rob Ford and the triumph of the new hosers

Canadians spent much of the 70s and 80s trying to identify themselves.  What did it mean to be a Canadian?  What was Canadian behavior?  Why were Canadians in Canada as opposed to some other country, more specifically the US?  How could you create a country out of two groups of people who didn't really like each other, but were otherwise forced to live in the same space because it was so cold all the time?  And if Canada is a mosaic in contrast to the US melting pot, what kind of glue holds the pieces in place and does the mosaic actually make some kind of coherent sense?

(There's an old joke about how in heaven the French are the cooks and the British are the cops, while in hell the French are the mechanics and the British are the cooks.  Canada is ideally a marriage between a passionate Francophone mother and a practical Anglophone father, but in practice the mom is a cold Anglo and the dad is a maudlin drunk with a funny accent.)

Some time in between when I left for the US in 1992 and when I came back for a short and very expensive attempt to live as a citizen, Canada changed dramatically.  The dynamism and drive for decency that I grew up with had sort of evaporated, and the entitled cranky self-righteousness that many Canadians possess, whether because of the weather or their proximity to the US, came to the fore.  Much of the country now seems angry that they might have to work for something; they're content to coast on their laurels, to argue they don't have to be nice all the time, because they're the nicest in the world.  Its a bit like watching the home-town hero explain how they can take it easy and still expect to win.

I first noticed it when I would go back to visit family and friends.  My accent, because of where I grew up, was easily identifiable as Inter-mountain West, and it got even more Californian the longer I lived here, so I passed for most Canadians as American.  And I would notice little passive-aggressive things people would do, stuff that was just basically unfair, that they thought I wouldn't notice because I was American.  They wouldn't have treated a Canadian the same way, but because I was American they figured they could get away with it.  I started to sour on the old country at that point.

But Canada stopped trying, convinced they'd already won.  Oh they'll still tell you they know more about geography than the Americans; in Canada you can be second last in any race, but if you've beaten the Americans you've still won.  They'll still trumpet their health care, which is something, except that two generations of politicians have gutted it right there in plain sight, and everyone has fallen for the argument that all the changes are marginal; in the meantime, while everyone proclaims the idea of national health care they endure long waits, abysmal service, and endless broken promises and don't seem to think they need to do anything about it, like their institutions dropped from the sky, like some sacred blue rock.  They still talk about how people around the world like Canadians, and that Americans wear Canadian flags on their backpacks when traveling to protect themselves; except that Canada is now more hawkish, more intransigent, more angry and high-handed on the world stage than even the Americans, the only ally Netanyahu can count on.  Canada doesn't do peacekeeping anymore.  Canadians are proud to be cannon-fodder for the Americans.

But Canadians still believe they do all those things that were the basis for their great reputation.  They think they're perceived as calm, unselfish, considerate actors, smarter and more reasonable than Americans.  They're not.  You can't coast on your successes in the 60s, 70s and 80s forever, and in Canada's case, the country got lazy.

The usual caveats apply, of course.  The current Prime Minister, who exemplifies much of the problem, can't muster more than 40% of the vote.  (Rob Ford, on the other hand, was elected mayor with a handy 47%, and some think he's got a good shot at re-election, crack aside.)  That 40% has probably always been there; they've probably always grumbled about Participaction and immigrants.  The other 60% could say they do believe they control their destiny, that Canada isn't really a conservative country.  But for twenty years the small-c conservatives have been in charge, even when they called themselves Liberals, and they're getting what they want.

At some point Canadians will need to adjust their self-image.  They're already perceived as cheap, crabby, greedy, self-righteous, loudly narcissistic and convinced they're in on the joke.  They just don't know that, which is genuinely pathetic from the outside.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i think you don't like Canadians.