Sunday, 9 September 2007

Planet Canada

The Burj Dubai is about to surpass the CN Tower as the world's tallest freestanding structure. Although Toronto's CN Tower has, until now, been taller than all buildings, it could never take the tallest building claim. It is not inhabitable from the bottom to the top--lacking attractions and amusements like floors and office space. Henceforth, it doesn't qualify as a building. That's your architectural lesson of the day.

I’m told the CN Tower has some communications purposes. But let’s be honest. It was built just to be taller than everything else. Thanks to the Burj Dubai, it is now completely useless.

Though Canadians will never let it on, this comes as a devastating blow to our morale. Canadians are like United Statesmen in some ways. We generally participate in the same culture. But where those neighbours to the south get to choose between football and baseball, Canadians who dislike hockey are unpatriotic. They get to pick between My Chemical Romance and Velvet Revolver, but if you’re Canadian, fuck you if you don’t support The Tragically Hip.

Many Canadians grow up with feelings of marginalization, so they band together and pretend to like all the same stuff. You can see this in comedy that comes out of Canada. Canadians are funny people, and their humour is based largely in outsider characters. In the States, they don’t shed a tear when they see the NBC logo, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is like our Statue of Liberty.

I never wanted to be a part of that. My perspective is based in being completely addicted to US pop culture, while also feeling outside of it because of where I live. Things that are uniquely Canadian tend to make me uncomfortable. I like sketch comedy fine, but you will never see me reenacting Kids in the Hall at a party. I haven't eaten maple syrup in over a month. I have never ordered poutine (the national food of Canada, made of fries, cheese curds and gravy) at a restaurant, despite having eaten it several times through means that I guess didn’t require me ordering it. To my knowledge, I have also never been fishing. And I have certainly never caught a fish. On the rare occasion that I drink, I prefer hard liquor to beer. It feels more hardcore, and I like that brief moment after you take a swig where you can gaze through space and time. Beer is for fat guys who don't wear shirts at barbecues.

In my first year of elementary school, the guys in my class were always talking about the NHL. I didn’t know who the fuck Gordie Howe was, and couldn’t understand why other 5 year-olds weren’t more into Indiana Jones and Star Wars.

This is a way of saying that I’m a fraudulent Canadian. But I will patriotically defend that title till my death!

I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the most violent city in Canada. I know it here. I like it here. Nobody has tried to kill me. The only times I've come close to getting in a fight in my life was due to the aggression of other Canadians who drank too much beer. This feels like a peaceful city. There's no huge difference between Canadians and Americans as far as I can tell. The difference is more evident in what the two countries produce. Minor variants in our pop culture taste are also apparent. For instance, pop-punk (even US-made) was popular for longer over here. For some reason, the US seems more accepting of Nickelback than my fellow countrymen are.

But since I frequently do work out of the US, I'm never sure how the other country perceives me. Joseph Kahn insists my accent is Canadian, though I believe he is mistaken. I have more of a Brooklyn accent. It's a result of French immersion schooling, which had some effect on how I talk, and watching a lot of gangster movies while realizing my Italian heritage. The common thing that happens when an American finds out you're from Canada is they'll try to be funny by saying something to you and ending it with an "eh." Yes, that's fucking hilarious! I can't tell you how many Canadians I heard say "eh" this afternoon.

And we say a-boat, not a-boot, motherfucker. Even the South Park movie got that wrong.

A primary speech difference is in localized "urban" speech. Canadians are more likely to end a sentence with "cuz," while Americans will end it with "dogg." There has recently been some international crossover with these terms. A Nova Scotia variant to the hip-hop greeting "What's happening?" is "What are you saying?" I hate "What are you saying?" because it's confusing no matter how often it's asked. There's no possible way to answer it except with a "Not much."

Rappers in the States are more frightening than rappers in Canada. Canada's biggest current rap star is K-Os. He's one of those socially conscious rappers who is often photograped showing that he's smart by tapping his index finger on the side of his head. 50 Cent could kick his ass in a fight.

When you tell an American that you're a Canadian, their internal response is "OK, this person's almost like me, but there will be something weird about him." That's a valid reaction, because it's absolutely correct. Canadians are Americans who are weirder. They develop extra quirks from the displacement of knowing their country isn't a superpower. It's an ego thing when you're aware that you resemble the top of the food chain, but aren't really there. It's like why vegetarians have slightly lower self-esteem than people who eat meat.

This displacement perspective is an advantage I have. For whatever I'm doing right (if I'm doing something right), I think my interest in pop, combined with my displaced Canadian perspective, is a piece of why it's interesting (if it's interesting). I like Canada AND the USA. It's the ways the two countries mythologize each other that never helps.

I'm sure Michael Moore thinks he's complimenting Canada whenever he portrays this country as the land of liberty, free sex and unicorns. His most recent film Sicko pined for our socialized health care system. Don't get me wrong, I would not trade in this system. It's just that this fake divide between the countries gets stronger when people speak in extremes and can't weigh things intelligently. The negative reality of socialized health care in Canada is that there's a long wait for almost any hospital procedure. To make up for this, doctors like to tell people they're suffering from anxiety. Granted, most of the time the doctors use the anxiety excuse it's because they don't want to send you home by saying, "I'm sorry, I really have no idea what's causing this." But it's also an easy way out. The few patients who have legitimized this system by really seeing their doctors for anxiety reasons will burn in hell.

It hurts to think in extremes.

Most Canadian who were kids in the 80s have specific prejudices against this country's film and TV. Canadian TV back then didn't look right. It wasn't as slick as Dallas and The A-Team. The film grain was more pronounced. The acting was different. But as much as the States also looks down on our entertainment, we made them richer. It was Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High that was the blueprint for the prime time teen soap opera. Canadians who are my age learned half their values from Degrassi. It directly led to Fox's interest in starting Beverly Hills 90210. Which of course led to Dawson's Creek and The OC and all the rest.

A lot of our film genres are owed to the recently deceased Bob Clark. Canada is the creator of the teen sex comedy. It doesn't matter that Porky's sucks; Superbad owes us. We invented the slasher film--the first was Black Christmas, not Halloween.

Because of Porky's, Americans always think they will have an easy time getting laid in Canada. Remember in Planes, Trains and Automobiles when John Hughes shows John Candy in the airport reading a book called The Canadian Mounted? Our movies have created a mystique around the sexual power of Canadian women.

The grunge movement owes Neil Young. Alanis is owed for other white girls getting angry. I don't even listen to that much Canadian music, but I have some inkling of patriotism about this stuff. I may not be a huge Rush fan, but when I read about Primus or Fishbone giving them props, or hearing "Tom Sawyer" in Rob Zombie's Halloween, that means a lot to me. Canadians pop contributions are too often overlooked and downgraded.

In terms of movies, this happens because the Canadian film industry is presently a joke. The funding goes to the most boring ideas and the filmmakers who have been in the game longest. The current importance placed on Atom Egoyan (last really great movie: 1994) and David Cronenberg (1986, and yes, I've seen Eastern Promises) is overstated because no one's looking for alternatives. As long as stars stay within their expected sphere of Canadiana, they never go away. It's why all Canadian movies star the same three actors.

This is where it gets weird. If you're a Canadian who is talented, and is ambitious with that talent, it's easier to get recognized by the States. Despite how people talk about it, the Canadian film industry is more conservative than Hollywood. Your talent can easily fall out of the range of how Canada wants to portray itself. Tom Green gets to be a big star in Canada for about 6 months, until the USA takes to his talent. He becomes huge on MTV, and then Canadians start hating him. This overseas-concentrated interest has happened to some friends of mine too, and it's happened to me.

The biggest recent breakthrough star in Halifax is Ellen Page. She became big in Canada first, and then got recognized in the USA where she made Hard Candy and X-Men: The Last Stand. Page was smart by jumping on board when the US became interested in her work. By still alternating with Canadian productions, Canada doesn't feel she's outside of the scope of what this industry is about.

The Canadian film industry has a very narrow view of what kinds of movies should be made. An easy rule to live by is never to expect great things from any movie that begins with a shot of a body of water unless it's AI: Artificial Intelligence. Some OK movies have begun on water, such as the generic helicopter shot from water to land that opens The Lost Boys and Snakes on a Plane. Usually, though, it's a sign of desperation in movies that don't really have anything much to do with water in the longrun. This rule especially holds for movies made in Nova Scotia. When one of those starts with water, it's a deathtrap. It will likely end with the characters ODing or committing suicide.

Did you know that The Rock is from Amherst, Nova Scotia? Me neither, until a week ago. That makes it somewhat more ingenious that I compared my likeness to his in a past blog entry. I don't remember Halifax throwing a party for The Scorpion King's opening. What kind of movies would The Rock even be making if Canada wanted him?

Canada needs a unique movie, made by its traitors who went Hollywood. We'll keep it mainly based on Nova Scotia exports. I'll write and direct. The main stars are The Rock and Ellen Page. Tom Green can also star. That's an amazing cast! If you saw The Rock playing frisbee in a park with Ellen Page and Tom Green you would think it was the coolest thing ever and would draw a picture of it on the bus ride home. I don't even have to know what it's about. This is already one of the greatest films of the sound era.

That's because it defies expectations on what's Canadian. It's bad enough when countries define each other, they don't need to define themselves. Don't let your weirdness be figured out.