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.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if you can account for the difference between US and Canadian film or media as a matter of economics.

I think it's fair to say that a more profitable film idea will (or should) get funding before a less profitable one, regardless of theme or origin etc (assuming it's privately funded). I think it's also fair to say that Canada has roughly as many creative people per capital as the US. So why isn't there a proportionate number of films produced here? Or to be specific, why isn't there a proportionate number of film production and distribution companies in Canada producing these Canadian films?

My guess would be that there is just not enough Canadian money going around for these projects. Many other countries appear to do well, but Canada seems an exception. It seems wrong to account for it by discussing the murky issue of identity, when the fact is filmmaking is a business with customers in every region of the country. So why such a disparity? I don't know.

As an aside, I think you would also agree with me that the solution is not necessarily to increase public funding. I have a strong suspicion that the bad reputation of much of the Canadian film industry is due to the method of selecting projects to fund. I think it's safe to guess that the projects selected for their cultural significance or their representation of Canada, rather than just pure profitability (ie. popularity). These sort of fuzzy and subjective criteria are big trouble as they invite cronyism and elitism. My fear is that that is thee reason for so many pretentious films about oceans and suicide that bring the Wine and Cheese-types to the theater while the kids stay home.


Mark said...

Canadian culture is perhaps the most incestuous; so much of it is based on other aspects of Canadian culture.

And NOBODY likes the Tragically Hip. Nobody! Everybody likes poutine, though - but only a few can appreciate poutine pizza.

Mark Palermo said...

Who sells poutine pizza?? If it's just poutine on a crust, I'm not sure it should legally qualify as pizza.

Mark Palermo said...

Peter, you're right that the mindset of selecting projects in Canada is the problem. And that it's not an issue of there not being enough money involved.

But I disagree that the issue of Canadian identity isn't a major culprit. Movies here are government funded. The grant process comes down to how Canada wants to portray itself. This results in a lot of boring, artless junk that nobody wants to see.

Don't get me wrong, Canada does occasionally produce good movies. But as Mark said, it's too incestuous. Even a poor Hollywood knockoff, like the buddy comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop gets praised in this country like it's somehow above Rush Hour 7.

Mathieu said...

The closest you ever came to getting in a fight was when we were all walking home from 'Safe Grad' and got attacked by a wild mob. At least one of whom, by the way, is now in jail for murder.

I used to share Mark's view-- that nobody liked the Hip-- until I moved to Ontario. People here really do love them. It's the weirdest thing. Almost no one I knew in high school could even stand the Hip, but it's common here for people whose musical opinions I otherwise respect to own every Hip album.

Also: Quebec is the exception to your claims about Canadian movies. They might make the occasional Hollywod knock-off, but at least people go to see them. And not a lot of 'oceans and suicides' figuratively speaking) in Quebec films.
Lots of hockey, though.

Jesse Dangerously said...

The identity issue plays out in this way: Canadian consumers as a rule buy into the idea that US-made popular media is necessarily superior, more desirable and sexier than its Canadian-made equivalent. More money goes in and more money comes out, or so it seems. Canadian investors aren't ambitious enough to try and change the minds of Canadian consumers, so they'd rather import than encourage indigenous production.

That leaves, god love 'em, the CRTC and such arms of the Canadian Identity Police to create rules and amass funds which are nobly intended but which will never match the enormous studio budgets of genuine rich people getting together to take a serious risk in the hopes of landing a gargantuan windfall. So our homegrown shit can be a little raggedy, because no-one can really drop the competition and just do the best they can with their resources (or rather, lots of people do and make great movies, but no-one pays much attention to them outside of festivals) and they wind up making cheap-looking US-style films instead of extravagantly funded indie films, which is essentially what they could be doing.

Phewwwww I have no idea what I'm talking about. Good call on the boat/boot though Mark, I've been calling motherfuckers on that for YEARS.

Jesse Dangerously said...

Oh shit I forgot to say what I was ACTUALLY going to say about national identity, which is that Canada is in the unique position of having the alternative of just deciding that US-made pop culture is close enough to being ours that we don't NEED to stake out a definitive alternative of our own... that is, on a consumer level, no-one feels enough as though they aren't being represented in the films they see when US culture is imported that they really yearn for a homespun alternative. There's the slight disconnect that Mark describes, but it doesn't really get under the skin so's you'd notice.

For most people.

Mark Palermo said...

There was some false advertising in the title of that "Safe Grad." The real grad turned out to be a bit safer. But like I said, this "almost fight" was a case of Canadians drinking too much logger tryna start shit. I blame bad parenting too. Now some idiot is in prison for murder, and you have a lifelong fear of going bowling.

Where's Phil Raymond? He like the Hip. Defend your band, Phil!

Mark Palermo said...

JD, I see myself represented in movies all the time. It's just not too frequently in Canadian movies. It's absolutely true that we have an option to not even look to the movies our country produces. So the country should stop worrying about what makes a story uniquely Canadian, and just worry about delivering good films.

I saw a documentary a few years back at the Atlantic Film Fest that was asking Canadian filmmakers to define Canadian movies. The whole line of questioning annoyed me. The only reasonable answer is, "They're made by Canadians." It's natural that many of the movies coming out of this country will have some shared sensibility, but it shouldn't be forced upon them. It can be said that a lot of Canadian movies are "quirky" and deal with outsider protagonists banding together. I can buy that a lot of the time.

In fact, Wes Anderson's movies are often called on having a British sensibility. But I think they're very Canadian--Anderson combines that with the comic style of Peanuts strips.

It's just that I can't accept those definitions as a limit. Because it isn't working for us. The Canadian Identity Police are worse than the US Coast Guard rep that wouldn't let me bring a piece of lettuce on a plane that was in a sandwich I planned on eating. The movies produced in this country are playing safe.

Joefilmfan said...

Awesome blog.

1) As a bona-fide American, I will attest that Nickelback is a fine band. Until Canadians come to grips with this, your pop culture meter will spin aimlessly.

2) Canadians on a per cap basis are smarter and better educated than Americans. However, there is a flawed system in your country where only loggers and hockey players get laid, therefore there is a mass exodus of smart people to America to find pussy.

3) This may not apply in Montreal, which I hear is fucking dope.

4)Canadians dominate the American comedy circuit. But when I actually go to Canada, I hear people laugh less than Americans in their lives on a daily basis. Think about this. You know I'm right.

5)Palermo's accent is uber Canadian.

6) I've never been laid in Vancouver.

Mark Palermo said...

Thanks Joe!

Nickelback is so extremely Canadian in some ways that I think they terrify other Canadians. It doesn't help that they're Canadian in a fairly humourless way. If you come to Halifax and say you like them, the indie kids here will make fun of you. But that's not so bad. It's suspicious to prove one's superiority by hating on bands whose music has no pretense of appealing to any of the people they know.

Becoming famous in Hollywood seems like it will require less effort to get laid. But you have to realize that many Canadians are aspiring Marxists. It's sort of admirable (makes sex easier for loggers and hockey players), however anti-Darwinian.

I explained pretty well how I have a Brooklyn accent. Are you now saying Theo Huxtable's accent is Canadian??

riley said...

As a boner-fide Canadian, I'd like to take the opportunity to respond to Mr. Joe --

1) WHAT?

2) On the whole, Canadians maybe quite a knowledgeable and [dare I say it?] even intelligent race of hosers (I attribute this to Canada's long harsh winters with nothing to do but catch TNG re-runs on SPACE and thinking science must be cool because no one can recall ever having seen a woman as hot as Deanna Troy in Truro), but that's cursed us with a painful self-awareness of all the clich├ęd Canadian things our friends on the world playground really like us for, and that keeps us playing class clown because we just want you to like us. Unfortunately this trauma has caused a deep-rooted cultural-inferiority complex in Canada. It's what binds us, so we're total sellouts if we leave, but we have to dumb it down if we stay.

3) Nothing applies in Montreal. Also, the hottest women in Canada live in Montreal. This goes back to a few hundred years ago when French-speaking Canada decided they had no problem mixing with the aboriginals, so everyone is mocca-colored and sexed up.

4)See #2. The trickle-down effect of Canada's debilitating cultural inferiority complex means Canadians are mostly depressed. Sad people make better comedy. You know this is true.

5)I agree. Palermo's accent isn't even just a little bit Canadian, it's a lot Canadian. Don't ever lose it if you're planning to move to LA, P. It will endear Americans to you, because secretly they know about the sad thing.

6) All my ex's live in Vancouver. This has nothing to do with what you said, but still, it is a FACT.

Dartmouth North said...

What can I say? I took a whole class on Canadian National Identity (or lack there of...) and I still can't explain it! Here are a few of my thoughs...

-Mark DOES have an uber Canadian accent...or at least what I envision that to be. I think he would have fit nicely on Degrassi. The old Degrassi though. The new Degrassi isn't quite "Americanized" but it's certainly less painfully, stereotypically Canadian like the old one. But isn't that what I loved about it anyway?

-And I guess I would like to say more about Degrassi. As a teacher, my perspective on Degrassi has evolved somewhat. It is an EXCELLENT teaching tool. Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson's Creek, The OC...while my heart belongs to them, my mind certainly DOES NOT. Pure entertainment tripe, but no one can get enough of them (myself included). I think that is what I love about American television, so glamorous, so mindless. Degrassi dealt with/deals with issues (although I suppose I should ask a teenager if they agree...)American teen soaps are just that; soaps. Racey and unintelligent.

-Halifax and crime. I too have never been in any kind of fight or threatening situation. I know there is a lot of violence and crime here, but the reasons for that are often overlooked. And I am preeeeeeetty sure that has something to do with poverty. I don't want to open a can of worms (or do I?) but it seems to me that the crime takes place more or less within a certain community. I mean, yah, it's in MY community, but it doesn't happen to ME. There is always SOME random violence, but I think for the most part there is a reason for it and if you are not involved, and don't get yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will be oh k. People demonize this city for it's violence, but they often fail to actually analyze the situation. I don't know what the answer is, because it's a complicated situation, but I know that the answer ISN'T more policing.

-Like any stereotype, I think that some Canadians DO like Nickelback (they still do pretty well here), definitely The Tragically Hip (ME! sadly), Canadians definitely love hockey (my childhood friend cried the first time he saw the Stanley Cup in real life), etc. But to say that all Canadians are like that, yah, that's why it's called a stereotype. I still find it pretty amusing. One thing that makes us different too, and also makes it impossible for us to all be the same, is our (Canada's) embracing of multiculturalism. Sure, there are multicultures in America, but they do not define national identity. What Americans don't know, is that Native cultures, Muslim, Asian, Italian, Lebonese, etc, etc, etc, are all part of the Canadian national identity. Hmmm?

That's all. I have to go to work now.