Written by Blake Stilwell, master’s candidate in the Public Diplomacy Program at Syracuse University.
This article is Pro-Canada.
That being said, our neighbors to the North have an image problem. Have they done anything wrong? Lord, no. the opposite, really. They’ve done everything exactly right. Wayne Gretzky, Peter Jennings, Joni Mitchell… all Canadian. They don’t even have a negative image. The problem is that few people know it. They don’t really have a pop culture image anymore.Maybe it’s because they’re being modest. Maybe because it’s not in their nature to flaunt their triumphs. Maybe they should get over it and start letting the world know. Brand Canada is strong, trustworthy, and high-quality. But so is the chair in which I’m currently sitting, and beside the fact that my butt doesn’t seem to get tired as fast, I really don’t think about it as much. If it were a little more fun, more noteworthy, I might give it a second thought.
It will come as a surprise to no one ever that we Americans tend to think of ourselves as the best at everything, inventors/discoverers of all things important, and the apogee of culture and power on Earth. This is known as the concept of American Exceptionalism by academics and professionals, and as “America, f**k yeah!” to the American layperson. We have done a lot of awesome things, like the moon landing, yes. We’ve invented/discovered a lot of useful, life changing things, like Genetics, of course. And no one ever did an endzone touchdown celebration like Ickey Woods.
But the heart of much of what are some of the greatest things about America, like her dominating popular culture, her storied military history, and her rich cultural menu of delicious foods from across the country, are really tied to Canada. No lie. We would likely not be who we are today without the special relationship that’s much more special than our relationship with the United Kingdom. Sure Downtown Abbey is great and all, but I’m willing to bet more Americans will have a special relationship with Degrassi. You want to surprise an American? Remind them that Michael J. Fox and Alex Trebek are from the Great White North. Without Canada, Scotty would not be beaming up Captain Kirk. Because James Doohan and William Shatner are from Vancouver and Montreal, respectively. In all seriousness, the modern entertainment industry of Los Angeles might not exist at all without Canada, as Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner, of MGM and Warner Bros. were both Canadian. On that note, Industry giants like James Cameron, Ivan Reitman, and Lorne Michaels were also from Canada. Perhaps it would help the Canadian projection of power overseas in other areas, if every country knew how strong Canadian culture really is, instead of automatically attributing it to the United States. I just think they should be a little more vocal about it, let the world know they’re from Canada and are proud of it.
If Justin Beiber and Carly Rae Jepson aren’t enough to impress you more serious types, how about our intertwined history? When you think of D-Day (if anyone still does at all), you probably think of Omaha Beach or Eisenhower talking to paratroopers.
But at the end of the day, when the future of the invasion looked uncertain, who made it the furthest inland while taking the heaviest casualties? The 3rd Canadian Infantry division from Juno Beach.
So it’s no wonder Canadians celebrate giving the US the only (and much deserved) beat down on its own soil in its storied military history (sucker punches don’t count… looking at you Japan). This year being the bicentennial of that beat down. In all fairness, we were getting kind of cocky. In 1812, we flew a little too close to the sun.
The War of 1812 made us a little more gun-shy before going to war (at least… for a little while), but also produced some of the great heroes of the era, like Andrew Jackson (ignore the Trail of Tears for now… like we always have, I guess… that’s a different blog post). It ushered in the Era of Good Feelings and solidified our sense of national unity. Without the spanking from our Canadian sibling, American history might be completely different.
Now let’s talk about food.
This is just Canadian popular culture as it affects the US. I write pop culture and military history because that’s from where the bulk of my experience stems. I can be serious for a moment and talk about the Public Diplomacy of Canada. (But FYI – Culture counts for a lot in public diplomacy, and the thesis of this article until now, while a little tongue-in-cheek, is a look at what Canada is losing by lending her assets of identity to the United States.) But that goes beyond the scope of my message to Canada. You used to be so good at this. You’re known as the pioneer of PD. Canadian academics and diplomats advanced through practice and writing the art of diplomacy and communication across culture, in the 1990s, long before we in America asked ourselves why the Islamic world hates us. Daryl Copeland (a Canadian) wrote about this in more specific terms in January of this year: http://www.themarknews.com/articles/7914-canadian-public-diplomacy-then-and-now/.
As if we were the older brother, Canada lets us take all their stuff, and we leave them with only what we don’t really want. We have the NHL, yet they gave us Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux. We have a vibrant music industry, but they gave us Leonard Cohen. Perhaps Canada should lead the way again, set the example for the US to follow. And try to make it their own instead of letting us co-opt them. Because we will. It’s just what we’re used to.
Except for poutine. That’s all theirs.
Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any organization, agency, or department.