A new book explores the impact of TV culture on Canadian identityRabble.ca
June 9, 2011
(Wilfrid Laurier University Press,2011; $32.95)
Feeling Canadian, by academic and filmmaker Marusya Bociurkiw, explores the impact of television and corporate culture on Canadian identity.
Bociurkiw's book is not organized as a linear argument aimed at proving a thesis, however. Instead, she examines specific "traumatic points" in televised Canadian history. The cultural artifacts and traumatic points studied include the television shows A People's History of Canada and Loving Spoonfuls, the Molson Canadian television commercial "The Rant" featuring Joe Canadian and Pierre Trudeau's funeral. She studies these shows in order to determine how much the elusive Canadian identity is simply a product of commercial culture.
Bociurkiw starts with the Molson Canadian commercial "The Rant," an "artifact" that is most outstanding in its impact relative to its running time. In this commercial a young Canadian named Joe works himself into a crescendo of patriotism in the process of defining what it means to be Canadian. This commercial had a huge cultural impact in Canada and spawned numerous copy cat rants. However, it was actually Molson's response to the American threat to the dominance of Canadian companies in the Canadian beer market. The ad blithely distinguishes what it means to be Canadian by contrasting it to American chauvinism. Comparisons between Canadian and American traits where being Canadian is deemed to be superior is often labeled anti-American. However, when it comes to defending Canadian commercial interests, this appears to have been a wildly successful strategy.
In her analysis of Canada: A People's History, a 16-part CBC documentary produced immediately following the Quebec sovereignty referendum of 1995, Bociurkiw analyzes the blatant nation-building narrative that was its aim. She notes that Canada: A People's History relied heavily on the emotional technique of melodrama and voice-of-God narration. Its construction of a vision of Canada results in a revisionist narrative of imperialist victors: "A heavy emphasis on the Bering Strait theory positions First Nations people as immigrants, just like everyone else. Indeed, their presence is heavily mediated by special digital effects that produce a ghostly, shadowy, apparitional representation."
Alongside the ambitious and over reaching Canada: A People's History, Bociurkiw also examines the cooking show as a tool for culture building. The Women's Network show Lovin' Spoonfuls allowed viewers to experience ethnic cuisine and family life "...mediated by David Gale, a middle aged, somewhat effeminate, B-grade Canadian actor of Jewish heritage." Gale joins immigrant grandmothers in their own kitchens as they prepare favourite dishes from their homeland and engage in friendly reminiscences about the old country. In this chapter, Feeling Canadian elegantly deconstructs a lowly food show as a place where the politics of food overlap with the politics of imperialism.
The most incisive chapter of Feeling Canadian is the examination of the significance of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau's funeral. This event was a pivotal emotional outpouring for the nation. But Bociurkiw sees it as an example of how power can empty a public figure of historical context and fill their memory with collective affect. Like Princess Diana's funeral six years earlier, it was racialized groups that led the outpouring of emotion for the deceased popular figure. At Trudeau's funeral: "The process of mourning Trudeau was mapped over the surface of those feminized black, brown, yellow, and even queer faces -- this was even more proof of forgetting, since very few of those othered bodies were actually inside the church at either funeral."
Bociurkiw's writing in Feeling Canadian is rich enough to provide the benefit of academic research on our media landscape. Although it examines pop culture academically, the analysis is not impenetrably dense and accessible to readers seeking to understand the significance of mediation on our feelings and perception of nation.—Humberto DaSilva