Canadian Music and Art

Vancouver Film Industry: “Hollywood North”        
            Vancouver’s film and TV industry is incredibly influential on the world stage, although you may not know it. Instead of getting credit for the role we play in successful major network shows and Hollywood Blockbusters, attention is focused on our poorer independent attempts in the two fields. Why is this?
Vancouver, B.C, lovingly nicknamed “Hollywood North”, has housed many popularized series’ such as Fringe, Andromeda, Highlander, Smallville, Supernatural, Dark Angel, and the Twilight Zone. The lush background of the Canadian wilderness and its proximity to the beautiful city center makes it an ideal location for shooting, able to provide a diversity of backgrounds, making it especially appropriate for science-fiction series’. Even though it is in large part Canadians that crew, stunt, write, and act on these and many other shows, these series’ are not thought of as “Canadian”; on the contrary, shows that are much less popular and arguably less entertaining are brought to mind when Canadian television is mentioned, such as the rural Canadian comedy “Corner Gas”. This CTV show based out of Saskatchewan just finished its sixth season of perpetuating the Canadian stereotype despite its questionable comedic value.  90’s teen dramas such as Degrassi (and its successor Degrassi the Next Generation) as well as Edgemont did well in Canada as well as in the United States because of Canadian televisions allowance to tackle more controversial topics such as teen pregnancy and homosexuality. Although these dramas exclusively about Canadian youth were well received by their intended audiences internationally, the lack of production value was evident and the acting was poor, making them disappointing efforts. Another show that has been picked up my American networks is Peak Season, a Canadian reality show currently airing on America’s MTV which follows a group of young people from Whistler through their day to day lives.
The semi-scripted antics of each episode are shallow and uninspired to say the least but the show has done well enough to be picked up for another season on MTV, although no one is sure how the show has any place on what is supposed to be a music network.
It is easy to say that Canada is poorly represented in the television programing deemed strictly Canadian, and unfortunately film is not much better. Just as with television, Vancouver has lent its inspiring scenery to many major Hollywood titles such as the X-men saga, the immensely popular Twilight saga, Fantastic Four and sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer, the A-team remake to come out this year, and also 2012 released last year. This is just to name a few of the hundreds of “Hollywood” movies that have called British Columbia home. But does anybody call these films “Canadian”? Despite the large role that Canadians and Vancouver itself have played in these films, because they are not funded by Canadian production companies the Canadian influence is not recognized on an international scale.  
Although we have provided cinema and television with countless talented actors and actresses such as Kiefer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Kim Cattrall, and William Shatner, their lack of participation in exclusively Canadian material is upsetting and shows a lack of ambition to forward a more uniquely Canadian industry. It seems that for an actor, to “make it” is to leave “Hollywood North” for its much more famous counterpart, only to be sent ironically back to Canada for filming.
            On a whole, the influence of “Hollywood North” on the television and film industry is severely underestimated. It seems like no matter the hand our country plays in popularized television and million dollar movies, unless we begin footing the bill proper credit will not be received. Like so many other faculties, the cinematic arts leave Canadians underappreciated on the world stage, and this lack of gratitude and approval contributes to an at times underwhelmed and fractured Canadian identity. This is understandable, as no nation wants to go unappreciated for their hard work.


"One Week": A Canadian Journey of Discovery and Realization
It doesn’t get much more Canadian than this. As much as the Canadian film industry has not received the credit it deserves, this film is an example of what can happen when you have great Canadian actors, writers, and producers coming together to create something distinctly Canadian. The story is simple: a young man (played by Vancouver-born actor Joshua Jackson), engaged to be married, discovers he has cancer and very little time to live. After rolling up the rim of a Tim Horton’s cup which simply reads “go west young man”, he decides to take its instructions to heart, departing on a journey by motorcycle all the way across the stunning Canadian landscape, from the east coast to the west. He stops in small towns, takes pictures with all the kitschy world record breakers (such as the world’s largest Adirondack chair and the world’s largest hockey stick), meets countless strangers making some of them into friends, and by the end completes a true journey of self discovery. Not only does this film embrace the theme of the journey making it feel Canadian, but it also embodies a certain subtlety of character development and plot movement that seems reminiscent of earlier works of Canadian Literature. Overall, the film is a must-watch for those who enjoy a good ol’ slice of Canadiana, and even more than that, it is a film that exemplifies the Canadian identity and spirit through the truly Canadian means of the journey. After watching this film, the definition of Canadian identity seemed a whole lot clearer.

Celine Dion: God Bless America?

In this clip we can see Celine Dion, who is an iconic Canadian musician, performing God Bless America at the 2003 Superbowl. The question that arises is whether this performance is appropriate, and what it says about her Canadian identity. Now whether this performance is appropriate or not is entirely ones personal opinion, however, it does speak volumes about how she perceives her national identity. With many musicians only becoming 'big' once they have penetrated the American market, it comes as no surprise that many of them get dual citizenship. However, is it fathomable that American musical legends such as the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, etc., would ever sing 'Oh Canada'? The theme that seems to prevail with celebrities that have done well in America seems to be this, being Canadian is great, being American is better. Michael J. Fox ironically sums it up nicely during his closing ceremony speech. He has lived in America for the past couple of decades despite being born and raised in Canada. But, if Canada is playing America in hockey, he's feels Canadian again! The lengths that Canadian musicians and actors will go to, to gain the acceptance of the American people, is quite surprising.

A Musical Nation

Though not nearly as internationally (or intranationally) famous as artists like Shania Twain, Celine Dion, and Avril Lavigne, groups such as Local Anxiety and Arrogant Worms are perhaps “more Canadian” than our fêted celebrities. At least, their song titles and lyrics suggest a certain sense of Canadian pride. Take for example the lyrics to Local Anxiety’s “Forgive Us, We’re Canadian:” they offer a tongue-in-cheek apology for being unapologetically Canadian. The lyrics highlight some of the stereotypes about (or should that be aboot?) Canadians, including:
• Our constant apologising
• Our general politeness
• Our aversion to patriotism
• Our view that violence is unacceptable – except on hockey night!
• Our large, frozen landscape
Of course, stereotypes are often based on perceived truth. And many Canadians will reply with a version of this list when asked what constitutes a Canadian. It seems, then, that principles such as politeness and peace are a part of the Canadian national identity. Indeed, Canadians have participated in almost all of the UN’s peacekeeping missions, thereby establishing an international reputation for a strong commitment to peacekeeping (Canada and Peacekeeping).
Our large and geographically diverse landmass also appears to be an important factor of our national identity. As Local Anxiety says, “there’s nowhere that we’d rather live/ than this vast and frozen land!” And the Arrogant Worms devote an entire song, “Canada’s Really Big,” to cheering the size of our country. The lyrics exclaim, “we stand out from the crowd/ ‘cause Canada’s really big!” This seems to suggest that land area is a prominent and important aspect of our national identity. Indeed, the Arrogant Worms even describe Canadian geography (“our mountains are very pointy/ our prairies are not/ the rest is kinda bumpy”) in this song, instead of merely maintaining that Canada is vast. Presumably, this indicates a strong pride in the diverse Canadian geography.
The Canadian aversion to patriotism probably stems from our fierce claim that we are “not American.” Indeed, this claim seems to be a primary definition of Canadians, at least within Canada. Americans are perceived to be extremely, and perhaps fanatically, patriotic, and so Canadians tend to deny any sort of patriotism. Instead, Canadians have adopted a nationalist philosophy. It should be noted that I use nationalist in Orwell’s sense – that is, “a nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige” (Orwell). Specifically, Canadians have made a “national pastime” (Manning 6) of vilifying or otherwise degenerating our Southern neighbours. Take for example, the lyrics to “The War of 1812,” in which the Arrogant Worms gleefully exclaim, “[the White House] burned, burned, burned/ and we’re the ones that did it.” These lyrics are obviously provocative and likely offensive to Americans, but they demonstrate the Canadian approval for “getting on over” on Americans (see Rick Mercer’s “Talking to Americans” and Colin Mochrie’s “Apology to America” for more pop-culture examples of this phenomenon).
The social and political satire present in these and other songs by Local Anxiety and especially Arrogant Worms not only reflects Canadian humour, but also the Canadian national identity.
Note: Click on song titles to listen to the songs.

“Canada and Peacekeeping.” UNA Canada. 12 April 2010
“Canada’s Really Big.” ST Lyrics. 12 April 2010
“Forgive Us, We’re Canadian.” Lyricspedia. 12 April 2010
Orwell, George. “Notes on Nationalism.” George Orwell: Notes on Nationalism. 12 April 2010
“The War of 1812.” ST Lyrics. 12 April 2010

Before There Was Luongo...
...there was Captain Canuck!  

And Wolverine.  

And Guardian.  

And the entire Alpha Flight superhero team.  

Clearly there is a rich history of Canadian comic-book superheroes.  Interestingly, Wolverine, a Canadian, was the original leader of Alpha Flight, but later defected to the American X-Men (Marvel).  Though they sometimes worked cooperatively, the X-Men and Alpha Flight were not always on friendly terms; Alpha Flight clashed with the X-Men on several occasions (Marvel).  This seems eerily reminiscent of Canadian history: many of our most talented celebrities (e.g. Mike Meyers, Celine Dion) have almost abandoned Canada in favour of the opportunities offered by the USA.  And while Canadian-American relations are usually friendly, there have been...disagreements.  Take for example the Alaska boundary dispute or the recent softwood lumber controversy.  Is this merely a coincidence?  Whether or not the Alpha Flight storyline is art intentionally reflecting life, once cannot deny that having superheroes based on Sasquatch and an Inuit demi-goddess is pretty neat.

Classified Takes on Canadian Stereotypes

     Nikki Janovksy's repetitive "I Believe"  may have been the Vancouver Olympic Games' official theme, but for many enthusiasts a very different sort of music was defining their Olympic experience. Certified gold in digital downloads, peaking at fourteenth on the "Canadian Hot 100" and a persistent presence on the Canadian iTunes Store's "top downloads" throughout the games (through it preceded them by a year), east-coast rapper Classified's "Oh Canada" was practically an unofficial national anthem, blaring out of bars, cars and Olympic venues across the city. Hip-hop as a genre has a rich history of addressing local listeners and appealing to a sense of greater identity, often incorporating lyrical themes centered around loyalty, familiarity and pride regarding a common place of origin. In the case of Classified, that place of origin is Canada as a whole. His "Oh Canada" is an attempt to address popular Canadian identity directly, both on an international and personal level. To analyze this immensely popular song, then, is to attempt to derive from Classified's lyrics a sense of Canadian nationalism, of a non-pretentious sort of pop-nationalism that has sprung up during and prior to the games, centered entirely and literally on street level.  

    Appealing to this sort of common experience, the title of the song, the video's lampoon of the CBC "Heritage Moment" commercials and the opening sample of "Oh Canada" (which endures in the beat) attract Canadian listeners, they draw them in and seal the audience within a collective bond of pride and familiarity. "Trans-Canada cross ... From the greatest of lakes to the greenest of greens/To the rockiest mountains and everything in between", rhymes Classified, demonstrating that even in hip-hop, a genre born and bred in urban centers, Canada's self-identification with its wilderness and the progress both across and within that landscape is an essential element, an inexorable part of Canadian-ness. Like so many of the closing ceremonies' performers, Classified is quick to point out the perception of Canada's easy-going sense of humour, claiming "we aint serious unless we really got to be" as he rattles off a list of Canadian comedy talents. Likewise, he pokes fun at the popular stereotype of Canadian vocabulary, seizing hold of the familiar Canadian mentality with lines bashing the comedic trope of "dude, eh and guy" as he plays with both self-deprecating humour and common international stereotypes. Abstracting away from the lyrics, Classified is attempting to craft a positive Canadian identity through the manipulation of these stereotypes, taking pride in the sorts of traits and experiences that have arisen as common to modern Canadians with a sort of wry self-awareness. His formulation of Canadian identity is one born of these common traits, not in avoidance or passive acceptance of them.   

    Proceeding from this, having firmly cemented his audience's attention and support with clear-cut and 'safe' Canadian tropes, Classified takes an interestingly confrontational step. Beginning the second half of his song with "I've been around the globe and heard the confusion/Honestly a lot of y'all are ignorant and stupid", Classified lays down a scathing survey of important Canadian inventions ("unintelligent f– we invented the telephone"), and athletic achievements ("bred he greatest players, Gretzky to Crosby"), highlighting foreign misconceptions alongside open bravado. Though brief, these clearly confrontational lines (along with the song as a whole), seem to reveal as much of a frustration with Canadian self-ignorance as they do international misconception, calling upon Canadians to recognize their own achievements openly, and advocating a vocal, national pride often unattributed to the nation. Backing away from confrontation, Classified proceeds to list off everything from Canadian cultural moguls ("Home of the Hells Angels and RCMP/Home of Gordon Lightfoot and SCTV") to health-care references ("Our health-care system, y'all know its free/Keep our girls bangin with a full mouth of teeth"). Clearly unafraid of addressing all sides of society, his attempt to fully communalize the Canadian experience is explicit; Classified is literally attempting to cover every possible demographic, and within that bookending web of familiarity, embed a frustrated call to Canadian nationalism. 

    Aside from the obvious visual references to be had in the lyrics and accompanying music video (all of which address common tropes with a theme of Canadian pride), what's left is to analyze Classified's tone, his lyrical content in conjunction with the way in which his message is conveyed and find out what sort of implicit message lies therein. Classified is not a subtle rapper - his rhymes rely more often on speed and confrontation than they do subtlety or symbolic intricacy, and this is important. He is addressing his comrades directly and foreign entities in a confrontational sense: in a clear tone of both pride and urgency, Classified is making a bid for a positive Canadian identity, an identity strong enough and clear enough to assert itself vocally. "North of America, Hard to ignore", he claims in a closing line, perhaps prophetically. "Oh Canada", in this context, is reinterpreted as a call to to arms, a cessation to passivity, even if that cessation simply results in a vocal embrace of our tropes and commonality. With a self-aware sense of humour and hometown pride, Classified is approaching "We stand on guard for thee" literally, and thinks its about time someone outlined what it is he's guarding. 

The lyrics, as cited throughout :
Classified's "Oh Canada"

Classified's "Oh Canada" music video,  an interesting spectacle, not to be missed:

Please make sure to read our Conclusion, you can find at the top bar. 

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