In The News: International Opinion

Canadian’s Get in the Spirit of the Games

Journalists from around the world flocked to the Vancouver Winter Olympics not knowing what to expect, and left having to answer a question, how does Vancouver’s Winter Games compare with those previous? The Vancouver atmosphere may have sold Vancouver as one of the greatest Winter Games yet, with the party beginning at the opening ceremonies and lasting straight through to the lowering of the Olympic flag. This spirited atmosphere of celebration will challenge the upcoming London Summer Games and Sochi Russia’s games four years from now. In Vancouver, flags hung from shops windows, clung to cars, and were proudly worn in Canada attire; the city was painted red and white.
The beginning of the games may have begun with challenges that appeared to threaten the success of the games, “as the first week wore on, there was an overbearing sense that Canada ought to be ashamed of itself – that Vancouver's games were nothing but an expensive propaganda campaign, designed to push the nationalistic fervor for Canadian pride into everyone's face” (Colin Horgan), but the games went on and excitement grew.
For two weeks Downtown Vancouver was alive. It was a place for impromptu celebrations, high fives, and “GO CANADA GO!” as Canadian athletes competed and eventually earned a recorded breaking 14 Gold Medals in a single Winter Games. James Pearce of BBC Sport notes that these celebrations in some countries would have seemed like over-hyped nationalism however, “this felt spontaneous, natural and very good natured.” It appeared that Canadians and Vancouverites had finally joined hands to celebrate our national pride, just as John Furlong, chief executive for the Olympic committee, had hope. While Canadians embraced hosting the games, they also embraced a sense of nationalism never seen before.
Jacques Rogge of the IOC, proclaims that Canadians have been warm, and were enthusiastic crowds. Vancouver became a city that embraced the winter games like no games before, living up to the Canadian stereotype of kindness and hospitality, something that Canadian’s are arguably proud of. Jere Longman of the New York Times was in Vancouver, and found that Vancouver was likeable despite it’s unfortunate winter weather, “The people were generous and spirited, the volunteers cheery. Once, I saw a guy fail to smile; I think he was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.” The Olympics proved that in Vancouver, a good time was to be had despite challenges and massive crowds, “The large, celebrative crowds downtown were more remindful of the Summer Games than the Winter Games. And they set Olympic records for patience, waiting in line for hours to buy exotic hot dogs and souvenir mittens” (Jere Longman).
Vancouver it seems may have had a ‘coming of age’ or realization that nationalistic pride was alive in the city, seen right into the “cringingly nationalist closing ceremonies,” Canadians had celebrated together in a shared experience, uniting national pride. For Vancouver, a city of multicultural fragmentation, this experience has been the opportunity of a lifetime, having people of all types cheering together for a common goal; to support the Athletes.
In general, journalist appear to agree that Canadian’s came together to celebrate not just the Olympic games, but used this as an opportunity to join together in expressing their Canadian pride, less subtly than ever before. And while people celebrated in the streets, in the stands and in their communities, “Perhaps [what] is the most endearing trait of these Games, was to take things seriously, but not too seriously” (Jere Longman).
The games appear to have had a positive effect on Canadians, solidifying the Canadian identity by bonding Canadians together around an event that celebrates the values of Canadians. Those who consider themselves Canadian and embraced the Olympics were part of the Canadian pride, which is quietly increasing because of the Games, and for many the Olympics were the first time they as a Canadian they felt a sense pride and unity within their own country.

You gotta be here!
            The Canadian Tourism Commission and the individual tourism boards of each province are put in place by the Canadian government to attract people to immigrate to or vacation in Canada.  Although these boards are put in place to show all the beauty our majestic landscapes and culture possess to people across the country and world, the print and TV advertisements can at time seem slightly skewed while at other times be right on the money.

            Take for instance this add featuring Chihiro from “Spirited Away”, an academy award winning Japanese animated film. The movie follows Chihiro, a young Japanese girl, on her journey of leaving home and creating a life for herself despite new circumstances. Embodying the theme of the journey, this film could be undoubtedly interpreted as demonstrating something inherent in the Canadian experience, as in this theme it shares common ground with great Canadian literature such as Emily of New Moon, and The Innocent Traveller. Although this add may seem “uncanadian”, it represents the immigrant experience and the attempt to try to remain connected with your heritage while at the same time embracing a new land as your own.


This commercial was aired on repeat during the Olympic games, receiving mixed reviews. Although the commercial features some of Canada’s finest, the obvious use of green screen technology cheapened the effect of the commercial. The slogan “You gotta be here!” seemed just silly when it was obvious the famed person saying it wasn’t actually there. British Columbia is a province full of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world and they were depreciated in this add by the poor production quality. That being said, the commercial gets an “A” for effort.

    This ad from the 1970’s, similar to the first add, places importance on the journey. Not only does it emphasize the Canada’s beautiful terrain, but it invokes in the viewer a sense of freedom within it; they believe that the landscape is something that they can become a part of. The add is clean and to the point, allowing the picture to speak for itself.

            What do these advertisements do when they are put out into the world? Do they help other countries to appreciate our culture and national identity? We like to think so despite how they can be misinterpreted. At the base of these adds is Canada’s stunning topography and the theme of the journey, and even though many Canadians are not consciously aware of it, these two elements contribute greatly to our national identity.


... But Enough about the 1936 Berlin Games. 

    Though to many it seemed as though the Vancouver Olympics, with all their flashing red promotions and riotous outbursts of patriotism, were the ultimate celebration of Canadiana, its important to note that this opinion is not shared across the board. To many, Star-Telegram journalist Gil Breton most famously, Vancouver's pro-Canada celebrations were a suffocating affair of perceived nationalism that threatened to drown out the achievements of foreign nations. Gil wrote an article, entitled "In these Olympics, Canada only paid attention to Canada", in which he articulates this frustration, claiming irritation at what he saw as an over-concentration of Canadian pride, a pride he claims crossed into the obscene. Breton goes so far as to compare Vancouver's Olympic games to the infamous 1936 "Nazi Olympics", which were saturated in fanatical pro-Nazi propaganda and as fanatically nationalistic and narcissistic as any world event could hope to be. Gil Breton's extremely controversial article, and the apologetic follow-up that followed it, are significant to the Canadian identity as a foreign perspective, as an outside look at an event many took as breaking the Canadian tradition of quiet and humble national pride. Breton attempts to show us the dark side of our celebrations, and the shocking reactions that can be evoked when Canada seems to step outside of its traditional, stereotyped character.

      "Flags were everywhere. The country's national symbol hung from windows and was worn on nearly everyone's clothing. Fervent crowds cheered every victory by the host nation," described Olympic-attendee Breton, following with the provocative, "but enough about the 1936 Berlin Olympics". So begins a tirade against what Breton sees as a betrayal of "the family of man" ethos presented at the 1976 games in Montreal, an Olympic event he claims celebrated all nations equally by pooling the accomplishments of all into a common sense of pride. "Only a token nod was given to the rest of the world's athletes" amid all the frantic pro-Canadian celebration, claims Breton, suggesting, somewhat interestingly, that what he sees as a newfound nationalism might be a function of the "Canadian inferiority complex finally [deciding] to bite back ... [or] a dark consequence of the Own the Podium program". He proceeds to list off many of the accomplishments of foreign athletes, comparing their relative celebration to the bombastic uproar he witnessed upon Canadian victories – proceeding from his previous statement, an uproar he cannot believe was drawn from Canadian hearts. Breton claims (erroneously) that he "never saw a simple flag or shirt with the five Olympic rings ...[a first]  after 15 Olympics", indicating his utter suffocation within a culture he had clearly identified as passively proud, or quietly patriotic. Leaving off with a brief political disclaimer against his Nazi remarks, Breton closes wondering "if Canadians can even recognize themselves."

      Now, Breton clearly has much to say about the Canadian identity – his Canadian-expectations were utterly subverted. What I find most interesting, though, is his final statement: can Canadians recognize themselves? This does truly not seem to be at issue. His article seems to be much less about Canadian self-identification, and much more about foreign misconceptions: Canadians were waving their flag, out-cheering foreign teams, yelling in the streets, even. I'm not convinced that any of this was done at the expense of foreign nations – that Canadian residents outnumbered foreign visitors in Vancouver is no surprise. What might surprise Breton is that many Canadian locals (from personal experience) represented their "native" countries for fun, wearing facepaint and bearing flags of foreign nations in a friendly, competitive spirit. Breton perceived Vancouver's raucous Canadian-themed celebrations as nationalistic, selfish and negative in their definition and competitive interaction with foreign nations. American winter games, however, are coated in American flags, London is expected to display profusely their national symbols as China did. Canada, for its part, is clearly expected to be more humble: if our cheers overthrow those of foreign nations, it is a function of our "inferiority complex [biting] back", a nation lashing back against foreign influence. Canada, for its part, seemed to embody a much more positive definition: Canadians in the streets and events were celebrating their nation, singing their anthem and engaging with stereotypes (the beaver, loon, "eh") in a more positive and playful manner than ever, allowing that good-natured definition to spill over into outbursts of pride. Gil Breton claims that Canada was acting nationalistic, celebrating itself over the folly and opposition of others, when this perspective seems largely to be a function of his own subverted misconceptions. Vancouver 2010 may very well have impacted the Canadian identity, but my argument is that it was a celebration of patriotism, a sudden display of positive self-identification that caught many off guard, and that bears little in resemblance to the "Nazi Games" of 1936.

Breton's Controversial Article

The Subsequent Apology 

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