12.02.2010 07:49 AM

How the Americans see us

Canada (left) poses with the United States for official diplomatic portrait.

I was amused by this story from the New York Times last night.  It fronted their web edition – which is significant, because I can’t remember the last time Canada figured near the front of any section in the Times.

This was my favourite part:

“In early 2008, American diplomats stationed in Ottawa turned on their television sets and were aghast: there was an “onslaught” of Canadian shows depicting “nefarious American officials carrying out equally nefarious deeds in Canada,” from planning to bomb Quebec to stealing Canadian water supplies.”

You can debate the merits (and we will), but what I found simultaneously hilarious and terrifying was that the our largest trading partner and ally learns about us by…watching television programs.

Television! The mind boggles.  On the upside, however, this means that my three sons have a fruitful career in the diplomatic service ahead of them.


30 Comments

  1. smelter rat says:

    Imagine what they could have learned about us if they had tuned into CPAC……..never mind.

  2. bigcitylib says:

    They confirmed my opinion that The Border is a crappy show even though I’ve never watched it.

  3. james Smith says:

    … this could get ugly:
    http://is.gd/i5Sx9

  4. Rocky says:

    1995…front page of the NY Times..Jean Chretien with his hand on the face of the guy on Parliament Hill. Fabulous.

  5. ktron says:

    What an astoundingly simplistic article. Completely ignore the fact that the bulk of the programs in question were probably American ( or at best co-productions).

    Its hilarious hearing “editors” complain about “Canadians” hating “Americans”, considering the general tone toward Canada they’ve maintained since Bush II.

  6. Steve T says:

    One of the points you don’t mention, which I read about in today’s paper, was the concern of U.S. officials that many Canadian TV programs portrayed Americans in negative stereotypes. As an American by birth (living in Canada since I was 3 years old, but with many relatives still in the U.S.), I have witnessed this type of thing since I was a child. It is one of the last remaining acceptable forms of racism. Anti-Americanism, and/or U.S.-bashing, is almost a Canadian pasttime. Everytime I hear American stereotypes, I think about my kind gentle grandparents who defy virtually every commonly-held belief (in Canada) about the U.S..

    Canadians would never consider slinging this kind of mud against another nationality, yet America-bashing is almost a national sport here. Look how much traction the phrase “American-style… (fill in the blank)…” gets during election campaigns – as though anything in the U.S. must obviously be stupid and/or inferior.

    So, going back to the WikiLeaks issue, I think this was the main point. Canadian media, especially the CBC, seems to revel in the continuation of American stereotypes.

    • Bill says:

      Seems tame when compared to invading countries for no reason.

      • Steve T says:

        And thus you have proven my point. Last time I checked, my relatives didn’t invade any countries. Or are you attributing the actions of the government to the citizenry? If so, then you as a Canadian are responsible for all Canadian activity in Afghanistan, as well as the $1B G20 expenses, and anything else the Cdn government has ever done. Comfortable with that?

        • hugger says:

          The biggest retail corporation in the world is the American company Walmart. Americans buy so much from them that they achieved that measure of success. By far the majority of the items Walmart sells come from China, India, Vietnam etc.

          I can’t recall reading about US diplomats who expressed concerns about perceived anti American TV programs in those places American companies don’t favor Canadian interests because we are real nice and kinda folksy. As they have proven repeatedly, they will go wherever they can make a fast buck. They come here to do business only because we have what they want and because it costs less to ship.

          Canadians don’t owe the US anything.

          Ii is far past time that the likes of Steven Harper and Mike Ignatieff began to act like representatives of a Sovereign Nation. Otherwise, we as a People should kick their sorry backsides to the curb. Forthwith.

    • Green Arrow says:

      I agree and disagree Steve. My mother is American and I have lived in both the US and the UK. I have encountered the same behaviour and treatment towards each other in both countries. It seems we are just far too prone to categorizing each other in stereotypes. For me I just look back on my maternal Grandmother from Vermont. For me she embodied everything I loved and continue to love about the United States. When you take Canadians and Americans out of this scenario you find nice people and douchebags in pretty much the same proportion.

      For me the most noticeable incidents of relying on stereotypes was in the UK where I met a lot of Americans who portrayed Canadians as some sort of backwater hick running a fishing camp (in a board meeting for Coca Cola UK noless!) or Canadians portraying Americans as bloodthirsty capitalists with no sense of scruples. Neither could be further from the truth and both tended to be detrimental to most things.

      Ive spent enough time in NYC, Washington and Idaho in recent years to tell you that Canadian bashing is alive and well in the US. Its just not a news item because it’s not seen as a big deal. Ive never heard Canadians refer to Americans as “n**gers of the south” but I saw a northern reference like that on a independent paper in Bonners Ferry Idaho in 2006.

      We bash each other and that has to stop. Claiming that anti-americanism is some acceptible form of racism isnt really accurate. Its more cultural discrimination and if you think it’s unique to Americans then you’re a bit off target. My family is originally from Ireland and a quick look at Irish history will show you that those stereotypes and detrimental ways arent endemic to America.

      I think you’ve also confused criticism of America with anti-Americanism as well. Personally, I think the US government deserves to be criticized all to hell and Ive never appreciated their intrusiveness on Canadian society. American people, on the other hand, I have enjoyed greatly. The problem is the government’s actions tend to colour the people thus adding fuel to the whole thing. And it’s not a Canadian thing. On 9/11 I remember an Australian tourist chastizing a couple of Americans in Earls Court London about what happened that day. He said they deserved it for their imperialism. I was saddened and stepped in because what was happening was wrong. Not because it was a Canadian or American thing but because it was the human thing to do.

      If you want to stop Anti-Americanism get off your butt, stop revelling in woe is me Anti Canadian stereotypes and do something positive about it. You might find there are nice people in both countries who dont need to slag each other.

      Is it really that hard?

      • Steve T says:

        The type of anti-Canadianism you mention in the U.S. is a recent phenomenom. When I was younger (1970s through mid-1990s), anti-Americanism was alive and well in Canada, whereas the worst things Americans said about Canadians revolved around simple ignorance of our country (eg: we all live in igloos). Not the mean-spirited and defamatory stuff I’ve been hearing about Americans for years.

        As for getting off my butt, I have refuted these stereotypes for years (a real party-killer, when everyone around the table is piling on and laughing about it). Frankly, it’s getting a bit tired. We don’t tell other groups to “stop revelling in woe-is-me” when venom is spewed at them, and I don’t think the same should be expected of Americans.

        I agree that anti-Americanism is not just a Canadian thing. Your defense of Americans after 9/11 was admirable. I heard some of the same things around that time, and it was deplorable.

        • Green Arrow says:

          Interesting, I dont think we are as far apart as I previously thought. Yes my examples are from recent years but it isnt a unique phenomenon to recent years. Ive heard anti-Canadianism in America as far back as the 1970s and Ive heard it from American family members too. Pretty nasty stuff that did more to reveal that they didnt understand Canada nor America. They are both so interconnected for me that harming one is harming both. Sort of like cutting off your nose in spite of your face. To be truly honest though, none of the anti-stuff Ive heard from North Americans held a candle to the anti-Americanism I got to hear from Australians and South Africans while I was in Europe in the 90s.

          To me that was the most disgusting stereotyping I had encountered. Unprovoked other than by my accent, I found myself occasionally on the receiving end of all that was wrong with North Americans without recognizing the same flaws within themselves. The problem with bigots like this is they get the attention and ruin it for the rest of us.

          Really I think the first thing we can do to make it better is not to play into it yourself. Im can understand the exhaustion completely (I think this is the century of the douchebag but that’s another matter). Ive never really participated in an anti-american round of conversation mainly because it’s pointless and doesnt help anyone. As for my antipodean travelling companions, its not my loss that they decided to close themselves off from the world…it’s their’s.

          One of the hardest things for non Americans is to get used to the myopia that occurs in America. Im not criticizing it but recognizing it. I lived in London for five years and it feels like living in the centre of the universe. Good luck finding a news story about rural England much less Canada. Sometimes that lack of recognition irks some Canadians and they act up in poor ways. I just hope that we as a people would try to recognize those things and act above it.

          The sad thing for me is I felt like we were finally making progress when 9/11 and the fallout happened. Now we have to make that ground back. But you are completely right Steve. It does start with passing on the insult.

          But Im still going to slam the Bruins to my family whenever they play the Habs

  7. Bill says:

    They should tune in to some old episodes of Rick Mercer’s “Talking to Americans”

  8. Green Arrow says:

    Uh New Canada, yeah right. Your description seems nothing like the real Canada I travel around every day. Seems more like overthinking by someone who spends too much time on the computer

    • Robin says:

      Tulk is always way-off base. But it’s amusing when he clicks away from Small Dead Animals or whatever extreme-right lunacy forums are du jour, and comes over here where his ideas are exposed for being the batshit they are.

      Welcome to the ‘New Canada’!

  9. MW says:

    I always wondered who was watching crap Canadian shows. Now we know how they’ve managed to stay on the air.

  10. Iris Mclean says:

    Cant imagine how anything on Canadian TV would truly reflect the world-wide contempt felt for Americans since they first “elected” GWB,
    What the hell do these bozos expect?

  11. hugger says:

    A little noise with even less substance. Soon to blow over as people turn their attention back to more significant issues.

    That said, doesn’t it seem that some Americans are being a tad over sensitive? Here I thought Canada was supposed to be the more touchy feely Nation. Even our own CSIS guy said we have an Alice in Wonderland view of the world. Few took Chief Inspector Clousseau’s comment to heart, so why should some of our learned cousins from the south be upset by a few TV shows?

    As to recently stated opinions on America providing defense for Canadians, a not so subtle nudge to remind us to pay due homage, I would just ask this; who are we being protecting from? Flying Bears or the guys who are po’d because we are in their territory?

    If what we have experienced from being a member of Nato in recent years is an indication of the value of membership, maybe we should be looking seriously at alternatives. The core element of any strategy should be obvious, massive renewable clean energy projects, but folks like the Texbertans don’t want to hear that. They prefer shovelling billions into the hands of middle east dictators and speculators then coping with the fallout. And the CSIS guy said we have an Alice in wonderland world view. Sure thing Chief Inspector

  12. James Bow says:

    One wonders what they would make of “Doctor Who”. Yes, it’s a British import, but it was created by a Canadian.

    • Green Arrow says:

      lol. interesting point considering the CBC partially funded the production of Doctor Who for years and now they have filmed their first North American episode in Utah. The Doctor Who conundrum is a bit like the Jimi Hendrix conundrum. American but the British considered him to be British.

      Hopefully this doesnt inspire any Anti-Gallifreyan rants.

  13. JenS says:

    I’m not really sure how they can take any piece of any Canadian television series, or even a bunch of pieces, add them up and see that as representative of the Canadian psyche. That would be like saying we should take a bit of Keeping up with the Kardashians, a slice of Law and Order, and some Fox news, and say that’s representative of the American psyche.

    On the other hand, I think that Canadians have always held as a piece of our collective identity the fact that we’re simply NOT American, a word that for various reasons has taken on an array of less-than-complimentary meanings. I mean, when you share a continent with a country like the US, and there is some sentiment that you’re the less powerful, differentiating oneself is almost like a defense mechanism. Canadians have taken some of their identity from what the rest of the world, other than the US, has seen as being Canadian, and that reputation didn’t stem from nothing. That is not to say that on an individual basis, Canadians and Americans are not very much alike. But I suspect part of the Canadian collective self-view, and it’s view of America, comes from something very much like an inferiority complex — sort of like how a sibling might attempt to differentiate him or herself from one has a particular reputation. And perhaps that seen in our television productions, though I have to say, I’m not sure I’d know, since I can’t recall a time I’ve tuned in to them, except, for a while, to Corner Gas.

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