There are many things which differentiate Canadians from our American friends: our politics. Our beer. Our health care system. Our gun control laws. And, theoretically, our hockey.
On that last one, however, maybe not so much, eh? And, Sunday night, we received a timely reminder of that.
I’ve lived in the United States, and I can still recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I love America and Americans. But one of the uniquely American character traits – their must-win ethos, which sometimes manifests itself in arrogance and overweening pride – is one of the traits that we Canadians have never shared. We Canadians have always tended to be a bit less boastful, a bit less cocky. And we have been proud, you might say, about not being American proud.
I started to sense that a perceptible shift was underway a few weeks ago, when I was in a movie theatre with my kids and I saw this: Coca Cola’s Olympics hockey ad. Take a look at it again.
So there you go: an American-headquartered multinational reminding us in a glossy, focus-grouped spot – a spot that, I admit, is beautifully-shot and shrewdly-constructed, with about a half-dozen product placements – that hockey is our game, and let’s remind everyone that it is. It’s manipulative, like all advertising, but it’s a manipulation that can only ever work if the intended targets (ie., us) have signaled their willingness to be manipulated.
We did that earlier on, I think, with this “own the podium” onanism. At the time, I dismissed it as a bit of jingoistic fluff – some ad exec’s flight of fancy. But, eventually, it became apparent that some Canadians – a lot of Canadians – had bought into it. We’d become American-ish, you know? Medals, medals, medals! We’re the best! We will crush you! Grrrr!
We are the best country in the world. We are, we are. But one of the ways we have gotten a lot of Canadians (and non-Canadians) to agree with that is to not say it. Undersell and overperform, Chretien used to tell those of us privileged enough to work for him: in politics, as in life, it’s a workable premise.
We are well on our way to being taught a valuable lesson in these Olympics, I think. I hope it’s a lesson that, four years hence, we heed.