Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oxymoron: Canada's Walk of Fame

By Gregg Quill, Entertainment Reporter, Toronto Star, October 16, 2010
Old-time Canadian humility took a back seat Saturday to something resembling Hollywood glitz and hustle, as six of this year’s inductees into Canada’s Walk of Fame — singers Nelly Furtado and David Clayton-Thomas, TV star Eric McCormack, author Farley Mowat, filmmaker/actor Sarah Polley and Olympic athlete Clara Hughes — ventured down a red carpet almost a block long, in the middle of Toronto’s Yonge St., while an estimated 5,000 fans packed the downtown core to cheer, wave, gawk and approve.
It seems oxymoronic to use the phrase "Canada's Walk of Fame" given this country's resistance to celebrating the accomplishments of our own, except perhaps in the privacy of a dark November night in the early 1990's, meeting a Canadian "star" like Dr. David Suzuki walking along College Street when we might  pause, look back and quietly ask, "Is that you David?" and when he responds in the affirmative,  reply enthusiastically but still not too loudly, "Please keep up the good work!" (A "real" memory!)
We are a peculiar people, Canadians. Or is that, we are a peculiar people, Ontarians. I remember a night, in 1987, when our youngest daughter was nine, and together we were watching an Ontario Junior A hockey game, when the hometown team scored. With most of the 2500 others, I jumped to my feet to cheer, only to hear a very small voice beside me say, "Dad, please, you're embarrassing me" Today, at 32, that 'little girl' mocks her own aged nine behaviour when she sees it in adults at the Bell Centre while attending Montreal Canadiens' games. Nevertheless, that was what it was like then.
There is even some surprise when, in 2010, the Air Canada/MLSE management finally risks asking the Maple Leaf fans to "sing" the national anthem without a soloist, after the experiment has proven quite successful in other Canadian cities. In a CBC poll this week, women across Canada were asked about their satisfaction with their sexual lives, and once again, Ontario polled lowest at 40%, while prairie women gave positive responses 59% of the time. Repression seems to have more than one face.
And there is certainly a "puritan" streek to this reticence; to the anal and frightened  I have been called a "gusher," and "too intense," and "a communist," (by two students overheard in the YMCA sauna by a colleague) mostly for the simple reason that I have and share opinions if and when the conversations seem ready.
Of course, my pereption of "ready" is usually premature, given my energy level and my hope that such levels will at last be echoed, reflected and perhaps even supported by others.
That some 5000 people appeared to witness the ceremony, in Toronto, of some of our Canadian stars is a little surprising, and a little encouraging. There is always a danger that the selection committee for such choices will have missed other 'candidates' through simple oversight, or through some ideological rejection and making choices of some clearly obviates the public celebration of others.
By let's not continue the 'darkness' that could accompany this kind of celebration. It is a sign that some 'light' is actually seeping into our consciousness, and permitting us to lend our thanks, and our name to significant accomplishments in various fields of human endeavour.
However, let's not expect such celebration to expand to include our national government and our national accomplishments, beyond the Order of Canada, where the sheer longevity and dedication to some particular cause that appeals to the selection committee(s) merits a small white medal, and a ceremony with the Governor General.
This is not Hollywood North; this country is proud to be different and proud not to sink beneath the respectability that both genenrates and sustains what some call "modesty" and others call "false modesty" or the "lack of confidence." The small incidental dramas that play out in every Tim's and every pub and every lab and every office merit our attention, and for the most part, we are only interested in the achievements of another, if those achievements contribute to our own capacity to laugh at ourselves.
When Ron James, for example, jokes that he, as potato-chip addictee has found potatoe chips "in the flavour of the foods we should be eating, and even the baked potato" and pauses to let that little gem gather the appropriate attention and laughter is deserves, we "know" of what he speaks. We and he are one. We know of our own appetite for the crunchy rippled craving, even when it only carries the "taste" of more healthy foods. We simply love the irony.
We are much more comfortable altering the photos on Rick Mercer's website, than we are attending a ceremony honouring our accomplished citizens. We know how fleeting and ephemeral is any kind of fame. And while we know that our kids will fantasize about achieving it, we also know that that is not a road we aspire to have our children follow, knowing just how hollow public acclaim really is.
When that little daughter expressed a desire to become a model, around fourteen or fifteen, I passed along a piece in the New York Times Magazine dedicated to the life of the fashion model, so that she would grasp its backroom culture, along with its carpeted walkways' starlit fame. She told me, years later, that she had deduced, "You didn't want me to become a model!" from having received the piece.
"Not at all," I rejoined, "Just wanted you to know what it was all about." She has no regrets about not being a model.
Congrats to the honorees of the Walk of Fame! There is no fear here that it will become a "big event" in our national consciousness. We hardly even recognize former Prime Ministers, except with the occasional statue on parliament hill.

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