Saturday, December 4, 2010

Canada: still adolescent, if slightly less "inferior"

By Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star, December 4, 2010
And the first person to call it (Canada's Inferiority Complex) a complex, it seems, was a Detroit-born, Ontario-raised man named Merrill Denison. This architect-turned-playwright was puzzled by Canada’s national temperament when he returned to Toronto in the 1920s to become art director at Hart House — then a theatre, now part of the University of Toronto.

In 1949, Denison gave an Empire Club speech at the Royal York, titled “That Inferiority Complex,” in which he somewhat abashedly acknowledged authorship of what was already then seen as a national “cliché.” He laid part of the blame on the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.
“With some assistance from Mr. Freud I came up with one possible diagnosis — an inferiority complex, an intellectual timidity born of a false feeling of inadequacy or inability,” Denison said. “I expected that the impeachment would be promptly challenged and denied. I never expected that it would become part of the national folklore and live to become a tedious and shop-worn cliché. For my sins, I have been doing my best to combat it ever since.”
In 1987, I had the opportunity to deliver an address to the Canadian Club of North Bay. (At the time, my mother was president, and for the final meeting of her term, she 'could not find' an adequate speaker.)
My thesis, in May of that year, was that Canada lacked confidence in herself. As evidence I pointed to the absence of a "chair of future studies" in any Canadian college or university, to the political correctness that has become (even more in the last two decades) a kind of "theology" and an addiction to the words, "I'm sorry" when they are neither needed nor appropriate. When history matters more, and significantly more than the future, that is where the heart is, in the past. And when Canadians consider our past as more important than our future, we are hiding in the warm comfort of our Hudson's Bay Blankets as we curl up between the two monsters, (according to Irving Layton) of the Arctic and the U.S. Layton's view is that our geography betwen these two cold 'creatures' results in a literature of poetry and passion, and that may have been more accurate four or five decades ago.
Not paying attention to the American diplomatic notes that refer to our country as having an inferiority complex, as the Wikileaks 'dump' reveals, may appear to some to be a move forward into enhanced confidence. Our ability to laugh at ourselves certainly can be seen in that light.
However, our reputation as a country fixated on "forms" in our way of doing business, especially by those in U.S. corporations, is well deserved. We prefer a form, a paper form, to account for every transaction. We love paper trails, and we love the officers appointed to chase those paper trails, especially the Auditor General. She would be the archetype for Canada, a strong, stern, matronly "brain" who operates with dispassion as a watchguard for our public purse.
For a while, in the 70's and 80's, we thought Pierre Trudeau could be our "best expression" of our emerging confidence. For the last seven years, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have considered Danny Williams their "best expression" of their formerly lost confidence, now among the have provinces of the federation...
The people of the prairies consider Tommy Douglas as their 'best expression' of their compassion, empathy and authentic care for one another, and the rest of our have been the beneficiaries of that care, through the National Health Act.
Certainly, Canada has a stable full of global heavy-weights in literature, theatre, science, architecture, medicine, even in law and broadcasting of whom we can all be proud, and whom we are invited to emulate.
Some Canadian athletes have conquered world podiums, in various sports, as have some Canadian businessmen and women.
However, when Canadian Don Cherry, in introducing  incoming mayor Rob Ford's new team at city hall in Toronto, by saying people are tired of the eggheads and the artsy crowd, I draw the line.
There are snobs among the aristocrats, and among the elite in every profession, every vocation and neighbourhood; and there are reverse snobs who are just as narrow-minded as their elites brothers and sisters in every profession, vocation and neighbourhood.
And Cherry does not speak for me when he says Canadians have grown tired of the eggheads and the artsy folks. We have not; we will not; and we reject Cherry's knee-jerk neo-conservatism as an expression of the best that is Canada.
Cherry is a successful "pitch-man" for hockey players, while he makes a substantial living criticising the coaches who prosecute the profession in his retirement. He is also a successful pitch-man for Cold-FX, and for a few other no-name products and services.
A Canadian whose accomplishments are worthy of national prominence, Cherry is not. Nevertheless, he gives vent to the reverse snobbery that can be found in every classroom, and every lecture hall and in every bar and lounge in the country. We are repeating the David v. Goliath story so often, it has lost its vibrancy.
At various times, we are all David and also Goliath, depending on many factors. We find it easier to own our "David" archetype than we do our Goliath archetype; nevertheless, we must own both.
We find it easier to own our Crosby archetype, (or Gretzky or Orr, or Yzerman) than our Tie Domi, or Bob Pronger, or Georges Laroque or Colton Orr...and Cherry gives vent to the resentment against the latter group, calling them "my kind of player"...And Cherry also gives voice to the critics of those in the Crosby camp by scratching his perfect public image occasionally.
Fighters are not afraid of the "mucky-mucks" as Cherry would describe them, nevertheless, there are a zillion different ways of approaching the excellence in others, than merely denigrating it...
And Cherry does no favours to Ford, nor to Toronto, nor to the country when he derides the eggheads and the artsy in 2010. He would probably dub them all "fairies" (and 'unmanly') in his bigoted language and attitude. He really ought to know better and to provide a better example of leadership, given the podium he enjoys and is paid so handsomely to cherish. And he is not going to either change or apologize for his venom against the kind of excellence he abhors and cannot or will not understand and appreciate.

No comments:

Post a Comment