Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Canadian Malaise 

The New York Times has an article today on the malaise afflicting Canadians engaged in nationalist omphaloskepsis:
As one of Canada's pre-eminent historians, David Bercuson of the University of Calgary is not your average couch potato. But with beer in hand and feet up on the sofa, he watched the Olympics on television last month to cheer on the world champion hurdler Perdita Félicien to win a gold medal for Canada.

When Ms. Félicien inexplicably stumbled into the very first hurdle like a rank amateur, Mr. Bercuson dashed straight to his computer. He knocked out a screed declaring that her sad performance, and that of the entire Canadian Olympic team, was just another symptom of "the national malaise'' that is making Canada a second-rate, uncompetitive nation.

"It's not the individual performers whose shortcomings are on display for all the world to see,'' he wrote in an op-ed article for The Calgary Herald. "It is the very spirit of the nation and the sickness that now has hold of it that is at fault.''

His acidic commentary is characteristic of the view of a growing number of historians, foreign policy thinkers and columnists from some of the nation's top newspapers. Many see themselves as part of an informal school that has no name or single mentor, but all are writing the same assessment: Canada is in decline, or at the very least, has fallen short of their aspirations.

For these thinkers, Canada is adrift at home and wilting as a player on the world stage. It is dogged by not only uninspired leaders but also by a lack of national purpose, stunted imagination and befuddled priorities even as its economy prospers.

"I'm in almost total despair,'' Michael Bliss, a University of Toronto historian, said in an interview. "You have a country, but what is it for and what is it doing?''
The article goes on to discuss the travails of Canadian health care and hockey, but strangely omits mention of the fact that Canada finally lost one of its only two Major League Baseball franchises today.

I'm not sure what to suggest. Personally, I think that ratcheting up Canada's fiery-hot conflict with Denmark is not the way to go to pull our neighbors to the north out of their collective funk.

Another option seemingly on the table is beating Americans at their own game: creating horrible, loathsome TV shows. There may be some who believe that this appalling cultural invasion of the US airwaves will do the trick, but I can't imagine (and indeed pray against) this show's being a success. [Side question: Why are Canadian pop musicians (except A.C. Newman and Neil Young) generally so awful? Check out this list for proof that this is the case. Note that I am not saying anything negative about Canadian jazz vocalists.)]

What should Canada do? This descendent of Alberta's tiny Jewish cattle-ranching community wants to know...

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