Sunday, February 28, 2010

Posting the Cat: Olympic-style

More detailed reflections on the Olympics will follow in the next couple of days. But for now, I'm going to engage in the cardinal blogger sin of posting the cat, lol-style:

Congratulations to Canada's Olympic team!


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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Owning the Podium - the Empires Snipe Back

I personally have a number of qualms about Canada's "Own the Podium" program, which has spent over $100 million on top-flight Canadian Olympic athletes. For starters, I'm not certain that this is the best use of taxpayers money.

That being said, I find it extremely rich to have American and British commentators sniping at Canada for having the temerity to be competitive. The formerly dominant empire in the world, and the current superpower, which each have sunk fortunes into global dominance, are upset with Canada for trying to win a lot of Olympic medals. The impudence! The gall! The shock!

I'll be curious to see how much money Britain invests in its athletes for the 2012 games in London...

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Alexandre Bilodeau, Canadian Nationalism, and a Bilingual Olympics

First off - kudos to Alexandre Bilodeau for breaking Canada's home-turf Olympic curse and winning the gold medal in moguls!

Tomorrow morning, he will be on the cover of every Canadian newspaper. Canadians coast to coast are celebrating his victory.

Now for the serious stuff. Amidst all of the other potentially problematic issues associated with the Olympics and Canadian nationalism, think about this: Bilodeau is a francophone from Quebec. As Heritage Minister James Moore, and Paul Wells have pointed out, the Olympics opening ceremony didn't do a great job of incorporating the French language. Both have been pilloried in comments boards for this statement. There have been quarrels over bilingual signage at the Olympics. And yet I am absolutely confident that virtually all of the Canadian sports fans who hate bilingualism are cheering for Bilodeau. And yet, they don't think a Canadian Olympics on home soil should give reasonable billing to the French language, the mother tongue of so many members of the Canadian team - including our first gold-medalist. They should think again...

Anyways, back to the festivities. And good on all the members of the Canadian moguls team for putting in such a great effort!

ETA: I see that someone on the Globe and Mail's editorial board agrees with me.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The power of language

I'm currently teaching a graduate seminar on the history of social movements in North America. This week, one of the issues we discussed was the power of language, and the ways that members of social movements and those who oppose their objectives have learned how to use key phrases to mobilize public support.

With that in mind, this report from CBS news is highly illustrative of this point. Fully 14% more of Americans surveyed are willing to allow "gays and lesbians" to serve openly in the military than would support "homosexuals" being allowed to do so. It's a difference between a solid majority opinion in support (58% support) and a bare plurality (44% support vs 42% opposed).

Mind you, it's also disappointing that fully such a large percentage of the American population is opposed to gay men and lesbians serving in the military, no matter what they are called. But it does speak strongly to the powerful issue of messaging and the careful use of language. As John Aravosis points out, "homosexual" evokes cold, clinical connotations of disease, while "gays and lesbians" brings to mind living, feeling human beings - which is what we are!

[ETA: Hmmm... that got a bit earnest and treacly at the end. Don't worry - the hard-edged cynicism will return shortly!]

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Olympic Fever

The national news cycle is about to be completely dominated by the Olympics, which should provide Stephen Harper with his much-desired respite from his prorogation woes, and perhaps cover for any initiatives he's been waiting for the opportunity to slide into action without much media attention.

Since I'm not above using popular events to garner a wee bit of attention for academic pursuits, I'll be giving a talk at 7 pm on Tuesday night at the Bookshelf eBar in Guelph. My talk is part of the Café Philosophique series organized by the University of Guelph's College of Arts. My discussion will focus on the changing nature of Canadian identity, and more specifically, governmental efforts to shape the discourse surrounding this identity, since World War II. The Olympics, I argue, feature rather significantly in the most recent phase of efforts to come up with popular discourses of Canadian identity, a phase which stresses the individual achievements of Canadians. If you're interested, drop on by the Bookshelf's eBar on Tuesday for a drink and some interesting conversation.

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