Wednesday, March 03, 2010

An international broadcasting of Canada's insecurities: The closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics

I'd better get this post up about the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics before my prescribed course of medications and therapy allow me to blot it forever from my mind. Because, let's be frank here, that was perhaps the most appalling display of Canadian kitsch and insecurity that I've ever seen. And I've watched 50 years worth of Canada Day ceremonies. I've seen Patsy Gallant croon "Sugar Daddy" to Joe Clark. I've seen the Calgary Safety Patrol Jamboree sing "I've Got a Dog Named Leroy" on Parliament Hill. I've seen the Spirit of a Nation tour. They all pale next to the travesty that occurred on Sunday night. That, my friends, was a national disgrace.

And it's a real shame, because the evening started off reasonably well. I thought it was a nice bit of self-mocking Canadian humour to acknowledge the torch malfunction. But really, it could have stopped right there. Because it wasn't long before things headed downhill. I will give credit where credit is due. There was a token effort to "bilingualize" the closing ceremonies. The opening number did feature singers from Canada's anglophone, francophone and aboriginal communities. The Canadian anthem was performed in its bilingual version. The cultural performance for the Sochi Olympics was dramatic.

But...

In the two weeks between the opening and closing ceremony, could someone not have phonetically written out the French portion of John Furlong's agonizingly turgid speech? Not that the English portions were riveting, but the French portions were so badly mangled that it almost would have been better not to include them at all.

And then, the so-called comedy. Three anglophone "comedians," all of whom have made their careers in the United States, were trotted out to deliver unfunny monologues that were vaguely in the tradition of the Molson "I am Canadian" advertisements. If only any of them had "Joe"'s talent for delivery. And perhaps a humourous script. And the good sense to deliver the monologue when only Canadians are watching. The rest of the world neither cares, nor needs to know about Canada's collective psychological insecurities about how we are perceived. It made us appear whiny and pathetic, which is hardly appropriate for one of the longest-established federations in the world.

Following the "comedy", the travesty... I believe it was Kelly Nestruck who tweeted that the "Maple Leaf Forever" number looked like it had been produced by Max Bialystock (of the Producers). "Springtime for Hitler" had nothing on this monstrosity of bad taste, which featured a Mountie-clad Michael Bublé crooning away while gigantic beavers, floating moose and a procession of antiquated Canadian clichés were paraded around the stadium. It was as if all of Canada's capacity for camp, bad taste and self-mockery was being sucked into a quantum singularity located in Bublé's vocal chords, with each element tripping over the next in its haste to flood onto the stage. You know that a performance is horrendous when the appearance of Nickelback on the stage comes as a relief!

The final segment, the "rock concert" was problematic, but for its own set of reasons. Although there are reasons to question the specific choices of the acts (see: Nickelback), I'm more concerned by how they represented Canadian culture. All but the final two were white, anglophone, mainstream rock-pop acts, widely known in the United States. I got the strong impression that the concert was being performed for the NBC audience, and that the rule was to "play it safe". The single francophone act and the only visible minority were held back until the very end of the concert, which to my mind smacked of tokenism. That being said, I loved Alanis Morissette's performance. But this was an opportunity not only to showcase the diversity of Canada's musical talent, but perhaps to broaden the international audience's awareness of great Canadian music beyond the best-known acts. I'm not suggesting (as Paul Wells quipped), that the entire short list for the Polaris Prize had to be featured. But perhaps something from our alternative music scene?

All in all, it was a schizophrenic and ill-conceived ceremony, which to my mind did little to correct for the flaws of the opening ceremonies. French-language and multicultural content was minimal, and clearly an afterthought. Moreover, the "fun" aspects were largely embarrassing, and perhaps better kept for Canada Day ceremonies, when only Canadians are watching. Indeed, given the bland, mainstream content of the rock concert which was so clearly targeted at the United States, it's surprising that the "comic" sections which preceded it were included. Or perhaps the producers of the ceremony want the United States to continue to think of Canada as an insecure, pathetic nation worthy of scorn. We are capable of so much better.

Labels: , , ,

Recommend this Post

5 Comments:

At 4:05 am, Blogger Rachel said...

I didn't see any of this, but did read that NBC didn't even show much of the ceremony and cut to The Marriage Ref instead. So, errr, OUCH.

 
At 10:18 am, Anonymous Eamon said...

I thought the closing ceremony was decent. Sure it wasn't perfect. I thought that Shatner did a good job, but the other two bombed, and I think that Nickleback, Avril Lavigne, and Simple Plan are terrible choices at the best of times. But it had moments that were great.

I thought Neil Young's performance, which you apparently forgot about, was fitting and well performed. I thought the "Maple Leaf Forever" performance was great. It reminded me of something Python-esque; while I know you disagree, I thought it was great to put all those stupid "Canadian" images out there.

My criticism was that K-OS wasn't earlier... that they didn't have any of the good Canadian bands (where the hell was Rush? Rufus Wainwright?)... and that it wasn't particularly obvious when the event was ending... a good event is always structured so that you can see the end coming. Sure they could have highlighted our aboriginal population better, and more french might have been nice... but I don't think it was a catastrophe.

Except John Furlong, he was a catastrophe...

 
At 10:51 am, Blogger Matt said...

Eamon,

I certainly agree with you about Python-esque. For a while I thought that Buble was going to break into "I'm a Lumberjack". That would have been an improvement!

I just don't like Neil Young's music - even though that probably makes me a bad Canadian. I used his performance time to go and get some snacks. I understand why he was included, and have no quibbles with it. But for me, it wasn't a strength... At least he showed up to perform, as opposed to the recording of Joni Mitchell in the opening ceremony (great song, incidentally).

 
At 11:42 am, Anonymous Eamon said...

I actually saw the Lumberjack Song coming...

How can you not like Neil Young? I suppose you could ask me the same thing about Joni Mitchell... I've just never found her so special...

I'm going to say this is the fundamental difference between you an I, Matt. Haha.

My only quibble with Neil was that he played the same song as when he closed Conan O'Brien's run on the Tonight Show. He did show up though... and he was at the hockey game...

 
At 8:24 pm, Blogger Luke Stocking said...

I turned it off. Too painful to watch. I was humming along with Neil Young right into the next day though.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home