Thursday, May 6, 2010


"Cooking With Stella" is a funny movie which made the rounds in recent film festivals. It didn't get wide release in most cinemas because of one fundamental mistake in its production: it is a Canadian film. How many people rush out to watch Canadian movies? Exactly.

While the movie was funny and, at times, charming, it had a very dark core to the story. Briefly, a young Canadian couple and their toddler daughter find themselves in New Delhi, India. The pretty young wife works for the Canadian foreign service and has been posted there. The husband, an aspiring chef, tries to settle into their new digs and comes across Stella, their Indian housekeeper and chef. Stella seems to be a nice lady, a good cook, and is very kind to their little daughter. But the reality is that Stella is a thief, a grifter and con artist of the highest order, who steals from the family as she has done from all her previous employers. The upshot of this nasty, mean-spirited story is that poverty forces people to commit crimes, lie, corrupt innocent people, and that Canadians are naive, guilt-ridden, gullible and , basically, stupid. No wonder people didn't beat down the doors to see this film.

While watching this film, I was in the midst of all the readings I summarized in my first post. I found the film only added fuel to the fire because it was not made or written by foreigners, but rather by Canadians. (Actually Indo-Canadians, who took shots at both cultures.) It seemed to emphasise the notion that there is something inherently immature and nerdy about Canadians. All the Canadian characters are lacking in conviction, confidence, and a clear sense of purpose as to why they are present not only in India, but in their particular place and station in their lives. A small screen metaphor for the nation as a whole.

In the most recent issue of "The Walrus" magazine, there are two timely articles which fit into my recent considerations. The first is "Immature Design" by Jennifer Welsh. It is a current analysis of Canada's foreign policy, which follows up nicely on the ideas of Andrew Cohen in "While Canada Slept". The two pieces are about seven years apart, and, sadly, indicate that things that C0hen wrote about in 2003 have not changed, but instead gotten worse. Welsh writes of the "mishmash of conflicting priorities and half-baked, underfunded initiatives" which combine to make our country look like a modern-day recreation of the Beverley Hillbillies in the eyes of the rest of the world. She points out three main reasons for the failure: 1) the fact that Canada is a federal nation, and that the federal and various provincial governments often have conflicting views on how to deal with other nations; 2) the fact of multiculturalism in Canada, and its attendant complication of people from so many divergent nationalities insisting that Canada aid their homeland; and 3) the fact that Canada has had to deal with minority governments in the recent past, and the lack of firm and decisive leadership due to shaky power bases for the governing party. All these issues seem to explain why our foreign policy doesn't work. Sadly, the only solution Welsh offers in her piece is to create our own version of the American National Security Council, which could co-ordinate all matters regarding foreign policy, streamling it and making it work more seamlessly, thus making us look less inept in the eyes of the world. Other than that, the article is a dreary litany of our failings as a nation among the larger family of nations in the world.

The next article in "The Walrus" was written by the excellent author David Macfarlane and is titled "Hockeyland". Macfarlane travelled to three NHL cities in the US South in order to experience how the Americans have adapted to "our" game and discovered, to his great shock, that the game is ours no more, and that the Americans have taken over our game, not because of any great love of hockey, but because the game at the NHL level fits into the middle-class mystique of American life: hockey arenas are just like chain restaurants, shopping malls, amusement parks, cineplexes, retail outlets, etc., all of which act upon the "family values" of American life, getting people together as families to do one thing: consume. Because of this, Canada will never reclaim its national game. But Macfarlane implies that the fault for this lies not in the US sunbelt, but in Canada itself. We let this happen. We quietly gave up control of the one game which, we thought, defines us as a nation. We probably didn't realize that we were giving up this control while it was happening, and woke up to it too late to do anything about it. Hamilton, Winnipeg and Quebec City have virtually no chance at acquiring or re-acquiring NHL franchises any time soon, despite the fact that sunbelt US franchises are not exactly swarming with die-hard hockey fans. The mere fact that they exist in these US cities means that they will continue to exist in their own little niches, feeding the beast that is US culture. All we can do is stand on the outside, looking in, with sadness and a little wistfulness.

These items serve to re-enforce the ideas covered in the readings which I summarized in my previous post. It has been a sobering last few months for me. I have little faith in my country now, and feel that I have been sand-bagged by all the commentators, writers, thinkers and politicians that I have listened to over the last several years. Most of them have told us that our country is still respected around the world, that Canadian values of fairness and willingness to share and help are still strong, that we are peace-keepers and honest brokers, and that we are truly the "good guys" in the continuing melodrama that is the world. The sad fact is that none of this is true any more, and the only ones in the world who believe all of this is us. The only conclusion one can make from all of this: Canada is very sick and in desperate need of radical surgery to cure it of its ailment. In the next post, I will offer some possible solutions... I know I said this at the end of the first installment, but this is taking longer than I thought. Maybe I should stop reading and do more thinking. More later.

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