O Canada, why the fuss?

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I am old. Well, okay, not old so much as crotchety. I like things how I knew them, and I get cranky when I have to learn a new way when the old way was perfectly acceptable—if only to me.

Thus, as with so many Canadians, when I heard that The Tenors had altered the lyrics of Canada’s national anthem at the MLB All-Star Game last night, I was initially outraged (see video).

But as the evening wore on, and I watched diatribe after diatribe on social media, I began to realize that in many ways, this was a litmus test on what it is to live in Canada, a nation that at the best of times, struggles to define itself if only because it is constantly evolving.

In my life time, we have had two official changes to the English lyrics for O Canada.

Three decades ago, it was a reversion of sorts from “O Canada, glorious and free” to “God keep our land glorious and free”. As a then anti-religious zealot, I was outraged that you would introduce religion into my anthem, being completely ignorant of the fact that it had been there in the beginning (as makes sense for our history). I am less a zealot today, but continue to sing the God-free version.

More recently, Canada’s Parliament has debated rewriting the refrain “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command”, suggesting that women are invested in this country as well as men. I did not rage against this, but many Canadians did, most ignorant that this change too is something of a reversion to an older lyric “dost in us command”.

My point is that the song, like the nation and its people, continues to evolve.

Jazz

A nation for all

And while we as individuals may only wish to accept the version with which we grew up or alternatively, the “official” version enacted by Parliamentary vote, Canadians as a populace have decided to live in a nation that is open to change, open to new views on the world, open to rediscovery of our history as a nation.

My instinctive reaction to last night’s events at the All-Star Game was to cry “Shame”, and if the anthem was used to spread hate or fear, I might still be justified in that cry. Rather, it was used to spread love and acceptance, and what (or so we hold) could be more Canadian?

Perhaps this is too much. Perhaps I am being over-indulgent. But if your heart is pure and you sing the song with pride, what do I care what lyrics you sing? Sing about the Canada you know and love, and sing it loudly so we can all share in that love.

O Canada early years

See also:

Full history of “O Canada”

How the Tenors struck out with O Canada at the MLB All-Star Game

An-anthem-a: A sporting nation sings

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics

Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

This past weekend, Toronto played host to the NBA All-Star Game and among the dozens of events, Canadian recording artist Nelly Furtado was asked to sing O’ Canada. In keeping with her musical stylings (I believe), Ms Furtado decided to sing an interpretation of the song that was slower in tempo and a bit more soul-searching than its typical performance, which annoyed a few people.

Now, I am a sing-it-straight person. I believe national anthems should be performed as intended (let’s not get into changing the lyrics). Thus, when someone opens up with a bit of musical show-boating, I get annoyed. (Call back to Roseanne Barr singing The Star Spangled Banner.)

But you know, that’s my problem.

The controversy, however, opened up another question for me:

Why do we play the national anthem(s) at sporting events?

I could understand an argument for truly international events like the Olympics (played when the winner is chosen) or World Cup (do they play anthems here?), where nationalistic fervor is part of the equation.

But what, for example, about a hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks is particularly nationalistic?

This question is especially germane when you consider the many of the players that perform for these teams are from countries other than the United States and Canada (including Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, etc.), and play in mixed squads.

We don’t play the anthem(s) before live theatre. We don’t play the anthem(s) before sitting down to a meal.

We don’t play the anthem(s) before our hair or dental appointments. We don’t play the anthem(s) before a meeting of the UN Security Council.

So why do we play them before regional/local sporting events?

hockey-canada-national-anthem

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images)

I love my country. I like my national anthem. I really don’t care if we play it at sporting events.

Canadian Film Day: Hoorah or who cares?

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Via my social media outlets, I discovered that today is Canadian Film Day (presumably only in Canada).

Oh Canada, our home and native film industry… (although not necessarily native in the sense of indigenous peoples).

The discovery caused me to pause, as I realized that it has never mattered to me that a film is Canadian…only that it is good, entertaining, thought-provoking.

As an artist who is Canadian, I almost feel guilty that this is the case. And as a friend of several writers, directors, performers, etc, who live and work in Canada, I am embarrassed to say that I am not sure I can name 5 films that I know with any confidence are Canadian.

My attempt: Black Christmas, Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Decline of the American Empire, Scanners (honesty check: of this list, I have only seen Black Christmas)

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have a problem with having a Canadian Film Day to celebrate my nation’s achievements. I think it’s great to pat our collective selves on the backs every once in a while.

CanadaPoster11

I guess my bigger question is does it really matter if a movie is Canadian or not, whether from an artistic or audience perspective?

When an industry is in its infancy, it needs to be protected and nurtured, but much as with the Canadian music industry, I think the Canadian film industry is well beyond its infancy. It doesn’t need training wheels. We shouldn’t be coddling it out of some odd sense of nationalism. It is more than capable of competing (and does) with the big boys and girls of the world.

This country has played incubator to world-renowned directors, writers, performers and production companies, and these people and groups became world-renowned by competing in the world. By setting the bar high and achieving even more.

My fear with art-via-nationalism is hearing the phrase “You know, for a Canadian film, this is pretty good.”

I worry that in blindly supporting the Canadian film industry simply because it is Canadian, we won’t push ourselves as hard. That we will be willing to settle for good enough for a Canadian film. That mediocrity will reign, punctuated here and there with islands of brilliance.

As some of you know, I am cowriter of a sketch comedy show–SomeTV!–currently in production in Toronto. One of our mandates as a writing team was that we are NOT writing a Canadian sketch show, regardless of all of the writers being Canadian and residing in Canada for initial broadcast in Canada.

Sure, the show will have Canadian sensibilities given the Canadian writing and acting, but we’re targeting a global stage with this project.

Likewise, none of my film screenplays are targeted as Canadian. Nor all but one of my teleplay concepts (the one revolves around Canada’s Parliamentary system).

Sure, many of them are set in Canada, but that is more an artifact of my knowledge base and personal experiences than anything else. Any of the Canadian locations could be swapped for American or British locations with only a few modifications to the story.

I’m not trying to write The Great Canadian Story. I’m trying to write The Great Story, which may or may not feature Canada and its people.

I wish every movie to do well, even the ones I don’t particularly like. I want all of the artists involved to find personal satisfaction and achieve greatness. I want audiences to be entertained and money to flow.

And maybe this is biting the hand that feeds me (when and if it ever decides to feed me), but I don’t particularly care if those movies, artists, audiences and money are Canadian.

MIC-LOGO-2

PS: I am a strong advocate of any organization that supports the development of new artists who push the envelope in storytelling. Again, though, I advocate these organization whether Canadian or other.

 

My screenplays:

Tank’s: Animated musical feature, female co-lead; Winner of Best Animated Feature Screenplay at 2014 Nashville Film Festival

An impulsive adolescent fish, ripped from his Amazonian home, struggles to find his place in the world of a pet shop, complicated by feelings for an idealistic, privileged fish and the iron-fisted rule of a villainous eel. A story that proves even a fish in water can be a fish out of water.

Captain Pete: Humourous family drama, female lead, set in Eastern Canada

To reconnect with her increasingly distant son, 35-year-old divorcee Billy tries to protect her son’s pirate-hunting lunatic friend from himself and an intolerant town, and in the process, may help both him and herself reconnect with the world.

The Children of San Miani: Murder thriller, female lead, set in Northern Italy and Canada

A crusading young Turin police officer must partner with a Vatican officer and faces Vatican interference as she tries to prevent another murder linked to a 35-year-old child abuse mystery, and in the process, faces the demons of her own Catholic upbringing.

The Naughty List: Dark adult comedy, holiday-themed

After a near-fatal accident, Santa vows to make amends to the Naughty kids, but when he learns two of them—now warlords—are racing toward war on Christmas Day, he drops everything to intervene as only he can, with catastrophic results.