American media references to Canada can rile tempers
'We can also be our own worst critics,' says author Roy MacGregor
Canada is now "hip," according to a recent New York Times article.
The article, published on Jan. 16, has drawn a lot of attention here — and much of it isn't positive. And one author and columnist says it's not an unusual reaction when our southern neighbours comment on Canada and Canadians.
"We like to have other people tell us good things about ourselves, and then we get our backs up instantly anytime anyone criticizes us," said Roy MacGregor. He's a columnist for the Globe and Mail, and the author of several books about Canada, including Canoe Country: The Making of Canada and Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and Its People.
"Already you can see that when the New York Times comes out and said we were suddenly cool, a whole bunch of people in Canada were pushing arguments saying that oh no, we're not cool."
NYT lists Canadians 'making the nation cool'
The Times piece mentioned performers like Drake, Justin Bieber and Rachel McAdams, as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to establish Canada's "sudden" hipness.
In the article, author Peter Stevenson wrote, "The notion that our neighbour to the north is a frozen cultural wasteland populated with hopelessly unstylish citizens is quickly becoming so outdated as to be almost offensive."
The piece also highlighted 17 Canadians described as "making the nation cool."
That backlash to the Times piece included social media users criticizing names left off the list, others arguing Canada has always been "hip," and still others criticizing the apparent Canadian need for external validation.
Colbert, SNL crack jokes about Canada
But the Times' article is just the latest in a series of Canadian references from American media in recent weeks.
American talk show host Stephen Colbert cheekily warned Canadians against trying to win the recent $1.5 billion Powerball lottery in the U.S., calling us "moose-munching iceholes."
Before that, Canadian actor Ryan Gosling hosted Saturday Night Live, and opened the show with a monologue riffing on the joke that he pretends he's not Canadian in order to further his career.
While those were comedic jabs at Canada, few Canadians seemed to find much to laugh about when Fox Sports commentator Harold Reynolds made a remark during a broadcast, and on Twitter, about Canadians' lack of baseball skills during a Toronto Blue Jays playoff game in the fall.
"We talked about foul balls into the stands... they don't play a lot of baseball in Canada, a lot of people aren't used to catching them"—@HReynoldsQuotes
Outrage followed from fans and some Canadian players in the major leagues, to the point where Reynolds made a public apology the next day. He said he was just joking around, and had no clue Canadians would be so offended.
Canadians define themselves as 'not an American'
But MacGregor says part of the reason for such strong reactions is that it's in Canadians' nature to resist American analysis of ourselves.
"I've heard it said that the greatest definition of a Canadian is that a Canadian is not an American," he said.
"And I think we cling to that. We don't want to be Americans. We have this presumption that every one of them carries a gun and shoots each other, and every one of them is boorish and every one of them is too loud and wears awful clothing and is ignorant abroad and doesn't know anything about Canada. All of that's untrue, but that's the stereotype we sometimes cling to."
Jokes may come from Canadians working in U.S.
MacGregor said that stereotype helps Canadians differentiate ourselves from Americans. But he also said that ironically, the references to Canada from the United States are often coming from Canadians.
"A lot of the gibes that come on television or in the movies and that — references to Canada — are because there are so many Canadians down there working. And they throw these things in, whether you're watching The Simpsons or some of the late night talk shows," he said.
And in the end, he suggests that we should take the gibes and jabs from the U.S. as a compliment, rather than an insult.
"There's a real Canadian presence [in the U.S.], and we should revel in it rather than cringe every time somebody makes a crack at us."