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Oscar Peterson Sticks To The Classics

As far as I know, Oscar Peterson never attributed his lack of name recognition in Canada to racism. Even when a CBC interviewer claimed she understood his nickname “Osc The Gorilla” a lot better than his other nickname, “The Maharaja Of The Keyboard”, Peterson kept his cool.

Oh, sure, there are jazz festivals in his name up here, and scholarships too. But the main concert hall and recording studio at the CBC is named after Glenn Gould, not him. Peterson’s statue stands in Ottawa, not in Montreal where he was born. He doesn’t have a “historical society” like Guy Lombardo, who is mostly known for playing New Year’s Eve ditties and the version of “Auld Lang Syne” you usually hear when watching the ball drop in Times Square.

Canadian Music’s American Roots

When I say Canadian music originated in the American South, I don’t mean that Canadian musicians were influenced by Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, and Johnny Cash like everyone else. I mean that Americans had to midwife Canadian music into existence.

Mike Myers and Jim Carrey: The Grotesque In Canadian Comedy

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 29: Cautionary Tales

Writing this one is going to be difficult, because Mike Myers and Jim Carrey were larger than life heroes to me growing up as a proud ’90s Kid.

A Quick Guide To The Culture of Newfoundland and Labrador

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 28: Long May Your Big Jib Draw!

The Simpsons hasn’t been relevant, much less controversial, for decades. But hey: there’s always trolling Canada for laughs. That always works!

And so we got “D’Oh Canada,” an episode that really didn’t need to be made, or talked about, except for the fact that it features a “joke” where Ralph Wiggum decides he’s a “Newfie”, and then knocks the head off a stuffed baby seal and proceeds to kick it around. The Canadian media, which is as awful and transparently fake as yours (except your media reports on issues of consequence sometimes, and mine reports on…..this), duly investigated whether The Simpsons went TOO FAR.

Norm MacDonald: Controlled Chaos

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 27: the Holy Fool Personified

So, now the truth has come out. Canadians are a people without “story”.

But then again: That’s what happens when, for so long, the thing that holds Canadians together was “not American.” And that’s why it’s so important that a “story” for Canadians is created out of the disparate building blocks that make up this series.

Now, the fact that Canadian have no “stories” could be tragic, or it could be magic, as the wonderful case of Norm MacDonald shows.

Story Wars: Canadians and the Star Trek vs. Star Wars Battle

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 26: The Trouble of “Story”

Vulcan, Alberta, Canada. Population: 1,917, as per the latest Canadian census (2016). Home to the Tourism and Trek Station and the annual “Vul-Con” Convention.

No, the town was not named after Spock’s home planet, but Vulcan is a pretty clear indicator of Canada’s Trek obsession. The debate may rage elsewhere, but in Canada there is a definite consensus (as there is with so many things): Trek leaves Wars in the space dust.

William Shatner: To Boldy Goof

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 25: Faking It Until He Made It

For some, the word “goof” is associated with a dim-witted but lovable Disney character. For Canadians, “goof” is the ultimate insult, on par with being called a child molester. Walk into a bar in Canada and call someone a goof and you will get your ass kicked.

A “goof” may be completely harmless and well-meaning. The goof wants to be liked. But something is… off about him. His behaviour isn’t quite normal. It’s persistently annoying. He’s the opposite of the level-headed Canadian exemplar.

People notice and target the goof. Women won’t touch the goof. If you see him, cross the street. His actions can’t go unpunished. And he’s got to reassert his place in the social order by fighting.

Sometimes, however, the goof gets the last laugh. They want to call me a goof? I’ll show them just how goofy I can be

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you get William Shatner.

Leslie Nielsen: Accidentally Absurd

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 24: The Funniest Thing in a Movie Where Jokes are Delivered Almost Every Minute

Surely, Leslie Nielsen was never supposed to be a serious actor? Well, I am serious – and don’t call me “Shirley.”

Nielsen – who has always been a sort of Canadian Adam West to me, utterly and earnestly oblivious to how ridiculous he comes off – is an important dividing line between the serious actors I’ve discussed in previous weeks who would often find themselves caught up in the campiest of schlockfests, and the Canadian actors who began as clowns and later craved respect, such as Mike Myers and Jim Carrey.

Plummer and Sutherland brought gravitas to ridiculous roles, and, as we’ll see, Carrey and Myers tried to inject some levity into serious drama. Nielsen is different because – at least initially – he wasn’t going for over the top humour or deadpan seriousness. There’s a Chaplinesque passivity and calm on display as he boldly soldiers through silliness like the Star Trek forerunner Forbidden Planet.

Donald Sutherland: Grit Personified

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 23: Toughness Tempered with Gentleness

“Grit” is a concept we will be returning to when we discuss the place of sport in Canadian culture, but for now it serves as a way to distinguish between ethereals like Christopher Plummer and Mary Pickford and Donald Sutherland, the legitimately cool, relatable rogue.

“Grit” is also not uniquely Canadian. Harrison Ford exudes grit. Nick Nolte has it in spades. Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Charlton Heston… I could go on. But Sutherland is no hardened cowboy, no scruffy nerf-herder. He may have been one of the Dirty Dozen, but his role in that infamous operation was to “stay out in the drive” and impersonate enemy soldiers. In M*A*S*H* (the film) he was Hawkeye Pierce,  a well-known lover but no fighter. When he ends up body snatched in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, pointing and shrieking in that memorable scene near the end, the opposite him reacts with sorrow as well as fear.

Christopher Plummer: A Modern Prospero

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 22: As Blue-Blooded and Upper Canadian as They Come

To criticize a universally beloved 89-year-old titan of stage and screen – possibly best known as Captain Von Trapp from The Sound of Music, a role he famously detests –  is a thing not easily done.

This is the man they brought in to save Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World after Kevin Spacey’s heinous deeds were exposed at the height of #MeToo. (He will not be the last Canadian on our list that acted as a calming force during that period of justified outrage.) Spike Lee trusted him enough to cast him in two of his films. He played a Klingon with a hilarious eyepatch and “The Emperor” in a schlocky Star War ripoff, Starcrash, with the same grace and aplomb as his many, many Shakespearean turns – Henry V, Hamlet, Caesar, Mercutio, Lear, and, yes – Prospero.

But as Christopher Plummer himself will readily admit, his life has been a charmed one, mostly free of the struggle and want common to most actors. Plummer’s easygoing yet authoritative presence, his capability and durability, and above all his magical ability to project order cannot be truly understood unless you know that he was born to the cream of Canadian society, the great-grandson of Canada’s third Prime Minister, John Abbott.

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