First off, I would like to apologize to all of you for not getting more into the spirit of things this All Hallow’s Eve. For some CWR content that fits in with the general theme of spookiness and scariness I’d like to direct you to this Fame Day I wrote about a fun little webcomic and this Writers’ Roundtable where we discussed costumes [both features from last year, and returning eventually, I promise]. Enjoy ’em and come on back, because I’m going to be talking a little about Canada and our neighbour south of the 49th Parallel.
Specifically, I’m going to be covering the tragic and truly frightening [that’s all you get, and it wasn’t even on purpose; this is serious] event that occurred last Wednesday. As every Canadian likely knows by now a gunman shot and killed a soldier on ceremonial guard duty before proceeding into one of the parliament buildings to continue his attack. It was a sobering reminder that such events can happen on our soil and are not relegated to countries across the ocean.
What concerned me most about what happened has nothing to do with whether or not this was an act of large-scale terrorism [which I don’t think it is] or an indication that we have so much to learn when it comes to discussing mental illness [it can be, and we do]. The reason this has been on my mind over a week after the incident took place is the following illustration:
In his book Why I Hate Canadians Alberta-born author Will Ferguson devotes at least one full chapter, and references several times, the way that the average Canadian views the United States of America. For the most part it’s with a mild haughtiness, the acknowledgement that we in the north are more polite [compared to Americans, so no small feat], more cultured [I mean, we do speak French, after all], and more civil [didn’t take a revolution to gain our independence]. Coupled with that, however, is the ever-present feeling that the US is our bigger [not geographically] vastly more popular brother, and that we are consciously living in his shadow. This “younger sibling” mentality can be observed primarily in our media, which often appears to be playing catch-up with or seeking to outdo, and often failing in this, the American original. What Ferguson doesn’t discuss, sensibly so given the title of his book [which you should read] is how Americans see Canada.
Now look, I’m no Art major, so interpreting this particular drawing isn’t really within my realm of expertise. Regardless, I think it’s good to point out that if the sentiment was returned in kind and that Canada was viewed as a younger brother a straightforward depiction would be of a boy, maybe twelve or so, helping up another boy between the ages of eight and ten. That, or the same two children with the older having his arm around the other, a visible bruise on the younger one’s knee. Instead of that we have the illustration which I have again embedded below-
Both Canada and the US are depicted as soldiers, but it’s not the same position you’ll find if you type “carrying wounded soldier” into Google Image Search. Almost every one of those images depicts what’s known as a “fireman’s carry”, which involves the body being slung over one’s shoulders. Comparison could be made to the following statue in Istanbul featuring a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded Anzac soldier-
-except that given the position of the man being carried it’s much more akin to Michelangelo’s Pietà. The head, albeit being that of a moose, is thrown back, hanging loosely. This isn’t some flesh wound, this is a man who has been grievously injured and cannot even look up on his own.
On top of that, his arms are held close against his body instead of hanging down. That somehow makes the Canadian figure appear more childlike, all tucked in, literally being cradled by the stand-in for America. Again, that’s just my take as a person who never studied more than a couple of Graphic Design courses at a liberal arts college.
This image made most viral on image hosting website imgur, but the comments don’t have all that much to say, with most people praising it for being amazing, and meaning so much to them. Scrolling on down it takes until the 21st and 22nd comment before we come across a few people who are echoing my feelings:
They’re questions that are given that much more potency when taking into account that there are three comments that make reference to Canada as “America’s hat”, a nickname that makes an entire country out to be even less than a younger sibling.
A few days after this someone I barely know on Facebook linked to a post on 9gag, that I will now be forced to provide a source for because that’s how I’ve chosen to run this blog. It’s a whole bunch of images and captions lauding Canada’s history of toughness in the face of adversity in addition to fluffier accolades [yeah, poutine’s great, but it’s not a particular point of pride], but it culminates in these final three:
Really, the first image of the three isn’t all that relevant either. I am more proud of our country’s diversity than our combination of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy, but it still misses the point. The point is that the imagery and language I’ve observed in regards to this national event, from an American perspective, has generally been diminutive and condescending.
I’ll be fair and grant to those who have been doing so the fact that it’s very likely subconscious, but it’s present nonetheless. The person who drew the picture of America cradling Canada issued an apology after first posting to the site, saying:
“To the people upset with this piece, please understand I did not mean for it to come across as you guys are not able to fend for yourselves. I apologize that it may have come that way. I intended it to mean that we understand the pain recently inflicted on your country and will be there to comfort you in this time of loss and confusion. I know very well how able you all are in a trench. Please understand this was ment more as a sympathetic gesture. Again, apologies if it seemed that I was implying that you guys were defeated or inept to deal with the recent issue. That was not my intention at all.”
It’s appreciated, of course, but the language chosen still feels off. The drawing doesn’t look like one person “[comforting another] in this time of loss and confusion”, it looks like one person literally carrying another because that’s what it is. The USA has long been considered by those who live there, and some who don’t, to be policing the world at large but it’s never felt closer to home than now.
No part of me is saying that the well wishes and sympathy are wasted sentiments. It’s more the statements of anger, that harm was done to someone under America’s protection. Another comment reads: “You lightly bruised my brother, prepare to die.” We may be military allies, but that implies some form of equality. You can mourn with those who mourn, but when we need your help I’m sure we’ll ask for it.