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2010 Winter Games - Day 5

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Only in Canada, eh? Pity

 

'Tasteful but dull' opening paints country in not-so-flattering light

 
 
 
 
There were some stellar performances during Friday's opening ceremony, but it was hardly reflective of the four out of five of us who live in cities.
 
 

There were some stellar performances during Friday's opening ceremony, but it was hardly reflective of the four out of five of us who live in cities.

Photograph by: Chris Bouroncle, AFP/Getty Images

The Olympics are a sports event, but because they are paid for by hundreds of millions of government dollars, they also must attempt to solve the enduring mystery of Canadian identity or, as Stephen Colbert recently put it, "Why is Canada?"

It's not enough merely to put on a great international competition (and maybe even win a few gold medals this time), we have to make sure these Games tell the world the Canadian narrative -- or at least the part of our story that doesn't involve anything remotely urban or modern.

These Games, and especially Friday night's opening ceremony, are meant, at least in the minds of the politicians who used our money to pay for them, to showcase Canada to the world. But despite a record Canadian audience of some 23 million who saw some part of the $20-million ceremony of lip-syncing and geographic symbolism, there wasn't a lot to represent the four out of five Canadians who live in cities -- or the 21st century.

Instead, there was a rendition of Joni Mitchell's Both Sides, Now, a 40-year-old song about clouds and love, during which someone floated above a depiction of the Prairies.

And there was this intro to a dance number from CTV's Brian Williams: "This segment exploring the transformational influence of nature, wildlife and Canada's forests on both its art and its people." It was as if he was reading right from a successful grant application to the Canada Council for the Arts.

There is much to be proud of at these Games and there were some stellar performances during the opening ceremony. And expectations that Vancouver's ceremony rival Beijing's were patently unfair. The Winter Games are always a more modest event and, prorogation notwithstanding, our country is not an oppressive regime trying to buy its way into the world's affections.

The segment called "Peaks of Endeavour" was a beautiful acrobatic tribute to the Rockies and actually featured snowboarders, skiers and skaters, providing a tangible connection to winter sports, which were, after all, the reason we were all gathered.

Also, k.d. lang (or was that Charlie Sheen?) performed a haunting rendition of the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah.

And despite the fact that many of us were thinking, "Oh no, a poet," when he was introduced, Shayne Koyczan delivered a stirring national homage, basically a more literate version of the I-Am-Canadian beer ads. The biggest reaction came when he asserted that, "Yes, we say zed, instead of zee." Only in Canada could an alphabetic pronunciation stimulate national pride.

But even in that moment, it was hard not to see the attempt to define Canada doing more to explain our country than the words themselves. It's hard to picture a poet spouting passionately about what it means to be British at the London Olympics in 2012. Such an exercise is only for the young and insecure.

Who knows, maybe this ceremony got it just right. The New York Times reviewed the event as a "tasteful, well-behaved New Year's Eve" and also said it was "long, a little dull at times, but also thoughtful and stirring." Tasteful but dull, well-behaved and sometimes thoughtful. You've got Canada nailed.

But as usual, the ceremony felt more like it was fulfilling your basic government-issued, inclusive checklist of cultural symbols rather than simply welcoming the world with a great bash. All that was missing from the ceremony was a ballet tribute to Canada's Economic Action Plan. Fortunately, that oversight was covered off in a series of commercials paid for by taxpayers.

I don't know about clouds, but I think we've looked at Canada from all sides now and maybe it's time to stop. No matter how hard we try, no one outside the country will ever get our fascination with hockey, Timbits and the letter U. Even our most cherished cultural symbols will always be pretty obscure outside our borders.

As proof, there was a classic moment on NBC's Today Show Friday when Meredith Vieira reported that a leading candidate to light the Olympic cauldron was Betty Fox, the mother of "Michael" Fox, whose Marathon "for" Hope raised money for cancer research. On the screen appeared a picture of Terry Fox, which was quickly replaced by a picture of Michael J. Fox, which was then just as quickly removed altogether.

The next time we host the Olympics, why can't we just put on a great sporting event with an opening ceremony featuring a few contemporary rock songs and maybe a Cirque du Soleil acrobatic number or two?

Maybe, with a little more action and a little less slow, ponderous national reflection, we could show that our national sport really is hockey and not the search for the perfect definition of a Canadian.

After all, each time Canada wins a medal or a hockey game at the Olympics, it will do more to define and unite a nation than any carefully contrived ceremony could do.

Let the soul-searching end. Let the Games begin. Please.

Mark Sutcliffe writes about sports, business and running for the Citizen.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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There were some stellar performances during Friday's opening ceremony, but it was hardly reflective of the four out of five of us who live in cities.
 

There were some stellar performances during Friday's opening ceremony, but it was hardly reflective of the four out of five of us who live in cities.

Photograph by: Chris Bouroncle, AFP/Getty Images

 
There were some stellar performances during Friday's opening ceremony, but it was hardly reflective of the four out of five of us who live in cities.
Sports Ink columnist Mark Sutcliffe.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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