"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 4 July 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

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Wars of Northern



Last month, Canada's prime

minister Jean Chretien

announced that, what the hell,

he's going to call an election

over a year before his term

expires. Ostensibly his party's

current popularity and success

is why he's chosen now to exert

one of the curious (to

Americans) powers a leader in a

parliamentary government has. We

wonder if it's just a publicity

stunt to remind Americans that,

hey, we Canadians do things a

little differently up here.


[Up There]

Canadians feel their very

identity and souls embattled by

creeping Americanism. And they

are fighting a constant and

futile battle to defend

themselves - whoever that may

be. With no Dudley Do-Right to

protect the poor Nell that is

Canadian culture, the Canadian

government has taken lately to

threatening criminal charges

against 200,000 confused Canucks

who use satellite dishes to

watch contraband US TV




Canada has no satellite TV of its

own, and so Canadians hungry for

must-see TV have to use a

widespread gray market in

dishes, using bogus US addresses

for billing purposes. Canada's

"Minister of Industry" John

Manley, bitter that the FCC

rejected a plan to let a

Canadian company share satellite

space with the American

Tele-Communications, Inc.,

accused the FCC of having

"spurned the bid as part of a

broader US government effort to

weaken Canadian culture." (Yeah,

and CIA agents have similarly

sabotaged the careers of

Triumph, Margaret Atwood, and

the comic strip For Better or

Worse.) Fear of an American

planet is such that the

satellites beaming the cultural

pollution of trash TV are called

"death stars" by hysterical

Canadian nationalists.


The Canadians try their hardest

not to have their culture

weakened, heaven knows. They are

proudly culturally

nationalistic, enforcing

stringent Canadian content rules

on everything from TV to

magazines to pop music, in a

desperate attempt to provide

some legal protection for their

the-same-only-worse culture when

a free market would wipe out

even a pretense of difference.

Those rules enforce complicated

formulae for percentage of

Canadian content with varying

points of Canadianness awarded

for directors, producers,

writers, and performers of

programs. For example, if

Canadian Bryan Adams co-writes a

song with Brits and records it

with American crew in the

Bahamas, the content is only

one-fourth Canadian, at least

under the "music, artist,

production, and lyrics" system -

"MAPL," get it?



Canadians fight with the kind of

nationalistic fervor (and they

aren't even afraid of calling it

nationalistic) that has made Pat

Buchanan a political pariah.

They scrap against the American

giant to protect a culture that,

at its most successful, produces

such defiantly distinctive fare

as the Porky's saga. Fact is,

almost 80 percent of Canadians

live within 100 miles of the

American border - they might as

well be Americans in fact as

well as in cultural detail. When

America indulges in one of its

own twinges of us vs. them

nationalism in labeling the

domestic vs. foreign content of

autos, it counts Canadian parts

manufacturing as if it were

American. The Canadians don't

know, but the Americans



This feud is really about product

differentiation when you don't

really have that much to

differentiate. Of course, it's

an American tradition, and

mostly harmless and fun. Such

sundry entertainment items as

sports teams, colas, fast food,

and cold cereals all work by

goosing that atavistic instinct

to shout "go team!" - humans, as

any grade school kickball game

could show you, love to take

sides, especially about things

that are otherwise meaningless.

Sometimes, though - as in the

occasional kickball game - the

side that's always losing starts

to take the game a little too

seriously, and gets really

upset, bawls, and ruins the game

for everyone. Canada is the

bawling sore-loser of our

inter-American cultural kickball




As if we cared. Those of us who

don't have to deal with them

generally don't think much of

Canadians at all, though a sort

of humorous, we-don't-


mock enmity floats up here and

there, now and then. It figures

that America's best-known

Canadian stereotype, the

MacKenzie Brothers, themselves

arose as a parody of Canada's

domestic content laws.


[A Canadian Company]

Pollyannas about pointless,

meaningless national/ethnic

squabbling like to think that

such enmity is based on

ignorance - that if only we all

got to know each other and live

among each other, we'd realize

we're all the same. My Florida

upbringing gave me little reason

to hate Canadians, but when I

relocated to a city in upstate

Washington from which I could

actually see Canada on a clear

day, things were different.


People hated their awful little

coins, cluttering the vending

machines. (Canadians also call

their money "dollars," though

their dollar is worth

significantly less than ours.

Ha.) People hated their arrogant

and unearned sense of difference

and superiority to vulgar

Americans. (Even unearned

contempt for America and

Americans is a trait the

Canadians stole from us.) People

hated that the most powerful

radio station's playlist was

warped by Canadian content laws

into 4-songs-an-hour doses of

the likes of Sass Jordan and




What's more, people enjoyed

hating them. The one benefit of

Canadians' insistence on their

uniqueness is it gives Americans

a reason to bear a

mock-xenophobic grudge against

someone not even really xeno. It

was fun, it gave you something

to talk about, and it seemed

relatively harmless since we

knew if it did come to blows,

there's no way we'd lose. As one

Canadian scofflaw using American

satellite TV told the Boston

Globe, she didn't feel that a

smidgen of Melrose Place every

once in a while would make her

succumb "to some strange Yank

impulse to invade Cuba or pack a

handgun." But as the kid on the

kickball team soon learns, to

his chagrin, one should never

show that kind of fear....


[Milli Vanilli?]

Canadians, of course, have many

of their own cultural triumphs

(or acts of vengeance) to crow

about vis-à-vis the

United States. The two

top-selling recording artist of

1996, Alanis Morissette and Celine

Dion, are both native Canadians.

Like you could tell.


So what is the difference?

Americans know. The difference

is, we're Americans. What

Canadians don't seem to

understand is that, for all

practical cultural purposes, so

are they.

courtesy of Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk

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