We are all Canucks. But why?

Well, the Canucks lost tonight.

We were all shouting Boo-urns.

And that’s all I want to say about that.

Seriously, I don’t know why I care so much about this stupid hockey club. I am sitting here asking myself how I could possibly be SO BLOODY CUT UP OVER THIS LOSS.

It actually makes less sense than a Ramada hotel advertisement (and those are obtuse in the extreme.)

One of the coolest books I read in grad school was “Imagined Communities” by Benedict Anderson. In his work, Anderson defines a nation as “an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.”

They are limited in that nations have “finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations” andthey are sovereign since no dynastic monarchy can claim authority over them.

(Anderson’s work is focused predominantly on the rise of European democracies.)

A nation is an imagined community because “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.”

The imagined community is different from an actual community because it is not (and cannot be) based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members. Instead, members hold in their minds a mental image of their affinity, or their bond.

A great example of this is the sensation of “pride of nationhood” individuals share with other members of their nation when their “imagined community” participates in a larger event (such as the Olympic Games.)

Now, I won’t go into too much detail on the entirety of Anderson’s thesis (however, I will encourage you to read it without delay if your interest in the subject matter has been peaked).

But I will say that I am consistently drawn to him every time I find myself sitting here, questioning my (always baffling) relationship with ice hockey.

Do I watch because it’s been ingrained in me to watch? Do I watch because I love sport, and am, at the root of it all, a highly competitive person who gets off on watching excellence?

If I lived in Europe would I feel the same way about soccer? If I lived in the States, would I feel the same way about football?

Where is the dividing line between cultural (or national) assimilation, and personal autonomy? Or are these too, imagined constructs?

And why is it that I loathe so many elements of hockey (and so many other elements of professional sport)? Is this my individuality asserting itself over my imagined nationality? Or do I just hate goonery more than I love winning?

And why the heck am I assuming ownership over a victory that I played absolutely zero part in?

Yeesh.

When I’m not thinking about Anderson, I’m thinking about Rome and the coliseum and the gladiators. I think about complacency and apathy and what is enough to keep a society happy and unquestioning?

And what about our appetite for gore, and war, and physical supremacy? Is this somehow manifesting itself in these sporting events, because we are unsure of how to address this need in the every day political activities and actions our “nation”?

I mean, here in ye Old Great White North, we like to advertise ourselves as a “peace keeping” nation, but don’t even think about the fighting out of our national passtime!

A GOOD BENCH CLEARING BRAWL IS WHAT CANADA’S ALL ABOUT!

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to these conundrums.

And I probably never will.

The sky is beautiful. We're all still alive. We'll be okay.

All I know is that tonight the Canucks lost.

But Nadal won. So that brings a big old smile to my face.

Until of course, I start to think, would I feel this way if Djokovic was a Canadian?

Or if I was a Serb?

20 thoughts on “We are all Canucks. But why?

  1. Great post. I think you’re spot on in bringing up Anderson. The Canucks definitely exploit the idea of a community to the max with their marketing, and they very effectively use social media to foster and encourage this cult-like following with the “We Are All Canucks” stuff.

    I’ve also been questioning WHY OH WHY I bother with this shite year after year after year, especially since I’ve long since shed the blind adoration of my young teen years and have sunken into the jaded cynicism of a typical abused Canucks fan (as I kid I wondered, why are adults so negative about the Canucks? OH, THIS IS WHY).

    Like you, I don’t have any proper answers. I do think being part of a community is a big part of it. Isn’t a big part of the thrill of cheering for the Canucks the ability to celebrate with your friends, and with the whole city. I like to think that I am independent and able to retain a critical distance to many things, but the swell of pride that comes with a Canucks victory is almost irresistible. I think we all felt it after Game 4 – how could we all get so excited after one stupid win in a series we were most likely destined to lose anyway? Because we’re all in it together. That’s why the Canucks marketing annoys me so much, because it so cleverly appropriates the affective relationship that people have with their local hockey team. I know it’s constructed, I know we don’t have to go along with it, but it’s powerful stuff.

    This is particularly grating on me at the moment, because I don’t necessarily even really respect a number of the players on the Canucks. As much I find Burrows high-octane style of play entertaining, I don’t particularly like the way he trash talks. I think it’s ugly and unsportsmanlike (same goes for Kesler and Lapierre). Sure, trash talk is a big part of hockey, and it’s definitely not unique to those three (even though the media and opposing fans want to make it seem that way). But the subject matter they choose to employ for their insults completely rubs me the wrong way. The problem, of course, is the entire hypermasculine culture of the sport, not just individual guys. That’s why I have so much respect for players who manage to rise above that, like the Sedins (broken record, I know). But it also kind of turns me off the whole notion of cheering for a hockey team comprised of people who seem to represent aspects of our culture that I certainly stand against. It also makes us hypocrites, because we’re all more likely to excuse reprehensible behaviour displayed by a player on “our” team. (See: Henrik Sedin’s elbow on Dustin Brown in Game 4 – I think it was probably accidental, it looked like he was off balance and momentum delivered that elbow to Brown’s nose. Would I think that if I was a Kings fan? Hell no)

    Yet as much as we can say that if we love the sport of hockey, there are plenty of other venues for that, including junior and female, there must be a reason we still thirst for NHL action. Junior hockey is really exciting and crazy and fun, but it’s also sloppy as hell (and also completely imbued with majorly disturbing and problematic issues of systemic abuse and culturally ingrained hubris). And female hockey is also really exciting to watch, especially as it’s a completely different style of play as the NHL, but let’s face it, the world still hasn’t caught up to Canada and the USA. At the league level, there is no proper nation-wide “pro” (I put that in scare quotes because it’s not like it’s big money here) league, and there is very little coverage of the leagues that do exist. There’s also the issue that it’s still a relatively new sport in terms of being played at a widespread elite level, so the level of play can be widely inconsistent and isn’t comparable to the professionalism you would see in, say, the WNBA or the WTA. That will change, eventually, but it’s still early days. (there are lots of ways in which growth is hindered, too, but I won’t get into that)

    Which brings us back to the damn NHL, again. There really isn’t palpable alternative for those who wish to see hockey played at its highest level.
    Okay, that’s all for now. I’d like to say the Canucks have disappointed me for the last time, but that’s not true.

    • I must be the sole Canadian (well, west coast) who just doesn’t like hockey. Or the Canucks. And until last year I kept it to friendly teasing. “Ha ha, I hope the Leafs win. Um… that’s a hockey team, right?”

      Last year, though… god. I mean I work in a small office and I hear nothing but hockey, hockey, hockey for what seems like half the year every year, but last year when the riots started – it made me sick. And then the whole office started talking about “well that wasn’t us, we didn’t do that.” But it seems to me that if you’re going to claim kinship before the event, you damn well have to afterward as well. No, I don’t think they should be arrested, I just… ugh. I don’t know. Even the volunteers showing up afterward didn’t clear the air for me. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the second time it’s happened – we’re supposed to be the effing peacekeepers and here we are acting like a bunch of drunken hicks. And I don’t want to see it repeated. Not a third time. Not twice in two years.

      It’s left me with such a sour taste in my mouth for this year that, now the enthusiasm is kicking up again, I have to bite my tongue not to say “you know what? I fucking well hope they do lose, because I’m so fucking ashamed of what we – yes, we – did last year that I don’t want to show our province’s face on television again for a good long time.” If I were on the team I think I’d be tempted to try and throw the game before it got to the point of playoffs, just so I didn’t have to watch the city that I was supposed to be representing set itself on fire again.

      On the other hand, can I really talk? The Olympics games sucked me in like nobody’s business. I still remember the multiple thrills I got out of those games – womens and mens – sitting around the TV with my friends, dressed in red and white clothing and eating red and white themed food. Shit, I still remember every emotion I went through when Sidney scored that final goal – the primal thrill as the whole room – yes, including me – erupted in screams of joy and completely irrational national pride, and being so wrapped up in what was happening that I could actually feel the slam of the boards against my back when the entire team crushed Crosby in their utter ecstasy of what just happened – and yet at the very same time feeling the pain of watching poor Miller collapse face-down on the ice. There lay a man who had just won a silver fucking medal – and yet there lay a man who, at that moment, was obviously lost in the despair of a crushing defeat – watching him skate off slowly, head down, through teammates that reached out to comfort him – hoping in my heart that he’d recover soon and be able to put this into perspective – a silver fucking medal, a fucking Olympic medalist…

      *ahem* Anyway, what I’m saying is, I’ve been there and felt that, and I wish I could feel that way about the Canucks, but the hype every year just makes my mule-like qualities emerge – with a vengeance, since last year. Of course, your mention that there’s a tendency to trash talk doesn’t help – one of my core beliefs about what “being Canadian” means is – as Mr. Wheaton so eloquently puts it – don’t be a dick. Unless your name is Dick. In which case, be a good Dick. I think it’s time to walk away from the keyboard now.

      • Your paragraph about the Olympics completely hits the nail on the head. I loved the Olympics too, SO MUCH IT WAS CRAZY. Seriously, those were three of the most fun weeks of my life. It was awesome, hands down. But this gold or nothing attitude that persists in the hockey world, all the way from Juniors to NHL and beyond is really destructive. Especially because it is propagated by everyone – media, players, fans, coaches, etc. Talk about a loaded situation.

        Also, your closing sentence about Dicks is awesome. Like, the most. Ever.

      • I’m with you on the Olympics, too. Despite all of the problematic issues surrounding it, running the gamut from competing on unceded First Nations territory to a man LITERALLY DYING in pursuit of glory in an extremely dangerous sport, I also was overcome with the excitement and in the moment, all lot of my critical questioning fell by the wayside. I was going through some tough family times, and the Olympics were a damn good distraction.

        I think there’s a lot to be said for the ways in which large sporting events can build community and friendship, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question the various ethical and social issues around them. It’s not an easy thing to think about, but for me, anyways, straight up boycott won’t cut it.
        I don’t judge you at all for being turned off by the Canucks hype – if things in my life had been different, I might have said the same as you.

        • Hm, to be fair – and to consider some more where the “we are canucks” and similar feelings come from – I grew up as the only girl – really, the only *kid* – I knew who played MMORPGs and read fantasy. I got sick pretty early of people disparaging the things I loved, so there’s probably a bit of backlash there as well. You think Everquest is a waste of time? Fuck you, you think watching grown men running around a slippery surface chasing a tiny black rock is entertainment! (But I am trying to rise above my inner bitter arrogant douche, I promise)

          • Haha, that’s really funny, because I took a hell of a lot of harrasment from classmates (even teachers!) about my hockey obsession…and I grew up in Vancouver (well, LM)! But I guess that’s also because when I was in elementary/high school, the Canucks were not so good! I got used to arguing with people and defending “my” team. It was intensely personal for me, and it essentially took a huge wake-up call in a 1st year uni sports sociology class to begin to undo it.

    • THIS is fantastic. Seriously. Do you want to write a White paper with me and we can send it to the major news outlets? I think everyone should be reading this piece.

      I really have nothing else to say except I agree with everything that you are saying and I don’t know where I would be without you. Probably a shite of a lot sadder and generally mad.
      xx

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  3. Wow and wow again! Don Cherry (the verbal bully) and Rex Murphy (the verbiosis-intellectual bully), both proud Canadians, (for whatever reasons), should read this script of yours just to deflate their raw-raw neo-tribalism. Shame for C.B.C (our so called public media) to not give you the sound bites you deserve!!! Yvon and Valerie love your gentle and warm diatribes!

    • It’s my turn to say wow! Thanks for such a lovely compliment! What can I say…while I’m riled, I cannot stop myself. I was actually thinking of maybe doing my next radio show in this subject. It’s food for thought anyway!

  4. Fascinating stuff, here! Makes me want to find this book and read it immediately.
    As someone from the states, I can assure you that a love of football isn’t necessarily a result of community influence, but rather an ingrained by family type of thing. I live in the South – it’s football country down here. BUT, I hate football. I hate all sports, actually, but there’s a good chance that’s my reality because my mom never once had a sports game on the TV when I was growing up. We never went to football games (25, still never been to one), and I was never forced to play a sport in school. Mom read me books instead, and gave me a guitar, and we went on adventures every weekend. On the other hand, some of my friends spend all weekend watching football because that’s what their families have always done.
    Who knows if that’s true, but it makes sense to me! :) There’s a good chance I’m just weird and different, but I’m happy, to it’s ok.

    • But isn’t the community influence what creates the familial influence? Or at least, don’t these two constructs feed off of each other?

      Somehow, this crazy Canadian gal has been to more football games than you! Which is where the heart of my conundrum truly lies, because I really, really love sport. I love watching and competing, but I want to deconstruct and understand further why I have the relationship with it that I do.

      You should totally check out the book! Anderson is pretty much a genius and a really good writer.

  5. When I was in my basic Psychology class in university this was a question that came up for us too. They were describing American football, the fanatasism associated with it, and comparing to the Roman Empire with it’s “games”. It really does beg the questions that are hard to answer because of our society systems have biased us already.

    Preferences can be created by the individual and influenced by the community at large and vice versa. Even knowing your own heart can be difficult when your identity is partly wrapped up in your society and culture. It fascinates me to see this when I travel, feel as though I have a more objective viewpoint is seeing some of these other cultures and how their natures function within them.

    You have some great thoughts on this – such a good posting and obviously has generated some pensive discussion too!

    • “Even knowing your own heart can be difficult when your identity is partly wrapped up in your society and culture.” Very, very true.

      This is something that I’ve really been thinking about for a while. And, yes, stimulated discussion is what I live for! :)

  6. Sport is such an influential piece of everyone’s lives (whether you like it or not) and I do think it gets a lot less dissection than it should. For all the money that goes into it and the madness it causes, few people seem to step back and ask the questions you are asking ethel. Exactly, why do people tend to say “WE won” when they aren’t on the team?

    A couple years ago I overheard people at work talking about the Canucks. It was a young girl and a middle aged woman who really didn’t follow sports:

    Young girl: “Yeah! We won last night!”

    Older woman: “That’s nice. What was the game?”

    Young girl: “You know, hockey, didn’t you see it?”

    Older woman: “No, I didn’t even know you played hockey.” (Said completely without trying to be snarky.)

    Young girl: “Oh, no I don’t.” Awkward pause. “I meant The Canucks.”

    I sat at my desk and laughed to myself because to the people who aren’t keen on it, boy does it ever sound silly.

    I understand people like to feel a part of something, it’s just too bad that so much energy and whatnot goes into something that has no affect on our lives specifically – aside from entertainment. I want people to get this excited about making changes in their actual communities and being patriotic for reasons that go beyond sporting achievements. Sure, I love a good sports match up but as far as hockey goes, I can think of so many interesting things I can do rather than watch what 84+ games in a year. So, at home, I am a bandwagon jumper and I admit it. I watch when it becomes more fun to watch because there’s championships on the line. I guess it keeps me detached enough to not feel like I was let down when things don’t go well. (Maybe I learned back in 1994 – when they lost game seven on my birthday! – that unless I am the one playing, I don’t think it should be a big enough deal to me to get that emotional over.)

    I’ve started seeing Olympic advertising start up for the summer games and I gotta say I’m dreading all that Olympic hype. When it was in Vancouver, we purposely got out of town for about 98% of the time it was on. Maybe I’m sour or something but I just didn’t want to get involved in it. I don’t follow those sports normally so why would I start just because it’s what is all over the media?

    Even I don’t understand why I feel how I feel about sports. Maybe I question too much and don’t just get caught up in the fun of it or maybe I think the pro leagues are made up of too many of the elements that are unappealing about sport. I do know that they do provide a good excuse to drink beer and eat wings though. So maybe they aren’t all bad.

    • You completely hit the nail on the head. We expend so much energy, money, and time on sporting events – could you image it a percentage of this was driven into other mediums? Politics, arts, community service, etc.? I mean, I know the Canucks do great things through their charities and what not, it just drives me bloody insane that a bunch of disenfranchised goons would trash a city over a hockey game but NOT TAKE THE TIME TO VOTE IN AN ELECTION which, I don’t know, to me seems a more appropriate venue to communicate said disenfranchisement.

      Those whole thing really needs a solid deconstruction and unpacking. Because, on the whole, it’s not healthy.

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