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Doyle: Brand Canada – stuck in the past and hopelessly bland, that’s us

Well, would you look at us – 150 years old and looking sprightly. Stuck in the past a bit, mind you. Still stuck in an argument with the U.S. about softwood lumber. The literary crowd and people who write columns of thunderous denunciations for newspapers are still arguing about cultural appropriation.

It's like Canada is stuck in the 1980s. Aged 150, but with the mental age of 120.

The whole Canada 150 thing has been a bit sticky so far in the arena of popular culture. That gassy windbag of pseudo-history, Canada: The Story of Us, was, eventually, watched by enough people for it to become the subject of conniptions and apologies. Nobody paid much attention to the series We Are Canada until there was a small fuss about the money it received from the federal Canada 150 Fund. Then people stopped paying attention to it.

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Brand Canada (CBC online) is the latest thing at the Canada 150 rodeo. It's 10 bite-sized mini-documentaries – from two to six minutes long – presented as "a kaleidoscopic exploration of Canada the 'brand' – from the artwork and images that first symbolized Canada, through the building and appropriation of a collective identity, to how the country is viewed today."

Therefore, it is about "us," the image that we project and how it is received.

It's all really nice. Super nice, actually. Beautifully made by a group of mostly young filmmakers. However – and here's the real point – the tone and message is set out in the first mini-doc of the batch.

Canada The Good? features Simon Anholt, the analyst behind the "Good Country Index" musing on the international perception of Canada. He also ponders, briefly, if we're as "good" as we think we are.

The upshot is this: We're a boring, humourless bunch – and hypocrites, too. In his soft English accent, Anholt informs us that, yes, Canada is internationally perceived as good. But "the Australians do slightly better than the Canadians because they're perceived to have a sense of humour and Canadians do not."

This country, pronounced by Anholt as "Canada-r," of course, is recognized in a manner that is "massively oversimplified," we're told, because most of the world just thinks of "mountains, snow and conifers."

Also, "Canada-r is perceived to be slightly more good than it is."

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The world thinks we don't have pollution and have a way cleaner environment that we do in actual fact.

It's all a bit mystifying, frankly. Some English intellectual bloke who calls us "Canada-r" and tells us what we already know, gets to kick off a Canada 150 meditation on who and what we are. Talk about stuck in the past, Canada.

There's a doc titled America's Canada about "how American TV influences Canada's brand – through the perspective of the denizens of Mexico City," which I do not understand. That is, I don't see the point. It simply features people in Mexico telling us that American TV gives the impression that Canada is cold, clean and bland. And everybody hereabouts would say, "hereaboots." Hold the front page.

The most interesting of the mini-docs is Rant & Rave, about the Molson Canadian ad campaign that featured Joe Canada doing "the rant" about Canada. "How a marketing guru inhaled Canadian identity and exhaled a new Canadian pride" is the gist.

And the guy who created the campaign, Glen Hunt, being an ad man, is pretty blunt about the point: to sell beer using a sensibility of the time – that late 1990s feeling that Canada had wobbled as a country and its sense of self-worth was diminishing. Hunt is also the most articulate speaker in the entire series in that he seems to suggest that Canada itself should not rely entirely on a beer commercial for its self-image, and that the country has a "flawed" history.

Everything about the Brand Canada series feels way too nice. While it looks lovely, the series is far from a vivid, perceptive or humorous look at the country. Watch all of it – you should – and you go back to that English bloke's observation that Australians come out ahead because they are perceived to be humorous. We're not.

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What we are interested in, to judge by this series and so much of the Canada 150 content being foisted on us, is having long-standing images and imagined values upheld. If there is some tinkly piano music and hokey stuff about hockey and ketchup chips, even better.

Look at us – so stuck in the past and so comfortable with every cliché about being clean, bland and polite. It's all very seductive, this Canada 150 content. And filled with hopelessly phony, elderly, cozy blandness.

Video: Commemorative $10 bill marks Canada’s 150th (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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