Somewhere along the way John Furlong, the chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, promised us an Olympic opening ceremony that would define Canada without the old cliches. All that was missing was a beaver and a snack pack of Timbits to complete last night’s Canadian corn-pone.
From the Mountie color guard, to the interminably dancing Inuit, and their totem poles, the waving wheat, and finally the icy fortress of solitude from which Furlong addressed the crowd; I rather thought we saw the kitchen-sink-gamut of Canadian dreck and kitsch… I’m straining to recall a more embarrassing opening ceremony from a host nation. Was it all crap? No. Singer K.D. Lang’s moving rendition of the Leonard Cohen ballad, Hallelujah stopped everyone in their tracks and reminded us – briefly – that it doesn’t take flash and spectacle, just sheer, raw talent to hold our attention. Could it have been worse? Sure, I guess… you could have had Bruce Cockburn or Joni Mitchell in person out there. That would have been embarrassing… to them. A friend remarked, “Ok, so let me get this straight, a flock of Canada Geese could have flown over and crapped all at once, and that would have been a better opening ceremony?” Funny, I thought that is what had happened.
Another friend commented, “Hey, don’t knock Canada, times are tough, we don’t have the money Beijing had to throw at the games.” But it’s not a question of money, just good taste, good judgment that can make events like these shine. I would suggest that it was poor judgement to have second-rate dancers squirm and gyrate on fish-lines pretending to snowboard and ski when the absolute perfection of athleticism was standing below them. It was a poor choice to offer “slam poet” Shane Koyczan’s attempt to re-define the Canadian psyche, and then turn around and draw attention to all the little embarrassments that make Canada a walking punchline on the international stage. It showed very bad taste to depict Quebec in a drunken Riverdance spectacle without even one prominent native Quebecois to represent themselves.
And on the language thing, I’m not done. When the person with the best command of the French language is a foreigner, IOC President Jacques Rogge, it is clear that the organizers haven’t a clue at what is at the core of the Canadian nation. Two-and-a-half solid hours of dancing native peoples (as if that isn’t insulting to someone’s culture) and the organizing committee cannot spare a minute for Quebec authenticism? There are any number of Quebec talents who would have been willing to display themselves with pride, if the organizing committee can’t think of one they need to go back and reconsider what makes the country truly unique and tremendous (First clue: it ain’t that we pronounce it “Zed”).
Canada has set an ambitious agenda with these games, with uncharacteristic (and something of an American) swagger it has pronounced it will “own the podium” and take home the most medals of any country. Oh Canada, you can’t just use bold words like that, you actually have to believe them. Judging from last night’s debacle Canada, alas, is still suffering from the same old identity crisis; wanting to strut its strength on the world stage, being dragged down in the same old cultural ice flows. Nothing typified this better than the erectile dysfunction experienced with the final raising of the Olympic torch. What remains to be seen – the only thing that really matters here – is whether Canadian athletes will rise the unfair and completely unrealistic challenge put before them (as if they needed the additional pressure), or will they, as Judy Jones once said, revert to their truly “obedient, glum, shy, repressed, and painfully decent, with an unflagging go-for-the-bronze” reputation?