The pendulum swingeth: For a sense of how the ideological winds can shift, consider, in this season of discontent for Ontario electricity users, a line from a 1996 report by Ontario Hydro arguing to privatize itself: “The right to choose, not to be captive to a single supplier no matter how efficient, is valued by consumers as an end in itself.” Read that again: No matter how efficient? Choice as an end in itself? It was crap back then; I don’t believe citizens ever gave a damn about “choice” when they flipped on the toaster, they cared about reliability and value. It was investors who were motivated by privatization, because of profits, not choice. But they got away with such inanities, in the heyday of neocon ideology. What a different Zeitgeist six years later. Derisive throwaways like “tax and spend liberals” start to have a musty smell, like saying, groovy. Everything “private” does not get a free ride; and “public” is not automatically dissed. Take heart, Roy Romanow.

Pie in your eye: Panic on Parliament Hill! Security breach! Why? Unprepossessing man scoots up behind Brian Mulroney at unveiling of official portrait and waves teeny U.S. flag. Doesn’t “confront” ex-PM, or stick flag in his face, just stays to side making satirical point. This is our mild Canadian version of direct action, like pieing. We do irony, not violence. The only ones likely to be hurt are protesters, if Jean Chrétien is involved. Must we lose this tradition to the demands of a post-September 11th world? Here’s an idea: You must register with security forces when you’re going to pie a pol or perform a satiric act. The security guys can clear you but are prohibited by statute from warning the target. I’m half serious.

Globalization and the Grey Cup: Canadian football has been through a rough patch that coincides pretty much with the neocon, free-trade era: a time when Paul Godfrey tried to replace Toronto’s Argos with an NFL team just because it was American; and the CFL nearly self-immolated by “expanding” into the U.S. but failed, even at that. Now there is a rise in interest and viewers, in the west and Quebec! The virtues of the Canadian game may be involved: its larger field, like the larger European hockey surface, leading to more speed, creativity, less crunching and claustrophobia. Or the rouge and mandatory runback of punts.

But what of the mythic element? Can that return? When I followed my first Grey Cups in the late fourties and early fifties, Canadians could make their own sports myths; we didn’t need to import them. Names such as Joe Krol and Royal Copeland were magical. NFL football came via a snowy black-and-white TV screen from a snowy field in unglam Cleveland, with uncharismatic names such as Otto Graham and Marion Motley. Is local myth still a possibility in an age of globalized media and imagery?

The standard explanation for survival of local cultures in the global era is based on a fear of losing identity and so generating alternate images. But this ignores the fact that “global” culture is actually simply American culture, everywhere. What if the U.S.’s own behaviour makes it unappealing, as it has since the hideous attack on it over a year ago, squandering much initial sympathy through an orgy of xenophobia, aggression, unilateralism, etc. As a result, one turns away from U.S. culture, including its football, back to one’s own version.Is this too fanciful? Well, think about American football and what it reflects, without much deep interpretation required: the automaton quality of players, uniforms, strategy; the terminology (long bomb, the blitz); win-lose obsessions; even the militaristic precision of the half-time marching bands.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.