June 16, 2010

America's Game?

The sometimes witty/sometimes pretentious/always critically acclaimed Canadian general interest magazine The Walrus (think The New Yorker, Canuck style) headlines hockey in their June 2010 issue.

Inside the magazine the article "Hockeyland" by David McFarlane is a well written exploration of hockey in the American sunbelt, an eye-opening account for both the author and many of the Canadian readers. It is eye opening in that the game we in the land of snow and ice know and love is also known and loved by others in a very foreign way.

As well penned as the article is, this type of article is not exactly new. Dave Bidini does it best in his best selling books. It is essentially myth busting at the expense of the Canadian dream.

But, in the magazine version of bait-and-switch, the article does not live up to the promise that the magazine cover promises.

"Whose Game Is It?" screams the cover. The not so subtle subtitle of "How the Americans Are Hijacking Hockey" is even more pointed. The Walrus is very much looking to exploit Canada's fragile psyche when it comes to losing the so-called Canadian game to the world, especially to those dastardly Americans.

Why would the Walrus stoop to this level? Because it sells. No-one knows that better than editor and co-publisher John McFarlane, no relation to the article's author. This McFarlane teamed up with Bruce Kidd in the early 1970s to write the book The Death of Hockey (not to be confused with Jeff Z. Klein and Karl-Eric Rief's better known title of the exact same name from 1998). Even way back then John McFarlane knew that hockey sells in Canada, especially when you rile up the emotions based on myths that do not exist.

We may like to believe hockey is Canada's game. It is not. We may have given hockey it's start, but it is enjoyed around the world in different ways. It may be sacrilegious for us in some way, but it is reality. As Harry Sinden once said, this should be a source of pride for us:
"Hockey has been the Canadian game. We fostered it, loved it, nurtured it, thought it would be ours forever. This series showed us that there are many nations now who want to share this great game with us at its top level.

"We should feel proud of this, not threatened."

- Harry Sinden, after the conclusion of the 1972 Summit Series in his book Hockey Showdown.
It really is too bad Canadians take threats to our love of hockey so hard. I guess it makes the victories that much sweeter, but it is probably not a healthy trait.

Jamie Dopp and Richard Harrison, editors of the excellent book Now Is The Winter, discussed our "possessive emotionality" nearly 40 years later:
"But many Canadians were threatened by the emergence of other great hockey nations. Many felt that losing hockey supremacy meant losing something of ourselves. Hockey was not a Canadian invention like the telephone or the Canadarm which only makes us prouder of Canada when employed by others around the world. When it was used exceptionally well by hands not our own, it felt like hockey made us less."
Perhaps hockey's greatest legacy in this country is to give Canadians the opportunity to learn a great deal about themselves.


Mike Chen said...

I was sent that article on a PR from The Walrus and I started to write a post pointing out all the way it exaggerated or made bad points totally overblown. I think the key to the whole thing is the author: he's a business person, not a hockey person. I think his shortsightedness is because he's out of his realm.

TS said...

McFarlane? Any relation to the Toronto hockey McFarlanes?

I agree with Mike (and enjoy From The Rink), and I also think reaction more than discussion or contemplation is the aim of his work here.

Joe Pelletier said...

@ Mike Chen - interesting stuff. I actually enjoyed the article well enough, I just found it interesting that the cover was misleading compared to the actual article in many ways.

@TS - I don't believe they are related, but I'm not 100% sure about that.

Discussion, contemplation, and sales - that's the aim of the work here.


TS said...

"I also think reaction more than discussion or contemplation is the aim of his work here."

The "his" here is McFarlane. It might read that I meant Mike Chen, but that's not the case.

Apologies for any confusion.