Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The story of Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue is the kind of inspirational Olympic tale that makes the whole sordid affair exciting in the first place: a come-from-behind victory, cute young athletes, a friendly rivalry, and a few fleeting moments of pure grace, artistry and athleticism. Watching their performance was moving and inspiring; no words were necessary, and thankfully, the CTV announcers agreed.

Until, that is, the final dramatic pose. Everyone watching knew the couple had nailed it, that no matter what the outcome, this was the performance of a lifetime. So, while we were still exhaling and revelling in the moment, what were the first words we heard being exclaimed by an overzealous announcer?


And there we have it, a summation of everything that is wrong not only with Own the Podium or the endless hand-wringing of the Canadian media’s Olympic coverage, but with Canadian identity itself.

"Is it enough?"

Those three simple words, that one simple question, summarizes centuries of cultural anxiety, a colonial legacy, a crippling modesty that believes nothing we ever do will ever be enough.

It doesn’t matter, it seems, if we’re confident in our own performance. It doesn’t matter, of course, that we achieve a personal best. It doesn’t matter if we come from behind and make it onto the podium in the first place. The only thing that matters is if we beat our rivals—conveniently, in the case of both ice dancing and hockey, our rivals are our perpetually overbearing continental neighbours, in whose shadow exists everything we produce as a country: culturally, economically, politically.

Granted, “Cautiously Approach the Podium” doesn’t have quite the same call-to-arms ring to it as our much-maligned and much-funded 2010 boosterism program. Of course we should strive to be the best in the world. But if, in the end, we end up a mere fifth, like Mellissa Hollingsworth, we shouldn’t have to convene a press conference and apologize to the nation, in fear of otherwise being hanged for treason.

Vancouver 2010—as a cultural event—is failing miserably in its attempt to show off Canada’s good side. We sound like a bunch of babies. Our neuroses and anxieties are on full display. We’re acting like the country will crumble at any moment unless every minute detail is an unqualified success. We’re politicizing every small gesture. And for a nation that prides itself on its modesty, we’re acting like either whining bullies or self-flagellating masochists. We default to one of two positions: either attempting to shut down any criticism, or basking in our failures.

"Is it enough?"

For Virtue and Moir, their performance was enough. But that’s not the point. Every artist in this country is plagued by that question almost every day. They’re told: yes, you’ve made a great work, but is it enough to be a hit? Is it enough to crack the States? Is it enough to be big beyond borders? Is it enough to satisfy our insatiable need to prove that we’re worthy of sitting at the big folks’ table? Because if it’s not, then we’ll settle for giving you a little pat on the head and we’ll forget about you tomorrow.

There is no pleasure in the present. If it doesn’t mean something to someone else, then it means nothing to us.

Is it enough? If you have to stoop to ask, then it never will be.

1 comment:

Tai Viinikka said...

I'm going to read this to myself out loud once a week. Monday morning, maybe.