On July 1, I participated in Canada Day. It’s exactly what the name implies: a holiday celebrating the existence of Canada. There were all kinds of events going on that were organized by the various levels of Canadian government. I went to a 21 gun salute by the Canadian Armed Forces, got free cake at an old British colonial fort (I missed the opening ceremony and free pancake breakfast because I’d decided to sleep in), got free tours of Canadian military vessels, got to hold and inspect various guns and weaponry, then later on watched a fireworks ceremony surrounded by the largest crowd I’ve ever seen in Halifax. Oh, and I wore a red shirt for most of the day (it actually said Atlantic City, but it was still in Canadian colours).
When you get an education in critical thinking, what often happens is that you start analyzing almost everything you come across. I remember shopping for clothes immediately after seeing a documentary film about the material conditions of sweatshop workers and suddenly thinking that the workers I’d just seen describing their exploitation at the hands of multinational corporations were very likely the same ones who’d made the shirts I was pawing through. Suddenly, the abstract concepts of gendered exploitation and flexible labour became a concrete piece of fabric in my hands. I hadn’t planned on buying anything anyway, I was just enjoying the act of shopping itself, but that realization lessened my enjoyment of consumerism.
A similar thing happened to me during Canada Day. While I was being shown a C7 assault rifle and being quoted arcane military jargon, I was also thinking about how I was actively being indoctrinated into the ideology of Canadian nationalism. Go Canada! Canada Kicks Ass! Proud to be Canadian! Those were the slogans on various t-shirts I’d seen, and they were the essential messages I was supposed to be receiving from the whole Canada Day celebration. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about how identity was being manipulated for the purposes of the Canadian government.
Nation-states always manipulate identity, and it is in the interests of the Canadian government to make Canadians feel patriotic (governments and nation-states aren’t exactly the same thing, but they fit together well enough for the purposes of this post). Think of Canada as a hockey team, Canadians as the fans, and the Canadian government as the team’s owner, and you’ll see why marketing Canada is such a big deal. The profit that the Canadian government gets from successfully marketing Canada doesn’t come just from having Canadians pay their taxes and follow the law. No, the Canadian government profits from having Canadians believe that Canada exists.
If you think about it, a country is in many ways a state of mind. If Canadians stopped believing Canada existed, then it would pretty much stop existing. Canadians would stop paying their taxes, following Canadian law, listening to Canadian political leaders, and so on. Not just that, but other countries would also stop respecting those things and might start grabbing pieces of Canada to add to their own territories. This is serious business, which is why governments take national identity so very seriously. So you see, countries are like Tinkerbell: they can only survive if you clap your hands and believe in them (clapping is optional). Except that Tinkerbell doesn’t have cops and soldiers to remind you that she exists and that it would be a very bad idea to forget her.