Mon pays

February 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

My erstwhile colleague, Matthew Hayday, has written an interesting critique of John Furlong and VANOC’s attempts to use the Québécois singer Gilles Vigneault’s song, “Mon Pays” for the 2010 Olympic opening ceremony. Except that VANOC made no attempt to contact Vigneault for permission before planning the festivities and they were left holding the bag when Vigneault refused permission.  As Matthew notes, quelle surprise, Vigneault is a well-known separatist and “Mon Pays” was the song people cried in their beer to after the 1980 Referendum loss for the “Oui” side.

Matthew goes on to note that Furlong demonstrated a total lack of understanding of Québec here. I have a few things to note in response.

First, Matthew is bang on, deciding to use a Vigneault song for Canada’s Winter Olympics is missing the entire point of Vigneault’s long career. Second, choosing a song that was recorded in 1966 shows a devastatingly pathetic grasp on pop culture in Québec.

But more to the point, the lack of understanding about Québec from some in the ROC is not all that shocking to me. I have been told many times that I speak “very good English” for a Quebecer. The most recent time being last summer when I was in Vancouver. Indeed, it is impressive an Anglo-Montrealer would speak English well.

Nos Amours

October 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

I have a post up at the National Counil on Public History’s (NCPH) sponsored blog, Off the Wall, looking at the difference between marketing and nostalgia when it comes to the ill-fated Montréal Expos.

Montreal Mosaic

March 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

I have an article published on the Montreal Mosaic website on the Montréal Shamrocks Hockey Club, based on the article I published.  You can read it here.

Positive Feedback

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

A few months ago, I published an article in a book edited by John Chi-Kit Wong of the University of Western Washington in Bellingham.  The book was entitled, Coast to Coast: Hockey in Canada to the Second World War (University of Toronto Press, 2009), and my article was entitled “‘Scientific Aggression’: Class, Manliness, Class, and Commercialisation in the Shamrock Hockey Club, Montreal.”

Today, John forwarded the authors a review of the book from the H-Arete listserv, which deals with sport history, written by Jason Blake, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.  Blake had this to say about my article:

A few chapters show a keen interest in narrative, examining individual newspaper reports and trends in sports reporting. In “‘Scientific Aggression’: Irishness, Manliness, Class, and Commercialization in the Shamrock Hockey Club of Montreal, 1894-1901,” John Matthew Barlow argues that reporters in Montreal “became less concerned with the idea of fair play” and “more interested with winning and losing” (37) long before the amateur debate died. In a special subsection, Barlow provides cogent Ð almost literary Ð readings of individual press accounts. Important, too, is his highlighting of how self-consciously the journalists created stories of games. Consider this 1900 pronouncement: “Narrative in the superlative can only convey an imperfect sense of the paragon of perfection and sensation detail of this, the last and premier exhibition of a week’s great hockey” (64). It’s a shame Aethlon was not around then.

Very nice to get such good feedback on my first publication.

The Young & The Expendable

March 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Over at the Kings of War, Dave Betz has an interesting piece on the gender imbalance of children in many parts of Asia, based on an article from The Economist.  Both Betz and The Economist bring up many issues and questions to ponder, but here I’d like to look at one, from an historical perspective.  Betz ruminates on whether or not a surfeit of young men in a society (most particularly China) will lead to a rise of militarism in that culture and, ultimately, belligerance.

The Economist points out that “in any country rootless young males spell trouble.”  Indeed.  Society tends to be suspicious of young men in general.  However, historically, there have been simple uses for such young men: the military or colonisation.  Essentially, they were the cannon fodder, whether literally or figuratively.  Societies never got too excited about their demise, either, at least not on the macro-level, there were always more where they came from.

The Ancient Greeks also found another use for rootless young men: they made excellent colonisers.  So the Greek city-states would send out boatloads of young men, sending them across the Aegean Sea to Anatolia.  Or up towards the Black Sea.  If they were successful, and they established a colony, hey, great.  Now there was a captive market for goods produced in the home city.  If not, meh, so be it, there would be another boatload next year.  This model was picked up again by Europeans in the Age of Expansion in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Across North America, bachelor cultures emerged.  For example, in the inland woods of New France, the coureurs de bois spent their time carting furs from the hinterland, where they traded with the aboriginals, back to the colonial centre, such as Montréal or Detroit.  But out in the woods, these guys lived life hard.  Their work was insanely physical, carting the furs and other goods in their canoes, over portages, in and out of the water, most of which was insanely cold, and rafting down rapids.  Priests in the back country were both in awe of these men’s physical strength and stamina, and terrified of them.  Probably for good reason.

Along with their intensely physical work, the coureurs had a bachelor culture that reflected their hard lives.  They drank heavily, sang songs, engaged in all kinds of physical tests of strength and stamina, including wrestling, fighting (boxing hadn’t been invented yet), and various other events that would put MMA to shame.  Colonial officials echoed the priests’ fear of them.

The West, in both Canada and the United States, was also another bachelor culture.  And whilst Hollywood has over-dramatised the violence in the American West, Canadian historians have under-represented the violence of the Canadian West.

The bachelor culture of the Western frontier was not all that different than the coureurs 3 centuries earlier: heavy drinking, braggadacio, and contests to see how was the “best” man.  The best man was usually the one who could drink the most, make the most money, was physically the strongest, or who had the best luck with the ladies.

Long and short, young men have historically been the most rambunctious segment of society.  But historically, societies have found an outlet for their bored, rootless young men, whether as cannon fodder or as explorers/colonists.  What happens to these young men in Asia is something, as Betz notes, for us all to ponder.  It is clear the issues run deeper than just simply a gender imbalance and too many young men for the young women.

Knee-Jerk Anti-Americanism…

January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Zach McKelvie is a prospect for the Boston Bruins, a defenceman playing for Army.  That means he signed up for the Army.  Today, word has come that rather than pursue his professional career, McKelvie must report for active duty and training at Fort Benning.  McKelvie says he understands the decision, but he also sounds pretty frustrated about it:

It’s frustrating on one side. At the same time, I can understand it…I have no problem serving in the military. This is what we train to do here. We train to be a part of this Army and help this country out. But at the same time … I feel like they never should have, I guess, led me on. And at the same time, it’s a pretty hard time to let someone play professionally. I totally understand that because of the situation that’s going on.

He thinks he was led on because, when he signed up, US Army policy was that if an athlete had a professional contract, s/he would be allowed to play for 2 years before being re-evaluated for future service.  That policy has since been changed, and there is apparently no grandfather clause.  He’s also frustrated because some prospective Olympic athletes are being allowed to pursue that by the Army.  Fair enough, I can understand why McKelvie is frustrated, but I can also understand why he would accept the Army’s ruling.

What I find stupid and pathetic are some of the comments on TSN’s website.  One commentor says McKelvie is brainwashed if he accepts the US Army’s ruling.  Others comment on the “militaristic US culture.”  My favourite, though, says this: “thats the usa for you.”  Um, no.  That’s not the USA for you.  It’s also got nothing to do with militarism.  Or brainwashing.  It has everything to do with signing up for the military.  In any nation.  The same would happen in Canada.  There are obligations and rules one must respect.  It’s that simple.  Knee-jerk anti-Americanism is just so boring.

Oh for the love of God

January 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

This is entirely off-topic, but: the Winter Olympics in Vancouver are coming up next month.  And this is Canada.  In Canada, we expect to win every gold medal on offer in international hockey.  We do win a lot.  Just not in men’s international hockey.  At least not in the Olympics, with only 2 in the past 60 years (1952 and 2002).  In 2006, Canada bombed out of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament in most embarrassing fashion.  Anyway, I digress.  For this year, Pepsi and Hockey Canada have teamed up to commission an “official” chant for the fans.  Yes, that’s right, “they” want to tell “us,” the fans, what to chant at a hockey game.  The chant, moreover, is so godamned lame it’s not even funny: “Eh! O, Canada Go!”  It’s being test-driven at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Saskatoon right now.  One word: Awkward, try saying it yourself.  Go on.  Seriously, an “official” chant for the fans.  One coming from a marketing campaign.  I can’t even begin to tell y’all how much that depresses me.

Bring on the Brand New Renaissance

November 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

For Canadian males of a certain vintage, being a fan of the Tragically Hip is compulsory for maintaining citizenship.  It’s true, we can get deported for denouncing the Hip.  At the very least, you can get mocked, made fun of, and ostracised for suggesting they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.  Even a relatively innocuous statement like noting they’ve kinda fallen off in recent years can get you in trouble, as I learned a decade ago in Ottawa.  But once, back in the 1990s, the Hip were it.  They defined Canada, beyond hockey, beer, and healthcare.  And they had a song called “Three Pistols,” ostensibly about the disappearance of iconic Canadian painter Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park in Ontario in 1917.

There is a line in that song about bringing on the brand new Renaissance, and this is what I thought about when I read an article in the The Times yesterday about all the money flowing out of Middle Eastern nations into sport, in particular, European sport.  Brazil and England played a football friendly in Qatar this week (won, not surprisingly, by Brazil, 1-0).  Manchester City FC is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi.  A Middle Eastern consortium is also sniffing around Liverpool FC, which is buried under massive debt brought on by the club’s current American owners.  And, as The Times points out, the Middle East is host to not one, but two Grand Prix races.  Britain is in danger of losing its F1 race, and Canada actually did lose its last year, though it’s apparently returning to Montréal this coming year.

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and other small, wealthy Middle Eastern nations, no larger than an Italian city-state during the Renaissance, really, have sought to diversify their economies away from an over-reliance on oil money, and sport has become their ticket to diversification.  All fine and good, no doubt (though there are all kinds of environmental issues involved in the over-development of these city-nations).

But what I find interesting about these Middle Eastern cities appealing to the Wayne Rooneys, Kakas, Tiger Woods, Robinhos, Lewis Hamiltons of the world is that it is entirely reminiscent, culturally-speaking, to the Italian Renaissance.  In 15th and 16th century, cities like Florence (under the rule of the Medici), Genoa, Venice, and Milano, competed with each other, inviting famous artists and writers to take up residence.  The artists would then be subsidised by the rulers, and charged with producing great art, including and especially public art, to be displayed on the public square, or in the church.  Other installations and works of art were for the private collections of the likes of the Medici.  But then these cities could use their great art, and the reputations of their artists-in-residence as a means of claiming greater prestige than their neighbours and rivals.  This competition between Italian city-states drove the Italian Renaissance, which itself drove the Renaissance northwards and across Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In the Middle East, rather than Leonardo, it’s Robinho called in.  Sporting evens in the Middle East not only bring in scads of cash for the local economy, they bring in prestige.  The F1 series is the most prestigious racing circuit in the world.  And it stops in the Middle East twice, in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.  Drawing the greatest football team in the world (Brazil) to play a friendly against the resurgent English side also brings prestige, as does having Tiger Woods design a golf course, as he has done in Dubai.

Qatar is pondering a run at hosting the World Cup in 2022, whilst Dubai is measuring a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics.  Not surprisingly, these are the world’s two largest sporting events, and come not only with economic stimulus for the local economy, but prestige and honour as well.

The Times article rather overlooks the prestige factor here, focussed as it is only on the financial aspects of these sporting events.  That is only part of it.  The buying power of these Middle Eastern city/nations is only worth so much, the prestige and honour of hosting F1 races, international football friendlies, the World Cup, the Olympics is not to be overlooked, nor is the tourism money.  People want to go to Dubai to play on Tiger Woods’ golf course.

[Cross-posted, in slightly different format, at Current Intelligence].

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