Our main mission here at CanCulture is to write about anything that relates to or helps define Canadian culture. But what exactly is Canadian culture? How do we define what is Canadian and what is not? In his new book Canada, Mike Myers grapples with these questions. While exploring his own relationship with Canada Myers writes about this country’s constant desire to define itself. Mike Myers book is cleverly written in a way that satisfies two literary genres: autobiography and nonfiction pop-culture. From the start, Mike Myers dives into the fundamental questions of ‘what are we?’ and ‘who are we?.’ Myers elaborates on the typical Canadian stereotypes of ‘politeness’ and how as a country, with relatively little history when compared to our ‘brother’ America or our ‘mother’ the UK, we consistently feel we need to apologize for well… just being. Our polite and apologetic nature is built into everything that we do, from our lack of national pride (because pride and fame are looked down upon) to our conversational dialogue (the way we up talk every sentence until we finish our story indicating to the other person it is their turn to speak). Myer’s choice to include these well-known stereotypes works to the novels advantage. It is humorous to the Canadian reader and educational to those not familiar with Canadian culture. Including these pop culture references draws the reader in from the beginning with light-hearted content, and waits until later into the book before bringing up heavier topics of identity and politics.
Myers interlaces Canadian tendencies into his own upbringing. Born to immigrant parents, and brought up in Toronto, Myers has worked hard to keep his Canadian culture in almost every aspect of his work. From his time in Second City, working with Neil Mullarkey in England, Saturday Night Live, and his subsequent movie Wayne’s World, the covertly Canadian character Wayne Campbell has defined Myers and his style of comedy. And in describing his love of Canada, he manages to make the reader fall in love with the country. His passion for the Canada is refreshing. He makes you miss the country you have never left.
A statement that Myers makes in the novel is that Canada can never be defined without mentioning politics and its ‘big government’. Although he cautions himself against taking a political stance as a public person, Myers does not hesitate to attach himself to the Liberal party. His passion for the party is what the reader ultimately takes away from the novel, as he both begins and ends by describing the impact the Liberals have had on the country and shaping its ideals. His statements against former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government are the most heavy-handed and impactful in the novel, and leaves the reader thinking that to be conservative is to be anti-Canadian. Myers chose to include a photo of a barn that was painted in big bold white letters “Canada, you have changed.” An image such as this one can not easily be forgotten.
In his politically-heavy chapters, Myers speaks about his admiration for both Trudeau prime ministers and how those two elections helped define Canada and Canadian culture. After Pierre Trudeau’s election there was a great search for this definition. CanCon came into effect in 1986, obligating media to present at least 30% Canadian content. Other policies that defined the accepting nature of Canada included the legalization of gay marriage, divorce, and abortion. According to Myers, this is what Canada is about, this is how we define Canada: through acceptance, our ‘salad bowl’ of multiculturalism, and liberal democracy. Canada should never try to be “America Lite”.
The novel succeeds on many levels in terms of design, as well. The book takes on the appearance of a columned article interspersed with full page photos and pull quotes. This, coupled with Myers conversational narrative writing style, makes the reader feel as if Myers is sitting across from you at the dinner table and is recounting his tale in person. He draws you into the story and manages to describe the scene effectively.
Although we are still a country without a mission statement, we are closer now than ever before, Myers said. As Canadians we are slowly allowing ourselves to become prideful, protective of our talent, and celebratory of our unique nation. Part of this is due to people like Catherine O’Hara, Russell Peters, Jim Carrey, and Drake, who continue to include their Canadian background in their wide-reaching work. They are the people saying ‘Hey America, look up! We’ve got some great thing going on up here!’ But culture cannot create itself without looking within and we cannot let ourselves be defined by what others think. As Myers says, “Canada will be defined by its ideals alone.” Its culture is formed on those ideals of equality, cooperation, mutual respect, and a level playing field.
This piece was edited by Mathew Ouellet, Feature Editor of CanCulture.