So I thought we’d start things off here with a bit of pop culture. A couple of weeks ago, I was subjected semi-voluntarily to the film “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, due to a conspiracy of circumstances involving a hurricane, a power outage and my parents’ baffling Netflix lineup. While it was terribly cliché, even for a comic book movie, it offered an unexpected little treat: an unabashed Hollywood portrayal of the Canadian.
As you may or may not know, Marvel’s Wolverine is Canadian. I’ve never read the comic books, but in the film, Wolverine is shown growing up in the late nineteenth century in some sort of rural Canadian colonialist outpost. He later returns to the “Canadian Rockies” (which appears to be near Vancouver, but purports to be somewhere decidedly more rural and rugged), where he makes his living as a — wait for it — lumberjack. He lives in a log cabin against a breathtaking mountain view, with a young and beautiful schoolteacher who, surprise surprise, happens to be part Native. It is she who tells him what may or may not be an actual First Nations myth about the wolverine, thus providing him with an adequately meaningful superhero moniker.
It was all highly entertaining, and the tension created by the truth hidden in the laughable stereotypes piqued my interest. Much of Canada is indeed rural, though not all quite so dramatic, and I know several lumberjacks and a few people who live or have lived in log cabins. And yes, plenty of us are of Native heritage, and we Canadian kids do love to wear plaid and head-to-toe denim (the “Canadian tuxedo”) and those big wool sweaters with moose patterns knitted into them. And though all these iconic Canadianisms were crammed together in the film to a degree of hilarity, it was more charming than anything else. (A side note: maybe it’s just the way current fashion trends are going, but the way Wolverine the Canadian and Schoolteacher Girlfriend were styled was spot on, and is exactly how I see myself dressing in the colder months.)
To see the Hollywood impression of Canada was like finding out that strangers actually think you’re kind of hip. Once when I was in high school, one of the prettiest girls in my grade went for Halloween as me. It was not a mocking gesture, but more like an homage to my wacked-out, adolescent sense of style. She pulled of my shabby punk look with such aplomb and polish (more than I ever had) that I couldn’t help but feel flattered. This was the way I felt about Canada after watching the film: it’s not a fully accurate portrayal of Canada or Canadians, but it’s nice to know that people think of us that way.
In many ways, Canada remains what’s shown in the film, and it’s what sticks in the imaginations of Europeans and Americans. Most of my lifelong impressions of Canada were about how backwater and depressing and uninspiring and unengaging and lame it was. It’s a thrill to look at Canada from an outsider’s perspective, and to see it as something positive — the world’s last undiscovered wilderness frontier, a place of Thoreau-like escapism, even if we all have wi-fi and sometimes get our coffee from Starbucks.