12.30.2005

our

Several years ago, I trained myself to stop using the word "our" when referring to the United States. It was a change of habit I picked up from Allan and from other peace activists. I despised the way Americans referred to "us" in military terms: "we bombed Baghdad". You know the old punchline, "Who you calling 'we', white man?" That's how I felt. That's not me. Don't include me in that us.

Old speech habits are hard to break, but I got accustomed to referring to the US as that: the US. "We" might be women, or working people, or progressives, but not the country, and certainly not the government.

Obviously, it was something I felt very strongly, because here I am.

Now I've noticed how Canadians use the same word, and how different it sounds. There's an ad on the CBC right now for a show about Canadian comedy, and several times it says things like "our brand of humour" or "our comedy". I also hear hockey referred to as "our game".

And you know what? I really like it.

Part of it is that the population of Canada is so much smaller. It has a cozier sound. Like we're a family of 30 million people.

But it must be more than that. It must be related to my feelings about the Maple Leaf, as opposed to the Stars & Stripes. I suddenly don't mind the "us" - because I'm where I belong.

13 comments:

M@ said...

Maybe the difference is that in Canada, you can feel you own a part of this place, but the place doesn't own you. The state isn't big enough (or competent enough, let's face it) to own the individual.

Incidentally, I don't know whether you're familiar with Stephen Leacock but one of the things I think comes closest to defining the Canadian nature is his essay on humour, whose name escapes me at the moment. (If I can find it, I'll post a link.)

Leacock said that human kindliness is an essential element of humour. The point of humour isn't to make yourself feel better by putting yourself above someone else, looking down on them, and laughing at them. Humour does not require a victim. I think you'll find that Canadian humour has continued with that quality; that's why our politicians are willing to go on This Hour and such. The day Dubya shows up on the Daily Show, I'll put aside my hypothesis that our humour and American humour are very different.

I don't mean that writers like Mencken aren't funny, or necessary. In fact we need Mencken now more than ever -- though Jon Stewart and Co. are probably as close as we'll come. But Menckens are not the Canadian way of doing things.

Anyhow, we're glad you're ours now. :)

Masnick96 said...

I can't WAIT to get there....sigh

G said...

I think it ties into why so many Canadians tend to use "your" when talking about the US to Americans. I think I've been guilty of that on this blog from time to time ... but we get so used to saying "our" in this country, for (in part) the reasons mentioned by M@, that "your" just comes naturally. No offense is intended by it, it's just a force of habit, so much so that we don't even realize we're saying it.

As for humour, yeah, it is different here ... generally more respectful to the individual. Often our humour revolves around ways of life (Corner Gas) or jokes involving political processes/events as opposed to the individual (Mercer, 22 minutes). The only show that really takes shots at the individual, from time to time, is Air Farce (the old ones with the classic Preston Manning "Refooooorm" impressions stick out), but even those are done with such a level of extreme parody, that the politicians who are the targets of those sketches wind up laughing along with it.

As for Leacock essays, I did find this one - it may be the one M@ is referring to, if not, it touches on similar concepts:

American Humour

Some of Leacock's most famous works are also available at Project Gutenberg for free download.

Thanks for the post, and for making me feel like a librarian again. Woo Hoo!!!

L-girl said...

Many thanks, G and M@. I will read that essay.

M@, you're right that Moron will not show up on The Daily Show, but many US Presidents have been willing to be made fun of, and have made the rounds of TV shows. Clinton, Bush Sr, and Jimmy Carter all did it. Further back than that, I don't know if it was done.

And I'm sure you've seen the Correspondents Dinner? Although that's not friendly humour, it can get very mean-spirited.

I love the humour I've seen on Canadian TV, but I don't see an essential difference between Canadian and American humour. Think of all the great comics who've come out of Canada! I don't see a common thread.

I'm also not sure that "humour does not require a victim" is true. The victim may be oneself, but we're usually laughing at someone's expense. But I'll read the essay!

James said...

I'm also not sure that "humour does not require a victim" is true. The victim may be oneself, but we're usually laughing at someone's expense. But I'll read the essay!

Humour can have a victim, but doesn't require one: we're usually laughing at someone's expense, but not always.

Stephen Leacock, BTW, was a huge influence on Spike Milligan who, along with Peter "Inspector Clouseau" Sellers and Harry Seacombe (and, for a while, Michael Bentine) created utterly brilliant BBC Radio comedy show The Goon Show -- which was, in turn, a huge influence on Monty Python.

L-girl said...

Humour can have a victim, but doesn't require one: we're usually laughing at someone's expense, but not always.

I suppose that's true. I'm hard pressed to think of truly victimless humour, but there is some.

Peter Sellers was a brilliant actor. I hope he's remembered as much more than Inspector Clouseau (as great as he was in those movies). It would be like remembering Jack Lemmon only for The Odd Couple.

James said...

I suppose that's true. I'm hard pressed to think of truly victimless humour, but there is some.

A lot of absurdist humour is victimless -- here's a Goon Show example:

Bloodnock: You French think of everything!
Neddie: But I'm not French.
Bloodnock: Then you must have forgotten something!

Of course, a lot of the Goon Show humour was based on the idiocy of the characters, which is a form of victim-dependent humour:

Neddie: What do you do for a living?
Eccles: I'm an idiot.
Neddie: Then why are you leaving England?
Eccles: Too much competition!

Peter Sellers was a brilliant actor. I hope he's remembered as much more than Inspector Clouseau (as great as he was in those movies).

If nothing else, there's Dr. Strangelove, The Mouse That Roared, Murder By Death, and Being There. He was very good in the original The Ladykillers, though it was an atypical role for him. And, of course, there's the Goon Show.

Sellers's cameo in The Wrong Box is absolutely brilliant as well.

Unfortunately, many of his movies were just awful movies. His last film, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, being a prime example.

M@ said...

I should clarify (or find a copy of the essay; it's not on Gutenberg unfortunately). I guess it's not that there need be no victim; it's that there need be no viciousness. I think our humour tends to go the Garrison Keillor route more often than not (and that's certainly the kind of ground that Corner Gas treads).

It's probably an error to try to characterise any nation's humour, just as it is an error to characterise any nation's people. But our funny is influenced by Leacock's style, through and through; USA humour, while sharing many elements, cannot be characterised like that so easily.

L-girl said...

Neddie: What do you do for a living?
Eccles: I'm an idiot.
Neddie: Then why are you leaving England?
Eccles: Too much competition!


Isn't this making fun of the English? That's all I meant by victim. Someone is the butt of the joke.

I guess it's not that there need be no victim; it's that there need be no viciousness.

Yes, put that way, I certainly see what you mean.

USA humour, while sharing many elements, cannot be characterised like that so easily.

For my part, I can't think of what would be called American humour. The Marx Brothers? Mel Brooks? Adam Sandler?

(Trying to think of someone who's not Jewish...)

Richard Pryor? Chris Rock?

Humour is so generational, too. Comedy teams that were considered uproarious in my mother's day leave me wondering what drugs they were taking back then. My nephews have no idea why I laugh at George Carlin. (I mean vintage Carlin, not the shapeless rants he does these days.)

We've strayed far off-topic, but it's an interesting subject.

Expat Traveler said...

I'd have to say I think much like you to L. I keep getting quoted for something from the US and have to remind people that I haven't lived there for 4 years now. I'm one step away from feeling complete, just need that PR... It's coming...But not fast enough of course.

RobfromAlberta said...

I think the essence of Canadian humour (at least English Canadian humour) is an appreciation of irony (much like the British in that regard). The British have often accused average Americans of lacking a sense of irony....sophisticated, urbane, Jewish New Yorkers excepted, of course.

By the way, Happy New Year, everyone.

L-girl said...

sophisticated, urbane, Jewish New Yorkers excepted, of course.

How ironic. ;-)

Cornelia said...

Maybe the difference is that in Canada, you can feel you own a part of this place, but the place doesn't own you.

No place or community or state or whatsoever will ever own me! While the offender from a friend of mine, who is a lady war resister from Eritrea, does not know and does refuse to ever know, I do know! As Elizabeth Cady Stanton stated that her rights were born together with her and need to be recognized as such anywhere in the whole world. It's just that there is a difference between having a right in terms of human rights and realizing recognition of a right and I know very well that the latter is re: many very important things (not only social security!!! Less grievances in general!!!) way easier in Canada than in the US!

The British have often accused average Americans of lacking a sense of irony....sophisticated, urbane, Jewish New Yorkers excepted, of course.

O really? I feel irony in English is great either way, maybe even more sometimes than in German!