As a kid growing up in Canada I had any number of American comic books delivered right to my door on a monthly basis, from Amazing Spider-Man to G.I.Joe, from X-Factor to Star Brand, but there was only one title that I subscribed to sight unseen, simply because I glimpsed the cover of its premiere issue at the comic shop and thought: This has to be mine. The cover featured a plethora of Marvel's finest heroes standing back and letting the leader of Alpha Flight, Vindicator, take control of the hostile situation. For those not in the know, Alpha Flight was Marvel's team of Canadian superheroes -- and Vindicator's costume was a red and white configuration of the maple leaf that adorns our flag. I saw the costume, and I was hooked.
The origins of patriotism are hard, if not impossible to define, but I had it early, even at age eight or nine. The fact that the stories were set in Canada and featured Canadian heroes was, well, too cool for words. (The first issue of Alpha Flight even had Vindicator hobknobbing with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, for God's sakes!) The realization that an actual Canadian expat, John Byrne, wrote and drew the book was a sign that my fellow citizens could go out and conquer the comics world like any other Yankee. The idea that I could open up any issue at random and, potentially, find a reference to Lake Ontario or the CN Tower was almost beyond belief. These were super heroes, and they were in Canada, my home. 'Nuff said.
A larger issue at play, of course, is that I was ecstatic that American comics were featuring Canadians. The dirty little secret about Canadians is that they secretly have an inferiorty complex regarding their neighbours to the south. We like to believe that we're bigger, stronger, better, in no need of Viagara, more peaceful, tolerant, sexier, you name it, we want to believe it. It's not easy living in the shadow of Tom Cruise, but that's what we do. (Oh, and did you know that Tom Cruise, Tom Green and Bryan Adams all went to the same junior high school in Ottawa, albeit at different times. That's a fact. Cruise lived in the Ottawa area for a few years during junior high school. And the fact that I know the Canadian residential patterns of Hollywood superstars tells you something about how deep our -- okay, my -- neurosis runs. Like when Conan O'Brien hosted a week of shows from Toronto, featuring Canadian guests, and the place, went, ballistic. Americans coming up to mock our culture and our people! Right on!!!)
Because we love it, love it when our Canadian actors and artists head on down south and kick some cultural ass. (Can you say: John Candy, Michael J.Fox, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Mike Myers, Dan Ackroyd, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland? I didn't even mention Pamela Anderson. Do you care? Probably not. But us Canucks do. And hey, Bernard Ebbers, the greedy bastard who brought down WorldCon, is also a Canadian, which proves that we, too, can be conniving and mendacious. You better watch out for us Canadians.) We don't really care if they succeed at home, no, but if they're in a hit movie down south, woo-hoo!
Not that this is a particular Canadian thing, this loving and loathing of our neighbours. The great realization (one of many) that I've had while living abroad is that everybody hates their neighbours, from the Japanese hating the Chinese to the Cambodians hating the Thais and Vietnamese. The little guys are scared and envious of the big guys. Each thinks they're better than the other, but is secretly afraid that they're not. It's human, is what I've realized, so it puts Canada's own somewhat odd compulsions and neuroses into a larger global context that makes them seem normal, quaint, almost sedate. Nobody in Canada is really causing anybody down south any harm, so the Americans leave us alone. (And yet, I wonder what would happen if a terrorist entered the States from Canada and did some serious harm. I wonder if our otherwise friendly border relations would suddenly take a darker, more cynical turn, becoming similar to other countries around the world. I don't know.)
What I do know is that I loved Alpha Flight as a kid. I loved the fact that in Superman II they were on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. (Especially since my hometown is about ten minutes from Niagara Falls.) I loved Ben Johnson kicking some ass in Seoul and even loved him when he came back from his drug suspension and tried to kick ass again, but failed, miserably. (One of the most surreal moments of my life was resting between reps on the indoor track at York University during the winter track season and having Ben Johnson come and sit down on the high jump mat beside me, the two of us taking a breather from our respective workouts, him saying nothing, me saying nothing. This was a guy whose picture used to be in my locker, and now he had become the dude I saw working out every day at the track. Life takes us places, doesn't it.) I loved anything with the Canadian flag that proved that we were good, strong, able.
I'm older now. I see the dark side of patriotism, the onslaught of nationalism. I wonder if it's ultimately even necessary, this identification we have with the lands of our births. I'm starting to see the world as my home, which may be naive, or it may be mature.
But still. You can take the kid out of Canada, and all that. Because coming up soon it's the Winter Olympics, see, and Canada has a hockey gold to defend, right, and, well, let's just say that I won't be putting down the flag anytime soon. That would be unpatriotic, eh?