“How do Canadian culture and politics influence the stories you tell on Lost Girl?”
And here is the brief summary of what Rick Howland, Ksenia Solo and Emmanuelle Vaugier answered:
Rick Howland: There’s such a thing as Canadian culture? What is it? We say “sorry” a lot.
Ksenia Solo: The writing on the show isn’t really influenced by anything from the outside – the writers and producers are telling the stories they want to tell.
Emmanuelle Vaugier: I was out late at a rave last night, so I’m not even going to try to answer this one. Nope.
Rick was very funny in his answer, and Ksenia was very earnest as she tried to figure out what to say – she even paused to tell me that she wanted to give my question a serious answer. Emmanuelle was honest about how she was feeling and what she didn’t want to tackle – which was funny, and I appreciated. You can watch the entire cast panel from Monday on YouTube – thanks to YouTube user ukyoXD for recording and uploading the panels, and Drinks at the Dal for compiling the playlist.
I also told you that upon reflection, I think that I intended to ask a different question. The answers that Rick, Emmanuelle and Ksenia gave were funny and thoughtful, but made me realize that the use of the word “politics” especially may have given them a different impression than I had intended. I think they may have thought I was asking about how current events weaved their way into the Lost Girl storylines, or how the watchful eye of Parliament, the Governor-General and the Queen caused them to censor the more radical storylines they might have otherwise explored.
Here’s the question I wish I had asked instead:
“How are Canadian values reflected in the stories you tell on Lost Girl?”
First: what are values? Values (says Google dictionary) are “A person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.”
Okay, so what are Canadian values, then? I asked a real Canadian person. She said that Canadian values are:
- love of Tim Hortons
- a somewhat obsessive preoccupation with the weather
- pride in everything that sets Canada apart from the U.S.A.
- a self-deprecating sense of humour
Let’s examine these self-stated values, which on the surface might seem tongue-in-cheek but I think point to some larger truths about Canadian values, when you peel them back.
1. Love of Tim Hortons. Started by a retired Canadian hockey player in 1964, Tim Hortons has twice the number of restaurants in Canada as McDonald’s. It’s the largest seller of baked goods (76%) and coffee (64%) in Canada. This is especially impressive considering that Tim Hortons didn’t accept credit cards until 2012 – I have many memories of scrounging for change in the dusty crevices of my car in the early mornings to get a box of Timbits and a large black coffee while on vacation. (Worth it!)
Canadian pride in Tim Hortons should be in no way diminished by the recent news that the company was purchased by Burger King and that the majority owner is a Brazilian investment firm called 3G Capital. In fact, this is a great opportunity for Tim Hortons to put on a sign “Over a brazilian customers served!” Ha ha? No?
Side note: some Americans are not so thrilled with Burger King’s acquisition of Tim Hortons, since the holding company that owns both BK and TH’s will be in Canada, which has a lower corporate tax rate than the USA. (Evading taxes – a quintessentially American value.) You’d think that acquiring a delicious, wholesome chain of Canadian restaurants would help to improve the image of a greasy American fast-food company, but not in this case, I guess. Only in America!
2. Somewhat obsessive preoccupation with the weather. As compared to the USA, Canada is colder, on average. If you’ve ever suffered through a summer in the American South, then that might not be a bad thing. The summers in Canada are truly lovely, and the winters are truly cold. Now, that’s no impediment to enjoying yourself – maybe you’ve heard the old chestnut “There is no bad weather – only bad clothing.” Regardless, Canadians make the most of the nice weather while it lasts. We’ll return to this topic later.
3. Pride in everything that sets Canada apart from the U.S.A. Canadians have fierce pride in their country, which is all too often assumed (incorrectly) by others to be an extension of their loud and boisterous neighbor to the south who dominates the conversation at the party and eats all the canapes without ever offering to help clean up the dishes.
4. Self-deprecating sense of humour. I think this point sums up the three previous. And yet, there’s more to it, though good luck getting a Canadian to tell you what that is straight out without making a joke about it. After all, humor can be a way of keeping people’s at arm’s length. As Bruce McCall says in this article about Canadian humour, which is well worth a read: “Canadians are, by history and temperament, the opposite of aggressive, and so, unsurprisingly, their humor is defensive; they beat up on themselves before anybody else—i.e., Americans—can do it.”
It seems to me that underpinning this list are some deeper truths about influences that are woven into Canadian culture, and that have become an unspoken part of the fabric of their belief system. Things that might be harder to articulate when you’re inside the fishbowl, or are difficult to speak about in great depth when confronted with an out-of-the-blue question at a fun-filled urban fantasy panel.
So I’m going to tell you what I think Canadian values are – but first, I have to tell you a little more about myself.
My perspective on Canadian values is ultimately an outsider’s perspective. I was born in the United States and have lived here all my life. I believe in the concept of American-style democracy – including, as Winston Churchill said, that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” I’m simultaneously optimistic about public servants who want to make public policy for the greater good, and cynical about politicians who seek power to enact laws that enrich themselves and their peers. I’m so proud of my country and our grit, determination, generosity, ingenuity and indomitable spirit – and also appalled and embarrassed by what goes on here in America. Gun violence, worship of money and capitalism, no real social safety net, policies that don’t nurture the things we pay lip service to as important…I could go on and on.
So most of what I’m going to say about Canadian values will be held against the backdrop of American values and my own experiences. I’m not setting out to contrast Canada and the USA, but anything that I say about Canada will necessarily be informed by my being a product of my upbringing.
Canadian value #1: Keep a stiff upper lip, and carry on.
Canada is still part of the British Commonwealth, I think mostly because they’re too polite to revolt or formally sever ties with Great Britain, since their government is entirely autonomous and the British approval of Canadian laws is in name only. During World War II, Canada waited an entire week after Great Britain declared war on Germany to declare war – mostly to hammer home the point that Canada would make its own decisions and not blindly follow.
I think Americans also have a strong carry-on spirit too, don’t get me wrong – we just give ourselves much more permission to carry on about things while we carry on, if you catch my drift.
Canadian value #2: Mind your own business.
There’s also a strong French influence in Canada, and when I think of French values, what comes to mind is the ending of Voltair’s Candide. For those not familiar with the satire (spoiler alert!), Candide is a naif who enters the world, encounters all variety of evil, and ends up concluding that he must tend his own garden. There’s great controversy about what the ending of Candide actually means, but I think it means Candide decides to mind his own business – the 18th century version of “think global, act local.” And Canadians are great ones for minding their own business.
In America, we mind our own business – and we feel free to mind everyone else’s too. My Canadian friend observed “For a country so obsessed with freedom, they sure do like deciding who’s entitled to it.” Touche.
Here’s an example. In the early 2000’s, when Ontario legalized marriage for same-sex couples, it was big news in the USA. I was working at an LGBT rights organization at the time, and the news really threw our government into a tizzy. Belgium and the Netherlands had already legalized gay marriage, but Canada was different. They were right next door! They talked like us (mostly!). Europe was across an ocean, far away, but we shared a border and a language with Ontario – and much, much more.
(Typical America, something happens somewhere and we immediately make it all about us. Congratulations to all the happily wedded couples in Ontario, by the way!)
That summer I was talking with my cousin in Canada about the court decision and what it meant. We were in her small town sitting by the lake enjoying the summer weather, and I asked her “What’s going to happen? Who is collecting signatures for the referendum? Are we going to see protestors around town? How are people trying to overturn this decision?”
My cousin looked at me and said “We don’t really do that here.” I pressed her, not understanding. She finally said to me, “There might be some people who don’t agree with it. But they don’t try to force their views onto everyone else. We’re more live and let live here.”
Canadian value #3: Be happy. Enjoy your life. Have fun. Don’t worry so much.
I could see what my cousin meant – it was a nice, sunny warm day. We had a lot of important things to do – swimming, sitting around talking, food to be eaten, drinks to be drunk. Why would someone want to waste their precious time worrying about what other people are doing – something that probably wouldn’t even really affect them?
In America, the concept of laissez faire is much more of an economic concept of free trade than a social one of live and let live. I think we can trace this to the origins of American society as a group of property owners and religious emigres – people who wanted the government to quit taxing them and the freedom to worship as they chose (and to force everyone else to worship as they chose, too).
Beneath that sentiment is the knowledge that life can change in an instant, and we have to make the most of the time we have here on earth.
4. Canadian Value #4: Family, the ties that bind.
To be fair, family is a strong value in most cultures, and not uniquely Canadian – but it’s definitely Canadian.
Canadian Values and Lost Girl
I’ve told you that I think Canadians keep a stiff upper lip, mind their own business, and have fun. Do we see any evidence of this in Lost Girl?
I think so. Let’s take a look at some of the characters.
First, Bo. Bo is the ultimate example of stiff upper lip (no succubus jokes, please). She’s undaunted by the task in front of her – helping people, finding out the truth about her origins. We’ve seen her wallowing in self-pity once or twice after a breakup with Dyson or Lauren, but never for too long. Even if it once took Kenzi sticking a popsicle in her ear to get her out of bed, that wasn’t a common occurrence – and more often, we see Bo taking the anger she feels and letting it fuel her quest instead.
Kenzi also is pretty stiff-upper-lippy – even more so than Bo, I would say. She’s never really revealed whatever it is that her stepfather did to her that caused her to leave home. She also never really talked with Bo (to our knowledge) about how traumatized she was by her kidnapping and imprisonment by the kitsune. And even though she was devastated by losing Hale, she didn’t check out – she kept her head in the game, figured out how she could contribute, and sacrificed herself to save Bo and save the world. Kenzi has the strength to endure. She also uses humor to great effect, not the least effect of which is to keep people at arm’s length.
The Light and Dark Fae system does not mind their own business. In fact, they want to keep a tight rein on the behavior of all the Fae – they force the Fae to choose Light or Dark, and once a Fae has chosen, there are many rules that govern their behavior about where they can go, who they can talk to or fraternize with. As our protagonist and hero, Bo might end up taking down that system. She’s a Canadian agitator.
Faemily. The concept of family, both families of birth and our chosen families, is a very strong theme in Lost Girl, so much that I wrote a whole other blog post about it already. Tres Canadian!
Outside of the characters, I think that Lost Girl’s treatment of sexual orientation as a non-issue by never mentioning the words “lesbian, gay, or bisexual” reflects an aspirational value that takes minding one’s own business to the next level. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where sexual orientation really was a non-issue? Canada is probably closer to that reality than the USA and many other parts of the world, but it’s going to take time.
Having fun. Bo and Kenzi certainly knew how to have a good time together, and they had several close calls. Bo also has been no stranger to taking joy where she finds it – enjoying her shit, as Kenzi advised her in the first episode of the first season. Bo’s journey through four seasons (so far) of Lost Girl was as much about her own emotional maturation as it was about learning about her origins and living the life she chooses. After both Hale and Kenzi’s death, I think Bo has a new appreciation for how fleeting life can be – even her loved ones in her inner circle aren’t immune. We might very well see a graver, more serious Bo in Season 5, but I think we’ll also see her hold on to some of her epicurean values too.
What Do You Think?
You might agree with me, you might disagree, or you might have additional thoughts – so please add them in the comments. Let’s talk about what it means to be Canadian. If you’re Canadian, what do you hold dear? If you’re not Canadian, what do you think Canadian values are? How has Lost Girl informed or altered your understanding of Canadian values?
And guess what, folks. I’m not as non-Canadian as I made myself out to be. My mother is a Canadian citizen who immigrated to the USA when she was 19. She married my father, a US citizen, and they had some kids. We visited Canada every year and my sisters and I loved it all, and we still do. I had originally thought that since I hadn’t claimed my Canadian citizenship by age 28, that I had lost it, but an act of Parliament in 2009 restored citizenship to people like me.
I spent most of my childhood wishing I were Canadian, only to realize at age 40 that I have been all along. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Maybe the lesson is that we should all embrace our inner Canadian – not make such a big deal out of things, keep our noses out of everyone else’s business, and have a wonderfully good time while we’re here with our friends and families – including our chosen families. Maybe that’s exactly what Emmanuelle Vaugier was doing at DragonCon on Sunday night – having an awesome time at a late-night rave with her buddies.
In fact, maybe Emmanuelle’s answer to my original question is the ultimate object lesson about Canadian values.