Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be Canadian. For some it’s our shared history, our environment, our diverse culture. For some the sight of a maple leaf is enough to stir patriotic sentiments. For others, being from the Great White North is about picking up a hockey stick, or buying a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee on a cold winter’s morning. For Justin Bieber, being Canadian is none of the above.
The young pop star is Canadian in name only.
Colin Horgan has already blogged about this topic quite well for Maclean’s back in November, calling Bieber out on his “fabricated nationalism” which I will summarize here. Being Canadian for the eighteen year old from Stratford, Ontario is not about pride in one’s country, standing for a particular set of values, or any sort of substantive reasoning. Rather, being Canadian is a marketing tool. Sometimes it doesn't even have to make sense. Bieber told TMZ that “in Canada, we like to have spaghetti and milk” as if the combination was a national culinary staple. Whatever happened to maple syrup and poutine? I would be interested in knowing where he got that idea. Bieber also seems to be confused about Canadian domestic policy and status of Aboriginals in his home country – not to mention confusion about his own self-identity. He told Rolling Stone that he’s “part Indian. I think Inuit or something?” which, according to him, gives him the privilege of receiving free gasoline. He should have stopped after Inuit.
Colin’s scrutiny does not go far enough. In all fairness, Bieber doesn't seem to know anything at all about Canada or its history. Maybe it’s from being on the road too much and away from a Canadian classroom. If he wants to use his country as a marketing tool, he should learn something about it first. In his mind, Canada is not a real entity with an entrenched culture, but an image that can be thrown into whatever he’s saying to make a point. Or use it as a shield.
Case in point – when Bieber went on a British television show and didn’t quite understand the host’s humour regarding the Queen, he irrelevantly responded by saying “I don’t really get, like, I’m from Canada, I don’t really know what’s, I like, this, all this humour.” Right. His Canadianess prevented him from understanding a joke.
While it all seems funny, the world is taking notice.
When Justin Bieber went on the Late Show in June and was told by David Letterman not to get so many tattoos that he would look like the Sistine Chapel, he answered by talking about the sixteenth chapel. The crowd chuckled and applauded the mistake, which turned to roaring laughter when Letterman made the snide comment “Canadian high school.” Bieber just stared into the abyss, the last one to understand the joke – ahem, himself.
That’s the price of his fake identity. People expect him to represent the country, and when he fails, the country suffers. Of course, we don’t expect Bieber to have a PhD in Canadian Studies, but why can’t he add a little substance to his nationalist claims? Or the flip side, if he’s going to continue spouting ignorant comments about Canada, is it too much to ask that he stop? Many others have been successful on the international scene without having to milk their Canadian identity: Jim Carrey, Seth Rogen, Ryan Reynolds, and countless others. Some have even done well being Canadian internationally. Who could forget Jay Baruchel’s many roles in both Canadian and American films – and his glorious maple leaf tattoo, shown proudly in the film Knocked Up?
Bieber’s latest prop – or victim – in his imaginary-fairy-tale-land of Canada is the Prime Minister himself. In November Stephen Harper presented Justin Bieber with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, a medal given to those who “have made a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community within Canada, or an achievement abroad that brings credit to Canada.” Of the 60,000 recipients many were veterans, volunteers, and generally people who have sacrificed their time and efforts for their fellow country mates. People take pride and receiving this award because it is a real honour. However for Bieber, it was just another publicity stunt. He met the PM wearing unbuttoned overalls –overhauls, as he calls them – a backwards baseball cap, and an oversized white t-shirt. When Bieber tweeted the photo, he added in an lol for good cheer. Granted, the ceremony took place right before he performed a concert and he claims it would have been “crazy” to get changed, but how long does it take to put a proper suit on? Five minutes? Maybe thirty seconds less if you get a clip-on tie. Suffice it to say, receiving the honour meant nothing to the ‘white trash prince’, an honorary title granted to him by the Daily Mail. But the backdrop of Canadian flags provided a good image boost for his made up narrative. Again, no one expects him to be a complete patriot, but a little respect would be nice.
Justin Bieber is about as representative of Canada as those Jersey Shore characters are of Italy. The things that Bieber believes makes him Canadian – a lie about free gasoline, eating pasta with milk, and a reaction of oblivion upon hearing a joke – are not real Canadian traits. No one would associate these with Canada. Yet his insistence of spreading falsehoods around the world is corrupting his main, impressionable group of fans: young teenagers, especially Canadian ones, who may not know much about their own country and take on Bieber’s delusional nationalism as their own. While his music isn’t exactly my style, he’s talented enough as a singer that he shouldn't have to supplement his act with this false nationalist shtick.
Who knows, maybe spaghetti and milk will one day become a trend. But it is not the Canada that I know.