Thursday, August 25, 2011

Culture Shock 08.25.11: Discovering the uncanny truth about Canada

Let's get ready to fumble!

Even as football season begins in earnest tonight with the start of high school football in Alabama, to be joined by college football next week and the NFL the week after that, there's one place where they've been playing football all summer.

The Great White North. America's Hat. Canada.

Most Americans think of the Canadian Football League — when they think of it at all, which isn't often — as a kind of purgatory, to which players who can't hack it in the NFL are sentenced for an indeterminate time, and from whence only a lucky few (namely Doug Flutie) ever return.

Briefly, during an ill-fated expansion attempt, there was a CFL team in Birmingham. But it folded because Alabama is already home to two semi-professional teams and doesn't need a third.

Currently, CFL games air in the U.S. on NFL Network, which could help the league's profile here. Or not.

You see, I've watched several CFL games over the past few weeks, and I've reached a conclusion: Canadian football is creepy.

The CFL is a lot like U.S. football. After all, the U.S. and Canada are the only countries on Earth where "football" doesn't mean "soccer." So, we have that in common.

But there are slight yet unmistakable differences: the goal posts at the front of the end zones instead of at the back, the 110-yard fields with the C-line in the center, teams having only three downs (not four) to make a first down.

I mean, who puts goal posts at the goal line where players can run into them?

Watching the CFL, I was struck by how odd these small changes made the game. It was weird. Then I realized I'd had this feeling before.

I was watching an ABC cop show called "Rookie Blue." At first, it seemed like an ordinary police drama, but I soon noticed there was something different. The police cars and the uniforms weren't quite right. I felt uneasy. Then it hit me: "Rookie Blue" is actually Canadian.

Between "Rookie Blue" and the CFL, I had an epiphany. Canada is America's uncanny valley.

Think of a human being. Next, think of a cartoon character, like Elmer Fudd. Now think of an almost-human CGI character, like the Tom Hanks clones in "The Polar Express." The Hanks clones exist in the middle, between the two extremes of reality and unreality. They look almost human, but not quite, and their almost-but-not-quite appearance makes them creepy. They're too plastic, too artificial. They scare small children.

They fall into what scientists call "the uncanny valley."

For many Americans, Canada is like that. Sorry, Canada, but that's the truth. And that's coming from an American who can name two, maybe three Canadian prime ministers.

For someone from the U.S., I'm relatively Canada-savvy. One of my favorite comic books growing up was "Alpha Fight," which is about a team of Canadian superheroes. Later, I learned most of the characters were broad, possibly even insulting stereotypes. But, hey, it's the thought that counts.

Despite that, I get weirded out by how Canadians are so like us — more so, I suspect, than many Canadians would care to admit — and yet so different. It's the uncanny valley, like Angelina Jolie in "Beowulf," where you're attracted to her CGI double even as you're dimly aware it's a CGI double.

Yet I doubt Canadians feel the same unease about us. Roughly 90 percent of Canadians live within about 100 miles of the U.S. border.

Whether they like it or not, for better or worse, they're are a lot more familiar with us than most of us are with them.

And that, Canada, is why Americans act so strange whenever we come to visit. But we do appreciate you, even if we don't say so.

Who else could we pretend to be when vacationing in countries where everyone hates us?

1 comment:

  1. Isn't this interesting? It's exactly the way some of us feel about Americans.