Identity and the Canadian Olympic Myth Essay

Submitted By botherthebeeeee
Words: 1091
Pages: 5

I'm A Stranger Here Myself: Identity, Olympics, and the Canadian Myth

In this essay I am going to look at Olympic line of products, and what they represent about identity and consumer culture. For the purposes of this essay, I focus only on the knitted Cowichan sweater (Please see Appendix A), and the red wool mittens (Please see Appendix B), since these are the things that have come to define “campus cool” and the Canadian Olympic identity. I will explain identity in relation to this trend by using lifestyle consumption and incorporation as examples of some of the processes by which identity is constructed. This is important because society presents identity, in this case Canadian identity, as being natural and innate - but it is actually constructed, and aspects of it and the processes which shape it are hidden. O'Brien and Szeman define lifestyle marketing as “the increased prominence and importance of style in popular culture which goes hand in hand with a redefinition of consumption as an aesthetic or artistic exercise” (O&S 140). Lifestyle marketing in this case is marketing both the supposed “Canadian” lifestyle, and the lifestyle associated with the Olympics, which both contribute to the sense of identity constructed by the wearing of red wool mittens. Canada has a brand that we present to the rest of the world, prominently on display now because of the winter Olympics. The red knitted mittens have a white maple leaf in each palm and the Olympic rings on the outside. Wearing the mittens allows the consumer to buy not only a souvenir of the Games, but to buy into an identity that says “I'm part of a peace loving environmental country and you should be nice to me”, much like the Canadian flags on backpacks of travellers, except in this case it's “I'm part of a peace loving, Olympic hosting country”. Other supposedly natural Canadian values of liberalism and tolerance are also often associated with products that are intended to market the Canadian lifestyle, although it is arguable whether or not those values are actually representative of the country. The lifestyle associated with the mittens asserts Canadian moral superiority, and perpetuates the myth of Canada as a good global citizen. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in constructing this Canadian identity, what often gets left out is that nationalism is a construction, and the national identity is a product of processes such as lifestyle marketing. The underlying goal behind brand Canada is promoting trade and neoliberalism, but it's also empty of content: just myths, values, ideas that don't reflect any particular belief but are all about image. The concern to protect the Canadian Olympic brand is clear in the fact that during the Olympics no one was allowed to wear or display anything that protests the Olympics, and people's right to freedom of expression was suppressed in the interest of promoting the games, although many have argued that there was reason for protest when it came to the appropriation of many aboriginal products. Appropriation, or incorporation, can be defined by O'Brien and Szeman as “the process by which often innovative or resistant cultural forms are taken up, incorporated, and commodified by the culture industry” (O&S 353). There is considerable effort in the marketing to preserve and protect the brand, and the image that the Olympics is conveying is strongly informed by native aesthetics that covers over the political conflict around the uses of first nations designs. The key to the sweater becoming “cool” on campuses and selling was it's authenticity – just as a Reebok deems a shoe a hit if the genuine street kids in New York, Chicago, and Detroit will wear it (Gladwell 368), a piece of official Olympic gear has to have a certain Canadian authenticity, in this case the hundreds of years of history from people of British Columbia and the Cowichan tribe, to make it “cool” before Hudson Bay Company will sell it. If you Google…