Spreading Hockey Across a Hockey Nation
by Stephanie Earp, posted Mar 22nd 2011 8:00AM
I was recently doing some re-reading from my bookshelf and came across my collection of Bill Bryson. In 'Mother Tongue,' he describes a time when there were no dictionaries. But once the idea took hold, a number of people jumped into the business and started putting words and definitions onto pages.
Since those heady early days, dictionary-makers have had a number of troubles, among them the decision of whether to be descriptive of proscriptive when it comes to language. For example, should they include 'Jared Leto' under the 'douche' heading, since people do call him that (descriptive)? Or should they leave it out, since officially, douche is a feminine hygiene product (proscriptive)? For the record, the example is mine, not Bryson's.
Last Saturday, a place called Wolfe Island -- the little village across the water from the town I live in -- ranked as one of the top five contenders for Kraft's Hockeyville title. I can imagine that sentence might as well be written in Linear B for all the meaning it has outside my frozen country (where I woke up this morning to fresh snow, by the way). Basically Wolfe Island will have an episode of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada broadcast live from its streets, will host an NHL pre-season game next fall, and might just win $100,000 CAD to improve its hockey arena.
And naturally what popped into my head was Bryson's chapter on dictionaries.
Because here's the thing: Is CBC, our national broadcaster, supposed to be descriptive or proscriptive when it comes to Canadian culture? I'm not arguing that Canadians don't love hockey. We do - and I do. But at what point is the CBC actually manufacturing hockey love that it can then cover? The Kraft Hockeyville series hits many of those arts grant-earning objectives I mentioned in my column last week -- it brings the CBC to small towns outside our urban centres, it focuses on healthy exercise for our kids, and it spotlights volunteerism. But it's also creating a frenzy of hockey-related content -- the only kind of content that reliably gets CBC top ratings.
I guess I could say the same thing about another CBC hockey property that I dearly love, 'Battle of the Blades'. Unlike the U.S attempts at a skating show to accompany 'Dancing with the Stars', 'Battle of the Blades' succeeds because the contestants already know how to skate at a very high level. But the show is quite sneaky. It's not actually a show about hockey, it's a show about figure skating, but it uses hockey as a jumping off point (no pun intended).
The men are genuine stars here in Canada, and because they are the protagonists, viewers are lulled into a false sense of security about what they are about to watch - namely a version of what they'd see at a Skate Canada meet. And because I love figure skating, I fully forgive the CBC for this little ruse. Of course they should be getting Canadians to pay attention to figure skating, and if they're manufacturing the excitement a bit, so be it.
Maybe I'm being too hard on the Ceeb - after all, 'Hockeyville,' 'HNIC,' 'Battle of the Blades,' and 'Hockey Day in Canada' might be just the right amount of airtime for Canada's game. But don't forget about the the mini-series, like 'Canada-Russia 72' and 'Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story.'
Like I said, I love hockey. Alongside re-runs of 'How I Met Your Mother' it probably takes up the vast majority of my viewing time. But if the CBC is going to manufacture Canadian culture it can then cover, it would be nice if it threw a bone in some other direction. I know they've tried -- and I've been one of the critics who's rammed them for shows about curling, a mosque on a prairie and a horse ranch. But maybe they should try harder.
I know part of my discomfort with 'Hockeyville' is the thought that word of the show and contest will get out to the wider world, and it will somehow confirms all the stereotypes about us Canucks. What's next, a contest for who can catch the largest beaver while dressed as a Mountie? 'Canada's Best Apology,' a reality show in which contestants must talk their way out of a grievous offence? 'The Bachelor: Paul Gross'?
Judge us not, world. We do care about other things besides hockey - art, music, current affairs, the Tragically Hip, and much more - we just can't figure out how to make a good TV show about any of it.
Good luck to Wolfe Island and all the nominated communities. The winner will be announced on April 2 during Hockey Night in Canada on CBC.