Thursday, January 07, 2010

National Anthem Blues

Over the Christmas break, at one of the events I attended, someone began a conversation with me by decrying how a particular radio spot wished the listener "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". This, I was given to understand, was unacceptable pandering to "them" ("them" being unspecified), and had the effect of diluting the importance of Christmas, which was, after all, a Christian holiday.

Having attended Christian churches as a child and again as an adult after meeting my wife, I understand the importance of Christmas to Christians. However, many other cultures celebrate the solstice which occurs before Christmas. It is therefore not clear to me how acknowledging the importance of the season to all the other cultures who mark the solstice detracts from the Christian appreciation of Christmas.

I have no sympathy or agreement with the particular mindset which holds that there should not be any contrary viewpoint to the accepted religious or political position -- that any dissent is a distraction for the faithful. People who believe this believe that in order to marshal the faithful, it is important to provide ongoing messages that reinforce the basic belief structure.

This brings me to the title of this post. Earlier today, I was disappointed to receive a chain e-mail, subject CANADA 2010, which contained a strong (although somewhat incoherent) anti-immigrant stance, whose message was that as Canadians, we should get behind radio commentator Bruce Allen's desire not to have the Canadian national anthem sung in Hindi at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. This particular chain e-mail is a thoroughly discredited piece of tripe, an egregious piece of racist trash.

There are also a couple of things wrong with it, beyond its hate-mongering anti-immigration stance:

First, there really is a radio commentator named Bruce Allen, and he really did broadcast an immigrant-bashing editorial on radio station CKNW that landed him in a certain amount of hot water. However, Allen did not mention anything regarding the national anthem sung in Hindi -- this was something creative added afterward, clearly by other interests with their own axes to grind. And in fact, this is an evolved version of something that circulated prior to 2007, attacking the idea of the American national anthem being sung in Spanish for a prior Olympics.

Second, my alert fellow Canadians are quite capable of going through the following simple mental exercise to understand that this hateful screed has little basis in reality. It goes like this:

Assume you are a Hindi speaking person in Canada who cares nothing for Canada. At a public event where you have the option of singing the Canadian national anthem you
(a) do nothing
(b) sing the national anthem of the country you care nothing about in your own language, after having spent time and effort to translate the words and arrange the music

Why would a person who cares nothing for Canada select option (b)? The suggestion that someone would is total anti-immigrant drivel. Before it got to me, the e-mail had been forwarded to 25 different people, and while it surprises and saddens me that something like this has any degree of acceptance, I am enough of a realist to understand that this is a symptom of fear, frustration, and a sense of powerlessness -- in fact, the same feelings that drive someone to forget their Christian ideals, and descend into anger over "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas". The more insidious problem is that there are those who would exploit these feelings to promote hatred and racism -- sending these e-mails to marshal the faithful and build a commonality of belief.

There is no better example of that than the other chain e-mail which I received a few hours after the first one (from a different source). This e-mail had the subject PRICELESS and purported to be a peace plan advanced by the comedian Robin Williams. It starts like this:

You gotta love Robin Williams........Even if he's nuts! Leave it to Robin Williams to come up with the perfect plan. What we need now is for our UN Ambassador to stand up and repeat this message.
Robin Williams' plan...(Hard to argue with this logic!)

Then it continues with a ten point plan which in effect has the US, UK, Canada, and Australia saying "screw you" to the rest of the world. The plan itself was clearly unworkable, and my original thought was that here was another celebrity shooting off their mouth on a topic on which they have absolutely no expertise. The one thing which made me pause was that this rant wasn't funny. If it really was Robin Williams, I would have expected him to be funny, even discussing politics. And of course, this e-mail too was bogus.

The originators of this e-mail would have gotten a two for one deal. On the one hand, they get to send their jingoistic message out, and on the other hand they get to attribute it to Robin Williams -- a comedian who would not hesitate to mock this kind of stupidity.

I have written about this kind of message before. The process whereby these messages get out very much resembles a viral marketing campaign. Neither of the individuals who sent me these e-mails are drooling redneck idiots, nor are they unreasonable people. The message of hate, and the untruths, are buried underneath the ostensibly reasonable initial premise. Their target is the person whose circumstances lead him to be angry over "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas", completely forgetting the religious and cultural values of acceptance of diversity.

I have no big answers, but for me, this is how we can fight back against those who lie to us and who try to drag down our spirit. If my world is the sum of the small decencies that my family and friends do for each other, then I can extend my world through small decencies for my neighbour, for strangers. If nothing else, each such act is a thumbing of the nose against those who would spread hatred and lies and so drive us apart.

1 comment:

Jim Rootham said...

Great post. You should shop it around to some newspapers.