I was raised in an alternative culture. It’s not separate from the American mainstream — it’s deeply influenced by American media, even subordinate to it — but this culture still strives to be distinct. It has its own set of celebrities, its own bizarre jokes, its own “greatest hits rock” compilations (which truly had its heyday in the 90s). It pursues its own identity by strictly regulating content and exaggerating its uniqueness. It even counts the number of Canadians who work on any given project.
Wait, did you think I was going to say something about the Christian sub-culture? Well, you’re wrong. I’m talking about Canadian culture. You’ve never mixed those two up before, you say? Let me fix that for you.
Say you’re a Canadian on a road trip to the States. Somehow, you get into a conversation with some “real life” Americans who, in spite of living within a couple hours of the border, know next to nothing about Canada. And then you find yourself saying this:
“Betcha didn’t know Jim Carrey was born in Canada,” self-consciously leaving off the “eh” at the end of your sentence. “Or Mike Meyers? Or William Shatner?”
It’s kind of like that time when your friends who didn’t go to church found out you like listening to Christian music. Before their mocking starts to snowball, you barrage them with names of Christian artists they may have heard of: “P.O.D. is a Christian band. Did you know that? And Switchfoot. And I’m pretty sure we can claim U2 as well.”
Sure, these bands don’t really mention their Christian roots. But, your friends may ask, why is it such a big deal they’re Christian anyways? And isn’t it the same way for actors who just happen to be Canadian? You wouldn’t exclusively hire a Canadian mechanic to work on your car. So why is there the need to emphasize the nationality — or Christianity — of our celebrities?
Maybe they are secretly ashamed of where they come from, or what they believe, even to the point of disguising what sets them apart. Case in point: Canadian TV show Flashpoint was shot in Toronto, but didn’t actually mention where the show took place. Sure, they threw in the occasional Tim Hortons mention for fans who were in on the joke, but the CN Tower in the background could have been any American landmark. And it worked; the show was picked up on CBS. Only when Flashpoint was eventually dropped by the American network, did the show-runners embrace the obvious Canadian setting.
This ambiguity exists in Christian music as well, of course. I still have no idea who the “you” Lifehouse is hanging by a moment with. Is it Jesus? Or is it a girlfriend? Maybe it depends whether the song is played in youth groups or on the radio.
The whole point of the sub-culture in both cases is to reject the American mainstream. We want to set out a unique identity for a unique people, whether Canadian, Christian, or both.
Some say this need for validation is something to be fought for. Christians, Canadians and Christian-Canadians should create art that speaks of goodness, truth and beauty, however that finds expression in the locality of the artist. This is not to the exclusion of the so-called American mainstream, but it is able to embrace the good, true and beautiful in that as well.
I, however, have something even better in mind. What if our Canadian culture and Christian sub-culture joined forces to become a super-needy bubble of alternative-stream awesomeness? This über-culture would annually release albums called Big Shiny Wow Hits. The Canadian Teen Study Bible would feature side bar devotionals on how to love your American neighbour who just doesn’t understand universal health care. While driving the morning commute, we could listen to the podcast The Purpose Driven Vinyl Cafe, while proudly displaying the bumper sticker that says, “My boss is a Jewish carpenter who starts every day with a double-double.”
The only thing that would outweigh our self-declared identity would be our need for validation.
The irony, of course, is that in our effort to be different, we will remain even more the same. Someone may stop and pay attention to us every once and while, not because we’re different, but because they have confused us for someone else.