Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Speaking out for Canada, but not so loud as to disturb the neighbours

Danielle and I have recently been watching a Canadian thriller series called The Border.

Now, I’m not going to claim that this is anything more than light entertainment – I wouldn’t recommend that you rush out to buy it and I wouldn’t want to raise expectations about the insights it provides into the complex workings of the human soul, or anything like that. On the other hand, if light entertainment is what you’re after, you could do worse, and it does have one aspect that I found particularly compelling.

‘What marks an Irishman with a balanced outlook on the world?’ an English friend asked me some years ago.

‘I don’t know,’ I dutifully answered, ‘what does mark an Irishman as having a balanced outlook?’

‘He has a chip on both shoulders,’ he told me and we both smiled. So true, so true.

Well, time has moved on, and since the Good Friday agreement, the Irish seem to have a bit less of a chip on their shoulder about us than they used to. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to say they actually like the English or anything – even my good Irish friends still sometimes behave as though they suspect me of having at some time ridden through their martyred land with a sword in one hand and a torch in the other.

Just for the record – I haven’t. Not in this life, and as far as I can tell, not in any other life either.

In any case, even if they have trouble forgiving me for the sins of my ancestors, my impression is certainly that they regard us with marginally less animosity than before.

So it’s nice to find another people with as big a chip as the Irish ever owned. Seems it’s the Canadians. Certainly that’s a key theme of The Border. Why, the central character is with the (fictional) Canadian Immigration and Customs Security service, but he seems to have an agent from US Homeland Security (a grim fact) more or less permanently stationed in his office.

I have to say that her presence there seems to have much more to do with a plunging neckline – whether as an economy measure or not, her shirts never apparently have buttons much above the navel – than with any particular talent as an investigator. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that the Canadian seems to have clearer and more reliable insights into cases than she ever does, and usually a great deal sooner. You’d think she might learn to listen to him a little more, but inexplicably that doesn’t  happen.

The Shirt in its starring role
He on the other hand regularly complains about the behaviour of her nation. And not without reason. Why, at one point she orders in a strike by US F-16 aircraft against suspected terrorists on the run in Canadian territory.

‘That’s a breach of sovereignty,’ he splutters.

A breach of sovereignty? Sounds like an invasion to me. Though perhaps it’s not the least realistic aspect of the series that the American character seems to regard it as no more serious than a neighbour dropping in for a cup of tea. Which, come to think of it, probably is how the US would see it.

While Canada might be a little concerned at the sheer size of the neighbour and how many people he brings with him. And how all the biscuits get eaten so fast.

What I like about the series is the way the protagonist reacts to all this with a wry smile, as if to say ‘thank God they’re on our side. Can you imagine how they’d be if they were against us?’

It all makes for some quite amusing television.


Mark Reynolds said...

Not to pick nits, but the US did send in a strike force into an ally's territory to take out terrorists not to long ago, to general celebration. And also kidnapped some others out of Italy, if memory serves, so that plot point isn't impossible to imagine the U.S. might "forget" the 49th parallel.
That said, there's a long tradition of portraying Americans and trigger-happy incompetents on Canadian TV. Fortunately, we know they'll never find out - there's a famous saying in Canada that "Americans are benignly ignorant about Canada; Canadians are malevolently well-informed about the United States."

David Beeson said...

Oh, I think there's nothing implausible about the suggestion that the US has few qualms about sending forces into an ostensible ally's territory when it deems it useful. What I enjoyed in the series was the way it treated the possibility: with wryness, as sense that everyone knew it to be wrong, but everyone knew it to be impossible to prevent...

That's a great summary of the attitudes on both sides of the border...

Awoogamuffin said...

Dammit Mark, and wanted to quote that saying!