Thursday, April 9, 2009

My New Hobby

I really feel terrible doing this, but I just can't help myself. I've recently started a new hobby I'm tentatively calling "the insecurity project." I've been living in Toronto for nearly two years, and I'm totally in love with this city. But the longer I live here, the more evident it is that this city, and in many ways this country, suffers from a serious self-esteem problem - frequently framed in comparison to other places, and always viewing itself as "lesser than". I've started to collect documentation of this phenomenon - mainly from newspaper clippings and online articles so far - and have amassed quite a pile on my office floor in a very short period of time. Actually, I have two piles - one just for pieces by or about Richard Florida. I'm not quite ready to offer theories to explain it - but I am fascinated by it.

Exhibit A, from the August 19, 2008 issue of The Star: "Toronto gets spot on world Monopoly game. But Hogtown takes over for Virginia Ave., while Montreal lands Boardwalk position and Vancouver subs for New York Ave. Well, we're not quite Baltic Ave. - but we're a long way from passing Go. And it looks like Torontonians will have to stroll along Montreal's boardwalk if they want to get there. Hasbro Inc. has announced the top 22 global cities that will make up the first world edition of Monopoly. More than 5.6 million votes were cast for 70 contenders over a six-week period earlier this year, to determine which cities would be featured in the game. And as a nation we can puff our community chests - with three cities on board, Canada tied China for the most representation in the new edition." If we're on the Monopoly board, we must be world-class, right?

Exhibit B, from the January 3, 2009 issue of the National Post. The headline catches my eye: "As the new year begins, so, too, does our 26-part alphabetic accounting of what makes this city special. We start with the visual arts..." I scroll down to the first installment expecting to read an upbeat account, but what do I find? "When it comes to art, Toronto is not New York or London; nor is it Tokyo, Berlin, Paris or even Miami. If you like your art playful and a little wild, be thankful. Some would sniff about Toronto's second-or third-tier position in the visual arts. Others, however, recognize that Toronto offers something none of these other cities can: An arts scene as a study of a work in progress; a place where the challenge is to realize unrealized possibilities -- an unfinished canvas, if you will."

To be continued...

1 comment:

Burt said...

I totally agree. I grew up in metro Detroit and later lived there for a few years after college. I remember watching a fascinating talk show on Ontario public tv about books. The authors and intellectuals were extraordinarily interesting and the quality of the conversations was first rate. I was struck by frequent self-conscious expressions of inferiority on the part of authors, who quite frankly, from my perspective, had no reason whatever for feeling that way. I remember one round table discussion about Canadian national identity. The participants seemed to reach a consensus that there really wasn't one. Having been kind of English, kind of French, kind of First Nation, near the U.S., and increasingly populated by people from Asia and the Middle East -- it wasn't clear to the participants that they had a coherent national identity. I recall that the participants were resigned to, but very dissatisfied with this condition. They seemed to feel they were missing out on something. I was stunned. Reflecting on it even now, I can't help but think that they are so far ahead of the game. Whatever else a national identity may be, it is a narrative. Narratives are stories told and used by people to help make sense of life. But stories are told and repeated by people and not all people have as much voice in the telling. It shouldn't be surprising that some people in a society feel alienated from a given national identity. In the way that the writers on that tv show couldn't dismiss the many voices of their society - voices that confounded any attempt to construct a monolithic national identity - they struck me as being so far ahead of so much of the rest of the world.