The elephant and the straw man: Political rhetoric, popular culture, and the construction of national identities in the United States and Canada in the free trade era
Young, Gregory David
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This dissertation examines the forces shaping national identity in the United States and Canada since the passage of NAFTA. Drawing from political rhetoric and popular culture, it examines how print media, broadcast media, and digital content distribution work to shape, challenge, and reaffirm the ways in which both the United States and Canada see each other and the binational relationship more broadly. This inquiry reveals the roles of American exceptionalism, provincialism, and stereotypes in shaping common sense understandings of national identity and nationalism. It also explores how each country uses the other to inform domestic political debates. This discussion engages contemporary debates in political science, sociology, media studies, and cultural studies which examine the role of popular culture in society. Building from an imagined communities framework to consider the ideological work of culture, this study examines recurring themes in national representation within political rhetoric, film, and television. Part I explores the ways in which each country represents the other and itself through contrast to the other in political and campaign speeches, news commentary, internet memes, and satirical news programs. Part II focuses on the ways in which American productions portray Canada through stereotypes, rejecting claims of moral superiority and largely using Canada for domestic purposes. This trend is of stereotyping is evident in the construction of Canada in both Canadian Bacon and the documentaries of Michael Moore, in which the country is constructed as a socialist utopia and moral superiority is uncritically unaffirmed. In South Park these generalized images reaffirm a uniquely narrowed perspective as Canada is depicted through absurd caricatures in order to stand in for satirizing the US. How I Met Your Mother, by contrast, runs a broader spectrum in representing Canada. While it does poke fun of Canada through stereotypes, it also considers the complex internal negotiations of national identity for a person living binationally. Finally, Part III explores how these American stereotypes of Canada work on both sides of the border in advertisements for Canadian beer; In Canada to harness (and buttress) nationalism and in the US to sell a differentiated, but familiar product.