Thursday, August 30, 2007

Oprah to discuss Canucks' New Uniform

Sources tell me (they keep shouting in my head!) that Oprah will choose this evening to return to the Covenant Zone, promising to lead our discussion of the Canucks' new uniform.

Frankly, the initial widely negative reaction to the uniform's unveiling leaves me a little surprised. I don't think it's that bad. I even kind of like it. But most people are saying things like
it all looks so square, so much like it's standing still. Where's the movement and speed that a hockey team needs?" (Karen Stein Sather of Coquitlam)
There are also "expert" people like
John Carter... a graphic design instructor at Douglas College, [who] called the redesign an "utter disappointment" and "the tawdriest type of cut-and-paste job."

"Effective design requires clarity of purpose and visual unity, both of which are evidently lacking here," he wrote
More economically, Dave from Langley writes:
VANCOUVER is too long a name to'll get old quick.
Some are more positive:
Apart from the West Coast colours, the original Canuck logo -- a stick-in-rink stylized C that looks a little like a smiling Pacman -- was refined and returned to the jersey's shoulders, while the contentious killer whale logo was cleaned up and retained on the chest.

The whale, apparently vegetarian as it has square "chewing" teeth instead of jagged "ripping" chompers, appeared previously only because it meshed with McCaw's corporate identity in Seattle. Naturally, many assumed it would be dropped. Judging by man-on-the-street and radio-show-caller reaction today, the logo is already a bullseye for criticism.

Maybe the bar has been set low, but the whale is still a heckuva lot better than the Canucks' downhill skate which, resplendent amid an orgy of red, yellow, black and orange, looked like a boot dropped on a plate of linguini marinara. And let's not get started on the flying-V, which was like something the cleaning crew on the USS Enterprise might have worn.

The only really bad thing about the new sweaters, modelled by five Canucks at GM Place for 6,000 fans with nothing better to do on a gorgeous, summer weekday in Vancouver, is that shirt tails hanging out front and back are reminiscent of maternity wear and channel images of a pregnant Greg Luzinski when the Chicago White Sox briefly wore shirts outside the pants.
Bringing out new uniforms is not an exercise that can be "won" because there is always something to dislike. The best the Canucks could do was hope for a "tie" and Zimmerman knew this ahead of time.

"In this city and this province, discussions about the Canucks' uniform has become an art form," he said today. "It's non-contact, competitive sport. So maybe on some level, that's good for us. You know if you get too caught up... thinking you can please every person, you just realize it's not a reality.

"Someone asked me about the research we did; there is research out there every day. You just have to turn on the radio or pick up the newspaper. So what this would mean in this market was very clear [to me]."
There is always something to dislike! That sums up perfectly a certain view of popular culture, the vehicle for the expression of the anonymous, uncool, people's resentments. However, in pop culture, the arrogant bad guy is supposed to meet a brutal death, and the good guy eventually gets to marry the beautiful babe or win the lottery. But this kind of happy or appropriate ending just doesn't seem to happen in the world of the Vancouver Canucks. Something is wrong, and maybe Oprah has the answer.

To my mind, the jersey does suggest something of a postmodern confusion of esthetic ideas. But it seems to me the basic idiom is modernist - see the 1930s lettering and the bold geometric ordering of the colours. It's like Rothko on a jersey. The "Vancouver" lettering and the use of the original Canucks' hockey-stick logo suggests the jersey is trying to be traditional, but instead of invoking whole heartedly the sacrificial violence inherent to the modernist esthetic (which worked to harden people for the political violence of the twentieth century) the stylized orca strikes me as a cuddly postmodern victim getting his affirmative action payoff with his duly allotted fifteen minutes of fame. A truly traditional (i.e., in hockey terms, art deco or modernist) jersey would have rendered the orca in a more primitive totemic style. But we live in times when people are afraid, rightly I think, to say "Chicago Blackhawks" or "McGill Redmen" with the genteel blood lust appropriate to the original late romantic/modernist idea.

But am I snobbishly letting high cultural values into this most central of Vancouver pop culture discussions? Maybe, and despite my above concern about calling sports' teams "Redskins", etc., it still seems to me that what is wanted is a hockey team that can wear a somewhat subdued, classic, gentlemanly sporting outfit all the more to highlight the contrast when they pound an opponent into the boards. The paradoxical mix of high class and muscular sport is what we should want in our hockey team. It's almost like calling your tough guy lacrosse team the "Salmonbellies", ironically to mock your opponents. (The courageously "high class" New Westminster Salmonbellies took their name from the Vancouver fans who first mocked the river town team with that fishy sobriquet.)

What I find disappointing in the discussion so far, is the literalism behind the idea that one's uniform has to exactly express the dynamism of ice hockey, as if only heavy metal, and not romantic Opera, should serve as the stoppage time soundtrack to accompany games. Instead of this kind of literalism, we should learn that all symbolic meaning has a paradoxical, double-sided, nature, rooted in the mystery of how we can satisfactorily substitute signs or symbols for things and worldly experiences. Our use of symbols to structure our memory of shared experience is always something of a paradox. Done well, it's also the secular or human basis for great faith in our people, our team, our city, the compact with others that is ultimately rooted in our desire to share the same symbols, to understand the other guy without great linguistic fuss and conflict.

This is all something we discuss every Thursday, 7-9 pm, in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, in front of Blenz Coffee. We wear blue scarves (especially in winter) to identify ourselves.

But we really meet because we know that in future what holds our city and nation together cannot be something dictated from on high by some kind of elite. High culture basically ended in the twentieth century because it was discovered that the effort to channel all of a modern nation's energies behind a few elitist symbols - some essential vision of the nation - was a recipe for the most horrific kind of wars. In the wake of high culture's decline, what are we left with? Can we just refuse all answers, except for an embrace of "multiculturalism" and moral relativism? Or do we still need some kind "covenant", some national compact, some shared understandings to bond us politically and ethically and make our country work, so that people can trust and understand each other and not live in fear of a massive decline in community standards?

At Covenant Zone, we think the answer to this last question is yes. And yet the work of giving substance to the affirmative answer can no longer come from on high, from elites; it cannot be produced by grants from the Canada Council or from Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

The answer can only come from ordinary people taking it upon themselves to represent and perform, in the various decentralized contexts in which we now work and live, the covenant by which we will come to know and trust each other. That is what our Covenant Zone - which you may join, or start your own - exists to teach its members, through the shared discussion of some ordinary nobodies in this great city of ours.

It seems to me that the passion that can bring out 6,000 people to the unveiling of a hockey jersey is really a passion to build the kind of civic and national covenant that it is our goal, every Thursday night, to talk about. Why not consider joining us? I think if the new people's covenant develops more momentum, I can give up the Oprah "key word" gimmicks and my sad lonely dream of appearing with O. on a check-out counter tabloid.

No comments: