Archive for the ‘slogans’ Category

“Pardon him … he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.”
– George Bernard Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra

In preparation for its 150th anniversary and the 2010 Winter Olympics, my home province of British Columbia has adopted the slogan, “The Best Place on Earth.” The slogan appears on the special Olympic license plates that you see occasionally, and, with increasing frequency, on government ads and documents. But, wherever I see those five words, their crude jingoism never fails to set my teeth on edge.

My dislike of the slogan has nothing to do with any deficiency in me. I have a strong sense of place, so much so that it partly explains my appreciation for art rooted in the region, such as the work of Emily Carr or Northwest Coast artists such as Robert Davidson. Born with the coast mountains around me, I am infected with a peripheral nervousness in flat regions. When I return home from a trip, the first thing I noticed when I leave the airport is that the atmosphere is properly moist.

I am also well aware that the Vancouver area is far more cosmopolitan than any city of its size has any right to be, thanks to the accident of being the major Canadian port on the Pacific. And, like many people around the Vancouver area, I am convinced that I live in one of the few decent climates in Canada, and not-so-secretly pity those who live elsewhere in the country (although I smugly think it would be rude to insist on the advantages of my home region too strongly – rather like posting about health care to American friends).

However, as rooted as I am, I know that other people feel just as strongly about the places where they live as I do. I remember once when I was visiting San Francisco, and my comment about the barrenness of desert provoked a prose poem on the beauties of the flowers that bloom briefly in Arizona after rain, and an exclamation that was close to disgust about how excessive the rain forest could be. From such experiences, I long ago figured that, had I been born elsewhere, I would probably have had just as strong attachment to the sights and smells of that region.

Ever since then, when I travel, I have tried to get a sense of a new place by walking around areas not frequented by tourists, trying to get a feel for the place by imagining what my life might be like if I lived there. I have even found a few places, such as Berkeley ,where I imagine – rightly or wrongly – that I could fit in without much difficulty (although I have also found some places, such as New York, where more than a weeks’ stay would drive me mad for the lack of greenery and wilderness).

I make no claim to be well-traveled. Still, to me, “the best place on earth” sounds narrowly chauvinistic – the crass boasting of someone without enough experience of any other place to realize how vainglorious and ultimately empty the slogan is.

It’s one thing to use a slogan like Alberta’s “Wild Rose Country” which plays on an official emblem, or Quebec’s “Je me souviens,” which reflects the history of the place. Both these slogans are too officially nationalistic for me to be entirely comfortable with them, but at least they evoke a sense of place that doesn’t denigrate other people’s feelings for their homelands. Possibly, the Quebec slogan implies a resistance to Anglophone cultural domination, which is the usual way that it is interpreted – but, given the province’s history, who can blame it for any such implication?

Anyway, an assertion of identity in the face of resistance is very different from uncalled-for boasting. It seems to me that the only response a polite person from outside of British Columbia can make to the slogan “The Best Place on Earth” is “Did I ask?” And no doubt with a few beers, the response will be,”Says who?”

Of course, B.C. has a history of poor slogans. The official motto, which translates from Latin as “Splendour without diminishment” has always seemed the bravado of a resort-extracting capitalist to me. Even worse is “Super, natural,” which was used for years in tourism promotion, as though the goal was to corner the market on travelling neo-pagans.

But with “the best place on earth,” the powers that be have hit a new low. We can only pause to shudder, and, realizing that this is another vague whim of government that we can do little to counter, can hope that this, too, will someday pass.

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