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Hockey as a Mean to Develop National Identity

Grueneau and Whitson raised the question of hockey being a part of the search for national identity in Canada. They outlined that hockey was given “even greater symbolic currency in recent years” being one of the few objects recognized to be ‘truly Canadian’ (Grueneau, Whitson, 1993).  Hockey Night in Canada reflects an idea that hockey brings together Canadians in a common experience of the game. In this case sport does not play the only role of glorifying masculinity and appealing to human’s urge of violence, it also unites Canadians in the understanding of own culture, ideological preferences and values. Taking readers through the history of ice hockey, authors try to illustrate connections of hockey history with the development of national mentality, country economy, cultural and social trends. They also present an idea that the development of hockey culture as it is now in Canada was impossible without interference of governmental institutions, economically interested parties and mass media into the process. They also express an idea that hockey obsession is a part of a search for national identity, however they somehow hint that national identity is itself a myth just like hockey passion. Gruneau and Whitson tried to look at the hockey game from the different from custom angle. For some people this game was an incarnation of the craving for victory, violence and masculinity, however, the authors give us a perspective on a game being the uniting link of Canada citizens who watch and play the game in the mutual impulse toward common national identity (Gruneau, Whitson, 1993).

To further explore the links of hockey to Canadian government, politics and economics a closer look at Jim Silver’s writings should be taken. Gruneau and Whitson hint in their book that the development of modern hockey would have been impossible without involvement of government and mass media (1993) and Silver gives us perfect example in support of this idea. Silver writes about the Winnipeg Jets history, their financial crisis and movement to Phoenix in 1996. At that time Winnipeg people were very much concerned with the necessity to sell the Jets and move the team to the US. They raised funds in support of favorites and supported governmental expenditures on the team (Silver, 1996). However Silver argues the idea that all population of Winnipeg supported such expenditures of public money. He himself argues the necessity of spending millions of dollars on Winnipeg Jets and claims that mass media was misrepresenting the extent of public interest in keeping the Jets at home to lead people into assumption that keeping Jets is crucial for national pride and identity. Silver did not reject the fact that public was highly concerned with the issue and that keeping the Jets was important for national identity recognition, however he suggested that there are limits to how far government can go in support of national hockey team. Silver’s writings intersect with Gruneau and Whitson idea of hockey being a part of governmental and economic games. He suggests that ice hockey is a great part of Canada economy and public interest in the game should be viewed as partly caused by governmental and marketers’ methods to lead people into belief that hockey is a mean to identify Canadians as nation with unique culture. Simple mathematics will take us to assumption that the higher is public interest in the game the more profitable is the hockey business for government and businessmen. Therefore sometimes mass media exaggerates the meaning of hockey to worm up public concern with the game. Silver also shows how hockey plays a role in political games. The supporters of saving Winnipeg Jets at any cost received greater credit from publicity, while politicians with an opposite view became the target of public abuse (Silver,1996). However as well as Gruneau and Whitson, Silver does not reject that hockey is a mean for Canadians to identify themselves as a nation, indeed he claimed that the case with Winnipeg Jets showed how powerful can people be when united with the common idea (Silver, 1996).

Beardsley used the hockey theme as a prism to look at different aspects of life. His collection of hockey fiction is an evidence of how important ice hockey is to Canada’s culture. The book covers different aspects of game such as role of hockey in developing child’s personality, violence and masculinity in hockey and women participation in the game believed to be men’s sport (Beardsley, 1997). Almost any story in the collection underlines the importance of the game in forming Canada’s culture and national identity. As well as Gruneau and Whitson (1993), Beardsley touches upon hockey being no more a reincarnation of desire for violence, but a mean to find the common identity as a unified nation. He also shows the path of hockey development turning this game from the violent act on the ice to the art and national pride which finds its place in the heart of any Canadian (1997). Economical driving force is also touched upon. However, dislike Gruneau and Whitson (1993), Beardsley does not accept the fact of hockey being Americanized as a logical outcome of economic relations, but supports the idea that Canadians should be more self confident when taking outsiders to NHL and use national spirit to repulse Americanization of hockey. He discusses opinion that foreign players have been a bad encouragement for Canadians’ self-esteem and shows how American entrepreneurship negatively affected the spirit of the game. However he does not reject the fact that hockey and economy are highly correlated intersecting here with the opinion of Gruneau and Whitson (Beardley, 1997, Gruneau and Whitson, 1993).

Etue and Williams On the Edge: Women Making Hockey History is an insight into the world of women’s hockey. It raises important questions of discrimination when funding women’s national hockey team, media misrepresenting the facts about women’s hockey, difficulties in gaining public interest and receiving credits for the work done by women for the sake of national game (Etue, Williams, 1996). However this book is one of the best evidences of how violent game turned into the national passion resulting in uniting all Canada population despite of the sex and age for the sake of the hockey game, one of the most vivid examples of Canada’s unique culture. This book shows how sport affects the feeling of national identity which corresponds to Gruneau and Whitson’s writings. It illustrates how passionate can Canadians be about hockey, devoting their lives to this sport. Authors write about talented women playing this exciting, physically challenging game, overcoming the obstacles on their way to the big ice rinks for the love of national game. The book includes references to the economical impacts on hockey, however, mostly this is an ode to the strong women passionate about national game and proud of being the part of it.

Along with the other books appeared to describe the level of nation’s involvement with game Hockey Players Sonnets Overtime Edition was published in 2003. This is one more piece of literature illustrating how important hockey is for the development of national identity. Gruneau and Whitson’s opinion about hockey being a myth developed by corporations finds support in Lee’s poems, but ‘the myth of boys and truth of men’ (Lee, 2003) shows that despite such myth creation there has always been a place in Canadians’ hearts for the pure love to hockey as a game identifying them as single nation. “When Gretzky went to L.A. my whole nation trembled like hot water in a tea cup when train goes by” (Lee, 2003). This passage from The Trade that Shook the Hockey World (Lee, 2003) shows what a significant impact hockey has on Canadians and also illustrates how economical benefits may interfere with people’s priorities. The single fact of existence of a collection of poems dedicated to hockey is an important sign of this game being an undividable part of Canada’s culture.

Canadians’ search for national identity has been long and difficult. Being a colonial country, for Canada it has been hard to identify itself as a country with unique culture and national identity. However such things as unique governmental system, public health care system, CBC, and of course hockey helped Canadians to find the means to identify themselves as a nation and find common issues close to the mentality of any Canada citizen. Some may argue that Canadians’ involvement with hockey is a product of successful marketing, however, no matter what means were used to develop national identity and what were the primary goals of developing it – the outcomes are always more important. In this case the outcomes are the ability of Canadians to unite in a common goal and interest, and Canadians’ feeling of national identity which is an extremely important factor in identifying patriotic feelings toward homeland.

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