Sunday, August 28, 2005

Date with destiny

If you haven’t seen TV star Jennifer Aniston’s brave little pixie face smiling stoically from the cover of virtually every magazine on your local newsstand save The Economist and Forbes (and that’s only because the financial details of her divorce settlement have yet to be announced) then you are either a shut-in, a coma patient, or seriously, seriously focused on your own life. In which case – good for you!
But even so, even if you are the sort of person who thinks that their own life is ‘important’, or ‘interesting’, or even ‘taking up most of your spare time’, as a Canadian, you’ve likely not missed the potentially more nationally upsetting headlines (which simply repeat and amplify literally dozens of similar headlines over the past 5 years) that Canada is now at heretofore unmatched loggerheads (not your piddling, low-key type loggerheads) with the United States over the most recent ruling – and even more recent disregarding – of the NAFTA ruling on softwood lumber exports.
In a nutshell, though NAFTA arbitrators have decided in Canada’s favour – and not for the first time – in the long standing dispute over exorbitant tariffs imposed by our US counterparts, resulting in a ruling that requires some five billion in unfair taxes be returned, US Trade Representative Bob Portman has announced the United States would ignore it. The ruling. The instruction. The decision. The dough. The end.
Go away.
Canada’s response was swift.
“I beg your pardon?”
Followed by various statements on various levels regarding how our government would argue/fight/punish those who work agin us.
(Best was Senator Pat Carney who got up and walked out of negotiations recently, saying, “What’s to talk about? We won. The Americans won’t abide by the rule of law.” Simple, elegant, Canadian.)
So we have a problem, and the problem isn’t simply softwood; our problem is what the US reaction to the ruling means – has always meant – to our relationship. We can’t ignore it anymore, can’t pretend we haven’t noticed, can’t fool ourselves into thinking it means anything other than what it means. We are not now, nor have we ever been, except in our deepest and sweetest fantasies, of any real importance to the United States.
We are Jennifer Aniston.
Oh sure, we’ve captured America’s attention from time to time, been described as each other’s family, even appeared to be as close as an old married couple. But really and truly, all it’s ever taken for the truth to come out was for us to fairly request something they simply weren’t prepared to give… and the jig was up.
Reading between the lines of the answers the resolutely stiff-(though intermittently trembly)-upper-lipped Aniston shared with Vanity Fair in the much ballyhooed September cover story, a new picture of Brad Pitt is beginning to emerge. A Pitt who contrary to the image he’s portrayed since the Pitt-Aniston marriage went awry, maybe isn’t all that nice. Or honest. Or blameless.
Apparently Aniston, though the opposite was implied, DID want a baby. DID want the marriage. DID want Pitt.
Now that she’s been treated to month after month of lurid stories, impossibly romantic third-world, AIDS fighting orphan baby-adopting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie frolicking, complete with all the long-lensed photos to match (not to mention those purposely shot for Women’s Wear magazine’s 1950’s happy family fantasy – complete with kissing and nekkidness and kiddies and barbecues) Aniston is now launching her own public relations response, casting herself as the “wronged waif who nevertheless is picking herself up and moving on with her life, I-don’t-blame-Brad-but-hey-Billy-Idol-called-he-wants-his-look-back”.
(Geez. If a gal can’t snipe at the man who left her for Angelina Jolie, when on earth is she going to get nasty?)
Likewise, the embarrassingly public decision to brush Canada off has us recalling the UN all over again. In refusing to abide by the NAFTA arbitrator’s ruling, the US in the person of the President invokes deeply painful (not to mention revealing) memories of Bush demanding that the entire United Nations support the move to war against Iraq, and when stymied, simply rolled over the protests and God damn it, went to war anyway.
(And please, let’s not get into John Bolton; salt in the wound, kicking a guy when he’s down… having screaming, growling, animal sex with Angelina within hearing distance of the world’s microphones. Ouch baby.)
But we had some good times, right?
Millions upon millions of tons of lumber-based newsprint captured stories, complete with photos of American Presidents and Canadian Prime Ministers yucking it up, shaking hands, playing golf and having dinner together. Granted, not the sort of dates one imagines Brad Pitt on, yet solid and friendly and indicative of a genuine relationship – much like the snaps of he and Jen at the awards shows over the years.
Could it be all those images were simply for publicity? Staged for the newspapers?
But we tried did we not? Playing hard to get by refusing to join the war on terror, acting as if we really had an option to remain together whilst ardently pursuing our own hopes and dreams – whether it be taking part in peace keeping in Afghanistan or shooting a high profile, low paid indie movie about a bad girl called ‘The Good Girl’? Didn’t the message come through? Were we not bravely and creatively our own country/person?
Did we not win respect, and from that respect, solidify our relationship?
We did not.
We ignored the immutable first rule of high school: it doesn’t matter how cute, how sincere, how girl-next-door Canadian you are, when it comes to power, the captain of the football team will always gravitate back to the head cheerleader.
Jennifer learned this the hard way.
We’ve been learning this lesson for decades – though it must be said, there was no smoking Angelina Jolie to point us to the truth. All we had to alert us to what should have been obvious from the start was a dirty old man named Saddam Hussein and a shadowy bunch of powerful men called ‘American Corporate Interests’.
But before we throw up our collective hands, or press our tear stained faces into our pillows, we should remember a few of things.
1. High school doesn’t last forever; the Presidency has about 3 years to go. Angelina has a way of moving on…
2. Things change. One minute you’re the captain of the football team, the next you’re selling used cars… one minute you’re President of the United States, the next you’re a footnote in a history that finally manages to portray you exactly as you are… one minute you’re the handsomest guy in the world, next you’re wrinkly Robert Redford. (If only you were Paul Newman!)
3. The tide can turn dramatically. From loser geek to billionaire software manufacturer. From President to pariah. From Brad to Bob.
From softwood losses to oil sands gains.
Never forget we’ve got potentially the second richest oil reserves in the world. Not over there - right up here. Never forget we played fair even when you were screwing us. And then when you weren’t. Never forget that respect shouldn’t be limited only to those you feel are equal – which you may mistakenly judge is none.
Because we won’t.

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