Pemberton Fest: Public Displays of Patriotism


Photo by Mark C. Austin.

A fan was heard saying The Tragically Hip were "too Canadian to pass up." Camping chairs, hats, bandannas, and shirts were adorned with the Canadian Maple leaf the way concert goers down here brandish their alma mater's logo. And as the throng of 20-something literally smashed into each other to inch closer to the stage before Tom Petty's set, Saturday night, hundreds of Canadians burst into "O Canada" without irony.

More than the unique hospitality and the beautiful scenery, what was most striking to me about this weekend's Pemberton Fest in British Columbia was witnessing the stark differences between Canadian and American rock fans' public displays of patriotism.

Sure, hit a country gig, NASCAR race, or a Willie Nelson concert and Ole Glory is ubiquitous. But, at three-day summer rock festival like Washington's Sasquatch!, which has employed some of the same bands -- Coldplay, Flaming Lips, Nine Inch Nails, Death Cab for Cutie, Black Mountain, Wolfmother -- and you won't find nearly the number of public displays of patriotism, if any.

Maybe it's because our flag has been appropriated by the political and cultural right. Or how the image was cheapened by the rash of bumper-sticker nationalism after Sept. 11 (which has almost completely worn off).

Do young Americans lack the national pride of our peers to the north? According to the campaign rhetoric, youth are being mobilized in droves by this year's political process. If that's the case, then why hasn't it translated to outside the confines of the campaign? Why is it more socially acceptable in this circle to display a banner for "Change" than the American flag?

Is it because Barack Obama is sometimes seen in public without a flag-pin, and Karl Rove faithfuls turn out wearing their finest stars and stripes? Obama's mobilized millions of the nation's youth, so the story goes. But has he inspired patriotism?

In Canada, the kids don't deal with the political underpinnings such an act carries across the border. They're just proud to be Canadian.

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