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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Use your power for good

The Canadian National War Memorial (also known as The Response), was originally built as a WWI memorial. It was designed by British sculptor Vernon March but modified in 1982 and 2000. It is a stunning evocation of wars throughout time.

Because the National Gallery of Canada has one of the world’s largest collections of Group of Seven paintings, I’ve made pilgrimage to Ottawa. It’s a lovely city—beautiful architecture, relaxed pace, and in a gem of a landscape. I was so impressed with it, in fact, that I asked my husband why we didn’t move there. Alas, Canada is not a belligerent nation, so it wasn’t likely he was going to get a job there in the military-industrial complex.

From a lifetime of living on the border, I believe a Canadian is far more likely to talk you to death than shoot you. Canada is safe, kind, dull, and neighborly. That—and hockey—is its brand.

Peace and Liberty stand at the top of the Memorial
When I was writing my essay about Death of Klinghoffer yesterday, it occurred to me that what the Metropolitan Opera of New York was doing was rebranding itself as edgy and relevant, and in a morally dubious way.  And now that I’m seeing everything through the lens of branding, I wonder about the two homegrown terrorists who attacked Canadian soldiers this week.

The WWI figures on the National War Memorial.
I’ve been thinking in these terms because one of my painting students (and pals) is branding guru Brad VanAuken. We often talk about branding in painting class, and I find it fascinating.

Memorials to all wars were added in 1982.
Yesterday’s Ottawa jihadist has been identified as 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, French Canadian by birth and a recent convert to Islam. He was apparently a “high risk traveller” and had his passport seized to prevent his joining Islamic terrorists overseas. What’s shocking is that Martin Couture Rouleau, who earlier this week mowed down and killed two Canadian soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, was also a disaffected French-Canadian who rebranded himself as an Islamic terrorist.

Memorials to all wars were added in 1982.
 Their personal rebranding efforts are a form of performance art—a fatal form, since you die before you get applause. It only works because Islam itself has succeeded in rebranding itself as a romantic, meaningful alternative for the young male loner. All it takes is a keffiyeh and a gun.

Meanwhile, what does this do to Brand Canada? Canada comes late to most social ills, but it generally gets there, as the stories of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka and the École Polytechnique massacre remind us. And then it returns to its innocence, being our good neighbor to the north.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was gunned down, was added to the National War Memorial in 2000.

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