Imaging Canada: The Singing Mountie and Other Commodifications of Nation

Christopher Gittings (University of Alberta)

Abstract: The trajectory of the Mountie as an authoritarian and authenticating sign in narratives of Canada may be organized around at least three categories: the material history of the Mountie as an agent of a globally British and locally Canadian imperialism, the celebratory romanticization of that history, and parodic interventions into this myth making. The essay traces this trajectory to consider the political ramifications for translating the Canadian state police into cinematic and televisual commodities that stand in for nation.

Résumé: La trajectoire de la police montée en tant que signe d'autorité et d'authenticité dans les narrations sur le Canada peut se diviser en au moins trois catégories: l'histoire matérielle de la police monté comme agent d'un impérialisme britannique au niveau global et canadien au niveau local, la célébration romantique de cette histoire, et les interventions parodiques dans la création de ce mythe. Cet article retrace cette trajectoire afin de considérer les ramifications politiques de la transformation de la police d'état canadienne en bien cinématique et télévisuel qui représente la nation.

I first became interested in Singing Mounties and Other representations of Canada during my teaching of "An Introduction to Canadian Studies" to first-year students at the University of Birmingham, U.K. In the first class of the year I invited students to write down the images conjured up for them by the speech-mark Canada. I received a variety of responses; however, some of the more frequent images over four years were: land of lakes and snowy mountains; multicultural; bilingual; "Indians"; mounted police; snow and ice. Among the more interesting responses was the idea that Canada was somehow part of the United States, even though the respondents always indicated that they knew this to be untrue.

The student responses delineate tensions between a Canada iconified by the raced and gendered image of a white male Mountie in snowy forests or a frozen tundra that could be a part of the U.S., and the image of a sovereign, multicultural, bilingual Canada.1 Similar tensions are provoked when Hollywood's cinematic renderings of Canada are read against the diverse lived experience of Canada's multicultural population. The genealogy of these images of the Canadian Mountie in the "Great White North" can be traced, via literary antecedents, to Hollywood cinema's production of 575 films set in Canada between 1907 and 1956.2 Pierre Berton (1975) provides an informative survey of these films in Hollywood's Canada: The Americanization of Our National Image, a work to which this essay owes a great deal. Before discussing the variant, yet interrelated, formations of the Mountie as a cinematic commodity of corporate America, as British comedy sketch material, as the star of a U.K. advertising campaign for the Canadian brewer Labatt's, and as characterized in recent Canadian television, it is necessary to chart the historic and contemporary roles the Mountie has contributed to narratives of Canadian nation.

Historical contexts: Romancing the image

The trajectory of the Mountie as an authoritarian and authenticating sign in narratives of Canada may be organized around at least three categories: the material history of the Mountie as agent of a globally British and locally Canadian imperialism, the celebratory romanticization of that history, and parodic interventions into this myth making. A product of British and Canadian imperialism, the North West Mounted Police force was created in 1873 by an act of Parliament to facilitate the invasion and settlement of the West by whites from the East. The force's remit for settling western territories involved a reproduction of the dominant Eastern Canadian social order and the displacement (from the terrain of settlement), containment (on reservations), and assimilation of First Nations. As R. C. MacLeod observes, for the officers of the new police force "the frontier environment was not an active force in the shaping of the social order, but a passive framework within which social roles could be worked out" (MacLeod 1976, 81). Dating from 1897, the North West Mounted Police and Indian agents enforced section 114 of the Indian Act to disrupt the cultural practices of prairie First Nations.3 The police force was also expected to signal Canadian sovereignty over the northwest to American annexationists (Friesen 1987). This anxiety about potential American incursions into Canadian territories figures the doubled space of colonizer/colonized held by white invader-settler culture in Canada and anticipates later U.S. cultural incursions across that border. Ironically, the British imperial model of Canada's aggressive westward expansion was itself threatened by the expanding frontier of the neo-imperial United States.

The Anglo-Canadian, British, and American Mountie popular fictions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries aided and abetted white empire/nation building, representing the Mountie as an idealized sign of a masculinized imperial order whose job was to expel Native peoples and "foreign" villains.4 Anxieties about non-whites "debasing" the white identity of Canada were a major concern of Canadian nationalism at this time.5 The literary Mountie is constructed as the magic antidote to a manufactured threat of the Aboriginal other. As a contributor to the British empire boys' magazine Chums expresses it, the scarlet tunic was the marker of empire that would protect whites from "several thousand blood-thirsty Sioux Indians, fresh from the war trail, their hands still red with the blood of white men or women" ("The Scarlet Jackets" 1908, 532; quoted in Moyles and Owram 1988, 45). Keith Walden (1982) points to the large number of "foreign" -- read non-Anglo-Saxon -- criminals with names like Dago Frank Shwarzcropft and Chink Wooley who were dispatched by the white Mountie in early-twentieth-century texts. At an embryonic stage in its development, the public image of the Mountie was already associated with an elitist racial gatekeeping. Walden wisely resists reading some differences between Canadian, British, and American constructions of the Mountie as a way of compartmentalizing these national traditions, arguing that the romantic structuring of the novels in all three countries occluded differences for most readers. More plausibly, all of these images circulate and influence each other, blurring the boundaries between American, British, and Canadian constructions of the Mountie, and between reality and fiction. An excellent example of this blurring of national and fictional boundaries is American James Oliver Curwood. The most successful novelist, and screenwriter of the northwest Canadian genre, Curwood was hired by the Canadian government to write about Canada for documents used to encourage immigration (Berton 1975). The Canadian state's complicity in transforming a raced and gendered stereotype into a disciplining icon for a nation becomes very clear when the image of the Mountie is incorporated into government brochures on immigration and tourism at the turn of the century. The oppression and violence of the Mountie as a sign for nation is perhaps most palpable in Joy Kogawa's (1983) representation of the Mountie as a thug wielding a riding crop. Kogawa's Mountie recalls the racial gatekeepers of German National Socialism in his administration of the evacuation of Japanese Canadians to internment camps during World War II.

Despite, and very possibly because of, the Mountie's past as imperial aggressor and marker of a hegemonic racial elite, his image continues to be a celebratory and authenticating sign of the Canadian nation-state impressed upon Canadian coins, bank notes, and stamps. The RCMP officer has also been commodified in a range of tourist items such as statuettes, plush toys, postcards, T-shirts, and posters marketing Canada as a tourist destination. Within and without Canada the Mountie image has been used to signify the Canadian nation, and as such is one index of who belongs to the nation and who does not. Unsurprisingly, the Mountie, a sign of racist nation building and a national icon, has collided with competing imaginings of nation such as the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act. While the act recognizes and promotes "the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of Canadian heritage and identity," Canada's national police force refused Sikhs the right to wear the turban and had to be litigated into accepting this "fundamental characteristic of the Canadian cultural heritage and identity" (Multiculturalism Act; quoted in Hutcheon and Richmond 1990, 371). Baltej Dhillon's successful 1989 legal battle to serve the RCMP in a turban, and not a Stetson, provoked responses from people who identified with two very different imagined communities.6 A vocal group of Canadians interpreted the legal victory as violence to a hegemonic imagining of Canada embodied in the Mountie, and protested against what they perceived as a violation of Canadian identity. Others believed this transformation of a Canadian icon provided a long-overdue reflection of the nation's racial and cultural diversity.7

Why does the traditional and homogenizing image of the white male Mountie as Canada have such resonance in the late twentieth century, not only for some of my students and many Canadians, but also globally? As Pierre Berton (1975) and Manjunath Pendakur (1990) argue, the American film industry's appropriation of Canada's national narrative and the U.S. monopoly of worldwide distribution have ensured that the American other's commodified Canada is predominant in the global imagination. And the most pervasive image in these films is the Mountie, a cultural figure the Canadian state has been complicit in creating. Although Canadian directors such as Denys Arcand, Atom Egoyan, John Greyson, Claude Jutra, Srinivas Krishna, Deepa Mehta, and Patricia Rozema have had, and continue to have, some international success, their celluloid Canadas remain largely unseen and peripheral to Hollywood's representation of their country.

Film is a powerful form of representation that indelibly maps cultural, physical, and psychic landscapes. By mapping I do not necessarily mean a reflection of those landscapes but, more often than not, a reinvention of them. In American films such as The Law of the Yukon (1920, dir. Charles Miller), Nomads of the North, (1920, dir. David M. Hartford), Bring Him In (1921, dir. Earle Williams), O'Malley of the Mounted (1921, dir. Lambert Hillyer), and Law of the Snow Country (1926, dir. Paul Hurst), Canada is defined as a virtually empty space, a densely forested and mountainous wilderness, or alternatively, a frozen wasteland populated by the occasional French-Canadian lumberjack, mad trapper, singing Mountie, saloon girl, and "Indian." Hollywood studios were most interested in Canadian subject matter in the 1920s, an interest Joyce Nelson (1988) correlates with the larger pattern of American branch-plant expansion taking place in Canada at the same time. Canadians were offered themselves as commodity by Americans, something they consumed along with other goods crossing the border. Nelson suggests that the Hollywood studios defined Canada not only to Canadians, "but also to a US populace engaged, if unwittingly, in the colonizing of a northern neighbour" (Nelson 1988, 82). Obviously, this cultural and economic colonization of Canada differs greatly from what Edward Said describes as "direct colonialism," annexation, and the "implantation of settlements on distant territory" that the U.S. was actively pursuing in the Pacific during the same period (Said 1994, 8). However, it does constitute Herbert Schiller's model of cultural imperialism where "cultural penetration...embraces all the socializing institutions of the affected host area" (Schiller 1976, 8). Schiller defines cultural imperialism as "the sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating center of the system" (ibid., 32). The manifest destiny or cultural imperialism of films such as Dangers of the Canadian Mounted (1948, dir. Fred Brannon) and The Royal Mounted Rides Again (1945, dir. Lewis D. Collins) is apparent in the hybridized American/Canadian territories in which the films are set, Alcana and Canaska respectively. This annexing reinvention of the Canadian landscape, whether intentional or just the product of sloppy thinking, has political implications. A redrawing of the map harmonizes Canada with the U.S. Yet there is in this cinematic transformation an odd paradox. These U.S. producers and directors obviously thought of Canada as "other"; they recognize a Canadian difference to America by making a conscious choice to set their plots in a foreign location, a location of otherness which they then proceed to fill with American landscapes and the people and values of America's dominant white culture. Among these, of course, are the values of republicanism as represented by Hollywood, and discussed below in reference to The Far Country. This cinematic practice has the potential to act as a form of American cultural diplomacy: the pursuit of American foreign policy goals, such as the harmonizing of American and Canadian economies, through film.8 Spiros Skouras, a post-World War II president of Twentieth-Century Fox, sums up the role of the American film industry in cultural diplomacy as playing an "infinitely important part in the world-wide ideological struggle for the minds of men" (quoted in Pendakur 1990, 38).

Pierre Berton (1975) cites a wonderful example of this practice in the 1954 Western The Far Country (dir. Anthony Mann) starring Jimmy Stewart. Stewart plays an American Marshall who arrives in the Dawson City of 1898 to stake his claim, only to find a lawless town, a lone incompetent Mountie, and a very high body count. The film ends with the Mountie deferring to Stewart, who the townspeople elect as sheriff. In the closing shot Stewart pins a tin star on his chest, becoming a symbol for American law and order in Canadian territory. The film Western is a narrative of American expansion, a representation of the ever-shifting American frontier, and a potent form of an identity predicated upon the erasure of Native Americans or whoever is in the path of the frontier (see Shohat and Stam 1994). Margaret Atwood is very much aware of this when she figures the Hollywood film Western as a vehicle for American cultural imperialism in her poem "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy." In Atwood's allegory, Canada is personified as the female backdrop to the American cowboy. The cowboy signifies American popular culture as an invasive discourse that displaces indigenous cultural forms and "litters" the Canadian imagination. As the backdrop informs the cowboy: "I am the space you desecrate / as you pass through" (Atwood 1991, 71).

Amongst the litter of these cinematic invasions is the Mountie; the most commonly recognized signifier for Canada is translated into the narrative paradigm of the Hollywood screen Western, reduced, as Berton (1975) suggests, to little more than a sheriff in a red tunic. As much as the Canadian construction of the Mountie as a sign for the ordering of western expansion and erasure of First Nations' identities is echoed in the figure of the American sheriff and the American version of the Mountie, it is worth noting some differences. Regardless of the overlapping genealogy of the American and Canadian versions of the Mountie, the deployment of the Mountie in a Hollywood film performs the economic and cultural work of returning a profit to an American corporation and displacing indigenous Canadian films. Moreover, through the inflection of Hollywood production values, Canadian landscape metamorphoses into a Technicolor invention on the studio back lot or the terrain of Yosemite or Arizona.9 The most popular of the American Mountie films is Rose Marie, with three released versions: a silent production in 1928 (dir. Lucien Hubbard), the 1936 musical starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald (dir. W. S. Van Dyke), and the 1954 musical starring Howard Keel as Sgt. Mike Malone; Ann Blyth as Rose Marie, the orphaned wild child of the wilderness; and Fernando Lamas as the French-Canadian trapper Jim Duval (dir. Mervyn LeRoy). Set in the late nineteenth century, Leroy's Rose Marie is the story of a French-Canadian girl-woman orphaned after the death of her trapper father. Sgt. Mike Malone captures this young woman, whom he first mistakes for a boy, and forcibly takes her to live at the all-male RCMP fort, where he incarcerates her and eventually recruits her for the force. When his commanding officer informs him that Rose Marie is an adult woman, Mike agrees that she should be transformed into a lady in town. Trouble begins when Mike falls for Rose Marie, Rose Marie and Jim Duval fall in love with each other, and Jim spurns his "Indian" lover Wanda. Whipped by her father for keeping company with Whiteman Jim, Wanda kills the chief with Jim's knife, and he is held responsible for the murder.

24.2P 19.12P 1 A cross-dressed member of the dominant group. Photo: BFI Stills, Posters and Designs.

Similar to the historical Canadian narrative of Canadian nation iconified by the Mountie that I described earlier, the Mountie in this Hollywood text is clearly a sign for a white male Canadian authority emanating from Ottawa. Mike's correspondence with Ottawa seeking permission to marry Rose Marie contributes to the structuring of the film. Mike Malone and his comrades constitute and enforce the hegemonic norms of Anglo-Canadian invader-settler culture. Woman, French-Canadian, and "Indian" signify wilderness in this narrative and as such are subject to the civilizing, ordering, and assimilationist settlement processes of the RCMP. Hence, when Mike first confronts Rose Marie he instructs her that the wilderness is no place for a girl: "only the arms of a man, the right kind of man is the right place for a girl." Rose Marie, however, initially resists her recruitment into the Anglo-male RCMP regiment by biting Mike; this resistance is broken by a brief spell in jail. From her cell Rose Marie watches the Mounties train. Her image is superimposed on the training scenes into which it eventually dissolves. This dissolve sequence represents both the passage of time and Rose Marie's developing identification with her captors. She emerges from jail in full Mountie uniform, a cross-dressed member of the dominant group (see Figure 1). However, once it becomes clear that she is indeed a woman, her civilizing process enters another stage; with the aid of Lady Jane and a corset, she will be shaped into an object of desire for Sgt. Malone and others (see Figure 2). The narrative threatens to undermine the very structures it creates here with the ironic reading it invites, however unwittingly, in its construction of the saloon -- long associated with a brothel in the Western genre -- as a finishing school. If Lady Jane is a saloon Madam, just what kind of a lady is she training Rose Marie to be? A prostitute for the RCMP officers who frequent the saloon? Similar to the animals transformed into pelts by Jim Duval, Rose Marie is translated into a commodity to be consumed by the RCMP diegetically, and by viewers extradiegetically. The disciplining heteronormativity of settlement culture and the Hollywood musical genre is visible in the homosexual panic provoked by Mike's falling for a girl he thinks is a boy. The unmasking of Rose Marie as a girl by Mike's commanding officer, and his placement of her in a brothel, raises and dispatches the spectre of homosexual desire in a homosocial environment.

The film's spectacle indigenes, constructed from white materials, are also treated as children of the wilderness to be civilized by the white patriarchal codes of Anglo Canada. When the murdered chief's body is discovered, the Aboriginals march into town seeking to redress the murder of their leader. However, their grief and anger make them "as crazy as cockroaches" in Lady Jane's understanding. Malone intervenes in the Native attempt to execute Duval, bringing white man's "justice" to the land. White man's "justice" constitutes Mike lying to Wanda and tricking her into a confession, thus freeing the innocent Duval and sending Wanda to an off-screen death. The only Native woman in the film, Wanda is represented as a murdering, licentious squaw who performs a ridiculous Buzby Berkley routine for white spectators. Fraught with the choreographer's crude conception of a "primitive" native sexuality, Berkley's dance sequence is replete with pelvic thrusts, and the closing shot has two braves restraining Wanda at the base of a phallic totem pole. At one point, the choreography positions Wanda as a passive object surrounded by "braves" waving phallic horns in a Hollywood pastiche of a fertility ritual (see Figure 3). In the value system of the film, Native sexuality is concomitant with murder, behaviour the narrative seeks to eradicate, and thus through the agency of the RCMP, the state disposes of Wanda.

20.77P 2 Rose Marie is shaped into an object of desire. Photo: BFI Stills, Posters and Designs.

Parodic interventions

20.77P 3 Hollywood's pastiche of Native American sexuality. Photo: BFI Stills, Posters and Designs.
Over time, a genre such as the Mountie film exhausts itself and becomes cliché, one possible reason for the virtual disappearance of the Mountie film after 1956. Moving images of the Mountie resurface, however, in popular culture as parody at the end of the 1960s and in the 1990s. Linda Hutcheon conceptualizes parody as an oppositional dialogue between two texts in which "a critical distance is implied between the backgrounded text being parodied and the new incorporating work, a distance usually signalled by irony" (Hutcheon 1985, 32). This kind of intertextual relationship is a central device in the famous Monty Python Mountie sketch. A 1969 episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus makes references back to the Victorian music-hall operettas that served as precursors for films like Rose Marie. The operettas, produced at the height of British imperialism, celebrated the reach of empire and the Mountie as agent of British rule. The Python troupe's parodic dialogue with Rose Marie and its genre constructs the all-male Mountie Chorus in the "Lumberjack Song" as a marker of the status quo, a sign of authority censuring difference and imposing a clearly delineated binary code for gender identification. When the lumberjack's performance begins to deviate from the prescribed lyrics of a piece valorizing settlement virtues of a rugged and macho existence in the forests of northern British Columbia to discuss a penchant for cross dressing, the incredulous Mounties discipline him. The Mountie's historic role as social and national prophylactic is posited and interrogated by the comedy troupe. The Python troupe interrupts the very codes of order the Mounties are attempting to preserve by depicting the Mounties' response to difference as ridiculous. The irony of the skit is emphasized by its performance in the context of the troupe's regular use of cross dressing to deflate authority figures and transgress society's disciplining codes of gender fixity. In the performance of the skit the Mounties walk off stage in disgust, and in the scripted version they throw rotten fruit at the target of their censure. The Mounties' disciplining enforcement of gender fixity recalls the work of Mike Malone's commanding officer in Rose Marie whose central on-screen task is to expose and interrupt cross dressing and homosexual desire.

A more recent parodic echo of Rose Marie surfaced in David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990) where Canada figures as a land of brothels, mad French-Canadian trappers, and a cocaine-snorting, drug-dealing, killer Mountie who resembles the blond, air-brushed stereotype of the Hollywood leading man. In Lynch's ironic scenario, the Canadian Mountie and the French-Canadian lumberjacks -- self-consciously cast as cartoon-like celluloid inventions of Hollywood cinema -- become agents of disorder who bring crime and death to innocent small-town America. Lynch's parodic triggers of the Mountie and the French-Canadian lumberjacks signal a self-reflexive dialogue between his text and the Hollywood Mountie genre, a dialogue that troubles the romantic code of chivalric hero established for the Mountie in popular novels and characters like Sgt. Malone in Rose Marie.

Given the global resonance of the Mountie as an image for Canada in popular culture, it is not surprising that a Canadian corporation, such as Labatt's U.K., became dependent on the Hollywood singing Mountie film genre as a marketing strategy identifying its product as distinctly Canadian for a foreign market.10 In its Malcolm the Mountie campaign, Labatt's U.K. appropriates the anterior text of Rose Marie and similar films from the neo-imperial United States to sell Canadian beer to the former mother country. The Labatt's advertisements share with Lynch's signs for Canada a self-conscious and ironic play with Rose Marie. British actor Tony Slattery played Malcolm the Mountie in the first series of advertisements, singing call and response to a self-consciously ersatz and life-size moose puppet. The brewer makes no attempt at realism here but points to the artifice of this image of Canada in cartoon-like sets -- and the singing moose and Mountie -- yet simultaneously the ad plays on the resonance of Canada as a frozen land of ice and snow made secure by the Mountie. In one promotional spot, Malcolm thwarts a criminal gang by dumping ice cubes in their path in the slapstick tradition. And, although these spots are obviously parodic to anyone with knowledge of the anterior texts, others might not appreciate the full ironic destabilization of these hackneyed images for Canada. Furthermore, as a source text for the parody, Rose Marie is a racially and gender-freighted narrative that risks reinscription in advertisements that are dependent on the viewer recognizing and consuming irony as a part of commodity. Granted, these are commodified images of Canada designed solely for the purpose of selling beer in a British market; however, we cannot escape the fact that they also constitute signs for the nation.

A Canadian brewery is not the only corporation selling Canada abroad as a Mountie. Alliance Communications' Due South, a television series about the exploits of Benton Fraser, a Mountie transferred to Chicago, is written by Canadians and produced in Canada. The series ran for two seasons on the American network CBS before its cancellation in the summer of 1996, and has been sold to international markets including Australia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. So popular is the series in foreign markets that even after CBS withdrew its support, Alliance was able to strike a deal with BBC1 (U.K.), TF1 (France), Pro Sieben Media A.G. (Germany), and CTV (Canada) to produce a third season of the show, which is currently licensed in more than 150 countries (Alliance Communications 1997). In the case of Due South, Canadian cultural producers sell an American-made image of the Canadian nation back to the United States; however, it is an ironic image re-visioned from a Canadian perspective that reworks Hollywood clichés of the Mountie as neurotically fastidious, overly polite, and morally pure. If parody is, as Linda Hutcheon suggests, "repetition with difference" (Hutcheon 1985, 32), the parodic difference of Due South is located in the series' removal of the stereotypical heroic Mountie from the overdetermined faux snowscapes and wilderness of Hollywood's Canada, and re-placement of him in an urban American social terrain where his clichéd difference stands in for and is read as "real" Canadian identity by naïve American audiences. Aniko Bodroghkozy's (1998) discussion of Due South invokes Australian critic Meaghan Morris' work on Crocodile Dundee (1986, dir. Peter Faiman) and "export-drive allegory" (Morris 1988, 248). Export-drive allegory attempts to subvert cultural imperialism by selling the dominant power the very stereotypes of the other it creates so that the other can gain access to the dominant power's markets. Bodroghkozy (1998) argues that Morris' concept of the "takeover fantasy of breaking into the circuit of media power, to invade the place of control" (Morris 1988, 250) is also a strategy of Due South. As Bodroghkozy cautions, however, this tactic risks complicity with Hollywood in its reinscription of Canada as an idealized, white, patriarchal type. Ironically, the series' only on-camera representations of Canadian landscape are location shots of snow-covered wilderness in the Northwest Territories, while Toronto masquerades as Chicago, thereby perpetuating the Hollywood myth of Canada as non-urban. The series also creates a new image of the Mountie as a preserver and facilitator of First Nations' difference. "The Mask" (1996) episode re-figures the Mountie as one who works to recover Native culture from a corrupt official of the Canadian government who conspires with an American to steal a Tsimshian mask. Due South, in its attempts to translate the Mountie from racial gatekeeper and reproducer of Anglo-Saxon Canadian culture to a Tsimshian speaker on intimate terms with First Nations people and their cultural practices, elides the racist origins of the police force.

North of Sixty, a television series produced by Alliance for domestic consumption, challenges the hegemony of the white male Mountie figure with one of its lead characters, Michelle Kenidi, a female First Nations RCMP officer. Although the character of Michelle invites comparisons to anterior representations of the Mountie and Aboriginal women, it is not a parody. Michelle becomes the site of a collision between a living First Nations culture and its other, the Canadian nation state that sought -- through the agency of the North West Mounted Police and later the RCMP -- to extinguish Aboriginal title and cultural practices. The representation of Michelle as the ranking officer at Lynx River performs the political work of challenging the racist stereotype of the white male Mountie as national icon, offering new co-ordinates for spectator identification with a re-imagined community. Unlike the Native woman in Rose Marie, female Aboriginality in North of Sixty is not reduced to the white aberration of "squaw," a "thing" the narrative is designed to dispose of. Conversely, the Alliance series charts her struggle to a position of power where she becomes the sign for a new transformed order that works toward equity between First Nations and the state. Michelle might, however, be read as an example of a successful assimilation of Native culture. Some might argue that, not dissimilar to Rose Marie, Michelle's difference is absorbed when she becomes a cross-dressed member of the dominant group. This interpretation does not account for the potential to subvert a structure like the RCMP from within. Michelle is frequently conflicted by her double positioning as Native/Mountie; however, it is her sense of Aboriginal community that tempers her work as an officer of the national police force.

Despite the differing successes of Due South and North of Sixty in reasserting Canadian control over narrations of nation, the Disney Corporation's 1995 acquisition of exclusive licensing rights to the image of the RCMP officer threatens to undermine a Canadian autonomy in representing Canadian nation.11 The five-year Disney licensing deal could also facilitate RCMP censorship of books and film scripts. Valerie Hussy, president of Kids Can Press Ltd., expressed concern that a proposed children's history of the RCMP would have to be vetted by Disney and the RCMP, thus enabling the Mounties to censor issues sensitive to the force such as turbans, race relations, and gender (Strauss 1995). It is a surreal world after all: Canada's state police cloak their image in cuddly Disneyfication, attempting to displace their shameful recorded past. The RCMP's actions have been anything but cute; as Keith Walden (1982) notes, the force has been involved in such "dirty tricks" as planting bombs, break-ins, thefts, arson, the opening of private mail, and kidnapping.

Not content owning the rights to RCMP licensing, the Disney Corporation continues the Hollywood tradition of sanitizing narratives of the North American West by transforming Native Canadians into spectacle indigenes who perform white visions of their Aboriginality for Europeans. Euro Disney advertised in an Edmonton paper for Canada's Native peoples to audition for a Wild West dinner show: "Our cast members are real Cowboys, Native Americans, and First Nations men (not actors!) straight from their hometowns -- doing what they do naturally!" (Trevena 1996, 25). According to the ad, doing what comes naturally involves buffalo chases, gunfights, and stagecoach robberies, all to be performed under the commodifying gaze of paying European tourists. Not unlike the popular culture signifiers for the Mountie, these Disney signifiers for Canada's First Nations have no signifieds in material reality; they work to occlude or displace the "real." Umberto Eco describes this phenomenon of manufactured reality as a hyperreality, where "absolute unreality is offered as real presence" (Eco 1987, 7). As Eco explains, "the sign aims to be the thing, to abolish the distinction of the reference, the mechanism of replacement. Not the image of the thing, but its plaster cast. Its double, in other words" (ibid.). This mechanism of replacement is instructive when considering English students' and others' imaginary constructions of Canada.

My British students' conflicting images of Canada as a multicultural, possibly American, polity policed by white males in red tunics become quite comprehensible when located in the play of American-, British-, and Canadian-generated media images that construct Canada in the popular imagination. Tracing metamorphoses of the Mountie image, its relationship to racial and cultural difference, and the variant work of representation it performs illustrates a questionable investment in national narratives of identification, and the poverty of these narratives in representing the diversity of Canadian experience. Interventions in national narratives like the alienating and racist myth of the white, male Mountie as Canada can work toward creating a liberating and empowering vision of the communities composing nation.12


I am grateful to Mark Simpson and Theresa Zackodnick for insightful comments they made on an earlier draft of this essay.


Historically, whiteness has been constructed as a normative non-raced category. This paper seeks to mark the Mountie as a raced icon for nation. For a discussion of the matter of whiteness, see Dyer (1997).
See "The Mountie in Popular Literature" section of Michael Dawson's (1997) informative essay.
Section 114 of the Indian Act prohibited all Native festivals, dances, or ceremonies that involved the gift. For a discussion of the Canadian state's intervention in the potlatch ceremonies of First Nations, see Bracken (1997). See, also, Titley (1986, 165-67).
For a more detailed discussion of Anglo-Saxon hegemony and formations of masculinity in Mountie popular fictions, see Dawson (1997, 120-27).
For discussions of whiteness and Canadian nationalism, see Berger (1966) and McLaren (1990).
"Imagined communities" is Benedict Anderson's (1993) term, from his well-known discussion of nationalisms. According to Anderson, print capitalism created a space in which people from diverse backgrounds could imagine their relationships to a nation. Anderson's argument hinges on the establishment of agreed-upon codes that constitute the nation as these circulate in various forms of print media.
For commentary on this case and the collision of multiculturalism and some formations of Canadian nation, see Cardozo (1994).
On the U.S. State Department's policy of cultural diplomacy through the agency of the major Hollywood studios, see Pendakur (1990, 36-38).
See Berton (1975, 30-42) on the substitution of American landscapes for Canadian ones in Hollywood film.
These advertisements aired in the early 1990s before Labbatt's was sold to the Belgian firm Interbrew S.A. in July of 1995.
Here, Canada/Canadian is a problematic signifier. Does it signify the territory north of the forty-ninth parallel? The people -- indigenous, white-invader settlers, more recent multicultural immigrants? The state? The nation, or in Benedict Anderson's phrase, "the imagined community"? All of these very different but interrelated signifieds have been organized under the sign Canada. In the present context, Canada is read as all of the cultural co-ordinates used to narrate the nation. As these co-ordinates are often variant and in competition with each other, the nation or idea of Canada is necessarily indeterminate.
As the following statement taken from the official web page of the RCMP indicates, the force's recruiting activities are now marked by an awareness of Canada's diversity: "The RCMP is committed to policies and practices which reflect all laws, regulations and government commitments confirming and dealing with cultural diversity, including all laws prohibiting discrimination on any ground, regardless of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, and gender.

The RCMP is committed to a membership which is representative of Canadian society and to promoting and supporting equity within its employment" (1988,


Alliance Communications. 1997. Alliance Communications Announces the Return of Due South. Press release. Toronto: Alliance Communications.

Anderson, Benedict. 1993. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso. Originally published in 1983.

Atwood, Margaret. 1991. "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy." In Poems 1965-1975, 70-71. London: Virago. Originally published in 1968.

Bracken, Christopher. 1997. The Potlatch Papers: A Colonial Case History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Berger, Carl. 1966. "The True North Strong and Free." In Nationalism in Canada, edited by Peter Russell, 2-26. Toronto: McGraw-Hill.

Berton, Pierre. 1975. Hollywood's Canada: The Americanization of Our National Image. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

Bodroghkozy, Aniko. 1998. "As Canadian as Possible...: Anglo-Canadian Popular Culture and the American Other." In Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasure of Popular Culture, edited by Henry Jenkins, Tara McPherson, and Jane Shattuc. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Cardozo, Andrew. 1994. "On Guard for Multiculturalism," Canadian Forum (April):14-19.

Dawson, Michael. 1997. " `That Nice Red Coat Goes to My Head Like Champagne': Gender, Antimodernism and the Mountie Image, 1880-1960." Journal of Canadian Studies 32, no. 3:119-39.

Dyer, Richard. 1997. White. London and New York: Routledge.

Eco, Umberto. 1987. "Travels in Hyperreality." In Travels in Hyperreality, 3-58. London: Picador. Originally published in 1973.

Friesen, Gerald. 1987. The Canadian Prairies: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Hutcheon, Linda. 1985. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms. New York and London: Methuen.

Hutcheon, Linda, and Marion Richmond, eds. 1990. Other Solitudes: Canadian Multicultural Fictions. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Kogawa, Joy. 1983. Obasan. Toronto: Penguin. Originally published in 1981.

MacLeod, R. C. 1976. The North West Mounted Police and Law Enforcement, 1873-1905. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McLaren, Angus. 1990. Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

Morris, Meaghan. 1988. "Tooth and Claw: Tales of Survival, and Crocodile Dundee." In The Pirate's Fiancée: Feminism, Reading, Postmodernism, 241-69. London and New York: Verso.

Moyles, R. G., and Doug Owram. 1988. Imperial Dreams and Colonial Realities: British Views of Canada, 1880-1914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Nelson, Joyce. 1988. The Colonized Eye: Rethinking the Grierson Legend. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Pendakur, Manjunath. 1990. Canadian Dreams and American Control: The Political Economy of the Canadian Film Industry. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

Said, Edward W. 1994. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage. Originally published in 1993.

Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam. 1994. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London and New York: Routledge.

Schiller, Herbert I. 1976. Communications and Cultural Domination. White Plains, NY: International Arts and Sciences Press.

Strauss, Marina. 1995. "RCMP Plays Censor." The Globe and Mail, August 17:B1, B5.

"The Mask." 1996. Due South. Television series. Toronto: CTV.

"The Scarlet Jackets." 1908. Chums, no. 16:532.

Titley, Brian. 1986. A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Trevena, Claire. 1996. "Disney Tames the Wild West." The Observer, February 11:25.

Walden, Keith. 1982. Visions of Order: The Canadian Mounties in Symbol and Myth. Toronto: Butterworths.

  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.