The Pimp analyses two different animated takes on his favorite sport -- hockey -- and draws a few conclusions
Insignificant and occasionally interesting contributions to the cognition of reality
Its hockey season. I just got a copy of an NFB DVD that included one of my fave toons, The Sweater. And this month, Disney is releasing a collection of Goofy cartoons on DVD that includes the wacky Hockey Homicide. In 1996 I programmed a series of animation films about hockey that included both of these films. They are well animated and designed --- blah, blah, blah --- but what struck me was their very different views of hockey. First off Canadians are apparently obsessed with hockey. Its their religion. Thats true to a degree, but mostly its just media driven nonsense. Its like saying that all Americans are gun toting, war loving, flag waving, SUV driving, right wing assholes with mall-coiffed trophy bitches. Besides, hockey has a long history in the U.S. dating back to 1898 when Harvard began playing varsity games. The first U.S. team to win the Stanley Cup was the 1917 Seattle Millionaires. A year before that, the Portland Rosebuds lost in the finals to the Montreal Canadiens. Point being: the U.S. has as much hockey history as Canada, albeit not as sweepingly intense. Still I was struck by how each film seemed to echo its nations ideologies.
Hockey Homicide features only Goofy characters but isn't part of those usual "how to" films with Goofy trying to learn some new sport. There ain't ANY attempt to understand hockey here (and thats part of the joke). The film opens with a wide shot of a non-descript hockey arena. Hockey as island, a moment out of nowhere, existing outside of society. The narration comes on at a blistering horserace meets auctioneer pace. Before you can even grasp where the hell you arethe game turns into an endless stream of violent madness. There is no logic, no context or history, just chaos. The players beat the shit out of each other. No moment to stop. No trust. Always moving forward. Space is brutalized, dominated, controlled. As the multiple Goofy faces suggest, there are no individuals, no identities. Everyone is the same. Depersonalized. There is no respect for the opponent. They are to be beaten. Plain/simple. Everything reduced to extremes. As the pace of the madness increases, the images (and announcer) lose control. We see whales, baseball games, airplanes, an assortment of unrelated images that rival Bunuel. The final shot shows the players sitting in the stands watching a massive brawl on the ice between the fans. The narrator huffs and puffs as he barely manages to emit his final punch line: "Thats why they call hockey a spectator sport." Ba ha. Ha.
The Sweater (1980) is based on a short story by Quebec writer, Roch Carrier. Set in 1946 in a small village in Quebec, the story is told from the perspective of a young boy. His days are dominated by hockey. When he is not listening to the Montreal Canadiens games on the radio, he is playing hockey on the local rink with his friends. The boy and his friends all wear Montreal sweaters and aspire to be Maurice "Rocket" Richard, the most famous Montreal player. One day the kids Canadiens sweater becomes too small. His mother orders a new one, but when the package arrives he discovers a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey inside. The Leafs are the most hated hockey team in the world! Despite the kids bitching, his mother insists that he wears it. Now the boy must go to the rink with his blue and white sweater and join the boys who all wear the red, white and blue sweaters of the Montreal Canadiens. When the boy finds himself riding the pine for most of the game, he snaps, screams, "This is persecution!" and breaks his stick. Suddenly, a very menacing, larger than life pastor appears, tells the kid off and sends him to church to ask for Gods forgiveness. Howeverthe boy asks God to send moths to eat his Maple Leafs jersey.
If there is a film that captures the essence of a Canada that was, its The Sweater. Hockey is part of daily life in this world. It is deeply connected with childhood, family, language, culture, and even religion. The radio games bring together family and community. The rink becomes a stage, a dreamland as the boys impersonate the Rocket in the hopes that they can escape their small town. More specifically (at least in The Sweater), hockey brings the people of Quebec together. Rocket Richard is more than a hockey playerhe is a leader, a god, a rebel, whose every goal against those anglo fucks from Toronto represents a small victory for the Quebecois. Richard carries their hopes of one day overcoming poverty and anglo oppression. He inspires confidence, passion and defiance. In 1954, Montrealers rioted the streets after (English) NHL President, Clarence Campbell, suspended the Rocket for the entire playoffs after he punched a referee. Thats what Richard meant to Quebec.
How can you not see these films as reflections of national identity? In Hockey Homicide (even the title has violent overtones), hockey is foreign, therefore it is something to be mocked and feared. No attempt is made to understand the logistics of the game. "We dont get it, so umm...fuggit, it must be stupid." This is a world where I exist for me. I do what I must do to survive. Fuck everyone else. React first. The John Woo school of diplomacy. Break the doors down, open fire, then ask questions. In this world, one does not stop, think or attempt to communicate. Thats for hippies, commies and faggot preverts I guess. Canadians, on the other hand, do not view hockey as some isolated event. It is deeply entwined with social and cultural life. Of course, there is something innocent and naïve about this. Insecure Canadians too easily swayed by the mystique of a game grant hockey more importance than it warrants. For all its romance, hockey was mostly an escape from poverty, a chance to be somebody, to be adored by thousands. But Canadians have filtered out all the hedonistic qualities and turned hockey into some glorious Greek-like mythology about community, family and togetherness. "Hockey is part of us." But hockey was NEVER just a game (at least at the NHL level). Richard, their moody hero, lived a decent life, but was seriously exploited and underpaid by his wealthy owners. He was little more than a racehorse and when these horses could no longer run, they werent quite shot, but they were tossed aside and forgotten, left to the hushed whispers of myths that wring the darkness into light. "The good of the game" we often hear, a load of hogwash, all of it. Canadians perhaps trust and think too much, like children refusing to let go of Santa. Sometimes I wanna slap them around and tell them to grow the fuck up. (Just as I want to do the same with all you animated folks who continue to dumbify animation.)
Wait A Minute
Hockey can be a ruthless and violent business-show and yet it can also be as graceful as dance and as spontaneous and unexpectedly beautiful as music or hell even animation. A few years ago I didnt think that wayI thought the American film was so typical of those stupid fucks while The Sweater was a perfect reflection of Canadian innocence. Too quick to pin things into an either-or column. "OHthats so typically American." "Ohthats just like the Italians..." We do this because 1. were dumb asses and 2. because its as comforting as a silk robe. When we reduce we make the world comprehensible. We know what to expect. There are no surprises. Americans are greedy, aggressive people. Canadians are calm, Thoreau types at one with nature. With these easy to file labels the world feels less tense, less unpredictable.
But kids everything in this world was (is) built on tensions (theres the heaven-hell tiff or the big bang theory). We were built through tension (aggressive sperm trying to bully egg). Aggression is part of our nature. Im not saying, "Hey, lets bomb Iraq!" nor am I saying that the so-called war on terrorism is right. It would be more logical if Bush and company just came right out and said, "Okay, look. Were rich. We wanna get richer. We want to protect our interests and we want to rule the world and have control of oil. At heart were greedy, paranoid people who find meaning in wealth and power because we had bad childhoods and heyyou can't do a damn thing about it." Of course, if we were told the truth wed, ironically, grab our guns and revolt (anyone see Phil Mulloys The Chain?) creating more aggression and tension. But still when you just cut to the chase it makes more sense than this nonsense about ridding the world of terrorism and evildoers -- as David Cross said its like trying to declare war on jealousy -- but at the same time, isn't the whole why cant we just get along and give each other a big fucking hug movement just as often stupid, self-serving and idealistic? Our entire lives are played out within the pull of good and bad. But good and bad are suggestions encrusted over time as truth: Its 3 am. Im at a red light. There are no cars. Good means you wait 'til the light is green. Bad means you go through the red. But both logic and my aural and visual senses tell me there are no fuggin cars. Its 3 am, Im dead tired. I want to go to bed. I go through the red light. Was it good? Maybe not. Was it right? Sure it was. Good does not mean right. This is truth.
And while were talking about me, we, hockey and animation, who are WE anyway? What is this meaning we (I) try to carve into everything? Were just accidents of evolution and our life has no purpose other than the meaning and purpose we inscribe it with. And really everything we create whether its a hockey game, walk in the park, animation, alcohol, heroin, organic farming, or the Bible (one of THE funniest books ever written) is really just some form of distraction from this very meaninglessness. As someone, somewhere said, we all die equals. Thats a downer.
But hey...felladont cry. Its okay. Theres a line from a Canadian novel that suggests that the key is to be able to accept the absurdity of your existence without any bitterness. Thats tough to do but I can easily accept the absurdity of YOUR existence with no bitterness whatsoever. Its coming to terms with my own overall irrelevance thats the kicker. It's a choice between being Donald Duck or Goofy. Between the latter's "hu-hu-hu-huh" take it or leave it attitude or a duck who takes life so bloody personally emitting an angry incomprehensible saliva stormed self-centred rant everytime things don't go his way. I dunno bout you, but I ain't quite goofy enough yet.
Meantimego check out the new Disney DVD of Goofy shorts and try and be more open to the possibilities of hockey.
And heyhappy holidays.
Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy. Walt Disney Home Video, 2002. UPC 78693-6179-057. 326 minutes.
Leonard Maltin's Animation Favorites from the National Film Board of Canada. Image Entertainment, 2001. UPC 14381-0241-2. 95 minutes.
Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, goat thumping, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at http://asifa.net/robinson