One would like to assume the people who work in our government do not sit down in the morning hoping to make the rest of us wild with outrage.
That they don’t get on Slack together and say, “Everybody have an amazing day. Remember to hydrate and that the taxpayer is our enemy.”
But then someone points you toward Statistics Canada’s 2021 Census soundtrack and you have to reconsider that opinion.
The census is not complicated. You get a form in the mail. It sends you online where it asks you a bunch of questions, which may include whether or not you live alone, how educated you are, how many languages you speak, etc. Essentially, it’s Ottawa’s opportunity to make you feel bad about all the things you should have done, but didn’t.
At its best, the census is a reflective experience. You imagine yourself connected through this administrative chore with 15 million other Canadian householders who really don’t think it’s anyone’s business how much they made last year.
In that instant, you are participating in one of this culture’s defining emotional states – annoyance that doesn’t quite meet the bar for public disobedience.
You fill out your form. You think about not submitting it. You read the bit at the end where they threaten you with eight life sentences if you don’t. You imagine barricading the door as Statscan goons go at it with a battering ram. And you hit “Send.” That’s how much bandwidth you’re willing to expend on this exercise.
What you most definitely do not want to do with the census is light a few candles, pour out a nice Chianti, run your finger around the lip of the glass like you’re in a Jackie Collins novel and linger over it for an evening. Really treat yourself to a night-in of nice, light, officially sanctioned interrogation via correspondence.
Because that must be where the soundtrack comes in.
“Listen to our Spotify and YouTube playlists while you complete your 2021 Census questionnaire to experience the different facets of Canadian culture through the sounds of our celebrated musical talent,” the online landing page reads, in part.
We are in the midst of a spot of global bother that five years ago would have made a pretty decent first 10 minutes of a disaster film. And yet some unknown number of government hacks, possibly many thousands of them, have spent the last few weeks tucked up in their bedrooms, flipping through their vintage LP collection on company time. Good job. Good effort.
Before we judge, we should at least scan over this thing. Maybe it isn’t a series of rolling clichés straight out of an American travel brochure for igloo building and moose spotting up in the … okay, right here, the title of one of the playlists: “Friday Night Kitchen Party.” That’s it. I’m already finished with this.
Or “Front Row Freedom,” whose intro beckons you to click through with, “No concert? No problem. Jam out to Canada’s best rock hits from the 2000s onward.”
Hey, did your mom just get a job with the government? By any chance, is she doing some copy writing for them? And when you’re over at her place, has she ever threatened to “jam out” in front of you, causing you to fall backward down a flight of stairs in your panic to flee?
Who is this serving exactly? It’s not me, the intended recipient. I have my own playlists, ones that don’t require government approval. If I wanted Bob from Procurement in my ear about how I ought to give Broken Social Scene another chance, I’d visit his Pinterest board more often.
It’s not in the interests of the performers included. Neil Young (Official Canada playlist: “Golden Age”) did not wake up one morning 60 years ago and think, “Some day, God. Some day, I will be cross-promoted by a ministry of our federal government. Maybe it’s Foreign Affairs. Maybe it’s Transportation. Just please, not Middle-Class Prosperity.”
If you find yourself being pushed on the populace by a national bureaucracy, you have failed in your duty as an artist. Try harder to try less hard.
And this most certainly does not help the civil service. In our least charitable moments, we imagine them a bunch of out-of-touch nitwits who sit around arguing about the placement of a semi-colon in a press release about seasonal variances in New Brunswick’s blueberry crop. Based on the evidence of the census soundtrack, we’re not completely wrong.
Which I have no problem with. Who doesn’t want a job where they pay you to lie in bed and write out all your most favourite things in your Dream Journal?
Just don’t advertise it. You want to talk about something that’s pretty cool and very Canadian? How about “keeping your thoughts to yourself”? That’s one everyone likes.
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