Manitoba’s “Golden Boy”: The unintentional symbol for what’s wrong with Canada.
First, before going on from that incendiary statement, I should begin with the obligatory statements to prevent too much hate mail: I’ve spent several summers in Manitoba and have visited the province many times throughout my childhood and I really do like most of the Manitobans I have encountered.
So, now that that’s out of the way, it is truly remarkable how Manitoba’s “Golden Boy” – their beloved statue and unofficial symbol of the province – can have so much symbolism for Canada which exists at multiple levels without having been intentionally designed. Regardless, much of this symbolism is, shall we say, not something to be admired or celebrated as many are wont to do and, as such, is worth a critical look at. The unintentional and profoundly unflattering symbolism of “Golden Boy” exists at three different levels.
Symbolic item #1: “Golden Boy” isn’t gold at all.
Yes, that’s right, “Golden Boy” is only gilded gold made using much the same technique ancient counterfeiters used to pass bronze or lead or non-gold coins off as gold ones.
When you think about it, it’s a fitting symbolic equivalent to the country which considers itself so superior to the United States; which claims itself to be ‘golden’ and as pristine as the untouched snow when, in actuality, we generally actively support the U.S. in their emperial adventures…. so long as we get to preserve our illusions of golden purity.
In Iraq, the Chretien Liberals helped out by sending a fleet into the Persian Gulf to assist the overtaxed American fleets with patrols. But the list goes on. Afghanistan. The U.S.’s illegal war in Kosovo. Haiti (historically and currently). Yep, we’re just about as ‘golden’ as “Golden Boy”.
Symbolic item #2: “Golden Boy” represents Mercury — the Roman god of trade, profit and commerce.
Yes, “Golden Boy” is in the end merely a statue designed to glorify and pay tribute to our society’s new gods: trade, profit, commerce and – since the root word of ‘Mercury’ is related to the root word of ‘merchandise’ — consumerism.
But, while we glorify trade, profit and commerce, there were even segments of ancient Roman society who were not so easily fooled. In the ruins of ancient Pompeii, on the other hand, we see murals such as the one depicted left, which show the god Mercury depicted with an unusually large phallus which, contrary to in our culture, had a profoundly undesirable quality. Under this particular mural there was profanity written which was directed towards the god of trade and commerce. I won’t relay what the profanity said, but it doesn’t take much to imagine what the jist of it is.
Also of note is that this particular depiction of Mercury, by employing the large phallus, might have also been a reference to prostitution as paintings of phalluses often pointed (literally) the way towards the prostitution sectors of the city for tourists. Interestingly, since Poet Langston Hughes famously called America a prostitute in his poem Columbia (“Columbia, my dear girl, / You really haven’t been a virgin for so long / It’s ludicrous to keep up the pretext”), it does not take a huge leap of reason to see that so too can Canada be considered to have prostituted herself towards the ends of capitalism, trade, profit and commerce.
Symbolic item #3: “Golden Boy” is rotting from the inside
For those of you who were in Manitoba around 2002, you’ll remember that “Golden Boy” had to be taken down because he was literally rotting from the inside out. What is more, if you followed the much-reported (at least in the province of Manitoba) story of his ‘repair’, an interesting fact was revealed after he was returned to his perch atop the legislature building: the ‘repair’ is only going to last for about 20 years before he’s completely rotted out again.
This is especially prophetic when one considers that, as economic analysts have recently noted, since the American economy — the engine which fuels North American capitalism — is anemic, but the stock markets are on the rise artificially through increased money flow, we are perhaps heading towards a 1929, Great Depression-style collapse sooner rather than later. Add to that the fact that credit card debts are increasing at alarming rates and we can see that our deficit-financed consumerist lifestyle truly is rotting from the inside out.
But here’s where the ironic symbolism of “Golden Boy’s” rot jumps to another level: It was discovered in 2002, when “Golden Boy” was taken down, that much of the rotting experienced by the statue was caused by the electrical wiring leading to his torch. Since the torch represents the torch/flame of knowledge and the quest for learning, this discovery reminded me of Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul. In this work, Saul argues that the kind of knowledge which has come to be rewarded in modern Western capitalist civilization is an exploitative, power-seeking and ultimately corrupting knowledge.
Saul writes “Knowledge became the currency of power… The most common characteristics of our elites are cynicism, rhetoric and the worship of both ambition and power.”
In short, the only kind of ‘knowledge’ “Golden Boy” – the god of trade, profit and commerce – is capable of giving, is a corruptive knowledge which, ultimately, is mercinary since it is not coupled with other human virtues such as Rousseauian pity or Socratic civic duty.