- Life at the 49th Parallel: Media, Space, and the Liminal Perspective
The Second World is a liminal category somewhere between those countries that are fully developed and exporting their culture, and those countries that are under- or undeveloped and importing the culture of others either by choice or by force. The challenge in studying the Second World, of course, is not imposing First World perspectives and assumptions through one’s analysis. Jody Berland’s North of Empire is a collection of essays that highlights the cultural exchange across the 49th parallel, the largest border that signifies and separates the First World (the United States) and the Second World (Canada). For Berland, a professor of humanities at York University, this line is less of a threshold that one crosses than a space that one inhabits. Canada’s marginal position responds to the influence the United States commands on the world stage, and that influence is reflected in the spaces, media, and ultimately the cultural identity within Canada. The margin is an active space of contestation, not a forgotten space away from the center, as demonstrated by Berland’s definition: “A ‘margin’ is a space which is drawn into the axes of imperial economy, administration, and information but which remains ‘behind’ (to put in temporal terms) or ‘outside’ (spatially speaking) in terms of economic and political power” (77). North of Empire explores the relationship between the United [End Page 147] States and Canada, founded on the influence of the arguably troubled US empire, and demonstrates that, for Second World countries such as Canada, action and even resistance are still possible even from within the postcolonial margin (110).
North of Empire is an appropriate title as this text is framed by the “other-than” relationship Canada has with the United States and the fluid natures of space, media, and identity that arise when two cultures meet. She writes, “Each new form of media changes the configurations of space. Cultural technologies work to set the terms, possibilities, and effects of their negotiation” (136). The text’s subtitle, Essays on the Cultural Technologies of Space, seems to imply that what is at stake is the way culture-determining technologies affect and influence spaces. While this is true, Berland is making a deeper point about the liminal position that Canada holds as it straddles both its border with the United States and the cultural binaries that border invokes: Canada is both an international entity and a fortuitous colony of the United States’ media and industry (2); it is both fiercely patriotic and self-deprecatingly antipatriotic (35); it is both an active player on the world stage and yet invisible and disregarded, often by its own citizens (38). Berland highlights various cultural technologies—music, meteorology, modes of travel, and digital media, among others—and their symbiotic relationship with the Canadian imaginary. These technologies, and their potential to be reduced to binaries, reflect the conflict at the heart of Canadians’ cultural identity. That conflict is one founded on the complexity of living in the spaces between binaries—the tensions between First World and Second World designations chief among them—and Berland argues that this Second World identity is actually something to be championed, not derided, by such complications. Her use of terms such as “margin,” “dualism,” “tragic paradox,” “anxiety,” and “invisibility” sets the stage for a text that spends its time working against “‘Canadianization’: the loss of sovereignty that arises when you see the world through another country’s eyes” (2). In short, Berland’s goal with her text is to respond to this “loss of sovereignty” by recharting, remapping, and redefining the marginalization of Canadians, their media, and their spaces into an approach that is both active and empowered.
Berland’s most salient point, which she deals with throughout her text, is that power is defined by controlling the exchange of goods and information. And yet, while it is these various means of exchange and transportation that change and influence spaces, it is also the...