Of Mounties and Gay Marriage: Canadian Television, American Fans, and the Virtual Heterotopia – Rhiannon Bury

Rhiannon Bury argues examines the American fans of the Canadian television series, Due South (Paul Haggis, 1994-1998), via Militant RayK Separatists (MRKS), an electronic mailing list. Bury suggests that the MRKS is a heterotopic space, based on idealised notions of nationality.

In the last few years, the term cyberspace, coined by cyberpunk author William Gibson (1984), has become part of our cultural lexicon. Whether synchronous or asynchonous, computer-mediated communication is frequently imagined as taking place in a particular location. In logging into the popular role-playing MUD (Multi-User Domain) LambdaMOO, for example, one “arrives” in “the living room” via a screen with a paragraph describing this room. The Palace, a graphical Internet chat, displays a variety of rooms that one enters for the purpose of interaction with others. While newsgroups and mailing lists do not come with “prefabricated” locations, they are nonetheless imagined in spatial terms. Howard Rheingold (1993), for example, talks about the neighbourhood pubs, coffee shops and salons he “frequents” in reference to his experiences as a participant of the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), a San Francisco-based bulletin board service (BBS) in its pre-Internet days.

In stating that cyberspace is imagined, though, I am not suggesting that it is any less “real” than physical space. To quote Doreen Massey (1994), “all social relations, exist necessarily in space (i.e. in a locational relation to other social phenomena) and across space. And it is the vast complexity of the interlocking and articulating nets of social relations which is social space. Given that conceptualization of space, a ‘place’ is formed out of the particular set of social relations which interact at a particular location” (p. 12). Thus, all space needs to be understood as being discursively produced through interaction and not just as a location in which interaction takes place.

At its broadest, this paper is an exploration of the space produced through online interaction by media fans. In 2002, I spent four months conducting an ethnographic study online with the Militant RayK Separatists (MRKS), an electronic mailing list made up primarily of female fans of the Canadian television series, Due South (Paul Haggis, 1994-1998). It starred Paul Gross in the role of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Constable Benton Fraser on assignment in Chicago. In the first two seasons, his partner was Chicago PD Detective Ray Vecchio (David Marciano). In the final season (shown as two seasons in Canada), it was Detective Stanley Ray Kowalski (Callum Keith Rennie). Not only are the MRKS members fans of the “second Ray” (RayK) but they are American fans whose fondness of the show and its actors extended to the nation which produced it.[1] I will present data samples from MRKS discussions on Canadian identity and culture to demonstrate the production of a quaint, white but gay-positive Canada. MRKS, following Foucault, can be considered a virtual heterotopia.

A Case of Reverse Media Flow

American media culture unquestionably dominates world markets. In the 1980s, the United States accounted for 75 per cent of all exports of television programming yet only imported two per cent, the lowest of any country (Martin 1997). US borders in the context of media flow thus function like “open door” exits deployed on some subway systems: they expedite the passage of large numbers of people out of the system but slam shut and sound a loud alarm if anyone tries to enter—only the very fleet of foot stand a chance of slipping through. Barker (1999) adds that 80 per cent of the American exports go to seven countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. Of those, Canada is by far the largest importer and consumer. Simpson (2003), citing a report made to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), claims that while American programming comprises 43 per cent of the total broadcast in Britain and 56 per cent in France, it is almost 75 per cent in Canada. The main reason for this situation is that the large American networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) are permitted to broadcast directly into Canadian homes from their border affiliates.

This unilateral media flow effectively enables the expansion and reproduction of American space beyond its borders. If the media, as Kellner (1995) argues, has become “a primary vehicle for distribution and dissemination of culture” (p. 35), then fears of cultural imperialism or colonization in Canada and around the world are justifiable. Barker (1999), however, argues against the notion of a global monoculture (American culture) in favour of hybridization. Rather than seeing local cultures and meanings erased or overwritten by the “consumption” of imported programming, it is better to see them as overlaid, allowing for disjuncture not just similarity. Barker also speaks of reverse flow, although “trickle” might be a more apt term. As such a case, Due South served to disrupt normative spatial relations, enabling Americans to identity with Canada through the character of Constable Benton Fraser. He is regularly seen on duty in the full uniform dress of red serge or at the very least with his wide-brimmed RCMP-issue hat on head or in hand. “Thank you kindly” is his motto, a phrase he offers up several times an episode, even to the Chicago officer who issues him a parking ticket. While a “do-gooder” and a “goody goody,” Fraser is also well read, even on matters of American history, well spoken, loyal, and not as naive as he appears to be. Unlike his partners, he never uses a gun despite being an expert marksman and often uses his skills of tracking, smelling and tasting, learned at a young age growing up in the “Great White North,” to solve crimes and otherwise save the day. The appeal of such an identity is suggested in an interview with Paul Gross: “Americans are really worried and scared right now about crime—they think the US is falling apart” (Lock 1996). Moreover, many Americans do support gun control despite their constitutional “right” to bear arms, say “please” and “thank you” and do not agree that supporting invasions of foreign countries is an act of patriotism. The quaint, polite Canada of Due South, quite understandably, presents a desirable alternative.

as Virtual Heterotopia

Foucault defines the heterotopia as “something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopias in which the real sites… are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted” (1986, p. 24). He makes the case that the heterotopia is marked by difference and deviation from the norm. Hetherington (1997) reworks Foucault’s notion, calling it “a practice that challenges the functional ordering of space while refusing to become part of that order” (p. 46). “Heterotopia,” he goes on to say, “organize a bit of the social world in a way different to that which surrounds them. That alternative ordering marks them out as Other and allows them to be seen as an example of an alternate way of doing things” (p. viii).

MRKS needs to be understood as heterotopic because it is produced from within the American offices and homes of its members and within the vast terrain of cyberspace organized around American media culture. The alt.tv section of the Usenet, for example, contains 333 newsgroups.[2] Of those, only a few are based on non-American series, e.g. alt.tv.due-south and alt.tv.absolutely-fabulous. Moreover, most of the participants are likely to be American if the membership of MRKS is any indication—only two out of 35 were Canadian and one was British. As with whiteness and middle class-ness in cyberspace, an American nationality is the unmarked norm. In this sense, MRKS could be understood as reinforcing the colonization by cyberspace by American nationals. Yet, through discussion of Canadian symbols, current events, and culture (books, television, film and music), the participants effectively produced a heterotopic Canadian space.

The Canadian Test

One means through which nations authorize citizenship to those born outside its borders is testing various aspects of history, geography, economy, government, emblems etc. National identity is thus assumed to be based in part on a collective knowledge. In this sample, the MRKS participants took a “Canadian-ness Test” discovered by Drucilla on the web.[3] Below a large Canadian flag “flying” in the virtual breeze are 18 multiple-choice questions about stereotypical Canadian politeness (apologizing “for things that are not your fault”), sporting and beverage preferences (American vs Canadian beer, NFL vs CFL [4]), pronunciation (“about” vs “aboot”), word choices (“pop” vs “soda”), and even perceptions of Canadians abroad (“If you were in a foreign country, would people dislike you if they saw your national flag sewn on your backpack?”). The final question even suggests that Canadians are more environmentally conscious than Americans (The environment “should be taken advantage of commercially” vs “It should be protected, and saved so its beauty can be always admired”).

As with the last question, the “correct” Canadian answers are often obvious by their implied positive value. This was acknowledged by Drucilla, who exclaimed, “Hey, I can’t even get above 61% Canadian unless I *lie* on the test. ;-D (But I can get up to 83% if I lie!)”. The “results” were also questioned by Marguerita who announced a score of 94% even though she claimed to be only half Canadian. Although the results were not taken seriously, the desirability of Canadian identity was illustrated by expressions of admiration for high scores and disappointment over low ones. Drucilla, for example, replied to Marguerita, “Wow, she said admiringly. ;-D” and Leah, who also had a near perfect score, boasted, “94% baby.” On the other end of the scale, Lisa confessed, “Heck, I can’t even get the test to load, what kind of rejection is that?” Donna sympathized and emphasized, “Oh, no! And I thought 44% was bad. Good thing I like hockey and Canadian beer.” Donna also teased Leah that she must have cheated, “Oh, come on. You can’t make me believe you call a hat a toque.” Leah’s retort further confirmed her Canadian “heritage”:


The “hat” that they showed was a toque. Because a hat is a piece of headgear that has a full brim. And a cap has either a bill or no brim. And a toque is what you wear in the winter time, unless it’s a stocking cap or a dead animal. My father, who lived in BC for 17 years, is very fussy about his sartorial semantics.


Penelope joined the thread, linking the test results to Due South with her extension of Leah’s list of winter headgear: “Or what*ever* the hell that was Ray was wearing in [‘Call of the Wild’].”

National Costume of Canada

Let me begin by stating that there is no national costume of Canada. However, the way in which one was imagined by a Miss Universe beauty pageant contestant and the reaction to it by MRKS participants reveals the differing ways in which Canadian identity is understood. As with the Canadian test, a link was sent to the list to the photo of Neelam Verma, Miss Canada 2002, wearing the “national costume” on the Miss Universe website. Ms Verma, a young woman of South Asian origin, is wearing a gold lamé bikini layered with bright orange tulle with yellow and green accents. The top has a back piece that rises six inches or so above her shoulders and she is wearing a tall head piece (10-12 inches?) adorned with the same fabrics. The general reaction was incredulity as indicated by the capitalized subject header “WHAT th’…???” (OT), obviously an abbreviated “what the hell” or even “what the fuck.” What is interesting is that participants not only saw it as ridiculous but un-Canadian on several counts:


From: Donna
Yeah, I see people from Canada wearing stuff like that all the time, don’t you ever go to the Mall Of America and people-watch? And ain’t that Hudson Bay in the background??
From: Drucilla
Hmm…the costume designer seems to have gotten Canada confused with one of those other places that starts with a “C”… like Costa Rica.
From: Deirdre
WTF’s she supposed to be? A Thanksgiving centerpiece???
From: Jeanne
>It’s, like…a secret code, K.
>CA-rme-N mi-A-n-DA
Darn…where are the dumb-post beta readers when you need them. That would be: CA-rme-N mir-A-n-DA, of course.
From: Vivian
Yeah, of course, K. Where were you when the memo went out? I’ve ordered mine in an extra-large. Somehow I don’t think it’ll look the same. Can’t wait to see Fraser in this.
From: Penelope
Aha! After much thought, I have figured it out – this is the costume of the traditional Autumnal Equinox Festival, where the celebrants are first dipped in maple syrup (Grade A, of course), and then rolled in a large pile of maple leaves that have been ceremoniously, uh, raked.


Donna’s first comment implied that the Canadian costume would be something subtle that would not distinguish the wearer in an American space. Of course Fraser’s “costume” of red serge certainly marks him out, but in a way that is recognizably “Canadian.” In imagining Fraser in the outfit, Vivian also distinguished the legitimate RCMP dress uniform, which with no context could also be read as camp and outlandish, from this illegitimate and illegible costume. Drucilla extended the drag scenario, joking that he would wear it in a dance competition with Ray. Vivian’s reply described Ray’s getup: “And Ray will be in a matching orange polyester leisure suit. With a lemon-yellow ruffled shirt. Open at the neck. With an Italian horn pendant nestled in his almost non-existent chest hair. And orange-tipped spikey hair.” Her closing comment “’Scuse me. I think I’m gonna barf” affirms the illegitimacy of the scenario.

Donna’s second comment reaffirmed Canada as “Great White North” with her reference to the beach in the background of the photo as the shores of Hudson’s Bay. Furthermore, the colours of the costume were singled out by Deirdre and Penelope as problematic. The national colours of Canada are red and white, but bright orange is prominent in South Asian culture. As Due South did not mobilize the myth of the multicultural mosaic, in which a national identity permits traces of the “other” to remain with hyphenation (Indo-Canadian in the case of Ms Verma), these participants had only familiar symbols of autumn, maple syrup, and Thanksgiving, celebrated in both countries but at different times, to make sense of the dress. Indeed Ms Verma’s ethnicity combined with the style of the costume and the head piece in particular is misread as Latin American. Drucilla makes a reference to Costa Rica and Jeanne to the Brazilian-born entertainer who become a fixture of 1940s American popular culture with her exotic outfits and fruit-laden hats. Yet, despite the mockery, Miss Canada’s campy “un-Canadian” costume was seen as superior to the American contestant’s by this member:


From: Libra
The “national costume” of the American entrant is a firefighter’s outfit.
I’m disgusted….
L. (guessing that she could only wear one plea for a sympathy vote at a time and so went for the Bravest instead of the Finest uniform).


Thus, the space produced by the MRKS members through the above exchange was heterotopic in that it refused to embrace the symbolism of post-911 American identity. However, the Canada they produced would appear to be one represented by red serge and white faces.

Extra. Extra. Read All About It

In addition to discussion of national symbols and characteristics, some MRKS participants made an effort to keep up with current events in Canada. Jeanne, for example, mentioned subscribing to the e-newsletter produced by the Canadian Consulate in her home state—the kind of service aimed at ex-pats living abroad. Others, Drucilla in particular, sometimes forwarded newspaper articles found on various online sources, including www.canoe.ca, www.canada.com and the sites of large newspapers like the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail. Estraven, who had visited the three northern territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut), forwarded stories from the Northern New Services Limited (NNSL). While I have no data on the types and numbers of stories read and with what frequency, the stories forwarded and discussed on MRKS, were generally those that extended the primary text by reproducing a quaint, white Canada. One article greeted with amusement was found on an American news source. Entitled, “When Croquet Goes Bad Canadians Wield Mallets,” it tells the story of a brawl that erupted between a croquet team and a softball team in a Calgary, Alberta park. Several players were arrested and some taken to hospital to treat injuries sustained from blows from the wooden croquet mallets.

The humour is of course based on the violations of the myth of polite peaceful Canadians, yet it is the choice of “weapon” that makes the perpetrators quaintly Canadian. Had the violence involved baseball bats, the story never would have been published. Drucilla also forwarded a story about the town of Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, authorizing a RMCP officer to “patrol” the streets in dress uniform five hours a day during the summer tourist season. Donna quipped, “Hey, I’d photograph the guy. I might even run down the street to do it.<g> Of course, I photograph *everything*.” Drucilla replied, “I think it would help a lot if he was cute—do you suppose they’ll have to submit a portfolio before volunteering? ;-D”

The only serious stories to be relayed to the list were those with an intertextual relation to Due South.


From: Drucilla
You know, if they ever did decide to do a dS movie or something of that ilk, not that they would, of course, but if they did, something like this could provide a backdrop. In fact, there even appears to be a little nod to dS in the text of the article.


The article that she describes is of a post-September 11 “security” consideration to have New York Police Department detectives posted in Toronto. The DS “nod” is mention of the officers as not involving guard duty at the US Consulate, one of Benton Fraser’s duties as Liaison Officer with the Canadian Consulate in Chicago. On its own, this deployment of American police officers could well be interpreted as a violation of Canadian sovereignty. Within MRKs space, context, however, it becomes a new opportunity for the Americans to learn from and learn to appreciate their skilled, though eccentric, Canadian counterparts, as Ray Vecchio and Ray Kowalski did with Benton Fraser.

While MRKS participants did not challenge the unmarked whiteness of Canadian identity, they advocated for a queer and gay positive Canada. Drucilla forwarded a story from www.canoe.ca on the passage of a piece of legislation giving same-sex couples in Quebec the right to adopt children. Her subject header was “Yet another reason to move to Canada.” When a similar law ran into trouble in the Yukon territorial legislature, Estraven forwarded the story from NNSL. Members reacted with outrage to comments by a dissenting member:


“We are putting these children in a situation where they can be an orphan early,” said North Slave MLA Leon Lafferty. Lafferty said he had medical documentation that showed gay men typically have lifespans 20 years shorter than heterosexual men, and wanted to know if the government had any plans to protect adopted children from diseases like AIDS. Lafferty did not produce any documentation to support his assertions (Full rights expected for same sex couples 2002).
From: Leah
I’m sorry, but file this under “shit I don’t need bringing me down.” It’s bad enough, okay? It’s bad enough. I don’t need to get furious about yet another way bigots are trying to keep people from living their lives. “Won’t someone think of the children?” Up yours, you fucking homophobic prick.
Okay. I’m done. I’m going to return to my hot lemonade and think of Brett Hull ’til the urge to kill passes.


I also replied, describing a similar homophobic reaction to the decision of the Vancouver Anglican diocese to bless same-sex unions (not marriages). Estraven added that the article demonstrated that “there were goofballs even in Canada” as if she had higher expectations. Two days later, she forwarded the follow-up NNSL story that the amendment had passed. Several members expressed pleasure and relief. This response is not surprising in light of their investments in nonnormative identities. As noted, the MRKS members are readers and writers of slash fiction which pairs Benton Fraser with RayK romantically and sexually. Moreover, about half the respondents identified as bisexual or queer women. As such, it should come as little surprise that they wanted and indeed expected their Canada to be tolerant of and inclusive to gays, lesbians, bi’s and queers.

Seeking Canadian Culture, High and Low

The imbrication of culture and identity is underpinned by the mission statement of the Federal Department of Canadian Heritage. Its “strategic objectives towards a more cohesive and creative Canada” are fourfold, three of which are directly applicable to policies grouped under its Arts and Culture section:


Canadian Content: Promoting the creation, dissemination and preservation of diverse Canadian cultural works, stories and symbols reflective of our past and expressive of our values and aspirations.
Cultural Participation and Engagement: Fostering access to and participation in Canada’s cultural life.
Connections: Fostering and strengthening connections among Canadians and deepening understanding across diverse communities. (Department of Canadian Heritage 2002)


If Canadian identity is linked to cultural heritage, it is fair to say that significant numbers of Canadians are “failed” citizens, rarely taking or getting the opportunity to watch Canadian television, see Canadian films or art, attend Canadian theatre, or read Canadian books. MRKS participants, on the other hand, demonstrated extensive knowledge and experience of various forms of Canadian culture, and in the context of Heritage’s goals at least, are model Canadians.

Not surprisingly, discussion threads with direct intertextual links to Due South were the most numerous. Of these, the most prevalent were on the subject of films and television series starring or featuring Canadian-born and Canadian-based actor Callum Keith Rennie (RayK)[5]. One Canadian feature that came up on several occasions was Flower and Garnet (Keith Behrman, 2002) in which Rennie plays a father of two children still coping with the death of his wife. In this first post, Alain (mistakenly) referred to it as a made for TV movie, having learned about it on an online segment of Movie Television, a entertainment-cultural affairs program broadcast on CITYtv, a small Toronto-based network, once independent and now owned by CHUM Communications:


A nice short promo with [Canadian radio and television personality] Terry Mulligan interviewing our boy. Even on my horribly slow dialup connection, he looks and sounds delicious. Callum, that is. Not Terry. 😉 I don’t know when this film will be aired. Has anyone heard? This is one I’m really looking forward to.


No one was able to answer her for over a month when Drucilla found a description from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) website. The next day, Alain forwarded an excerpt on the film from an article on TIFF from www.canada.com. As the opening dates of both the Vancouver and Toronto film festivals approached, Canadian press coverage increased and Drucilla was able to forward three more links providing information on both the film and the festivals:


As long as I’m on the topic of film festivals, I thought I’d pass along this link to the F&G page for TIFF.…If you happen to be in Toronto two weeks from now you can catch it Sunday, September 08 at 07:00 PM (CUMBERLAND 2), or on Tuesday, September 10 03:00 PM (UPTOWN 2).


A regular TIFF attendee in the past, I explained that none of them would be getting tickets to these screenings at this late date even if they decided to make the trip: “To get the shows one wants is akin to planning a military assault.”

Indeed seeing this film or any of the actor’s other Canadian features was difficult to impossible for MRKS participants. The distribution and run of Flower and Garnet was typical of a “high brow” Canadian film. After making the rounds of the film festivals, it only showed at “art house” movie complexes in major cities. In Toronto, it ran for two, perhaps three weeks in the spring of 2003. I finally rented it on DVD from a speciality store in early 2004. It has never been shown in the US. Of the other films brought up in list discussion, only two, Last Night (Don McKellar, 1998) and Hard Core Logo (Bruce McDonald, 1996) had US releases. As a result, announcements of DVD release dates and/or sites from which to purchase DVDs were common. Alain, for example, passed on information about the release of a DVD (Region 3) and VCD (Asia) of Suspicious River (Lynne Stopkewich, 2000), a film that had received a lot of “buzz” on the festival circuit because of the critical acclaim and reasonable box office of the director’s first feature, Kissed (1996) but had fizzled even in Canada:


If you want to try it, I found mine at http://us.yesasia.co (North American customers). They also have an international site, http://global.yesasia.com. As I am apparently of a suspicious nature, and I have never heard of a VCD until now, I am paralyzed with indecision. <G> My DVD player will apparently play one, though. Does anyone have any info to add?


No one at that time in May 2002 had anything to add. In July, Drucilla announced, “SR is now out in Canada on DVD. I just got my copy in the mail today from AB Sound in Vancouver. I imagine HMV also has it. Haven’t watched it yet, but I *have* it. :-)” A member not part of the project added a few more details. Given that I, a self-described Canadian film buff, had yet to see it as while Drucilla already owned it on DVD, I jokingly nominated her for “honorary Canadian citizenship.” I also commented on her choice to buy from the Vancouver-based A&B Sound: “they’re independent *and* Canadian rather than just another multinational with a Canadian division.” The internet technology that enabled MRKS to become a site of Canadian media cultural consumption also enabled its members to virtually shop in Canada.

In addition to Canadian features, MRKS members also reported on sources and view dates for Rennie’s appearances in Canadian television series (eg Bliss) as well as his supporting roles in American films and television (eg Dead Zone). The following sample illustrates another Canadian/American “reversal”:


From: Alain
Callum is starring in a thriller entitled THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT. It started filming in Vancouver, B. C., Canada, on June 3, 2002 and is due to wrap on July 31, 2002. The film also stars Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Ethan Suplee, William Lee Scott and Elden Henson.…
A few weeks ago, Dan Savage (“Savage Love”) remarked that his sexual fantasies involve coming all over Ashton Kutcher’s face, so my mental image of A.K. is a bit squicky. I think he’s a teen idol of some sort. I have absolutely no idea who anyone else is.


For Alain and others, the star is Rennie—Kutcher is a “no name” teen idol only recognizable as the sexual fantasy of the syndicated advice columnist. The irony of this reversal has intensified with the release of the film in early 2004 accompanied by a typical Hollywood marketing campaign. Even after seeing the trailer, I had no idea Rennie was in the film until I reread Alain’s post when writing this article. The Internet Movie Database lists Rennie as 15th in the cast overview.[6]

Finally, the Canadian cultural landscape of MRKS was produced by an intertextual chain only loosely related to Due South thematically. At the heart of several threads was Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Paul Apak Angilirq, 2001) produced directed, written and acted by Inuit peoples. It had received international acclaim, winning numerous awards, including the Camera d’or at Cannes for best first feature in 2001. Here is an except from one thread:


From: Estraven
I was trying to explain to a co-worker why I could not wait for July 12th, when Atanarjuat opens in Albuquerque. He said I should try to see what I could find on an early 70’s film called “The Idea of North” by Canadian artist Glenn Gould…Found it, a radio broadcast, musical piece first performed 12/28/1967.…
On the way I found a newly published book, “Canada and the Idea of North” by Sherrill E. Grace, which looks very good featured in the catalogue of books in the McGill-Queen for Arctic and Northern Studies. I want one of everything in this list. http://www.mqup.mcgill.ca/arctic.html
From: Deirdre
Speaking of Glenn Gould…our pal Don McKellar co-wrote the acclaimed “Thirty-two Short Films about Glenn Gould” (directed by Francois Girard, who also co-wrote and directed “The Red Violin” with McKellar.)And Val, yeah, you especially since you’ve *been* there — are just gonna love Atanarjuat.

The intertextual chain led from Fast Runner to a composition and performance by Glenn Gould to a film about Glenn Gould starring Don McKellar directed by Francois Girard to The Red Violin (1998), also starring McKellar and directed by Girard. A second chain led to series of academic books by an esteemed Canadian university press. The boundaries of MRKS thus extended beyond Canadian popular culture.

Estraven started another thread by forwarding two articles about the difficulties facing filmmakers in the territory of Nunavut. The first mentions Igloolik Isuma Productions, the company who made The Fast Runner, and the second John Houston, a producer trying to make an film with an Inuit cast called Snow Walker[7] Drucilla extended the chain, speculating that “this John Houston must be the son of James Houston, who wrote Confessions of an Igloo Dweller, and who helped create the Inuit folk arts movement.” Together, these last two samples produce a detailed topography of the Canadian cultural landscape.


Based on the discussion of the data samples above, I argue that the space produced by the Militant RayK Separatists is heterotopic because rather than expand the American frontier, it produced a virtual Canada, based on a desire for a nation that is distinct from and indeed superior to their homeland. Their Canada, drawing on the tropes of Canadian identity on offer in Due South, is thus imagined as a land of beer, hockey and toques where the good folks pronounce some words oddly and care about the land and nature. It is safe space, patrolled by unarmed Mounties in red serge. Violence is rare and that which does occur involves assault with a croquet mallet. It is also a space that values and includes Native people, unlike the US where policies of extermination prevailed through to the 19th century. Only the homophobic attitudes expressed by a few Territorial politicians were met with resistance and disapproval. Yet it is also important to keep in mind that this queer, quaint Canada is also white rather than multicultural, the “national” costume worn by the beauty pageant contestant misread as “exotic other.”

In light of the above, it is important not to confuse the heterotopia with utopia. Indeed Foucault (1986) warns us that “utopias are sites that have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the real space of society. They present society in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down, but in any case these utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces” (p. 24). Whether physical or virtual, heterotopic sites cannot be expected to be idealized, alternative spaces. In the case of MRKS, the normative national identity of online media fandom, and indeed, cyberspace as a whole, is refused while the normative racial identity—whiteness—is retained. Ten years ago, when Information and Communications Technologies were beginning to permeate the public consciousness, it was assumed that all virtual spaces were the brave new alternatives. Things did not turn out that way. Dominant patterns of media flow and American cultural imperialism replicated themselves in the realm of the virtual through the predominance of cyberspaces dedicated to American media culture. Yet given the uncertainty and instability of text interpretation, and the hybridity and fragmentation of culture in the age of global media, the formation of fan-produced heterotopia like MRKS, which disrupt normative social and spatial relations to some degree, are still key sites of resistance.



[1] The MRKS members were also readers and writers of slash fiction, that is, a genre of fanfiction in which male or female characters are rewritten as having a sexual and emotional relationship. The slash is a reference to the typographical symbol used to signify the same-sex pairing: eg Fraser/RayK.

[2] . This number is based on a search of the Usenet groups listed on Google in June 2004.

[3] The link to the “Canadian-ness Test” is no longer active. It is archived at <http://web.archive.org/web/20020205113753/http://absolutek.com/canadiantest/>. Accessed March 10, 2004. Results from taking the test, however, cannot be accessed.

[4] “CFL” stands for Canadian Football League.

[5]The fact that there are more threads on Rennie than Paul Gross had less to do with a preference for the actor and more to do with the amount of new information about screenings and DVD releases of films and tv series starring or featuring the latter during the data collection period. Men with Brooms (Gross, 2002), a film in which he not only starred but directed, had already completed a highly successful run in Canada but was not yet out on DVD. Gross also does far less Canadian television or film work and no longer acts in American productions.

[6] Casting information on The Butterfly Effect can be accessed at < http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0289879/>. Accessed March 31, 2004.

[7] The film was released in Canada at the time of writing in March 2004. I checked a number of online sources but found no mention of John Houston’s name.


Works Cited

Barker, Chris. 1999. Television, globalization and cultural identities. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Department of Canadian Heritage. 2004. Mission and strategic objectives. Government of Canada 2002 [cited March 10 2004]. Available from http://www.pch.gc.ca/pc-ch/org/mission/tex_e.cfm.

Foucault, Michel. 1986. Of other spaces. diacritics 16 (1):22-27.

Full rights expected for same sex couples 2002. Northern News Services Limited 2002 [cited June 20 2002]. Available from http://www.nnsl.com.

Gibson, William. 1984. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.

Hetherington, Kevin. 1997. The badlands of modernity: Heterotopia and social ordering. New York: Routledge.

Kellner, Douglas. 1995. Media culture: Cultural studies, identity and politics between the modern and the postmodern. New York: Routledge.

Lock, Kate. 2004. Canada’s hottest export. BBC Worldwide Ltd. 1996 [cited March 2 2004]. Available from http://www.ahiddenplace.co.uk/klockwords/bibliography.

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Author Biography

Rhiannon Bury is an Assistant Professor and Acting Director of the Women’s Studies Programme at the University of Waterloo in Canada. She has published a number of articles based on her research on internet media fandom. Her book, Cyberspaces of Their Own: An Ethnographic Investigation of Fandoms and Femininities, will be published by Peter Lang Publishing Inc. in 2005.