Sex in the Snow: Deference Is Dead in Distinctly Canada

By Adams, Michael | Canadian Speeches, July-August 1997 | Go to article overview

Sex in the Snow: Deference Is Dead in Distinctly Canada


Adams, Michael, Canadian Speeches


President, Environics Research Group

Autonomy, hedonism and a spiritual quest for meaning are at the core of a social revolution that has transformed Canada in the last quarter century. Our traditional deference to authority is dead, but the values that we hold are distinctly Canadian and remarkably non-American. Speech to the International Association of Business Communicators, Toronto, March 25.

As some of you may be aware, I recently published a book on the evolution of social values in Canada, titled Sex in the Snow. It is not an autobiography -- it is a metaphor. For some of us, a metaphor is as close as we get to the real thing these days. Moreover, I didn't bring any graphic photos today, so you'll have to use your imagination.

A friend of mine recently did a search on the Internet and found another entry for "Sex in the Snow." It's a cocktail with the following ingredients: shooter, 1/2 measure Triple Sec, Malibu and Ouzo. I kind of like the idea of a cocktail, although being a child of the 1960s I might aspire to something slightly more potent, you know, more along the lines of an intellectual Molotov cocktail to stir things up a bit.

The snow represents what is most enduring in Canadian values: our unassuming civility, our tradition of non-violence, and our dedication to social justice and "the level playing field." The sex represents the hedonism and demand for autonomy that distinguishes the recent evolution of social values in this country.

Understanding your audience and how to motivate it has never been a simple task. But today, trends in contemporary society expressed in changing psychographics make it more important than ever to avoid marketing simply on the basis of demographics, or just as naively, assuming that Canadians are simply Americans without the citizenship.

We are living at a time when history and geography are compressed, and what was once a sedentary society respecting borders -- both geographical and demographic -- has become nomadic. The pace of change seems to be permanently stuck on "fast forward" and there is a new sense of the interconnectedness of people and events around the world. Due to advances in communication technologies, nomads are no longer only those who actually move from place to place, but also those who travel virtually, creating networks, projects and communities with people they have never met, who live in places they may never visit.

Well-documented "demographic" changes have often been eclipsed by even more significant "psychographic" changes, and affluence, education, travel, media, globalization and new communications and information technology have allowed Canadians to transcend traditional demographic categories to define and redefine themselves in new ways.

As I see it, autonomy, hedonism and a spiritual quest for meaning describe a constellation of trends that are among the most significant in Canada today. The stereotype of Canadians as respectful and reserved, and not very imaginative, has never been less true. During the past quarter century, Canada has been transformed by a social revolution, not the Marxist revolution my classmates hoped for in the late 1960s, but a more or less peaceful revolution in the structure of authority in our society. The status associated with once-cherished institutions such as churches, legislative bodies and professional elites has gone into steep decline. Established authority has had its legitimacy questioned in every sphere.

How did this happen? To give a summary of what were, in fact, complex social forces, I like to start with Time magazine's April 1966 cover story which posed the provocative question, "Is God Dead?" Of course, Nietzsche and others covered this story a century ago, and the philosophical question of God's mortality is really a more fit subject for theologians and philosophers than pollsters. However, the sociological meaning of religious retreat, especially in Canada, is one that 25 years of polling research inspired me to address in my book Sex in the Snow. …

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