Team Spirit: A Field Guide to Roots Culture
R. Matt Bray is a professor of history at Laurentian University and the
co-editor of At the End of the Shift: Mines and Single-Industry Towns in
Historians are forever warning their students about the problems of bias
in the writing of history, advising them to search out information about
the author of a historical work, to learn why it was written and what
underlying agendas may be in play. Geoff (Mondo Canuck) Pevere’s Team
Spirit provides an excellent case study.
Pevere claims that this “attempt to study Roots in a cultural
context” is not “an official or authorized Roots product”; but the
text of his glossy, high-quality paperback suggests that the admitted
“cooperation of the company” must have been close indeed. The tone
is set in Chapter 1, in which the author attempts to cloak Roots, the
clothing manufacturer, in Canadian garb by juxtaposing (and
metaphorically linking) the red-and-white flag-waving anti-separatist
rally in Montreal in October 1995 with the red-and-white Roots-clad
Canadian contingent at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
“If Roots had dressed the anti-referendum forces in Montreal, the
‘No’ vote might have been less a squeaker than a slaughter,” he
writes, with not a little hyperbole.
The historical acculturation and “Canadianization” of Roots,
founded in 1973 by Don Green and Michael Budman (“both ex-Detroiters
with draft deferments and therefore in the unusual position, for
draft-age American males, of being in Canada by choice”), proceeds
apace throughout the book in such cleverly titled chapters as “Heart
of Parkness,” “The Algonquin-Tamakwa Connection” (an affirmation
of Green and Budman’s northern environmentalist credentials), “Over
the Counter Culture Roots, Rock, Retail” (which attests to the
company’s alternative establishment character), and “Pump Up the
Volume: Roots Sweats the Eighties” (Roots, the fitness craze, and the
boomer culture of the Yuppie years). Frankly, the countercultural
correctness of it all gets to be a bit much, especially when Roots’s
essentially capitalistic nature and purpose is kept in mind.
Explaining what Team Spirit is not is easier than identifying what it
is. As promised, it is not a business history (although that aspect of
the story appears to be a fascinating one that would be well worth
pursuing) and it is not a biography of the owners. It is a colorful,
impressively illustrated presentation of Roots products in various
settings accompanied by a pop culture text that is not convincing and,
one suspects, does not do justice to the subject.