The topic has most definitely been discussed ad nauseam, but it still remains one of our defining complexes as a people.

Quebecers have a hard time understanding what makes minority different from inferiority. Here’s what Joe Tremblay had to say about the subject:

“If I understand the question, minority and inferiority are pretty much the same thing, right? You’re either the boss or the employee, the anvil or the hammer. But it’s true there are less bosses than employees. Maybe I didn’t quite get the question.”

It’s extremely rare for Joe not to be able to answer a question. (I have over 120 hours of recorded conversations with eight different Joes that can attest to that.) This instance truly is an exception.

Quebecers are in constant need of an ego boost. Les Histoires du Canada en images (A Visual History of Canada) insisted on explaining in a variety of ways how the defeat on the Plains of Abraham was not our fault. There was the King of France, Voltaire and those bloodthirsty Iroquois. We’ve been telling ourselves it’s not our fault since 1763. If only we’d been there…1763 is a pivotal year when it comes to our Heartstrings and our history.

The Inferiority Complex Heartstring resonates deep within us.

It reaches in and tugs at our insides, the very place where Gilles Vigneault draws his inspiration to create the characters in his songs.

Super-Consumerism (Heartstring 13) is a way for us to boost our self-esteem. We’re the biggest consumers of ego-boosting products, the more expensive the better.

Even though Quebecers hold the record for most work strikes in North America (and are a very close second to Italy globally) and have less disposable income than Ontario workers, they spend more money on food than any other Canadians. As popular Quebec recording artist Tex Lecor sang, “As long as there’s somethin’ in the fridge…”

This complex has a major impact on our Sensuality (Heartstring 34). People who visited New France quickly noticed our lavish tastes and extravagant behaviour. Canadian marketers know we have a soft spot for all things rich and sweet. In fact, we consume 35% of the country’s sweet treats.

According to the latest statistics, 67% of Quebecers are obese. Our population is already living large in the heart of consumerism country and really knows how to sustain an Inferiority Complex: Dominion nous fait bien manger (Dominion feeds us well).

On top of being hypochondriacs and always looking for ways of boosting their self-esteem, Quebecers are the biggest consumers of a variety of pharmaceutical products, including liver salts, aspirin, laxatives and tonics. Because when you continually overfeed a complex, you have to know how to treat it.

Heartburn tends to make us grouchy and wimpy.

Graffiti on a Harlem wall said Power to the muscle. And one in Chicoutimi said Le poing sur la gueule (A punch in the face). The Chicoutimi graffiti artist wasn’t joking, as this local story indicates:

“Having just arrived from France, a pharmaceutical rep (we’re very big consumers of French pills and perfumes) rented a car in Montreal to drive to Chicoutimi in order to scope out the market. According to a local newspaper, his trip ended in a three-week stay in the hospital after he decided to catch up to a trucker who cut him off to give him a tongue-lashing. In Quebec, insults often lead to bloodshed.”

In direct response to this Heartstring, Marc Laurendeau wrote a 240-page book called Les Québécois violents in which he discusses how useful and profitable violence can be and how it’s making a comeback.

The Quebec film Tit-Coq and the book Un Simple Soldat also suffer from excess courage. Quebecers make good soldiers because they always keep their crossbows loaded and take to their fists at the slightest provocation. There may be more soldiers from the rest of Canada in military parades, but when it comes to individual heroics, Quebecers are second to none. Just talk to the guys from the 22nd Regiment.

Another violent crowd that fascinates me is black boxers. It’s as if they’ve all earned their sociology degree! Muhammad Ali pushed back racial boundaries in front of 20 million viewers when he yelled, “I’m handsome, I’m quick, I’m rich and I hit like a ton of bricks. If there’s a white man out there like me, let him show himself for everyone to see.” Sports commentator Howard Cossel, Ali’s white frontman, nodded in agreement from under his bad hairpiece.

Less vocal and more reserved, challenger Ken Norton (whose many accomplishments include dislocating Ali’s jaw) once said the following on television:

“My fight is in my head. I don’t really fight for me. I do it for my family and my race. It’s my way of telling my people not to give up because if blacks give up now, things will get even worse than they were before 1960. I can’t explain how things would be, but it would be as bad as when you get knocked down and you see shadows that look like the devil. We can’t get knocked down. The shadows running around want to take everything from you: your wife, your house, even your manhood.”

According to a US Department of Commerce study conducted in 1969, “The first generation of black millionaires will emerge in 1980.” Their fortunes will have been made in insurance sales, car sales, gas stations, nightclubs and restaurants, construction subcontracting, trucking, grocery wholesale and retail, as well as farming.

These are the same types of ventures that enabled French Canadians to start making real money (excluding liberal professions that were historically off limits to blacks), service companies and small businesses working for the multinationals with strangleholds on the automobile and trucking industries.

Robert Charlebois, who we really should consider one of our most forward-thinking sociologists, was dead on when he came up with “I’m a frog.” It’s our very own version of “Black is beautiful!” As soon as he sang those words, we all felt less froggy, less Pepsi, less pea soup. Starting in 1720, the Creoles of Canada (as Father Charlevoix used to call us) finally started loving themselves a little more.

It’s also when we decided to leave the umbrella in the coatroom, said Marcel Rioux, referring to the old habit Quebec businessmen had of trying to look like English Canadian businessmen, going so far as to walk along St-Jacques Street with an umbrella under their arm.

BCP used Heartstring 7 – as well as a dozen others – when we developed the ego-boosting campaign Lui, y connaît ça (This guy really knows his stuff). They had tried the same strategy a few years before when launching Kébec beer but it failed because the campaign focused somewhere between our complex and our consumer tendencies. End result: Kébec beer became the Edsel of Quebec marketing.

Communicators are always risking big when they try to stroke the Quebecer ego. This Heartstring resonates deeply, but you have to pluck it just right in order to avoid disaster.

And that’s what analysts have been warning us about since 1960. Consider Marcel Rioux and his analysis of the rapid changes happening in Quebec in Minorities and Politics. “They ceased to consider themselves as a minority group within Canada,” he wrote, “and began to think of themselves as a majority in Quebec and to behave accordingly.”

Sociologist Thérese Sévigny asked, “Where will the scale balance between inferiority and superiority? Somewhere between the two complexes? No one in Quebec seems to have found their own place yet.”

“We have to realize that being a Quebecer implies living dangerously,” said Marcel Rioux.

© 2022 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.