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A tale of two twenties

Canadian $50 and $100 bills have been made out of this polymer stuff for a while, and, as of last week, the $20 bills also made the switch. I’ve got no beef with the plastic. My beef is with the focus groups.

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By Dessa Bayrock (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 14, 2012

We live in the future. Case in point: our money is now made out of plastic.

Fine. Be a stick in the mud. It’s polymer.

Canadian $50 and $100 bills have been made out of this polymer stuff for a while, and, as of last week, the $20 bills also made the switch. Apparently it means that our dolla-dolla bills will be more secure – seems that plastic is harder to fake than paper. There are transparent windows, raised ink, and the queen’s face in mysterious places.

I’ve got no beef with the plastic. My beef is with the focus groups.

Every time the government decides Canadians need a new bill, they do up a couple of new designs and test them with focus groups to gauge the reaction. Will this new bill be loved? Does this new bill look stupid? The most Canadian requirement of all – are we offending anyone with this new bill?

Well, maybe it’s time to stop being so polite and just skip the focus group stage; from what I can tell, they’re being consistently stupid about the whole process.

Take the new $100 bills, for example, when they hit the streets in November of last year. Bank of Canada comes up with the new security features, the whole polymer angle, and the design of the bill itself. It’s not all that bad looking – you’ve got a strand of DNA, a woman looking at a microscope, and (in keeping with Canadian history) the stern face of Sir Robert Borden.

“Well, hold it right there,” whine the focus groups. “That DNA looks like a sex toy!”

. . . Sure it does, focus groups. Have you ever seen a sex toy?

I have never ever known anyone to mistake DNA for a sex toy. The only thing that comes up when you Google “DNA sex toy” is the Canadian $100 bill. Look what you did, focus groups! Now Canada is known for putting sex toys on our money. Which we didn’t even do!

But the fun doesn’t stop there. These same focus groups somehow saw a skull and cross bones on the $50 bill. (I stared at that sucker for hours and all I got was a weird sense of déjà vu that tossed me back to the unfruitful magic eye pictures of my childhood.)

Finally, we come to the brand new $20s. They are green, as they have been since the beginning of time. They still have the queen on them. Like the other polymer bills, they have a transparent window shaped like a leaf, and another one along one side like a stripe.

These are all fine and dandy things. Focus groups apparently love the queen, so no issues there.

We do, however, run into issues with the central image.

The old bill used a sculpture by Canadian artist Bill Reid, who is known for his sculptures Raven and the First Men and Spirit of Haida Gwaii. Focus groups can’t argue with that, because to argue with aboriginal art makes you a racist.

You know what they can argue with? The Vimy Ridge memorial in France.

Every Canadian student learns about Vimy Ridge in high school; it was the site of a battle in WWI where approximately 3500 Canadian soldiers lost their lives but ultimately prevailed against the Germans. To this day, 100 hectares around the site are preserved as a national park, part of which is the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Focus groups mistook it for the twin towers. Then they called it pornographic.

Honestly, I think it’s fairly obvious that it’s not the twin towers, and I’m not too sure why (a) focus group members would think Canadians would put that on their money and (b) why that would be offensive.

It’s true that there are half-naked women or possibly angels, but that’s only because that’s what the memorial actually looks like. Is the real memorial pornographic? No. It was unveiled in 1936, and nobody complained that it was pornographic then. Aren’t we supposed
to be more open and accepting of art in 2012 than 1936?

Well, here’s the moral of the story. Focus groups, you’re fired. Everyone else, welcome to the future.

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