Adam Sneed is a senior associate editor at CityLab, focusing on city life and culture. He was previously a technology reporter at Politico and a researcher at Future Tense, a project of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.
His “Morning Again” ad shows the error of using a generic skyline shot, but this kind of thing happens all the time.
Hey, America, guess what: It’s morning again. Good morning! If that fills you with hope and love of country, that’s great. But if you’re running for president and that’s your message, you might want to make sure the “morning” you’re depicting is actually, you know, in America.
Yes, we’re looking at you, Marco Rubio. The Republican presidential hopeful put out a campaign ad over the weekend that opens with a peaceful scene of a harbor at dawn, a skyline in the background, and a baritone voice telling us, yes, “It’s morning again in America.” That harbor, though? That skyline? That’s morning in Canada.
“It’s unmistakably Vancouver,” The Vancouver Sun writes, pointing out city landmarks in the ad that include the Harbour Centre, with its signature observation deck, and the cranes at Port Metro Vancouver. An eagle-eyed writer at the Sun noticed that it looks like the tugboat is even flying a Canadian flag.
Whoever pulled that clip for the Rubio campaign had one job. Considering how many skylines there are across the United States—even if you factor out the liberal ones like New York or San Francisco that a Republican can’t associate with these days—there’s no shortage of qualified options out there.
Still, somehow, this kind of skyline illiteracy happens a lot. Last year, for instance, hat-maker New Era confused Jacksonville residents when it printed a skyline on the official NFL draft cap that looked more like Miami. The Ironman race messed up some medals in New York last year, immortalizing Rochester’s skyline on the awards for an event in Syracuse. In 2014, a candidate running for mayor of Long Beach, California, featured a beautiful shot of San Diego on a campaign flyer.
What gives? Each incident could have its own unique explanations, and people make mistakes. Rubio’s case in particular suffers from the “generic skyline” problem. To the unfamiliar observer, that scene from the Vancouver harbor could be just about anywhere and isn’t worth a second thought. But wherever a city’s skyline is meant to stand in for any old city (or country, for that matter), some viewers will invariably recognize that place because they live there, or grew up there, or just happen to know it well.
If anyone knows how that goes, it’s Canadians. For years, Toronto and Vancouver have been Hollywood favorites as visual stand-ins for U.S. cities, sometimes (but not always) with careful editing to remove Vancouver’s mountains or Toronto’s CN tower. If you know what the city landmarks look like, you start to see them everywhere on screen.
Canadian film critic Brian D. Johnson wrote about this in Maclean’s in a 2012 review of The Vow:
The movie is punctuated by postcard vistas of the real Chicago, but whenever the actors are in the shot, Toronto backdrops shatter the illusion, at least for anyone who knows the city. …
[A]fter so many years, the routine casting of Toronto and Vancouver for American burgs has become irksome, especially now that these cities have more personality and profile of their own.
Marco Rubio probably isn’t too concerned about offending Canadians right now, and maybe, as a mistake, it’s less insulting than scenes that erase the skyline’s identity on purpose. In any event, the mix-up isn't a total loss. Thanks to the basic facts of geography, when it’s morning in Canada, it’s morning in America, too.