The policy tools that have protected and nurtured Canada’s cultural industries since the 1970s are unknown to transnational distributors of foreign content – that would be Google, YouTube and Netflix – while Canadian consumers are increasingly sidestepping the domestic distributors who, whether by inclination or by regulation, produce Canadian content.Anything bother you about that? Canada is, of course, strongly influenced by being America's hat, as it were. A thinly-populated nation of a very similar ethnic and cultural background smack dab up against the most powerful nation in the world has to feel a bit defensive about its identity and culture. Canada is a cobbled-together entity, made up of those scraps of the British Empire left over after the American Revolution. A wonderful place, despite all that, but one that has always been rather unsure of who it was, exactly. Not American (shudder), not British (shudder twice), but without the rough-and-ready individuality of, say, Australia.
So, back in the 70s, it was decided that Canada's "cultural industries", meaning Canadian television, movie-makers and music producers mostly, had to be protected from US competition lest all we have to watch turns out to be re-runs of Law and Order. No! A stand must be taken, at taxpayer expense, to defend uh, great Canadian television shows like, uh, help me out here? Perhaps the Canadian movie industry which, apart from some Quebec movies seems to be largely American products shot in Vancouver like the X-Files and Battlestar Galactica? No? Great Canadian musicians like Bruce Cockburn, Alanis Morissette and Leonard Cohen? Well, frankly, I doubt they need money from the Canadian taxpayer any more than Celine Dion does.
So what I think we are actually talking about is subsidies to the cultural industries, not the artists, but the middlemen, happily standing in line for their handouts from the public trough. And this is supposed to be a public good? Could someone slap me please?
The article, by Kate Taylor, describes the nuts and bolts of what she calls a crisis:
What this means, simply, is that individuals in Canada are purchasing those cultural artifacts that they choose to and that the Internet has made available to them. If they prefer to subscribe to HBO so they can watch Game of Thrones instead of a second rate cop show set in Vancouver (itself an imitation of a US model) then this poses a terrible problem for Canadian Culture, which must be controlled, manipulated and force-fed to the populace by the Powers That Be, meaning cultural czars in Toronto. What is being left out of this accounting is those dollars, big American dollars, that are being spent by Americans to purchase Canadian cultural products. Not much in the way of television or movies, mind you, but quite a substantial amount of Canadian music. Leonard Cohen fills big halls the world over so all that revenue should be counted as accruing to Canada. Celine Dion has sold 200 million records that need to be added in.Netflix is taking an estimated $445-million a year in subscription fees out of Canada; YouTube is taking an estimated $22.5-million in annual advertising revenue out of Canada; iTunes and Google Play are taking $50-million in annual music sales out of Canada. And half of the estimated $432-million in ad revenues that the newspaper and magazine industries are losing every year to digital platforms is also leaving Canada.
So, in reality, there is no crisis whatsoever, except in the pocketbooks of those cultural middlemen that have gotten used to living off the fat of the taxpayer while delivering nothing but bland, forgettable cultural "products" that Canadians have had forced on them. This is a particularly revealing excerpt from the article:
What’s to be done? There are practical steps that could be taken – you could ask Internet service providers to start contributing to the Canada Media Fund just as cable and satellite providers do – but since there is often public hostility to and misunderstanding of such measures, it might be a good idea to lay a bit of philosophical groundwork first. Why can’t we just leave Canadian producers to compete in an international marketplace? Why do we need Canadian content in the first place?Ah yes, that public hostility that needs to be managed! Let's have a look at that "philosophical groundwork." There is not much there, but this comes the closest:
...in a world where narratives and images are as powerful as money and guns, a successful society does not import every single cultural good that it consumes; that a creative society is one that creates things.Let me be the devil's advocate for a minute here and say that narratives and images are NOT as powerful as money and guns. The Second World War was not won by the side with the coolest narrative and niftiest images--the Nazis obviously had the grooviest uniforms--but by the side with the most B24 bombers and aircraft carriers. Sure, a creative society is one that creates things, which is just the tautology that a creative society is creative. Sadly, Canada, apart from pop music, isn't very creative. To be quite honest, you have never heard of any Canadian television shows because they are feeble and boring imitations of American television shows, only existing because they are propped up with taxpayer subsidies. You have likely never seen a Canadian movie for the same reason (as opposed to an American movie shot in Canada). You have heard of quite a few Canadian pop musicians because they are creative and popular enough to sell around the world. They don't need any subsidies. And if Canadian television and movies were any good, neither would they.
The bottom line is that, basking in the prosperity of unearned public subsidies, the Canadian cultural industries have been cranking out crap for decades.
Any culture in Canada that is truly a public good will be sought out and purchased by the public because they see it as good. It is a simple enough concept. But that is an unacceptable answer to the Canadian Powers That Be because it offers, in the immortal words of blogger Glenn Reynolds, "insufficient opportunities for graft." Taxing citizens to give subsidies to people to produce television shows and movies that they do not want to watch is nothing more than graft.
Now I know you are asking yourself, "could Canadian television really be as bad as he says?" I offer in evidence an episode from a show deemed one of the Top 10 Canadian TV Shows: Mantracker:
After that we really need some Canadian music to clear the palate. Here is my favorite Canadian popular musician, Leonard Cohen:
It is pretty clear to me that the more you support and nurture the pseudo-creativity of "cultural industries" the more you ignore, if not actually discourage, real creativity. Case in point: Canada.
UPDATE: This has sparked a bit of discussion in the comments, so let me add a parting thought. What is deeply troubling to me about the Canadian approach to culture and the arts is that all of the agency is given to government. The "policy tools that have protected and nurtured Canada’s cultural industries since the 1970s" are all activities of government. Government has a very iffy history in this area, usually declining rather quickly into propaganda rather than culture. Analyzing how this works in Canada would be best discussed in another post (after a lot of research). One thing I am pretty sure of is that creativity in the arts and culture always, ALWAYS, comes from the individual mind. It is not something that can be protected and nurtured by government policy. Governments can offer patronage and some of this can be good. Support for orchestras and opera probably depends on this. But if we look at history we see that most patronage comes from a few influential individuals: French aristocrats, Russian noblemen, wealthy Viennese. Sometimes the Church or a municipality like Venice or Florence. But in those cases as well, I suspect that a few influential individuals were behind it.
If you want to support the arts, it is very simple: commission artists and composers and arrange for the works to be disseminated. How do you choose who to pick? Ah, that would depend on aesthetics!