Friday, October 17, 2014

"Culture of Celebrity"

I might have mentioned recently a kerfuffle over the financial difficulties being experienced by the Conservatoire du Quebec. Rumors that it might be forced to close were met with a huge public reaction. Here is the meat of the Globe and Mail's account:
the fracas du conservatoire brought a swift denouement for those seen to have provoked it. Nicolas Desjardins and Jean-Pierre Bastien, the Conservatoire’s director-general and president, respectively, both submitted their resignations this week over the affair.
Bastien had been on the job for less than four months, and was appointed by the same minister – David – who happily bid him adieu. His faux pas was to sign a board report – still not made public – that recommended school closings.
The savior, reacting to the public protest, is likely to be Quebec's culture minister Hélène David. The Conservatoire, with schools in a number of cities across the province, is such an integral part of the cultural life of Quebec, that this doesn't surprise me. But the reason I even mention the story is one interesting phrase, repeated in the article. This phrase is "culture of celebrity" and I think that the reason it is there is to frame the narrative according to the cultural prejudices of the Globe and Mail editors, all based in Toronto. To a Torontonian, the whole idea of the Quebec Conservatoire is vaguely absurd: why make such a fuss about a trivial little music school? The reason?
while Quebeckers have a fatalistic attitude toward corruption, they are passionately devoted to the culture of celebrity
For many Canadians, conservatories have a mild, apple-pie allure as places where children can spend their Saturday mornings learning to play Clair de lune. In Quebec, however, a crop of star musicians has forged a powerful link in the public mind between piano lessons in Rimouski and Quebec’s cultural prowess in the world.
Outside of Quebec, Canada very much resembles a "land without music" where culture is, while tolerated, certainly not encouraged! So the narrative is cleverly framed as Quebec's (unhealthy) attraction to celebrity. That's what a famous and accomplished classical musician is to the folks in Toronto: just another celebrity. Conservatories are worthy places where ten year olds learn how to play Clair de lune. Wow, could they be more dismissive?

Keep this in mind as you read the newspaper: virtually every story, certainly every one connected with politics or culture, contains a narrative frame that serves to tell the reader how to think about the story. The frame and, indeed, the facts presented within that frame, are all designed to further the desired narrative. Desired by whom? By the ruling caste of intellectuals. The thing is, in Quebec, that ruling caste tends to be supportive of the arts while in the rest of Canada they are regarded as being largely superfluous having merely a "mild, apple-pie allure".

The musical envoi to this post is pretty obvious:

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