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They shot a movie once, in my home town, everybody was in it, from miles around, down at the speedway, some kinda Elvis thing, well I ain’t no movie star, but I can get behind anything.

The Tragically Hip

Blow at High Dough

My local newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator, ran this letter today concerning the CBC.  I imagine it also appeared in other daily papers around the country.  You may be familiar with my previous writings about the CBC and I am pleased that their own vision is similar to the one I espoused.  The article is timely, not only because of the questions surrounding Canadian content on television, but also thanks to its reiteration that Canada is not America.  With the many connections being made between our political parties and the American ones, the similarities in the economic crises, and the general erosion of our national identity, it is important to recognize the role of cultural institutions in protecting Canadian heritage in its diverse forms.  Richard Stursberg doesn’t go far enough in emphasizing that the CBC is more like the BBC than PBS.  The critics he is answering to seem to want our national broadcaster to be like the American public television service (and CBC radio to be NPR).   Whereas PBS (much like Ontario’s TVO) focuses their energy on creating and showing educational programming, the CBC is tasked with showcasing Canadian content on what Stursberg calls “the greatest popular art form in the world.”  The CBC doesn’t necessarily exist to make us smarter, but rather to give creative Canadians an opportunity to use their talents.  I will admit that many of their home grown programs don’t appeal to me, and some I haven’t seen. But if the CBC was reduced to just showing documentaries, public lectures, and symphony concerts, would it really be serving the breadth of Canada’s cultural mosaic?  Certainly not, and it would also be failing to give the majority of television viewers what they want, entertaining and high quality programming.

Stursberg notes that many of the CBC’s critics complain that their programs are made with the same narrative conventions as American shows.  I would argue that many American shows use ideas and conventions borrowed from other places in the world.  TV, like any art form is fluid.  The Group of Seven, perhaps Canada’s greatest artistic icons, were influenced by French impressionists.  Many of our great dance and musical performers utilize and are influenced by the music of other nations.  There will always be opportunities for Canadians to innovate in the plural art forms available.  For example, SCTV has been cited by numerous contemporary comedians and television writers as an influence on their work. The Christopher Chapman Expo 67 film I mentioned a few days ago pioneered the technique of using multiple moving pains, and was copied by Norm Jewison in The Thomas Crowne Affair among others.  I don’t think either of those icons of Canadian culture would be considered high brow. The former was an absurd satirical show, and the latter essentially a commercial.  Yet both influenced others around the world.  The real question we should ask the CBC, and Stursberg would likely agree, is what can we do to further enhance your core Canadian programming?

Perhaps we should ask Canada’s private broadcasters why they are so reliant on American television shows.  The answer is probably production costs and viewership.  That is why the publicly-funded mission of the CBC is even more important.  It’s true that the networks have tried and usually failed to put together decent Canadian programs, but with advances in technology and the expanding cultural milieu of the internet, there is no reason why high caliber television shows can’t come from our country.  Corner Gas is just one example, and it’s ideal because series creator, Brent Butt, acknowledges that he wanted to make a Canadian show that would be relevant anywhere.    Although there are many “teehee we’re Canadian” moments, it’s main themes and content are relevant just about everywhere.  Little Mosque on the Prairie has found similar success.  I think it’s safe to argue that the days of our best shows being Street Legal and Danger Bay are over (no offence to those classics).

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