Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ryan Edwardson, Canadian Content: culture and the quest for nationhood, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Ryan Edwardson's Canadian Content examines how throughout the twentieth century Ottawa avoided, participated in, and created various Canadian federal, and federally related, cultural programs and policies which were designed to instill Canadians with a sense of nationalism, and thus, ensure that the federation was bound together as a result of more than just historical accidents, tradition, or for economic means. These cultural policies and programs did not necessarily have the same ends and were advanced by individuals with often very different ideas of what Canada was or should be. What they shared was their common use of the same cultural tools (including the arts, publishing, radio and television broadcasting, film, and the academic world) to achieve their national construct. However, as Edwardson explains, these projects of Canadianization were essential for the survival of the country during a century which saw a rise in the saturation and power of mass media, demographic shifts in the age and ethnic composition of the population, the increasingly powerful influence of American popular culture, changes in the nature and results of Quebec nationalism, and new international trade patterns and trade agreements. Yet, while typically portrayed as being self-evident, Edwardson shows how each of these conceptions of Canada were shaped and promoted  by specific individuals, each of whom had particular and personal reasons for attempting to create a specific conception of Canada and Canadian culture.

As Edwardson explains, this process of Canadianization through culture was not always an easy task. The public, politicians, cultural producers and distributors, and various levels of government have had conflicting views over just what the Canadian nation was, what is or is not part of Canadian culture, and whether the state or anyone else should attempt to intervene so as to influence what, how, when, and why cultural products are produced. Economic, personal, and ideological interests competed in each case, the reasoning behind actions taken for the sake of the nation and those which were made for particular individuals often being difficult to discern.  That Canada is a construct, created to arrange people and natural resources, is not a new idea. However, what was new in some of these programs of Canadianization was the idea of replacing traditional privilege, or even economic domination, with civic rights, as well as consciously choosing to recognize diversity and progressive ideas over an exclusionary kind of nationalism. In the 1960s and early 1970s such ideas paralleled, and found support, among the progressive countercultural movement, which strove to remake society by removing all aggression, fear, and domination, as well as the structures which perpetuated those negative elements of society. Thus, the Canadianization projects of the 1960s which strove to remake Canada into a land of equality, social prosperity, and opportunities for freedom of expression found general support.

Reminding readers that nations states, such as Canada, only began to appear in the nineteenth century. Because of their being justified by ideas of nations, such states offered opportunities for certain individuals in positions of influence to impose their visions of a country while taking firm control of the political, social, and economic powers available in that country. Often formed of disparate groups, nation states and their leaders make use of myths, symbols, and other identifiers which work to create a feeling of compatriotism amongst the citizenry, and which is usually stronger than divisions of class, social standing, or money. However, as the composition of the population, and the forces affecting that population, change, the identifiers used to bind them together as a nation must also change. Edwardson argues that the twentieth century saw three main eras, or periods of change, in the development of ideas of the Canadian nation via cultural outlets. Each of these phases of the production and dissemination of national culture by and with the country’s intelligentsia have required state intervention because, as Edwardson explains, without such intervention the media by which it was to be dispersed was predisposed to disseminating cheaper, are reliably profitable American cultural content.

The first phase was what Edwardson terms “Masseyism,” after Vincent Massey, the chair of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences. Prior to the establishment of the Massey Commission in 1949, Edwardson explains that, in addition to being a country of disparate cultural groups, located in several distinct regions with distinct histories, Canada of the early twentieth century was being heavily influenced by American cultural products which were becoming easily available via new technology. The development of cheap pulp periodicals, radio programs, and Hollywood films caused some Canadians to warn of the dangers that could result from a failure to control the amount of American culture Canadians consumed. As a young country which was increasingly gaining political and cultural independence from Britain, these nationalists believed that Canada's distinctive British -- and to a lesser extent, French -- heritage and morality could be jeopardized if the country simply allowed Canadians to be treated as an extension of the American cultural market. The educated, cultured, and enlightened nationalist elite claimed that the federal government needed to restrict the entry of American publications and films, create a national radio broadcasting regulator to control the content of the Canadian airwaves, and create means for Canadians to produce and access quality Canadian mass cultural content.

Apart from maintaining the National Gallery of Canada, which it had created in the late nineteenth century, the federal government of the early twentieth century played little role in the promotion or support of Canadian culture. Ottawa was reluctant to either, commit large amounts to fund cultural activities or institutions which many Canadians viewed as the preoccupations of the elite, or choose which cultural activities were worthy enough to be given federal funding. However, the nationalists were able to convince the federal government that it should exercise some control over the broadcast industry, a business sector which could be used very effectively to influence public views. Establishing the Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting in 1928, Ottawa followed the commission's recommendations in 1932 by creating the Canadian Broadcasting Commission, which was transformed into the CBC in 1936. After the election of 1930 the Bennett government placed restrictions on the sale of American magazines by imposing a tariff on advertisement-dense American publications, which in turn benefitted more content heavy Canadian publications. Ottawa also created the National Film Board in 1939 to make industrial, informational, and documentary films which could potentially compete with American films.

While these government measures were aimed at curbing the influence of American cultural products, nationalists, and the growing number of professional Canadian artists and professional artistic bodies, were unable to convince the federal government to increase its direct funding to Canadian artists. However, with the end of the Second World War and the federal government allocating new monies to various reconstruction and projects, the threat of the growing popularity of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and its social and cultural policies, as well as a need to properly justify the country's protectionist mass media interventionist policies, cultural nationalists were able to convince the Liberal government to establish a Royal Commission on the National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences in 1949. Reporting in 1951, the Massey Commission, as it came to be known, provided a forum for like-minded cultural nationalists to argue for the federal government to offer funding to support a wide-range of cultural activities. It also advocated for the creation of an arm's length arts council to award grants and services to the arts, the Canada Council for the Arts established in 1957.

Yet, the kind of arts to be funded by the Canada Council and advocated by the commissioners, as well as by many of those who presented submissions to the Massey Commission, were not the popular arts, or folk handicrafts of many Canadians. Rather, the commission advocated increasing Canadians' exposure to formal arts. This elitist agenda was not readily embraced by many Canadians who, benefitting from the post-war economic boon, were content to consume the popular American mass entertainment that was easily available to them in the form of television, films, novels, and music. Available to Canadian cultural retailers at lower prices than Canadian content, it was in the interest of many Canadian merchants and distributors to lobby Ottawa not to interfere in such a prosperous market.

However, some cultural industries took advantage of the Masseyite agenda for civilizing the country by arguing that a mix of free-enterprise and government intervention would both produce Canadian content and financially profit the country. In 1959 private television broadcasters successfully lobbied the federal government to determine their own programming, without the oversight of the CBC, and thus allowing them to show more American content. In exchange, the broadcasters agreed to produce and show specific quotas of Canadian content. The station owners argued that the quota system would ensure the production of Canadian material.

In the film industry, Ottawa rejected the call of the Association of Motion Picture Producers and Laboratories of Canada in 1959 for Ottawa to impose a quota system on the film industry and to end the NFB's monopoly on producing films for the federal government. Unable to impose a film quota, Ottawa did create the Canadian Film Development Corporation in 1967 to assist in the production of Canadian films.

The calls of the publishing industry for some form of government control over the entry of American material into the Canadian market were backed by the 1961 report of the Royal Commission on Publications. The government agreed with their calls for tax breaks for advertisers who purchased domestic advertizing in domestic magazines. However, when the relevant legislation was passed in 1964, the two largest American periodicals (Time and Reader's Digest) were exempted as a result of American pressure regarding the soon-to-be-ratified Auto Pact, as well as Canadian desire to appease its largest trading partner following years of hostility between the Diefenbaker and Kennedy administrations.

While these cultural policies of the 1960s did assist in limiting the amount of American content to which Canadians were exposed, many Canadian cultural producers were still frustrated that their work was still not being supported and/or distributed by media companies which were more interested in screening, broadcasting, or printing as much imported material as possible. Such frustration would help lead a new nationalist movement in the 1960s that shared many of the same opinions concerning the ruling social, economic, and political elites held by the new, ideological popular culture and its calls for the end to all forms of oppression. As the counter culture movement called for an end to social, political, and economic structures and standards which helped to maintain the domination of various national and international groups over others, new cultural commentators of the 1960s began calling for Canadians to reclaim their national sovereignty from external influences through the production and consumption of domestic cultural products. Along with the university/youth activists who were willing to protest American imperialism in Canada and around the world, the new nationalists attempted to voice concern over, not only the large amount of American cultural products to which Canadians were exposed, but the large amount of American investment which had entered Canada, especially since the end of the war. The new nationalists wished to reclaim Canada as a socialist-leaning, multicultural, country of equality. This program did not match the older Masseyite conception of Canada being a country of two "races" with British structural foundations, nor did it match that of the Liberal party's continentalist project, designed to attract American investment.

This new nationalism of the 1960s was fed by the independent-minded/patriotic sentiments created by the 1967 Canadian Centennial celebrations, the international countercultural movement, and a growing number of Canadian nationalist minded academics and intellectuals, many of whom were warning that the federal government's Continentalist- minded policies  were causing Canada to lose  economic, political, and cultural sovereignty. These new nationalists were protectionist and independent-minded. They wanted to reclaim their country and build something that was more progressive and inclusive than had existed before. Faced with the threat of Quebec nationalism, the growing  non-British and non-French immigrant population, and pressure from the socialist leaning   New Democratic Party, the minority Liberal government  of Lester B. Pearson responded by not only increasing  the country's safety social net, but began to introduce policies and programs which would  result in Canada  lessening  the emphasis placed upon its British heritage. These changes were only reinforced with the election of Pierre Trudeau in 1968. Under the Trudeau government there was a shift from ethnic to civic nationalism which was seen most strikingly with the 1971 declaration that Canada was an officially multicultural country, an announcement which abandoned the findings of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism  that most Canadians were essentially defined by being either French or English (the distinction between language and familial heritage often being blurred). This traditional view of a bicultural Canada had been shared by the Massey-ites, who had wished Canadian cultural production to celebrate and protect these distinctive  characteristics of the cultures of the two founding "races". In addition, to members of the New Democratic Party and left-leaning elements of the Liberal Party ( who eventually formed the core of the Trudeau government), some of the more  prominent new nationalists included the economist Walter Gordon,  Melville Watkins, Abraham Rotstein, James Laxer, Jack  McClelland, Mel Hurtig,  Peter C. Newman, Margaret Atwood, and Robin Mathews.

While they themselves were often the products of traditional cultural institutions, these new nationalists argued that Canada's cultural sovereignty could only be protected by freeing cultural production from elite domination, particularly the Anglo-centric elite. Only in this way could Canadians create unique cultural products  to be consumed by Canadians, and which would differentiate Canadians from the culturally hegemonic United States. What was important was no longer exposing Canadians to  elite culture, but exposing them to, and allowing them to create, cultural  products  with which they could identify, and  thus, reflected their particular situation as Canadians living in Canada.

The new nationalists recognized that, in order to have access to Canadian cultural productions, the cultural broadcast, production, and distribution industry would need to be forced to provide the population with access to books, films, and broadcasts which were likely to offer less revenue than imported cultural products.  Although some quotas on Canadian cultural content did exist, the new nationalists held that such quotas needed to be both increased and expanded to include the whole range of cultural industries, including radio, television, film, publishing, theater, music, museums, and galleries. This expansion of Canadian content regulations would not only expose more Canadians to Canadian cultural productions, but, it was hoped, would also increase their interest in, and desire to consume, Canadian cultural products. The end result of this exposure was to be a stronger, independent, and culturally confident Canadian society.

The new Trudeau government of 1968 was keenly aware of the potential of using its federal funding and regulatory powers to meet the demands of many of the cultural nationalists, and in turn, potentially stabilize the country.  The Trudeau Liberals had taken advantage of the new nationalist sentiment in the country, as well as its close association with the country’s demographically significant young population, to win the election of 1968. Once in power, the Liberals recognized that the support of distinctively Canadian cultural activities could be used to counter the threat of Quebec separatism, and could also be used to help integrate Canada's growing non-English and non-French population into the country's existing social, political, and economic situation. However to promote such cultural activities required the increased regulation  and funding of cultural production,  changes to the states relationship with its cultural industry that would become the focus of critics of Trudeau's governments for decades to come. This change in the federal government's relationship with Canada's cultural production industry marks the third phase in Edwardson's history of  Ottawa's relationship with Canadian culture. While seemingly designed to promote the ideas of the new nationalists of the 1960s, what Edwardson terms as “cultural industrialism” was and alteration to how success in cultural production was measured. Whereas the new nationalists focused upon increasing Canadians interest in cultural products produced by fellow Canadians, and thus in cultural products that in some way reflected their own lives rather than the lives of foreigners whom Canadians were being encouraged to emulate, cultural industrialism attempted to measure the strength of Canadian nationhood through the productive and economic success of Canadian cultural industries. The result, as Edwardson argues, is a situation where the quantity and not the quality of cultural content is the measure of success, and where whole industries have been created and sustained by government subsidies that are based upon  how much cultural content of a particular kind is produced and not upon whether that content actually benefits Canadians' understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

In order to implement Canada's first comprehensive cultural policies, the Trudeau government took advantage of the existing federal cultural institutions which had been established during the previous phases of the federal government's involvement with Canadian culture. The Canadian broadcasting Corporation, the National Film Board of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canadian Film Development Corporation, and several other  cultural institutions    and organizations were martialed  by the office of the Secretary of State to  increase the production and dissemination of Canadian cultural content. This new approach to supporting Canadian culture, as outlined in the federal government's 1968 Arts and Cultural Policy, was aimed at strengthening Canadian federalism. Where possible, Ottawa imposed quotas on the amount of Canadian content cultural bodies had to produce, and in areas where it lacked jurisdiction the federal government created and subsidized  new cultural institutions and programs which would accomplish the desired cultural production goals.

Most Canadians who wished the federal government to play a leading role in cultural development enthusiastically supported these measures, as did the growing number of people working in Canada's cultural industries. However, in order to encourage those within Canada's cultural industries to continue producing distinctly Canadian content, or at least content which qualified under the federal government's criteria as being Canadian enough, Canadian culture was being commodified and produced only if it was profitable with or without government assistance. Although the calls of the new nationalists for an independent Canadian cultural movement declined during the 1970s with the introduction of government policies that appeared to fulfill their demands, the way in which Canadian cultural products were being produced did not meet their original demands for supporting Canadian cultural productions that reflected the life and culture of Canadians. By having the federal government decide what did and did not qualify as Canadian content, a strategy which had been designed to increase and encourage Canadian cultural production, Ottawa was dictating what was Canadian cultural content, and thus who Canadians were supposed to be. Yet, the national and international success of the institutions, organizations, and companies that benefited from the government's cultural production support, only led the civil servants and politicians directing the programs and policies to believe that they had been successful. Furthermore, given the national and international success  and profitability of the kinds of Canadian cultural productions which Ottawa had encouraged since the late 1960s,  by the 1980s the federal government  began reducing the amount of support it gave to  creating Canadian cultural production  opportunities and began encouraging private investment in the creation of Canadian cultural content. This reduction in federal funding was especially noticeable with the ascendancy of Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government in 1984. Thus, while the demands of the new nationalists to increase Canadian cultural content had been, and were continuing to be, fulfilled, the cultural products that were being produced were only being created if they were both profitable and considered to be acceptable Canadian content by federal regulators, cultural production companies/organizations, and their private funders. As Edwardson argues in the introduction to his book, while the federal government  could point to high levels of employment, investment, and profitability in Canada's cultural production sector as evidence of the vibrancy of Canadian culture, "industrial activity cannot be equated with culture, a national sense of self, or even opportunities for domestic expression...."  While government intervention had initially been justified to counter  profitable imported cultural influences, by the 1980s the federal government believed that federal funding could be redirected from public cultural institutions if those institutions or other organizations can profitably produce content which officially qualifies as "Canadian."

Although Edwardson’s book does focus upon the participation of the federal government in Canadian cultural production since the 1940s, Edwardson is clear in his assertion that the new nationalists of the 1960s and 1970s had called for what he seems to describe as cultural policies which were truly designed to benefit Canadians socially. In the introduction to the text he refers to these nationalists as “activists” who, along with other activists of the period fought to have their government take steps which “led to significant gains in confronting environmental exploitation, altering capital accumulation with a goal of wider social prosperity, and ensuring opportunities for expression that offered little or no profit to the distributor but much to the public in terms of social good.” However, because of how success was measured, as well as a rationale that successful projects did not require direct funding, the opportunities for Canadians to create and consume less popular forms of cultural products decreased. While initiated in response to the calls of the new nationalists, the existing federal cultural support programs are not supporting the development of Canadian culture in the manner the new nationalist activists had hoped for. 

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