Every year on Superbowl Sunday I like to open up a beer, plant myself down in front of the TV and continue the groove I’ve been working into the sofa for over a year. Ever so often, however, this former Canadian Lit student wonders why I feel so compelled to saturate myself with American programming? Then I counter, why can’t I just be entertained by the awesome power of the “bread and circus” of my day?
But really I can’t help but think of the implications of being in a culture that is so heavily influenced by its neighbor. Although it has happen before; remember that time Carthage got jealous of Rome?
Has any other another culture really experienced a total eclipse like being a Canadian? Will we always be that mouse tied to a very bloated and extremely erratic elephant?
That question is the one that makes Canadians so special, searching needlessly to the ends of the earth for an identity; but then stealing our neighbors style and hoping no one notices. But should it be this way in a society like Canada? Rich in culture, art and music, fluent in two official languages, can we not find our own style? Our own niche identity on television, through sports, comedy and drama? Or is it two late. Has globalization already changed us?
The real identity of Canadian culture can be hard to find on television most of the time, besides on local and national news. And the few Canadian shows like Corner Gas, reminded me of badly rehashed shows I saw in the 90’s, not very original, and in desperate need a laugh track. And although I do think it’s great Saskatchewan is represented in a show; where is the risk? Where is the pioneering original Canadian content in local broadcasting?
I think some blame must fall on the Canadian Radio television Commission (CRTC), the governmental organization whose mandate is to protect and promote Canadian culture; in recent years the CRTC has fallen asleep at the switch.
The CRTC regulates all Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications activities and enforces the rules they must abide by. Although some of their rules, are extremely controversial and have been questioned by many people as to whether the best interest of Canadian consumers is really being looked out for. The controversy surrounding Metering of the internet, and giving ISPs full power to charge obscene amounts to the public for broadband usage is a good example.
There are some good rules that the CRTC has passed, like those that pertain to Canadian content, a known as “Cancon” where 60% yearly, and at least 50% of prime-time programming must be Canadian, but most of these are fulfilled by news shows and a few are low budget shows. Very little money is directed to Canadian shows, instead, the network savings go back into the pockets of industry to buy more American shows for prime time slots.
For years the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), our public broadcaster, invested heavily in American shows also: Jeopardy and wheel of fortune have been played on the CBC for years. Maybe jeopardy, we can forgive, Alex Trebec is from Ottawa after all. How hard would it be to have a good original Canadian game show. Anyone remember Baloney on the CBC? It was a game show that took place in a deli–that sounds pretty original to me!
Recently the CRTC let the Grey cup and the entire CFL season be relegated to cable. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago. In fact at one time both major networks (CTV and CBC) shared the Grey cup, simulcasting the game, one of Canada greatest sporting events. Regardless of the continued growing popularity of football in Canada (whether NFL or CFL) the ratings for CFL football have soared in recent years on TSN. This is partially because of the desire of Canadians to have our own league, but that’s another story. What it means is more people are using broadband since people without basic cable are going online to watch games, but with broadband going up because of metering it looks like this avenue might be cut short too.
It seems more and more apparent that the CRTC has moved away from really enforcing positive innovative and creative growth in Canadian content, to being a lackey for the major networks and cable companies. The government deregulation of the television industry doesn’t help either. As more competition lead to an increase of American shows in hopes of gaining higher ratings.
Take the radio situation under the ear of the CRTC: Music played on the radio is most likely going to be music that plays stuff considered “safe” ie. The Tragically hip, Sarah McLaughlin, etc., but because of this more unknown artist are less likely to get played. For instance, a band like Broken Social scene gets massive play now, but this was only after became internationally acclaimed; why must we always judge ourselves by how other people think of us?
The CRTC should be not only enforce quantity of Canadian content, but also must increase the quality and diversity of our contenet. The CRTC should be protecting Canadian institutions and growing Canadian content for the future. Instead of just caving into BCE or CTV or Rogers or Shaw. You have to wonder when these organizations merge what this might mean for Canadian content. If the present state is of any indication, it might spell trouble for the future of Specific Cancon programming.
The Superbowl is big time for Canadian advertisers because during airing of games in Canada, the CRTC blocks American advertising. But we do so at the price of not watching something Canadian, not that you shouldn’t watch the Superbowl if you want to, but maybe some of the money paid by advertisers can go back into local funding, this would definitely increase quality. According to the CRTC: “Every year, Canadian stations buy the rights to air the Super Bowl in Canada, but they sell the commercial advertising slots to Canadian advertisers. They replace the ads that Americans see at home.” But at the same time Canadian broadcaster pay huge money for the rights to broadcast but almost nothing in developing original programing.
I am still going to enjoy The Superbowl, it is a great game, but as Canadians we should be aware of the effects of American programing in Canada. And remember, it is still possible to have our own leagues, our own shows. And it is possible to make them good. But they will need funding! We have many great stories to tell. Lets have a real organization looking out for the well-being of the Canadian public, lets help make the arts flourish in Canada on television and the internet.
Read Mike G’s reaction and commentary on the Superbowl too!