Appropriate This: Is It Time For The Cultural Industry To Pay Its Own Way?
Last weekend I was at a book talk with Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise (about the decline in expertise, education and learning). In the process of the session, the moderator, an official with the Literary Review of Canada, tried to explain the issue of appropriation to him.
She was scathing about those who don’t buy into the concept of art being specific to race. As an American, Tom seemed a little bewildered by the idea that white people can’t write in the voice of black or Asian or indigenous people. He doesn’t understand that we don’t have the free speech in Canada, at least not the kind that he enjoys in the U.S.
For proof that free speech is a myth in Canada, we need only look at the a trail of people who’ve been fired or forced to quit when they took the wrong position on the cultural appropriation issue— an issue enthusiastically embraced by government and its broadcasting arm, the CBC. And enforced with ruthless intimidation by the government-funded arts community.
One of those people given the heave-ho at CBC was National Post columnist Barbara Kay, who lost her panelist gig on CBC Radio’s Because The Newsfor not being onside with liberal guilt over indigenous issues and artistic expression. She’d published a positive review of the work of Frances Widdowson, who disputes the assertion that residential schools had absolutely no merit. And she’d done an interview on that subject with Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media.
She had never expressed any of these opinions on CBC, by the way. But it didn’t stop her from falling afoul of the progressive klatch that has taken over CBC management. Her firing came after her son, Jonathan, had ran afoul of the same issue as editor of The Walrus.
When Kay was let go, she was told that her comments were considered unacceptable by all levels of officialdom in the CBC bubble. So she was out after 18 months as a regular guest. (An extant member of the panel was able to make a joke this week about Melania Trump saying her husband was impotent, but that’s apparently fair game with the current CBC hierarchy.)
For an organization that long prided itself on balance, CBC has lately lost its taste for balance on indigenous issues, climate, Donald Trump and CBC’s survival post-Peter Mansbridge. This is in keeping with our prime minister, whose sunny ways don’t allow contrary messages about native poverty, climate change, Trump and CBC either. With the draconian “hate speech” laws in its pocket, the government enforces the line on correct thought— or else.
While its coverage of Trudeau’s election never reached the risible stage, the idea that CBC could objectively cover one candidate (Trudeau), who wanted to restore CBC’s budget, while another (Harper) who wanted to reduce that budget, beggared the imagination.
In the broader sense, try to find anyone in the publicly funded arts/ media establishment willing to buck the status quo. It’s hard to see how thought crimes fall into the CBC Charter or the Canada Council’s rules. But that’s where we are today. Canada’s idea of free speech is an abstraction.
American conservative columnist George Will has made a compelling case for defunding PBS, the American public broadcaster (http://www.ohio.com/editorial/george-f-will-hundreds-of-channels-and-still-pbs-1.771729). In brief, he says that it’s TV for elites, it is left-wing, it was designed for a 13-channel universe and that others in the private side can do the same job and win the loyalty of viewers.
These arguments apply to the current CBC. There is a healthy market for its progressive tosh and its radio network. Given proper leadership, the news division might rebound, too. So sell it. Some Canadians— mostly in large urban markets and remote settlements— have a sentimental attachment to the old war horse. But not enough to justify billions of public dollars.
The same argument can be made for the arts community, funded almost exclusively by governments, that is jamming appropriation down the public gullet at the moment. At one point it made sense to help someone other than Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray make a living by singing. That argument is null in today’s world where hundreds of Canadians make their living in music.
Likewise, the ballet and opera (I enjoyed two terrific seasons working with the COC and NAC) are elite entertainments that amuse the powerful and wealthy but almost no one else. Publishers (I’ve had several excellent ones and several awful ones) are also welfare bums. With self publishing now a reality, who needs government mandarins to decide what sells and what stays in the drawer?
I do not say this lightly. I receive a cheque each year from the Canada Council for the borrowing of my books in libraries. I have many friends and some family in the arts field. The years I spent at Tarragon Theatre, COC or the National Theatre School were irreplaceable.
But market forces and the bent toward state-approved expression have made the arts community irrelevant in many instances. Before we have Stalinist art and music, let the market decide who gets to sing and dance and publish. And let CBC live a long life where it belongs— in the private sector.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)