Thursday, June 24, 2010
Echo chambers and missed opportunities
It’s comfortable there in our unchallenged world. Boring, maybe, but comfortable. And when we’re confronted with someone who doesn’t share our ideas and values, someone who belittles our own point of view, we instantly change our minds. Right? Or, wait, maybe I mean the opposite of that.
I didn’t mean to bring this up during the Dyscultured podcast, or ever again, but I did, so I’ll expand on my thoughts a little and try to make them more coherent …
The Canadian cultural community missed a huge opportunity to educate the public last week, and they did so in the most predictable way possible – the way a shit TV show would have scripted it, ensuring the audience would tune out at the 5 minute mark.
When Alberta Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett asked “why do I fund so much shit” at the Banff World Television Festival, the angry responses turned it into an us versus them, conservative versus liberal, black hats versus white hats diatribe, instead of an answer to the question that didn’t vilify the question. And it’s a question a lot of people I know -- even in my little liberal, Canadian TV community echo chamber -- privately wonder.
Sure, the man could have chosen his words more carefully, and he should know the answers to the somewhat rhetorical question he was asking, but he represents a constituency who do not all know the intricacies of Canadian cultural industries. Most people do not know the intricacies of Canadian cultural industries, including those of us who tend to go on about them. Most Canadians, if they’d been trapped in that room at the festival, would have been wondering the same thing.
Why DO we fund so much shit in this country? The only people to challenge the premise misunderstood or distorted the premise – that was the focus of the initial media stories and infuriated reactions. But he didn’t say all our television is shit. Just that there’s so much shit.
And good lord is there a lot of it. I don’t just mean in Canada – look to the US, the Hollywood hit machine, and calculate the percentage of good to shit shows, if you can count that high. So … why? It’s a fair question, ignoring the politics of the speaker. The panel, in fact, took a stab at answering it, both before and after the Minister asked it.
There are general reasons that cross national boundaries: most of everything is shit. It takes a lot of practice, a broad training ground, and hit-and-miss luck to create the gems. Specifically in Canada, we have a smaller industry with less funding and more competition from near-bottomless pockets of the Americans, fewer opportunities to work, and a broadcasting system that has far more incentive to buy American hits than to produce their own.
I don’t give a shit about Lindsay Blackett or his politics. I don’t want to defend him. But outrage was the perfect response to ensure that no one who wondered the same thing would listen to the answer. And there is an answer, an answer that might have listeners if we could only turn it into a conversation instead of a fight.
But the debate today is in the same place it was a week ago, the same place it was five years ago, when I first started going to the festival, and probably in the same place it was decades ago: those who think Canadian TV needs defending were outraged, and those who think Canadian TV needs explaining believe they poked the sore spot.
EDIT: Need an example of what I think a good response is? Check out Rob Sheridan's "yeah, we make a lot of shit ..." guest post at Dead Things on Sticks.