Canadian Identity Essay, Research Paper
The definition of culture, as will be referred to in this paper, is: The sum total of the attainments and behaviour patterns of any specific period or people. The culture of a nation is representative of its national identity. As a nation s identity is closely tied to its cultural vibrancy, it therefore stands that mass cultural pursuits are indicative of nations. The most pervasive cultural pursuit is that of television viewing. An analysis of the viewing habits of a nation will reflect that nation s identity. This paper will highlight the influence of television in the daily lives of Canadians. In doing so, it will focus upon trends in television viewing and programming. Attention will be placed upon the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and its role in Canadian television. Additionally, the future of television in Canada will be addressed. Next to sleeping and eating, the average Canadian child will spend more time watching television than any other single activity, as much as five times more time watching television than doing homework. Television sets are surfacing in malls, bars, airports, restaurants, and a myriad of other nonprivate places. The spread of television into public places may be seen as an aspect of the larger trend toward mobile and personal communications, a part of society s development into the information society (Krotz 6). In the good old days, the television family was perfect, antiseptic, and nuclear (typified by Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or The Waltons). The television family then progressed to shows featuring single-parent families or other permutations into nontraditional families (such as Alice and Murphy Brown). The final progression has been towards outright dysfunctional families (Roseanne and Married . . . With Children). Home and family is the most common theme or aspect of life presented in network dramatic television, appearing in 85% of programs (Morgan 50). Given the number of shows centered around the family , there leaves a great deal of variation in how they are portrayed. There is little physical violence in situation comedies and family dramas, though family comedies tend to exhibit high levels of verbal abuse. Situation comedies are often overly-represented by single-parent families. Additionally, such families, on television, tend to be led by men. It is noted that although 22% of the television families were headed by single men, the real-world figure figure for 1990 was just 3.1% (Morgan 51). Many single-parent families (Murphy Brown, The Nanny) are portrayed as having all the support they need, including having hired help. The irony is that such protrayals may lessen public support for initiatives that may help single parents that are truly in need. Mass media does not necessarily just reflect prevailing tastes and values, but it has the potential to affect change. Cultivation analysis leads us to believe that television contributes to viewers beliefs and values based on television s depiction of the critical characterisitcs of life and the world (Kang 152). In this view, the family, as shown on television, is hastening the deterioration of the real-life nuclear family. Michael Morgan agrees with Jong G. Kang in that: Cultivation analysis . . . assumes that media exposure patterns and belief structures are related in dynamic and reciprocal (ie. bidirectional) ways (Morgan 49). Television viewing preferences were also found to be predictive of values orientations. For most participants, in a study of the relationship between television viewing and the values orientations of Japanese students, television programming was more influential than demographic variables (Kang 158). It must be noted, however, that it cannot be concluded whether television led towards certain attitudes, or whether certain attitudes led towards viewing habits. Either way, an analysis of a nation s viewing habits will be indicitive of that nation s character. By a large margin, the top-two Canadian series on CBC English Television were both political satires; Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes (CBC/Radio-Canada 31). This shows that Canadians are well informed about Canadian issues and that Canada is able to produce high quality television that is of interest to all regions of Canada. Does it have to be on the CBC to be Canadian? There are many shows, current and past, where Canadian-born actors and actresses have held either starring or co-starring roles, to name a few: Dan Aykroyd, Michael J. Fox, Matthew Perry, William Shatner, Jim Carrey, Norm MacDonald, Leslie Nielsen, Neve Campbell, and Pamela Anderson. Behind the scenes, Canadians are involved in producing, directing, and/or writing for shows such as Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Spawn,and South Park. Lorne Greene, Peter Jennings, and David Suzuki are but a few of the Canadians involved with more serious reporting. There seems to be a great number of references to Canada and things Canadian even on international, mostly American, television. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, hockey (especially parodies of French hockey players), and Sass-cat-chew-on are often mentioned. Some of this air-time may be attributed to a strong film and television industry in Canada. In British Columbia alone, a total of $1.07 Billion worth of direct spending was generated by 198 film and television productions (Edwards 3). At the 29th Annual Mobius Awards, held in the Cultural Centre and Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, on February 09 of this year, Canadian television commercial producers had a total of 31 wins (Dinoff 7). Many of the most popular shows that Canadians watch are American, this should not surprise many people. The Americans have ten times our population, it only seems reasonable that they produce a great deal more shows. When tv made its first appearance in Canada, it had almost exclusively American programming. This American influence is nothing new. The Ed Sullivan Show may have seemed closer to cultural than The Jerry Springer Show, but they are equally American. Canadian television has come a long way since the days of Ed Sullivan. Instead of watching Jay Leno, some Canadians now watch Mike Bullard. Instead of watching 20/20, some people will watch Marketplace. Canadian television is a growth industry, not a shinking violet. At the most recent Academy Awards, Sunday March 26, the Oscar-nominated song Blame Canada ,from the South Park movie, was performed by Robin Williams (not a Canadian). An estimated 5.3 million Canadians, with 11.7 million tuning in for at least a portion of the show, watched. The Oscars are traditionally the highest rated entertainment spectacle of the year. I believe that this undertaking shows just how grown-up this country has become, that it is secure enough to let the song be performed without taking any great offense. The ability to make fun of ourselves is what allows for excellent Canadian humour, and it shows that we are a strong country. A strong country we may be, but also a diverse one. One of the greatest unifying forces in Canadian nation-building is the CBC. The role of government consists of both back-stage (Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Council CRTC) and front-stage (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation CBC) functions. There are many other ways in which government plays a role in regulating and promoting television programming in Canada, but this paper will only focus on the CBC. The CBC s mission, according to their literature, is simply stated: to tell Canadian stories, provide Canadians with relevant news and information, support and contribute to Canada s rich cultural capital, and to build bridges between communities and regions (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 3). The CBC also has to be financially responsible to the people of Canada. A balance must be struck between what is culturally developmental , what is culturally popular , and what shows generate revenue. Two O clock, Monday through Friday, CBC Red Deer: the soap opera General Hospital. Primetime, the hours between 5pm and 12am, broadcasts shows such as: The Simpsons, Hollywood Squares, Drew Carey, Freaks and Geeks. Also found on the CBC network, and on no other network in Canada, include: Royal Canadian Air Farce, This Hour has 22 Minutes, The National; The Magazine, Drop the Beat, The Nature of Things, North of 60, and Hockey Night in Canada. Few people would argue that a soap opera is vital to Canadian national identity and Canadian culture, it isn t. Hollywood squares is not exactly furthering my understanding of Canada. The plain and simple fact is that those shows bring revenue into the CBC. Drop the Beat and North of 60 are not net money-makers. What these shows do, however, is enhance Canadian s understanding of our culture. For the CBC, everything is a balancing act. The CBC is excellent at sports coverage, it is excellent at news coverage, but not everybody likes sports and the news. I have never watched an episode of Drop the Beat, but I whole-heartedly support public funding for a program that showcases talented Canadians. One person may increase their sense of national identity through a better understanding of the Canadian music scene. Another person may have a similiar experience while watching CBC coverage of the Olympic Games, a third, may get the same though a cooking or quilting show. I may desire more sports and less quilting on Canadian tv, while the quilter may have the opposite desires.The Corporation s Blueprint Strategy, announced in September 1996, led towards financial reductions. What was assumed to be the likelihood of a sharp downturn in commercial revenues as an outcome of the Canadianization of the English prime time schedule , turned out not to be so (Unique, Essential, Connected 3). There is more Canadian-content on the CBC now than ever in its 65-year history. Furthermore, there has not been a reduction in advertising revenues for the CBC, because, people are watching. The programming on CBC is not always glitzy, it almost always operates within a small fraction of the budget of American producers, and it usually lacks the lowest-common-denomintor approach of some sensationalistic American programming. So why does anybody watch Canadian television? I would like to think that some of the programming is world-class and would be watched regardless of the national origin. Secondly, people watch purely and simply because it is Canadian. The only place where one can get an honestly Canadian perspective of events is through Canada. This is where the CBC is the best; there is simply no other service that can come close to the CBC s role as the single most important provider of Canadian programs reflecting Canada (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 1).One important thing to note is that as regular television becomes more sensationalized, public television presents a clearer alternative. The Czech Republic presents one example of what has happened in a country where television has become largely deregulated. For them, the turning point was February 04, 1994, the day TV Nova went on the air. Up until that moment, many people in the Czech Republic would have considered their television broadcasting to be very educational, informative, nationalistic, and culturally aware. Within two and a half years, under pressure from various lobbying groups, broadcasting regulations had been relaxed including all 31 conditions that had regulated Nova. A sample of programming on Nova: after a news update (typically filled with a flaming car crash and a rundown of the world s calamities), a young woman strolls into the room completely naked and then slowly clothes herself according to the next day s weather (Druker 74). The news portion of the news may be a couple of minutes long, while the weather may last for up to five minutes. People do watch Czech public television (CT) if a big story breaks, but they revert back to Nova most of the time. Ratings for the weather would undoubtedly be higher on the CBC if such an approach were adopted, but that approach is best left to some specialty channels.It should be noted that though the CBC is a public broadcaster, which is owned and largely funded by the government, the CBC is not a state broadcaster. This is important in that the independence of its journalists is fundamental to the CBC s credibility. The CBC is Canada s largest news organization. When events of transcending interest, such as elections or international crises arise, more Canadians turn to CBC for their news than any other broadcaster (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 5). Over the next decade, what was once a shortage of space on cable systems and in the airwaves will become a glut, thanks to the shrunken data size of digital video. Being one of the few players rich enough to send out a signal will no longer be enough; indeed, being a behemoth will quickly become a disadvantage” (Pope 57). The question for the future will be who gets to tell the stories: For the first time in human history, most of the stories about people, life, and values are told not by parents, schools, churches or others in the community who have something to tell, but by a group of distant conglomerates who have something to sell” (Vincent 158). As Jon Katz puts it: the web is the central reality economic, social, cultural, political for younger generations, whether we think it is a good thing or not (15).
Media, in fact, virtually all sorts of information services, are likely to become further fragmented and specialized in the future. Unfortunately, for the CBC, this means that the policy of trying to be all things to all people . . . is bound to fail more surely than in the age of conventional television (Simpson 2). For a fee, there is a specialty channel for nearly everything. The CBC may need to adopt more regional services, while staying with their current strengths in Canadian news, sports, and national issue coverages. Never before has there been a culture so anxious to get to the future as the 20th century West. It is a culture founded on the promise of perceptual change for the better in a word, progress it is a culture that can never be satisfied with the way things are, a culture itchy to get on with it, whatever it turns out to be (Dornan 120). In not so ancient times, it may have taken weeks or even months to hear news from far away. By World War I, letters and radio provided information. By World War II, there were news reels. Vietnam brought war into the living rooms of the Americas. By the time the Gulf War came, the images were live. There is something wonderful about being transported by television to events as they happen. But shouldn t there be limitations? On April 30, 1998 tv pictures of Daniel V. Jones retrieving a shotgun from his smoldering pickup that he had parked on an overpass and set ablaze, then blasting half his head away as police and news choppers hovered above, were live (Rosenberg 70). There was no journalistic need to cover the story live, but it probably made for good ratings. Daniel Jones was not the only thing killed that day, any integrity that those tv stations had, any ability to suggest that the news was not just entertainment , also died. Canadian television stations did not cover Daniel Jones, but they did cover O.J. Simpson, they did cover the Columbine School shooting. And if the television cameras can get there quick enough, they will cover the next tragedy. It can be a fine line between what is journalism and what is sensationalism. It is not always as easy as categorizing Jerry Springer or Marketplace. Today, and even more so in the future, television offers people the opportunity to watch some of the best shows ever produced. If one desires, there are The Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Arts & Entertainment, The History Channel and a host of other specialty channels aimed at learning. Television also offers the viewer some of the worst shows ever produced, most of which have little educational or cultural value, but these shows can be entertainment. The point is that an increase in the quantity of television does not necessarily reflect a concurrent increase in the quality of television.Cultural programming is often dependant upon product innovation. There is much money that has to be spent on research and development. It is not typically cost-effective to produce such programming for an admittedly limited audience. Some critics may argue that, through increased global competition, having media controlled by only a few players allows those companies to take chances and provide innovative programming, but history has not proven such to be the case. Petros Iosifides writes: there is an undue tendency for competitors to imitate each other and to converge on tried-and-tested formulae (159). One recent example of this type of programming could be seen when the British show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? came to network television. It was rapidly followed by similiar versions of high-stakes quiz shows on each of the other major American networks. Fortunately, for Canadians, the CBC is mandated by the Broadcasting Act of 1991. Essentially, the Broadcasting Act states that the Corporation s programming should:(1) be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,(2) reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences,(3) actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,(4) reflect the needs and circumstances of each official language,(5) contribute to shared national consciousness and identity, and(6) reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada. (Canadian Broadcasting 1)This, of course, would not preclude the CBC from producing its own version of these quiz shows. The CBC, however, understands that Canadians needs for that type of programming are met through the American networks and that the CBC is better to focus its energies on other areas. Can we hold violence on television responsible for an increase of violence in society? According to a study funded by the cable television industry, released on February 7, 1996, fifty-seven per cent of television programs contain psychologically harmful violence (Kaufman 1). The arguement that television has a significant effect on children should not rely on studies alone, but on common sense. Television programming has the ability to affect a child s, and many adults, entire daily schedule. They don t go to school at 8 a.m., but after the morning cartoon. They don t eat dinner at 6 o clock, but during Pokemon. They don t go to bed at 10 o clock, but after Cow & Chicken. A widely quoted figure is that, on averge, a child watches between four and five hours of television each weekday, and ten hours on Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes the influence of television has dramatic results. When I was ten years old, my brother, two other friends, and myself decided that we would go into the basement to play wrestling. This was tag-team wrestling, as we had seen on television. My brother s partner wasn t in as good a shape as the rest of us and he was quickly tired out. This left my partner and I vs. my brother. As the match neared completion, I had what I felt was a moment of inspiration; I quickly ran upstairs to retrieve a bar stool. Analygous to coming off the top ropes , I had my partner twist my brother s arm and hold it to the ground, I jumped. I didn t think that any harm would be done, it was just how matches ended on television. This was the second time I broke his arm (the first not wrestling-related), mind you, I did not survive adolescence without medical attention. Dr. Benjamin Spock, from the book Baby and Child Care, in 1968, wrote: [A nursery school teacher told me] her children were crudely bopping each other much more than previously, without provocation. When she remonstrated with them, they would protest, but that s what the Three Stooges do Kaufman 1). Violence in society is nothing new. When I jumped on my brother s arm, I had a momentary lapse of reason. Before and since that incident, on television, I have viewed innumerably different forms of violence, never acting them out personally. Examples where an individual mimics behaviour taken from television viewing can easily be found. Just as lives have been taken by copy-cat criminals, lives have been saved by children after seeing a show on CPR, leading to a situation where the child later saved someone. Television, the medium, is not at fault. As people view more violence on television, they are not necessarily more likely to behave violently; more likely, they become desensitized to the harmful effects of violence, become more fearful of being attacked, and see violence as more commonplace in everyday life. The problem is not that there is violence on tv, it is the prevelance, and it is the audience to whom the violence is addressed. Does so much television viewing, in combination with video game playing and time spent on personal computer, lead to a slovenly nation? Consider this: According to a Memphis State University study, body metabolism (and calorie-burning) is an average of 14.5 per cent lower when watching television than when simply lying in bed (Klesges 1). More people in society today are overweight or grossly overweight than ever before. There are also more exercise programs on television than ever before. To blame television for all of society s ills will not solve any of them. Society has created a world where the retrieval of knowledge is of utmost importance, for many people, television is their knowledge source. The countries of the world with the highest levels of education are the same countries that have the highest viewing rates for television. Television can be a tool for learning, it can help you improve yourself, or it can help you deplete yourself, the choice is yours. Shows offered on tv reflect trends in demographics. Generation X-er s and those in the following generation now make up the most significant portion of the population, other than the Baby Boomers. The most important thing about these new generations, that separates them from even the impacts Baby Boomers had when they were the equivalent age, is that the new generations have more money. In response to their purchasing power, shows have been developed specifically to cater to the younger generations (to get advertising sponsorship). In the last few years, we have seen Party of Five, Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, Felicity, and many other shows that target these generations. Demographic groups such as these have great influence on television programming, but the Baby Boomers have not been ruled-out yet. There are also many shows designed to specifically interest retirees and shows dealing with healthy ageing. The American Association of Retired People is one of the most influential lobby groups in the United States. These people are organized and they hold most of the wealth of the country. While their discretionary spending may me reduced, their influence is still great. Network television is a business, it is not there to provide altruistic services to the public, but to make money. In Canada, one of the great advantages we have over the United States is the CBC. While the Americans do have public broadcasting (PBS), it is nowhere near as central to their psyche as the CBC is to Canadians. Canadian television faces a number of challenges in the years ahead: An uncertain interaction with the internet, a 400-channel universe of competition, market pressure to loosen broadcasting regulations, specialty and regional interests, as well as budget constraints. Television programming faces pressures from special-interest groups. Television has long taken the blame for many of society s problems. 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