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70th Couchiching Conference
August 9 to 12

In the Name of Cultural Identity
Saturday, August 11, 2001

Douglas M. Gibson, President and Publisher, McClelland & Stewart Inc.
Moses Znaimer, Co-founder, President and Executive Producer, CityTV
Robert Pilon, Executive Vice-President, Coalition on Cultural Diversity
Matthew Fraser, Professor of Communications, Ryerson University, and columnist at The National Post
MODERATOR: Adam Ostry, Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Media Development Corporation, and member of the CIPA Board of Directors

The American exportation of culture, defined for the purposes of this discussion as books, magazines, movies and television, is not ideologically motivated: it is big business. Given this premise and Canada's proximity to the world's dominant cultural exporter, the panel presented their views on the implications of mass distributed American popular culture for Canadian culture and industry. This is a relevant and timely discussion for as Adam Ostry explained in his introduction, "cultural products are an essential component of society because they allow us to transmit values and share our stories with one another. They help us find ourselves as a society."

Doug Gibson began the debate by providing a historic overview of the relationship between culture and class. He noted that traditionally, high culture flourished under the patronage and protection of nobility and it was the rise of the contemporary haute bourgeoisie who created the modern day art galleries, museums and symphonies. However, while the haute bourgeoisie is resisting American cultural dominance, the other classes are seduced by it since American mass culture plays to the lowest common denominator. This raised the question of the differentiation between culture and entertainment. In response, Mr. Gibson explained that, "culture is artistic expression that is not ethereal."

In a globalized world, a cultural paradox emerges. While American culture is more pervasive and dominant, local culture is becoming increasingly relevant as a counterweight. This is the position adopted by Mr. Moses Znaimer through his CityTV and Much Music networks. Mr. Znaimer has made his fortune by exporting his dynamic, high action, low cost, local television formula around the world. He has found success by fusing Americanized-global culture with local flavour. In lieu of speaking, Mr. Znaimer showed a video that illustrated his approach to the cultural needs of diverse markets as a result of globalization. The video was comprised of images of the operation of his worldwide stations. The Znaimer model of combining local and global content can be compared to cooking. Like a chef with a cookie cutter, Mr. Znaimer's stations are uniform in their structure, but depending on the local ingredients used, can have a variety of flavours and consistencies. While the Znaimer formula facilitates the distribution of mass produced global culture via a common structural model, it also raises questions of the relevancy of the nation-state as individuals increasingly identify with local and supra-national contexts, obviating the need for national identification.

Mr. Robert Pilon and Mr. Matthew Fraser presented opposing views on the relevancy of the state in shaping a common understanding of culture. Each attempted to define the role of government in the protection of culture and explain to what extent cultural industries should be subsidized. In this discussion, the central point of contention was whether culture is a commodity. Mr. Pilon asserted that culture is not a tradable commodity; rather it is something that must be protected since cultural diversity is a fundamental human right. Governments must adopt protectionist policies, given the massive imbalance between the resources at the disposal of the American cultural industry and those of the remaining artists around the world. Mr. Fraser countered by likening the current system to that of the Holy Roman Empire explaining that it is possible for culture to survive and thrive even in the face of an overarching hegemonic power.

Although these issues continue to be debated in Canadian society, there was an overall sense of optimism on the panel and a consensus that progress has been made in preserving and promoting Canadian culture in the past twenty years. Canadian novelists are facing unprecedented demand worldwide. CityTV has stations in places as diverse as Bogotá, Barcelona and Helsinki. Due to Canadian content regulations, Canada has now built the infrastructure necessary to create, produce and distribute its own television shows and films.

While globalization has altered the context in which culture is discussed, the fundamental policy objectives have remained constant. As Mr. Ostry observed, regardless of the type of artist, the underlying purpose of the expression of culture is still about finding our voices and expressing them to the world.

Proceedings of the conference will be posted in due course. Audiotapes are available from Audio Archives & Duplicators Inc. at 905.889.6555 ext. 22, archives@idirect.com.

Synopsis by: Melanie Martin

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