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Richard Stursberg: Canada’s CanCon regime must be reformed

Commentary

For decades, Canadian content has been defined as whatever Canadians make. The definition is based on a 10-point system that counts the number of Canadians employed making a TV show or movie. If enough Canadians are part of the production, it is Canadian no matter the content.

This allows movies and TV shows to qualify as Canadian even if the stories, the characters involved, and their settings are not recognizably Canadian. They can be completely disguised to make them look—in almost all cases—American.

There is enormous pressure to do so. Both Canadian producers and broadcasters like to see American financial participation in their films and TV shows. It increases the fees producers make and the production quality of the projects.

The problem is that the American market is the most parochial in the world. Americans are by and large only interested in stories about themselves. The solution, therefore, is for Canadian producers to make “Canadian content” that makes no reference to its country of origin. The resulting shows look, feel, and smell completely American. Nobody watching them would ever guess that they were Canadian.

This has been a problem for a long time.

When the Canadian series Flashpoint was sold to a major U.S. network, CBS, in 2008, there was much self-congratulation in the Canadian production community. Unfortunately, although it was shot in Toronto, the city was never identified. Even the police uniforms were sanitized; they simply said “police.” The arm patches did not say “Toronto Police” with the crowns and maple leaves that indicate the different ranks. It appeared to be utterly American.

More recently, the most lauded show in Canadian history, Schitt’s Creek, was made by well-known Canadians, financed with Canadian subsidies, and commissioned by the CBC. Nowhere in any of the episodes is there any reference to Canada. Like Flashpoint, viewers would think that it was an American show made for Americans.

This is problematic. It makes it impossible to establish Canadian TV and movies as a desirable category. The Danish, the French, the Israelis, and the British do not disguise their origins. They have all created recognizable national brands that are attractive to both viewers and buyers. But if nobody knows that our films and shows are Canadian, it is impossible to build a category brand around them, no matter how good they are.

Besides, surely the whole business is a little embarrassing and undignified. Making shows that deny their origins is like a colonial servant aping his masters hoping that he will be taken as one of their own. Abasement can only lead to humiliation. 

Every year, the Canadian government spends an estimated nearly $1 billion subsidizing “Canadian content.”Programs and funding vary from year to year, but the Canada Media Fund budget for 2023-24 is $365 million; in 2021-22 the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office program offered certificates with an estimated value of $550 million. This is over and above the amounts that the provinces spend and the money that goes to the CBC. Ottawa does so as a “cultural” policy. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. At best, it is an industrial policy designed to aid Canadian companies and employ Canadian creative types.

As part of the government’s Bill C-11, the so-called Online Streaming Act, the CRTC will be reviewing the definition of Canadian content. Its consultations will begin this week. It hopes to be able to produce a definition that is consistent with requiring Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and Disney to invest in Canadian content. For their part, the streamers should be happy with the existing 10-point system. They are, after all, even more likely than the Canadian broadcasters to insist that the shows they finance look and feel American.

But there is an alternative way of looking at the definition of Canadian content. In the U.K., for example, they have a system for defining British content that is completely different from the Canadian one. Instead of a 10-point system based on employment, it has a 35-point one based on cultural considerations. It is, in fact, called the Cultural Test.

Of the 35 points, the first 18 concern whether the characters are identifiably British, whether the program is clearly set in Britain, whether the subject matter is British, and whether it is made in English. A further four points are added if the show is an interpretation of British culture and its history of diversity. Only eight of the 35 points are based on employment.

The cast of “Schitt’s Creek” pose for a photo after winning the Award for Best Comedy Series at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on Sunday, March 31, 2019. Chris Young/The Canadian Press.

The U.K. system pretty much guarantees that when a TV program or film is made with British taxpayers’ money, it looks, feels, and smells like Britain.

There is no evidence that the U.K. Cultural Test has disadvantaged British talent. The country’s writers, directors, and actors are in demand throughout the world.

There is also no evidence that the system has reduced British cultural exports. The most recent UNESCO study shows that while Canadian cultural exports—the bulk of which are TV shows and movies—are falling, the U.K.’s are rising. Britain exports $256 per capita of cultural goods, while Canada exports only $44 per capita—down from $79 twenty years ago.

The British insistence that their taxpayers’ money be spent on productions that are culturally British is paralleled in other countries. Similar rules apply, for example, in Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. 

It is important to change the definition of Canadian content to a cultural one not just for reasons of national pride or to keep the streamers in line, but also because it is what the Canadian public wants. In the most recent survey done by the Canadian Media Fund, Canadians said that their number one priority for the redefinition of Canadian content was to make people proud of being Canadian and to contribute to nationhood and national cohesion. That will be impossible if the production industry continues to make ersatz U.S. shows. How can Canadians be proud if they don’t even know that the productions they are paying for are Canadian?

This is an existential danger for the Canadian production sector. If  Canadians are not convinced that the money—their money—that Ottawa is pouring into “Canadian” films and TV makes them proud, they may well ask: “Why bother?” And if they ask that, a future Canadian government may well reply: “Why indeed?”   

Patrick Luciani: The intellectual roots of why so many support Hamas’ terror attacks

Commentary

In the latest Hub book review, Patrick Luciani reviews The Rebel’s Clinic: The Revolutionary Lives of Frantz Fanon by Adam Shatz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023) and traces the connections between the writings of Frantz Fanon, the academic embrace of anticolonialist theory, and the support of violence and terror by some on the Left.

If we want to understand the violence perpetrated by Hamas and those who supported it, we have to understand the political motivation behind the attack. For that, we need to understand the mind of Frantz Fanon. 

Not a name known by the general public, but certainly known in the academy in post-colonial studies and political theory. A new biography by Adam Shatz’s beautifully written and well-researched book, The Rebel’s Clinic, gives us a highly literate account of Fanon’s life that brings us closer to understanding how Fanon became an icon of the left and the justification for violence in his classic work, The Wretched of the Earth, published just before he died of leukemia at the age of 36 in 1961. 

Fanon’s book did not go unnoticed. It was widely translated and “cited worshipfully” by radical movements, including the Black Panthers, the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, Latin American guerillas, Islamic revolutionaries of Iran, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. 

Born in Martinique in 1925, Fanon fought for the French against the Nazis in 1944 as a French citizen. Despite being a decorated soldier, he realized his blackness when white French women refused to dance with him in celebration after the war. His 1952 book Black Skin, White Masks chronicles the hardships of a Black man putting on disguises to survive in a white world. 

Fanon went on to study medicine in Lyon and practiced psychiatry in the French colony of Algeria. There, he treated the victims of the struggle for freedom and realized that violence lies at the heart of colonialism. These themes would consume the rest of his life. 

For Fanon, physical violence and severe mental and emotional harm define the natural state of colonial rule. This violence is further compounded by the reduction of the native to a lower form of a human. He saw a Manichean world split between good and evil with no chance of mutual understanding, compromise, or peaceful coexistence. The colonizer is “the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him.” Under these conditions, violence is a natural and logical reaction to the violence that the colonialists bring to their colonies. 

Shatz’s biography shows that Fanon truly believed in the regenerative potential of violence and the mass killing of Europeans as beneficial medicine for the colonized; further, it would liberate the white man from his awful identity. In his famous introduction to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre aggressively supported the need for violence, saying, “To shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone: there remains a dead man and a free man.” Fanon went on to serve the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) as an ambassador throughout Africa while raising funds for the liberation of Algeria. 

Independence may bring some form of moral compensation, but benefits are often short-lived. That was the case after Algeria became independent in 1962, a year after Fanon’s death. His dream of a free, democratic country fell apart under radical Islamism. Citizenship was restricted to Muslims only while almost one million pieds noirs left, along with most of its Jewish population that had been in Algeria since the times of the Romans. The misery for Algeria did not end there as tens of thousands of Algerian peasants were slaughtered for their association with the French, the very people Fanon idolized in leading the revolution. Fanon’s vision of a “new man” rising from the ashes would have to wait another time. 

A young boy holds up a Hamas flag as people gather during a pro-Palestinian protest in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Francisco Seco/AP Photo.

What didn’t wait was the zeal of revolutionary groups around the world, which took up Fanon’s passion for using violence to justify their cause for liberation, especially in the Middle East, where Zionism is now seen as the new settler colonialism. In a world split between settler-colonized and post-colonized nations, violence seems acceptable and justified after Fanon who gave if not his permission then a rationale for indiscriminate destruction. In Canada, the burning of dozens of churches was covered by the media as a natural reaction to the rumours of mass graves of First Nation children at residential schools. 

Not all intellectuals concerned with the liberation of African nations sided with Fanon’s methods of political salvation. Hannah Arendt’s essay “On Violence” was a direct response to Fanon’s vogue appeal to New Left radicals. She made the point that violence is not power but the absence of it. Through his writings on anti-colonialism,  Albert Memmi—a Tunisian Jew and novelist and one-time supporter of Fanon—came to realize that the struggle for meaning is not found solely in the social and political struggle against colonialism but also in the need for “inner emancipation,” a message hardly conducive to modern post-colonial studies. 

But after five decades of post-colonial studies and courses on French existentialist thought, moral relativism, anti-western and Eurocentrism, Marx and Gramsci, historicism, and critical race theory (an idea inspired by Fanon’s writing) many students were uncritically conditioned to side with the terror of Hamas.