Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Just who is Culturally Irrelevant: YOU or the CBC?

Straight from "The public broadcaster says it's in talks with the Heritage Department about the dire effects of a sinking economy, which it says will plunge the corporation into a deep deficit in 2009-2010."

Really? That doesn't surprise me much.

In its quest to become culturally relevant, the CBC has stopped doing its job: bringing news, culture, and information, with a Canadian perspective, to Canadians. Instead, it's opted to buy foreign game shows and hire trendy radio hosts who are only able to relate to people living in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. In fact, sometimes, I get the idea the CBC's new media stars: George and Jian couldn't tell a maple from an oak and wouldn't know a beaver from a rat. And in their quest to reach 'youth', they ignore Canadian history and institutions they think are 'politically incorrect', 'out of date', or God forbid, 'small townish and stereotypically Canadian'. (Sometimes, I think they are making tapes for auditions in New York.) As a result, they reach practically nobody.

Why? Because, a lot of Canadians do, at least partially, fit Canuck stereotypes -- polite, conservative (in lifestyle, but not necessarily politics), nature loving, and oh yes, just a bit 'small townish'. We sometimes wear toques, parkas, and ugly winter boots. A lot of us have eaten oatmeal for breakfast, tuna sandwiches for lunch, and meat loaf for dinner.(Not everyday, of course.) We might even take offence at a guy hosting a national arts and culture show who claims he can't understand Lent. (It's kind of a Christian version of Ramadan with fasting flexibilty, Jian. Does that help?)

I believe that we are enriched by the many cultures that have come, and continue to come, to Canada. But, face it, most guys and gals that get off a plane at Pearson and get a job, any job, in 21st Century Canada don't know much about staking a homestead or turning colonial wilderness in homes. To listen to the CBC, you think that the majority of Canadians landed here yesterday. In fact, most Canadians are not immigrants -- not even the West.

(The demographic gurus trying to sell advertising would be surprised at how many potential viewers, even in Western Canada, have pre-Confederation French, Metis, or British roots. And, because we all have at least two parents, it's impossible to fully determine ethnicity by somebody's colour, social status, or last name.)

Our colonial past is almost totally ignored by our public broadcaster. (Big mistake, because we WERE the Empire and if there are injustices still to fix in the Commonwealth, we have no business leaving the UK to do the job.) And God help you if you are are descended from colonials and pioneers, especially if they were British. In that case, you are expected to be ashamed of the political, social and cultural institutions your ancestors' helped build: You are nobody's target audience: no matter how much you have to spend.

It's clear our national broadcaster isn't very good with demographics. Exactly who were they trying to lure with the acquisition of two American game shows that spout nary a question about Canada? Last time I checked most game show viewers weren't part of the demographics the CBC seems to value above all others: the young, trendy, the urban, and the immigrant.

But CBC is not alone: most mass media, public institutions, and large corporations in Canada, have been too busy marketing themselves to some imaginary demographic that they have lost touch with Canadians outside Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

That's really too bad, because some of the most interesting people I know aren't young, trendy, beautiful, urban or obviously ethnic. In fact, I've made a career writing about them. And I wouldn't have changed that for all the CBC contracts in the world. 'Cause I love the boonies and the people that never make the front page or the top story.