Cultural resolution: Because progressive voices are systematically censored in Canadian media, and Because progressives are more divided than they think, lets Agree to create a media that gives expression to the unifying themes of a movement for change.
Who better to assess the state of Canadian culture and media than our state broadcaster, the same institution with the mandate to promote these very things? Last week The National did that for us in a most revealing way when it recounted the top nine news moments of the year that Canadians will remember. My rising blood pressure through the piece prevents me from remembering all, but they included swine flu, Tiger Woods, Susan Boyle, the Balloon Boy and Michael Jackson.
Anchor Wendy Mesley appeared a little appalled and pressed her panelists to comment on what the list said about the media itself, but they would have none of it. Mark Kelley, in particular, was making no apologies and argued that his contribution to the above list of stories made him a man of the people and not a snob.
For some frustrated CBC listeners and viewers, the list will remind them of many painful moments over the last year when there was no alternative but to tune out and read a book. For me, the list connected to the outstanding essay of the year, “Empire of Illusion - the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” by Chris Hedges, senior fellow at the Nation Institute. His book brilliantly describes celebrity culture in North America and how it sucks millions into an illusionary world of pseudo-reality and junk politics.
We expect this from tabloids and Fox TV, but somehow we hold on to a collective illusion that the CBC is different. Not that there is no difference, just not enough difference to inform and lift us out of the cultural abyss.
But these frustrations are only a fraction of the problem. Many of my colleagues and friends know little of what I write, because they live in different media worlds. Notably, most francophones and anyone under 40 are highly unlikely to share my media experiences.
This country’s fragmented politics has been described in economic, linguistic and social terms. It seems to me that there is a cultural gap equally important and perhaps decisive.
On the progressive side of English Canadian politics, there is little wonder that we lack unifying themes because there is so little expression of information, analysis and commentary that would bring us together towards common goals. This in spite of the few columnists that are regularly reprinted on this and other progressive web sites.
Progressive Quebecers shrug at this state of affairs. They read Le Devoir and hear and see their views reflected on Radio Canada to a more significant degree than we do in English Canada.
I am also intrigued by the relative success of progressive media in the United States. Perhaps a decade ago, amidst the Republican revolution, Americans had no choice but to create alternatives. Now English Canadians turn to US television to hear personalities like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert affirm progressive values in a way we seldom hear or see in our own country.
American progressives are not reduced to reprinting a column here and there from daily newspapers. Professional journalists have created a network of dynamic printed and on-line journals from TruthDig to Huffington Post. The old standard bearer of the US left, The Nation, is very much in the mainstream with its authors and columnists appearing regularly on US television networks.
Make no mistake - if Harper and the Conservatives carry through with their plan to tear down foreign ownership restrictions, beginning with telecom (Globalive) and continuing its logical extension to broadcasting, it will not result in Jon Stewart deconstructing Steven Harper on The Daily Show. The result, instead, will be Rupert Murdoch, Fox News and CNN quickly establishing economic dominance in our media markets and raising the bar of celebrity culture to new heights.
Similar to the leadership we need in our political and economic struggles, we need cultural and media leaders to step forward. We need media that affirms and unites Canadian progressives, while offering alternative information and analysis to millions more. I believe that there are large numbers of Canadians waiting for the chance to engage.
The good folks here at Rabble.ca are trying their best to be part of such an alternative. When we raise our glasses this New Year’s to toast the best of the past year and our hopes for the next, lets Agree to step up our support for this unique effort in progressive Canadian media.
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