Cover of Douglas Coupland's Souvenirs of Canada

Notes from North of 49ºN

I’ve been thinking more and more about the concept of nation, of late.  In summers past, the 4th. of July, Independence Day in the United States, meant being in northern California and perhaps heading to Point Reyes and seeing the tug-of-war between Bolinas and Stinson Beach.  The past three years, I have observed Canada Day, celebrating when Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Québec, and Ontario became a federation, a dominion with ties to the UK.  Two adjacent countries, which appear to have similarities, but have key differences.  Population is one differentiator. At confederation in 1867, the US population was around over 10 times that of Canada, 38,558,371 to 3,625,000 {1870}.  The twentieth century would see the rise of American dominance, not only in terms of economics, but also in terms of media and culture.

American culture is readily evident in Canada.  On television and in major cities like Toronto, with the prevalence of brands like Starbuck’s, McDonald’s, and Subway.  A quick scan of the TV listings shows how popular US television content is in anglophone Canada.  Canada is aware of this and requires broadcasters to show Canadian content {Can con}.  The CBC, the Canadian national public broadcaster, is a flagship network of the nation, where, through its mandate, the network’s goal is to be a cultural touchstone for the nation.  I’ve blogged about the future of the CBC television on this post:: Will Globalization Kill or Make the CBC Relevant Again?, which touches on how the CBC is struggling to remain viable and relevant in the shadow of big media players in the United States and fending off challengers within Canada.  Unlike the BBC, Britain’s national broadcaster, which is funded through household television licences, the CBC gets funding from the government, but also is subject to market forces through selling ad time, both sources being historically uneven.

The question I have is whether the role of a national broadcaster is even important.  I don’t see the United States as having the equivalent of the CBC, let alone the BBC.  PBS and NPR are, in my opinion, a loose confederation of programming, as opposed to a network with a strong identity, let alone an entity fostering a conceptualization of the United States as a culture or a nation.

The ideas of Arjun Appadurai and Benedict Anderson come to mind.  Appadurai speaks of globalization in terms of flows.  Flows of finance, ideologies, technologies, people and media, each with the suffix scapes.  Mediascapes have two components::

  1. The flows of capacity to produce and disseminate electronic information
  2. The images of the world created by these media

Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities discusses nation as an abstract entity, where meaning is shared within and the mass media address its citizens as a public.

Borders are often permeable under globalization and Canada has seen flows of media flood across its southern border, but what has this done to Canadians’ notion of nation?  Can Canadian content policy and the CBC help to reinforce the imagined community of Canada?  Does nation even matter?  Is Canada to Canadians “our home and disparate land,” as stated in today’s Vancouver Sun?  What about shared Canadian experiences such as Hinterland’s Who’s Who::

I think we need to remember that the context here is capitalism.  Media is flowing, media full of American meanings and ideals, as entertainment content to generate revenues.  In light of this onslaught, I think it is important for Canada to preserve its identity by creating content that increases Canadian cultural knowledge and awareness.  Why?  Without a national identity, i.e., an imagined community of Canada, meaning becomes increasingly derived from imagined communities of brands.  If our Diderot unities reduce to the constellation of brands we surround ourselves with, can we be citizens or are we just consumers?

I think nation does and should matter.  In Benedict Anderson’s words, nation::

“…is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the inequality of that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep. horizontal kinship.”–p.7

I feel that the CBC should be a symbol of Canadian community, one that communicates and is interactive with all electronic media.  I see it as a part of the cultural infrastructure and one of the few entities that can actively bridge the country’s east-west divide, but I’m an idealist.

Song:: Dreamer – Jenn Grant {Halifax, NS}


Video Extra:: jPod clips of “Cowboy” aired on CBC, Winter 2008.

Twitterversion:: #Canada, national identity, & #Media. Globalization blurs borders, but does #nation matter? #Appadurai #BenedictAnderson @Prof_K