The federal Conservative government of Canada recently proposed withdrawing
tax credits from Canadian films that a government committee deems offensive
and not in the public interest. The media are portraying the measure
- part of omnibus income tax bill C-10 -- as a huge triumph for Canada's "religious
In fact, such a measure actually probably arises out of a trend to "political
correctness" — in which Canada is considerably ahead of the United
States. Even if it has a Conservative provenance, it could quickly
be taken in a decidedly anticonservative direction with a change of
It is comparatively difficult to ascertain the genuinely moral quality
of a film on the basis, for example, of how many times the "f-word" is
used. When Human Rights Commissions in Canada have attempted to enforce
laws against material labeled offensive, social conservatives have
strenuously opposed censorial limitations.
What would be welcome in the context of the strong resistance to
the Conservative government proposal is a serious debate over Canadian
culture and the future of arts funding in Canada.
There are very few Canadian movies that most people in the country
-- outside of a few urban art circles -- could recognize. I have rarely
seen people of comparatively intellectual affiliation in Toronto talking
about some exciting Canadian movie, in the way they might talk about "American
Beauty," "Blade Runner," or "The Matrix."
It is difficult to understand why "Juno," the best-known
and widely applauded Canadian movie, does not qualify as a Canadian
movie because it does not meet the bureaucratic criteria for content
-- mainly because its funding came from outside the country. The two
most prominent Canadian movies last year have been "Away From
Her," a tightly-focused exploration of Alzheimer's that did not
require elaborate sets or special effects, and "Eastern Promises," a
film that is deeply rooted in the experiences of the Russian exile
community in Britain.
Canadian filmmakers and other artists should ask themselves precisely
why their films and other artistic work -- apart from the music sector,
which seems to be comparatively thriving -- usually have so little
traction and appeal. Ironically, while Hollywood is known for its wacky
lifestyles and over-the-top liberalism, its movies in most cases have
to function in a free market. They have in most cases succeeded spectacularly
as money-making ventures -- they do indeed have a comparatively wide
appeal. Wide popular appeal can, to some extent, point to genuine artistic
The United States enjoys a lively political debate between fairly
well delineated Left and Right points of view. In Canada, however, "official
culture" exists in a hothouse atmosphere, virtually cutting itself
off from more perennial historical and social realities. The result
of this divorce is that the industry must rely for its existence on
the government — and, ultimately, the taxpayers. While the case can
certainly be made that no Canadian films should receive tax credits,
the absence of such subsidies would mean that almost no Canadian films
would be made.
If Canadian filmmakers and other artists could indeed take more seriously
their obligations to reflect and foster more perennial historical and
social realities, they would have a greater chance of creating something
that would resonate with far more people. Indeed, they would be on
their way to helping to re-create a Canadian culture. Such a goal surely
should be at least one major reason that Canadian cultural endeavor
receives government funding in the first place.
Any serious moves toward more truly worthwhile and edifying art cannot
come from top-down government vetting for allegedly questionable or
offensive content. Rather, they should come from some evolutionary
artistic development integral to filmmakers and artists themselves.
Whether at this late date any kind of conceptual breakthrough of re-rootedness
in longstanding Canadian social and historical realities is possible
among at least a few members of the artistic community is certainly
open to question.
Nevertheless, addressing the arts community seriously and directly
is far preferable to fixating on -- and raging against -- the specter
of looming government censorship.
[Breaker - CENSORSHIP CAN'T RESTORE CULTURAL ROOTEDNESS]
Link to article reprinted by The Providence Journal.
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Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical
researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as
in U.S. scholarly journals such as HUMANITAS, REVIEW OF METAPHYSICS,
and TELOS, and in U.S. magazines such as CHRONICLES and THE WORLD & I.
His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.
See author's bio and other articles.
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