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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The End of History, Quebec Separatism and Public Broadcasting?

Three somewhat disparate ideas, but with a unifying theme:

Canada now seems to be living the neo-conservatives' ideal of the "end of history."

This original notion was first proposed when Francis Fukuyama, author of "The End of History and The Last Man," argued that if all human history is a struggle between ideologies, it came to an end with the fall of Communism in 1989. Fukuyama teaches at John Hopkins and predicted that henceforth, the only alternative would be the global triumph of political and economic liberalism:
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
Why should Canada be the embodiment of a post-political environment? The end of the separatist movement in Quebec seems to be the key.

In the most recent Literary Review of Canada, there is a review of Daniel Poliquin's recent biography of  René Lévesque. Lévesque was one of those complex historical and universal figures that appear in Canada none too often.

Journalist, polemicist, broadcaster, politician, nationalist and Quebec premier - Lévesque's life and career would have defined and dominated Canadian life but for one counterweight - Pierre Trudeau. The two men were the personification of two polarities that haunted Canadian politics for a generation. With the passing of both, the country is calmer...and a lot more boring.

As journalists in Montreal in the 70s and 80s, we were lucky enough to watch this gigantic story unfold and we were privileged to be able to report it.  Trudeau and Lévesque battled over their differing versions of history and politics. It reminded me of watching the "Wizard of Oz" for the first time when Dorothy leaves her tornado-tossed monochromatic house and opens the door into a technicolor world. Once the national question was settled in Quebec, Canadians have returned to a world of more subdued hues.

The reviewer of the Lévesque biography is Toronto writer, Jack Mitchell. He evokes that state of quiet smugness when he states: "Today, each man's (Lévesque's and Trudeau's) legacy lies in ruins: both Québec and Canada abhor self-definition, and we enjoy congratulating ourselves on our dispassion."

Public broadcasting in Canada now accurately reflects that lack of purpose. In the Globe and Mail on April 17, the CBC's General Manager of Programming, Kirstine Stewart is quoted as saying that high ratings are the true indicator of success. A list of eighteen hit shows has only one information program - "The Fifth Estate" - which significantly and ominously is shown to trail at the bottom. “I think we’re doing pretty good (sic),” says Stewart.

Yet in the Stewartian happy world-view, there is some dissension according to the Globe:

Ken Finkleman, an award winning actor and producer: “Forget about dark and edgy; the CBC seems to only want warm and friendly.”

Actor and writer Adriana Maggs: “A few years ago, I pitched them a comedy, but I was told they didn’t want humour that comes from a place of discomfort. I think comedy does come from discomfort. I think that’s why people laugh,” says Maggs. “After that, I didn’t see the CBC as a place for me. I like truth and honesty. I’m not interested in replicating commercial, American-inspired production.”

Public broadcasting in Canada did not used to be that way. But the CBC seems to be uninterested in bringing up uncomfortable issues. Or if it does, it is usually couched in ways guaranteed to keep the discussion removed, remote and out of prime time.

If each country gets the public broadcaster it deserves, Canadians are being harshly punished.

Yet there appears to be growing internal opposition to the direction of the CBC. It is coming from the ranks of the radio reporting staff. More on that in a future post...

For now, Canadians must continue to be served their nightly portion of a light-and-lively, hockey-obsessed, CBC infused view of Canada and of the end of history.

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