Thursday, August 26, 2010
Critiquing Our Culture
“I sit here as a government representative for film and television in the province of Alberta and I look at what we produce, and if we’re honest with ourselves ... I look at it and say, ‘Why do I produce so much shit? Why do I fund so much crap?’”
Alberta Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett speaking at the Banff World TV Festival in June to a roomful of Canadian actors and industry professionals (see his defense of his comments)
“What credibility would a list like this have if it didn’t include the absurd figure of Michael Ondaatje, our very own poet laureate of pretentious, purple prose, our king of cliché, a sorcerer who has improbably managed for decades now to pass off his distinctive brand of inert slop as somehow being possessed of a “literary” value only detectable by prize juries, time-serving academics, and a handful of supine reviewers.”
Alex Good and Steven W. Beattie in the National Post’s Don’t Believe the Hype: 10 Overrated Canadian Authors
Talk about sizzle, especially (or because of) the dog days of August! Talk about fightin’ words.
I must admit, my reaction to both stories—Blackett’s poorly articulated and contextualized comment and the National Post’s daring to venture into the overrated game with The Guardian and the Huffington Post (who respectively skewered their own British and American authors)—was of shock, dismay, and a knee-jerk disdain for such blasphemy. I cheered when I heard Canadian actor Peter Keleghan’s able handling of Blackett during the CBC Q debate with the two (listen to the August 25th, 2010, episode it was on); Keleghan was so much better prepared, informed, and eloquent. And I huffed and puffed and felt injured for the top Canadian writers Good and Beattie pilloried in the Post. Writers like Ondaatje and Michaels and Coupland—the poor things. Okay, so I know how successful and well-received they’ve been; but .. c’mon, they’re human, and it would hurt anyone, reading that.
I sat on my indignation for a day and then I reappraised it. I realized my reaction was founded in defensiveness and a misplaced urge to protect. The fact is, a more controversial, polarized critical/review environment engenders a more active, changing, exciting cultural environment. The provocative critiques of Canadian TV content and writers got the kind of mainstream attention that Canadian arts/culture can always use more of (along the lines of “any news is good news”). And a strong culture can support dissension and harsh critique; it is a confident culture—not a defensive one where people like me get upset when it’s called into question in any way that isn’t gentle. Gentle, polite coverage of our books and TV shows and industry, coverage where nothing is unexpected or rankling, does no one any good.
Perhaps best of all, criticism like Blackett’s allows intelligent, well-spoken people like Keleghan to judiciously discuss the real challenges the TV industry faces and to press for change. And Good and Beattie open the door to in turn be assailed by others’ strong opinions (and to publish, the next day, their list of Underrated Authors).