Amidst the latest weeping and gnashing of teeth over the ratings at CBC, my boyfriend (who is a mental health worker, lucky me) asked if Hockey Night in Canada is on CBC because it’s the law. With the anticipated defection of HNIC to CTV/TSN in 2008, the question is not as endearingly naïve and incredibly sexy as it seems. After all, the CBC was created in 1936 to “foster a national spirit and interpret national citizenship.” While once a regulatory board, the CBC gave up that gig to what is now the CRTC. So I guess the answer is no, HNIC is not on CBC because it’s the law. But should it be? Is it a part of our national identity, or is it a commodity up for grabs to the highest bidder? There’s a big fat can of worms for you.
My brother who’s a lifer at StatsCan (with one brief foray into the giddy environs of RevCan) rails against the CBC and its one billion dollar annual budget. He laments what he perceives as a colossal waste of the tax payers dollars and how the money could be better spent on social programs .Ah, the poor sap. His brain has been addled by numbers. But with each passing year, I find it more difficult to defend the CBC around Christmas dinner. The CBC is the glue that holds this country together. Pass the gravy. How much longer can I do this?
Maybe what holds this country together is us griping about the CBC. The idea of protecting our national airwaves is nothing new. The advent of broadcasting saw politicians and intellectuals of the day advocating for a public network. American radio flooded into Canada and, no surprise, many people tuned in. To safeguard our fledging country it was deemed necessary to create an entity to give voice to our nation. That was seventy years ago. Today the Canadian people still prefer American programming. Why? Because it’s very good, for the most part. Does this preference for American products make us any less Canadian? Does anyone care anymore, except our cultural elite, bureaucrats and CBC freelancers like me? My head runneth over…
Television shapes our opinion and accompanies us through life. I was a young teenager when the Big Three ruled the airwaves. The CBC was our broadcaster though: Wayne and Shuster made jokes with Canadian references! Hey – we were on the map! Then in the 1980s the TV landscape changed with the introduction of Pay TV. I remember seeing music videos for the first time and having a sinking feeling Wayne and Shuster were uncool. Canadian TV seemed all arms and legs next to the sleek mature production values of American TV. The CBC seemed lame in comparison. But gosh darn it, the CBC had become ingrained. My loyalties were divided.
CBC is constantly trying to find ways to reach the 18-34 demographic. Does the 18-34 demographic care that the CBC broadcast Winston Churchill’s 1941 speech to our Parliament? Does it care about preserving a piece of our national identity? Or does it simply want to text message its cronies about the next kegger while watching Lost and playing Grand Theft Auto or whatever the hell rape and pillage gorefest is the bomb? CBC has to matter to our educators and politicians before it can matter to the kids. Canada is a complex country, home to different nations, according to the Conservatives. How can the CBC be all things to all people? It can’t. But it’s important and relevant to the people who cherish the idea of a united Canada. What’s the point in having a country at all if we don’t appreciate our own national character?
It has been suggested that CBC go the way of PBS, become commercial free and rely on viewer donations for revenue. This is better than extinction, if push comes to shove.
Remember the old CBC promo – CBC and You? It laid the existential dilemma bare. There’s CBC and then there’s You. Is there a CBC and Us? I’ll have to prepare an answer in time for Christmas dinner.