[The Medium & the Muse: Culture, Telecommunications & the Information Highway]

By Sirois, Charles; Forget, Claude E. et al. | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

[The Medium & the Muse: Culture, Telecommunications & the Information Highway]


Sirois, Charles, Forget, Claude E., Dorland, Michael, Journal of Canadian Studies


THE MEDIUM AND THE MUSE: CULTURE, TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY. Charles Sirois and Claude E. Forget. Montreal: The Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1995.

Rhetorics of the Divided Voice

In a provocative discussion in late 1994 of the sterility of Canadian debates in film criticism (a discussion which, like the debates themselves, seems to have been met with the usual indifference), Bart Testa (University of Toronto) drew attention to the consensual moralism that has underlain the relatively limited critical analysis the medium of film has received in the Canadian context. In Testa's view, the actors participating in the elaboration of the Canadian film "industry" - from critics and government officials in particular, to filmmakers occasionally - have all shared a belief that film should first serve a "high moral purpose" however this formula was to be understood by individual participants. Testa noted the considerable extent to which the critical discussion of film in the Canadian context has been a "prescriptive" discourse, preoccupied with defining what film ought to be at the expense of whatever else it may actually have done or currently might be doing (see the so - called "Cinema We Need" debate in Fetherling: n.d., 260 - 336). Testa traced this moralism to what he termed "the social - reflection prescription," the fundamental obligation that cultural production somehow must reflect "Canadian" conditions in a unique manner that would in turn constitute the Canadian identity. Cultural production had to be "distinctively" Canadian; failing that, it would be nothing at all. In Testa's perspective, because film criticism in Canada had not amounted to much more than its moralism, its achievements were, for the most part, insignificant and repetitious.

Had Testa looked beyond film criticism, he would have perceived a more generalized phenomenon. The consensual moralism he found in film criticism was not restricted to it; rather, that consensual moralism formed the sine qua non of cultural production in Canada, the basis on which it received critical attention, articulation in the public sphere and, last but not least, subsidy by the state. The publicization of cultural production by consensual moralism has not, then, been limited to the critical discussion of film, but broadly speaking has been the historical burden of the production of "culture" in the twentieth - century Canadian context, in literature as in painting, especially in those hybrid "art" forms that derive to a greater extent from capital - intensive (or industrial) modes of organization - namely, the cultural industries (in their "classic" incarnation in book and magazine publishing, sound - recording, film and television production in particular).

But why this has been the case was not a question Testa (1994a, 1994b), in his discussion of film criticism, dealt with other than drawing attention to the determining (and still puzzling) legacy of John Grierson's influence since the 1930s on Canadian film discourse and its contemporary critical avatars. The extent to which a prescriptive moralism has framed the discussion of cultural production is worth dwelling upon further, however, since it would itself appear to have come to constitute a veritable medium of its own. Indeed, I would argue that it has been the primary medium through which the discourses of Canadian cultural production were to be publically conducted and given institutional form.

The decades that followed the Second World War saw the extension, at public cost, of an increasingly elaborate legislative, administrative, fiscal - in a word, regulatory - apparatus of federal and also provincial agencies that have provided the institutional framework for the development of Canadian cultural production activities in a variety of domains, from the traditional fine arts to the media arts, in higher education, and select domains of the mass media. In the mass media of film and broadcasting, the Canadian state had already established institutional precedents for intervention - in state - produced film as early as the teens of the century, and in state - owned broadcasting as of the early 1930s. …

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