Nexus: Cultures, Pluralism and Globalization

By Behiels, Michael D. | Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Nexus: Cultures, Pluralism and Globalization


Behiels, Michael D., Journal of Canadian Studies


Ever since the 1951 Report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (the Massey Commission), the term culture has taken on an ever-increasing range of meanings.1 The Massey commissioners thought of culture largely in terms of the traditional highbrow visual and performing arts activities and serious literature. They were concerned with the threat posed to these activities by an increasingly all-pervasive American lowbrow popular culture reaching Canadians via radio, television and the print media. In their pursuit of a liberal humanistic democratic society, the commissioners urged the Canadian government to nurture the expansion of highbrow Canadian cultures, francophone and anglophone. The Canadian government responded, somewhat belatedly and in a piecemeal fashion, to the commissioners' many recommendations, but their intended goal of state-funded educational and uplifting cultural programmes was never fully implemented nor achieved in the way they had envisaged. Why? largely because Canadians, in a society transformed dramatically by new information and communication technologies, extensive post-war immigration, and rapidly changing social values and norms of behaviour, came to perceive and experience cultures) in ways completely unforeseen by the Massey commissioners.

Canadians debate and experience cultural pluralism, including traditional highbrow visual and performing arts, all matter of popular cultures, youth countercultures, corporate and business cultures, political cultures, family cultures, religious cultures, etc. Cultural constructions, deconstructions and reconstructions of our past, our present and our future are intimately related to the expanding pluralist nature of the various communities - family, local, regional, national and international - that we adopt, inhabit, alter and often abandon for other cultural experiences. "Cultural expression," in the words of James Marsh and Jocelyn Harvey, "is more and more bound up with the development of cultural industries, which play a key role not only in disseminating works, but in forming the way in which the culture itself is perceived."2 It is the various challenges posed by the commercialization of cultures and the nexus of connections inherent in this tension-ridden environment of cultural pluralism that this seemingly eclectic collection of essays explores. What these essays do share is a common belief that cultures, however defined, experienced and turned to commercial ends, matter. They matter because cultures and everything they represent remain central to our shared human experience.

The construction of a Canadian tradition of literary "classics" and national literary "icons" has been a long and arduous task for the Canadian literary and publishing establishments. This process was aided and abetted greatly by L.M. Montgomery's immensely popular 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables. Cecily Devereux analyzes how and why the nationalism of "our" Anne of Green Gables was immediately, and continually to this day, transformed from a "Canadian Classic" into a highly lucrative "commodity export." The American, British, Australian and Japanese publishing establishments appropriated Anne of Green Gables into their respective national and nationalist discourses of children's literature, theatre and films. Canada's quintessentially British-Canadian Anne of Green Gables was reconstructed into very different American, British, Australian and Japanese Annes of Green Gables. If sizeable profits were to be had in the process, and they most certainly were and are, then so much the better! Devereux is drawn to conclude that "Anne's circulation as a 'commodity' may well thus serve as an index not of difference at all - local, national or global - but of a fundamental ideological sameness in the representation and in the narratives of national identity." National values and themes managed to trump universal values and themes underlying "our" Anne because these are so much easier to communicate and commercialize. …

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