Outside our universal health care, there are few cows more sacred in this country than the arts.
We fund all forms of art with taxpayer dollars — music, film, TV, dance, painting, sculpture, theatre and on and on.
It’s expected we just accept it and dare not speak out about it, no matter how low-quality or questionable the content may be.
The point was proven last week when Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett took shots from all sides over comments he made at the Banff World Television Festival.
Despite saying what a lot of people think, Blackett has been skewered by many in the industry, with the typical overreaction that comes anytime anyone wonders aloud about art forms that benefit greatly from the public’s largesse.
The audience at the panel discussion had been howling with laughter for the 10 minutes leading into Blackett’s now infamous utterance of “Why do I produce so much s***? Why do I fund so much crap?”, mostly due to Canadian actor Kenny Hotz’s mocking of the overt Canadian-ness of a lot of what we produce.
“I don’t ever have to have Rita MacNeil singing or Dalton McGuinty jokes” on my show, he said, to a chorus of laughter.
He also slayed the crowed with quips about eagle heads, mukluks and no one in Toronto caring about shows set in Moncton or Winnipeg.
But arts and culture luminaries ignored the obvious double standard and let loose on Blackett with both barrels.
Actor Paul Gross, whose last major project benefitted from $5 million in provincial taxpayer money, told the Globe and Mail the comments were disheartening and it was “sad for all Albertans that this is what passes for responsible government.”
And CBC Television General Manager Kirstine Stewart, who was in the audience, had the gall to tell the Globe “Nobody can ever question the quality of what we do here in Canada, creatively or otherwise.”
Uh, why the hell not?
Why is it that the industry feels not only entitled to funding, but also to be free from scrutiny?
I guess we should tell the country’s TV critics “hands off” the next time the CBC, CTV or Global roll out another show that is awful.
Because anyone who has watched any Canadian TV over the years knows the landscape is littered with crap.
And if the minister — who elaborated on his comments in this paper, suggesting more needs to be done funding wise at the script development level, and pledged to see that happen — wants to start a national debate on how best to encourage our artists to produce their best work, then we should get behind him.
So he used a four-letter word to emphasize his point? The horror.
Who doesn’t want a minister who speaks his mind, especially if he’s speaking his mind about problems that are germane to the portfolio he oversees?
No one with a brain in their heads should have been left with the impression that Blackett feels every Canadian TV show sucks.
There are some great shows on Canadian TV and there are some terrible shows on Canadian TV, just like with movies, music, books, and so on.
So if we’re going to dole out $31 million in provincial grants, as we did in 2008-09, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with suggesting we can do better.
But that notion is lost on those who would benefit from better Canadian programming.
You’d think they’d want more Canadians to like and watch what they’re putting out there.
Because, regardless of how highly industry or government view our cultural products, it’s Canadians who vote with the remote control.