Standard Radio belongs to Astral Media (or is about to). Astral is one of the largest Canadian media companies; they run the Harold Greenburg Fund. I *think* they own the Jays. Mainly they market, and own people who make things, who market for them.
They're not particularly evil, but what bothers me in this particular situation is how it took me fifteen minutes to track my local radio station to its ultimate corporate overlords in Toronto. And I'm not *entirely* convinced that there aren't overlords above those ones. Probably American ones. But that's likely just my paranoia talking.
My brain has spent a lot of the morning going off on other avenues. It's odd, and it's early, and I haven't had nearly enough caffeine to be coherent to anyone besides myself, so bear with me and please don't ask me to explain the frenzied and jerking series of tangential leaps that led to what followed. I think that last night the roomie and I were complaining about how idiots who can't see the connection between fanfiction as practice for writing and sketching as practice for painting and how all art forms that can't be linked immediately to a profit output are termed worthless and a waste of time. Then again, we talk about that a lot, so this may have been another one of those trains-of-thought that chug around in my head waiting for the slightest excuse to go careening down the nearest available steep hill with the brakes cut. In any case you'll have to trust me that the sudden death of the radio station I don't even like and bemoaning the downfall of all I love and stand for actually do follow one another.
I haven't listened to Z much (pronounced "Zed" with the Canadian accent) for about ten years since I, y'know, developed taste, but it's still kind of jarring that another radio station that's long been a monolith in the local landscape has gone the way of XFM (which disappeared one morning with no notice, too). My guess is (as I'm bothered enough to blog it but not enough to Google it) that they got bought out by another company, and cursory "research" told them they'd do better switching to crappy music with smaller royalties. Not that they were exactly playing *music* before, but still. Pop ballads and rap music have their place. And as long as it was there it didn't have to creep in anywhere else.
I don't even really listen to the radio anymore. But it's still weird. 99.3 The Fox is about the only station left from my teenage years, and they've gotten pretty lame lately too, though I don't think any of the Canada Com stations are in any great danger. Still, this isn't just a situation of Canadian media being rolled under the wheels of something else - that it's happening here, now, is just a symptom of a greater condition. Astral Media isn't, as I said, particularly evil (so far as I know) but I'm increasingly bothered by the fact that everything is slowly being gathered together under one corporate banner like drops of mercury joining together.
Hah! It seems I'm in favour of nationalising everything except art. I should not find this as hilarious as I do. Then again, this isn't nationalising. It's privatising. At least in the GVRD we seem to have lost the ability to distinguish between one grouping-together philosophy and another, *coughSouthernBritishColumbiaTransitAuth
There are only a handful of companies that actually *make* Canadian TV. The two that come off the top of my head are Corus Entertainment and CHUM Limited. Last year, CHUM Limited was bought out by CTV. One of their first acts as a newly-merged entity was to fire upwards of three hundred people on their payroll in Greater Vancouver, and lots more across the country. This was a "cut the dead weight" thing. Not much else. CHUM's stations tend to be odd mainly because they have a flavour; Space, which is often called Canada's version of Sci Fi, wasn't really much like Sci Fi except that they aired genre-heavy TV; its stations are known for being a little out-there and a little risky and a little incredibly Canadian.
Anybody who grew up watching weird Canadian shows, like Shirley Holmes and ReBoot and a hundred others, was probably watching shows made by either Chorus Entertainment (who own YTV, Teletoon, Treehouse TV, the W Network, and CMT Canada, but you probably know them for Nelvana) or CHUM (who own CityTV, A-Channel, Bravo, SexTV, and MuchMusic).
I must admit, I still fail to comprehend the real-world logic of buying a creative entity because it's successful, and then proceeding to strip it of everything that made it successful in an attempt to squeeze it dry of money. I know *why* they do it. I don't know why they think it's a good idea to run something into the ground to get more cash out of it in the long run than to encourage it in the aspects that made it succesful in the first place (you poor 'Merkins who miss Sci Fi as it once and very briefly was know what I mean). What's so horrible about breaking even? Why is it distasteful and amateurish to consider that maintaining a balance and making good art and reporting accurate news was the reason TV media was put on Earth in the first place?
But it's immature to think of it that way, I guess. After all, we all know that the *true* purpose of all life and ideas on the planet is to keep on producing product and taking in profit ad infinitum. Never mind that even in the creative sphere, eventually you run out of raw material if you strip-mine it and then piss on the ground. Wait, hold on, we've strayed from the point, haven't we? I was using the decline of media as an analogue for the inevitable collapse of society under capitalism, wasn't I? Oops. Sorry. "Market-based economy." I forgot "capitalism" was a dirty word these days. Oops, I did it again. Sorry.
Just three major TV broadcast companies left in this country (Global, CTV, and the CBC, and the CBC being publicly-held I wouldn't count them, especially as creatively they've had very little in the way of guts since the late eighties), a handful of radio companies (many of whom belong to one of those two private companies mentioned above), and that's it. Most of the newspapers belong to Global, too, and Global has but one editorial stance for *all* its outlets. I mean, it's not as if we had a vibrant journalistic culture in this country to begin with, but it's still a little sobering to see the homogenization continue apace. I miss when media was all done by dorks with no money. Okay, I miss believing media was all done by dorks with no money. Anyway now it's all about how many ads they can sell, and how little content they can get away with including to justify it.
Picture this: it's five years from now, and the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun are six pages of print to fifteen of ads, and out in the world the sixty-minute TV slot has gone from forty-five minutes (already down from forty-eight in the early nineties) down to thirty-five... half-hour shows are only be thirteen minutes long. All the drama and intrigue and story left on television are virtual parodies of their namesakes, thrown together by people hired by investors (who couldn't define subtlety with a gun to their heads, who don't read for pleasure,who wouldn't know dramatic irony if it kicked them in the face, and whose knowledge of cultural cross-reference is limited to the most crude and the most blatant) who have only ever had a passing acquaintance of what such things were supposed to look or feel like - like butterflies whose wings mimic the faces of birds to drive off predators - and we've forgotten why we were interested in the shows in the first place.
Media was already becoming nothing more than a vehicle for consumer advertising - how long until they give up the pretense that it's been anything else for the last ten years? By the time the offspring of my age-group (who are coming fast) are deep-set into their TV indoctrination, they'll be gathering on message boards to talk in L33t about the plot of the latest Pepsi commercial, and reality TV will be considered too plot-heavy and old-fashioned.
At some time in the distant misty past, media was led by people who gave a shit. I think that may have been dying out by the time I started paying attention. At some point, we went from using the media to create art and transmit the news and do all the other things only at absolute necessity to everything being driven by the ad-buy. How much money can we make for as little work? When did the lawyers take over? People who have no interest and little knowledge of what it takes to capture the imagination and are perfectly willing to see the print, radio, and screen media as nothing more than a device for manipulating the economic cycle. Somewhere, way back when, you have to imagine that the people in charge of things were the ones who wanted to tell stories, to tell us what was going on, and to do all those things because they thought it mattered.
I suppose this all really comes down to the fact that having it repeated to me, over and over, by media lawyers, by CEOs, by Bonnie fucking Hammer, that we must consider the bottom line, and being sent away with the rest of the viewing audience and the creative community with a condescending pat on the head PISSES ME THE HELL OFF. I hate being told that art must bow to the might of economic gain almost as much as it enrages me to be told that stories must cater, to some degree, to mainstream taste, however compelling and fascinating and inspiring and FUCKING AWESOME they may be in other respects. We must have the large-breasted non-fan-service character. We *must* have the football game. We *must* occasionally have Veronica make cracks about sweaty loner fanboys and how lame they are in a desperate and doomed attempt to convince otherwise normal and uninterested "mainstream" viewers that this *isn't* just a show for losers and shut-ins, people with social lives can enjoy it too, and they won't even get nerd-cooties from trying!
Sorry. That's *still* pissing me off, and it's been *months*.
smolder wrote about this some time back, and I can't do anything but agree. I can't even begin to describe the absolute fury inspired by being told that however incredible the story may be, my interests may be, my chosen culture may be, it's just not VALID unless it's backed by something more acceptable, more normal, more accepted.
I'm sorry, but how is discrimination against art and geek more acceptable than any other kind of discrimination? Just because you can't necessarily spot a geek at fifty paces? Just because artists *could* choose to go to law school or become accountants if they wanted, but chose to pursue something ultimately economically worthless instead?
Sometimes I feel like I'm being punished for my inclinations. It's uncomfortable, and it's infuriating, and it may not seem to approach the discomfort of being persecuted for something you can't help, but I happen to think that we should be respected for our hard-won choices, not derrided for them. Smart and passionate people *are* a marginalized social class. We wouldn't know we were except for modern media and the Internet, because we wouldn't know each other. We're unique and we pay attention and that often gets recognition as valid, but we don't get credited for doing strange things we *want* to do. Most rights are granted because you can't make the strange people go away without killing them and coming out the villain.
That could be interpreted as a poor comparison, religion and art, but art *is* a religion. It fills all the same needs, all the same places in the brain. My lifestyle choice includes dissenting opinions about cultural priorities that I hold deeply and firmly. I don't think that they're less valuable because I came up with them intentionally and with much less help from an unquestioned and stratified set of rules passed down from generation to generation; rather, I suspect I value them more and more intelligently because I paid attention while they were being built.
Okay, okay, that's not entirely true. I was, to be completely fair, raised geek. We were raised to learn the crap out of things and be interested by them. We got the Bible, sure, and other "holy books," but we also (and with more enthusiasm) got Star Trek, and The Lord of The Rings. "Geek" is as close to religion as I got as a child. But is it the same if your "religion" is based mainly on teaching you to make your own choices from as much information as possible, and to be passionate about them once they've been made? All religions were once only splinter cults, and that includes Christianity. All of it. I could google five minutes and pull a handful of fundie groups who *still* preach that Catholicism is a dangerous and subversive group of bloodthirsty cultists. (Don't look at me - I can't think much good comes of codifying anything you can't prove, and that emphatically includes the belief in God and how he/she/it/they would prefer to be worshipped.)
All culture rests on the things we hold most dear. That applies to any part of it that can influence and be influenced by its participants. That applies to television and radio and print media as much as it does to religion and politics. Anybody who doesn't think that as many if not more people garner their political convictions from fiction and hack reporters as from academia and serious, enthusiastic community discussion and direct contact with the socio-political sphere is, to put it plainly, dreaming. Our world is a very different world from a hundred years ago. We are constantly bombarded, from all sides, from every outlet, from newspapers and television and friends who have access to both, not to mention the radio, the internet, and just about anything else you can mention.
We are a plugged-in world, and we can't help it. And if the dominant influential voice in my world is telling me that the most important thing you can do is make money, and that everything else is secondary, and that wanting to be noble and selfless and inspiring and brave, and wanting to tell people that saving the world is a worthy cause, and wanting to believe in magic if I godsdamned well please, and wanting to be left alone to make art to influence in my own way is not only silly and childish, but a little bit shameful, but acceptable as long as I fit myself into their rules, well, I have a problem with that.
It's one thing to say we have free speech, and then use that free speech to talk just as loud as the person who disagrees with you. It's another entirely to use every vast resource at your disposal to teach everyone else, from the time they're too small to understand they're being taught, uniformly and quietly, drowning out all other voices, that your way is the only way that won't end with them being treated as worthless and ostracized. Organizations and individuals in positions of power have a lot more responsibility where speech is concerned - because people are credulous and trusting to a frightening degree. This is sticky mainly because we *do* parent children with TV - by the time I was seven or eight it was already becoming demonstrably true. Even those of us that missed the beginning of the market-directly-to-children-era and those who missed it altogether by decades are to some degree aware that the media fills a space in our heads and our more glandular, less rational processes that is also filled by the emotions we have towards our parents, infuriating and condescending and sometimes downright wrong though they may be. And by and large, we trust our parents. We trust them because, even by the time we're old enough and smart enough to know they don't know everything, and that we have minds of our own, we still remember, in a compelling and gutteral way, being small, and not knowing anything, and having our parents as the only source of knowledge and the only source of ultimate safety. We trust our parents because they are the first ones who teach us who to trust and who not to trust.
We argue with them and we fight with them and we agonize over how much less enlightened they are than we are and we complain about them to our friends and our siblings, but mostly we forgive them and go over for supper once a week, because above all, even if we can't stand our parents on a day-to-day basis, the idea of a world without them is a terrifying thing indeed. A world without parents is a portless and lonely world with no truth and no justice. Parents are the first and ultimate authority before we *can* think, and we are continuously replacing, under the thin veneer of conscious thought, that authority with something else. We can't help it. And television, and print media, and radio, and everything else has occupied such a position for such a long time in so very many of us that *not* listening is still a very hard habit to shake, even if you know they're full of crap. There's no way in hell that the media is ignorant of this relationship, and there's no way in hell they don't exploit it with full consciousness of what they're exploiting. They hire people to investigate the full extent of our gullibility and how best to appeal to it. It's not illegal. Of course it's not. But it's nasty, all the same. It doesn't get said out loud - it gets whispered in between the things being said. We don't call that broadcasting: we call that propaganda.
Television lies. Imagine that.
I don't think that the family is the building block of civilisation. The building block of civilisation is reason and argument.
Family is, though, quite probably the building block of the species.
The problem with being a biological life-form descended from apes is that we are always going to be stuck with that inheritance. With feeling as well as thinking. Our monkey selves have to live side-by-side with our thinking selves. And it's the monkey side that marketing targets, because it's the hardest to control and the most consistent from person to person. Just ask somebody in advertising about grocery stores and the colour red.
Now, give me just a moment while I try and gather the scattered bits of my point...
...a lot of people, as I have suggested a few million times before, think of civilisation as something natural. Something natural. That social responsibility appears at a pre-determined age with or without training. But that's bullshit because civilisation is all in our heads. It's not just a convenient system for keeping electricity and running water chugging along but a system of ideals and the best methods for achieving those ideals. It's imaginary, and theoretical, and needs to be constantly re-written and re-imagined.
See where I'm going here?
I don't want to suggest that a profit-driven ideology is wrong or primitive or fundamentally flawed in some way...
...okay, I DO, because I'm impatient and it would be more direct, and of course I'm a monkey, too.
What I want to suggest is that you need to take the complicated with the simple bits. That well-educated and socialised people fall prey to the idea that the incredibly complex and precarious socio-economic structure of global civilisation is there to serve only as a framework to deliver creature comforts is astonishing to me, because you would think that people with a world-view of any kind would know better. I believe in cyclic-static economies, but culture doesn't work like that. Art doesn't work like that. Science doesn't work like that. The material world is cyclic and static and constantly recycling and re-using and staying essentially the same despite re-configuration, but the immaterial world is essentially limitless. That the two need to co-exist, like our monkey and logic selves, does not necessarily mean that the one must control or guide the other exclusively.
"Market-based economies", whose proponents are the ones masterminding the scheme to make storytelling profitable rather than good, discount the fact that human beings are constantly learning and changing. That they're supposed to. That if we stop making sure we do, we become stagnant and die out from sheer boredom. Well, maybe not. We might wish we had.
Of course I'm biased and promoting my cultural bias with complete shamelessness, because this is my journal, after all, and my soapbox. I'm a geek and I think that geek culture is best and I would be happier if everybody was geekier, because geekiness makes me happy when anything does. Now, I'm an arrogant, condescending socialist who considers quite a lot of views and people utterly beneath my notice, but even I would hesitate from snapping my fingers and making everyone like me: it would be boring. Apart from politics being fundamentally an endeavour to make sure that as many people as possible are the kind you'd like to talk to for a couple of hours over a drink, it would be boring. Even if I think my view is the most interesting, life without change is death. Life without argument or challenge is a road to slow death. Muscles atrophy. Cells die.
And here we have iconic parental voices telling us that the only true path to success and happiness lies the way of repeating the same joke over and over again in slightly different funny voices, and making as much money as possible with as little new input to the process as possible. Because that's the most efficient profitable model available. Whether it's enjoyable or inspiring or innovative isn't the point - the point is that this way works, this way keeps the running water and the electricity coming, and deviating could mean poverty, worthlessness, and death. Exploring other ways isn't just silly, it's dangerous, and it's heretical.
Funny how it almost sounds religious, isn't it?
It comes to seem that the story is used not just as a vehicle (whose inherent value is more or less mythical), but as a cover, as a mask to hide something being fed to us often without our knowledge, but for our own good. The spoonful of sugar, if you will.
And I think most of us know the truth about Mary Poppins, by now. ;)
The majority has always ruled. We never needed a democracy for that. Insofar as civilisation can be said to have inborn qualities, that's probably its strongest. Culture is both incredible and insidious in the way that it adapts and changes and absorbs and transmits. But it's also notoriously easy to model, if you know how. If you're in the right position of power. If you know when to start teaching. If you're careful and subtle and think you're doing it for our own good, because no motive is so effective at granting momentum. The minority will always be marginalized, because they're the minority and because they disagree. But there's a difference between being brushed aside with a pat on the head and being stamped brutally out of existence by people who resent your very existence, because it makes them feel small, because it seems to threaten them, because it inconveniences them, because it's unnecessary, because it's silly.
I'm not saying don't take the medicine. Or that we don't need an economy and people considering our economic interests - for now.
But some things, we do outgrow. And sometimes we learn that our parents are wrong, and worse yet, that everything that will come next, is up to us.