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Sunday, September 21, 2008

With open arms: Welcoming the 'Lost' Generation

Last night at Denis' Birthday party I was chatting with someone (just for the record, I remember your name, I'm just not sure if these are points you want attributed publicly) about the fate of our industry and she brought up a great point.

It was something I hadn't thought of, something, I don't think I could've thought of.

With her head bowed low so as not to be heard she mentioned something to me, something that rocked me and brought that last piece of the puzzle home.

It made a connection to things I had glossed over, to things that I had not really understood until that moment.

There is a 'Lost' Generation.

Somewhere in Canada, maybe in between the ages of the 40s to 60s or so there seems to be this group of people that have lost touch with - or maybe just never felt - what it is to be Canadian, to feel intrinsically connected to their home like the generations before them.

She talked about how Canadian Culture of all kinds was once this beautiful thing, where there was this industry booming - Theatre, film, television and more - and then, somehow, it went away.

Almost as an attempt to prove her point she brought up things like how the 'older' generations are passionate about their country - you can see it in their love for the CBC and things beyond Hockey Night In Canada.

Heck, they made Paul Anka a household name.

She brought up things like Radio 2 - where you have Canadians, mostly late 50-ish and above fighting (and being passionate) about and for their Canadian Radio station. A whole group of people that made King Of Kensington a hit and the Stratford Festival, well, the Stratford Festival.

I did my own research and found things like this.

Where, in 1951, The Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences warned that "the potential exists for Canada's culture to be overwhelmed by foreign influences, most notably those from the United States".

Somehow, that happened.

Somewhere along the lines, we 'lost' a generation.

And they're now the people who are voting en masse. They're the people who think 'Canadian Film and TV sucks' without being able to name the last Canadian movie they saw or a single Canadian show that's still on the air - outside of maybe Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys, and even then they can't tell you what they're about.

They're the people who are nonplussed by the concept of the collapse of the Canadian Culture Sector because - somehow - it's never quite held that same meaning for them.

I grew up watching things like The Littlest Hobo and Putnam's Prairie Emporium and Red Green and the Raccoons.

I've watched the Edison Twins and My Secret Identity.

I never knew they were 'Canadian' when I was a kid, I just knew they were shows I liked. Yet it was those postive experiences - along with learning, years later, that these were 'our' shows - that helped open my mind to new experiences; To have positive recollections of my 'culture'.

And that open mind has followed me all my days. For though I've never been a huge fan of live theatre I went to and loved Beatriz Yuste and James Gilpin's "Bride of Sasquatch" when it played at the Fringe festival. I spent my own money to see Foolproof and Bon Cop, Bad Cop and Ginger Snaps. (Hell, I dragged my friends to see that movie, twice!)

Let's not even get started on the Canadian Music Festivals and concerts.

Now, to be clear, this isn't a pissing contest to say how 'Canadian' I am, I'm just saying that I gave these things a chance - and was delightfully surprised.

I could've said "Oh, this is Canadian and it's going to suck" but I didn't - and there are a lot of people who didn't.

But, to me, it's those people who - for whatever reason - feel ostracized or disconnected from their culture that we need to reach.

The people who're in government now, who're voting now, who're working the lines now, who are ACTIVE in their own government now.

More so than any other generation these are the people we must reach, that we must educate and show - without fail - that there is not only something worth preserving but that right now it is flourishing and could very well be felled for all the wrong reasons, for nothing more than ignorance and apathy.

And that is why I say we artists, all of us, every one of us that would dare to try and make a name for ourselves in our own country - those who would balk at the idea of having to make our names somewhere else before we are recognized here - must roll up our sleeves.

We must look to and take inspiration from amazing people like Yann Martel - who I admit I've only just learned about - who are writing to Stephen Harper every 2 weeks, sending him a letter and book that promotes stillness.

People like Wajdi Mouawad who are writing passionate and beautiful letters that are not over-bearing or polemic in their nature.

Yet I've come to feel - and I apologize if I offend - that by writing the government and the Prime Minister we are targeting the wrong people. For our industry to continue to flourish we must work to inspire, with kindness and compassion, those who would believe the words that 'Canadian Culture sucks' without truly understanding what that means.

I believe, thanks to the insight of this wonderful person last night - who with such simple words offered yet another step in my struggle for clarity - that we must target these people.

This 'Lost' generation.

And we must welcome them home.



sphinxmagic said...

Hey Brandon! That's very interesting. Did your acquaintance have a theory as to why that generation is specifically a lost one? Although, I would argue that this disconnect applies to other generations, including our own. At film school, I don't recall any profs or students ever using a Canadian film/TV episode as an example of great writing, directing, editing, cinematography, etc.... Except for maybe the Canadian film studies class, but it referenced much older works (not part of today's popular culture). In fact, without ever saying it, I think there was the general sentiment among my peers that Canadian stuff generally "sucks." Case in point, people usually scoff or laugh when Degrassi is mentioned. And never ever talked about Corner Gas or Trailer Park Boys. Not even in the TV class. Although, to be fair, we did watch an episode of Due South. You should totally bring this discussion over to ink :).

Brandon Laraby said...

The theory was that it was people who were in their 40s to 60s - so probably people who were born in or growing up in the late 1950s to early 1970s.

Is that solid? Who knows? But somehow it makes sense.

As for the disconnect spreading, well, to me it makes a certain amount of sense. When you have people who are already feeling disconnected from their culture teaching people who're searching for their identity, let alone looking for someone to look up to, etc. It makes sense that it would spread.

If someone doesn't respect or appreciate their own culture then who's do they respect? Who's shared memories do they look to for inspiration? Probably the United States.

And to the 'people scoff or laugh when Degrassi is mentioned' - I would ask them exactly how many episodes they've watched in total.

It's one thing to watch a show and not enjoy it, it's another thing to dismiss it in its entirety because, well, it's Canadian.

Most notably, Due South was a Canadian show that made a big splash down in the States - if you didn't necessarily respect Canadian shows but wanted to cover Canadian content what better way then to show it through the lens of 'well, the Americans liked it so it must be good'?

Your peers are just picking up on the sentiment that's being put out by the people in power above them. If their own teachers are saying 'Canadian stuff is crap' who are they to argue? Some will, most won't.

The idea is to keep stuff like this from being reinforced on the younger generations if we can't change the minds of those who've already made theirs up.

Simply put: If they're not watching Canadian TV and Canadian Films, how can they know that they suck?