Canadian magazines would be protected against the tidal wave of split-run issues of U.S. publications that has swept across the border, under legislation sponsored by Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. The cabinet in Ottawa supported her proposed Bill C-55, which will prevent American magazine publishers from selling advertising to Canadian companies if those ads are meant specifically for split-runs on sale in Canada. (A split-run issue features essentially the same content on both sides of the border, but different advertisements and usually different covers.)
Although the bill is clearly in accord with the “cultural exemption” that Canada obtained in the negotiations leading up to NAFTA, there has been a lot of pressure from Washington and from the so-called “pacifists” in Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s entourage to rescind the measure. U.S. Trade Secretary Charlene Barchevsky and American media conglomerates sharply attacked the proposed law and reiterated their longstanding objection to Canadian protection of cultural industries, most notably film and publishing. The U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Gordon Giffen, said he was “startled” by the proposal. The implied threat of trade retaliation jangled the nerves of the Canadian business community, which shares with its American counterparts an ingrained antipathy—or at least, total indifference—to any notion of a “national” culture.
Nevertheless, the prospect of Macleans finally succumbing to Newsweek and the likes of People and Forbes completely taking over the nation’s newsstands concentrated the minds of sufficient Canadians to secure broad popular and political support for C-55. The prime minister himself stated that “some Americans don’t like the protection for industries in the cultural field, but it is part of our identity.”
So far, so conventional. But why has the opposition to the bill in the United States been so vehement? A coalition has formed, linking the U.S. entertainment, media, and information-technology sectors in a common front to oppose cultural protectionism anywhere. This “American” juggernaut—the product of corporate mergers and the convergence of the information media—sees the Canadian bill as a litmus test, since successful Canadian resistance can be a model for other countries. Canadian arguments have been echoed in Europe and Asia, where the very notion of standing up to “American” cultural hegemony touches a cord.
What most Europeans and Canadians still call “culture” has been absorbed, in the United States, into a monolithic entertainment-industrial complex that combines publishing, broadcasting, cable and satellite systems, film-making, video and TV production, theater, and music performance, recording, and distribution. Time-Warner, Disney, and company want to control the world, literally. They have a lot of money, and therefore a lot of influence in Washington, which now seems ready to risk an all-out trade war over an unimportant and perfectly legal foreign bill. Thanks to their lobbying, “many in Washington feel an example must be made of Canada if other cultural protectionists around the world are to be deterred,” according to Christopher Sands, director of the Canada Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
From this “American” point of view, any national culture—if it is to be tolerated at all—must be subordinate to something called “freedom of choice,” which entails, in addition to split-run magazines, as many American radio and television stations, cable channels, films, videos, and Stephen King paperbacks as the “global” consumer wants. This “freedom,” richly endowed with advertising billions, is supposedly resisted only by oppressive “cultural elites,” an array of killjoys and nerds who undemocratically presume to tell the people what they ought to read, see, and hear. Culture-related subsidies of any kind, not to mention content requirements, are shackles limiting peoples’ choices, inconsistent with “globalization” and “freedom of expression.”
The assault is formidable, and it needs to be resisted by the adherents of true culture everywhere. But it is unfortunate that Canada has been pushed to the forefront of the emerging global culture war. Canada—or, to be precise, its Englishspeaking bulk—is, if anything, more politically correct and more “multicultural” than America. Its Toronto-based “cultural elite” is largely effete, leftish, anti-Christian, sexually ambiguous, and fatally dependent on state handouts from like-minded federal and provincial bureaucrats. It is lacking in the vigor, authentically, and raw energy of, say, the late Robertson Davies or Alice Munro. It deserves to be swept away.
But its defeat at the hands of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Michael Eisner would undermine the will to resist in places such as Spain, Slovakia, Finland, or Austria, not to mention America’s own struggling heartland. For that reason alone, we ought to support the Canadians on this one. The barbarians are inside the gates, and our enemy’s enemy should be at least an ally, if not exactly a friend.