Innis's Screen Capitalism

Essay by hodge757College, UndergraduateB+, December 2009

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What it means to be Canadian has been continually moulded for years upon years. For Gerald Friesen, it has been a growing cause ever since the beginning of time when the Aboriginals occupied the land. After centuries of immigration and new settlements developing in their respected regions, the word Canadian has been gradually changed throughout the different eras, which as described by Friesen, consist of the oral tradition, the textual settler, print-capitalism, and screen-capitalism.1 Screen-capitalism was a very recent development in the progression of Canadian society. It “is said to have superseded all previous cultures as a consequence of the introduction of television and computers, the refinement of transportation and production systems, and the development of global corporate organization as well as of consumption-driven individual experience.”2 In essence, all of this has pointed to one thing: the continued growth of Canadian identity. With the new communication technology came American consumerism and in order to combat this new movement, Canada had to preserve its own culture and maintain its own unique identity.

Through the creation of national institutions, the changes in our economy and our industries, and the advent of electronic communication technologies, Canada has carved out its own individuality. Screen-capitalism was perhaps the most significant aspect of Canadian history that forged ahead, shaped, and developed a national identity.

The development of institutions and its conducts in Canada aided screen-capitalism’s success in implementing a nationwide individuality. Friesen states, “Privileged institutions...can be seen as indispensable instruments of production of the ideas and practices of an authoritative order.”3 The National Film Board (NFB) was no exception to this claim as it was created as an alternative cultural product to the Hollywood films south of the border.4 Film was a medium that was able to reach the masses, that could overcome physical land diversity, and that could be used to formulate and manipulate perspectives of citizens everywhere. With this in mind, the NFB was to become the national film propaganda agency, developing documentaries that created a sense of ‘collective responsibility’ among Canadians to support the war, thereby uniting the nation for a common goal.5 John Grierson, the pioneer of the film movement, orchestrated numerous national campaigns, in the belief that he was advertising the country.6 Using this propaganda as an educational tool, the NFB essentially became an outlet for uniting a nation by creating a sense of importance in each individual and reminding them Canada was one big community that was facing the international crisis together. The institution of the NFB basically reinstated that Canada’s identity of continually uniting a diverse population spread far and wide was always possible.

The creation of MuchMusic was another cultural institution that contributed to the development of Canada’s national identity. The New Music was a television show that represented the most consistent effort to showcase new Canadian talent in the pre-MuchMusic era.7 A cable channel dedicated to music and music videos entirely came in the form of MuchMusic, which was an important player in the sound-recording industry. As government policy for cultural productions “began to emphasize the marketing and distribution of Canadian cultural products,”8 MuchMusic became an ideal place to showcase the works of Canadian culture in a society that has seen American dominance in terms of media consumption. Canadian radio stations had been “exploiting established performers over the untested newer artists promoted by record companies.”9 With MuchMusic, up and coming Canadian artists had a great opportunity to have their works promoted to a mass audience. This new channel essentially created a whole new industry of jobs and services that were available to Canadians to get more hands on in creating and forming media for inclusion in Canadian culture and identity.

Even Roseanne in Friesen’s text, described her childhood leisure time by talking about the “entertainment venues and the celebrities who stood out in the public life.”10 Her description largely consisted of American and British pop culture icons, so for Canadians and Canadian culture to be of significance in people’s lives, there had to be an opportunity to promote and showcase the home-grown talent. MuchMusic had an influential national reach and it still remains a stronghold in pop culture today as it led to the creation of VideoFact, a fund that takes a percentage of the station’s revenues and aids the development of Canadian artists’ music videos,11 again helping develop a Canadian music identity for Canadians to consume.

In the end, Canadian institutions whether related directly to the media, or regarded cultural works, were prominent figures in aiding the succession of Canadian individualism. Each institution now had both a Francophone and an Anglophone presence or evolved within a bilingual mandate.12 This once again proves the unity that Canada has in embracing the two official languages of this nation. It has been mandatory for elementary schools to teach both English and French and major transportation systems to also contain both languages. Despite the diversity of Canada, its institutions have been sure to promote and maintain a unique identity of uniting the differences and similarities that each citizen has as well as promoting its own culture and talents.

Through the changes in the economy during the screen-capitalism period, Canadians have been able to participate in the consumption of media. By being able to engage in media, Canadians are able to take gain a sense of Canadian culture and identity through the various communication technologies.

The concept of time had literally become the phrase ‘time is money’. Canadians earned income in exchange for monetized minutes that serve the interest of the employers.13 The daily passage of the measured and monetized minutes had become so internalized that workers could not live their lives without abiding by the implications and tasks dictated by the clock.14 The workers at this time had become accustomed to the “precise clock timed labour and to continuous significant changes in the work process”15 that consciousness and the discipline of time had become a rule. For Roseanne and Frank, punctual time became very important and they even arrived to work early.16 On top of this importance of time to everyday lives, all four adults of both households worked wages, which created family pressures, but at the end of the day offered a greater amount of income for the family. Eventually, even children would get into the workforce to support their families. The willingness of the various family members to enter the workforce had allowed the family to continue spending and maintaining consumption habits.17 Canadians now had more disposable income18 that they could spend on whatever they wanted. This allowed for the greater consumption of goods and Canadian culture. With more money, Canadians could allocate more of their money for entertainment purposes including on movies and on television. Being a part of the media was important because technologies such as television is central to information gathering and participating in news dissemination provoked active analytical responses among citizens.19 Having the income to gain access to media is very important since it enables Canadians to contribute to community discussions and creates a sense of unity in that everyone across Canada has access to the same information. This concept of unifying a diverse population across a diverse landscape is crucial to the Canadian identity as it makes what it is.

The advent of electronic communication technologies also helped establish Canada’s unique identity. Canada’s ‘middle ground’ television which situated itself in between information and entertainment television had been hope by the Massey Commissioners to encourage Canadians to concern themselves with real situations and to pay attention to the particularities of place.20 Watching television would then allow for viewers to give programs their full attention and then discuss the issues with their neighbours and family. Since years of American television had skewed Canadians’ demand for straightforward entertainment television,21 Canadian television had to create its own identity that satisfied both the viewers and fulfilled the duties of Canada as a nationalistic perspective. Canadian television then enlisted program personalities who were engaging and popular among audiences to host television shows, which would allow for the reporters to become “personal witnesses to the events they were covering.22 With this advent of electronic communication of television, and a way of drawing more viewers into information programs such as news services, it would allow for the nation to embody the same knowledge on current events and to initiate local debates on various issues even though there is so much diversity in the united population. Also, the demand of people guided the media rather than the reverse. For example, in Roseanne’s case, the people wanted to know every single detail about Princess Diana’s death and her legacy, so the media gave in.23 This gave the people power and a sense of being agents of change; the ability to guide perspectives and demand from the media what information they wanted to allow for a universal emotion and knowledge regarding a topic broadcast across the nation.

The television also allowed for Canadian businesses to advertise the Canadian products. Some of these advertising messages were tailored to the Canadian market, which gave Canadian companies an edge over American advertisements.24 The advertisements would allow for Canadian products to be supported and consumed by the nation. Advertisements were extremely important in Canadian television because it had “now become the most important instrument of the ideology” in Canada.25 This meant that ads were able to create cultural norms and ideas specific to the Canadian culture, therefore contributing to the unique identity of being Canadian. Through these ideologies that are created, the whole nation would then follow these social norms resulting in another unification of diversity.

Screen-capitalism has definitely been the most significant aspect of Canadian history that established the true Canadian identity of unity. Through institutions, Canada was united by film propaganda and Canadian music culture in the sense that the same content was being promoted nation-wide. Changes in our economies and industries allowed for greater consumption of media and let Canadians gain access to more Canadian content and culture. Finally, it was the electronic communication technologies that allowed Canadians to have access to the media that forged a Canadian identity. Advertisements were also of importance because they had the capabilities of creating and maintaining cultural and social norms that would be applied to Canada as a whole. All in all, Canadian identity has not changed too much since we are still in the screen-capitalist era. The diversity that still remains in our country is unified by the media as we have access to all sorts of information that people across this big nation do too.

Notes1Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 5-6.

2Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 6.

3Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 190.

4Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 192.

5Gary Evans. “John Grierson and the National Film Board: The Politics of WartimePropaganda.”Communication History in Canada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson.(Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004) 228-229.

6Gary Evans. “John Grierson and the National Film Board: The Politics of WartimePropaganda.”Communication History in Canada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson.(Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004) 231.

7Ira Wagman. “Rock the Nation: MuchMusic, Cultural Policy, and the Development ofEnglishCanadian Music Video Programming, 1979-1984.” CommunicationHistory in Canada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press.2004.) 220.

8Ira Wagman. “Rock the Nation: MuchMusic, Cultural Policy, and the Development ofEnglishCanadian Music Video Programming, 1979-1984.” CommunicationHistory in Canada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press.2004.) 214-215.

9Ira Wagman. “Rock the Nation: MuchMusic, Cultural Policy, and the Development ofEnglishCanadian Music Video Programming, 1979-1984.” CommunicationHistory in Canada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press.2004.) 218.

10 Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 213.

11Ira Wagman. “Rock the Nation: MuchMusic, Cultural Policy, and the Development ofEnglishCanadian Music Video Programming, 1979-1984.” CommunicationHistory in Canada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press.2004.) 221.

12Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 196.

13Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 179.

14Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 172.

15Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 174.

16Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 172.

17Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 182.

18Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 182.

19Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 203.

20David Hogarth. “Public-Service Broadcasting as a Modern Project: A Case Study ofEarlyPublicAffairs Television in Canada.” Communication History in Canada.Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004.) 197.

21David Hogarth. “Public-Service Broadcasting as a Modern Project: A Case Study ofEarlyPublicAffairs Television in Canada.” Communication History in Canada.Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004.) 199.

22David Hogarth. “Public-Service Broadcasting as a Modern Project: A Case Study ofEarlyPublicAffairs Television in Canada.” Communication History in Canada.Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004.) 201.

23Gerald Friesen. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, andCanada. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.) 211.

24Paul Rutherford. “And Now a Word from Our Sponsor.” Communication History inCanada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004.) 210.

25 Paul Rutherford. “And Now a Word from Our Sponsor.” Communication History inCanada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. (Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004.) 211.

Works CitedEvans, Gary. “John Grierson and the National Film Board: The Politics of WartimePropaganda.”Communication History in Canada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson.Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004. 228-233.

Friesen, Gerald. Citizens and Nation – An Essay on History, Communication, and Canada.Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2000.

Hogarth, David. “Public-Service Broadcasting as a Modern Project: A Case Study of EarlyPublicAffairs Television in Canada.” Communication History in Canada. EdDaniel J. Robinson. Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004. 197-206.

Rutherford, Paul. “And Now a Word from Our Sponsor.” Communication History inCanada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. Toronto: Oxford University Press. 2004. 207-213.

Wagman, Ira. “Rock the Nation: MuchMusic, Cultural Policy, and the Development ofEnglishCanadian Music Video Programming, 1979-1984.” CommunicationHistory in Canada. Ed. Daniel J. Robinson. Toronto: Oxford University Press.2004. 214-223.