The culture thing



Now that opposition to Harper’s War on Culture™ has burgeoned from mere impolitic bitching from a few choice uppity artists to a full-blown, cross-platform, two-solitudes-smashing media extravaganza (Nat Post here; Globe and Mail here; CBC here; Radio-Canada here; Montreal Gazette here; La Presse here and here and here; TVA/LCN here), you have to ask yourself, as Deux maudits anglais did a few long days ago, how Stephen Harper, the supposedly brilliant campaigner, allowed this to happen. We haven’t talked to him recently–damned if he’ll return our calls!–but I’ll take a swipe at guessing his strategy regardless.

Harper had to have known that cuts to culture would evoke certain loud noises from Quebec. What he must have gambled on, however, is that those noises would be limited to the island of Montreal–or, more specifically, the Grand Bohemian Plateau Republic of Montreal where artists have traditionally lived and cavorted–and where the Conservatives don’t have a chance anyway. Cutting the fat from government rolls, even a comparatively paltry $45-million worth, would play well in the sticks, where the Conservatives hope to win several seats from the Bloc Québécois–and where, apparently, people believe culture is something you use to make crottes de fromage. There is a huge amount of off-island resentment in the province at the haughty Plateau intelligentsia and its stranglehold on media and the arts. It’s typical urban/rural bickering, as present in Quebec as it is in Ontario, Washington State or France.

Hence Harper’s particularly harsh comments yesterday about “regular working people” turning on the TV only to see “a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough.” It’s a crude statement, for sure, but surely not accidental: saying as much is a straight up play for the heartstrings (and vote) of Joe Lunchbox.

The trouble with this thinking, though, is that Mr. Lunchbox doesn’t only see Quebec’s culture when he turns on his TV. He also sees it in the myriad festivals that have become the lifeblood of hundreds of rural communities around the province. There’s this one, this one and this one, for example. These aren’t big gala affairs, to be sure. However, they tend to be crucial to local economies, and they tend to rely greatly on government largesse. This is pure speculation, but I wonder if Harper realized as much a little too late. Regardless, it’s fairly telling that he refused to repeat his spoiled-artist comments in French. (It seems Harper also underestimated the amount of noise Quebec artists can make, as well as the symbiotic relationship between these artists and us wretches in the press…)

The other problem for the Conservatives is that the protest to arts funding cuts has jumped the linguistic divide. As much as the producers of the above video would like to think, this isn’t a big, evil conspiracy against the French. Proof? Actual living, breathing English artists have taken up the charge in Toronto, which effectively kills the Conservative’s faint hope chance in Don Valley West, and gives the issue traction well beyond Quebec. So much for that island of Montreal thing.

Imagine: All this headache for a measly $45 million.


The culture thing

  1. “It’s a crude statement, for sure, but surely not accidental: saying as much is a straight up play for the heartstrings (and vote) of Joe Lunchbox.”

    Martin, I totally disagree. I watched Harper on this one and I think that this was a complete off the cuff unscripted response to a reporter. I realize that many reporters firmly believe Harper to be some sort of genius and that it would therefore be difficult to accept that he could make such a dumb statement but many of you seem to forget the Harper we all knew from his days in the Opposition.

    What we saw yesterday was a crack in his carefully crafted I-am-a-moderate-really-I-am veneer.

    It is quite difficult to pretend to be someone you aren’t 24 hours a day.

    Harper slipped, plain and simple.

  2. You can disagree about the arts cuts, but on the festival front, the Conservatives tried to shore that up by putting $30 million a year into them in the 2007 budget.

  3. If the Tories don’t win DVW I really doubt it will have anything to do with the arts cuts. The arts community in Toronto doesn’t recognise Toronto as existent east of the Don ravine, north of Bloor or west of Roncesvalles.

  4. (It seems Harper also underestimated the amount of noise Quebec artists can make, as well as the symbiotic relationship between these artists and us wretches in the press…)

    Noise and cooperation doesn’t equal votes. It might just end up making this one of the bigger issues in the election.

    Do you think Harper would mind that?

    What percentage of Canadians would support a few cuts in federal arts funding these days? There’s only one party that supports that. There’s 4 parties that support increase funding at this time.

    All Harper needs is a few more celebraties to speak against him and join Dion/Layton/May on stage to firm up Canadian’s opinion that those three have little understanding of the concerns of the majority of middle class Canadians.

  5. Love the tribal-smear quality of Rivard’s vid — what Nathalie Petrowski called its “intellectual dishonesty.” The notion of the arts being cut is just awkwardly tacked on at the end; the real point seems to be, once again, that those stupid anglos don’t get Quebec. That would be the same problem no matter what the budget was, no?

  6. Our Leader doesn’t mind. So far he’s been winning on style points – 9.8 for the blue sweater making his eyes look barely icy ! 9.7 for the soothing vocal tones! 9.9 for talking to selected journos at breakfast!
    What he says doesn’t matter. And only a handful are watching what he does.

  7. I don’t know, I think the bigger issues are 1) calling the Arts a “niche issue” (as though Joe Lunchbox is just some troglodyte slob who couldn’t POSSIBLY be interested in arts and culture) and 2) saying one thing in English and something else in French (a tried and true feature of Canadian politicking!).

    Forget the funding cuts, I think the stereotyping and the Quebec-pandering are the real problems for Harper on the Arts file.

  8. You can disagree about the arts cuts, but on the festival front, the Conservatives tried to shore that up by putting $30 million a year into them in the 2007 budget.

    We cancelled the Liberal Sponsorship Program and replaced it with the Conservative Sponsorship Program.

    Totally different. And there’s nothing to see behind the Quebec 2008 curtain, move along folks.

  9. YOu have to be kidding. They cut 40 million to specific programs, but the overall budget went up. And Harper is getting blame? For what?

  10. All I can say is that this is gonna hurt…

    Can “one-of-us” Dion pull the federalist sympathizers from the “not-like-us” Harper…


  11. sf – because the Arts community don’t consider the Olympics (where the cut money went posing as an “increase”) to be artistic or cultural. Given the venality of the IOC I can sort of see their point.

  12. LKO, it is possible to enjoy the arts without demanding that the government lavishly fund professionals. I like hockey but I oppose any time a government builds an arena. The funding issue is what is a niche issue. Outrage appears to be limited to those who don’t get as much of our money anymore.

  13. Let me see if I understand the artists problem. We spent 3.+ billion dollars last budget on arts and culture 30 + million canadians = 300 + dollars for every man woman and child in canada and then slowed the current increase in budget by 40 million = 1 dollar approx and somehow theartists feel they are being hard done by! This gives new meaning to the term culture of entitlement

  14. YOu have to be kidding. They cut 40 million to specific programs, but the overall budget went up.

    Did it?

    What do the Tories count as “cultural” spending now, and then, in their comparison?

    They won’t say.

    The bureaucrats aren’t allowed to talk during the writ period.

    How convenient.

  15. I don’t have the figures in front of me, but I’m opretty sure I read somewhere that Alberta spends more on arts proportionately than the other provinces including Quebec. Just where are these ordinary Canadians Harper is talking about?

  16. The flipside of his strategy is to hope that this issue puts wind in the sails of the NDP, on whom he is relying to help ensure a majority.

  17. Hmmm Richard! According to Nick’s latest Quebec leadership differential was Jack and the BQ up a few Harper and Dion down – you might be onto something maybe Harper doesn’t want his numbers too high in Quebec as when they start getting too high the strategic voters and undecided come out to play hmmmm.

  18. The problem with the issue of arts funding is that it resonates differently among different voting groups. In the above video, the performers have demostrated that arts funding is not only an arts issue, but also a linguistic one. This video could play well in Quebec. An equivalent video could not be made by Torntonians or Vanvouverites.

    In the suburbs where the Conservatives are trying to win seats, what taxpayer thinks he or she owes an artist a living? Stephen Harper could have used a better example than rich gala people participating in the arts on the taxpayers’ dimes. He could have used examples of televison stations that no one watches such as Bold and CBC Country or whatever it’s called.

    Years ago, I saw an episode of 60 Minutes that showed the Dutch government buying millions of dollars worth or art only to be sent to storage. It was bad art that no one wanted to have or see. The government kept buying more and placing them in storage.

    The problem I see in Canada is not the dollar amount that goes into the arts or broader culture. It is who decides what is culturally worthy and how funds should be distributed. In the meantime, I’m going to make some YouTube videos and hope my costs will be subsidized by the taxpayers.

  19. The North American economy is literally on the verge of a complete economic meltdown.

    What is the biggest issue of the day for Canada’s latte sipping media elite?

    Why, it’s artists receiving government dole, don’t you know.

    Last week the media was perplexed by Harper’s strength in the polls notwithstanding the huge (HUGE) importance of a cartoon bird on a website no one goes to, and a private joke told in a meeting.

    Next week no doubt they’ll be equally perplexed, notwithstanding the huge implications to the average working parent of the local art dealer not getting funding for his “Jesus in Urine” display, that the polls continue to be strong for Harper. I mean, how could the average voter not have that issue at the forefront of their concerns right now???

    What will continue to escape the media, is any notion that perhaps, they just may not have their finger on the pulse of the average Canadian.

  20. Well, if the people’s eyes are off the teetering economy and onto the ‘latte sipping media elite’ issues, as you call it, i guess that takes our mind off what your so-called leader has done to protect us from said teetering economy, doesn’t it?
    Maybe he’ll allow us to paint our buckets that we’ll need to bale out of another CONservative mess…

  21. There is a distinct difference between art and culture. And the difference is of importance within this ongoing debate.

    We must understand that when regular people no longer are interested in buying art, or putting down money to go and see art, that our culture is therefore going in such direction.

    It is the average person in this country, including the people living in Quebec, who need to be more directly involved in supporting art by buying original work and by going to see original work (theatre, concerts etc). If the average person in this country is no longer willing to do that, then Canadian culture will become a reflection of those choices being made.

    Culture is as movement, as reflection of that which goes on continuously. If people are no longer interested in buying art then that will be the culture we currently live in.

    Btw, ballet lessons, for instance, are not to be considered as art, but are merely instructional lessons for further general developement, which again is part of our culture. Yes, some may come out of those lessons being able to go on, and go on very far. But to call such instructional lessons as to be part of art is ludicrous.

    Culture is as movement in many forms. For instance, the fact that less and less people are preparing meals at home, will mean that the preparation of traditional meals will no longer be preserved for generations to come. Pretty soon, generations will be familiar only with how to make meals coming out of a package, generically the same for all regions of the country. My street alone counts numerous generic coffee shops all in a row. And then there is subway everywhere, of course. But we seem to want that sort of generic culture.

    What, we’re going to need government cash infusions soon for people to learn how to cook in order to keep their “culture” alive?

    No, it’s the other way around: if people no longer hold it as important to pass on that sort of traditions, then THAT is the culture we live in. Some would call it a lowering of cultural standards and I agree with that. But it is up to the people themselves to change that.

    A lot of this art’s protest has to do with shallow rooting. Plain and simple.

    The other day I saw a young musician artist on Mike Duffy Live and when asked if he had heard that the Conservatives actually increased funding for the arts overall, the musician answered something like: ” Well, I don’t keep track of that! I am an artist.”

    Interesting, to say the least.

  22. I am actually reasonably upset about the grandstanding going on around the art’s and culture issue.

    I think the time is right for Canada to have a frank discussion about art and culture, not fall into default positions by lack of trying harder.

  23. This is such a homophobic ad it’s ridiculous. Plus, I’d like to hear the howls of outrage you’d get from French Canada if a group of anglo artists represented francophones as the anglophones are represented here. Score one (or two) for the Dark Ages, still alive and well in Quebec artistic circles.

  24. Hey that’s my neighborhood buddy! The Plateau – but I an assure you rest of Canada has plenty of artists as well as I’ve lived nd worked across the country to Vancouver.

    butin some ways – thanks for that shout out to the Plateau from someone a few years and miles away.

  25. We don’t believe in a government funded culture, and we vote.

    I do love the Maoist talking point that if you don’t support a government funded arts community, then you’re a neanderthal. It is ignorant of the history of art being inherently populist – Michaelangelo’s Vatican propaganda had to be populist to be effective. It also adopts the lazy Marxism of “modern” art, where epatez les bourgeois is everything.

    The best thing the government could do would be to cut off ALL cultural spending. No more corrupt festivals, no more Rosedale mansions skimmed from the taxes of struggling Canadians. Anything valuable will find an audience, and the 99.9% of the people producing crap will go back to waiting tables and washing floors.

  26. How is the ad homophobic, exactly?

  27. Extend that thinking to your Michaelangelo reference and I expect ol’ Mickey’s masterpieces would have been drawings in the dust.
    He had tons of patronage. Just not gummint patronage. Because, for the most part, gummint did not exist.
    Corporate patronage, the modern equivalent of the Borgias and Sforzas, is often diverted to the “Institutes” (Fraser, Frontier, AIMS,etc.),CTF, NCC and other “Vatican propaganda” fronts.

  28. “How is the ad homophobic, exactly?”

    Um, the seriously queenish dude with the tinted orange glasses and the bowtie, conceivably?

  29. Hey: “Michaelangelo’s Vatican propaganda had to be populist to be effective.”

    You mean St. Peter’s, right? As opposed to the Sistine Chapel, say, which was about the most elitist piece of square yardage in Italy.

    Yup, I do happen to think that people who are against government funding for the arts are neaderthals – in the best sense. Theoretically, you could be a true connoisseur and be against it, but empirically 99% of people who are against arts funding are complete philistines.

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