Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 92: Working Class Heroes

This Sunday, I’m being lazier than usual. Part of that’s procrastination. This is the day I clean out the garage so there’s somewhere to park the car come winter.

Where does all this crap come from?

Where the hell is it supposed to go?

So, in lingering over a second cup of coffee, I listened to CBC Sunday Edition instead and heard a reprise of one of their old shows. (Guess somebody’s being lazy over there too). But their repeated program had a special meaning for me, because of the reaction I’ve gotten to the post below this one.

Yesterday, I wrote about an idea I had to shake up the Canadian TV business, maybe revitalize it and perhaps in the process help save the jobs of a lot of other Canadians who work as far from creative pursuits as it’s probably possible to get.


A lot of people thought I was being funny or just shit disturbing. But I wasn’t. I was deadly serious.

And in wondering why I’d gotten that reaction, I realized that a lot of people in Canadian show business don’t think such things are possible. Whether through personal experience of a cratering industry or by buying into the lies of the networks or the welfare state mentality of our Arts bureaucracies, they’ve come to believe that they really don’t have much power or influence or the ability to change anything.

But we can.

If you search through this site (I’d find all the links for you but, like I said, I’m being lazy today) you’ll find stories about me as an actor who’d barely started his career and had no noteworthy credits helping to break the stranglehold American Equity had on Canadian actors, literally preventing us from “telling our own stories”. You’ll find others about the founding of the Writers Guild of Canada, which now fights hard for Canadian writers but was little more than a dream 30 years ago.

Those weren’t sudden aberrations in the lives of the people involved. They were part of a continuum that has bound the needs of creative and working people for about as long as anybody can remember.

There was a time when playwrights like Clifford Odets filled Broadway theatres with plays that demanded his audiences consider the lives of the blue collar workers whose rights they mostly ignored. Woody Guthrie did the same in music and John Steinbeck added those working voices to some of the greatest books in American literature.

Later, that torch was picked up by screenwriters like Dalton Trumbo, Rod Serling and Paddy Chayevsky.

Change can happen and people who do what we do can be a great part of it.


But somewhere along the way, we were co-opted into thinking we weren’t working people anymore. We were elevated to an “Artist” class, a somehow “better” caste where we could sip at the free bar in a roped off tent and rub shoulders with people, who in another time would have been courtiers to Louis XVI and now have titles denoting the ruling families of various Arts Councils, innumerable Arts Funds and Telefilm.

Those people want us apart from our true audience and stabled to serve the needs of political agendists and social engineers, not entertaining working families and making their days a little easier to bear by way of a hot serving of popular entertainment. 

The Sunday Edition show this morning was about a one-of-a-kind concert that took place in 1952 in Blaine, Washington at the Peace Arch Border Crossing, familiar to anybody in the lower mainland of British Columbia. American singer, Paul Robeson, a well known activist and outspoken Black performer had run afoul of one “Red-scare” group or another.

But because they couldn’t actually prove he was a Communist or a threat to the nation, his country had opted to silence him. And while domestic Media conglomerates were as compliant then as they are now, Robeson’s detractors also had to make sure he didn’t find a platform somewhere outside their borders.

And so, Robeson had been forced to surrender his passport and was not allowed to travel outside the country.

But on a sunny May afternoon, Canadian locals of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union arranged for Robeson to sing off the back of a pick-up truck parked under the Peace Arch, accompanied only by a piano.

And 40,000 people turned up to listen – as well as remind their governments that Art has meaning to all people, not just those with smooth hands and a little more money than others.

Our audience, the people who really need us, doesn’t live in windowless rooms in Ottawa or linger near the shrimp tray. They work for a living. And in helping them, we help ourselves.

Enjoy your Sunday. I’ll be in the garage.


deborah Nathan said...

But the point is that ordinary people got together to make that concert happen, to make that statement. Ordinary people made Woodstock the phenom it became. That's what our industry is missing.

Racicot said...

I would like to see the beneficiaries (Writers, Producers, Directors) of grants start raising their hands and ask: "WHY are we spending $700 million dollars on American Programing while Canadian feature and television spending is equal to XXX amount of dollars?"

Their voice is a lot more 'powerful' than mine...

But I can attest to the in-roads that CAN be made by simply asking the right questions. This year I called the head offices of JEAN COUTU and asked WHY they were selling Halloween candies Made in China to our kids? I thought it was, you know, a little weird considering China's potent properties often found in their toys, toothpaste, and baby formula!

I'll follow-up in a couple of weeks, but I'm purrty sure they won't be selling kids confection made in China anymore. Why? Because the answer (we buy it cheap and sell it for more) can't hold water against the potential of killing one of our kids.

If we continue to pay the Americans for their culture, what happens to ours?

Great topic Jim. I'll be standing at the door... You know, like when you get the Suits in the meeting hall, I'll make sure they try to leave. Hahaha.

And DmC isn't allowed in!

Racicot said...

*Make sure they DON'T try and leave!

Dwight Williams said...

I suspected that you were serious about your proposal. Good to know.

Brandon Laraby said...

Speaking as one of the newbs who can see the some of the problem -- and I may get cuffed for this -- I often feel like my voice doesn't mean as much as the pros who've been neck-deep in it for years (decades, even).

There's a whole hell of a lot I don't know and tho' I've been digging in to learn, the more I learn about this stuff, the bigger and more hopeless the situation seems.

The problems that infect our system, as far as I can see, are entrenched... deeply, deeply entrenched. And trying to pull these weeds out by hand, well, it'd be a daunting task for the pros who knows the ins and outs of the business.

That said, I'm still digging and trying to make sense of it all. Trying to figure out the best way to make it make sense to those who don't have a foot in the game.

Trying to figure out how to make people care.

I think the biggest revelation to me thus far, in talking to co-workers and random strangers I meet (yeah, I'm talkative) is that almost nobody thinks that there's anything wrong with what we have now.

They like their CSI, they like their House and their Grey's Anatomy. As long as they can tuck in after a day's work, watch their shows and go to bed, everything's right with the world.

We need to figure out how to shake up that world...

rick mcginnis said...

I don't have much to add, Jim, except to add that I've felt for years that my own industry (print journalism) also began its decline in relevance when too many of its practitioners started regarding themselves less as lower middle class misfits (the traditional social standing of ink-stained wretches) and more on a social par with the people they were covering in the business and politics sections and the social pages. There's nothing more curious than seeing journalists try to get their salaries to stretch to homes on the fringe of Rosedale with wine cellars and private school tuitions for their kids. Is it any wonder that people are reading us less and less?