Saturday, August 23, 2008


Those of us who work in film and TV know that the cheapest special effect you can use is a nude scene or a sex scene. No need for CGI, stunts or even costumes -- you've got their attention. For the most part, we use that advantage to tell a story, exhibit emotion or reveal character.

Others take the same concept one step further and create porn films. Unfortunately, that slim dividing line makes a lot of people think the actors in legit films are really "doing it" or that those behind the cameras embrace some kind of moral indolence. And from my experience, both are far from the reality.

Yet, last week, the same Canadian government agency, the CRTC, that regulates the broadcast industry granted a license for an all-porn channel called "Northern Peaks" requiring that it program 50% Canadian content.

Like all decision making, what's most interesting about the CRTC's latest edict is what it tells us about those making the decision. For once again, the CRTC has exhibited that it is woefully ignorant of the business it is regulating, hopelessly out of touch and out of date.

Perhaps amid the current frenzy of slashing Arts funding, Prime Minister Harper could save the country $9 Million a year by turfing these guys. In the process, he might be simultaneously freeing our artists from any need to continue accessing the public purse.

Let's start with the concept of licensing an all-porn channel in the first place. "Why?". If you want hardcore, you can already find it by flipping around the current channel listings. Our movie channels are already loaded with the stuff from sunset onwards.

In addition, Expressvu, Shaw & Rogers, our cable and satellite "service providers" (and doesn't that term take on a different hue in this discussion) also offer almost unlimited Video-on-demand and Pay-Per-View options in the category.

So, who's still not being served? And for that matter, have any of you bright lights who cash cheques made out to CRTC Commissioners realized that you can get porn on an iPod, PSP, mobile phone as well as a Tsunami of it on that box with the flickering screen that your assistants stare at all day?

We just don't need this. And what's more, none of those "service providers" are going to pick up Northern Peaks anyway. Do any of you Commissioners really think Ted Rogers, Jim Shaw or Mr. CTV-Bell-GlobeMedia-Ontario-Teachers-Pension-Plan are going to happily share the VOD gravy train with some upstart from Edmonton with a fondness for the local beaver?

These guys make a fortune peddling this stuff. They're not giving up their claim on that Gold rush riverbank to anybody. And if any of you knew the first thing about Broadcasting you'd know that -- but, unfortunately for all of us -- you don't!

Back in April, while watching interventions on changes to the CTF, one small network described a problem they'd had in renegotiating a carriage agreement with Shaw Cable. Shaw had agreed to carry their signal for a couple of years, which confirmed their license and got them on the dial. But at renewal time, Shaw called the CRTC and got the total profit that had been earned by the channel and that number became what Shaw requested as the annual fee for continued carriage.

The Commissioners hearing this tut-tutted and allowed as how they shouldn't maybe have made that information public. And now they've put the owners of "Northern Peaks" in exactly the same barrel. How much more proof do you need that the people who sit on the CRTC don't have the brains to turn on a television let alone regulate what gets broadcast?

Additionally, after years of listening to broadcasters claim "Nobody wants to see Canadian shows" and "Canadians aren't interested in Canadian stars", all of a sudden they find favor with a Porn producer who champions Canadian production by asserting, "I've always found there's a real turn-on to watching and knowing it's (stars are) people you could run into in the grocery store."

Once again, the CRTC takes its cues and marching orders from a broadcaster. Whatever they say is true. Whatever anybody else says carries no weight whatsoever.

One of the readers of Part One or Part Two of this trilogy took me to task for suggesting the CRTC had set "Northern Peaks" promised 50% Canadian content, when that number was volunteered by the broadcaster. Unfortunately that ignores the reality that these decisions are reached after a number of "What's it going to take to make this happen" confabs. Mandarins hint to lobbyists who advise appellants on what to say and when.

So, in the end, "Northern Peaks" is obligated to spend $1 Million on indigenous production in its first year. Given the cost of actually shooting a porn feature, that means they could shoot 20 or more in their first year. Therefore, in a direct comparison, Canada would annually release more porn titles than legitimate feature films.

That's something to be proud of, isn't it?

Thanks, CRTC! Way to make the Canadian film industry look even more anemic and ineffectual than it already is. But, as so often before, nobody on the CRTC seems able to discern the ramifications of their decisions. From gutting drama to ghettoizing production as "popular" or "cultural" the assault on indigenous production is relentless.

And because of bureaucratic lack of foresight and the reality that many people can't tell the difference between the porn industry and legitimate films with an adult point of view anyway, we'll once again be kicked around and pilloried by the Charles McVetys of the world.

And for those who haven't been paying attention, Reverend Chuck is back from Bible Camp, his first words on the subject being "...for the Government to use a Public resource to promote such degradation, shows how detached the bureaucracy is from the Canadian people."

And so it continues -- in the same way that medieval villages would tar and feather traveling players and drive them past the city limits content to live in fear and ignorance; our own government nourishes our baser instincts and allows the artists who could set us apart and save an industry on the verge of collapse to die of neglect.

Maybe they'll wake up when the only Canadian content their kids can download to their PSPs is porn -- maybe...


Ken said...

I can't for a second begrudge an Edmonton entrepreneur trying expand his horizons. Porn ain't going anywhere, notwithstanding what you cite as its historic connections to organized crime, or its ability to destroy careers and lives. But as you said, Jim, those human interest stories exist in all facets of the bizz, and indeed life.

Your argument (unless I missed something) is a bit counter-intuitive. Wouldn't we all love it if the big broadcasters up here were delivering the same percentage of cancon (of course with the commensurate funds to back it up), whether mandated or not?

Mostly your description of just how deeply out of touch with reality the CRTC is makes me feel cold and lonely, because it just rings too true. Couple the commission's obliviousness to world outside with our current minority government's W.O.C. (War on Culture) and the future looks decidedly dim.

I didn't go to the big opening at FilmPort last week, but I've been driving by the place every day on my way to and from work. I wonder what's to become of it.

Unknown said...

I have a feeling that part of the reason the CRTC put money towards this station is because it may offend some people who can will then stand on moral grounds to bolster the Conservative's attacks on arts funding. The funny little games that governments play . . ..