Canadian culture – out of print

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By Douglas Cudmore

Even for a country that complains about it’s loss of culture as much as Canada, the last two weeks have been a particularly rich time of bellyaching. Our leaders have themselves worked up because our nation could be losing its magazine industry.

According to a recent ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO), American magazines can now run split-run editions, basically publications with American words and Canadian ads. Split-runs have been outlawed by our government (and, of course, Canadian culture isn’t really protected by NAFTA).

In short, Canadian magazines lose their advertising life-blood, and many could be run out of business by the Americans.

So who really loses if this ruling holds up? Well, obviously, magazine owners, including Conrad Black of Southam, Ted Rogers of Maclean-Hunter. And then there’s those who work at Canada’s big magazines. Maureen Cavan, the publisher of Saturday Night magazine, has been heard crying out for protection of Canadian culture. I’m sure the folks at Maclean-Hunter feel the same way.

But let’s analyze what such major magazines have been telling their readers, what Canadian culture they’ve been writing about in past years.

Saturday Night is now home to several intellectual rednecks who can make Mike Harris look like Abby Hoffman. Meanwhile, Maclean’s often reports on the great new wave of global competitiveness as if it was a forgone salvation (all in the guise of objectivity).

So now that the economic truth they’ve been preaching is hitting their own pay cheques, it’s hard to stomach their cries.

They can’t say that the open market is good in one circumstance, when factories are shrinking and closing across Canada and then wrap themselves in the banner of Canadian Culture when their own businesses are affected. It reeks of hypocrisy.

The media moguls and their employees aside, there is the legitimate concern that the loss of some magazines could strip away of our Canadian culture.

But take a moment to pause and reflect. What Canadian magazines do you pick up to look at your culture, or even to simply be entertained?

Done thinking? I didn’t think it would take more than a line. Most of us choke down Maclean’s from time to time. Other than that, there are few magazines that come to mind.

The industry gives us reasons for this failure. There is the old saw that Canada can’t financially support the truly gifted in any artistic field — our best actors go to Hollywood, our best writers to New York. There’s some truth to that, but it’s also an excuse.

Because there is a heavy dose of stuck in the past in Canadian publishing. Magazines seem to have the notion that Pierre Berton and Allan Fotheringham still have something to say, like a world where Front Page Challenge never ended.

And new voices don’t really have a place in this world. If you want to step into a Canadian magazine, learn to adopt the voice of the aged — small conversation, elitist and by all means dour.

You can’t, per se again, begrudge them for blasting the Canadian culture siren this week. Because Canadian culture doesn’t really find itself in our magazines anymore.

It was gone long before the WTO ruling.

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