Yesterday I wrote about the complicity of the artistic community in the creation of the violent, misanthropic, misogynist media that is adversely affecting us all and in particular our youth, and today I want to look at the government’s role in this, with regards to the arts.
Canada is one of the lowest funders per capita of the arts in the industrialized world, and BC is the lowest per capita funder in this country: Yukon, which has the highest funding, spends $268 per capita; Quebec, $41.65; both Ontario and Alberta come in just under $21. In comparison, BC is in last place with only $9.67; and, after the cuts, it went down to $6.54 per capita (of which some funding was restored). Then, to add insult to injury, premier Gordon Campbell stated publicly that the arts should strive toward self-sufficiency.
In an interview with freelance writer Am Johal, Headlines Theatre’s Artistic and Managing Director, David Diamond, posits that the cultural community has to take some responsibility for the cuts because “there hasn’t been a strong enough attempt to create art and cultural work that is truly relevant to people. It is well beyond time that the changing demographics … saw itself represented in our stories, on our stages, in our books, on our canvases, in a mainstream way … If it was (sic) truly happening, the arts and cultural community wouldn’t be as vulnerable as it is.”
Yet what does it mean to create art that is “mainstream” and in which people feel “represented”? What does it take to be “self-sufficient,” as Gordon Campbell would like us to be? It’s long been Hollywood’s argument that the only way to make money, to be self-sufficient, is to appeal to the masses, the mainstream, the lowest common denominator. But as Henry David Thoreau put it so succinctly, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The masses feel marginalized, powerless, and unable to access the spoils of success. It doesn’t take a genius, then, to see the appeal of video games through which the player can exercise power and control, or be virtually rich and successful; violent movies in which the underdog protagonist overpowers evil oppressors, and gangster films that glorify the crimes and upward mobility of the marginalized; or in which a man, if insufficiently charming or successful to land a woman, can simply rape her instead.
The result, as we have seen, is a dumbing down of our culture, and the ever-increasing violent, misanthropic, misogynist themes and imagery of our media. We’ve created a monster, and we’re now in a Catch-22 situation where many artists have to choose between ethics (if they have any, not all do) and earning a living. If you’re an animator, for example, and you’re not one of the lucky few to work for Pixar but the National Film Board is making few animated films these days and there’s no more government grants for independent projects, where else can you go except to the video game companies?
I write production notes for Hollywood films, and I admit there have been times when I’ve had to swallow by distaste for the film in question and write those promotional words. I am reminded of an interview I conducted years back with storyeditor Ann McNaughton in which I asked if she’d ever worked on a show at the expense of her artistic integrity; she replied, “Yes. I’ve worked on shows solely to gain experience, and the thing I learned was that you can only work like that for so long without it affecting your creativity. I left a show once because I was having nightmares about the content I was writing.” So while I know I have a choice, the rent needs to be paid. It’s a constant struggle to survive as an artist, and until I can support myself doing the art I like and feel proud of, I will write those notes. But I feel creatively bereft when I do.
So when the government cuts arts funding it hurts artists, it hurts creativity; but more disturbingly it contributes to society’s continual — and, I would argue, escalating — cultural degeneration. We need art that elevates the masses, that makes them think and learn, not which panders to their insecurities.