Skip to contentSkip to navigation
Stay
informed
How Oscar winner Parasite undermines Canada's cultural protectionism theory
Media Monitor
Media Monitor - Terms and Conditions

Media Monitor is Canada's leading database for news stories on the broadcasting system, media ownership and cultural policies in Canada. The purpose of this database is to collect and preserve news stories relating to these issues, without modification, so that the public may, without cost, access the database for the purposes of scholarship, research, private study and related purposes.

One example of fair dealing is downloading a single copy of an article or part of an article for your own research or private study. The materials on this database are protected by the Canadian Copyright Act, and apart from the exercise of fair user rights, no unauthorized use or reproduction is permitted without the consent of the copyright owners. If you are willing to restrict your use of this database to the uses permitted by the Canadian Copyright Act, then please click Accept below.

How Oscar winner Parasite undermines Canada's cultural protectionism theory

Written by
William Watson
Published by
 Financial Post
on
February 11th, 2020

What is it again about Canadian culture that requires such protective regulatory and fiscal cladding and coddling?

“Parasite” winning the Oscar for best film of the year upends 92 years of film history, in which the best picture according to Hollywood has been either in English (90 times) or silent (twice: 1929 and 2012). Where the films of Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, François Truffaut, Jean Renoir and a dozen other famous foreign auteurs failed, a South Korean comedy-thriller revolving around the theme of (no surprise here) social inequality has now succeeded, winning the two top-drawer awards of best picture and best director for Bong Joon-ho, whose halting English did not prevent him from promising he would drink until morning. One piece of English that stood out in his Korean-language thank you speech was “Martin Scorsese,” his fellow nominee, whose films, Bong noted, he had studied in film school. Scorsese graciously grinned in response.

Hollywood has gone global, it seems, even as the rest of the world torches global. The Oscars evidently remain a place for rarefied tastes, even if best actor winner Joaquin Phoenix’s disquisition in support of veganism fell flat, if less from his audience’s lack of potential receptivity than his own lack of a sense of time and place.

The moral calculation of these actor-lecturers must be that if their good looks and knack for speaking other people’s words in an emotive way give them purchase in the public mind, it would be wrong not to use it to promote whatever cause that, between takes, they have decided furthers the public good. In fairness, who of us, miraculously transported to the stage, with Oscar in hand, microphone open and a worldwide audience awaiting, would not also thank our parents, spouses and colleagues and then put in a few words about the error of supply management?

If Hollywood really is standing up for all things global at a time when almost no one else will, well, good for Hollywood. But there’s at least the possibility that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ politically correct push to get more non-white, non-male members by including more foreigners has changed the demographics enough to make a substantial difference.

Stay informed, subscribe to the FRIENDS newsletter

Required

You are a few fields away from becoming a friend.

Required
Required
Required
Required

Closer to home, by placing an emphatic exclamation mark on the idea that, whatever may be happening in other markets, film is now fully global, the success “Parasite” had at the Oscars undermines a theory that has underlain Canadian cultural protectionism since the 1970s. Even today, it burrows within policy recommendations, such as the Broadcasting & Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel’s Canadian Communications Commission Proposal (CCCP), which would continue cocooning Canadian content in protectionist rules and regulations.

The theory behind Canadian cultural protectionism has always been that the Americans have an overwhelming advantage in the form of their home market, which, it is proved simply by assertion, smaller players cannot penetrate. The immense revenues and profits they earn there enable them to dump their culture on the rest of the world — in the technical economics meaning of dumping, i.e., selling at less than cost. The economic rule they follow is: produce a property if it has a chance of making money in the home market and then, if it does, give it away to foreigners.

If that really is the model, we foreigners have no chance. The big American market finances the slickest, most lavish productions with the biggest, most expensive stars. The rest of the world, Canada included, simply can’t compete. If we are to have any cultural output at all — if we are to “tell our own stories” in the media of mass entertainment — the government has to fund it, either directly with subsidies paid out of tax revenues, or indirectly with regulations that force media companies to share the excess profits from government restriction of the airwaves and fibre-optic cables with “creators.”

But in the world we have now, the world of Netflix and other similar companies — new ones every day, it seems — the strategy of “make profits at home and dump onto the world market” no longer makes sense. If you’re selling into a world market, as everyone now is, why pursue a project only if it makes money in your home market? No, you produce it if you can make money in the world market. Already it’s a rule of thumb in Hollywood that an action film’s make-or-break is Asia, not Ohio.

But if all that’s true, the cultural question gets turned around. If Koreans, Israelis, Icelanders, Swedes, Danes, Poles, the French, the Brits and many other nationalities are making money selling into the world market, what is it again about Canadian culture that requires such protective regulatory and fiscal cladding and coddling? World audiences are interested in the stories of so many different nationalities — Korea just won the Oscar, for Pete’s sake! — they might even be interested in ours.

“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” is now not just true of New York. It’s true of everywhere.

© Financial Post