Canada’s artists simply expect government subsidies—otherwise, they cry censorship
I have an idea for you, Cronenberg
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Canada’s artists simply expect government subsidies—otherwise, they cry censorship
I got an email the other day with the subject: “Will Steyn Stand By Young People F—ing?”
Er, well, thanks awfully, but Ed rather not. I've reached the stage in life where I prefer to turn in early with a mug of cocoa and The Queen Mum: A Life In Pictures.
Oh, it’s a film? Who knew? Certainly not Canadian taxpayers, even though they paid for it. In 2006, the homegrown share of the Canadian box office was just four per cent. So the other 96 per cent went to the Hollywood behemoth? Not at all. The Great Satan had to make do with a mere 88 per cent of the market. The rest went to non-North American movies—i.e., the Brits, Europeans, Indians, Iranians, whatever. How un watched are Canadian films? So unwatched that when consulting the Friday listings, Canadians are twice as likely to see BridgetJonesXII or some subtitled art movie from the Czech Republic as any CanCon masterpiece. So much for the role of public subsidy in preserving Canada’s cultural identity.
But that’s the point my emailer and many other correspondents wanted to make. Young People F—ing is a sex comedy lavishly endowed by Cinedole Canada or whatever the relevant funding agency is called. And this new C-10 bill (drafted by the Liberals, adopted by the Conservatives, and nodded through the House of Commons supposedly because the Bloc Québécois didn’t bother reading it) will apparently deny tax credits to films deemed to have inappropriate content. The Masturbators, to name one movie funded by Telefilm Canada last year, would have to stand or droop without the benefit of taxpayer Viagra. Sperm, to name another movie funded by Telefilm Can-
ada last year, would have to swim on its own or... oh, never mind. The point is it requires a perverse kind of genius to gerrymander your film industry to the point where even a movie called The Masturbators has to be taxpayer-funded, and still flops.
As it happens, Young People F—ing doesn’t exactly live up to its name, and the photograph that appeared in the National Post was oddly reminiscent of old-time sex comedies like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, where the swingers arrange themselves in bed with Elliott Gould’s hairy chest spreading across the screen like Eurasian milfoil choking an Ontario lake, but with Natalie Wood sitting demurely with the sheet tucked up around her embonpoint.
So, given that its only inappropriate content is the title, presumably Young People F—ing could change its title to Young People Petting or Young People Spooning and still keep its funding. But what my “Will Steyn Stand By Young People F—ing?” reader was demanding to know was whether I, as a self-declared crusader for free speech in Maclean’s battle against Canada’s “human rights” commissions, would have the consistency and integrity to defend these filmmakers against the attempts of Bill C-10 to suppress their free speech.
Answer: no. These two things are not the same. As Andrew Coyne argued trenchantly last week, it’s not censorship to deny someone public funding. Em not a great fan of government arts subsidy, and it seems pretty clear from that four per cent market share that it’s done nothing to promote any kind of “Canadian cultural identity,” even if you accept that the sin of Onan is a uniquely Canadian cultural component. But free money is
not the same as free speech. Nobody is stopping any of these filmmakers from making their films; they’re simply stopping the cheque. It would not seem unreasonable that any truly “bold” “courageous” “radical” “transgressive” content should have to work a little to find a publisher, producer or distributor. (Ask me in a couple of years’ time, after Mohamed Elmasry has succeeded in getting me banned from Canadian media.) It speaks volumes for the complacency of our movie industry that the presumption of government subsidy is so universal that Canada’s artists now see it as analogous to freedom itself. It is, says David Cronenberg, “a direct assault on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” not to mention “like something they’d do in Beijing.”
Actually, it’s the Maclean’s case that’s “like something they’d do in Beijing”: Canadian government investigators charge publishers and writers with thought crimes and drag them before tribunals in which normal rules of due process are suspended. There is no presumption of innocence, and (in federal Section 13 cases) a 100 per cent conviction rate. Em not one to bandy Chinese comparisons idly, but I think Ed pwtMaclean’s ahead of The Masturbators in that department.
Nevertheless, in recent discussions on TVOntario and the CBC, there’s been a curious urge to conflate the Maclean’s/Ezra Levant cases and Bill C-10. My natural urge is to tell Cronenberg, hey, butt out, man, Em the freespeech martyr round here. Yet surveying the apparently endless parade of CanCon panjandrums lining up to denounce the to-date entirely hypothetical possibility of losing their government dole as the dawn of the
MANY CANADIANS ARE ENTIRELY AT EASE WITH A BENIGN STATE REGULATING ALL THE UNPLEASANTNESS OUT OF SOCIETY
Fourth Reich, I found myself glumly concluding that these freeloading pseudo-martyrs speak to something deep in the Canadian psyche that a notorious hate-monger such as myself can never reach. Most Canadians don’t want to see any of these Canadian films, but even as they grab the popcorn and head for Spider-Man 3 or Harry Potter, they quite like the idea of public funding for all this stuff they’ll never go within a hundred yards of. Why? Because we think it speaks well of us. In a sense, the willingness to support state funding of “Canadian cultural identity” has become a substitute for having a “Canadian cultural identity.”
By contrast, the “human rights” cases are far less appealing to Canadians’ sense of themselves. After Rex Murphy’s Cross Country Checkup did a special on the Maclean’s and Levant cases, the comments page on the CBC website filled up with listeners fretting that, while of course we’re all in favour of free speech, it’s a question of drawing a line, striking a balance—all very self-flatteringly Canadian concepts. A distressingly large number of Canadians are entirely comfortable with the idea of a benign state regulating all the unpleasantness out of society.
On March 25, a remarkable hearing will take place at the human rights tribunal in Ottawa. After a protracted legal battle to avoid giving testimony, employees of the Canadian Human Rights Commission will be cross-examined on their various techniques regarding “hate messages.” To date, at least one employee, Dean Steacy, and one former employee, Richard Warman, have admitted under oath (Warman after initially denying it, also under oath) that they post under aliases at so-called “hate” websites. This is potentially a little more than mere entrapment. In traditional entrapment, you wire up the hooker and get her to come on to the governor of New York, but Eliot Spitzer is still obliged to pay the money and have the sex lui-même. By contrast, the Canadian
Human Rights Commission regards website comments as actionable “hate messages” in and of themselves, yet its employees, past and present, admit that their techniques include posting their own comments at such sites: in other words, there’s nothing to prevent them from creating the crimes they subsequently prosecute and then sticking some other schlub with the rap. This ought to be a public scandal, yet the March 25 hearing will attract less fuss than the question of tax credits for Sperm.
Better yet, as things stand, the CHRC-an organization which believes it has the right not only to police my public words but also to demand to know the private thoughts of Maclean’s editors behind the decision to publish them—has succeeded in persuading the tribunal that, when it comes to the public acts and private thoughts of their own employees, the hearing should be held in camera— i.e., in private. Excepting very rare circumstances, free societies do not hold secret trials. But Canada’s “human rights” nomenklatura do. Humdrum servants of the Crown can get away with portraying their furtive website postings as some sort of covert national-security operation requiring CIA-level secrecy. If the price of building a hate-free Canada is that the commissars have to vandalize every presumption of common law, so be it.
I have a proposition for David Cronenberg and his chums. The fourth version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was pretty much a total bust, with Nicole Kidman running around Washington while background news bulletins twittered on about the Iraq war. In its successful manifestations, the Body Snatchers narrative is not about Bush but about sedating the populace into bland conformity for ostensibly “nice” reasons, by eliminating all the human messiness from the world. Many Canadians (and Europeans) sincerely believe that a better world can be built by giving the state the exclusive power to “ban hate” and mandate niceness, even though
such a world will by definition be totalitarian. So how about Invasion of the Body Snatchers—Take Five as an Orwellian allegory for the Canadian Human Rights Commission? Cronenberg to direct; Sarah Polley as the plucky holdout, Donald Sutherland as the “human rights” enforcer, Leslie Nielsen as me, Joni Mitchell singing the big CanCon theme song, “Big Yellow Tax Break”:
“Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
They paved paradise
And put up a human rights commission...” C’mon, David, whaddaya say? If it would help with the funding, we could throw in some masturbating. M
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