broadcast artists in a communication world

Just a brief follow up on yesterday’s piece. One reader yesterday pointed out that the CRTC did “get the internet” and that it was the interveners – The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) that “didn’t get it.” I think there is lots to dive into about the CRTC but part of his point is well taken. Check out this problematic quote from ACTRA:

“The Internet is just another media-distribution platform like any other that we’ve had,” said Stephen Waddell, executive director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. “And in our view, if the CRTC doesn’t give some opportunity to Canadian content to have a place on that platform, we’re going to be immersed in non-Canadian content.”

The number of problems with this statement are almost overwhelming. Building on some of the reasons I discussed yesterday the internet is not like any other distribution platform. Rather than analyze it line by line, I thought I would hand things over to Clay Shirky, who in Here Comes Everybody explains how our  friends at ACTRA are caught in the same dilemma as scribes at the end of the 15th century:

Consider the position of a scribe in the early 1400s. The ability to write, one of the crowning achievements of human inventiveness, was difficult to attain and, as a result, rare. Only a tiny fraction of the populace could actually write… In this environment a small band of scribes performed the essential service of refreshing cultural memory. By hand-copying new editions of existing manuscripts, they performed a task that could be preformed no other way. The scribe was the bulwark against great intellectual loss…

…Now consider the position of the scribe at the end of the 1400s. Johannes Guttenburg’s invention of movable type in the middle of the century created a sudden and massive reduction in the difficulty of reproducing a written work… a scribe, someone who has given his life over to literacy as a cardinal virtue, would be conflicted about the meaning of movable type. After all, if books are good, then surely more books are better. But at the same time the very scarcity of literacy was what gave scribal efforts its primacy, and the scribal way of life was based on this scarcity…

…The spread of literacy after the invention of movable type ensured not the success of the scribal profession but its end. Instead of mass professionalization, the spread of literacy was a process of mass amateurization. The term “scribe” didn’t get extended to everyone who could read and write. Instead it simply disappeared, as it no longer denoted a professional class.

This is what the internet has done to radio, television and cinema professionals. It has radically lowered the barriers for the creation of Canadian content.

So do we lament the loss of scribes? Not at all – we are liberated because today we can all write. Has the acerage quality declined? Possibly, we aren’t all writing Dante’s Inferno. But the best writing is way, way better (and better paying as well).

Will we lament the loss of television, cinema and radio (I doubt they will disappear completely) no. Something new and more interesting will arise to replace it. With the end of scribes we didn’t writers, instead we gained something far more valuable, the growth of contemporary authors! (who in 1350 could have imagined a world of authors, book stores, top 10 best seller lists?)

Now, imagine if there had been a tax on every printing press to pay for scribes to continue copying books… that would have just made books more expensive and less accessible.

We must acknowledge ACTRA fear of the new world. However self-serving, it is rational and genuine. Everything is going to be unpredictable for a while. But the future also the opportunity for something new an amazing – unimaginable ways for new types artists and mediums to describe the human condition and touch our souls. Just because it won’t be the way it has been done – through the broadcast mediums of radio, television, and cinema – doesn’t mean that it won’t be good. Indeed, I predict, that once the dust has settled, there will be more artists, producers, actors, and creatives in general, many of who will continue to get paid well. It’s just that the line between amateur and professional will be more blurred. There may even be a role for a professional association – although I imagine it will look, much, much different. Scary, yes. But also unavoidable.

One thought on “broadcast artists in a communication world

  1. John Dumbrille

    Agreed. The CRTC's traditional approach to protecting culture has been to directly or indirectly promote gated broadcasting star communities – the Cancon victorian novel star group (Shields, Atwood, Ondaatje etc); the Cancon star journalist group ( Peter Mansbridge. Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy…); the Cancon rock star group ( BareNaked Ladies, Shania Twain, Nickelback, Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtato..), etc.The power of the Internet has less to do with the star system, and more to do with the ability to form groups. Canadians are using the Internet to embrace regional and transregional group forming and realize ourselves as a country of people who have always been great communicators. The CRTC should see this activity as culture in action; we may need to overhaul the notion that the protection and perpetuation of the Cancon stars' voices is worth it for Canadian culture. Here comes everybody, eh.

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