Thursday, November 13, 2008

TVO and Progressive Conservatism vs. the Market as Bildung

Watching CBC transform itself from a public broadcaster into just another platform devoted solely to mass entertainment (yes, I did just go there), one forgets just how lucky we are to have at least two other public broadcasters here in Ontario - PBS and TVO(actually, 3 if you count TFO, TVO's Gallic sister station) - that don't condescend "to give the people what they want", as in the worst of Hollywood, but with beavers.

Although PBS is American, they have an affiliate here in Toronto because Canadians are huge supporters. We canucks love to mock our hillbilly neighbours, but the reality is that you stand a far better chance of catching an opera on PBS than you do on CBC.

The great thing about American culture is its catholicity. Canadians still haven't really left the 1960's in this regard.

In fact, PBS would completely shame public broadcasting here in Canada if it weren't for TVO and TFO. What's even more fascinating is that TVO and TFO were created by a Conservative government. The minister at the time was Bill Davis, who went on to become Premier, and he was feted yesterday by TVO for his contribution. We who would never vote conservative should applaud him for his pragmatism and vision.

I suspect the only reason that they have survived all these years is that they have been framed as educational stations - they are, in some sense, useful. Putting an opera on TFO, or a lecture series on TVO has a pedagogical value, if not an economic one, and this somehow insulates TVO from the criticisms CBC receives about its value vs. the ever sacred "taxpayer dollar" (I am not being facetious, tax money in Canada is culturally sacred here).

Anyway, however it has worked out, I'm just glad they are there.

Honestly though, can anyone imagine Conservatives making a positive contribution like this to Canadian cultural life anymore? I can't, and to wit, the federal Conservative government's cancellation of the National Portrait Gallery yseterday.

But the establishment of TVO back in the 1960's does point to another way of looking at culture, education, and government, where governments of all stripes believed that they had a role in ensuring that everyone had access to all the meats of our cultural stew (pace Homer Simpson).

The government of the day saw where the market was lacking, and sought to fill it. We assume now that the market satisfies all our needs, and anything that gets government money isn't valuable.

We are almost 180 degrees from the 1960's. How things have changed...

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