Okay I never do this, but everybody else in the house is occupied and it’s too icy to jog (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself). So, I’ve poured a cup of coffee, and here’s a long post.
I was reading today about Argo. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a movie about the Iran hostage crisis, and it paints a picture where Canada’s involvement was minimal. In fact, in the movie, Canada is presented as taking credit for the CIA’s work. This isn’t what happened, and Ken Taylor, the real-life hero diplomat has taken umbrage (in a very polite and Canadian way).
So: Canadian heroism gets written out of a colorful but minor piece of history. Not the end of the world. But it illustrates a point: Canada doesn’t get to write its own history, at least not in popular culture. And that’s because we don’t really have an entertainment industry.
I don’t mean to imply we don’t have film and TV workers. Canada has its share of talented and experienced people, but we work in a dysfunctional system that doesn’t make the most of our skills, and we live in a country that by and large ignores our output.
This isn’t inevitable. I suspect a lot of Canadians think every other country with the exception of the United States is as invisible to itself as we are. But that’s not true. The U.K. and Australia and even places like Sweden have relatively strong domestic entertainment industries.
So why don’t we? Accidents of history combined with a disinterested power structure, as far as I can tell. The problem’s probably solvable, but I’m not optimistic. As a country we’ve shrugged our shoulders and collectively decided it’s not worth tackling. We look and talk like Americans, so 99% of the time you can’t tell that what you’re watching is foreign. People have bigger problems. Who cares? I get that.
Nevertheless, I bet 10 or twenty years from now if people remember the Iran hostage crisis at all, it’ll be Ben Affleck’s version they remember. We don’t have a voice, and if Hollywood wants to write us out of our own history we’ll sit there and take it. Because, as a country, we’ve agreed to sit at the back of the theater and shut up.
There are a lot of things I like about Canada, but I don’t think it says much for us that we don’t have the self-respect or initiative to tell stories about ourselves.
Not the world’s biggest tragedy, but enough to prompt a long post on an icy Saturday afternoon.
Paul Mather is writer/producer living in Toronto. This post first appeared on his facebook page.