There have been countless pieces written on the importance of developing Canadian talent. It’s our frustrating lot as Canadians in the entertainment business that we even have to consider such a subject. It suggests that not enough is currently being done to support our talent and, worse, it suggests that because of this, we are not competing, as we might be, on the world stage. So if this is the case, then why? Why do we not support Canadian talent?
I’d like to believe we want to. So then I wonder if there’s actually something about our national identity that discourages young creators to go for it, to break new ground and create something never before seen or done. Is Canada anti-entrepreneurial?
It may be a simple matter of geography. Our conservative colonialism becomes extremely pointed when seen in light of our capitalist powerhouse neighbours to the south. Up here we prefer individuals to go an institutional route; down there they prefer trailblazers. They value risk; we value stability. After all, we have it pretty good. So why rock the boat?
We must rock the boat for four reasons. First, in order to promote uniqueness (the opposite of sameness, and the basis of competition). The more different ideas that circulate, the more that individuals feel empowered towards difference of opinions. The more empowerment, the more competition. The more competition, the more innovation. In other words, sameness is the enemy of innovation.
Second, we need to rock the boat if we want to value what the next generation has to offer. It’s all fine and good to enjoy what our parents created and what we ourselves create, but there is a goldmine of new approaches being considered by a younger and, frankly, more relevant demographic.
Third, this is the entertainment business! It’s built on risk and instability. The fact that our Canadian entertainment business focuses on stability is the thing responsible for the dreaded “brain drain.” The lesson here: encourage risk at home, and keep the next generation here.
Lastly, if there’s a boat, it needs to be rocked. Systems need continual shake-ups. New voices guarantee a constant re-invention and testing of the system at work, which must change in order to remain current. Once we accept risk into our system, only then can we compete.
Competition ensures that individuals and companies work to improve their wares, which in turn ensures that a culture moves forwards. It is essential for any kind of artistic or economic growth. Canadians seem to find competition rude or egotistical, hoping instead to be successful internationally by doing business in a conservative, equal and stable way. While being Canadian about competition might win us some friends, it won’t earn us many dollars. We cannot compete in an American-based system by using Canadian values. It’s like hoping to survive on a desert island by means of a life-jacket: it might be effective somewhere, but not here.
So where is here? Thirty years ago it seemed our television shows had to be about Canada. Now we understand that Canada is about many things and many people, a young country still developing its personality. This is nothing to disparage! Quite the opposite: it’s an exciting, liberating truth that frees us to be whomever we wish. International successes like Being Erica, Rookie Blue or Flashpoint are pointing the way. These are not shows about Canada, they are created by Canadians or take place in Canada, without direct comment on “what it is to be Canadian.”
We need more of this. We will get more of this by pressuring those in charge to develop Canadian talent. If the young are not supported and allowed to be innovative, there is no future, or at least not here, and they will continue to move to a place that wants what comes naturally to them: thinking differently. We need to forget about trying to pin down what it is to be Canadian, and get on with the business of being Canadian, or rather, get on with Canadian business.
So how do we change all this? My answer won’t win me any fans. We can change all this if we’d just be a little more American.
Before you start heckling, I need to make it clear this doesn’t mean we should be like Americans – they are very good at that themselves – and further, I count myself a proud Canadian: witness this apology at the outset of an assertion as proof. All I mean is that there are aspects of the American system that we could stand to incorporate into our own. Like risk.
Remember: Canadians don’t like risk, so you want to make them feel safe while risking. In other words, give people a product they want (or don’t know they want) in a new and clever way with enough of the old mixed in so it all seems familiar. The tendency in this country is to give people what they already have in a way that has been done before by people better at it than you (e.g., imitating American models). Don’t do this. Accept who you are. As I mentioned, difference and uniqueness expand the market, and expanding the market creates further demand. More demand forces us to develop our talent, because suddenly, lo and behold, there will be a desire for it.
Another American thing we need is a star system. We need a ladder to climb, and we require it to grow tall and shatter our extremely low glass ceiling. Without one, Canadian talent will continue to move south to create excellent American entertainment rather than remaining here and striving to achieve a comparable level of success (financial, artistic, etc.). The star system isn’t a flash of genius: it is a basic and integral part of entertainment economics. The time is ripe for Canada to stop listening to these basic tenets of economics knocking on the door of our national personality and to open the door wide and let them in. A bigger market, full of recognizable names and young talent fighting to make a name for themselves forces the market to expand even further, creating more production companies, more networks, more money, an ever-better product, and finally, a deserved place on the international stage. Degrassi is a great Canadian show. It may be our most successful. But we can do more.
But perhaps the biggest thing we could learn from the Americans regards their heavy focus on youth. The entertainment business, for better or worse, elevates youth as the most important members of society. In doing so, it also inherently values characteristics of being young as important – namely, traits such as risk and adventure. There are all kinds of American government and network-sponsored programs looking for the “next” big thing because they want the next generation to conquer the previous. They seem to value the future in a way that we don’t, and certainly understand the importance of developing young talent. And when someone does well here, let’s be excited about it. Let’s not cut them down. Let’s not support our young and then eat them. Let’s encourage them to keep going! The sky’s the limit if we encourage that philosophy.
It seems strange that the idea of nurturing young talent would be considered a risk. It’s the most natural, most important thing a parent can do. Children don’t always grow up how we intend them to, but they must still grow up, and hopefully they become themselves. So, in a way, Canada needs to go against its natural inclination in order to do its best. We need to step outside of our conservative values and take the safest risk imaginable: invest in our future, support Canadian talent, and so, compete. Canada needs to understand that it is, itself, a young country. It is time we started acting like one.
- Matthew MacFadzean, Canadian Actor and Writer