How will Donald Trump's America affect Canadian film and TV shows?
OK -- that probably sounds like the weirdest angle on the recent U.S. election you can imagine. Bear with me, though, 'cause I'm actually headed somewhere with it.
I should establish some context.
I've been writing blogs for Huffington Post Canada for the last three years mostly about film and TV (largely scripted fiction) and primarily as it relates to Canada. That was the topic I was asked to write about when I was invited to contribute by an editor. I make this point because, on occasion, people have sneered it's "stupid" of me to write about film and TV. But if they felt that way, why are they reading my posts in the first place?
Equally, people get irked because I oft times use my pieces to muse on themes of identity, race, morality, etc. I'm not here simply to give thumbs up/thumbs down to the latest sitcom, but to explore (in my muddled, imperfect way) bigger themes. That was what I was asked to do when I was invited to contribute.
Film and TV is arguably the dominant cultural medium of our age, so it warrants digging into -- even if it can get a bit uncomfortable.
A theme I harp on is Canadian culture and identity in Canadian movies and TV shows -- and more often its conspicuous absence. A lot of Canadian movies and TV shows pretend they are American by setting the stories in American cities with American protagonists. Others simply don't name the setting while implying it's American, or they deliberately blur the line between the two countries with contradictory references. Even productions that admit they are Canadian sometimes smudge the distinction between Canada and the U.S. as if there is no border, and these aren't separate sovereign nations.
(It shouldn't need to be said but, yes, obviously, there are also Canadian movies and TV shows that are unapologetically set in Canada, too).
I receive my fair share of push back when I write about this -- people angrily calling me obsessive, pedantic, and likening me to a Kool-Aid drinking suicide cultist simply for mentioning it. Often the criticism is by Canadian film and TV folk who make those aforementioned pretend-it's-America shows (so, y'know, they have a wee bit of a conflict of interest).
I usually discuss this from the angle of saying why it's good and healthy for Canadian storytellers to represent Canada in their work. From simply good storytelling, to the importance of dealing with issues (if you're not setting your stuff in Canada, you're not dealing with Canada's own social problems and inequality) and the importance of having other perspectives (not just an American one) represented on the screen. American popular culture will doubtless dominate for years -- and that's fine (I love plenty of American TV shows). But that's why Canadians should be carving out their own place.
But I've largely politely tiptoed around the flip side of that -- why it's problematic to present a single, monolithic, vision on screen. American productions (and perspective) already count for probably 80 or 90 percent of what we see on our screens.
I guess now it can't be tiptoed around any longer.
So. Donald Trump. There is no up side or silver lining to Trump's election.
Best case scenario? The U.S. is about to enter an era of economic uncertainty, political corruption and legislative incompetence, and rising levels of hate crimes. And reverberations will be felt abroad (Conservative leadership contender, Kellie Leitch, has proudly expressed enthusiasm for Trump and a Canadian judge showed up in court wearing a pro-Trump hat).
Worst case scenario? Imagine the worst -- and then go darker. There's already talk of mass deportations, internment camps, voting disenfranchisement, curtailing of liberties -- and that's just within its own borders!
And yet even if it did get that bad, if barbed wire goes up and black churches burn down, many Canadian film and TV makers would continue to set their stories in America-the-beautiful featuring stalwart American heroes. They will continue to insist that Canada and the U.S. are basically one nation and it's silly to acknowledge there's a distinction. They will continue to boast America is the "universal" culture that represents us all. And, if only by implication, that it is the ideal society that all nation's should seek to emulate. They will happily normalize Trump and everything he stands for.
Because that's what they've done for decades.
I suppose it's a kind of idolatry -- no one wants to admit their God might be a man. Hence why pundits continued to label the U.S. the "leader of the free world" even as the U.S. seemed to be breaking more and more from other liberal democracies -- or at least lagging behind. Believing in American exceptionalism provides an anchor of certainty in an uncertain world. Insisting American culture is the "universal" culture offers a security blanket against diversity and plurality.
I'm sure Canadian pundits are even now busily drafting their hot takes explaining why Trump's victory actually proves American superiority and exceptionalism (probably something like: electing Trump after a black Democrat shows just how open-minded America is).
Some current Canadian TV series include Travelers, a time-travel series in which the hero saving the world is an FBI agent. Hmmm. Wonder if he'd have been among the group fanning the flames of non-scandal over Clinton's e-mails? Or Aftermath, a post-apocalyptic adventure series about a white American family that is civilization's last hope. Hmmm. Wonder if they voted Trump? (Well, statistically speaking -- they probably did). To be honest, I haven't watched either series. I just don't have it in me at the moment.
The irony is that many Canadian film and TV folk enthusiastically tweet pious denunciations of Trump by night -- even as they just as enthusiastically go to work in the morning on productions which feed the myth of American exceptionalism (and erase Canada -- and other countries -- from the cultural landscape).
So to people who see my posts as pedantic, fixating on irrelevancies like culture and identity, I suggest you re-read some of them. You might detect something else. Exhaustion. Sadness. Even despair.
How will Trump's America affect Canadian film and TV?
Probably hardly at all.
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