digital bubbles

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

#digicancon is the hashtag used for the public consultation process that Canadian Heritage embarked on this fall. I like hashtags usually because they can let you follow a discussion that many times falls outside your digital bubble.   Most times people would prefer to stay in their bubble. We want the best of us mirrored back to us, to continue our projection of ourselves; we want myth but are stuck with reality.  These bubbles, once the realm of trending fabulousness are now considered suspect.

It is easy to see why. We have now seen how dangerous ignorance the digital bubble influence can have; the US election might have been a direct result of people not truly understanding what they were reading, looking at or even engaging in online. Television, print and radio also had a hand in spreading ideas that had no truth or no intelligent rigour which I think is just as bad. In fact you could make a case that this truthiness in our culture was created a long time ago in original media sources. I am reminded of a David Brinkley’s quote, “news is what I say it is.”

But unfortunately the entire digital medium was ripe for most of the blame. It is a runaway industry for sure; start ups are able to leverage gazillions of dollars in investment and then the next thing you know taxi drivers all over the world are out of work.  What do you do about that?

I followed the #digicancon stream of thoughts and suggestions regarding how policy regarding Canadian content should be shaped with a big emphasis on digital and it seemed to seesaw between ‘Canadian content is the best!’ to ‘we are doomed and will all be working for Google if we aren’t careful’. The Canadian Heritage ministry retweeting only upbeat, ‘helpful’ tweets. Twitter’s 140 characters is not a great place for in depth consultation but I have hope. I have to and as my American friends put it, “you guys are debating your culture and where to put money while we just elected a climate change denier to the White House, sorry but no whining allowed.”

Yes, perspective is everything. What I see now is an enormous opportunity. Most of the #digicancon centred on content and protecting it and paying for it. For me this is a great relief that everyone seems to be onside in our cultural industries. But, there was far too much emphasis on television and film, those industries like music seem to be continually caught off guard by digital’s innovations. Popular they are, leaders in this new age they are not.

Say what you want about art galleries and their so called 19th century-ness, you can’t replace the experience of standing in front of a work of art.

Sutherland's painting of Churchill. Truth hurts.
Sutherland’s painting of Churchill. Truth hurts.

Speaking of art (the word tended to get lost in Canadian Heritage’s consultation shuffle) while I was following and contributing to the #digicancon debate online I also watched The Crown. The Crown is an original Netflix serial (and an example of how this medium is changing, hello CBC!) about the current Queen Elizabeth. One episode in particular stands out; and it discusses art and its potency so relevantly that I had to watch it twice.  In real life artist Graham Sutherland was commissioned by parliament to do a portrait of the very aged Winston Churchill. Churchill hated it and it disappeared into history. Considered a lost masterpiece it has been the subject of many books and stories.

In The Crown, Churchill, a painting hobbyist, challenges Sutherland and is generally hostile to the process. However there is a wonderful scene where the two men come closer together through an emotional discussion about art. But ultimately Sutherland does what artists do and paints what he wants and this hurts Churchill deeply.

Sutherland defends his work by stating that aging is cruel, not his painting. That we are blind to who we really are and art can help us get past the blindness.  Art sits in this nexus of feelings, external reality and truth. Even someone as brilliant as Churchill couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make the distinction between his myth, England’s myth and reality.  My guess is that this program The Crown is challenging the notion of myth versus reality – which is better and for whom?

The #digicancon conversation could have used this kind of deep reflection on what it is we are actually working toward, we are discussing cultural policy right? I never completely got the impression that Canadian Heritage was truly engaged in the realities of the discussion, things like copyright, royalties, trade agreements that eschew cultural protections and finding a way to make huge platforms like Netflix help pay for Canadian content. Their own comments seemed almost naive compared to the vast amount of savvy digital media types who aggressively pushed their own agendas. But then a government always has to decide where to put its energies; a shiny myth that inspires or a dull reality that does the job.  Finding that balance has been the trick all along, digital disruptions notwithstanding.

Image fm Wikipedia


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