A Simple Analogy
If marketers figure they can sell you a shit filled diaper they'll try. If they fail, they'll try to sell you something else. However, if the government says we must have diapers - any diapers - you're in for some of the foulest smelling shit you can imagine. You'll have few alternatives and the stench will linger...and linger...
What is CanCon?
In a nutshell, it is a quota of material broadcasters must play that qualifies as Canadian in origin. This can either be through the nationality of the singer, band members, composer, producer, etc. or a combination of all above.
In the States you have one hit wonders. In Canada you have no hit wonders getting constant air play solely for being Canadian. Not only that, but then you can make the rounds on low budget CBC/CTV dramas playing the "rock star". Thanks CanCon...thanks a fucking lot.
Now don't get me wrong, the basic premise sounds good. That is, by actively promoting Canadian artists we will benefit with a richer artistic community, higher self-awareness of Canadian culture, and will promote Canadian artists/culture to the world audience. Added to this is the financial issue of royalties that broadcasting companies pay for playing material - playing more Canadian content means more royalty money is staying in Canada instead of flowing outside our borders. And it is a good thing to promote local artists because god knows they get little enough money as it is. I'm all for giving musicians, artists, writers, and film makers support and money from the government. That's not my beef with CanCon at all. My beef is the quality of what got sent out over the airwaves because of CanCon. CanCon was probably more detrimental because instead of fostering talent it promoted mediocrity.
The reality of radio and video support of Canadian content in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s showed a quota being filled with little else than filler. Broadcasters needed Canadian content to meet regulation so if you managed to get a record out - regardless of your polish or skill - your chances of getting airtime would be pretty good. This is a godsend for the likes of Zappacosta. Personally, I'm more interested in hearing good music than being force fed half-assed tripe just because it's Canadian and it will fill a necessary quota.
Also consider that using a government imposed system to create a cultural identity is in reality creating a largely artificial culture. The tendency is to encourage artists and material that a watered-down government committee deems relatively safe instead of allowing a culture to grow naturally from its surroundings. Judging from the mediocrity of the bands, it seems like the Feds were quite happy to promote the Canadian inferiority complex as our identity.
Then there's the whole regional argument. Yes there were the Haywires from PEI and Doug and the Slugs from Vancouver. The plan was to support voices from across the nation. But there always seemed to be a very large contingent of horrid bands from Toronto that were the media's darlings. At times CanCon seemed to be more of an OntarioCon system. Know someone at the CBC or Much Music? Your chances of getting played just went up again. Granted Toronto has more going on than most places in Canada. Granted it is the media center so bands are more likely to converge there. And granted this sort of patronage would go on regardless. But my god, how many bands from other ends of the country got passed over in favour of the no-talented Ontario twat that slept with a Much Music Veejay?
And yeah, there's the argument that without the crap that CanCon supported over the years, we wouldn't have developed the better artists that have emerged. The crap laid the groundwork for the good acts we see today. I call bullshit on that. How many kids who heard Frozen Ghost in the 80s grew up to make music just like them? When I listen to a band like Sloan I hear influences from the Beatles, Kiss, Cheap Trick, Big Star, even My Bloody Valentine but not Chalk Circle. So I'd say the good artists developed in spite of CanCon not because of it. There always were great Canadian acts - they just didn't get the time or press compared to shit like Glass Tiger.
Don't believe me? Dig up a Juno Awards ceremony from the 80s and look at what's being feted - then you'll really feel the pain.
If the Grammy is a worthless award, how much does a Juno go for?
Review the rating system:
Rate Your Own!
See the band listings:
At Least They Tried
I'm open to suggestions, additions, and rebuttals. Just send me an . Be sure to be able to back it up though.