The Mass Media in Canada

Mary Vipond

Mary Vipond begins this highly readable introductory text with a reference to a l988 cartoon which appeared in the Regina Leader-Post during the free trade debate. It showed "a sloppy middle-aged Canadian wearing a `Miami Vice' T-shirt walking down a street adorned with McDonald arches, Coke machines, GM and Ford dealerships, and a movie billboard advertising `Rambo XI.' `What's really scary,' he remarks to his wife `is that we Canadians could lose control of our culture.' " The irony of that cartoon points to a central focus of the book: that most of what the media in Canada convey is not Canadian but American. Her carefully chosen title, The Mass Media in Canada, rather than, for example, Canadian Mass Media, signals the dominance of American media. She points out at the same time, however, that "communication has remained central to the material and mythological definition of Canada." The tension thus created is her central concern.

In the first three chapters, Vipond looks at Canadian mass media chronologically, dividing development into three periods: "The Rise of the Mass Media," "The Media and Canadian Nationalism l920-l950," and "The Television Age." In the final four chapters she adopts a thematic approach to deal with the complex situation of media economics, the relationship of media and culture, the threats and opportunities of new technologies, and the ambiguities of government media policies. While this arrangement, for the most part, works quite well, it inevitably means that some sections overlap, and some topics, particularly policy matters, appear to receive very short shrift in the chronological sections. For example, she devotes only six pages to the development of radio broadcasting before apparently leaving the subject to move on to other matters. Students who think they have "done" radio after such cursory treatment would be sadly misled, however. Of course, many issues surrounding the development of radio are introduced or reintroduced in the subsequent chapters on technology, government, and so on. As a result, the book requires a second reading before the pieces of the picture begin to fit together.

The breadth of this text is both a strength and a weakness. Some readers may find the theory sections thin and her treatment of some facets of the Canadian media scene rather superficial, particularly broadcasting policy issues and concentration of newspaper ownership. The chapter on "Culture and the Mass Media" is illustrative. In 27 short pages, the author deals with definitions of culture, theories of mass communication, media and dependency, the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), and the pros and cons of Canadian cultural nationalism. Anyone but the novice to the field will undoubtedly feel that his or her "most important" topic has been dreadfully oversimplified. However, fuller discussions of these subjects are readily available in other texts and, on the plus side, she deals admirably with media virtually ignored in other books with a similar audience and purpose: the Canadian film and publishing industries. The text would be a valuable contribution to the field for these sections alone.

Vipond's writing is beautifully lucid and her arguments are persuasive. She explains complex topics with a clarity and concision unusual in the field. In all chapters, she provides ample and up-to-date facts and figures to support her views, neither overwhelming the reader with masses of undigested figures in charts and tables nor relying solely on "gee whiz" facts for their shock value, as in some other texts. (It would have been helpful, however, if she had acknowledged the sources of these data.) Other helpful features are extensive endnotes and a reasonably useful index, although a bibliography is not provided.

A small irritant relates to format. Although the type is clear and legible and chapter headings and subheadings informative and well-placed, the book is printed on porous newsprint-like paper with poorly reproduced photographs. The cover shows a rather tacky collection of media hardware--film cans, a ghetto blaster, a camera, etc.--it looks like it belongs in a magazine advertisement. In short, physically, the book looks as though it is planned for obsolescence and will self-destruct at the end of a four-month university term. It deserves better.

Vipond concludes her thoughtful discussion of the state of the media in Canada on a note of discouragement. She points to Canada's continued preference for technological goals over cultural ones and for cultural policies which, in practice, serve entrepreneurial ends. She sees few concrete solutions to the pressing problems and expresses little confidence that the public will come to an awareness of Canada's status as a cultural colony sufficient to pressure government to implement policies that will enable us to have genuinely Canadian media.

The Mass Media in Canada is a welcome addition to the very small number of introductory textbooks on Canadian mass media. Clearly written, broad in scope, thoughtful and persuasive, the book will go some way toward achieving her goal of making people "aware of the personal, social and national importance of all the millions of words and images they absorb" and thus to generate the public will necessary for us one day to have Canadian mass media rather than merely the mass media in Canada.



  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO