Monday, January 8, 2018

How Netflix Will Destroy Quebec Culture

There's a scene near the end of the movie Dirty Dancing, where the ageing owner of the fictional Catskill resort, waxes nostalgically about old times and the imminent changes ahead.
You and me, Tito...
It's that it all seems to be ending.
You think kids want to come with their parents
and take fox-trot lessons? 

Trips to Europe, that's what the kids want. 
Twenty-two countries in three days. 
It feels like it's all slipping away.
I can't help feeling that Quebec is undergoing such a transformation, where the old rules of established Francophone culture and conventions are being uprooted, led by, believe it or not,  the likes of streaming services like Netflix.

Anglo Canadiens are mystified at the uproar in Quebec over the Netflix deal which Ottawa made whereby the company would be left to its own devices for a $500 million dollar investment in Canadian film productions.
But in Quebec, the deal is Earth-shattering because it represents a frontal assault on the entrenched establishment of the Quebec francophone entertainment industry controlled by a few players who have a monopoly on delivering what amounts to French culture to a captive audience.

Up to recently, francophone entertainment consumers had a very restricted diet of locally produced francophone content on Radio Canada and TVA, as well as dubbed American programming also provided by these players. The small and moribund Quebec film industry is a disaster with all the excellent Quebec francophone directors following their Canadian anglophone counterparts down to Hollywood where success operates on a different level. In 2017, of all the films rated by the Régie du cinéma du Québec, only 11% were French, while 80% were English. Yikes!

What is true, is that Quebec francophone television and film is as bad as Canadian television and film, but being prisoners of language, most Quebecers are forced to make do, while Anglophones look to American produced movies and TV shows on network and cable television, as well as emerging services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.
Checking the ratings a few weeks ago, the top-rated Canadian English drama TV show was the "Indian Detective" which attracted 1.2 million viewers, while on the francophone side "District 31" pulled in 1.4 million viewers.
Considering that there are more than three times as many Anglophones as compared to francophones in Canada, it tells us that francophones are largely trapped by the language barrier, which is why Quebec television shows have ratings that tower over English shows produced in Canada.
And by the way, both the above shows are dreadful.

I laugh when out-of-touch sycophants like Mitch Garber lecture Anglophones that they should embrace francophone culture by listening to fossils like Robert Charlebois, an artist who peaked in the sixties and someone few if any francophones under thirty ever heard of.
“We are poorer for not knowing Martin Matte and Robert Charlebois.” -Mitch Garber
By the way, Charlebois' hit song back in 1968 featured this line;

"Alors chu reparti sur Québecair, Transworld, Northern, Eastern, Western, pis Pan American!
A song about six airlines that don't exist anymore. Is that somehow relevant today?

As for Martin Matte, his humour is very tribal, targetted exclusively for Quebec white, pur laine francophones and a fast talker at that, one that only the most fluent of fluent anglophones could understand.
I'm reminded of a trip to a Las Vegas convention where a few company employees and I went to a show by American Black comedian Jimmy Walker (Dy-no-mite!!!) After the show, we all remarked on how funny it was, all except the one francophone who admitted he couldn't understand a damn thing and I would classify him as being completely bilingual.

Sorry Mister Garber, French TV, which is the major media component and driver of francophone culture, is amateurish at best, but good or bad, francophones have embraced it because they had few options, and like their anglophones counterparts, only an extreme level of bilingualism can afford one the luxury of being entertained in another language.
The effect of this overwhelming exposure to local content is pronounced. Dramas take place locally and storylines reflect modern Quebec life with actors who speak the same dialect and act similarly.
It is a subtle and effective driver and moulder of insular local culture. Francophones don't necessarily watch these shows for the local flavour, but rather because it was the only game in town, but the effect is there.

And so why Netflix so dangerous?

First financially, local players have made a fortune on the backs of viewers and subsidies by Canadian taxpayers which over-contribute to the francophone side, a neat little scam that has made local Quebec production so lucrative. While generally receiving about 40% of federal subsidies for entertainment, you can imagine the rage at the Netflix deal which promises a paltry $25 million in French production against $475 million in English. The entrenched francophone media cartel wanted Netflix to contribute to the Canadian media fund from which they could grab up to 40% for local French productions.
In effect, they are demanding that an English American online content provider subsidize Quebec French productions, something that Netflix scoffed at. So Netflix got exactly what it wanted, Ottawa powerless to put up a real fight.
Quebec is powerless as well because there's not much to threaten Netflix with, short of banning the service by erecting a 'Poutine Wall.'
The manufactured debate over the fact that Netflix doesn't collect the provincial sales tax is but a red herring, meant to whip up opposition in a callous and underhanded manipulative effort to undermine its encroachment on the hitherto protected territory.
And come on, have you ever hear of a consumer lobby group demanding to pay more taxes?
Even if Quebec does impose the provincial sales tax on Netflix, it will be a trifle and I can't imagine 1% of customers cancelling their service in reaction.

But the real threat to Quebec culture is the programming that Netflix provides and this at affordable prices,  providing subscribers with the latest English programming with subtitles and more importantly, Netflix's original program which is dubbed into French. Netflix also provides a French language interface so unilingual francophones can manoeuvre through the myriad choice of programming with ease.
By the way, the dubbing that Netflix provides on its own exclusive programming is far superior to anything done in Quebec with production budgets and standards that dwarf anything Quebec media can muster. Read a fascinating account of the effort Netflix puts into dubbing. How Netflix translated “Stranger Things”
Alas, this dubbing is in Parisien French meant to cater to a worldwide audience, something that infuriates Quebec language militants to no end, exposing Quebecers to a different "French" experience as well as costing dubbing jobs in Quebec.
Aside from all this are the stories themselves, which no longer feature Quebec locales or story lines, and which are, to say the least, more compelling. The vaunted Quebec star system is complety bypassed, another nail in the coffin of Quebec culture.

As the famed Eddie Cantor warned America in a song issued after World War One about returning American soldiers;

"How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree'
How ya gonna keep 'em away from Broadway
Jazzin around and paintin' the town
How ya gonna keep 'em away from harm, that's a mystery
They'll never want to see a rake or plough
And who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree"
The truth is that Quebec media cannot compete with Netflix where it's original programming is more compelling than local content and which lifts Quebec francophone viewers into the major leagues. The result will transform even those unilingual francophones living in the boonies into becoming more cosmopolitan and worldly, freed from the shackles of insular local content.

For many years Quebec culture and language militants have scoffed at English Canada for being engulfed by the international anglo culture led by America. These people cherished Quebec's cultural individualness but Netflix, for better or worse, will lead francophone Quebec down that same garden path and as Max Kellerman warned us...'it's all slipping away.


  1. There is a french version of Netflix here in Quebec. It Videotron "Club illico" Only different is that Club illico has ZERO content in English ( last time I check. I could be wrong. ) While Netflix does have does have shows and movies in French. And most Netflix original Movies and TV shows, a good number are in French

    I would also like to say. First off there nothing wrong in adding more Quebec content to Netflix and that but the problem is that videotron's channel on demand and " club illico " own the exclusives on most Quebec shows and what language to presented it. I do not think videotron would take kindly having to give up on there exclusives content.
    I would love to be a fly on the wall during a sit down interview between PKP and Netflix Canada. I don't think PKP is willing to share with Netflix.

    1. Mr. Sauga here. PKP ain't willing to share snow in mid-winter with Netflix...guaranteed!

  2. And I don't think Netflix is going to give two toots what Picky Pee the Neanderthal thinks. Times are changing, but he has not.

  3. Pretty much every Francophone I know (and 100% of the ones under 40) would NEVER dare watch a dubbed French version of an English TV show or movie.

    1. well this only means you don't know many francophones. you should go out more, mate.

    2. That's probably the case in Montreal, where you have a higher proportion of bilingualism, but in the suburbs and far reaches of the province you probably have lower rates of English literacy and fewer people who watch undubbed English movies.

    3. Mr. Sauga here: Yo, student, who wants to go out more? Who needs to go out more? Sounds like you're bringing worthless, ignorant country bumpkins from the likes of Héouxville and the Saguenay into the program. You can cultivate your friendships with those hicks.