Propaganda comes in many forms. National calls of “Deutschland über alles” and “Make America Great Again” blatantly send messages that go beyond gathering a country together, but rather mobilizing to defeat all those who may challenge a region’s supremacy. While taking a more nuanced tone, state-controlled cultural policy and cultural production similarly impact citizen values and international outlook.
In 1938, a campaign of cultural reclamation known as bonifica della cultura was launched in Italy with the purpose of promoting Italian values by banning outside influences. The Propaganda Service Directorate bolstered their staff with photographers, filmmakers, artists and architects whose goal was to put greater state control in Italian cultural life. At the same time, the Press Directorate hired writers, critics, and journalists to censor their colleagues. The result, according to Ben-Ghiat, was the “efficient policing of cultural production” that gave state access to the otherwise non-political areas of creative life.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was established in 1936 to combat the growing influence of America media, as US based networks began to expand north. Although under non-fascist rule, the Government of Canada’s motives for creating a state-run media strike a similar cord to that of Mussolini’s Italy: protect the state from outside influencers that do not fit the characteristics of our national identity. But who decides what is or is not Canadian?
While Canada may not use the same strategies of continental cultural domination as the Axis alliance in the early 20thcentury, can state-run media have similar impacts on influencing national values and ideas?
Spanning from sea to sea to sea, I think most Canadians agree there is a need for a publicly funded media agency to connect those who may otherwise be isolated. But at what cost? Are Canadians willing to sacrifice foreign coverage by private sector organizations in order to make room for the CBC?
Beyond media, Ben-Ghiat acknowledges that democracies and dictatorships alike are interested in promoting their national heritage. In modern day Canada, this takes the form of various grants and prizes in Canadian art, literature, and even academic research that shed light on our history or answer questions deemed important by a selection committee. On the surface, these public foundations work to highlight a collective history and promote Canadian identity. However, former Italian Academy official Carlo Formichi considers the result rather dangerous, deemed “artistic nationalism that goes hand in hand with political nationalism, and is certainly no less consequential.”
If we can agree the purpose of art is to stimulate feelings, thoughts and discussion beyond aesthetic appeal, can we argue the Government of Canada chooses to support those artists that serve their broader political goals? At what point does a state-run media cross the line into state propaganda?