Handshake Drugs #7: Weighing in… Living With Lions vs. Living With Censorship

Well hello!

If you have been paying attention to the news lately it would be hard to miss the controversy that has ensued after Living With Lion‘s album Holy Shit: The Poo Testament got called out on Parliament Hill by the Conservatives’ James Moore, as a symbol of why Canada should not be funding the arts. The album had a FACTOR and Government of Canada logo on it meaning it was funded with the help of the government. You can read about the situation in a refreshingly unbiased report by the CBC here.

Now, I do not claim to know anything about politics but I’d like to think I know a lot about the Canadian music industry. This whole ordeal really struck close to home for me. FACTOR has been rather generous to us and I have enjoyed working with Black Box Recordings (Living With Lions’ record label) the few times that I have had the chance.

This situation is really jam packed and I could write for days so I broke it down in to three parts; The system, the media, and what it all means.

Before delving in to this,  it is important that I bring to light the fact that the 13,000 dollars given to Living With Lions (LWL) from FACTOR was NOT a grant. It was a FACTOR Loan which would have been paid back. The way a FACTOR loan works is 50 cents from every record sale is handed back to FACTOR until the loan has been paid back or an agreed upon amount of time has passed. It seems that the Tories and the media overlooked this small but crucial piece of information when trying to scare tax payers about where their money was going.

THE SYSTEM.

The reality is whether or not LWL named their album Holy Shit and made a mockery of the bible, the conservatives hate them. The conservatives, in fact, hate every punk band just because. Have they ever listened to punk music? Probably not, but that doesn’t matter, it represents everything they hate. In this particular case, when James Moore held up the CD on Parliament Hill, it was not so much as to attack a developing Vancouver punk band as it was to symbolize the ‘waste’ of money Canada is spending on arts programs. It was a symbol of Tory hate against music as a whole and attacked the arts culture in Canada, scaring and enraging many while collared Canadians to believe, that all arts funding in Canada is a waste of their precious tax dollars.

It’s as if the government hasn’t put their funding in worse places (for one, Stephen Harper’s hair cut!). The thought couldn’t bear to cross the minds of the blind conservative followers who were now shocked and appalled that the words “holy” and “shit” were just used by the government, and on TV! Oh the rage! The conservatives and their fans appear to know nothing about the music industry or the arts industry as a whole. It’s almost as if they forgot the arts and culture industries raked in a whopping $84 billion dollars in 2007 (7.4% of our GDP) after investing roughly $13 million dollars a year in grant programs and subsidies for the arts. How’s that for return?

The conservatives act as if the arts industry is a pest eating up their hard working tax payers’ money. It is hard to believe that James Moore and his colleagues don’t have children who indulge in listening to music, going to concerts, or watching movies. Maybe they’re out on the streets doing drugs and getting in to fights instead? It is hard to believe that the Tories have chosen to turn a blind eye to the obvious benefits of art and culture to not only the country’s well being but their own families’. After all they are Canadian citizens too.

For those of you who argue that arts in Canada in general should not receive funding from the government I truly am worried for your well-being. A blind bat can see the good that art and culture brings to a community and the benefits the economy sees. The arts and culture industries are thriving and need public support like any other industry to maintain and export talent. For those of you who argue it is merely the content of  LWL’s record that should not be funded then I’ve got a thing or two to share with you…

The FACTOR system is a very democratic one similar to the court system. Below I have pasted the exact guidelines that are written on every single FACTOR application:

FACTOR Assessment Process:

When you submit an application to the JSR Program, FACTOR staff will review the application to assess that the Applicant, the project and the proposed costs are eligible. An Assessment Jury consisting of five to seven FACTOR certified jurists then reviews all eligible applications. Each juror logs an independent vote, comment and
set of scores for each application.

Jurors are representatives from the music and broadcasting industries who have special knowledge of the genre selected by the Applicant, and who are qualified to assess the commercial and creative merits of the application. The Assessment Jury will evaluate each application based on the quality of music, lyrics, vocals, musicianship and originality. A marketing plan as well as bio, photos and other supplementary information will be provided with each application for consideration. Assessment Jurors will not be given budget information.

If you still don’t trust that this is an appropriate way to screen applicants then you probably think you should be king of the world, and well let’s be honest, that’s never going to happen and thank god. This screening process to me seems completely fair and appropriate.

After the conservatives made this statement, FACTOR was in the spotlight having to defend themselves. It is an unfortunate position to put them in after they had already established and enforced such a sensible screening process. At this point they posted this statement on their website that included this, “We realize that we have a responsibility to the public and our funders to enforce reasonable limits on the content of the projects we fund.” It seemed an obvious reaction considering the position they were put in.

It was soon announced that Black Box had decided to return the 13,000 dollars to FACTOR, pull the records from shelves internationally, and reprint them. A move that will undoubtedly cost them thousands of wasted dollars. All over a loan they were going to pay back anyhow. It is my belief that this is entirely unnecessary. I am not privy to the exchange between FACTOR and Black Box of course and might be out of line, but Black Box was awarded the loan fair and square. FACTOR’s Tory-pleasing response perhaps could have read like, “we are going to implement new screening processes that include a clause that does not allow swearing on the cover of our funded projects” etc. I also don’t know what threats FACTOR was up against and in such a system, Black Box was worried of being blacklisted by FACTOR (one of the reason’s Canada still has record labels), and FACTOR was worried about being shut out and criticized by the government and their funder. So the chain effect just trickled down the line one way, and then back up it the other way, understandably so.

Some may argue that artists should not receive public funding if they want to retain creative control and that is fine and true, but if the government is only funding art in which they can control is that even art at all? So this is the system we are dealing with. Now on to the wave that follows a political scare like this…

THE MEDIA.

The second part of this puzzle is both a blessing in disguise and a nightmare. If this situation had never arisen, how many of the people discussing this would actually have known who Living With Lions are?

Back to my immediate statement, I don’t claim  to know anything about politics. Just like Ezra Levant should claim he knows nothing about music. Why he is even able to comment  with zero experience or research done on an entire industry is a media faux-pas. I was taught in my very first class ‘Journalism 101’ knowing the facts and doing your research are a crucial part of your job, a not by any means optional part of the job, might I add. So when I came across Levant’s article for the Toronto Sun titled “Time to Cut Public Funding for So Called Musicians” I was amazed that such an uninformed individual had the balls to speak on matters he knows nothing about. Which made me realize, the article was really not about news and sharing relevant political issues (things the media are often known to do), but rather about impressing their target readership (conservative-loving folk) and getting a rise out of the rest of the country while seeing a spurt in online web statistics that will undoubtedly impress their online ad buyers.

While there are many things I could rant about in Levant’s piece and point out as being facts made due to being uninformed, one of them I just couldn’t pass up the option to weigh in on. Levant writes, “Punk is a particularly lame species of music — it’s for tone-deaf angry men who shout instead of sing.” Hold up right there Levant man, so you’re straight out saying at the beginning of your article that you have no idea what punk music is? He also referred in his headline to LWL’s and punk bands in general as “so-called musicians”. So as to say punk is not a real genre of music? If punk is not a real genre how come there is a million dollar industry built around it in North America? People work and operate in totally punk industries. If something, no matter what it is, can mean something to such a large amount of people, can the media really disregard it as baloney? Not to mention a long standing institution like punk that has survived through the ages and developed over the years. It is clearly more than a fad and a valuable industry and lifestyle to many people residing on planet earth. I don’t agree with going to church but I understand and respect that many people build their life around religion. So I would never go and say Catholicism is not a religion and is ridiculous because it obviously is everything to many people, that much is a fact. Much like punk music is to millions of people. It’s a fact that punk IS a real genre of music, that’s non-debatable as far as I’m concerned.

Another small point, the media and music industries are in very similar states. Down sizing and panicking, thanks to this digital revolution. CDs much like printed magazines and newspapers are losing or have lost their worth entirely. Shouldn’t we be supporting each other on this sinking ship?

I was soon directed to this very eloquent and well-written open letter aimed at Levant posted on a personal blog by writer and musician Matthew Angus. His points were bang on and in the end declared that if Levant was going to call funding of LWL’s record useless because they released a shitty (pun intended) record then Levant’s potentially publicly funded journalism degree was also useless as he’s only churning out shit. I agree and was happy to see such a quick and effective response. I say effective because I don’t really give two shits if Levant read it, but it is apparent hundreds of other people did (at this point and time it has 1700 likes on facebook) so hopefully he has educated and reached some close-minded individuals.

I am also particularly happy about Angus’ response because it seems no one was quick to defend the arts community. Where is the political figure that will challenge this conservative action? Where is the celebrity or media person that rises up and says “arts funding is good and should not be censored.” Well there’s Angus and a bunch of us small people, but it remains largely unrepresented officially and I am surprised.

As much as I hate that this situation exists, I’m a sucker for a good PR crisis and this is the biggest the Canadian indie community has had in a long time.

Another article posted by a more informed journalist for the Sun, Warren Kinsella, shed light on the press opportunity for the band. At the very end it read, “James Moore, meanwhile, should take a frigging Valium. As a goodwill gesture, I plan to invite him to our band’s next album release party. If we’re lucky, he’ll show up and be outraged by us!”. While I don’t agree with his stance that punk bands should not receive funding (punk is not what it used to be and has evolved) I enjoy his closing statement.

When this whole landslide of shit hit, the publicist inside of me was flipping out! The band was thrust into an unbelievable media opportunity overnight. For a band who tours 300 person venues, all of sudden being spoken about on national TV and major networks, is a huge leg-up, despite the light they were cast in. Like I said above, the conservatives already hated LWL’s before the band even wrote their first song. The Tories are not their target audience and never will be for obvious reasons, so who cares if they dislike their artistic means?

If handled correctly, this will be or could have been LWL’s opportunity to connect with every punk, music, and art loving fan in this country and get them to stand up for what they believe in. The band all of a sudden means something to these kids and before you know it, it delivers in a huge spike in myspace plays and a boost in the size rooms the band is playing. This could be their big break.

Now I understand this case is sensitive, with the band and label having to protect their (incredibly important) relationship with FACTOR, but I believe there are ways to go about probing this wave of attention without actually taking a stance. What about the band activating their fan base and simply giving them the facts and saying “what do you think about this?”. Before you know it fans are protesting on Parliament Hill and sharing LWL’s story and music with all of their like-minded friends. A social issue like this can really encourage people to connect and the band can take advantage of that urgency. LWL all of a sudden have been thrust in to a position to represent every punk leaning band and person in this country, time will tell how they end up using that role.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

The reason I feel so strongly about these viewpoints is because I see this all becoming a much bigger issue. This is not a matter of LWL vs. the government. It is a matter of publicly funded art vs. the government.

Art is art. By definition art is “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles”; Those principles being entirely subjective.

I’m by no means a hippie or even an artist, but working closely with them and making a career out of doing just that, I know that if the government chooses to invest in these country-enhancing programs, they need to do so without censorship and control. What sort of censorship will this lead to if we accept this now?

Will the Tories fight for censorship until it comes knocking on their own front doors and workplaces? Because it’s sure to come around if we allow the government to control our artistic output it’s just a matter of time before they’re controlling our businesses, homes, and lifestyles. Are we not a diverse and cultural country? I have lived my whole life supporting and believing that Canada has the best arts community. Furthermore, I’ve lived being so proud of the freedom of expression and have gone as far as representing it internationally.  I know the arts community supports the arts community, no question there, but for the first time I question if we’re really supported by our country.

Thank you for reading. Share your thoughts below.
Sari

**to read previous blog posts by Sari click here.

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