Thank Canada: locating the Canadian presence in U.S. youth television
Thompson-Spires, Nafissa D.
English THANK CANADA: LOCATING THE CANADIAN PRESENCE IN U.S. YOUTH TELEVISION Nafissa Thompson-Spires Dissertation under the direction of Professor Paul D. Young Because the United States is and has been a powerful force in Canadian television—through cultural inundation, economic pressures, and exports—much of the traditional scholarship about Canadian television emphasizes Canada’s vulnerability to U.S. domination, recounts Canada’s difficulties in producing homegrown fare that reflects a Canadian sense of nation, and focuses on the flow of television into Canada from the United States. This dissertation considers Canada-U.S. televisual relations from a different angle, examining the flow of television from Canada into the United States, the increase in Canadian television exports since the 1980s, and how these two-way transactions complicate arguments about Canadian weakness, U.S. dominance, and the cultural proximity of the two nations. Despite difficulties in grappling with U.S. media authority and internal issues, the Canadian television industry has produced some of the most successful youth-television programs to ever air in the United States and has become the second-largest exporter of television globally. Using Canadian youth series produced between 1979 and 2009, this project argues that Canadian exports and influences have not only been central to U.S. youth-television broadcasters like Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and PBS, but also central to U.S. television more generally. Canadian television works as an arbiter of U.S. culture, a mediator between U.S. and other television industries, and a necessary Other in the U.S. processes of self-definition that play out through televisual texts and their handling. In addition to a strong Canadian television industry, what emerges in this analysis is a U.S. television industry that is just as concerned with cultural nationalism, identity, and vulnerability as is the Canadian one. The U.S. anxieties manifest in censorship, assimilative practices that try to make Canadian series “pass” for “American,” and conventions that limit U.S. series to specific genres. In this revisionist narrative, U.S. domination remains a legitimate concern for Canadian television, but we also see a symbiotic relationship in which both television cultures are deeply intertwined, yet ultimately very different, globally important and perhaps equally strong.
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