Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


The Industrial Handing Down of Culture

Claude Martin*

The industrialization of cultural production has been one of the major changes in our society since the beginning of the twentieth century. What types of changes are we looking at and why is it so important? In 1962, now a long time ago, Edgar Morin evoked, in L’esprit du temps, a “second industrial revolution,” one that deals with “images, dreams and messages, [which] result in the industrialization of the mind.” One thinks one can hear a cantor of the “new economy,” a very recent notion. At that time, people were questioning the changes happening within capitalism. This is when ideas like “leisure society,” the knowledge-based economy and the so called “information society” were put forward.

Several well known phenomena can be found at the core of these changes, which were firstly, the consequences of the industrial revolution. Gains in productivity and accelerated urbanization modified social structures. Parliamentary democracy and, later, the welfare state succeeded in giving citizens a status that conformed with the ancient belief in human dignity. The first steps in this process were taken in parallel with the development of the printing press, and the industries of book and periodical publishing. What would the Enlightment have been without books? And democracy without newpapers?

Has the handing down of culture been endangered by this industrialization of intellectual production? Of course not. Looking back through time, one can see that it has been, on the contrary, greatly favoured. But, once industrialization was carried out, values changed and new occupations arose. To writing one adds the journalist, a professional with a well defined and limited task, harnessed to his typewriter, and supplying copy to the linotype machine and the rotating presses essential to a newspaper — but also to advertising, a major source of financing for that newspaper. The writer has not, however, disappeared. One can see him producing a literature described as “popular,” in part tied to the new beneficiaries of literacy, but which do not impinge on colleagues plotting some aesthetic revolutions which would please more restrained publics.

Put differently, society has changed; so have the ways values and cultures develop. When sound recording showed up, it changed music. Caruso became a star throughout the world. The microphone and the amplifier made it possible to sing with a weak voice. The radio became an amplifier of the record; television even more so. Music has changed and the values it brings have also been changing.

Our hypothesis is the following one. The building up of Québec as a society rests, among other things, on the power of the cultural industries, even if the latter are also a vehicle for forces that can dissolve a society within a larger world. However, that power could not have been implemented outside the stream of the industrialization of cultural production. That is what gives those industries the possibility of reaching, of informing, of disturbing, of pleasing, etc. This is why one can talk here of an industrial paradox. On the one hand, here are particularly efficient channels for contributing to the making up of a value system peculiar to certain groups of human beings (which can in some cases lead in not very honourable directions). On the other hand, here are excellent means for those accepting the values underlining publicity or Hollywood productions. It is almost impossible to divorce these two factors. Radio can make people move in unison, but the music it is playing may have originated elsewhere.

It is with the arrival of the first publishers of periodicals and books, in the nineteenth century, that the struggle for the industrial handing down of French Canadian culture began. The Librairie Beauchemin, the ancestor of the actual book publisher, was founded in 1842. L’histoire du Canada of François-Xavier Garneau had its first release in 1845. This book can be considered as one of, or even the first Québec best seller. Jacques Michon (1999) is of the opinion that the first industrial production of books in Québec began around 1880. Jean de Bonville (1988) suggests that the transformation of the Québec press into mass media supported by advertising occurred between 1884 and 1914. Radio began to broadcast in French, in Montréal, in the early 1920s. Those changes are part of an overall economic and social transformation, out of which French Canada emerged as a modern society.

Chapter 7 , continued >


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