Questions of ethnic identity persistence in mass-media dominated North America (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
The persistence of the cultural identity of some so-called "white ethnic" groups such as Polish-Canadians has become increasingly problematic in the North American (U.S. and Canada) cultural space, dominated by mass media.
The official declaration of Canada as a multicultural society has not led to an increased profile for some of these "white ethnic" groups such as Polish-Canadians. Indeed, there is a marked contrast between the major emphasis placed today in Canada on so-called visible minorities – as opposed to the "white ethnics".
Canada and the United States today are countries where the various mass media have reached a historically unprecedented level of importance in determining the way in which persons think, create, and live. Living in such a mass-media saturated society, it now becomes almost impossible to even conceptualize how life might have been lived before the advent of radio, cinema, television, rock- and rap-music, cable-networks, or the Internet. To the extent that a certain cultural tendency does not appear prominently in the mass-media, its presence in society is almost certainly going to be minor.
There is indeed some question whether the Internet, with its potential for a genuine pluralism of outlooks, is rather different from such media as radio, cinema, television, and rock- and rap-music, where the presence of so-called gatekeepers was always quite salient. However, the Internet had arrived as a truly widespread medium only in the late 1990s. Indeed, the first websites accessible to everyone who had a computer and Internet connection became possible only in 1995. Thus, the Internet arrived after over four decades of the very heavy conceptual and infrastructural weight of earlier media, most notably, television.
Canada today is clearly in the ambit of a North American mass-media based pop-culture. This pop-culture quite relentlessly obliterates any distinctive fragment-cultures. This happens especially when they lack a presence in the mass-media and pop-culture, or in the state-supported official custodians of Canadian culture -- typified by so-called CanLit -- or are unable to generate a certain cultural resiliency on their own.
Let me preface my upcoming comments by saying that I have lived closely in the Canadian and American mediascape and soundscape for over forty years. Thus, I am rather familiar with the output of the major media in Canada, and especially in the Toronto cityscape, where I was born and have lived nearly all of my life.
Despite claims of over a million persons of Polish descent in Canada, the Polish-Canadian group has become possibly one of the least salient groups in Canada today.
The relentless assimilative pressures of North American mass-media in regard to such groups as Polish-Canadians can easily be seen.
There is, first of all, just the fact of the loss of most of the Polish language among the generations born in Canada.
Secondly, there is the extreme infrequency of even a mention of Polish or Polish-Canadian matters in the mass-media. Also, apart from the infrequency of Polish mentions in the news, there are currently no opinion columnists in any of the major Toronto English-language newspapers -- The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun -- who could be identified as belonging to the Polish-Canadian community. Nor is the author of this article aware of any such persons working as opinion-columnists at any major Canadian newspaper. The author is also unaware of any such persons working as senior editors at newspapers, magazines, or recognized publishing houses. Nor is he aware of any such persons working as prominent literary agents, or being owners of more prominent bookstore chains.
To be continued.
Partially based on an English-language draft of a presentation read at the conference, Transatlantic Encounters (Lodz, Poland: University of Lodz), September 28-30, 2008.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.