It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while there’s an event that captures the public’s imagination and becomes a cultural touchstone. Last Saturday’s Tragically Hip performance serves as a prime example —for Canadians at least.
The concert, broadcast and streamed live and commercial free from the band’s hometown in Kingston, reached approximately 11.7 million people, according to the CBC. That means about one third of Canadians watched or listened to the special presentation on TV, the radio or over the Internet.
The show was the last stop for the Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour, which was announced shortly after lead singer Gord Downie announced he was battling terminal brain cancer. Fans eagerly sought tickets in a frantic scramble to secure a spot to witness what could be among the iconic ensemble’s final performances, only to have their excitement turn to exasperation as a frustrating number of passes wound up in the greedy hands of re-sellers who marked up their face value by a considerable margin.
Shortly after the outcry over re-sellers surfaced, the rumblings began about having Canada’s national broadcaster make at least one show available for the masses. After a few weeks of “will they or won’t they”, the CBC revealed plans to air the Aug. 20 performance to the relief of ticket-deprived fans.
It’s for just this kind of moment that Canada needs a strong public broadcaster.
As mandated by the 1991 Broadcasting Act, the CBC is meant to “provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains." Airing a performance by the Tragically Hip, whose music not only draws from Canada’s rich culture and history, but has also woven itself into that very fabric, exemplifies these directives.
Some critics may argue another broadcaster could have just as easily carried the concert, but what for-profit Canadian network would have done so uncut and commercial free? Certainly, no American outlet would have.
Others will take aim at the $675 million in federal funding earmarked for the CBC in the 2016 budget, but what is it worth to retain something so uniquely Canadian?
Hopefully now is a time to recognize how fortunate we are to have this resource.
Is there room for improvement in terms of how the CBC operates and the content it provides?
Absolutely, but those clamouring for it to be abolished should tread carefully, because, to quote another renowned Canadian singer-songwriter, “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”