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The Issue Of Cultural Diversity In Canadian Television Advertising: Literature Review

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Mary Jane Miller, a professor of dramatic literature at Brock University, in collaboration with Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) Entreprises, draws on a collection of CBC archives, the National Film Archive, various Canadian periodicals, and interviews with the Head of TV Drama, John Kennedy, to outline a detailed history of the CBC’s evolution of television drama as a public broadcasting service. Miller provides a thorough and systematic investigation into whether Canadian television drama programs are distinctive, or imitative, or innovative. By taking a social-constructivist approach to her concurrent mixed research method, Miller argues that CBC’s television drama holds a sense of heritage because the content distinctly Canadian. Miller supports her argument by providing detailed analyses of copshows, sitcoms, and family-adventure series that exhibit longevity, innovation and originality. Miller’s biases come through as her narrative and definition of heritage exclude the voices of Canada’s people of color, as evident in the fact that the very large majority of the analyses covered in the book focus on stories involving only white Canadians. This shortcoming serves as a useful resource in the discussion about tokenism in film and television and demonstrates how the history of Canadian television is focused primarily on telling the stories of white people. Turn up the contrast will be used in this project to outline the history of Canadian television and contextualize what the gap in authentic Canadian storytelling looks like.

Dr. Loretta Ho and Dr. Shyon Baumann, two sociology professors at the University of Toronto, analyze a sample of prime-time Canadian television advertising to identify cultural schemas for what it means to be a person of color. The authors then apply this data to a larger discussion of what semantics are part of race in advertising. By applying an empirical focus on food and dining advertising, Ho and Baumann present a quantitative analysis of race and food subtypes to demonstrate the larger socio-cultural differences. The authors then apply these systematic differences to a qualitative content analysis that outlines six distinctive cultural schemas for racial identity: white nostalgia, white natural, white highbrow, white nuclear family, black blue collar, and Asian technocrat. Ho and Baumann attribute the significance of cultural schemas due to the fact that cultural schemas define group boundaries and because they provide scripts for guiding behaviors in social settings. The research and conclusions presented by Ho and Baumann provide important social context into the social implications of tokenism, stereotypes and whitewashing in Canadian media. This research will contribute to the strengthening of the findings and why racial identity is relevant to Canadian storytelling.

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Brad Clark, a politician and community relations consultant, applies a collection of research that examines journalism as a professional practice to illustrate diversity initiatives of various news organizations within Canada to illuminate the ‘normative impediments’ to equitable and authentically inclusive representations of people of color. Building upon the idea that the gap exists because current reforms have failed to address the long established biases in news values and news gathering routines, the author argues that this gap will continue to develop until these organizations hire minority journalists and adopt production routines that prevent minorities from being presented as ‘The Other’. Clark proposes reforms that involve improving equity through the entire news production process with the mindful intention of increasing participation from people of color and advancing their stories. Despite being a white straight male, Clark brings his 20 years of journalist industry experience to provide an important evaluation of the current shortcomings of the journalism industry in Canada in relation to authentic and equitable storytelling. Although the author’s scope of focus is related to journalism and not to film and television – which is what this research project is really about – this work is important in demonstrating a similar goal of removing tokenism in media and replacing it with equitable storytelling in a similar media-related industry. The research and proposed reforms will function as a relevant resource in defining the value of the Canadian media landscape as a cultural tool.

Kyle Conway, a communications professor and expert on the CBC, applies his linguistics and communication arts background to evaluate the seemingly competing definitions of “multiculturalism” as presented in the Broadcasting Act between its introduction in 1989 and passage into law in 1991. By examining three specific areas of focus – the previous act’s national unity clause, the expansion of ideas of multiculturalism, and the tools of implementation – Clark argues that the Broadcasting Act was left with a definition of “multiculturalism” that was too vague to lead to any meaningful change. Conway contextualizes this ambiguity by attaching it to the paradox of multiculturalism being celebrated but also being enforced as The Other due to whiteness remaining the “normative yardstick”. The author highlights the implications of such a vague term by pointing out that minority viewers are not able to identify with what they see on television as storytelling in the media does not accurately represent their Canadian heritage. This research supports the research project underway as it shares the view that there is a gap in the current Canadian media landscape in that people of color feel that their stories are not being told in a way that preserves their personal and genuine nature. The data presented in this paper will serve as evidence for the fact that tokenism exists because the framework behind Canadian broadcasting regulations are too ambiguous to assign any real responsibility for equitable storytelling.

Dr. Morgan Ellithorpe and Dr. Amy Bleakley, two professionals with an interest in the intersection of media, youth, and mental well-being, connect Nielsen viewing data across the 2014-2015 television season for youth aged 14-17 with US Census data to identify the proportionate representation of Black characters. The two authors go on to explain that this quantitative data is supported by the data that television shows that are popular with people of color are more likely to exhibit racial diversity, and that in turn research shows that adolescents seek out media messages with characters that they feel portray their stories. This authentic storytelling is demonstrated as being important because it serves as a tool for identity development and social identity gratifications. The research presented by the authors demonstrates the relationship between the quantitative data provided by the racial makeup of popular television shows and the demographics of the viewers of those television shows in relation to the social implications of that connected data.

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