Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pop Culture Shock

There is an aspect that has been hard to get used to. Not being 'au current' with the local pop culture. To a degree I am a fish out of water. Here is an example. I had seen this commercial about erectile dysfunction and what must be a celebrity comes on and says some cheesy line that somehow connects hockey with winning the battle over erectile dysfunction. I see a couple other times and finally I see it with my wife in the room. So I ask her who that is and she informs me it's Guy Lafleur one of the biggest hockey players around.

It was just a weird feeling because the tables were turned. Back in the states I was the one always informing my wife who so and so was on TV. Oh, that's Jim McMahon the quarterback of the 1985 Superbowl Champion Chicago Bears.

Now we live in an area that reportedly has many locally known celebrities. My wife keeps pointing them out. Oh, that was the actor from such-and-such from when I was a kid. Or that woman is the daughter of that news anchor. So I worry that I could be giving the local Gary Sinise, John Malcovich, or Billy Corrigan the evil eye for cutting me off when I really should be gapping in surprise of seeing them and yielding way for their immense contribution to society.

I did actually see one local celeb at the supermarket. It was that guy who did the Bell ads before the beavers took over. You know, the guy who dressed up like women and blue collar workers. He pulled up in line behind us at the check out counter.

I am making an effort to get into the scene. We have watched every Star Academie since moving here in order to get familiar with the music scene. And when we remember and have the time we watch Tout Le Monde En Parle. They tend to have quite a few faces-in-the-crowd, but there are enough well-known faces. So I'm inching my way toward familiarity with the Quebec pop culture, but unless I completely wean myself of anglophone media, I think it will be a loooonnnnng time before I reach an level near to the knowledge I had back in the states.

16 comments:

AJ said...

Dude! I've lived here my whole life and I remain (sadly) ignorant of mainstream Québecois pop culture, though I'm trying to get into it more now, movies at least (just cancelled cable).

Maybe it's easier to get into it if you live outside Montreal proper. Certainly, growing up in the 70s in the anglo bubble (mostly anglo-ish suburbs, cable tv, at one time two daily English papers, English schools) it was like living in a parallel reality. There was, and I suppose is, enough of a critical mass of English media on the island to do so...

At the same time, it's not like we were colonies of The Rest Of Canada either. Until the drastic budget cuts of the 80s there was a LOT of local TV production here, English and French.

What I find weird about it is, what would be "local" celebrities anywhere else are "national" celebrities here. And it's perversely, a strangely closed bubble of its own, with a lot of vertical media ownership (quebecor = tva/tvq/production companies/record labels/archambault music stores...)

Panthère rousse said...

The guy from the Bell commercials is Benoît Brière. I miss him, I'm tired of the beavers. Although I love it when they are on the escalators, you see the bottom of a fur coat and one of them says (at least in the French version): "Isn't that my cousin "What's his name"?"

Yes, it is strange for me sometimes to see how Montreal anglos are cut-off from the franco life. My boyfriend is a completely integrated (assimilated?) anglo, but even he sometimes has problems identifying some actors on TV. I must admit that I don't know much the anglo local stars, probably the only one I could recognize on the street is Dennis Trudeau (and I saw him once in a bakery in my area).

Well, it is a cliché to talk of the two solitudes, but that's what it is. Foreigners who arrive here must find it very strange sometimes... But hey, it's a real bargain, two cities for the price of one! :-)

Blork said...

As AJ says, local celebrities are also "national" celebrities. Or to put it another way, the national celebrities are locals. For that reason, people tend to not fawn over them the way they might in the US, for example, where the population is so much bigger and all the stakes so much higher.

Many US celebrities generally make millions of dollars every year and live in exclusive enclaves in Hollywood. Even the smaller localized celebrities are still known nationally (and internationally). So running into one of those people is a pretty rare event.

But here in Montreal that "national celebrity" might be your upstairs neighbour, or someone you see every few days at the depanneur. As such, people don't make a big deal about it. Even Hollywood celebs have been known to comment that they like working in Montreal because people generally leave them alone and don't gush.

For example, a few years ago Julia Roberts rented a loft in Old Montreal for a few months while working on a project. I saw an interview in which she talked about what a pleasure it was to just go sit in a cafe with a newspaper without having people crowd around her gushing and asking for autographs.

Frank said...

Thanks everyone for the insights.

I have to admit that now that you point it out, AJ, that I have almost no knowledge of Anglo celebrities so far other than a couple morning radio dj's and ed. At least not that I can readily think of.

As far as Franco celebrities, I seem to be more in touch with them since the TV at home toggles between english and french. Plus if I want to talk to the in-laws I have to gain knowledge of who's who.

Panthère rousse, it was odd for me to realize, first, that there was a French speaking part of the continent, then once I had started to learn the francophone culture to discover this bilingual city in the middle of it. The dichotomy of the city is really something special.

Blork, I was also surprised at the number of celebrities here. It could be due to the fact that short of importing all entertainment, the nation needs to entertain themselves with local personalities. Part of that may also be since I am discovering a whole new 'scene'. The number of celebrities may seem bigger because I am just learning about them.

zura said...

I am with AJ on this when he says "Dude!". I too have lived here all my life and have realized that I don't have a lot of everyday franco-exposure. I work in english, I speak pretty much mostly english with my friends, and I leisure in english as well.

I speak french fluently enough, but I lack the fresher expressions, the turns of phrases. I realized this to its fullest when I took a first aid and CPR course in french a couple weeks back. I found that that I was missing a well-rounded exposure to the language. But by the end of the 2-day course, I was cracking jokes with the rest of them and being less shy about committing overt grammar mistakes.

Shopping in french requires much less conversation than one thinks, I don't watch enough TV to now encorporate french programs as well, and I don't have the time to keep taking courses that happen to be taught in french. So how to remedy this situation? I have since done two things: I finally watched Les Invasions Barbares (loved it!) which will lead me to remember to consider a franco movie next time I go rent something, and I have started dating the francos. :)

Blork said...

The thing is, there are very few anglo celebrities in Quebec. For one thing, the market for anglo entertainment here is very small -- if you're an anglo entertainer you're much better off in Toronto, where most English Canadian movies/tv/music/etc. are produced. There are some notable exceptions, but very few.

Quebec has a very active "star system." To an outsider it might seem very parochial (in fact, it might seem parochial even to an insider). It's about both language and culture (as the two are intertwined).

Basically, all those TV and movies and most of the music are very highly subsidized, and it has created a system that feeds upon itself. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you're a Quebec artist it's a particularly good thing. As a result of all this subsidization, the industry is very active and the production standards are quite high, especially when you realize how small the actual market is.

Simply put, a market-driven system wouldn't work here.

But the incestuous nature of the star system can be a bit much sometimes. You turn on the TV and stars x, y, and z are all on "Tout le monde en parle" (a talk show), and the next night x and y are on "Vero" (a talk show) while z is on that Normand Braithewaite show. Then the next night x is on some cooking show while z makes an appearance on "Star Academie." Next day you see y on some afternoon show. The weekend comes and you go to see a play and it's staring x and z, and the next night you go to a movie and it stars y and z.

It's really like that, only with more characters. Essentially the same 30 people being recycled over and over. But it provides entertainment and jobs for those 30 people -- plus the hundreds of people who run the cameras, lights, sound, editing, and who write the screenplays and do the marketing, etc.

Frank said...

Zura, the anglophone community here is interesting to me because I have really only started to come in contact with it through blogs. My day is almost completely in contact with francophones. Though my day still ends up being 50/50 since my French still needs some work. But for me the difficulty in actually studying French or at least my excuse for spending all my leisure time in English is because I spend so much of my day in French. That said, I am also going to try to see more Quebec films. That's why I asked the question at the last YULblog.

Blork, that's something I find really refreshing is that the local talent is subsidized. And the local industry is so vibrant. As AJ (I think) mentioned once it also promotes not always the best talent. Or as Zeke pointed out here strongly patronize local industry using how CRAZY opened stronger than Harry Potter. For me having all that cross over has helped me become familiar with the faces quicker than normally possible.

From my experience this national industry can lead to people being sheltered within the Quebec bubble. It can create a bit of isolation from the outside world, but that seems to be more for those outside the metropolitan area. That happens everywhere, but maybe a bit more here. Though that's not necessarily a bad thing.

brem said...

Is it the franco who are sheltered or the anglos? :)

I think both like to keep to themselves.

I personally watch mostly english television because I don't like the quebec so-called star system.

Talent is few and untalented artists are subsidised.

I do however know local celebrities.

Interestingly, I know more about american celebrities than canadian ones. I'm not talking about canadians who work in Hollywood. Essentially, they are americans now, not canadian :)

Frank said...

Now that I have thought about it a bit more since the original post, I have seen a couple other local francophone celebrities. I saw Charles LaFortune last summer posing in front of a manhole cover. Also, my wife and I had lunch at Le Reservoir one afternoon and there was one guy I recognized from a Radio Canada ad. He was with someone who looked like a star, but neither of us could place them. My wife also pointed out a famous chef how eats there regularly. But this kinda proves my point that being a newcomer, it seems it will be a while before I have the same knowledge of celebrities that I had back home. It's an odd feeling for me to not 'be in the know'.

Matthieu said...

Hi guys!

Some of you got it right! In order to really know the franco culture, you really have to "live" in the french culture...

Take a dance/painting/tennis course with french people. Get into a Hockey "ligue de garage", see movies in french, make french friends, date french people and meet their friends!

Don't be shy about your accent or mistakes (i surely make many of them myslef right now...), we just love it when someone makes an effort to speak french.

I guess it's the same for anybody who wishes to know more about the french quebecois's culture: I said the same things to my friends who have just immigrated from France... If you always are with you group of french friends, how do you expect to really know about our culture?

By the way, just learned about your blog on Patrick Lagacé's blog from Canoe... I really like it!

swan_pr said...

Everything as been said. Interesting opinions.

There is one thing I'd like to point out though. Guy Lafleur is not a local celebrity. He's one of the greatest hockey players of all time, both because of his style and his performances.

Had you been a hockey fan, you probably would've recognized him. :)

Etienne Girardin said...

I am French Canadian. I am 20 years old and I have passed all my life in the province of Quebec.

I know a lot about all the "stars". AI do not think that we consider them as stars... it is more that, as French-speaking people, we are not that interested in listening to English people (excepting for Mix 96 on radio that has a lot of success because there is less blabla and more music).

It is true that there are a lot of money given to artists because they would not be able to live only from $ from the Quebec market... but I do not think that it is the point...

It only proves that Quebec is a nation by itself with its own culture ...

If you people want to know more, for sure internet, radio, television and "real" French-canadian people are the way to go. I do not think that the goal is to be able to recognize some stars on ads. If that is the only goal, it is kinda useless.

French Blogs can be a good idea too... and if you want hockey fans that want to believe they know something, go to comments sections of articles about the Canadiens on rds.ca, you will see hundreds of comments written in a "street-like" French...

Patof said...

I certainly don't like Etienne speaking in the name of "french speaking people" as I am one of them.

I'm completely opposed to his opinion and I wonder why you would want to know so-called celebrities that are known mostly because the government pays them for their work (I can't call it art ...)?

There are artists that are extremley interesting but they're not on Star Academie ...

Etienne Girardin said...

Well I did not say I want to know them because they are subsidized.

I meant they are known well BECAUSE they appear in a lot of shows and these shows are possible BECAUSE of «free money»...

and for sure that money is not always well spent, but I prefer to have access to French-speaking comedians-musicians-radio hosts-tv hosts-etc...

Well for sure not all people from a certain city-country-origin do not have the same opinion, but there are certainly a lot of people happy to have many TV shoes in French, and not only American shows translated or even with subtitles like on Musique Plus...

And I certainly do not like Star Académie... let's make a difference between Un Gars Une Fille (as an example), Invasions barbares, Star Académie, Loft Story, etc... they are all different shows or films, and you cannot put them all in the same category.

I just meant that this «Quebec star system» because the omnipresence of french-canadian «well-known» people on TV-radio-ads is a repercussion of the different language and culture compared to USA or english-spreaking provinces.

Anyway, on a ldroit de pas être d'accord.

brem said...

Etienne, I also did not appreciate being assimilated to your idealized idea of how french-quebecers like or dislike.

I personally do not like to watch french-speaking television in general precisely because I feel it is amateurish. We always see the same faces, and everybody is trying to be a singer, an actor and a tv host. Unfortunatly, very few have the talent to convey such aspirations. Fortunatly for them, they have friends and are heavyly bribed (err..) subsidized.

I'd say about 75% of current french-speaking television is total crap. I watch the other 25%.

Sometimes.

Frank said...

Thank you everyone for the different perspectives. They're enlightening and may have nudged me enough to make this blog partly bilingual. I really need the practice in the writing department.

One of the positives of the subsidized entertainment industry is that it keeps a local identity. American culture can be a bit overbearing at times and although it makes major profits, it also incites major backlash. Personnally, I would prefer more emphasis on local talent everywhere. Do we really need so many international stars?

swan_pr, yes, I missed the hockey boat. I'm into the other three major US sports (baseball, football, basketball). As far as I can figure the reason I didn't get into it (along with many other people in Chicago) is because the games are only on pay-per-view. The owners are greedy bastards who have done their best to kill the sport in that city.

mathieu, thanks for stopping by. I have joined the company sports teams in an effort to further my knowledge of French. I live in a bilingual household, so I get exposure there also. But after three years, I'm starting to plateau, so I need to take a more active approach to learning through reading and writing.