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Alain Giguère

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Do you believe the world is heading for disaster? 61% of Canadians think so (and Parsifal by Richard Wagner)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-20-18 at 1:56 p.m.

Apocalyptic themes have always been common in cultural creations and popular tales, from the earliest biblical texts to the most recent Hollywood blockbusters. From Noah's ark to the Apocalypse in the Gospel According to St. John, from fears of nuclear catastrophe to Mad Max, The Walking Dead and The Handmaid's Tale, the threat of a world-destroying cataclysm has always been a pervasive motif in our culture, as a potential expiation for the trespasses of mankind.

The etymology of the word "apocalypse" is quite interesting. Its original meaning, from both the Greek and the Latin, is revelation: a vision, a promise of a better world once our sins have been purged. A salvation but one that can only come to pass after a cathartic catastrophe washes away the iniquities of Man.

In Western countries, as well as in other countries where religious ideology no longer predominates, the notion of apocalypse is still present. It continues to play the same role, but in a secular way. Today, our "sins" involve our lack of respect for the planet, climate change caused by human activity, the destabilization of democracies by the rise of the Extreme Right, terrorism, the "financialization" of the economy at the expense of "real" production, the staggering and widening gap between rich and poor, etc. (and I'm sure there's more I've left out!).

And so, even if "apocalypse" no longer bears its earlier religious connotation, it performs the same function: the threat of cathartic disaster if we do not mend our ways.

In fact, the apocalypse is a project: to change the world in the face of the threatened extinction of mankind and society. The threat justifies the project to transform our way of life.

The apocalypse in Canadian public opinion

It is fascinating to observe that a large majority of Canadians entertain this kind of apocalyptic view of life today. Presented in a secular way, as climate change and social change, three out of five people in the country share this vision (61%).

Our way of measuring this phenomenon is a bit peculiar. Respondents to our surveys are presented with a question with two opposing ideas and are asked to choose the one that best reflects their opinion. In this case, the exercise was as follows ...

Which of these statements do you feel closer to ...?

The world is heading for disaster: within the next 10 to 20 years there will be a major upheaval


The world is evolving and moving forward: within the next 10 or 20 years we will see the establishment of a more humane and happier society

In Canada, it's the first statement that takes the prize, at 61%, compared to 39% for the second statement.

Very little variation at a socio-demographic level!

It is interesting to note that on a socio-demographic and socio-economic level, there is not much variation. The less fortunate, the less educated, as well as residents of smaller communities are a little more likely to entertain this vision of disaster, but the differences are small, in the order of 3% to 5%.

Even on a regional level, in Quebec, the least "catastrophic" province, we find that 57% of the population agree with statement number one. This agreement climbs to 66% in the Maritimes, while the other provinces hover around the national average.

Thus, given variations of around five percentage points, majorities of about 60% of Canadians share this apocalyptic view of our modern world, believing that we are heading for disaster!

A rising apocalyptic vision

It is also fascinating to observe that this apocalyptic view of the world has been systematically on the rise in Canada since 2008. While our "disaster" statement garnered the agreement of 61% of the population in 2017, it was at 49% in 2008, an almost perfectly linear rise of 12 points over nine years.

It is interesting to note that it was the 2008 crisis that triggered this upward momentum (previously, our data was flat on this indicator). Since 2008, despite the subsequent economic recovery, an apocalyptic view of life has continued to rise, as if people feel increasingly threatened by all the uncertainties burdening society and their lives.

A dystopian view of society

When we look at the values and mentalities of people who share this apocalyptic view of life today, we are well aware of the depth of their judgment. They see the big issues in an almost holistic way and are very pessimistic about the outcome.

Topping the list are obviously the planet's ecological problems, climate change and all the natural disasters associated with them. To which is added a completely Darwinist view of our social model, where they see only the strong surviving, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and governments in the pocket of the rich and powerful! Feeding this world view is a dash of cynicism and populism - no one cares about the public good.

These "dystopians" feel personally threatened by all these social issues. Life has become risky in every way. They feel that they are not in charge of their own lives, that they ae at the mercy of societal forces.

Finally, people with an apocalyptic viewpoint tend to be very socially engaged. They embrace ethical, ecological and socially responsible lifestyles - all in an attempt to change the world (whence the idea that staving off disaster is a project!).

An appeal to business, institutions and governments

We interpret the fact that three out of five people share such an apocalyptic view of life in Canada as a heartfelt cry for help, a search for hope! Politicians are less and less credible. Business is perceived as having very little social conscience. The world is falling apart and no one seems to give a damn.

This situation represents an opportunity for organizations, brands and business to give back to the community, to launch initiatives that make a difference in this context. Finally, those who succeed in making a credible mark with such projects stand to win points from citizens and consumers.

Parsifal by Richard Wagner

For my operatic nod of the week, I had to look no further than the current production of Parsifal at the Met in New York, where two famous Quebecers, François Girard and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, are currently winning plaudits.

The staging by François Girard plunges us into an ageless post-apocalyptic world. The mission of the Knights of the Holy Grail is to protect the spear that pierced the right flank of Christ on the cross, along with the cup (the Grail) that collected Christ's blood. The king has failed in his mission: while falling under the spell of an evil seductress, he was robbed of the Holy Spear and wounded with it! After this moment of weakness and the theft of the Holy Spear (the original sin in this opera), the king's wound never heals and the world of the Grail Knights sinks into an unending apocalypse, until a saviour - Parsifal - arrives to redeem them.

In this music clip, a Knight recounts the story of the theft of the Holy Spear.

Richard Wagner: Parsifal - Jonas Kaufmann (Parsifal), Katarina Dalayman (Kundry), Peter Mattei (Amfortas), René Pape (Gurnemanz), Evgeny Nikitin (Klingsor), Rúni Brattaberg (Titurel), Maria Zifchak (Stimme) Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, Daniele Gatti (dir.), François Girard (prod.), New York, Sony Classical, 2014.

Does it horrify you to see so much sex in the media (TV, film, magazines, advertising)? 50% of Canadians say it does (and Rigoletto by Verdi)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 02-06-18 at 12:10 p.m.

Over the years, brands have increasingly incorporated features and representations of a sexual nature in their advertising and positioning. "Sex sells," as every copywriter knows, as does eroticism and desire (especially for clothing and accessories). When consumers perceive something as sexy, its appeal is heightened. Television, film and music videos have all embraced this trend in their narratives. Indisputably, the use of sex in the media has intensified over time.

Some analysts talk about hypersexualization, accusing the media of being responsible for the early, even premature, development of children's sexuality. This ethical, post-sexual-liberation point of view is shared by a large proportion of the population today.

A society divided on the hypersexualization of media content

Since the 1990s, we have been using a rather incisive question which, according to our hypotheses at the time, was intended to monitor the inevitable decline in traditional sexual morality. To that end, we have been asking people if they agree (or disagree) with the following statement: "It horrifies me to see so many articles and pictures about sex in films, magazines and books." From the outset, we expected this question to reveal a growing majority of people who disagree with the statement. (We are well aware that our question from the 1990s does not mention all the media available today, but we believe that we can interpret the results in a more general way, by encompassing the current media environment.)

To our great surprise, however, the anticipated decline did not come to pass until quite recently. Even so, one in two Canadians (50%) still agree with this harsh statement ("horrified" is an exceedingly strong sentiment), which we consider a high threshold. Even in Québec, often the country's most permissive province, where 46% agree with the statement compared to 51% in the rest of the country, the variance isn't all that great. The Maritimes are the most conservative in this respect, with 58% agreement, while the other provinces and regions reflect the national average.

Youth more permissive, their elders more prudish

Age is a decisive factor in this phenomenon, and where we find the most divergence. Whereas 50% of the population as a whole agree with the above statement, this agreement falls to 43% among 18-24 year olds and rises to 62% among seniors 65 years of age and up. While there's nothing astonishing about such support among the older generations (65+), we consider two in five (43%) young people (18-24) agreeing with such an uncompromising statement to be a very high level!

The decline in traditional morality only goes so far

Interestingly, the decline we expected our questions to measure seems to have occurred only from 2006 to 2012. In fact, the statement garnered between 55% and 59% agreement from 1996 to 2006 (a solid majority of the population), whereas from 2006 until 2012, the proportion of Canadians in agreement with the statement declined from 59% to 48%-an 11-point drop in 6 years! Since then, it has fluctuated around 50% of the population.

Consequently, as sex in the media becomes more commonplace, more ordinary, it appears that we are becoming less exercised about it.

However, since 2012, we seem to have established a floor below which we do not want to fall. The population remains equally divided regarding their acceptance (or not) of sexual content in the media and advertising. Permissiveness and prudishness coexist in the country in equal measure. But what is most surprising is that, at 40%, prudishness (being horrified by a lot of sex in the media) among young people is not a negligible threshold.

Religious conservatism and postmodern ethics

Our original hypotheses led us to expect that the decline in society's more traditional, conservative and religious values would result in mores of greater sexual permissiveness. And that we would see this displayed in the media and in brand advertising. That is precisely what happened. Society, both in Quebec and English Canada, is definitely less prudish than ever before, but the stubborn floor below which people refuse to go indicates that there are other factors at work.

Indeed, our analysis of the values and hot buttons associated with attitudes to sex in the media indicates that this prudishness is being inspired by more than religious conservatism. There is a kind of postmodern ethic, associated with a sense of "the other" and with social responsibility, that rejects hypersexualization-a social, ethical and even ecological awareness that respects life and other people, and that rejects the abusive reduction of people to sexual objects.

This postmodern ethic has gradually been layered onto traditional religious morality, resulting in prudishness regarding the display of sexuality in the public domain. This explains the floor of 50%, below which we have not fallen for several years, according to the results of our question on attitudes toward sex in the media.

Balance and judgment will be required for brands and the media

The temptation is great for brands and content creators to use sex to attract consumers and audiences. The recipe is a simple one-and it works! But it does have its limitations and could easily become counterproductive, if the trend continues. If sex is overused, brands could see their "sympathy" equity eroded; the media could find their audiences dwindling.

Given the strength of the new post-modern ethic behind this prudishness, content creators will need to use good judgment to avoid objectifying people's bodies. There will always be a place for sensuality, but we would be wise to always "leave something to the imagination!"

Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi

With respect to my musical clip of the week, I feel obliged to mention that not even the opera world has escaped this trend of sexualized content. Nudity, in particular, has made inroads in many modern productions (notably British ones at the Royal Opera House!). Usually, the nudity is not offensive because of its relevance to the narrative.

This week's musical extract is from a production of Verdi's Rigoletto at Covent Garden in London. It depicts the court of a duke who is luxuriating in licentiousness and a life of debauchery, which "horrifies" Rigoletto, the court jester. The "Duke's aria" (presented here) extols the merits of a life of pleasure with as many women as possible (Questa o quella - this or that woman).

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto – Paolo Gavanelli, Marcelo Alvarez, Christine Schäfer, David McVicar (Dir.), Royal Opera House, London, 2009, BBC – Opus Arte.

Do you need to set goals to keep yourself motivated? 60% of Canadians tell us they do (and Così fan tutte by Mozart)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 01-22-18 at 5:01 p.m.

One of the fundamental motivations in the psychology of individuals in modern societies is undoubtedly the need for achievement: a need for fulfillment, to progress and master high-level skills, to achieve difficult goals, a determination to win, to prevail.

The concept was popularized in the 1960s by American psychologist David C. McClelland. He concluded that in a society, the more people are driven by this need (the more "achievers" there are), the more sustained economic development and growth there will be (The Achieving Society - Princeton, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1961). Even though his theory did not go unchallenged - other factors undoubtedly influence a society's economic development - the fact remains that the presence of a critical mass of "achievers" will contribute to a society's dynamism.

Our research indicates that the "need for achievement" in the country has had its ups and downs in recent years. In 2017, the most recent year we measured this phenomenon, three Canadians in five (60%) agreed with the statement "I set difficult goals for myself that I try to attain".

Note that the most inspired, the most motivated by this need for achievement represent only 14% of the population. Nevertheless, when 60% of people agree with the statement, we reach a critical mass of "achievers" (both strong and moderate"), which sustains a certain degree of dynamism in our society.

It is also fascinating to observe this phenomenon's relationship to age. While 60% of Canadians agree with the above statement, this proportion is 75% among 18-24 year-olds. From there, agreement steadily declines in linear fashion to 47% in seniors 65 and over. As we get older, this dynamism, our need to achieve, seems to wither. A bit unsettling given our aging population!

Personal challenge and economic performance

The level of "achievers" also varies significantly by socioeconomic context, creating a very interesting indicator of society's general "mentality." During the 2000s, the need for achievement has progressed somewhat. From 2000 to 2006, as in 2017, 60% of Canadians consistently agreed with the above statement; from 2006 to 2012, the level gradually rose to 68%. The favorable economic conditions prior to the recession seem to have encouraged a certain amount of dynamism, a mentality that continued until 2012 despite the recession. During the recession, Canadians expressed some degree of resilience (several of our other indicators support this interpretation), but around 2012, this resilience began to run out of steam. At that time, Canadians gave up on the idea that life would be easier post-recession. They realized that life was becoming infinitely more complex and uncertain, that a new world order had arrived and that it was here to stay.

Thus, the level of "achievers" took a deep dive, from 68% in 2012 to 56% in 2016, a plunge of 12 points in four years! Even though the post-recession has proved no worse for most people than the recession itself (economically, socially, ecologically, etc.), our dynamism has obviously taken a hit.

However, in 2017, along with a significantly better economy, the level of "achievers" rose to 60%. While it would be unreasonable to suggest a "causal" relationship between the latest economic performance and our "achievers" measurement in the country (or vice versa), the synchronicity in the movements of these indicators is worth noting. However, since we often say in our business that "a swallow does not a summer make ," we must be cautious about this sudden rise in the level of achievers in 2017. Our next surveys on this topic will either confirm this trend, or not.

Goal-setting as a means of personal expression

It is fascinating to observe the role that goal-setting plays in the lives of the people who express a need for it. It becomes a source of meaning, a way to express who they are, to get in touch with themselves. Goals, their attainment and the way they are attained, become a way to express our uniqueness, who we are, a source of personal fulfillment, a kind of social marker. Goal-setting and challenging ourselves feed our identity, both for ourselves and as a way to communicate with others.

Indeed, goals are also about status, a way to mark one's social identity, to affirm the "strength" of one's identity.

Note, too, that these "achievers" fantasize about civil disobedience, as if to achieve their goals, any "means justify the ends"!

Goal-setting as social capital

Even though McClelland's thesis was dismissed as simplistic, too causal, people's need for achievement as a motivation remains an important driver in adding value to society, whether economic, cultural or otherwise. Given the anticipated changes in our society, it is certainly timely that a critical mass of individuals across the country are taking the bull by the horns, challenging themselves and transcending their limitation in significant ways.

Theirs will be a welcome contribution to the vitality of our society. Let's hope that the coming years will provide a favorable climate for this desire for achievement.

Così Fan Tutte by Mozart

This week's lyrical clip comes from Mozart's opera, Così fan tutte. One of the most famous challenges in opera is surely the challenge presented to two young men to prove the fidelity of their fiancées, while trying to make them believe that fidelity is unrealistic, utopian (thus do they all - Così Fan Tutte - they say, when discussing the alleged faithlessness of women).

The musical excerpt presents the exact moment when these young men are challenged to test the fidelity of their lovers. All in a superb, ultra-modern production by the Madrid Opera, produced by Michael Haneke, Austria's Robert Lepage.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così Fan Tutte – Anett Fritsch, Paola Gardina, Juan Francisco Gatell, Andreas Wolf, Kerstin Avemo, William Schimell, Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real de Madrid, Sylvain Cambreling (Dir.), Michael Haneke (Prod.), C Major Entertainment GmbH, Berlin, 2013.

A Short Break for the Holidays

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 12-21-17 at 10:41 a.m.

Loyal blog readers and friends,

I shall join the rest of you and take a short break over the holidays.

The longer I pursue this new publishing venture, the more I enjoy it, and your feedback.

More and more of you are following me online. Many of you have become faithful readers, for which I am exceedingly grateful. Thank you for your diligence and constructive comments. I greatly appreciate them.

As the holiday season is a time to relax (and I hope you will, too), I will resume my posts in the New Year.

Merry Christmas, and best wishes to you and your loved ones for a Happy 2018!

Alain Giguère
President, CROP inc.

Study on public services in Quebec

Categories: CROP in the news

Posted on 12-20-17 at 2:24 p.m.

Published on La Presse+, here’s a summary of a study on public services in Quebec conducted by CROP for GESTION, HEC Montréal’s magazine (French only).