Saturday, September 17, 2005

The CBC Lockout: A Canadian Response

Apparently it's day 33 of the CBC lockout. Thirty-three days without my evening newscast or radio fare of choice. I have to say the experience is similar to the recent NHL lockout: nowhere near as bad for the consumer as the chattering classes predicted. I've watched slightly less TV than usual, and pretty much shut off my radio, and by and large I don't feel any poorer for it.

I read the newspaper more than I used to. The CBC union, figuring this media shift is probably the case across the board, has placed a bunch of photo-ads in the Globe & Mail, featuring the face of a chosen CBC personality looking grimly back at the viewer. "SILENCED" intrudes on the personality's forehead, and below his/her chin is the expected "Workers of the world unite" sentiment: "They shut me up but they can't shut you up. Please call or email (Prime Minister) Paul Martin," etc etc.

I thought the first few ads were a disaster. They all featured personalities I've wanted to see silenced for quite some time: stuffed shirts who might as well begin their programs with, "I'm **** - and you're not."; younger talent that excels in a witless sort of comedy that "cops a 'tude," then proceeds to deliver wheezy comic fare more in line with the geriatric Wayne & Shuster specials, than with the anarchic glory of K.I.T.H.; commentators who have resorted to lamenting how listeners/viewers "just don't understand" (as the parent of young children, let me state for the record: whining never helps) ... you get the picture.

But this campaign's genius, such as it is, lies in the Corporation's extensive roster. Sooner or later, the ads were going to include someone I genuinely respect and miss hearing, and that finally happened this weekend. I pulled some papers from the Blue Box and did a quick tally. On the "likeability" issue, CBC talent is evenly divided: half the people featured in these ads are people I would hate to see "silenced"; half are people I would love to see disappear.

I was going to ennumerate, and name names. But then the larger picture hove hazily into view. My hunch is most Canadians feel the same way. So-and-so clears his throat on the radio, and you just know he's wearing a bowtie - you reach for the stereo knob and crank the dial anywhere but there. But then you see what's-her-name introducing a documentary that unsettles you into thinking differently about something you once had a firm opinion on, and you're grateful your tax dollars are keeping the Corporation alive. And my hunch is people are split on different personalities. There might even be someone out there who wishes Jian Ghomeshi was back on the airwaves (my wife, for one - sigh).

This dramatically split response is apparently what car designers are after. They don't want to hear a focus group unanimously announce, "That looks pretty good." Better to get, "That rocks!" "That sucks!" in equal measure. My guess is the Corporation has achieved pretty much exactly that.

Good on 'em, then. It still doesn't endear me to the plight of either the management, or the union. Figure it out, kids, then get back to work.

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