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CBC's Canada Reads is a bit of a horrorshow

Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

 

A dangerous farce: Thoughts on the hijacking of Canada Reads

Quote:
Canada Reads is a literary contest crossed with reality TV. This year's edition, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, includes among its five finalists Vancouver's own Carmen Aguirre, a playwright, actress and author of Something Fierce, the memoir of a revolutionary daughter. It tells her story of a youth spent amidst the tumult of underground and exile political work aiding the struggle against the dictatorship of General Pinochet in Chile.

Matched up with the five books are five "celebrity" panellists, each advocating for one of the titles. On Monday's opening episode panellist Anne-France Goldwater, a Quebec lawyer, launched this verbal attack: "Carmen Aguirre is a bloody terrorist. How we let her into Canada, I don't understand." The appropriately named Goldwater also insulted another finalist, Prisoner of Tehran author Marina Nemat, saying her story was "not true."

Come again? Had a U.S. Republican presidential candidate somehow snuck onto a CBC show about books?

The attack on the integrity and honesty of torture survivor Nemat is disgusting. So is the attack on Aguirre, and it carries other serious and alarming aspects that should not be dismissed as mere "controversy" or soap opera/reality TV drama. 

First of all, the smears against Aguirre are potentially threatening not only to her reputation but to her personal safety and security. In this day and age, "terrorist" is pretty much the worst and most serious thing you can call anyone.

Furthermore, the insult is not just against Aguirre, but can be viewed as a slap in the face to the entire community of exiles and their descendants from Chile and other South American dictatorships. More than 7,000 Chileans and others fled to Canada in the 1970s, escaping brutal coup d'etats, and massacres, disappearances and general persecution of leftists and regime opponents. They made it to Canada only after sustained campaigns by social movements here demanding they be given refuge. Many continued to resist the dictatorships by various means, including -- yes -- in some cases lending support to forms of armed struggle. These exiles (and those who remained, often in perilous underground conditions) were all supporters of resistance movements fighting for democracy and social justice -- not terrorists of any kind. They were and are the victims of terrorism: state terrorism. Many were also victims of torture, just like Marina Nemat. 

Perhaps most dangerously of all, Goldwater's crude anti-immigrant line plays into a climate of xenophobia and fear being whipped up by the powers-that-be in Canada today. This has real consequences for many refugees and others at risk of deportation.

 


Comments

Gaian
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Joined: Aug 5 2011
"Perhaps most dangerously of all, Goldwater's crude anti-immigrant line plays into a climate of xenophobia and fear being whipped up by the powers-that-be in Canada today. This has real consequences for many refugees and others at risk of deportation." The lady is known as Quebec's "Judge Judy." Formidable in her offensiveness. Marina Nemat writes in an exclusive in today's Globe (Arts) that she was forced to confront the trauma anew when her account of those those years was questioned this week. "Nemat describes Prisoner of Tehran as humble and imperfect - but honest." "I have been called a liar, a traitor and a whore before, but on those occasions, I knew exactly where those comments were coming from; I could understand their origins. They either came from the agents of the Iranian regime, a regime that has a long history of running smear campaigns against dissidents abroad, or from members and supporters of extremist Iranian political groups. By weriting Prisoner of Tehran, I stepped on many toes, and it was only natural to get a reaction from those who saw me as a threat for political, religious, or ideological reasons. "But why was Goldwater calling me untruthful? I couldn't see a reason for it. No reason at all. She was a Canadian lawyer. She was supposed to protect the innocent - or so I thought." ------- Perhaps someone familiar with this "Judge Judy" figure could put her in political context for us? I hope that Canada's author and playwright "terrorist" from Chile, Carmen Aguierre, can also find space in the Globe to reply to her accuser from hell.

Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Well, the terrorist won

Quote:
Aguirre, who is preparing for the one-woman show, Blue Box, to be staged at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, said she listened to the Canada Reads debate from her hotel room in Ottawa.

“I’m in a state of shock. What I want to say is ‘Shad I love you,’” she said after her win.

“It has been an absolute honour to be in the company of the four other books, which I read very quickly. They were great.”...

Shad weighed in on the controversy in off-air comments, saying Goldwater used "not necessarily responsible language" in her references to the authors. He said he sympathized with Nemat, who was referred to as untruthful.

"You can’t argue with someone’s experience. When you read a personal story, you put away that part of yourself that’s judging and you say, '"Let me hear that story, let me hear that experience,'" Shad said.

"Some of the words she [Goldwater] chose on the first day might not have been responsible. Some of the charges against Carmen could be dangerous. She has a child and that’s a pretty loaded word – a lot of people feel strongly about that word and so there might be a safety issue."


Unionist
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I don't know her personally, but she's a friend of a friend. And she's the one who won the highly controversial and much mediatized "Lola vs. Eric" case, now awaiting a Supreme Court decision. Common-law spouses have fewer rights than in the rest of Canada under Québec's civil code on breakup - just child support, as far as I know.  But Goldwater succeeding, in a challenge under the provincial and federal Charters, in getting the court of appeal to award her alimony and monthly support. Given that Eric is a billionaire, and Lola is a far younger Brazilian ex-model, you can imagine the media coverage over the years. She got $50 million plus $56,000 per month. [That is not a typo.] The Supreme Court can't have ruled yet, or it would be all over the front pages.

Honestly, I always had the impression (without knowing at all) that Goldwater was a lefty type, just based on the circles my friend frequents. She does have a tendency to shoot from the lip. I don't know any more than that.

ETA: Back to Lola vs. Eric - Québec is said to have far more common-law unions than the rest of Canada. Some say that one reason is that it's easier to disentangle, because of the Code - but I always thought that was a view that minimized the financial dependency that women disproportionately incur in such relationships, veut ou veut pas. If this win is upheld, it will have dramatic consequences. I imagine the Court would give Québec time to bring its law up to snuff, as they have been wont to do recently.

Sorry for the drift, but you asked.

ETA squared: Oh yeah - and she represented the gay couple in the case which legalized same-sex marriage in Québec, before it became legal in Canada.

 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Yeah, I commented on this under the article. 

What a miracle. Seems as if the bullshit did get called as bullshit, and the panelists managed to make a decent decision after all, even though they are completely untrained in the field and don't have their degrees in radio book panel judging.

Phew.... CBC really went recklessly out on a limb and dodged a bullet on this one. Hopefully they have learned their lesson and will set up a proper commission to pick their jurists for next year.

(edit)

http://www.cbc.ca/strombo/books/carmen-aguirre-on-terrorism.html

 

 

 

 

 


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

With Canada Reads, the CBC is bottom-feeding on culture

Quote:
In the past two years, the system the CBC has used to select books has become increasingly bread and circuses.

 

Last year, Canada Reads instigated an online public recommendation system. Writers who were savvy with self-promotion flogged their work, pleading, in some cases, for votes. Scrolling along the Canada Reads Web page was what I came to refer to as “the Twitter feed of desperation.” I felt sick about it. It was wrong that writers should have to beg. It belittled the book in which they had so invested themselves; it also created an atmosphere of unpleasant competition in a very small community. Writing is about conversation, and that conversation lags and dies when the topic becomes as mundane as “which book is best?” How does this book work or not work is a conversation. My book is better than yours because it sold more copies is not. Try it at a cocktail party. Guaranteed conversation stopper.

 

In Canada Reads, strategic voting has supplanted investigation, so that no real substantive inquiry into how the books work is necessary. The debaters and the host can operate on the superficial landscape of whether a book is Canadian enough, or whether they “like” the characters. A writer would never argue a story on this level. Likeability doesn’t really interest us. Being Canadian enough doesn’t enter our heads.

 

Controversy means attention, and attention for the broadcaster is important. But this type of attention (I wanted X to win!) does nothing to develop a healthy national space for writers. It brands certain books as best, against the reality of the many books the public will never hear of since their authors or publishers were not as successful at promoting them.

 

It isn’t difficult to see why this might be bad for readers too. Reading and writing are connected pursuits, private, intellectual and emotional. Readers need to be trained to read properly. I know that sounds snotty. I don’t mean it to. I simply mean that there is a meaning to the way a book is put together, and that meaning is important to why the book was put together the way it was. It might be important that the protagonist is unlikeable. It might be imperative that a book challenges what you think a Canadian experience might look like. Books change us, but not if we don’t read and think deeply.


Gaian
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Joined: Aug 5 2011
On "problematizing" : "This year, Canada Reads decided to bring attention to non-fiction titles, problematizing their “game” further. I’m sure the CBC wasn’t expecting accusations – toward the authors – of terrorism and lying, but they didn’t surprise me. Such attacks mean only more attention. It doesn’t matter to the CBC which book is best because this format seeks only to promote itself. And in this endeavour, the CBC is bottom-feeding on culture, a type of consumption that is extremely damaging to the future success of writing and reading in this country." And here I thought that the CBC was hoping to bring the real world to its audience with non-fiction works...beyond the crass marketing appeal of such a move. In the past, the complaints centered around the dominance of "Can-lit." And none of the bottom line media would dare to make such a potentially politically problematic invitation, of course.Problematizing is dangerous. Can't satisfy some. But maybe the reviewer quoted is uncomfortable with the variety of "political situations"out there beyond the borders of Steve's World? When he disappears the CBC they can sink back into his protective, non-problematizing, privatized embrace.

Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

The way I read it, "problematize" is not a value judgment. Kuitenbrouwer is just saying that the problem the CBC already finds itself in from adopting this reality-TV style is exacerbated by non-fiction, which introduces a whole host of other ways in which this crass format hurts reading. I don't think she's wrong. 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

I think what actually happened is that more people were exposed to these works than might otherwise have been.  

The authors clearly supported what was going on, and were active participants in the forum.

All this kerfuffle because someone said something controversial and perhaps out of line - a gaffe which was dealt with, and which resulted in some actual serious discussion, and the book under attack being recognized above those devoted to the subjects of hockey and rock and roll.

"Extremely damaging to the future success of writing and reading"? Come on.

What is damaging is to say that real books can only be read and discussed in certain places, by certain people, with the requisite gravitas.

Sorry, I thought the article was elitist and far-fetched.


Catchfire
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The CBC is effectively saying that books can only be discussed by people with "coontroversial" personalities. And what you describe, Winston, that more people will read Aguirre's book because of this "kerfuffle" is exactly the problem: readers are reading it not for the motives and ethos which prompted her to write it, but for some elusive and nebulous idea of "controversy." If that becomes the chief criteria by which the Canadian public starts to value books, isn't readin-at least insofar as it exists on pap shows like this--doomed?

 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

If CBC put all its eggs in this basket when it comes to literary promotion and criticism, Kuitenbrower might have a case. But so long as there is still more focused literary coverage  on shows like Writers and Company, and any number of shows from Ideas to Tapestry to inverviews on Q itself, I think she might be ignoring an important part of the picture. Sorry if I don't get the "extremely damaging" part about publicity.

Did I think it was a bit odd to have Don Cherry alongside Tommy Douglas in the running for the Greatest Canadian? Sure, but I don't think it cheapened history and the news, because what it did more than anything else is get more people talking about the issues. where they were not before.

And if CBC is cheapening literature by resorting to, yes, a game, it begs the question of why she is spreading her ideas through a medium, which is not commercial free,  but which anyone can buy by the column inch to sell cars, burgers or underwear. Is that a proper forum for such sober thoughts?

She opens her argument complaining about how overworked and underpaid authors are. One would think from that starting point she might reach a conclusion that their works should be exposed to new audiences so that they can sell more books. I guess not.

Besides, if she wants to criticise a week-long radio show because it is competitive and not suited to the serious nature of literature, it begs the question of what kind of sausage factory exists in publishing houses, to weed out what gets the chop.

 

 

 

 

 


Gaian
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6079 : "But so long as there is still more focused literary coverage on shows like Writers and Company, and any number of shows from Ideas to Tapestry to inverviews on Q itself..." Right on. Sheila Rogers does a fine job, if not quite up to Wachtel's depth. But such challenging offerings are likely to soon go by the board, making such concerns purely academic. As a Globe Arts piece by Kate Taylor explains today: "As part of a government-wide belt-tightening process, the CBC was asked last fall to present Ottawa with two possible budget scenarios, cutting five or 10 per cent over three years. The broadcaster cannot discuss the contents of those scenarios, but in a recent meeting with The Globe and Mail's editorial board, CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix made it clear that he considers 10 per cent the most likely possibility. '"You'll notice it,' Lacroix said." Given the paucity of other networks offering us anything resembling CBC arts programming, the spectre of Dean DelMastro as an arbitrator for Canadian arts looms like a deathshead. Or perhaps others can point to anything, anywhere, offering something remotely like the CBC's arts programming?

Caissa
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Time for Canada Reads to be relegated to the dustbin.


Gaian
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Along with everything else that Dean doesn't like. :)

6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

While we're at it, time to excise all those clown and fool interludes from Shakspeare's works, eh? After all, I'm sure it was something he was pressed into for commercial reasons to get the mob in the door, It's not as if it is something that should properly be associated with real art. 

 

 


Maysie
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Gaian wrote:
 Or perhaps others can point to anything, anywhere, offering something remotely like the CBC's arts programming?

International Festival of Authors

The Word on the Street 

This is Not a Reading Series (TINARS)

Sorry, some of these are Toronto-centric. Tongue out

And since these are mostly live events, no they aren't like anything on the radio. But they're great literary events.


oldgoat
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Quote:
Sorry, some of these are Toronto-centric. Tongue out

 

As they should be Maysie.  After all, that's why the others can have Anne of Green Gables, The Beachcombers, oh, and The Plouffe Family.  See? We Torontonians are sensitive to all the people out in the regions.

 

*ducks and runs*


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

@ Maysie

Yes, I spent some time at the Winnipeg Writer's Festival, actually.

Guess which organization was  our biggest sponsor, and responsible for virtually all of our marketing?

 


Maysie
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6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Maysie wrote:

You tell me, Smith. :)

 

Ten years ago it was CBC, and they were the ones with cameras and mics there. 

You want the documentation, I can send it to you.

Sorry if I am not ready to join in on dancing on the grave yet. 

And frankly, I stand by my comment about their broad range of coverage, and my criticism of some of the sniping at Canada Reads.

Unless some people prefer the sound of crickets.


Maysie
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Joined: Apr 21 2005

Dude, I'm not doing any dancing. The Canada Reads publicity stunt / "controversy" this year sounds mired in oppressive bullshit.

I've rarely shared my view of the CBC (you don't want to hear it), but was responding to Gaian's question. While there are a number of national, provincial and local events that do damn good programming, the answer is no, there isn't a body on the national media scale that does what the CBC does. 

Take that positively or negatively. Smile


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Well I see positive and negative things about the CBC's actions and programming,  frankly.  As for those negative things, I remember that it is not just there to serve my interests, and try to parse those things which offend me and those things which are truly over the line.

And while I regret some of the comments that were made by panelists in this year's Canada Reads, I don't have a problem with the format. 

That is to say, if I looked hard I could see things I do not agree with. But again, it is not just there to represent my views.

Speaking of which, anyone listened to "Type A" yet?

 

 


Gaian
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Joined: Aug 5 2011
Type A : a Calgarian sop to those in Alberta to the right of Vlad the Impaler. ( type A is the aggressive personality, assertive, a captain of industry, etc. Steve's gotta love it. Maybe there'll only be a 9 per cent cut in the budget.) And yeah, Maysie, we can produce some theatre out of Drayton. Hell, a new theatre is being built in Cambridge as we confer, just to bring us the light, country humour of Ontario's playwrights, just the ticket for those tour buses loaded with pensioners out of North Bay.

6079_Smith_W
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Actually I kind of think of "Type A" as a carbon copy of U.S. Radio (with the turnaround that the voice of reason would be seen as the freak)  to let people know what we are in for if the CBC goes, or comedy of the same ilk as "This Is That".

 


Catchfire
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6079_Smith_W wrote:
That is to say, if I looked hard I could see things I do not agree with. But again, it is not just there to represent my views.

I'm baffled by this kind of response. Mostly because of the inherent assumption that the CBC is "representing" the views of a significant portion of its viewers by having Goldwater on CBC reads or by airing three shows which feature Kevin O'Leary.

(I don't want this to turn into another for-or-against CBC thread. For the record, I am unequivolcally supportive of a fully funded public broadcaster and I won't fall for Stevie's trick of underfunding the poor sucker to the point that it begs to be demolished utterly. A friend of mine is running the very impressive Reimagine the CBC initiative, which I hope all babblers support.)

No, what this thread is about is a specific show about reading. I hope the options aren't "take it" or "leave it." What I see is a terrible platform for getting people interested in reading and talking about reading, which damages writers, critics and readers and serves only those who make their living from celebrity and controversy. I don't want any part of that. And that has nothing to do with some flawed vision of making sure "everyone is represented, even the right-wing hacks."


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

It's not that I don't see your position; I do. 

For that matter I  hear what Kuitenbrower is saying, though obviously I don't entirely agree.

I just see this situation differently. As in, I don't have any problem with a less-than academic or journalistic forum for books, even one that is a game, for the reasons I stated above. And I certainly don't see it as damaging. 

And no, I'm no fan of Mr. O'Leary either, though  I have to say Hockey Night in Canada is more of an imposition for me. But those are ongoing programming decisions. As for a book forum like this - which is different -  no, I don't have a problem with who they chose, even though some of the participants didn't represent my point of view. I'd be a bit more alarmed if they all did. 

And I think the proof of the pudding in this case was that the issues and differences were talked about and dealt with. And I think that is far better than not having them talked about.

(edit)

As I said above I try to make a distinction between those things which I disagree with, and those things which I think are over the line. That would be the difference between the range of panelists for Canada Reads, and the decision to program all-Kevin-all-the time 


Gaian
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Obviously, they were not counting on the offensiveness of Goldwater as Judge Judy, calling people liars. They made a mistake. The other book defenders? Some were vry good. Perhaps they will be more discerning in their choices in future. The abomination that is Kevin O'Leary has nothing to do with this thread, but the ongoing, indiscriminate, nit-picking criticism of the CBC's programming demands a response, every time and anywhere. And why is getting a statement about one's true feelings about the CBC like pulling teeth, not just forthcoming? Surely a moderator for this site does not have to play the objectivity, neutral referee game while a public broadcaster is being put to death by a cretinous crew incapable of understanding their role in promoting human suffering, let alone our literature!

6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

@ Gaian

She made the mistake, IMO.

As for the producers' decision to bring her in, how would one go about vetting against someone going off on their own tangent and saying something insulting and offensive? Near as I can tell some people do those sort of things from time to time despite organizers' best intentions. 

Yes, I am sure next year they will make a point of telling panelists to not call people liars and make personal attacks, just like I am sure in this year and past ones they may have not felt it was necessary to point it out and underline it in red. I am sure some people didn't think it was necessary to ask a presenter to not walk up onstage with a bottle of booze  in his hand until it actually happened. It is a lesson learned. 

But try as we might to make things safe and professional, some people say and do things that cross the line. THey do it there, and they do it here as well. I think the solution is to deal with it, not try to be more restrictive or shut the whole thing down to try and prevent it from ever happening again. 

Because sooner or later it will happen again, despite our best intentions, unless we prefer radio scripted right down to the coughs and breaths.

 


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

I don't see that you get my point. The choice is not between a lowbrow model, which must be a reality-show-style spectatcle populated with the most caricaturish personalities available to the public broadcaster; and a highbrow litcrit model which must be populated by Kootenay School of Writer alumni and Gaian. The question is the same that asks if a half-dozen Gordon "F*ck off" Ramsay shows on the Food Network is good for cooking. If a show has a hiring criteria that picks Goldwater as an exemplary participant, the whole structure on which it is founded is broken. It has nothing to do with books, or authors, or readers, or enjoying literature: it has to do with spectacle. And with spectacle, culture always loses.


Slumberjack
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Maysie wrote:
.... there isn't a body on the national media scale that does what the CBC does. 

..because the shit's mostly produced on the public dime?  Nobody does it better in that respect...like fer sure.


Slumberjack
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Joined: Aug 8 2005

Catchfire wrote:
it has to do with spectacle. And with spectacle, culture always loses.

Debordist!


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