This year in foolishness: News vs. entertainment fallacy guides CBC cuts

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We do not live by news alone. Take note, CBC bosses. "Reports" say they'll savage areas like music and drama to preserve, relatively, the news, because that's their core mandate. I cite reports because if you read CBC's own "A Space for Us All," it's like putting your head in the blender. Even so, a little coherence slipped through: they mean to "Significantly reduce in-house production -- excluding news, current affairs and radio -- while continuing to promote acquired or commissioned entertainment content." (Emphasis added.)

Do they really think news is separate from entertainment? Everyone knows news is entertainment, too. Peter Mansbridge is a cultural artifact. Much of it is watching reporters play characters with their own names while they tell us how it felt to interview Rob Ford. Mike Duffy didn't become a hapless icon because he was in the Senate. He got the Senate because he played a newsman on TV. Anchorman movies and TV sitcoms (like CBC's The Newsroom, RIP) know this. Scots poet Tom Leonard's "The Six O'Clock News" is about the culture inflicted on his people: "thi reason/ a talk wia/ BBC accent/ iz coz yi/ widny wahnt/ mi ti talk/ aboot thi/ trooth wia/ voice lik/ wanna yoo/ scruff ... this is/ the six a clock/ nyooz. belt up." He was anticipating their independence referendum.

Why does it matter that even news is culture, too? Because culture is what people live on. It's not as if news gives you the basics, which you can afford to concentrate on and neglect the cultural froth. There are basics: food, shelter, clothing -- and you can't live without them. But if they're all you have, you aren't yet living a truly human life. There must always be connections to those around you, to the past, the future, the world -- culture is all those connections. They endow each life with meaning and comfort; without them, the mere availability of "basics" won't save you from withering inside and probably outside, too.

It's exactly like the debate over the basics in education. Areas like music, phys ed and the arts aren't just "frills" you can eliminate so long as the "core" curriculum survives. It's not only that music or sports keep many kids coming to school and engaged. It's that those frills are what life is about; they make it not just worth coming to school but waking up and carrying on every day.

Do you think the foul oligarchs in the U.S. -- Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons -- who are demanding that schools focus on the core and test the basics obsessively, would ever let their own kids survive solely on that? It would be inhuman, they'd protest. A diet of basics is for the serfs, and even the serfs in the feudal era got their feast days for song, tale-telling and dramatizations.

If you ever tried to cut back a public broadcaster with guts, like the BBC (everything's relative) or eliminate it -- which is the dream if not the agenda of the Harper government -- there would be a revolution in the streets and it wouldn't be old farts out there worried about the nyooz, it would be youth raging over losing Sherlock. A generation earlier they'd have protested the loss of Monty Python and a decade before, Doctor Who. By walking away from culture -- or abandoning it to the private sector -- CBC is jettisoning the one resource that can justify it and enlist support that could keep it alive.

I'm at the lake as I write this. I delayed getting at it because CBC Radio was playing voices from the First World War, taped 50 years ago, to mark this year's centennial. Just lucid reminiscences of men who were there. It wasn't only about the carnage then but the callous instrumentalization of others by those with power to do so that happens in every age. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, though you could call it the "olds." Made you think of your debt to the past and your obligations to the future. That's what culture is/does. Scrap it for the nyooz? Outsource it to entrepreneurs with an eye mainly on how to pry commercials in? Give me a break.

Rick Salutin's column appears Friday. [email protected]

This article was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: flickr/Roland Tanglao

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