It’s a week before American Thanksgiving as this issue goes to press, but we Canadians have long digested the everlasting turkey and are being doused daily by the persistent marketing of Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwansa. . . ). Funny, now that we’re actually in the mood for it – winter brings dark days and dark moods north of the 49th parallel – the media seems to have tired of bleating on about the perils of Y2K. Too bad, because we’re not yet close enough to the warm and fuzzies of the holidays for any of the glow to rub off and I, for one, could go for a good apocalyptic tale right about now.
Instead, let me make a dire prediction or two and take what little comfort that affords, relatively.
First off, – and this is what the guys with bad ties on ESPN would call a ‘no brainer’ – the hand wringing and head shaking about the reputation and status of the ‘documentary’ in the face of popular and populist docusoaps and reality TV will be amplified to deafening levels in 2000. They were at it in Sheffield (see page 12), they were at it in Adelaide (see page 15), and they’ll be at it all the way through a new calendar of events next year.
My question is this: will moaning and carping make one iota of difference to the gatekeepers of this medium, the broadcasters? When might we expect commercial programmers to forsake cheap rating-winners and pile money into ‘important’ stories with artistic merit, ones that might require years of costly work in the field? Basically, when hell freezes over. And if you don’t believe me, check out your nightly news. See many stories about the civil war in Sudan? There’ll likely be some footage of a black-and-blue, hungover Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra being hauled off to jail.
Television (and the film industry) is a big, fat business. For better or for worse (and being a bleeding-heart liberal myself, I’d say worse), it’s as capitalistic as it can be, and even public broadcasters have to bring in numbers to justify their existence. Whinging will be as effective in changing the nature of mainstream TV as it has been in making the holidays less commercial. The pragmatic message is: Do what you have to do, work miracles when you can, and accept that the entertainment business might not pay you to tell the story you want to tell. Sadly, building a company is distinct from building an exhibition or film fest retrospective. There are reasons broadcasters tend to refer to TV fare as ‘product.’
Meanwhile, on a much, much more pleasant note, this is our last issue in 1999 and we want to say a heartfelt thanks to our readers for the overwhelming support and enthusiasm this year. Our days are never dull, and we appreciate all the correspondence, whether it’s to tell us we’re doing a great job, or to tell us we’re as dumb as rocks. Stay tuned in 2000 for more gems, and maybe a few rocks.