Well, I finally broke down and decided to watch what has become a somewhat legendary interview conducted by Krista Erickson, of Sun TV. Hope Krista doesn’t mind me using the term “conducted,” considering her well-worn animus towards highbrow art. Hope broadcasters don’t mind me using the word “interview,” which this, at times, was clearly not. An interview, to me, is an exchange of views. Often during this back-and-forth, Erickson chose not to listen to too much of an answer from interpretive dancer Margie Gillis.
The premise, basically, was a discussion of federal arts funding. If you’ve not seen the interview, you can here.
Okay, maybe it was the build up. Maybe anything that is pumped and pumped and pumped is doomed to be a big letdown. Or maybe I just have a different view of what a train wreck of an interview is. But, after seeing the video I was left with one, overwhelming thought: Why is everybody so agitated by this interview? More than 4,300 people have taken the time to lodge a formal complaint about this bit of TV treasure to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. Apparently, they usually get a total of about 2,000 a year.
[box size=”large” border=”full”]Remember when being “as mad as hell” was artful?[/box]
Why are you complaining about this, I thought as I watched the show unfold. I’ve seen and heard worse. Way worse than this. Was it because Erickson was rude? Obnoxious? Because you don’t agree with the tenor (sorry again, Krista, for using an artistic term) of her views? Fine, I’m with you on all counts. But the nature of her behaviour and that of the exchange fall far, far short of the threshold where I would actually be moved to lodge a formal complaint. For long periods of time, Erickson did a terrible job of interviewing. She wasn’t interested in anything but looking tough for her bosses and fans. That’s where the interview devolved into an embarrassing quagmire of over speak, with the two of them talking at the same time. But that wasn’t Gillis’ fault. It was Erickson’s. Gillis was just trying to answer a question or two when the host decided she didn’t want to hear an answer or two. That’s just bad interviewing. At one point, Erickson admonished her subject for trying to get a word in edgewise, saying the two of them talking at the same time was serving no one. I actually laughed out loud. Gillis reacted with a look reminiscent of Alice’s when she first set foot in Wonderland. The difference being that the characters in Wonderland are less cartoonish than the one Erickson was playing. In fairness, she did settle down in the second portion of the conversation, allowing Gillis plenty of room for free-range answering. There’s an actual question-answer rhythm at that point.
I had another laugh out loud moment during this interview. Erickson plays a clip of Gillis, from a documentary, where Gillis says:
We were, I thought, a compassionate society.I don’t think that way any more. No, we’re good at masking things, we’re good at not taking responsibility, now. That’s deeply sad to me.
Huh. Quite a statement. Quite a general, wide-ranging statement. I know I’d like to know what she means by that. Could she be more specific? Well, we didn’t get that. Instead, Erickson loaded her barrels with the kind of so-called “gotcha” journalism decried by the likes of Sarah Palin. Her reply:
Were we not compassionate in 2008 when we gave you fifty thousand dollars…a personal grant that you received, the Walter Carson prize…and were we not compassionate, let’s just say, in the fiscal year 2009, when taxpayers gave you and your foundation a grant for a hundred and five thousand dollars and, again, that only represents a small portion of the money that you have received from taxpayers over the course of your career…so, what is it about Canadians that they’re lacking compassion, exactly? One point two million dollars isn’t enough compassion for you?
That’s the point where I was glad I wasn’t taking a sip of coffee, or it may just have ended up on the screen. Just after that, I shook my head at the absurdity of the position that Gillis shouldn’t say Canadians aren’t compassionate when “more than 150 soldiers” have been killed in Afghanistan. Of course, that had, likely, nothing to do with the topic at hand and, at best, served as a very clumsy non sequitur. Gillis’ remarks were worth exploring, with plenty of time to be sanctimonious, if warranted, after that exploration. Brings me to an all too familiar and unfortunate modus operandi in broadcasting today. A propensity for “tough, tell-it-like-it-is ” hosts and interviewers to tell a guest what they mean after an answer lacking in detail, instead of asking what they mean. That’s simply because they’ve decided on the narrative, beforehand, and will adhere to it no matter what. That’s fine and all. But it just feels like bad theatre when it happens.
Heated discussion is fair game, and Gillis had to know that she was placing her head in the lion’s jaws when she agreed to do the interview. Yes, heated discussion is fair game, even essential, at times. It can help forward a larger conversation with naked, honest viewpoint. But the important thing to remember in that, is the conversation portion.
Shouting down your opponent, cutting them off or belittling their views can be important ingredients in passionate discussion. But, only if they come from a place of integrity and honest emotion. And only if they form just a part of the equation. When they take over, as Erickson let – no, decided – they would, the honest-to-God, heartfelt intersection of opposing viewpoints can and do become a tiresome, annoying, absurdly comical farce.
That’s a big problem in broadcasting, these days. Too many are too bent on antagonism, at all costs. That has made for a landscape littered with, if not dominated by a kind of phony tension and faux indignation. What used to be compelling because it was rare, is fast becoming annoying and roll-your-eyes dull, because it is more and more usual.
No, I don’t agree with the general thrust of Erickson’s belligerent interrogation. She had points to make and decided her blunt-force questions were more important than the answers they might incur, at times. I have a problem with that. Not because I disagree with her point of view. Because I’m so damn tired of the template.
Winners here? Erickson. Her bosses will love the publicity. Gillis. She came off as well-mannered and assured. Probably even won some sympathy for the arts community. The loser? Good broadcasting, plain and simple.
But, it doesn’t rise to a level where regulator participation is necessary. Not even close.
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