Sunday, January 29, 2006

Reality TV meets Canadian Politics

Yes, it's been said many times before, but after reading this story it's hard not to come to the conclusion that the producers of reality TV shows are scraping the bottom of the barrel. They're actually putting together a show called The Next Great Prime Minister, a reality show where 4 promising young Canadians 'perform' in debates and public speaking and are judged by Kim Campbell, Brian Mulroney, John Turner, and Joe Clark. According to a very reliable source- the gossip-mongering blogger known as the Defamer- the producers of the show are pleased with the results:
Producers are touting the foursome’s “unbelievable chemistry,” with Mulroney emerging as the group’s nasty, “tell it like it is” judge (“I’m not lying to you. Worst agricultural subsidies reform plan we’ve heard in Saskatoon.”), Clark the urban slang-spewing technical taskmaster (“Your foreign policy platform’s just a’ight, dawg.”), and Campbell the lovably loopy-headed, narcotized cheerleader.

Absolutely hilarious ;-) I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I'll probably be glued to this one. Since it will be somewhat entertaining and widely watched, this show will likely receive some praise for bringing Canadian politics to the masses. Wonderful. The presumptuous contrarian in me feels the need to rag on this show already- here's my pre-emptive rant.

I must admit some nihilistic part of my soul delights at the idea of this show, but my more sensible self has some reservations. While the show will probably generate some interest in politics among apathetic youths, the focus will likely be on the personalities involved rather than the policies discussed. Yes, people watching the show will inevitably learn a few things about current issues and the different policy approaches, but the vast majority of people will be watching to see what sort of show the former PMs will put on. No doubt the quotes from the former leaders will receive far more attention than anything the contestants say or do. In the end, the contestants themselves will be judged on superficial aspects of their performance rather than the strength of their ideas.

While entertaining, this sort of program can only contribute to the slide towards style over content in politics. The visceral, fragmentary and corporate/demogogic nature of our contemporary media has already moved politics towards infotainment and propaganda. More likely than not, this show will be another example of the triumph of triviality. Glibness and demagogic pandering to the masses, will inevitably be encouraged by the format of the contest. After all, the ultimatshows of the show's creators is to generate as large an audience as possible. Focusing on the content of an amateur political debate won't bring in that audience, but former PMs hamming-it-up for the cameras certainly will. In my view, there's simply nothing wrong with former and current PMs showing some reserve and distance from the public. Even former PMs have some responsibility to foster respect for the institutions of government, and they should refuse to participate in public displays that aren't appropriate to their role.

Having thoroughly trashed the show without having seen a thing, I have to add the caveat that the worth of this program will depend a great deal on what the former PMs bring to the show. That being said, I obviously don't have high expectation.

final thought: I wonder why Chretien is sitting out of this one? Maybe he didn't want to tarnish his image by participating in this exercise in demagoguery ;-)


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