Thursday, March 27, 2008

Turning off the CBC

I know the news about CBC Radio 2 finally doing away with any kind of pretense that it's a classical music station a few weeks ago has generated a storm of controversy.

Russell Smith, in the Globe and Mail, has devoted two of his Thursday columns to this topic. He claims the reaction to his columns is "bigger than any response to anything I have ever published in a newspaper (yes, beating out both porn and grammar)." People are outraged.

The issue of Radio 2 is one I've tried to tackle before. And given my interest, perhaps my loyal readers are wondering why I haven't said anything and added my voice to Smith and his readers' outrage.

My main reason is that I no longer listen to CBC Radio 2.

Well, that's not quite true. Saturdays are still, for the most part, CBC Radio 2 days for me, but I think this is just a coincidence and has little to do with any effort on the CBC's part to retain loyal listeners.

Indeed, I am sure that if they could come up with some clever reason to move Saturday Afternoon at the Opera to the midnight-6 AM shift, they would. They could even play an opera recording on Sunday nights, dub it "Opera Weekends", and proclaim that they've doubled the amount of opera on CBC Radio 2!

The arguments of Smith et al are trenchant, and I agree with them, but I but I think their idealism leads them up a blind alley, an alley that ignores the people who are in charge now.

Isn't it all obvious what is happening? The ad men (and women) have taken over the CBC.


I wonder if this well-worn sentence, from Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy, doesn't point towards CBC's main problem:

Finally, the most shameful moment came when computer science, marketing, design, and advertising, all the disciplines of communication, seized hold of the word concept itself and said: “This is our concern, we are the creative ones, we are the ideas men! We are the friends of the concept, we put it in our computers."

What does this mean, you ask? It's that, somewhere along the way, the culture of the humanities got recoded with the culture of marketing.

Humanistic thinking must be "saleable" (read dumbed down) in order to qualify as legitimate.

Not so long ago, one could look at the CBC and say that their mandate was to educate and to broaden the kinds of discourse found in the public sphere. Not anymore. It is clear to anyone who watches or listens to the CBC that their mandate is to achieve market share. So what does that mean? Cast as wide a net as possible to catch as many as you can, and don't worry about what you're catching.

In other words, the only way to get CBC back to its educational mandate, and yes, this means putting "difficult" music on, and having "complicated" conversations, things that most bureaucrats believe the "average" person is incapable of, is by switching off the CBC.

You have to remember that the people who think they know best about "what people want" aren't snooty elitests listening to Webern while reading The Last Days of Virgil, rather they are people who have virtually no tastes at all. It is their position in the bureaucracy that gives them this authority, and not their knowledge of culture, or their appreciation of the arts.

So they are not looking down at the rabble, they are imagining the rabble too dumb to understand things that they, clever bureaucrats they are, don't understand either!

This much is clear - All they understand are numbers. The CBC's communications strategy has been full off talk of "target markets" and "demographics". That's why writing letters is a great way to vent, but a waste of time to effect change when the only numbers they understand are ratings.

Mother corp haters used to complain that the CBC didn't care about ratings, and that's why they allowed all this esoteric crap on the radio instead of the latest popular music. Now that it's clear that the CBC cares only about ratings, why should the big chunk of old listeners they have spent the past 15 years alienating keep listening?

Let me ask you that, classical music listener - Why do you listen to CBC Radio 2 anymore? Because you used to love it? Out of patriotic duty? Why?

I am ever optimistic. Perhaps one day, the pendulum will swing back, and the humanities will again be seen as something intrinsically worthwhile instead of an impractical luxury that takes money away from repackaging bad bonds into complex securities to trade on the derivatives markets.

Until then, the only way to change things is to use that very same market CBC execs have deluded themselves into believing they are a part of and must lead by following whatever it is the "people" want.

Starve the monster, and just turn off the CBC.

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