April 21, 2008

Bill C-10 Redux: Michael Coren Cries Out

An interesting article, bearing a somewhat contrary opinion to mine, was forwarded to my email this past week. In it Michael Coren suggests with great flourish that the celebrity uproar over Bill C-10 is more about self-preservation than free-speech. We don't see the film and television industry wearing sandwich boards and crying bloody murder when socially conservative political opinion is under fire. He has a point: in this instance the hubbub (yes, that's a word) around the tax credit is not really motivated by a passionate defense of free-speech. It's more a hostile reaction to having someone else dictate what is and is not "good". Coren's point is that while he's not about to censor another person's television, he also doesn't want to fund it.

Coren is of course politically conservative. He writes for Catholic Insight and co-hosts a radio show on CFRB called Two Bald Guys With Strong Opinions. One does not have to stretch too far to see the man makes his money by pushing people's buttons. His article is funny in one sense, but sadly benign in another. Just read the opening paragraphs and you'll notice the paradox. He makes blanket statements about shows he claims to have either never seen or only watched once. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for researched opinion. The type of language Coren uses to describe these shows is also of interest. Terms like, pornographic, cheap-trash, tendentious perversion. Are these objective definitions that denote a careful analysis? Of course not. Botched rhetoric, nothing more. The man has not done his homework but still knows how to throw around inflammatory language.

I don't want to denounce Coren completely. I too find some of these shows innately stupid in that passive, oh-look-I'm-making-funded-art sort of way. Kink has such moments--and I've seen about six episodes (five more than Mr. Coren apparently). But what about the cheerful, smiling boredom of Corner Gas? Is that okay because no one prances around in leather--at least not on screen? And I would love to see 100 Huntley Street and its host of watered-down, bumper-sticker, Happy-Jesus sentiment disappear from the face of the earth, though I'm not sure if it's accredited under Bill C-10, so this may be a non-issue. Both of us agree that some television shows are crap. The difference is I'm not offended or put-out when some of them get a piece of my money.

Perhaps the government should send an additional form out around tax-time. One that allows a rebate of thirteen cents (or whatever the remedial tax-grant works out to per-person) to those who check the appropriate box. Would this help people who share Coren's strangely invasive sense of morality? Probably not. But it may give them the quiet satisfaction of placing the loose change in the milk-container-now-change-jar atop their refrigerator. At the end of the day, this is really a battle of opposing opinion on what is good television or film; subjective tastes are on the table, not morality.

The philosopher David Hume talks of determining "good art" via judiciary. This group would be comprised of artists and scholars, those people knowledgeable in various crafts. The art objects and opinions would have to stand the test of time and conform to certain criteria. Hume's argument ultimately fails because one cannot establish an objective, universal application of aesthetics (what is beautiful, or sublime, or neither). And this same flaw will exist in any existing judiciary over funding for media projects--whether they are run by the government or not.

The problem with Bill C-10 is that it allows for hasty, unfounded judgments, like Coren's, with their mere ascription of mediocre, religious vernacular, to bring forth the gallows. I'd rather we err on the side of protecting the arts at all cost, even if some of it is weak, or lousy, or demented, or perverted or religious. And yes I think there is art in television and film. It may not be easy to find, but it's there. The arts: what better way exists to understand our world?

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