I’ve been down in Toronto for the last few days, officially checking out the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront. The truth is that I’m really here to cruise Ford dealerships for prices on a new pickup, which I’ll need to take to my local dealership in North Bay so I’ll get a decent price, but never mind that.
I note that Saturday, October 20th, has been designated CBC day, but what you’ll get if you attend isn’t what you might expect. I’d have expected it to be a day sponsored by the Corporation, in which the half-dozen or so CBC on-air people who can distinguish a well-written sentence from a press release/book jacket blurb would be interviewing a combination of their favourite writers and those who might elevate the level of public discourse in this country. The latter used to be CBC’s practiced mandate, in case you’ve forgotten, and the sole reason I can think of for having a publicly-funded radio and television broadcast apparatus.
There are a couple of those high end moments scheduled for the day, one of them a reading by four mid-range writers hosted by trombonist Tom Allen, a pop music host on CBC’s second FM network. Allen himself has written several books you’ve never heard of, and has an on-air persona that is always enthusiastic and occasionally knowledgeable. Earlier in the day, Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif will be asked to answer boring questions about the plot of his latest book by Eleanor Wachtel of CBC Radio’s Writers and Company. Wachtel is in charge of the CBC’s initiative to make literature dull and irrelevant to anyone under the age of 75, and she has been very successful at this job. Wachtel’s idea of literature is best expressed by her recent book of interviews with the late Carol Shields, which she titled Random Illuminations. I hope you got the witty pun in the title, because the interviews—mainly extended plot summaries of Shields’ mostly Random House-published novels, were heavy on lumpy generalities and short on wit. If you have a strong urge to write a novel but don’t have the talent to do so, Wachtel will provide you with the materials to keep you from putting your shoulder to the wheel. For the rest of us, her stuff is pretty much a snore.
Sheilagh Rogers begins the day interviewing Gordon Pinsent, who is a sweet and wise old guy, and then hosts the semi-premier of the multi-platform documentary Northwords, from Director Geoff Morrison, in which Rogers takes five writers, including Joe Boyden, into Labrador’s Torngat Mountains National Park to have humbling spiritual and nationalist experiences. From what I’ve been able to see of it on the Internet, the documentary is more interesting than it has any right to be, so this might turn out to be the day’s best event.
But the official high-test content of Saturday’s CBC day at IFOA, and the events that occupy the key venues, will consist of CBC on-air personalities wanking one another in public about what good and topical writers they are. Two of the three, Jian Gomeshi, and Jonathan Goldstein, have recently published, ahem, memoirs, while the third, the normally astute and circumspect Nora Young, has produced a tome about how great Facebook and other social media can be for the purposes of self-aggrandizement and career fluffing. Their event will be hosted by Sook-Yin Lee, who’s more interesting than any of them, but will have her work cut out for her trying to get a word in edgewise. Gomeshi, notwithstanding his entertaining interview with Billy-Bob Thornton, is the best argument I know of for the Harper Government’s fond wish to turn CBC’s Toronto headquarters into an empty office building. His relentlessly marketized morning show on CBC-Radio 1 is a celebrity dither, little more than a radio version of Entertainment Tonight. Gomeshi’s sensibility rarely has anything to say to anyone not living in downtown Toronto or Vancouver, and nothing at all to say to anyone with a cultural memory longer than 30 minutes. He ain’t, in other words, a favourite at any of Tim Hortons outlets in North Bay I frequent, and my friends in Toronto tend to roll their eyes when his name comes up.
I’m sending this in for upload after the event is over, so it’s on the record as an datum for how far from its mandate the CBC has drifted. If, with every mouth at the corporation puckered toward kissing the ass of the market, that’s all it wants for us, then maybe we should let the market decide its fate. that would mean no CBC at all.
Northwords meanwhile, the only strong recommend I have, is accessible on the Internet.
800 words, October 21st, 2012