Thursday, August 22, 2019

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STRANGE PRIORITIES

In the Tuesday, February 19th Globe & Mail, we were treated to a half page obituary for Harvey Kirck, the longtime CTV national news anchor. The page five obit featured a two column photo, and another full column was taken up by an oversized leader, maybe because, truth be told, there wasn’t a hell of a lot to say about Mr. Kirck except that he was a nice guy whose idea of independent thinking and looking out for the little guys was to criticize his own newscasts for occasionally being too heavily weighted with Ottawa stories. Oh, right. He changed his name from "Krick" to "Kirck" early in his broadcasting career: better to sound Irish than German in the post-war years, I guess.

The Monday night CTV news telecast featured a near-to-tears Lloyd Robertson extolling the same pedestrian set of virtues: Kirck’s gruffness, his down-to-earth "truck-driver delivery" of the news. Not to make anything out of Lloyd not calling Kirck a mentor and/or teacher–and it isn’t that I think your average fork-lift driver could deliver news on television after a few elocution lessons–but for a man to stand out among the current and past crop of news-reading blocks-of-wood isn’t quite at the human skill level of inventing the A-bomb, winning an Olympic gold in speed skating or painting pictures as well as, say, Paterson Ewen.

Which gets me to my point, which isn’t to slag the memory of Harvey Kirck, who was probably a nice man. It’s that the same edition of the Globe & Mail, Section R9, had a 4 column inch obituary for Paterson Ewen, who had been, since Harold Town’s death 36 years ago, Canada’s greatest living painter and arguably among its greatest and most exhilarating ever. By all reports, Ewen wasn’t, as Kirck was, a good, gruff old boy. His paintings, router-gouged and painted sheets of plywood, inhabited that narrow zone between madness and inspired beauty that Van Gogh’s greatest works opened up. Ewen’s works had a similarly disturbing craft to them—as interesting to look at with a four-inch distant squint as from a thirty foot distant panorama. Each painting he did revealed the wonder of being alive, the beauty of the world, and the excruciating partiality of human consciousness—all at once. That was, in a sense, Ewen’s only subject matter, and he pursued it with a painful joyousness that didn’t ever make you want to be inside his head, but did make you glad he was alive and grateful to be his witness.

On that same obituary page—this time covering four columns of a half-page, including a two column photo, was another obituary, this time for a man named Peter Adamson, whose distinction in life was to play an uncouth bar rat on the British soap opera Coronation Street; being charged and acquitted of molesting two eight year old girls; and spending most of his life in an alcoholic haze.

Now, I know that corporate solidarities are all the rage these days, and media convergence is the hottest thing going in media. I’m also painfully aware that the medium is the primary message, and that the true subject of all mass media is its own, overweening, self-involved celebrity. But Paterson Ewen was Paterson Ewen. The Globe & Mail ought to be ashamed of itself.

600 w. February 20, 2002

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Brian Fawcett

Brian Fawcett

Brian Fawcett is a Toronto-based writer.

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