By Frank Moher
So, Lindsay Blackett was just performing a public service when, at the Banff World Television Festival, he called Canadian TV “shit”? Apparently so. As the Alberta Minister of Culture and Community Spirit told the Calgary Herald earlier this week, his intention was to create “a national discussion” about Canadian TV’s crapitude. But I have a better idea: let’s have a national discussion about Lindsay Blackett instead.
Blackett seems like a smart guy — at least that’s the impression I got when he was about the only bright light among a number of dimbulbs at a forum in Calgary back in February. But, like almost all politicians, he knows not a lot about the arts. And why would he? As his official bio tells us, before being elected to the Alberta Legislature in 2008, he was “Technical Sales Representative for Arrow Electronics, Calgary, 2000 to 2008, General Sales Manager for Future Electronics, Seattle, 1994 to 2000, and Product Specialist for Future Electronics, Montreal, 1994 to 1995.” He did attend Carleton University in the bachelor of arts program but, perhaps significantly, his bio doesn’t say if he graduated.
But fine, we don’t expect our politicians to be Pablo Picassos, not even the ones responsible for the arts. But does Blackett really think he kicked off a serious discussion about Canadian television with his remarks? Of course some Canadian shows are shit; I mentioned a few right here. And some are terrific; so what? That’s the way it always is in creative industries. Uncertainty is certain. A good script is poorly produced. A mediocre one somehow clicks in production. There are a million ways that things can go wrong — or right. Artists accept that as a professional hazard. Why can’t politicians?
Mind you, the fact that Blackett wants to throw money at the problem is a refreshing variation on the usual theme of conservative distaste for the arts. Under fire for his remarks, he announced that Alberta would soon announce guidelines for a new $20 million Media Fund, including $880,000 to get more “quality scripts” written. And I say, you spend that money, Mr. Minister; for the sake of my buddies in Alberta, you spend away. But don’t expect it to make creativity any more solid state. Crap TV shows will still get made; great TV shows will still get made. There will simply be more of both.
By the way, Liberal MLA and Culture Critic Laurie Blakeman’s response was superb. “If the minister of health said our doctors and nurses were crap, that minister would be fired,” she said. “If the minister of education said our teachers were crap, that minister would be fired. If the minister of energy said that the oilsands were crap, you can bet that minister would be sitting on the backbenches faster than the minister of culture and community spirit can think of something stupid to say. And that’s pretty fast.” I once acted in a play with Blakeman, back when both of us were students in the theatre department at the U of A. But I have to say, fine actress though she is, I’m really glad she ended up in the Legislature.
But don’t expect Blackett to be going anywhere anytime soon. Remarks like his still play well in many of Calgary’s living rooms, despite the fact that it has one of the liveliest arts scenes in the country. He’s just proven he’s one of the boys. And that’s gold for the Conservatives in Alberta — and votes in the ballot box.
Follow-up: Video of Blackett’s remarks and the ensuing discussion has now appeared on youtube: