U.S. TV pundits channeling Springer, Downey Jr.


Three minutes into my very first experience watching American conservative political commentator and radio and television host, Glenn Beck, my head began to buzz. To avoid it exploding, the only recourse was to change the channel. The question now is how to get those three precious minutes of life refunded.

An acquaintance who is American expressed mild surprise at the level of politeness and respect exercised in discourse among Canadian pundits who hold opposing political views.

Having only been exposed previously to the shout-fests and polemics that typify U.S. radio and television talk-shows dealing with American politics, he was unaccustomed to how the world turns in Canada. (No one has yet informed him of the bombastic Don Cherry.)

To be sure, the difference remains clear. But there is a creeping effect that has filtered north, and, certainly, watching airings of Canadian politicians’ verbal jousting during Question Period in parliament, it’s clear there is a segment of politically engaged Canadians who do their fair share of shouting and not listening. During the televised mayoral debates here in Toronto’s just completed municipal election campaign, there was a lot of talking over each other done by the campaigners. But these are the politicians, not the pundits.

In order to keep up in the world of newsgathering, it is necessary to be informed by many sources and many points of view, but I had steadfastly avoided commentators who are often parodied as extremists by comedians on programs such as The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live. Yet, after my American friend’s observation, it became necessary to dig a little deeper. So, in order to be informed about the whole spectrum of political views influencing this part of the world, the day came recently that I sat down to view the caricature that Beck portrays on camera. The difference between the likes of Beck and American comedian Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report is that with Colbert we are in on the joke.

When it comes to the culture that has fostered such on-air personalities as Beck and Rush Limbaugh, I really lay the blame at the feet of one Morton Downey Jr. and, of course, Jerry Springer. The chain-smoking Downey Jr. (now deceased), a fixture during the 1980s, was absolutely outrageous on-air. When he was fired in 1983 from Sacramento radio station KFBK-AM after refusing to apologize for making an offensive ethnic joke, Limbaugh replaced him.

Then there’s Springer, whose name is synonymous with trash TV. The current renditions of the kind of caffeinated antics that have been the bread and butter of Springer’s show as presented by this latest crop of political polemicists cannot be missed. They make a lie to the saying that you can’t drive your car with your horn. Because it seems that the ratings grabbing noise of these types of TV commentators from both extremes of the political pole are doing a first-rate job. They fill the 24-7 TV universe in a cost effective, bottom-line accounting kind of way that ensures they will be kept on-air for some time to come.

The problem for America – and again, for us here as the northward drift occurs – is that, unlike the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) which viewers know is scripted entertainment, many south of our border who are fans of those political shout-fests believe that what they are hearing is true and real.

Capitalizing on U.S. economic unrest in a ratings grab, these television personalities have blurred the line between political faux-punditry and reality. One wonders whether without them there would have even been a Tea Party movement.

Some years ago, during a television audition for a spot as a TV opinionator, the director kept urging the person auditioning, “Make it bigger, use more expression.” That’s how it is in TV-land, so caveat emptor.

A note on family values…

In a recent conversation, a man who was born in Jamaica, but who came here as a young child, was heard to lament the loss of certain cultural traditions. Now a parent, he tries but feels he is fighting a losing battle within his own young family to keep the Sunday dinner tradition going. He is pleading with others of similar heritage not to lose the practice of having that extra special meal once a week with the whole family.

Has the Sunday rice-and-peas sit-down really left our cultural lives?

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