Erickson: Just Doing Her Job. The Real Problem is...

Yep. Another Krista Erickson post. Now that the dust has settled, it may be worthwhile to take a step back and look at some of the reactions, as well as say a few words about Quebecor Inc.

First, Erickson:
Sure, I have very little respect for Erickson and her kind and the role they’re willing to assume, and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to publicly call her a bitch, but I’d prefer doing so a million times before filing even one complaint to the CRTC as some efforts encouraged people to do. I may not agree with Erickson’s view, but I’ll fight for her right to say it. Ironically, the willingness to file an official complaint advocates a stance which contradicts all that I associate with the arts: censorship.
We all have an opinion about how the government should spend our taxes, and some are bound to upset some groups; that part is unavoidable.
Are all those that want to see more funding for the arts willing to accept that right-wingers file a complaint aiming to take someone off the air each time the liberal or independent press makes a pro-arts-funding statement? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to do the same? 
No CRTC regulations were infringed; we’re not talking about some sick taboo or a hate campaign here, but an opinion on taxes. Some people pray to the almighty dollar, some people search for something more profound... Should one extreme force the other to shut up? Unfortunately, the first group has access to more cash, allowing it to be louder, bolder, and consequently, exert a far greater influence on all our lives, but now we’re getting on another topic...

Erickson and her approach is just the successful Ann Coulter formula applied here (notice how Erickson even looks like Coulter). And if there’s one thing Quebecor knows how to do, it’s studying and learning from the big-money makers down south.

Which brings me to Quebecor Inc., the managing company which owns Quebecor Media Inc. and Sun Media Inc.

This fact had escaped me when I wrote my reaction to that erickson-Gillis video on Saturday, June 4th: The Journal de Montreal, the city’s most-read rag, tried to sell the exact same viewpoint almost a month before Erickson’s June 1 spaz-out. In her May 5th column entitled “Non au mécénat public” (No to Public Funding), Nathalie Elgrably-Levy boldly and clearly claimed that tax-payers shouldn’t have to pay for artists. This had created a stir within the francophone community, but proportionally, nowhere near as much as Sun News’ version. I myself had posted Le Devoir’s May 16th retort to Elgrably-Levy on Facebook the same day it appeared, but otherwise, I wasn’t aware of any real reaction buzzing through the Web albeit the substantial increase of visits and comments on the Journal de Montreal site.

It should be noted that both Le Journal de Montreal and Sun News belong to Quebecor Inc.; despite hiring some male hardliners, both used attractive women (personal tastes aside, Erickson and Elgrably-Levy aren’t exactly homely) to sell this point of view; both got publicity that generated tremendous traffic and viewers, and so, both clearly profited from this. In the long run, regular readers/viewers aren’t going to drop any loyalty because of this, and those that reacted strongly do not usually read or view these news outlets anyhow.

I have no doubt that Pierre Karl Péladeau. CEO and Owner of Quebecor, wholeheartedly embraces the viewpoint forwarded by these two women, but after careful consideration, I also think that these instances were carefully conceived more as reader/viewer-generating scandals and attention-shifting agenda-setting than as any real propaganda, whilst also providing the elitist, money-hungry conservative asses with a great and meaningful opportunity to gauge just what would be tolerable to Canadians.

With all the right-wing, pro-conservative government media outlets controlled by the Quebecor empire, if the real aim was efficient propaganda, this wouldn’t be the way they’d go about it. Despicable and morally-flawed they may be, but they’re also intelligent, communications-savvy folks who learned more than anyone should from Edward Bernays. An all-out, government-sanctioned propaganda campaign would be handled much differently. Nonetheless, the fact that any network employs these types of scandal tactics, throwing aside any sense of decency for a buck, should disgust most anyone. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

It’s important to remember—or become aware if not already—that Quebecor’s religion is vertical-integration, their gods the 30-second spot (everything is calculated according to this format, from the 15 secs to the 2 mins spots) and quarter-page ad space; peace and love is for losers unless they have advertising dollars.
Based on my experience with one of their divisions, I can honestly say that all of Quebecor is driven by the belief that culture is simply something around which advertising space, subscriptions, and ancillary products can be sold. And Quebecor found the right formula to maximize profits—we’re talking mega-big empire.
According to this worldview, quality doesn’t matter, ratings do. Ratings, projected and real, and absolutely nothing else determines the price of advert space. The only reason for having shows is to attract viewers; the only reason why they have more shows than ad space is because the CRTC establishes clear restrictions pertaining to the number of 30-second spots available within an hour (hence why infomercials and other formats were created).
And so, if a steaming pile of excrement draws the largest audience, then you can trust that that’s what Quebecor will be passing off as culture or news on their networks in order to extricate as much as they possibly can out of those limited number of 30-secs spots.

Reading the many comments and reactions that the Erickson-Gillis video generated, I came across one particular idea that called for a boycott of Honda products. Why? Because Honda ads appeared at the start of the video.
Simply discussing such an idea with the intent to make this a worthwhile goal seems to me like silly, entirely wasted energy whilst also demonstrating no knowledge of how ad spaces are sold. Unless a show is specifically “sponsored by  ________” , for large companies like Honda who buy millions of seconds around the globe, chances are real high that the advertiser doesn’t care or know in which show his ads will appear, and more than probably knows nothing about what some host is going to say. He’s just buying a series of 30-secs, scheduled or scattered, set within demographic-targeted time-slots that guarantee a minimum amount of audience for the coverage of a campaign specified. Once the actual ratings are in, if the minimum paid-for audience wasn’t met, advertisers are credited in dollars or, the preferred method, in additional 30-secs spots. Wanting to boycott Honda because their ads appeared during that particular episode or are being shown before the Web clip is akin to believing that one should be executed because they were standing next to some deranged person who suddenly pulled out a gun and killed someone.

Plus, how many cars per year does a Canadian buy, if at all a Honda? Where not talking about small, everyday consumer goods here. To be effective, such an action takes a massive and continued collective effort, and assumes that most Canadians feel the exact same way as artists. Reality is, outside of the artistic and intellectual communities, most people weren’t affected by that column or that clip, and a large percentage feel the same way as Erickson, though they’re only indirectly vocal about the subject when it comes time to paying their taxes.
Don’t believe me? Propose a new, mandatory, annual federal and provincial sliding tax that averages to $10 per contributor to fund all the arts and cultural programs and see what happens. Such an action would actually place us above the current funding levels, and yet...
And two years from now, should Honda finally notice a slight slump in Canadian sales, do you honestly think that anyone at headquarters will make the connection that this was due to some 8 minute segment that was broadcast all those months ago unless people are still waiving “Erickson = Don’t buy Honda” banners rather than having put all that energy into more productive actions?
Needless to say, this idea and all that was written about it seems to have lead nowhere fast...

Had there been much more hubbub, Honda may have specified that their adverts shouldn’t run when Erickson is hosting a show, but don’t be fooled, what real impact is that going to have? If the ratings are there, that time slot will quickly be sold to a company who’ll find a way to reach out to the type of people who actually watch Erickson on a regular basis? And it’s not just Honda who’s paying for that flashy Fox News-like decor or Erickson’s salary. Ad revenues—based on ratings—determine the profitability of a show and consequently, a show’s allocated budget, but those ad dollars are spread across a network’s entire operations. Therefore, the really honest and effective thing to do would be to ban all the companies for which ads appear on Sun News? But then this would imply having to make many sacrifices most wouldn’t be willing to make... And what about the companies whose ads also appear on arts-loving networks?  Honda funds several scholarships and arts shows.

So, in the end, I honestly believe that targeting Erickson is wasted energy, though hating her views is definitely what I endorse... If her ratings are low, trust me, a company like Quebecor will not waste any time getting rid of her, however, the real problem will still be there running the “show”.  

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© 2011, Pascal-Denis Lussier
Image: American Post-Neo-Gothic. Oil and acrylic on wood, by Pascal-Denis Lussier 

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