Sunday, November 13, 2011


I went to see Jian Ghomeshi speak at Kitchener's TheMuseum last night. His topic was pop culture. It seemed a rather contentless talk (at the time the word I was thinking was "vacuous"), but he's a smart guy - he gave a funny introduction and a very interesting Q&A at the end. As examples of the low points and high points:
  • He used this anecdote to argue that we need to stop "siloizing" culture: He went to a Gaugin exhibit at the AGO. At the start of the exhibit there was a quote on the wall from Beaudelaire that he found off-putting, but inside the exhibit "it was all paintings of naked chicks."
  • Someone asked him, if he was able to interview Andy Warhol, what would he ask him, and he replied: "When you wake up in the morning, are you Andy Warhol?"

(Before I go on: my ticket also got me into the current exhibit, which was created at TheMuseum and is going to tour the world. It's worth seeing. Called Rethinking Art and Machine, it's really art made of machines, and there's some lovely interactive stuff. The new cafe is worth a visit too.)

All Ghomeshi really talked about was youth and their interest in culture. He spent a lot of time talking about how poor kids in the Phillipines know the lyrics to Justin Bieber songs. He said the goal of Q (now Canada's most successful radio show) was to attract more youth to CBC radio; he said that at the time it started, 70% of CBC listeners were over 50, and "a high percentage of them were over 70." (That's a telling statistic, as when Q started 4 years ago CBC had been dumbing itself down for decades in the vain hope to attract youth.)

Ghomeshi said that the Q team deliberately set out to not dumb down their show. CBC brass told them to keep interviews to 8 minutes because "youth have ADD" but he rejected that advice and does serious, indepth interviews up to 45 minutes long. But of course he's mostly interviewing celebrities and musicians, and his success is largely due to his viral Billy Bob Thornton interview and his movie-star good looks. (He's a very good interviewer, but Eleanor Wachtel and Ralph Benmergui are better, to name two people with lower ratings.)

Ghomeshi also said that when he was on the board of the Stratford Festival the challenge they faced was attracting people between 20 and 50, because kids tended to go to plays on school trips and then not go back till they were old. That was interesting, because the audience at TheMuseum last night fit that demographic: a lot of journalism and fine arts students, and a lot of old people who looked to be (like me) avid CBC listeners. (I have attended Stratford every year from when I was 10 to my current 54, and my prescription for attracting people would have more to do with quality and price than trying to appeal to Justin Bieber fans, but then nobody has asked me to sit on the board.)

I was too young to be a hippie and disdainful/detached (respectively) of disco and punk, so I missed falling into a pop culture stereotype. Ever since the coining of "generation X" we seem to feel a need to categorize an entire generation, when usually the categorization doesn't so much describe a generation as an advertising theme used over several years. As to the popularity of Bieber, when I lived in Africa in the mid-90s you heard Bob Marley and the Beatles everywhere; now the commercial arm of recording studios has a longer reach, is all.

The best part, for me, about Ghomeshi's disappointing talk was that it made me click a link this morning on the New York Times home page, and read this very engaging article about pop culture: Generation Sell. I recommend it - and the Comments section.



Anonymous said...

I don't mind Jian Ghomeshi, although he, Evan Solomon, and George Stroumboulopoulos all merge together into one trying-a-bit-too-hard-to-be-cool, slightly-too-old-to-be-in-with-the-young-crowd, not-substantial-enough-to-be-in-with-the-older-folks young male.

Of the new crowd, I'd say Julie Nesrallah is my favourite. But maybe I'm biased.

If they could just keep Brent Bambury off the radio, I'd be happy. Grumble grumble.

Yappa said...

Brent Bambury - eeeaaaghhklgh!!! (That's meant to be a scream of anger followed by choking sounds.)

To me, the best thing about Ghomeshi, Solomon and GeorgeS is that they are bigger talents than CBC has provided us in a while. They're converational, smart, prepared, good interviewers, supremely confident, and able to attract big names to their shows. They also don't have the cookie-cutter Ryerson media diploma sound of most of CBC. I'd also add Kady O'Malley to the list.

I just wish Ghomeshi and GeorgeS would not do so much interviewing of celebrities and bands, both of which simply don't interest me. As it is, I respect them but don't tune in much.

I'd never heard of Julie Nesrallah. I just looked her up and see she's a mezzo (all good!) and on radio 2. There doesn't seem to be a podcast but since she's on from 9 to 2 it shouldn't be too difficult to find her...

Taylor said...

"...his success is largely due to his viral Billy Bob Thornton interview and his movie-star good looks."

Low blow IMO. Q's more whimsical feel is a pleasant change of pace after its lead-in, The Current, which tends to be intense.

And pray tell how good looks help you out of the radio?

Yappa said...

Hi Taylor,

I know the usual idea is "a face made for radio", but I think everyone knows what Jian looks like. And I didn't mean he's bad... I think he's very good. But his ratings are due to more than the quality of the show. IMO. I really didn't mean it to be a low blow... for one thing, he seems like such an earnestly nice guy and hard worker that it doesn't seem right to be mean, even in a blog.

Red Tory said...

I'd be curious to know what the Baudelaire quote was that Ghomeshi found so offputting.

BTW, vacuous = pop art. Kind of the ironical nature of the beast.

Andy said...

Loved the Generation Sell article...thanks!

As to Jian Ghomeshi...I don't care for his hipster coolness and, like you, I prefer hard news to "Entertainment This Morning." But if he attracts a younger crowd to the CBC, that is a good thing...the more fans the better.

Thanks for the thought-provoking articles and keep up the good work!