There is always something new to be shocked about. A couple of months ago, it was Howard Stern, whose dirty-mouthed radio broadcasts were being heard for the first time in Toronto and Montreal. Lately, it’s been Don Cherry, again, this time for remarks he made during the Winter Olympics that offended many francophones (as well as everybody else). So offended were some of those francophones, in fact, that they caused some anglophones to be shocked. This led, somehow, to the waving of Canadian flags in the House of Commons and the singing of O Canada by Liberal and Reform members of Parliament, not always one of the year’s musical highlights.
Two things are worth pointing out here. First, you can always
find somebody to be shocked. Second, the people are never as shocked as the media think they are. It is a standard technique of the media to find something that looks shocking to an editor or producer, although they are never shocked personally. Nevertheless, they cause cameras and notebooks to be pointed at the public and the question to be asked: “How offended are you?” Usually, someone can be found to say “very” and it’s off to the races. When Howard Stern started in on whatever he was starting in on, there was no difficulty finding people to be outraged by his language, his choice of subject matter, his insults to the French language and the Quebec people. There were yells aimed at the CRTC and, if memory serves, a series of harrumphs in return. There doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of a result, because the shock was not widespread, and
perhaps because the genuine shocker—the fact that talk-show time on Canadian radio stations was being given over to an American talker—didn’t really enter the debate. When Don Cherry made disparaging remarks during the Olympics, finding some newsworthy outrage wasn’t difficult either. In fact, an actual MP, Michel Gauthier of the Bloc Québécois, rose to the bait, demanding that Cherry be fired. That made for a great story and a natural follow-up, asking a CBC vice-president how offended he was by Gauthier’s demands. (The CBC guy said Cherry had a right to his opinion, which wasn’t the CBC’s and, as they say nowadays, yada, yada, yada.) All of that is quite right, of course. Cherry does have a right to his opinion, and isn’t it good that not all views expressed on television are bland and consensus-driven? Furthermore, everybody else has a right to disagree with Don Cherry. The point is to avoid going nuts about it. You’d think we would have figured that out by now. It could even be argued that Cherry performs a valuable service by sparking debate over the best way to preserve an important national in-
There must be more useful journalistic pursuits than the endless search for what is offending the rubes this week stitution, hockey. At least he is thinking about Canada, in his own way, which elevates him above Howard Stern. The point, to return to it, is that few of us are really that shocked, either by Cherry or by Stern, or by much else, and media organizations would do themselves and us a big favor by dropping the pretense that we are. There must be more interesting and useful journalistic pursuits than the endless search for what is offending the rubes this week. Still, the hunt goes on. The newspaper warns us that some young women called All Saints are lining up to be the next Spice Girls. They sing and dress provocatively and there is probably someone out there who hates that and also hates their name. That will be good for the next 15 media minutes. Then we can brace ourselves for
maybe 45 on South Park, an edgy, nasty and very funny cartoon show that your kids have been watching for a few months, late at night when you thought they were sleeping. The violence. The language. The disrespect for authority. It is ready-made for easy controversy. The big newspapers and wire services have begun to take notice and the next logical step is Parliament, where South Park's depiction of Jesus having his own talk show could well be raised. Meanwhile, the kids are happily setting up South Park home pages on the Internet. Those who use the Net will see something strangely familiar about those home pages. Where kids in the ’50s might have set up a fan club for, say, Pat Boone, kids now have powerful computers and are setting up their own home pages to honor their heroes—who are not Pat Boone, for the most part. Thus we see, among the 100-odd home pages devoted to South Park, Dave’s South Park Page, not to be
confused with David’s South Park Page, and Brian’s South Park Page, at which a visitor is told he is visitor number 6,509 since December, and Paul’s South Park Page and Allison’s South Park Page.
The startling increase in the number of Web pages devoted to something like South Park gives further cause for alarm for those of an alarmist bent. But the startling rate at which fads appear is mirrored in the startling rate at which they vanish. One of those ubiquitous professors consulted by wire services has that perception of South Park. “I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be like Twin Peaks," Bob Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Centre for the Study of Popular Television told the Associated Press, “a brilliant 20 or 30 hours of TV, but that’s it.”
While you were worrying (or not worrying) about Howard Stern, thousands of South Park T-shirts were sold and your children downloaded scripts and sound bites and who knows what all else. By the time you are alert enough to be outraged, the thing will be gone. So relax.
Of course, there’s the question of what will replace it.
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