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Director David Frazee of the series 'Flashpoint ' poses with the award for Best Direction in a Dramatic Series at the Gemini awards Saturday night. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
Director David Frazee of the series 'Flashpoint ' poses with the award for Best Direction in a Dramatic Series at the Gemini awards Saturday night. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

John Doyle: Television

Geminis and Gillers: Proof that Canada has a clueless elite Add to ...

The splendid satirical news site UrNews.ca has an interesting take on last weekend's Gemini Awards. Let's give it a read, shall we?

"The news is just now reaching the outside world that the Gemini Awards, Canada's annual celebration of television from two years ago, were held somewhere in Toronto on Saturday. The awards, generally ignored, are this year embroiled in controversy as the winner in the category, "Best Show, Any" is made by a small, artisanal production company in Nova Scotia that distributes its programs individually on Betamax tape."

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Joking aside, a significant point is made. Think about it. The Geminis and The Gillers: Elitist and rewarding obscurity. The Geminis give awards to shows hardy anybody has seen. This year, the Giller Prize - also a TV program, take note - goes to a book hardly anybody can buy.

It's a Canadian thing, and a major mistake - rewarding obscurity, underlining the gulf between the arts elite, the TV academy elite and the public.

Yes, I said "elite." For as long as the minority Conservative government is in power, and while someone such as Rob Ford is elected Mayor of Toronto, we need to be aware that there is a culture war going on in Canada. The government fetishizes hockey and Tim Hortons as true, authoritative emanations of the Canadian culture as they see it. The party in government regularly launches assaults on the opinions of perceived "elites" residing in Toronto and devoted to reading books, watching obscure, hard-to-follow TV shows and hoping that Rob Ford doesn't get elected.

Well, he did, riding a wave of rage against all that let's-make-Toronto-a-livable-city cant. Against all those arts-loving, theatre-going, anti-car people who believe that Canada can aspire to be a place more sophisticated than a country defined by hockey, coffee shops and doughnuts. They lost. Ford's followers won.

In this context, it is alarming to find that the Gillers have become the Gemini Awards of the Canadian literary awards racket. Their founder is a well-meaning man driven by the noble idea of bringing attention and awarding cash to the best Canadian novelists. Excellent plan. Getting the actual award ceremony on TV has been an important step in pumping up the attention, in making book-buyers aware of the books.

Now, as the whole country knows, things have gone awry. For more than a week the winning book (Johanna Skibsrud's The Sentimentalists) has been unavailable. The nattering denizens of the book racket have spent time and energy wringing their hands about the "integrity" issue of a small press essentially saying, "You can read it when we say you can read it." It took a week of to-and-fro before it became clear that thousands of copies of the book will soon be on sale. And then there has been the dark muttering about the judging process. Prominent writers are online writing about "jury protocols" and dozens of like-minded types are debating the issue.

You have to wonder what the general public makes of all this. Probably what they make of the Gemini Awards. Nice idea to honour Canadian TV and all, but essentially a private, elitist thing that's alien to public taste.

If the Gemini Awards was a significant TV event, really, it wouldn't be competing with Hockey Night in Canada on a November Saturday. And then there are the actual awards given. Did anyone notice the look on the faces of the producers of The Tudors when the show won best dramatic series on Saturday? Bemused and taken aback, was the gist. After all, The Tudors is only in the most vaguely technical way a Canadian show. Flashpoint, a Canadian drama that the TV-watching public would know, and which led the field in nominations, won just one award on Saturday.

Congratulations to all who were nominated for a Gemini. From the photos I've seen, everybody had a smashing time at the show and the party. Great frocks, hairdos and suits. Fact is, though, the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television doesn't give a rodent's posterior about the TV-watching public (or indeed the TV-covering press) and it's all an insiderish, elitist industry event. Oddly like the Gillers, now.

Rewarding obscurity, and caring little about the public, is suicidal in this country at the moment. It only emphasizes that the arts - popular art or high art - is by, for and about an elite. When the philistine politicians come looking for reasons to cut or remove funding and sneer, they will have ample ammunition. And that's no joke. This is a hockey-and-Tim-Hortons country, isn't it?

ON TV TONIGHT

Slumming It (documentary channel, 9 p.m.) is an excellent and provocative series from Britain. Designer Kevin McCloud goes to what is called "the world's biggest slum," Dharavi in Mumbai, to examine the dynamics of the local culture there. It's where some of Slumdog Millionaire was set and filmed. A million people live in a square mile but somehow, as awful as it is, the place functions as a community. We're told that architects and planners are "excited" by the place. McCloud asks, "Is this a glimpse of the future of cities?"

Check local listings.

 

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