Tonight on ET Canada (Global, 7:30 p.m.) the show is invited into the home of Dean McDermott and Tori Spelling for "a revealing tell-all exclusive interview."
As some people may be aware, there was a "cheating scandal" that, says ET Canada, "made international headlines." What Dean McDermott (Canadian fella, host of Chopped Canada, you know) says is, "I've never opened up to anybody on camera before. … I'm not a monster, I'm a human being. And I messed up."
Right, okay, fine. Good luck to all involved in the mess. But it's not what grips Canada. What people really want to talk about is the CBC.
Hockey is our national game and the CBC is our national neurosis.
Oh yes, it is. It has its supporters and denigrators. But what it causes conforms to the definition of neurosis – symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour and hypochondria. The hypochondria? Well, that's when legions of people believe the country and the culture will collapse if the CBC is diminished any further.
The fact that it's our national neurosis isn't a bad thing. For CBC, it's a very good thing. For a national public broadcaster to command such complicated feelings is a positive sign.
The CBC is having what you might call an annus horribilis. So much bad news for it, so many mistakes, so many cutbacks, so much vitriol aimed at it and, neurotically, sometimes the country has come to its defence and lauded it.
It has been such a horrible year, it's hard to know where to start. The loss of NHL hockey. Pastor Mansbridge and his fees for speaking engagements. Staff layoffs over and over. Less money to spend on programming and yet more controversy – the Jian Ghomeshi scandal bursting out.
Throughout, the CBC keeps Canada talking. Even as its viewing numbers look frail when compared with the allegedly good old days, nobody needs to explain who Mansbridge is or why the Ghomeshi scandal matters deeply to a lot of people.
What unfolded last week during the course of the Ottawa shootings captured all the complicated feelings that surround the CBC. A lot of people turned to CBC TV coverage for an instinctive reason – a built-in sense that the CBC has the resources and reliability to cover the story with authority.
It achieved that after a shaky start and occasionally made all the mistakes that live TV news makes when it covers rapidly unfolding events. However, as soon as some U.S. outlets began heaping praise on CBC's coverage – for lacking the histrionics so typical of all-news cable channels in the U.S., the channels mocked by Jon Stewart every night – a convoluted pride in the CBC took shape in Canada.
Convoluted because some of the pride emanated from people who pay little attention to the broadcaster. In a deeply neurotic way, it turned out, CBC came to represent all that is good, true and sensible about Canada, however briefly. When yours truly suggested that, really, it is rather redundant to congratulate experienced, professional news people for not being hysterical, the reaction was more of a sulk than outrage. I had punctured some people's sudden surge of national pride.
The CBC is, of course, delighted to get praise from the U.S. media. But that's not what its focus should be. The takeaway, the lesson learned, should be that a public broadcaster has a vital role to play when the country is under stress, confused and anxious. That's something to take to the federal government when the usual voices proclaim the CBC is a waste of money.
As for the Ghomeshi scandal, it tells us how much CBC Radio and its personalities matter. The CBC's official role, across TV, radio and now online, is to act as a cultural institution, reflecting and telling Canadian stories. Whether the anti-CBC factions like it or not, CBC Radio personalities become iconic, representative figures. A portion of the public invests heavily in them. Often, that stature allows CBC Radio personalities an egotism that is out of proportion to the actual, authentic role. What they don't realize is that they are not so much celebrities as they are symbols of a kind of Canadian-ness that exists emotionally and is neurotic.
And it's all about emotion, in the end. CBC's task is to harness the emotion, embrace its role as national neurosis and use the power of that. Those people appearing on ET Canada can only wish for the fierce neurotic grip that CBC has on this country.