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Oh, great. Bubbleheads and harpies coming back to Canada

I was thinking about Nelson Mandela the other day. You see, it is reported that when Mandela met the Spice Girls, he said it was a moment he would always remember. That's something you can interpret both ways. He'll always remember it because it was a pleasure. He'll always remember it because he was so horrified he can't forget it.

It is also reported that he said, "This is one of the greatest moments in my life." According to some versions, he was joking. Other reports don't mention that he was joking.

It happens that I was thinking of Mandela because I became aware that E! The Entertainment Channel has returned to Canada. The channel formerly known as Star! is now E!, if you catch my drift. Thus we are gifted round-the-clock coverage of such luminaries of the entertainment world as Kim, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian, Chelsea Handler and Giuliana Rancic.

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E! is devoted entirely to entertainment news. It is generally taken to be a channel aimed mainly at women; that is, the ones who are obsessed with Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston, it is supposed. You can tell by the ads that the audience is assumed to be female. Oddly, most of the women who appear on E! are either bubbleheads or harpies.

The channel is excessively celebrity-obsessed and, given that celebrities aren't always ready and willing to participate in the hijinks of E!, it creates its own celebrities. Hence the fame allotted to the Kardashians and Handler (her talk show Chelsea Lately airs Monday to Friday, 11 p.m.), a sort of poor man's Joan Rivers, all spiky comebacks and showbiz smarmy.

Ms. Rancic is the scarily frail-looking host of E! entertainment news coverage, sometimes with that guy Ryan Seacrest. Rancic's job title is usually given as "celebrity news personality." She interviews the stars, basically.

However, she is also tangentially involved, as a producer, with some E! productions, including the channel's latest gobsmacker show. That's the reality series Bridalplasty (coming Dec. 12 to the Canadian E!). In it, brides-to-be compete in a series of challenges to win free plastic surgery for their wedding day. It is unspeakably moronic. All the women are presented as bubbleheaded connivers who would happily stab the others in the back to get that nose job or boob job.

Of course, one could stand back and take the view that something like Bridalplasty is an illumination of the culture, an insight into the female mind warped by ceaseless obsession with celebrity, celebrity weight loss and other celebrity manipulations of the female form. Or you, like Nelson Mandela, can leave your taste and your impressions of showbiz luminaries, big and small, open to interpretation.

But that would be a waste of time. It's all just horrifyingly cheap and nasty.

This is not the first time that E! has landed in Canada. Back in 2007, CanWest took the extraordinary step of transforming its chain of CH channels into E! Canada. It was an ugly makeover, a confusing move and, as CanWest was in deep financial trouble, the CH stations were sold and E! scuttled back to the United States.

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Here's the thing: In 2007, launching E! into Canada looked like a good bet. There was a little more hunger for all that celebrity coverage. Now, I'm not so sure. The 2008 election changed the U.S. culture, and not just in political terms. Politics seeped into everything.

And now - as the recent midterm elections showed - the most exciting aspect of U.S. culture is that hybrid beast combining media and politics. Politics is a true blood sport there, and that place where the sport erupts into rough play is where the action is. Most Americans believe that politics echoes through everything. The Kardashians have got nothing on Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell and the epic drama-comedy that is the Tea Party.

Still, if the entertainment racket is your main indulgence, enjoy yourself with E!

Me, my favourite Spice Girl was Posh.


Nureyev (Bravo!, 9 p.m.) is a repeat but a must-see if you missed it last year. A dance film made by Moze Mossanen for TV, it's a fictional take on the life of the late Russian ballet star Rudolf Nureyev, who famously defected from the Soviet Union in 1961. The film gives us a pithy biography told entirely through dance, but with well-timed commentary from talking heads who tell anecdotes about Nureyev. As with all of Mossanen's works ( The Rings of Saturn, Roxana), it is visually sumptuous and startling to watch. What gives this particular work of art-TV some notoriety is the casting of Nico Archambault as Nureyev. Archambault was, of course, the Season 1 winner of So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Here, he is outstanding, a pure force of nature and movement.

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Check local listings.

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