Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dumped by the CBC!

Just got a phone call from a producer at The Gill Deacon Show. Everyone there was delighted with the interview I did yesterday on the suburbs, but after the show was in the can someone higher up the food chain at the CBC looked at the program and decided that it had too many men on it. Gill's show is aimed at housewives, in this person's estimation, and so the guests should be the same. They recorded a new segment responding to the film Radiant City today with three suburban housewives, and that's what will air in place of me talking to the two filmmakers tomorrow.

I must say, the producer I was dealing with at the CBC was a total pro about this, and they're sending me a cheque to compensate me for my time, so that's nice.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At March 27, 2007 3:27 PM , Blogger Simon said...

It seems odd that the CBC powers-that-be should think housewives like to watch other housewives. All the housewives I know prefer to watch men, especially (according to my wife) housewife-friendly chaps like your good self.

At March 27, 2007 7:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it that (some) people in television consistently underestimate the intelligence and range of interests of their viewers? If it weren't for a few good shows (Battlestar Galactica, Daily Planet and a few others leap to mind), I do believe I would go mad. Or possibly throw away my television.

I guess it's time to cancel my PVR's scheduled recording of the Gill Deacon show for tomorrow.

John F,
Truro, NS

At March 27, 2007 9:03 PM , Blogger Shky said...

Like the TV Execu-bot from Futurama who's 'constantly underestimating middle-America': "It's good, but will it get them off their tractors?"

At March 28, 2007 8:30 AM , Anonymous The Guy in DKNY said...

I've set my VCR, so I'll still see what the Housewives Panel has to say about the film, but I am curious about what your thoughts were. Like I said previously, I thought the film was brilliant (especially in its execution) and should be required vieweing, but I would like to know what your "rebuttal" was.

At March 28, 2007 10:54 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Okay, Guy in DKNY -- but, for others, SPOILER WARNINGS FOLLOW.

Yes, spoilers on a documentary ...

... because it's not. It's being advertised and sold as such, but in fact, it's a mockumentary; the supposedly true slice-of-life bits about living in a suburb are entirely scripted and performed by actors, something that's only revealed near the end of the film.

Some of the arguments were facile, I thought: yes, more people die in car accidents in the suburbs -- because you can actually get a car moving at more than 10 km/h on a suburban street.

Other arguments simply distorted reality: to suggest that gun violence -- the film has one of its suburban kids shoot another one dead -- is more common in the suburbs than the inner city is simply incorrect.

And, finally, although the argument was always presented as "suburbs were bad," the term "suburb" was never qualified. Yes, the horrendous one portrayed -- in Calgary -- was soulless and poorly designed, but this film is really a screed against a certain style of new housing development, but tars with a broad brush.

The first mistake Ann (the fictitious woman whose narrative drives much of the story) made was not to live in the suburbs per se, but to insist on a brand new home -- and so she ended up living near construction, having no mature trees, and so on.

The second mistake Ann, and her fictitious husband, Evan, made was not actually agreeing on where they wanted to live before they moved, so that the pressure portrayed was not suburban vs. urban, but bitchy controlling wife vs. cowed husband who is second guessing whether he should have married her (as he explicitly says in what, for me, was the moment that revealed it was all scripted, perhaps half an hour before they revealed it was -- this is the point at which I stopped the DVD [I'd been loaned a screener copy] -- and went to the IMDB to look up who these actors were; Evan says words to the effect of, "Well, if you start questioning your decision to move to the suburbs, then you might start questioning other things, like whether you should be in your marriage ..."

I didn't reveal the spoilers in the taped interview, but I did address some of the other above points and also pointed out that there are lots of functioning suburbs, and I happily live in one: Within 500 metres of my front door, I have a not one but two convenience stores and a grocery store, four restaurants, a lovely walking path alongside a river with ducks, and a large park; all the streets have sidewalks, and schools are within walking distance, and so on.

I also would have pointed out, had I had time, that the all-WASP suburb they portrayed in the film is something I've never seen in Toronto.

At March 28, 2007 3:25 PM , Blogger Sean said...

At the risk of sounding completely misogynist, its unfortunate that your gender had something to do with the interview getting canned. While I would hope that the CBC higher ups were trying to get the male/female ratio equal (as opposed to just simple marketing) I still think the decision was a stupid one.

At March 29, 2007 8:45 AM , Anonymous The Guy in DKNY said...


Rob, I understand and agree with some of your points. That it wasn't a true documentary was actually part of the genius of the film - the suburbs are about an artificial construct, and to create an artificial documentary about an artificial construct was part of the genius, in my opinion.

I do somewhat agree that there was a fairly large brush they painted with, but having listened to the filmmakes on Gill's show yesterday, they did better clarify that it was more a comment on the newer suburban developments, or those that have been around since around the seventies. Having come from Alberta, I can entirely see their point, because those are the suburbs that I grew up in. I think part of the problem with the panel on Gill's show is that they all came from the older, more functional (and more diverse) suburbs that are in the GTA. Your own suburb seems to be an older and more functional one, as opposed to these newer pod-like developments that the film talk about. I think that was perhaps more disingenous on the part of the Gill Deacon show, because the panelists didn't live in the kinds of suburbs that the film talked about.

Finally, I do think that despite your particular objections, the film has some very important things to say, especially about our current modes of urban planning. In the age of sustainability and a carbon-constrained environment, these types of suburbs should be made illegal. And I did get that the filmmakers were saying that suburbia itself isn't evil, but that we need to return to the pre-war method of building suburbs. As well, the points about how these developments breed social isolation and a decrease in acceptance of diversity were particularly apt, especially in this age of Conservatives targeting suburban voters.


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