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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

After Dark, November 8, 2011

Theatre in Chains
Why aren't we bitchier about our media?
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

There is a war between the Ceeb and Quebecor. It is an open war. It is an ugly war. It was ratcheted up a notch this last week when Radio-Canada (the French-language CBC) broadcast an hour-long investigation of the Quebecor machine and its abuses.

I don't know in depth how Quebecor works outside of Quebec. I have never watched the Fox News of the North nor read the Sun papers outside of Quebec. But let me paint a portrait of Quebecor and how it works in real terms in one case study.

Quebecor also owns several People-style magazines and the SA kids are unbelievably often the cover stories in the mags.


Quebecor owns TVA, the popular and populist network. TVA has a jewel in its crown: Star Académie (SA), an American-Idolesque spectacular that is always the highest rated show on television. The show, by the way, is produced by the wife of Pierre Karl Péladeau (Quebecor's boss).

The contestants on the show sign very strict contracts as to where they will sing and with whom they will do interviews. This is important because Quebecor also owns several People-style magazines and the SA kids are unbelievably often the cover stories in the mags. More perniciously, SA "news" is quite often on the front page of Quebecor's Journal de Montréal (JdeM) - the best-selling French-language daily in North America. Music stars of all stripes, who used to condemn the SA machine, now appear on the show, singing along with contestants. (You don't say "No" to Quebecor and not because of repercussions from the corporation, but because if you don't show up on SA, you simply become invisible in the other Quebecor outlets.)

Ignore. Quebecor is a crap machine.

When the SA kids become stars, Quebecor makes their records (Musicor) and sells them in their chain of record stores, Archambault. 

So Quebecor, with this one phenomenon (SA) is actually creating the news it covers. Fine, we know the machine it is. We know where they're coming from. We don't like it, but what can you do.

Ignore. Quebecor is a crap machine.

How does theatre fit into all this? Well, it sorta doesn't. 

But it is not. Hidden in the Quebecor monster are honest-to-goodness journalists and columnists and some of them are damn good. TVA has some great shows (notably SA!). But the bottom line is these poor souls are working for outlets who do NOT cover a whole lot of important stuff because they are covering - in depth! - candy like SA.

How does theatre fit into all this? Well, it sorta doesn't. There hasn't been a critic at JdeM of any susbtance for ages. (The A&E web site "front page", as I write this, features two stories about SA kids and no theatre.)

But I'd like to point, now, to the things other media chains covered in the last weeks, stories that knocked local arts to the bottom or off their websites' front: ANTONIA BANDERAS AND SALMA HAYEK TOGETHER AGAIN!!!!!! (Ten papers) JUSTIN BIEBER MIGHT BE A DAD!!!!!! (Three papers) MISS VENEZUELA CROWNED MISS WORLD!!!!! SELENA DUMPS JUSTIN!!!!!

What's worse - like the journalists hidden in the Quebecor machine, the artists who reviled Star Académie and then appeared on the show, the columnists who attacked mergers/synergy and then took the check and shut up - theatre artists have never banded together to protect their interests and to yell at A&E editors and say, of the lack of arts coverage, "What is this shit?"

So it begs the question: besides putting on plays and handing each other awards, do theatre artists ever band together for anything?

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