POP CULTURE: SUN TV drinking games and modern media

The call went out early, as it has with many a pop culture phenomenon, as it had with Must-See TV Thursdays, with Don Cherry broadcasts, with Samatha Taylor’s Video Hits:

How can we turn SUN TV into a drinking game?

That, after all, is the best thing you can do with a television set: tune it to something banal, or foolish to the point of funny, find the repeating elements, and use them as an excuse to get smashed with your friends.

Did we mention? Drinking games are way more fun when you do them with other people. It goes directly to the sense of community we’re all supposed to share.

But I digress.

Finding a repetitive theme on SUN TV to which to drink? Before it launched, we would’ve guess ones like “host older than 50 refers to ‘the young people today’,” — do a shot of jagermeister.

Or maybe “guy comments on female journalist’s appearance” — chug a beer.

Or “Peter Worthington uses the term lib-left,” — do a shot and chase it with a swallow of beer.

Of course, that thinking was based on the belief SUN TV would be a copy of its right-wing Fox News brethren to the South. Which is true. Sort of.

But then I actually spent a few hours watching it, figuring that, if nothing else, the aforementioned drinking game would develop organically. And a funny thing happened: SUN TV wasn’t quite as predicted.

Hour one was centred around a host named Theo Caldwell, some sort of financial adviser from Toronto. A quick glance at Caldwell’s credentials online reveal he’s a market capitalist who wrote a children’s book about an Irish giant. Caldwell is about 5’6, if size-on-camera and the Sun’s backdrops translate accurately. Figure out the pathology there for yourself.

Initially, I was going to take a slug of beer every time he said the words “the market.” But two minutes and three-quarters of a beer in, I realized Caldwell uses the financial world as sort of a backdrop for his entire show, and that, should I require enough cerebral function to operate the remote control, my liquid assets could become far too fluid, far too quickly.

About a minute later, Caldwell described the financial markets as “a quantitative conclusion of what people think is happening in the world,” a definition so myopically simplistic and disconnected from the reality of how stock, commodity and complex instrument markets actually work that it was either downright evil, ideologically delusional, or more naive than James Bond’s last six girlfriends.

Of course, in the situation at hand, it seemed the optimistic thing to do was consider this statement a benchmark for drinking.

“Right,” I told the dog, as this was a studious exercise, and therefore required me to objectively drink alone at home at 10 a.m., “from now on, whenever the little guy in the power suit says something evil or stupid, I take a shot of Jager.”

He just lay there looking doleful with large hound dog eyes, which I took as an endorsement.

A few moments later,Caldwell mentioned the Standard & Poors Index, confirming that, while the rest of the world has seen Inside Job and realizes S&P is a corrupt, useless prop for corrupt, useless people, Caldwell either takes it seriously or thinks the rest of us should.

“Likely stupid, quite possibly not evil,” I told the hound. His quiet support was all the endorsement I needed for a shot of Jager.

After a few more minutes, Caldwell checked in on big stories from across the Sun newspaper chain that day. He talked to Nicole Dube, a Winnipeg Sun reporter, who informed him that a Conservative election candidate accidentally sent out the e-mail addresses of 6,000 constituents.

Theo flew to the Tory’s defence faster than a Gimli Mosquito at a Hip Concert. “Let’s see if I can figure out why I’m outraged by this Nicole,” said Caldwell. “If they all live around there, well…isn’t this all information you could find in the local white pages of your phone book?”’

I took a shot of Jager.

Dube kept smiling, but appeared a bit pained. “Well, not everyone wants to have their email or contact information listed publicly. Not everyone’s in the phone book. It’s a serious breach of privacy.”

Dube pointed out that the Liberal candidate in the riding was outraged and demanding an explanation, but that the Tory so far hadn’t said anything, leaving it up to her campaign manager to apologize.

Two hours later, after the story had been recycled to the next host, Dube was to add the word “OBVIOUSLY” — her emphasis. As in “the liberal candidate is OBVIOUSLY outraged,” wink wink, nudge nudge. And this time there’s no pointing out how unhappy the neighbours might be. But I digress.

“She’s supposed to pretend to be outraged,” Theo protested.

I took a shot of Jager. Four shots in now, and that last one kind of made me want to punch him. Feel ….warm. Dammit.

Dube feebly agreed that maybe the Liberal is “grasping at any outrage” she can find. But two minutes later, Dube reaffirmed that “maybe this should be taken seriously.”

“For goodness sake there are so many more important things to report on,” Caldwell suggested of his report of the prior two minutes … and literally minutes before he does an extended piece on whether child pat-downs at airports are offensive.

Y’see there’s something about SUN TV we didn’t predict: it’s not so much right-wing as it is schizophrenic, an amalgamated example of the vast and important changes in media culture over the last two decades, wherein large multi-national corporations have taken over and tried, often unsuccessfully, to stop local reporters from doing their job properly.

Yeah, I know, weighty shit, especially for a dude with four shots of Jager and a beer in him, but bear with me a minute.

Thirty years ago,media outlets were all mostly owned or controlled locally. The federal government discouraged concentration of ownership, because it was recognized that the best way to have local media coverage was to have local input. In that period, it was accepted that media are an essential to an informed population, which in turn is essential to democracy. In order to serve the variety of political voices in each community they served, they maintained the tradition of balance, at least outside of the op-ed pages.

But the rise of companies like The Sun has seen that local voice overridden by a national ideology, reflecting the biases of its owners and the poorer public view of the media – one encouraged by businessmen and politicians for less-than-honest reasons.

The Sun’s national reporters are entirely biased by this ideology. But here’s where schizophrenia comes in: unlike Fox News, SUN TV didn’t have the resources to simply start a TV station from scratch with a full staff. So not all of its reporters are national.

Instead, it takes reports from newspaper reporters across the country … local reporters who have yet to acquiesce to one ideological side because…well..they have souls, and they have to live in these communities.

So, every time a biased national host talks to one of the local reporters, there’s a subtle tension, almost like they’re each defending a side of the story. The reporter explains the story; the host defends or attacks the principles based on right-wing ideology; and the reporter explains why the story is actually important.

It’s too weird.

An hour after Theo Caldwell, a national commentator named Brian Lilley is explaining why the CBC is hypocritical for pursuing a tough question involving an inanely dishonest statement by the prime minister…and 10 minutes after that, a different host is being told by a local Sun newspaper reporter that that same question asked by the CBC is essentially totally legitimate, that the position taken by the prime minister’s office is either blazingly dishonest or astonishingly stupid.

I spend a few more hours watching this schizophrenic tug-of-war, all right-wing bluster and ideological inflexibility on the national side, and doe-eyed local reporters with consciences who look like they need a Tylenol on the other. They don’t look long for this world, like Bambi’s mother.

It’s not a national news network so much as a public debate, in which one side is allowed to shout really,really loudly until they get their way. Eventually, you have to figure the side doing the shouting will just insist the other side doesn’t get any time at all.

Next, a so-called independent pollster presents an entirely biased riding news review, finishing it off with the wholly inaccurate statement that incumbents running as independents in Canada have a hard time being re-elected, so that he can attack the chances of a popular independent. A two-hour review of independents over the last century – really, screw you man for making me have to do that ridiculous legwork – demonstrates he is either an idiot who doesn’t do research or glibly lying.

I take another shot of Jagermeister as the next host is schooled by a B.C. Liberal candidate.

She’s not even trying to maintain the pretext of objectivity, simply defending his scandal-plagued opponent, and to anyone who isn’t ideologically inclined – I think Liberals and ND’ers suck too, by the way – she sounds pretty foolish.

It’s enough to drive someone to drink, but that wouldn’t be entirely appropriate. SUN TV is like a public access channel that gives the cranky old coot a weekly forum, so a little beer never hurts if you HAVE to watch it. But it’s also toxically biased, one inane assertion and glibly casual deception after another, as if the old coot were the kind of politician everybody loves to hate. If it ever provides something useful to society, it will be the exception that proves the rule.

As such, watching it for prolonged periods will require something akin to penicillin, not alcohol.

But the booze doesn’t exactly hurt.