Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Rise and Fall of "KvonFinckyCRTC"

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Gallows humor, making fun of the people who control your life and Satire have been around about as long as there've been those whose circumstances dictated they laugh to avoid losing either hope or their minds.

The literary version of Satire -- the word comes from the Latin "lanx satura" and literally means "a full dish of various fruits" -- has long been recognized as a more or less respectable way to ridicule the vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings of a society, with the intent of shaming an individual or a specific group into cleaning up its act.

Therefore, although satire is meant to be funny, its purpose is constructive criticism -- and we see that in a lot of popular television like "South Park", "The Simpsons", "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report".

Apparently, however, these basic understandings don't apply in Canada, or within what generally is described as "The Social Media".

A couple of weeks ago, a new face popped up on Twitter. It was the face above attached to the moniker "KvonFinckyCRTC".

Now anybody with more than two functioning brain cells would have made the connection with CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein while being aware that the Chairman and former federal judge would not likely be the actual person behind a handle like "KvonFinckyCRTC".

Somebody was just having a little fun. Poking the bear. Speaking truth to power. Having a laugh at the expense of a well known (at least within the Canadian broadcast industry) Public figure.

I've never met Konrad, but I'm sure he's quite a fine and respectable gentleman, obviously very intelligent and capable, probably loves dogs, although he strikes me as more of a "kinder to cats" person.

But if you're a Canadian artist or creative technician working within the film and television industries regulated by Chairman von Finckenstein, you've watched his commission oversee either a severe marginalization or the complete destruction of your career.

And if you subscribe to cable TV in Canada with its escalating costs, pay through the nose for a mobile phone or simply wish you had the same freedom to watch a movie any American just across the border from you can watch without a hassle on the internet -- well, you're confused as to why the head of a government agency mandated to protect the needs of the consumer, instead consistently protects the needs of those gouging average Canadians for every penny they can get.

I don't know who invented "KvonFinckyCRTC". But first I got a couple of messages to check him out and then an invitation to contribute to his tweets. I was asked to pass along the "sign in" codes to anybody I thought might get the joke and have something to contribute.

And I did.

Immature? Pointless? Career Suicide? Maybe. But anybody who knows me knows that I honestly believe you can't put a price on a good time.

I have no idea if anybody who alerted me to "KvonFinckyCRTC" or passed on the account access or got it from me feels the same or ever submitted a Tweet. I have my suspicions in a couple of cases. But I honestly don't know.

I just really liked what I was reading. It was smart. It was passionate. It came from a good place. And a lot of the stuff made me laugh out loud.

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For while there was no intention to "satirize" the Chairman (and by association the Commission) via a particular political direction or artistic agenda; and despite the fact that nobody creating this online persona had been instructed in how the character would operate -- a distinct and completely recognizable character emerged.

Rather than the aloof and often seemingly arrogant and insensitive bureaucrat, given to "in-camera" meetings with corporate megaliths and those he publicly describes as "The Right People". Despite the public diffidence he has repeatedly shown to the guilds, unions, advocacy groups and individual consumers trying to refute the bald faced lies told in those secret meetings. Besides all that, what emerged was a man as confused by the workings of the industry as most of us. But as Captain of the ship, he remained determined to drive it full speed into that iceberg up ahead.

The first tweet I read from "KvonFinckyCRTC" mourned the passing of Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian bemoaning the fact that he now had to come up with a "Plan B" for Canadian Television.

Now, I don't care who you are. That's funny. And so's this…

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I kicked in one of my own, in which "KvonFinckyCRTC" noted being in discussion with "Hockey Night in Canada" over the lack of Canadian content on the Sedin line. The matter was resolved when CBC simply registered the program as a Swedish co-pro with American stars.

Now that's about as inside the Cancon TV beltway as you can get. But it makes sense to all the out-of-work Canadians dismayed that one topless Canuck Cutie working in Budapest on "The Tudors" or "The Borgias" makes the show Canadian but a massive Canadian presence in both cast and crew on AMC's "The Killing" earns it no recognition for supporting the industry.

Over the next few days, "KvonFinckyCRTC" mused that maybe mobile rates had to be higher given all that wire somebody had to string, carped about a Commissioner who likes bush pilot shows taking everybody out for Beavertails and whined about the lack of respect he got from broadcasters -- in his decades on the bench it seems no one had ever told him to "go home and get your shine box".

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And then…

One morning…

"KvonFinckyCRTC" was gone.

He'd been erased from Twitter.

Silenced.

A couple of days later, I was told that the official cause of death was a message from Twitter that the account had been suspended for "Impersonation". Those tracing the list of his fans noted that he reached terminal stage a couple of hours after being "followed" by somebody within the CRTC.

I wasn't enormously upset by the passing of "KvonFinckyCRTC". Hell, like everybody else, I'd barely gotten to know him. But I did find the way he went somewhat sad.

For while Twitter sells itself as an innovative communication tool allowing like-minded people to connect with each other and share their interests, it might be that their drive to monetize has them looking to garner some favor or respectability.

I'm sure most would consider it a good thing if Twitter closed the accounts of the Iranian secret police who pretended to support the Green Revolution in order to nab students in that democracy movement, but I don't think that ever happened.

And I notice that a whole slew of celebrities still append their names with "The Real" so people don't confuse them with numerous fakers confusing or misleading their fans.

It might be a step in the right direction if you couldn't send women you barely know pictures of your junk on Twitter too. Although I'm sure those filters might also preclude innocent civilians from sharing pictures of their dogs or folks in Syria from getting pictures out to the world of soldiers gunning them down.

I'm sure there would be few opposed to Twitter making it tougher for guys my age to get 14 year olds to meet them at Starbucks. Heck I'd be ecstatic if they just stopped that asshole with the egg logo from telling me where I can buy the product I just mentioned in a tweet.

But nope -- they shot the court jester and the class clowns instead.

And in the process Twitter revealed that, like the kind of regulation "The Realz Konrad von Finckenstein" engages in, the minute you start looking after one set of stakeholders to the point where the service doesn't actually do what it was designed to do, you kinda make it pointless.

Or maybe this has nothing to do with Twitter.

Maybe the legitimate Chairman of the CRTC feels just as overwhelmed and out of his depth as those behind the fake one made him appear.

Maybe he didn't want people knowing about the secret CRTC Netflix account or that he likes it when certain staff members wear hotpants.

Could it be there was a kernel of truth in the Prime Minister insisting on a "must-carry" license for "The Cat Channel" or that Video on Demand numbers had to be kept secret because the BDU's didn't want institutional investors knowing most of their profits come from peddling porn?

What I do know for certain is that somebody has a really thin skin or might be feeling very uncertain about their own personal regulatory future.

It can't be easy campaigning for regulatory control over OTT services and the Internet when PM Harper's personal appointee to the CRTC, Tom Pentafountas, speaks to the Western Association of Broadcasters in the same Banff Ballroom where you'll make that pitch and assures them the CRTC will take a strong stand against "the root of all evil, anti-competitive behavior".

Twice stung by Harper and former Industry Minister Tony Clement for protecting the big boys against mobile competition and rubber-stamping their demand for Usage Based Billing, I might be thinking those million Canadians who'll sign on for Netflix before Summer's end could be offering Harper, Clement et al their own choice between backing competition and going into the Gazebo building business full time.

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But mostly what made me sad about saying Good-bye to "KvonFinckyCRTC" was the realization that the CRTC won't act on 12 years of interventions that long ago proved they've stunted the growth of Canadian television, but it took them less than 6 days to shut-up a bunch of guys making fun of their lack of action, their ivory towered arrogance -- and their regulatory incompetence.

I've always pleaded with the CRTC to learn what really goes on in the industries they regulate instead of listening to what well-paid lawyers tell them in closed door meetings. And if the powers that be determine that they now regulate the internet, that will become imperative.

There's some real dark territory out there in cyberspace and a lot of incredibly smart people who won't stand as silent as Canadian screenwriters while their freedoms are curtailed for the financial benefit of vertically integrated corporations.

When Aaron Sorkin was writing "The Social Network", he joked that he had to be scrupulously accurate in depicting those involved in the creation of facebook because, "I was dealing with people who knew how to plant kiddie porn on my computer".

But part of me thinks he wasn't kidding.

I'm not saying the CRTC has got the climactic scenes of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" in their futures. But when you enslave people to a system (either as creators or end users) that doesn't serve their core interests, you're not doing anybody any favors.

Don't get me wrong. "KvonFinckyCRTC" wasn't anybody's idea of a revolutionary moment. He was just a way to blow off steam and feel a little less alone in the struggle.

But inadvertently, he revealed the true face of the CRTC, the one many of us suspected was its honest visage but hoped wasn't the case.

The history of the world shows that when legitimate grievances are silenced, the conflict tends to tick up a notch.

So I'm through giving the CRTC even the slight benefit of the doubt I once held out for them. Those guys want to control artistic expression and legitimate, completely legal forms of protest like Satire. So I don't want to hear any of them pretend that they speak for the Canadian artistic community ever again.

And I hope in reading this, some of those always-so-quiet-and-careful Canadian screenwriters might begin to realize that their freedom to say and write what they feel, no matter how innocent or innocuous or just plain stupid, might also be in peril.

Maybe they'll feel it enough to stand up for themselves and what they believe in like others did in an earlier version of the "Spartacus" tale.

There's no such thing as a well-adjusted slave.

I am "KvonFinckyCRTC"!

If you were too or you simply believe in the freedom to create Satire, please add your voice in the comment thread that follows.

Who knows how much longer you've got…

6 comments:

Jean-Paul said...

Standing. Slow clap.

Excellent post. Thank you

Count Finckenberry said...

@CountFincknbry (overthetop)

Blazing Cat Fur said...

Ya got any pics of that Topless Canadian Cutie?

Robert said...

Thanks. I needed that cold,clear splash of reality.

Brandon Laraby said...

There is no fact that so illustrates how far behind our nation lags as the one where Broadcasters rake in tons of cash for broadcasting porn.

Gawd, I see more unintentional boob (or worse) in a day on the web then I ever did out there in TVLand.

Hell, turn off Google Safe Search and do an image search for almost any word in the English language and I'm pretty sure you'll get porn in there.

Selling porn on TV is like selling water in bottles.

Brandon Laraby said...

Oh, and excellent post Jim -- sorry that I got sidetracked there.

Don't suppose there's a way that regular citizen-folk can get onto the CRTC, huh?

I'd do it.