Defining culture or reflecting it?

I’m not sure what to think of this.

I spent the last few days at the nextMEDIA conference in Banff (Canada). At one panel I attended, a number of TV company representatives were telling the assembled room full of producers exactly what they’re looking for as far as content is concerned.

They said a number of perfectly reasonable things, like “Remember that no means no”, and “Don’t hassle us just as we walk around – set up a meeting.”

And then a rep whose network funds shows like “Dog the Bounty Hunter” (which is, actually, a pretty cool show in many ways) said something that stopped me cold:

“Don’t bring me any international content. Nobody with accents. Our audience is xenophobic. They wouldn’t like that.”

On the one hand, xenophobic people deserve to be entertained like anyone else, if they’ve paid their money. On the other hand, if you’re a person with enough intelligence to know that xenophobia is a negative force in modern societies, don’t you have some kind of responsibility not to coddle that attitude? This woman was totally cool – someone I could relate to. Yet she was an enabler for modern incarnations of racism, and what’s more she seemed to be aware of it.

I think most people would agree that it’s not always ok to make money just because people are prepared to spend it. We ban the sale of porn or alcohol to minors, or unlicensed firearms, or bootlegged DVDs.

I don’t think there’s any reasonable way you could tell a TV company to show “international” content to people who don’t want to see it, nor do I think we should. But for the love of God, if you’ve got the intelligence to know better, use your privilege as a member of the broader fourth estate to present a balanced picture. This is exactly the kind of bigotry that has bled into journalism and resulted in trash like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and even some of the raving lefties at MSNBC – people whose danger to the public is not just in their comically biased opinions, but in the fact that they dare to present them as reality.

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