If Richard III were to come back today as a media mogul, the famed Shakespearian tirade would be: A controversy! A controversy! My kingdom for a controversy!
The latest one started this Monday with a banger in the Journal de Montreal. According to a Leger Marketing poll, 59 per cent of Quebecers consider themselves to be "racist." Where's Jan Wong when you need her?
In the following days, the Journal and TVA - both owned by Quebecor - have unveiled other data from the same poll about a mishmash of things: "racism" among cultural communities, reasonable accommodation, perceptions of francophones by non-francophones, and so on.
Quebecor wasn't alone. Other media went wall to wall with reports and panels on related subjects, taking our national sport of existential navel-gazing to new depths.
Experts, with reason, pointed out Leger Marketing had used the word "racist" in its questions without defining it. This trivialized the real thing, confusing racism with prejudice or ignorance. It also mixed up what it called racism with the religion-related issue of reasonable accommodation.
Unwittingly, the story ended up feeding a distorted, intellectually dishonest and politically-loaded image of Quebec as a racist society.
The firm's president, Jean-Marc Leger, shot back. He said if people perceive prejudice as racism, then what the heck, we just have to "respect their opinion." So racism, real or perceived, has been downgraded to an "opinion."
Correct me if I'm wrong, but none of the space this story occupied in the media - including this column - would have been possible without that controversial, slap-in-the-face number of 59 per cent.
If there had been a story about a serious comparative sociological study of various forms of prejudice, whether here or elsewhere in Canada, which, by definition, would have given a less sombre, more nuanced, non-controversial portrait of reality, chances are it would have been covered in a more restrained manner.
Maybe it's the political scientist in me, but I wonder why polling firms cannot stick to what they know - voting intentions, consumer habits, etc. - and leave sociology to sociologists?
But this is a larger phenomenon that goes beyond choices by polling firms: Controversy, real or imagined, gets instant attention and media space. A lot of it.
There was also a CROP poll last week about which side of the fence are Quebecers on regarding, what else, the controversy created last year by Lucien Bouchard and his group of "lucides." Are we "lucide" or "solidaire?" In other words: are we more right or left wing?
When the poll said more Quebecers are "solidaires," a controversy ensued. Still, we suspect that reality falls somewhere in the middle. But that would be so non-controversial, so boring, wouldn't it?
Under the same Bouchardian theme, there was also much talk about "L'illusion tranquille" - you guessed it - a controversial documentary film savaging the Quebec model and equating unions and their leaders with a religion and its high priests.
Whether or not one agrees with its right-wing ideological penchant, it boggles the mind that this much attention was devoted to a film whose script was so poor intellectually and so simplistic, that it's almost embarrassing. But brand the film "controversial," and voila! - instant glory.
About such so-called controversies, to quote a more contemporary character from literature: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Hey, I'm a columnist, I love what I do and the world of media, but even I can't take this highly concentrated dose of overblown, repetitive controversies.
Some say that the good side is that they at least foster debate. But do they really? And if they do, what kind of debate is one confined to the media and based on questionable data and premises?
Controversies are not debates.
Maybe a polling firm could find out the percentage of Quebecers fed up with so-called controversies and who would prefer real enlightened debates based on real enlightened information.
I'm tired of media-generated 'controversies'
Media seem determined to whip up their own news by manufacturing issues