The Importance of being Ernest: A Topical Fairytale about Populism and Elitism

Once upon a time there was a public radio-and-television network run by the handsome, serious-minded prince Ernest and his beautiful, pleasure-loving sister Ernestine. For many years they got on reasonably well. It was obvious to the public that in one season Ernest had the ear of the Board of Directors, in another Ernestine. Then suddenly the Board gave Ernest a golden handshake and all worldly power to the pleasure-loving Ernestine. This happened five years ago.

She immediately issued a statement. She said that she was delighted the Board had at last understood that it was no good having a public system without the public, meaning that unless the ratings approached those of the private system they had no right to accept public funds, and that sooner or later the public system would evaporate. She was very sorry, but there was no room for elitists like her brother, the serious-minded prince Ernest, whom of course she loved dearly. Full of emotion, she thanked him for his invaluable services.

Then she came to the point. Henceforth all the entertainment presented by the network would have a happy ending, and none would have any heavy thought-content. That is what the public wanted.

For five years Ernestine was in sole charge of the networks. The ratings did go up, a little. But then suddenly the Board of Directors changed its mind. Nobody could understand why it had taken them so long. They called back prince Ernest from his elitist exile, during which it was rumoured he had read Plato in Greek.

Prince Ernest issued a statement thanking his beloved sister Ernestine for her invaluable services. However, unfortunately, she did not understand that you could not give pleasure to the public – not just the elite, but the public-at-large – unless you understood that life was full of unanswerable questions, and that denying the tragic side of human existence was a self-defeating insult to the audience. Let the others fill their news services with graphic accounts of gruesome crimes and accidents. A responsible news service did not merely report the news, however news was defined, but paid due attention or the causes and consequences of events. Let others try to win large audiences through shock-treatments and blood-curdling titillations – that was not the purpose of a public system.

As to dramatic entertainment, the prince said, the first thing he would do was to consult the most influential and successful professionals and ask them how to proceed. Whatever he did, they would play an important role in his management. His own opinion was that, once you put the emphasis on seriousness, once you eliminated the concept of elitism from the vocabulary, there was enough talent in the country, among writers, performers and technicians, to create unique entertainment and win a sizeable national and international audience that, unfortunately, had eluded his beautiful sister Ernestine.

To demonstrate his continuing love of her he offered her the management of new media which she gratefully accepted.


4 responses to “The Importance of being Ernest: A Topical Fairytale about Populism and Elitism

  1. But will they live happily ever after?

  2. I am trying to determine which of the two I like better. So far, no decision. Can I like them both ?

    • No need for you to make a decision. The fairytale is a coded comment on a specific Canadian situation that will be explained to you when you visit this country.