Expertise Entertainment


Hon. Edgar J. Benson (1923-2011)
From Tribute to Edgar Benson
Kingston Liberal Association, 2011

Today’s experts are entertainers. That, I suppose, is why entertainers who become politicians are understood by the people to be experts.

In relation to “She thinks she is so smart“, concerning the decline in deference to expertise, Neil Remington Abramson commented as follows:

One problem that gives experts a bad name in our society is who the media chooses to represent as having “expert” opinion. A TV expert is someone who can glibly and without hesitation offer an opinion with no doubts or reservations or situational qualifications. Yet the opinions and thought processes of all the experts I know – learned people – are filled with qualifications and reservations. They know that situations are complex, fluid and constantly shifting. They know that different people have different assessments, and that these assessments conflict when belonging to actors involved in the situation. They know that in an unclear and evolving situation, there are many possibilities and probabilities and so they speak carefully and with reservations. They offer no unequivocal statement portrayed as “the truth.” It takes them awhile even to get to the point of saying that there is no one answer.

Unfortunately, thinking before you speak doesn’t come off well on TV, where one must exert oneself to cancel out dead space with rapid-fire verbiage. TV audiences are not the most learned listeners, so they find reservations and qualifications, and bifurcating situations confusing. True expertise doesn’t sell newspapers (or TV or internet). A proper media-sanctified “expert” must be clear, and say things that excite emotional concern sufficient to draw the audience into an appreciation of the program’s sponsors, as they interrupt or follow the pontifications.

I guess few will still remember Edgar Benson, one of Trudeau The First’s finance ministers. There was a real expert. Asked a difficult question, he pulled out his pipe, tapped out the ashes and cleaned it with a pipe cleaner. He pushed in new tobacco and carefully lit it, perhaps more than once, with a match. In those days, you could smoke on the CBC news, if you were Edgar Benson (or René Lévesque). By then, he was ready to answer. If you tried that today as a talking head commentator (television’s favourite), I don’t think we’d be seeing you again, assuming your footage hadn’t died on the copyroom floor.

Who can respect the experts of today, with their rapid-fire, unequivocally shallow opinions, no different from one’s equals on Facebook? And in a society where everyone is equal, it’s best not to truly stand out, even if you could.

Today’s experts are entertainers. That, I suppose, is why entertainers who become politicians are understood by the people to be experts.


About brucelarochelle
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One Response to Expertise Entertainment

  1. Edgar Benson was one of the few finance ministers in Canadian history who was a professionally-trained accountant. He was both a Chartered Accountant and a lawyer. Maybe the more he knew, courtesy of multiple professional perspectives, the more he understood what he didn’t know. Certainty may often be the comfort of the ignorant.

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