14 September 2006

Government by Fernando

To call Shelagh Rogers interview [audio link] on Wednesday with Danny Williams frothy would be an insult to the intellectual capacity of foam, but the half hour gab with the Premier of what Danny Williams likes to call Canada's "youngest and coolest province" was typical of the genre.

You know it all too well.

Normally seen on such brain-numbing fair as Entertainment Tonight, the celebrity interview features some gushing host interviewing someone famous for being famous. The celebrity is invariably either plugging his or her latest movie or reminiscing about past triumphs.

The Danny interview fell decidedly in the latter category although it was billed as being a chat about "how oil and gas development is affecting his home province, the confident new provincial psyche, and his need to keep taking on big battles for the sake of his province."

The exchange started off with the usual celebrity banter: Shelagh saying she was delighted Williams could join her and he replying that he was "honoured quite frankly" to be on the show. There was an obviously inside joke by Williams about seeing Anderson Cooper outside and early on Shelagh making an issue of asking if she could call him Danny.

Like all celebrity interviews there was not much meat in this. Williams quickly introduced his regular sound bites on a renewed sense of pride in the province since he took office and it wasn't too long before he brought up the offshore talks with Ottawa.

The interview was basically a chance for Williams to say what he wanted with an obviously enamoured interviewer whose awareness of what is going on in Newfoundland and Labrador could charitably be described as limited.

What he said for the entire 30 minutes was basically a series of sound bites, though: short phrases and key words Danny likes to use aside from the multitudinous variations on "quite frankly". Nothing of substance, no specific objectives, no vision interrupted his references to emotions or vague ideas like a renaissance among young people.

In the middle of the interview, not long after the references to Williams personal popularity came a discussion of the seal hunt. Shelagh played a clip from Williams' appearance on Larry King Live some months, framing the whole thing as Williams not being afraid of anyone, even one of the musical idols of his youth.

Williams made the news on Thursday for his comments that he would like to ban the hakapik from the hunt because the hooked club - used for killing seals - looks bad in pictures.

Because it looks bad.

If anyone is looking for the one word that describes Danny Williams' overwhelming obsession, it is "image".

The hakapik is to be banned because it looks bad, because it allows anti-seal hunt protesters to get visuals for their campaign. The substance of the issue is irrelevant.

Image is everything.

Never mind even that in this instance, the issue of the seal hunt and anti-seal hunt protesters is far from being the most serious issue affecting the province and people of Newfoundland and Labrador. This was the bit that drew the most specific comments and Williams' one concrete suggest that generated news coverage.

Get rid of the clubs because it doesn't look good.

As Williams talked about working to help rural Newfoundland he said little beyond the tinny words generated from his publicity assistants. But bring up an annual event that has become - if nothing else - a way for B List has-been actors to get their names and pictures on the tube and Williams is right there with an idea.

This is no accident, by the way. If Williams' publicist did not want him to talk of the seal hunt, she would have steered Rogers in another direction before booking the interview.

Williams wanted to talk about seals.

And as a result, we should think carefully on what this means. Only three years ago, we elected Williams with his promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs".

Now he has chosen to join the group of what Rex Murphy aptly described as "the endless file of soap-star intellects, preening starlets, sitcom revenants, small-screen action heroes and full-bore Hollywood poseurs who, over the years, have given an ounce of their time to drop by the ice-floes, park in front of a whitecoat, do the caring press conference and go back to whatever it was they were doing when they were not saving seals."

We might wonder the same thing.

What has Danny Williams been doing when he isn't saving sealers?

Perhaps lining up his next gig, a cable talk show called the Hide-away.

He'd be perfect for it.

Quite frankly, Danny certainly looks mahvelous.

- srbp -